06 February 2014

Poetry Thursday - The Very Leaves of the Acacia-Tree are London by Kathleen Raine

"Gradual and gentle the growth of London Pride" (via)

The Very Leaves of the Acacia-Tree are London

The very leaves of the acacia-tree are London;
London tap-water fills out the fuchsia buds in the back garden,
Blackbirds pull London worms out of the sour soil,
The woodlice, centipedes, eat London, the wasps even.
London air through stomata of myriad leaves
And million lungs of London breathes.
Chlorophyll and haemoglobin do what life can
To purify, to return this great explosion
To sanity of leaf and wing.
Gradual and gentle the growth of London pride,
And sparrows are free of all the time in the world:
Less than a window-pane between. 

(via; it was one of the Poems on the Underground in 2009)

Kathleen Raine (1908-2003) has been called "one of the last writers whose philosophy had been forged in the cauldron of the late 1920s and early 1930s"; she " passed much of her life in hand-wringing dismay at the febrility of the world in which she had to live. This could be a comforting position, not least as a means of explaining away personal disappointments" ... but her triumphs were many. 

Another obituary takes a different tack: "She knew as a small child that poetry was her vocation.
William Blake was her master, and she shared his belief that "one power alone makes a poet - imagination, the divine vision". As WB Yeats, her other great exemplar, put it, "poetry and religion are the same thing". To this vision she committed not only her poetry and erudition, but her whole life. She stood as a witness to spiritual values in a society that rejected them."

Interviewed on the radio at a great age and asked how it was to be her age and still writing, she said something that has stayed with me, along the lines of "well, I wake up in the morning and think, I'm still here, so I get up and get on with it." Good advice at any age.

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