Donald E. Stanford
The audio tape of the interview that follows with Kathleen Raine is housed among the Donald E. Stanford Papers in the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections of the Louisiana State University Libraries, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Some of the questions that Donald Stanford posed in the interview, which took place, in London, in Kathleen Raine’s flat on July 12, 1993, were submitted by Herbert V. Fackler (January 23, 1942 – December 18, 1999) and Joseph Riehl, both members of the faculty of English at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette. Kathleen Raine had celebrated her 85th birthday on June 14.
Stanford: Let me begin by asking you your opinion of the feminist stance of some American English departments about Blake’s apparent anti-feminist attitude. Are you at all troubled with Blake’s attitude toward the female in his poetry?
Raine: Not at all. I should be much more troubled by the feminism of your universities. It’s much more troubling, I think, and is a rather unpleasant symptom of something very wrong with our society. Blake was not at all anti-feminist. In fact, he illustrated two books by Mary Wollstonecraft, whom he greatly admired, but Blake certainly did not believe in unisex, and he saw woman very much as performing the part of the feminine, the mother. His symbols of women are usually as the spinners or weavers of the mortal garments of man and therefore as the mothers of the race. This is the role in which they appear, but he also wrote a poem, “Visions of the Daughters of Albion,” which was a very strong plea for free love. It was erotic emancipation that he was concerned with, not with the sort of competition in the labor market between women and men. He believed that love was sacred and that to compel women into marriages against their desire was oppression. The liberation that he certainly wished to see for women was an emancipation of love and not of competitiveness with men. He was, of course, following Rousseau and the French ideas of that time, and so was Mary Wollstonecraft, the mother of Shelley’s Mary, and of Fanny Imlay, who was in fact a child of free love.
Stanford: Did I understand you to say that Blake was opposed to erotic love?
Raine: No, he was in favor of erotic love. But he was not in favor of unisex and feminine competition with men in all the things that men did. He believed in the feminine, not the feminist. I think the two are not quite the same. In fact, feminism seems to me a rejection of the feminine. On the whole the feminist movement seems not to have produced any of those things which the women feel they have been deprived of, such as the right to write the works of Shakespeare, Beethoven, Schubert, Dante, Homer — you name it. On the contrary it seems to have been extremely meager in producing any work of great quality of the kind which men have been producing over the last six thousand years or so, and I believe that, if women had had this deep impulse to produce such work, we would have done it quite some time ago.
Stanford: Could you please discuss your own experience with Blake and his influence on your life and on your poetry?
Raine: Well, that’s quite a question. I suppose I first knew Blake as the author of Songs of Innocence which were read to me by my parents as a child, and I memorized many of them and thought them very beautiful, but that was a very different Blake from the second Blake I encountered. My first love, (who was I think nineteen at the time when I was thirteen or fourteen) introduced me to the Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which is a very different story from Songs of Innocence, or seemed so at the time. And these ideas seemed to me, after my protected, puritanical upbringing, very shocking and dreadful, and I was really rather taken aback at the time by such ideas which were very different from what one was taught at Sunday school.
Stanford: Would you say just a word about your puritanical upbringing?
Raine: Well, my father was a Methodist, and at that time such things meant a great deal in the society I was brought up in at the beginning of this century. My mother was a Presbyterian. She came from Scotland. I think on the whole my mother was not so morally strict — Scotland had a way of lying within its extremely strict Calvinism — there seemed to be more imaginative elbow room, so to speak. But my father was a deeply moral man and would have been very shocked by many of the “Proverbs of Hell” in Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell, so I was rather taken aback by that, but of course, it was an opening of a new way of seeing the world. Then the third time I encountered Blake was as an undergraduate in Cambridge. Geoffrey Keynes’s edition of the Prophetic Books came out; they were made available, really, for the first time during the ’20’s when I was student, and so we were all really talking about Blake. It was new. And particularly my friend Humphrey Jennings — who is since well known as a film director and more recently for his great compilation Pandaemonium on the Industrial Revolution — he was going about quoting Blake, and I remember a piece he used to quote on London: “I behold London, a Human awful wonder of God!” Now this is quite another Blake, again, from either the “Proverbs of Hell” or the Songs of Innocence, and so I became interested, like many of my year at Cambridge, in this new poet whom we hadn’t really absorbed into the experience of English poetry because his works were not at that time available, and so I bought a copy of the works of Blake, and to my dismay, I understood very little of them.
Stanford: How about your experience with Blake in later years?
Raine: Well, Blake has been, I suppose, the occupation of rather more than half my lifetime, and I’m now eighty-five, and I should think it’s more than half a lifetime I’ve spent on Blake. After Cambridge, I plunged into this maelstrom of different world views: communism, Freud, Jung — the lot — very different from my first experience at the age of fourteen. I became interested in Jungian psychology, which again was just something new — the psychological types of the Four Zoas and so on — I think Kerrison Preston was the first scholar to point out that Blake’s Four Zoas corresponded very closely to the Jungian structure of the psyche. So that gave the clue which otherwise we didn’t have to what Blake was talking about. He was talking about the psyche and the energies which were for him such very clearly discerned realities within the human psyche, and so I thought, in my innocence, that I might study Blake from a Jungian point of view. As it was thought at that time that Blake was an ignorant engraver, that it all came from his own psyche with no reference to any other source of knowledge, I thought that to be a perfectly straightforward way to study Blake.
Stanford: Did you remain with the Jungian interpretation or did you begin to have different views?
Raine: That’s a very interesting question because, of course, Jung had certainly discerned what Blake had also discerned, but the more I studied Blake the less I was inclined to follow a Jungian interpretation. Blake and Jung had obviously read many of the same books. The view of Blake when I was young was that Blake made up his philosophy from odds and ends about the house, and indeed T. S. Eliot lent his great authority to this view. And I came across at that time a book by a scholar called Ruthven Todd whom I hope is remembered because he was a fine Blake scholar, very seminal. He wrote Tracks in the Snow in which he included a long essay on Blake, discussing the works that Blake had read, such as works of mythology by Jacob Bryant — many, many source books of Blake. So in my innocence I thought, well, as we all know that Blake was really rather an uneducated man, I’ll just quickly read all the books he’d read, and then I’ll get on with my book on Jungian lines. Well, I began reading the books that were mentioned by Ruthven Todd and others; and that is what took me half a lifetime because, of course, Blake was not an original, uninstructed thinker. He was working within what I have since called an “excluded tradition,” excluded, that is, by the modern, basically materialist philosophy.
Stanford: Would you say a little more about this excluded tradition?
Raine: We know that he had read Swedenborg and Paracelsus, because he tells us so in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell. The first important source I discovered was the new Platonic writings translated into English during Blake’s lifetime by Thomas Taylor the Platonist, whom Blake knew at one time. He was a friend of Blake’s friend Flaxman. Blake had certainly read many of the Neo-Platonic writings in the translations of Taylor, and Neo-Platonism is one important source. He had also read the Bhagavad-Gītī. This we know because he had made a painting, since lost, of Mr. Wilkins translating the Bhagavad-Gītī. He had read a great deal of the mythologies, all the traditions that were accessible to him. He knew the Greek myths, the Norse, a certain amount about the American Indian myths. He’d read the Koran. In fact, he was working within a tradition which holds the prime element of life to be mind and not matter, which, of course, is the normal view of the perennial philosophy throughout the world and throughout all civilizations prior to our own, which takes matter to be the basic substance within the universe. And Blake’s great contribution, his great battle cry, was to open the eyes of men into the inner worlds, into the worlds of thought. He was challenging the materialism of his time. He challenged the thought of Newton, Bacon, Locke, the whole movement of the Royal Society, and the whole Western trend which was at that time towards materialism. Blake went on affirming the primacy of mind, spirit, imagination, and in order to do so he had a great tradition to draw on. In fact, when it comes to Jung, they both had read many of the same works, which accounts to a great extent for their undoubted similarities.
Stanford: This perennial philosophy, this tradition, is still your philosophy today?
Raine: Oh, yes, undoubtedly. And of course as I had come to know more, and as Blake led on into Jung, into Yeats, I came finally to the great source of it all which is the Vedantic tradition, and I suppose now Blake finally led me to shores of India.
Stanford: Kathleen, do you think that Jung lies at the bottom of that which you call the “common tradition?”
Raine: No, I don’t. Jung was a psychologist, and he was concerned with the psyche. He was not concerned with the metaphysical in any way. He never denied it, and I think since the death of Jung, the Jungian movement has very much split between people who, like James Hillman and the archetypal psychologists, really have no place for a route beyond the psyche. They are polytheists and consider the psyche as the ultimate, whereas Jung himself left a door open for the metaphysical, and his friend and colleague in the Eranos movement, Henry Corbin, has been the great advocate of the necessity in speaking of the world of the imaginal, the psychic world, of seeing it as the mirror in the human individual of a world beyond that, which was the spiritual source, and that is what we might call the “normal” view of the perennial philosophy, that the psychic world is an intermediate world between a spiritual world and a material world, whereas Blake certainly held the Platonic view. The Vedanta and all spiritual traditions have held this view, as did Swedenborg who was Blake’s immediate teacher. I feel that Jung is ambiguous in this respect.
Stanford: Would you please say a little more about the relationship as you see it between Yeats and Blake?
Raine: Oh, well, that is very important because Yeats, writing a hundred years after Blake, was formulating these ideas, was the beginning of the great reaction against materialist philosophy. He had been earlier influenced by the Theosophical Society which is very much based in Indian and Oriental thought, and one might say that Yeats was exploring all the horizons of a view alternative to the materialist cosmology. He, very early in life, studied Swedenborg, theosophy, the views of Irish folklore. He was a life-long student of psychical research. He then came on to reading works of Plotinus, the Nō theater of Japan, and finally came back full circle to India as the translator of the principal Upanishads, and at the end of his life would have traveled to India had his health permitted him to do so. So at the end of the 19th century, Ellis and Yeats brought out what was in fact the first edition of Blake’s Prophetic Writings which had not been published before. The Songs of Innocence had been, and Marriage of Heaven and Hell, but the ‘Ellis and Yeats’ was the first attempt to come to terms with Blake’s long, unpublished prophetic works, which of course existed only in his own very beautifully illuminated manuscripts. Yeats was at that time familiar with theosophy and also familiar with the works of Swedenborg, and since Swedenborg was Blake’s acknowledged master, Yeats was able to understand the essence of Blake’s thought in a way that I think no other editor before or since has understood. He may have been mistaken in that he did not say that Blake got this idea from this source, that idea from that source, but in general he understood what Blake was talking about, and I found Yeats’s essay on symbolism in that two-volume ‘Ellis and Yeats’ absolutely seminal work. This edition was much scorned by academics for a long time afterwards, because they had not Yeats’s familiarity with what I have called the excluded tradition of the perennial philosophy. They were trying to fit Blake into an already existing scheme of things which they continue to do to this day because academia in many cases is very reluctant to give up the received opinion of our civilization. It’s a materialist philosophy. This is what Yeats was challenging. This is what Blake was challenging; and I think that one sees now in the world that there is a quite serious concern among scientists that perhaps after all Blake and Yeats were right; and you can’t talk about a material world without the observing mind.
Stanford: Now as a skeptic in some matters, Kathleen, I have problems with both Blake and Yeats. They had what I would be inclined to call hallucinations. That is, Blake, I believe, talked with a fairy on the lip of a tulip, and Yeats saw a fairy in the shape of a flatiron in his back yard. Would you please comment on this?
Raine: Well, I think these are psychic phenomena. You can go to the psychologists for that sort of thing if you like. It’s very interesting: Blake’s fairy on a tulip, a striped tulip, I seem to remember.
Raine: That is the example that [George] Berkeley uses, of course, in his discussion of the idealist as against the materialist philosophy: It is a striped tulip. There is a section in Berkeley — I think it’s in the dialogues — in which he asked, “The striped tulip that I think I see, is it really there or isn’t it?” and at last his unfortunate young student says, “Ah, you’ve convinced me; of course there’s no tulip there at all; you’ve convinced me that there is no tulip there.” To which Berkeley replies, “Well, I’m just a common man. I think that tulip that I see is there because I see it.” It’s a very subtle point, and I don’t think it was accidental in Blake that he took up the striped tulip. I believe Dr. Johnson discusses the striped tulip too.
Stanford: Does he indeed?
Raine: It’s sort of a commonplace of philosophic discussion on the idealist as against the non-idealist view at that time.
Stanford: Kathleen, a recent Blake scholar has said, “Every where I look in Blake I see reflections of Gnostic thinking, and particularly I see Blake’s struggling to clarify man’s position in a world, which as in Gnosticism, is a terrible blunder to begin with.” Would you please comment on this?
Raine: Blake certainly was influenced by Gnosticism in this sense, particularly in his early work. Not that he thought the world was a terrible blunder to begin with, but that there was a second creator, the demiurge of Gnosticism. There is the original creation which is the one that God saw was good. Then there is the demiurge who creates this fallen world, who is Blake’s Zoa of Urizen, who declares, “Now I am God from eternity to eternity.” Blake had certainly read such Gnostic texts as were available at the time. I think perhaps the most important source of Gnosticism in Blake is the Hermetica, which he had read in Everard’s seventeenth-century translation which was perfectly available to him. The description of the creation of the form of the archetypal man by the demiurge is very clearly central there and certainly influenced Blake. I agree with this. But I don’t think it would be possible to say that Blake took this pessimistic view of the creation as such. His Songs of Innocence and Experience are two contrary states of the soul, and the world of innocence is the real world. The world of experience is the fallen world of the demiurge. In Jerusalem and the last section of the Four Zoas, “The Last Judgment,” the Last Judgment in Blake is the overthrowing of this fallen world by the appearance in the heavens — that is in the inner worlds — of the divine humanity or, as he called it, “Jesus the Imagination.” The imagination is this higher realization, which is the divine in man, and when imagination awakes, then the complete structure of the apparent world of the demiurges disappears.
Stanford: Now these ideas you’ve just been presenting are Gnostic?
Raine: The demiurge is a Gnostic idea, yes. That this fallen world was created by a second creator who was a demiurge; whereas the true eternal world — that is the creation of the higher principle.
Stanford: When you mention certain Gnostic works or other works influencing Blake, is that based on internal evidence or is it based on objective, outside evidence, that he had read certain things?
Raine: Well, the evidence that he’d read certain things is, to a certain extent, internal evidence, but Blake leaves his traces very clear. For example, the vocabulary of the people he’d read surfaces in Blake’s own writings. For example, Jacob Boehme, who was Blake’s supreme master, writes of “the opening of the centers of the birth of life,” which is a phrase that comes up in Blake almost unchanged. The terminology comes up, and if one is really working on the texts, as I was for, as I say, half a lifetime, it’s fairly easy to find these footprints, as it were, of what he’d been reading. One does know to a certain extent that he’d read Gnostics. I think Ruthven Todd got on to that. They were certainly accessible at that time.
Stanford: But, Kathleen, how could Blake have had such a detailed knowledge of the Gnostics: the Cathars, the Bogomils, Sabatians, the Illuminati, the New Jerusalem church?
Raine: Well, I don’t think he did have knowledge of the Cathars, the Bogomils, and these people. The person whose work you should read on this subject, of course, is Désirée Hirst, whose book Hidden Riches deals very much with the protestant sects which Blake would have known about and in fact did know about. The Church of the New Jerusalem — that is no problem. Blake was a member of it. It was founded by Swedenborg in London during Blake’s boyhood, and it had a tremendous following in London, and it’s generally thought that Blake’s family was Swedenborgian in the first place. His brother, James I think, certainly remained a Swedenborgian, and there are records of Blake and Flaxman, and their respective wives, attending an inaugural meeting of the Swedenborg Society in London. So there’s no problem about his knowledge of the Church of the New Jerusalem.
Stanford: Why did he leave the Church of the New Jerusalem?
Raine: Ah, that’s a good question. He wasn’t a churchman really. But he remained to the end of his life a Swedenborgian. This is this much-disputed Blake system. The scholars all scratch their heads about this; but it’s no problem. If you read the “Everlasting Gospel,” which is one of his latest works, it is in fact a point-by-point summary of the five leading beliefs of the Swedenborgian Church of the New Jerusalem, and in his interviews with Crabb Robinson, Robinson asked him about Swedenborg, and Blake said that he was a sent and inspired man, and then added, “but sometimes inspired men go beyond their commission from God.” He followed the Swedenborgian teaching. In fact, we’re all deeply familiar with the phrase “Divine Humanity,” but this phrase is not Blake’s invention; this is Swedenborg. And the Grand Man of the heavens, the one in many, and many in one, of all human souls — this is Swedenborg, and Blake uses this concept in a very beautiful passage in the Four Zoas in which he talks about man contracting our exalted senses with the multitude and expanding what we hold as one, as one man, all the universal family. Swedenborg’s greatest idea, I think, was this of the one in many, and many in one, and the divine presence in man. It was a really very wonderful idea because for him, the Divine Humanity was the eternal Christ, not the historical Christ. That was the Divine Humanity of whom Blake speaks and writes and speaks of as “Jesus the Imagination.” This is purely Swedenborgian. He disagreed with Swedenborg only in one respect: He said Swedenborg put all the good in heaven and the sinners in hell and didn’t realize that both the good and the evil are included in the Divine Humanity who transcends good and evil. That is what The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is about. Point-by-point, it’s quite a funny book. It takes up Swedenborg and his memorable experiences—it’s a running discussion with Swedenborg in semi-satirical terms, but although he poked fun at Swedenborg in certain respects, nevertheless, his system is pure Swedenborgian. I’m sure the only reason why everyone doesn’t know this is that the works of Swedenborg are so boring to read that none of the academics have read them, and I don’t blame them.
Stanford: Neither do I. Kathleen, could you please tell us a little more about your procedures in researching your volumes of Blake and the Tradition?
Raine: Well, it was a life’s work. It was enormous fun, I must say. I started, as I have said, with Ruthven Todd and the sources that he had already pointed to, and then it was just that one thing led to another. One just went on winding in the golden thread and far from its being just a few odd books, like Bryant’s mythology and antiquities and so on, it proved that this golden thread wound in the works of Plato, the works of Plotinus, and the works of Jacob Boehme (of course one knows from Blake that these were his sources) and the works of Paracelsus. I spent weeks and months and years reading dusty volumes in the North Library of the British Museum, and my eyes were opened. I simply had no idea of the richness of the tradition which modern academia and our civilization as a whole, based as it is on material process, had exploded. It was virtually the wisdom of the world that Blake had drawn on. My most important contribution, I suppose, at that time was finding the importance of Thomas Taylor, the Platonist. Blake did not read Greek. Shelley of course did, and Coleridge, but Blake read only English and French. And his acquaintance with Thomas Taylor has since been verified by scholarship in a reference to Blake and [George] Cumberland. There is a description by a member of Cumberland’s family of visiting Thomas Taylor and finding him sitting talking with William Blake and expounding to him the theorem of Pythagoras and Blake saying, “Never mind the proofs, I can see it with my own eyes,” which is very characteristic of both, because Taylor, of course, was a mathematician and Blake was not. Well, I discovered quite early on that the Arlington Court tempera is an illustration of Porphyry’s work De antro nympharum and Keynes of course accepted that, but no other professional Blake scholars have done so hitherto, but it is just a plain fact that it is, every detail. Blake would have read it in Taylor’s “Essay on the Restoration of the Greek Theology by the Late Platonists” which was known to Blake. If two people live next door to one another the critics won’t accept that as evidence, it has to be in writing. And it is known that, for example, Taylor gave six lectures on Platonic theology at the house of Flaxman. It is known that Flaxman and Blake were close friends from youth, but “Oh, no,” they say; “this is no proof that Blake knew anything about Taylor,” you see. This is the sort of blinkered mentality of those who will only accept the evidence of written text. If people see each other every day, they don’t tend to write one another letters. On the whole, one writes letters to people one does not see every day.
Stanford: Over the past thirty years since publication of Blake and Tradition has Blake criticism added much to our knowledge of his reading or other intellectual sources?
Raine: It may have done here and there, but that was never my main concern in my Blake studies. I wanted to bring to light the universality and nature of his great statement against the materialist philosophy, his main sources, but in general not in particular; it’s not that finding yet another source of this or that will change the picture very considerably now. I might have found more material; I might have done Blake and Tradition better and found more evidence; I might have written a better book if I had left it for another ten years. It wouldn’t have changed the overall picture of Blake and where he stood in relation to human knowledge, and the general kind of sources and what he was saying, and the addition of this or that piece of material that he may or may not have read would not change the picture. And I believe my picture of Blake overall is a correct one.
Stanford: During the last fifteen years or so, are there any critics of Blake or articles on Blake that you particularly admire?
Raine: I’m afraid that I’ve made my contribution to Blake studies, and I have not been following recent Blake studies. I don’t particularly care if this or that manuscript has been unearthed. It might be quite interesting and amusing to know, these details always are, but they wouldn’t change the picture at all, and I, as I say, I might have found more evidence had I looked for it, but I wouldn’t wish to change the overall trend of what I have had to say about Blake.
Stanford: One critic has said recently that Blake was not mad, but he understood and described the mental suffering of madness in a profound way. Do concepts of madness such as schizophrenia, hallucination, and so on have a useful place in Blake criticism and will you comment on the direct question, “was Blake mad?”
Raine: No, of course he wasn’t mad. He was a sane man in a mad world, roughly speaking. Great genius has a wider field of consciousness. That is what genius is: seeing rather more than other men do, perhaps being in advance of his time. Certainly the nature of genius is to not accept current opinion, and Blake certainly did not accept current opinion. I don’t think that words like “schizophrenia” and “paranoia” add much to human discussion of whatever these words mean. Blake himself says, “Plato says that poets do not know what they write and utter. In that case, why is a lesser kind to be called knowing?” In other words, a poet is an inspired man. Blake believed in inspiration. This must be especially remembered with Blake, but all poets have believed in inspiration, that in an inspired state there is a widening of the field of consciousness. Yeats describes genius as bringing together at certain moments the waking and the sleeping mind. The available knowledge is greater in states of inspiration. Blake certainly had this. There is much suffering, as your critic says, in the writings of Blake: the turmoil, the anguish of Jerusalem. But this was not a personal thing; he was talking about the nation. He was a spiritual patriot, and he was speaking of the suffering of the giant Albion, as he calls the English nation. He was a prophet in the sense of the Old Testament prophets in the Jewish Bible, who also were speaking for their nation. They were not speaking of their individual suffering; they were speaking of the national psyche, if you like, into which Blake had certainly a remarkably clear insight. He speaks of living. He says, “in South Molton Street I see and hear” what is going on in the soul of Albion, which is, of course, the soul of England. In other words, here in South Moulton Street I both see and hear the sufferings of the military, or the war against France that broke out after the French Revolution, of the conscription of soldiers, and the suffering of child labor, the endless sufferings of his people at that time, the hangings of boys at Tyburn for the theft of a yard of cloth, the injustices, the national crimes against which Blake spoke out. You may say these were descriptions of deep, deep suffering, the psychological sufferings of various kinds of mental and physical and spiritual tyrannies in his nation at the time. I wonder what he would have been writing about had he lived now. Certainly many things would have been the same — perhaps not all — but when he writes of London and marking, “in every face marks of weakness, marks of woe,” he felt the collective suffering: that was the nature of his inspiration. He was not a personal poet expressing himself. He was a national prophet, calling to his nation to awake from their “deadly sleep,” which is unconsciousness of what is going on, and to awake to the truths of the imagination and to reform many things. This is not madness.
Stanford: You have commented on Blake’s revolutionary zeal against false values. Is it the poet’s responsibility to attack false values and his destiny to be frustrated in his own time?
Raine: Well it seems to be so. Shelley has said, and I do believe it indeed, that the poet is the unacknowledged legislator of the world. Of course poets attack the false values in their own time, and for that very reason they wouldn’t expect to be welcomed for it. In their own time, there are the received opinions, the false values, and to attack them is never going to be popular with those who are attacked. But nevertheless, seminal ideas do have a way of, in the long run, being understood. I think Blake was perhaps a hundred years in advance of his time, and very much became one of the sacred books, so to say, of the counter-culture revolution. The hippies all know the Marriage of Heaven and Hell. That’s one of the sort of sacred books of the present revolution in the world, and I do truly believe that at last Blake’s arguments against the materialist philosophy are beginning to be understood, I won’t say even by the physicists, I should say very much by the physicists. The leading scientific thought of this time is coming to understand that you have to talk about mind if you are going to talk about matter. Blake is coming into his own. There is a revolution going on in the world.
Stanford: I understand from what you said that you have a positive attitude towards the hippie movement of some years ago?
Raine: I do have rather a soft spot for them, Don. I think they can be criticized, of course, in many ways. Because of an aversion against what they considered the mis-education that they were receiving they threw aside all education whatsoever and all knowledge and became basically ignorant. In a way, what I would like to do is to replace their mis-education with a true education. And that is what I’ve tried to do all my life in my Blake scholarship and in later years through editing the review Temenos which was an attempt to reaffirm the perennial philosophy and its manifestations in the arts and now with the Temenos Academy.
Stanford: Now, Kathleen, I have a little difficulty in understanding this. I see no relationship whatsoever between your learned magazine Temenos and those ignorant hippies.
Raine: The hippies were rebelling against what they felt to be an irrelevant education. In doing so they threw away all education without exception, and now I think what we have to replace mis-education by the true education based on many of those values which the hippies in their ignorance and folly nevertheless were feeling after, and to give them an education. Say to them, “Look, all knowledge is not irrelevant as you might suppose. True knowledge is never irrelevant.” Let us change the premises. That is what we’re trying to do. What I’ve been trying to do all my life is to challenge and reverse the premises of modern Western materialism. That is what Blake was attempting. That is why the hippies had a sort of feeling for him—they felt there was something there—and that is what Yeats was trying to do and that is why I was taking up the torch in very frail hands myself, I don’t compare myself with Blake or Shelley or Yeats, but nevertheless that is what my life’s work has also been trying to do.
Stanford: Well, what do you think your chances are for the future or how firm are your hopes now? Do you see any progress towards a true education, and if so, can you mention a few writers that exemplify it for you?
Raine: Revolutions never change the whole scene; there are small seminal ideas that gradually expand within a civilization. Yeats has a very good symbol of it in the reversal of the gyres, which is a much earlier symbol which he took from Plato and Empedocles, that at the very moment of the supreme triumph of materialism, at that moment, people begin to question it. The questionings remain very small for the moment. Revolutions begin slowly with a small group of people calling in question certain accepted received opinions, and this grows, this expands. I believe it is already growing. You ask me of poets or writers in whom in this century I would see that expressed. Well, clearly, Yeats is a supreme example, but also Rilke. Certainly Yeats, who was in track, following directly on the tradition of Blake and using the same sources.
Stanford: I remember that you have expressed admiration to me at times for the poetry of David Gascoyne.
Raine: David Gascoyne started as a surrealist. Curiously enough, although the English Romantic poets were the imaginative growing point of European culture at that time and France was very rational, in this century it has been rather reversed. England has become extremely unimaginative, and the imaginative growing point moved to Europe with the surrealists and the affirmation of the supra-rational dimension. David Gascoyne was very much influenced by the surrealists as a very young poet. He later came to a profoundly Christian vision, curiously enough, and his really greatest poems can be described as Christian poetry. The imaginative opening of surrealism is in Hölderlin’s Madness, another book David wrote. I think he is a great poet.
Stanford: Kathleen, do you think that Blake was associated with any group or circle which has not yet been fully investigated?
Raine: I don’t believe Blake was a member of any secret society or the Druids or anything of that kind. Yeats of course was very much given to secret societies, but I don’t think Blake had that mentality. He was a loner. But I feel that Blake’s knowledge of Jewish Kabbalah would pay study in the future. There are texts which he could have known. I think that he speaks to the Jews with warmth and intimacy that suggests he had acquaintance in Jewish circles, and I feel that some Jewish scholar with knowledge of what was going on in London at that time within the Jewish community might come up with some very interesting discoveries in that field. I have always had a feeling that Blake had a closer and more personal and intimate knowledge of the Jews than can be explained just with books.
Stanford: One critic recently has suggested that Blake was a Druid.
Raine: Oh, well, they’re always saying that sort of thing, because the modern Druid order is, I’m afraid, a piece of very modern make-believe, and they have been creating their own ancestry really, and Blake is in it.
Stanford: In Golgonooza you describe Blake’s thought in one area as being “more Buddhist than Christian.” Do you think that Blake was Christian?
Raine: Blake was most certainly a Christian, but in a very special sense. He makes a distinction between the religion of Jesus and the church of his day of which he had very little good to say. The religion of Jesus was in fact the perennial philosophy, the everlasting gospel. He says antiquity taught the religion of Jesus. And as I’ve already said, Swedenborg himself allows for the Divine Humanity’s being a worldwide and not a sectarian Christ. Blake identifies Jesus as being this cosmic, universal, spiritual Humanity, but he was specifically a Swedenborgian, as I think I’ve already said, and he only differed from Swedenborg in particular details. We know from “The Everlasting Gospel” and also from Crabb Robinson’s diaries that at the end of his life he still held a very high view of Swedenborg. That he was a Christian depends on what you mean by Christianity. He also had an admiration for the Catholic church. He learned Italian in order to translate Dante. He said he thought the Pope’s subjects were the happiest on earth because the Catholic faith teaches the forgiveness of sins. He had criticisms of the Catholic church; he thought they worshipped the corpse of Christ rather than his risen spiritual reality. What does he say about Jesus? “He put off death in the cross and tomb to be worshipped by the Church of Rome.” But his Christianity is a very profound spiritual Christianity, and for him the resurrection is the resurrection not of the body but from the body.
Stanford: In one of Blake’s poems there occurs the phrase, “dark satanic mills.” It has been suggested that the “dark satanic mills” were the factories of the Industrial Revolution. What do you think?
Raine: Well of course it’s perfectly clear that that’s not what they were. He makes no question that the dark satanic mills were the Newtonian system. This is said in many, many contexts in Milton. But of course the Industrial Revolution was, if you like, a historic expression of that ideology, and therefore it is not surprising if the image of that ideology expressed itself in these mechanistic mills, which reduced humanity to machines, because that was the Newtonian mentality. There is a further bit, to answer the first piece of your question last: The question of Buddhism. Now, I’m sorry if I said Buddhism because I think Blake is a lot closer to Vedanta than to Buddhism. I know rather little about Buddhism, actually, but there is no question that Blake had read the Bhagavad-Gītā. He had not any knowledge of Buddhism at that time. It was not known in any source that Blake could have discovered, but there is quite a lot known about the Vedanta through the Proceedings of the Calcutta Society and the works of Sir William Jones and his circle in India. Now the Swedenborgian concept of the universal Divine Humanity, which is Blake’s own phrase, is very close to the Vedantic concept of the universal self, which is in every man, the God within, and which is, indeed, a good old Protestant concept held by the Quakers and many other Protestant sects, and by Eckhart, Duns Scotus and other Christian theologians although the Catholic Church would not like it at all. In that sense Blake was a Christian, but he was not orthodox in terms of what I might call exoteric Christianity either as it was practiced in the church in England in his day or indeed in certain respects Catholic theology either, although he was probably nearer to Catholic theology than to Protestant practice in the Church of England, which he accused of deism or natural religion. He said there is no natural religion.
Stanford: You mention in your autobiography that you felt some alienation at Cambridge; you felt yourself to be an outsider. We know that Blake also felt himself to be an outsider. Could you please explain this to your American readers?
Raine: [laughing] Almost impossible, Don. It’s totally impossible to explain to any American that I have ever known the English social system. And it’s something that we have extraordinarily subtle responses to. I felt a social outsider at Cambridge, because at the beginning of this century there were only a very few people from the lower-middle classes, from which I came, to reach Oxford and Cambridge, which were then the natural preserves of those who had been to the English public schools. Students there were either upper middle class or aristocracy. The major part of Oxford and Cambridge were the children of lawyers, clergymen, wealthy people of one kind and another who had not necessarily been to Eton or Winchester but would certainly have been to one of the many excellent minor public schools in this country which were for a long, long time the backbone of English culture and education.
My grandfather was a coal miner, he was working class. My father was a schoolmaster at one of the new county high schools which were providing an excellent education for children of the lower-middle classes, and I being, I suppose, a precocious little girl, won a scholarship to Cambridge of which my parents were very proud. But of course when I got there, I realized that I was one of the very few coming from my kind of background. My contemporaries and friends all tended to be the children of people of higher social classes. Now I think even in Oxford and Cambridge the flood has now got in and it’s not so stratified any longer. But of course in a way I’m glad that I got in when I did, because the result of the democratization of the universities is lowering the standards. Blake is a very different thing. For one thing, there is no such thing as working class before the Industrial Revolution. They were country people, but they were beginning to be the working class in Blake’s day. Blake’s father was in fact a perfectly prosperous middle-class hosier in Golden Square, lower-middle class one might say, not being professional. He was in trade. Trade was not so good as a profession. Blake didn’t want to go to school, so his father rather gave into this unusual, talented, stubborn little boy, gave him the best education in art that was available in London. He went to [Henry] Pars’s drawing school and then was apprenticed to [James] Basire to become an engraver because the family decided that if Blake was going to be an artist he might well fail but if he had a good solid trade, like being an engraver, that he’d always be able to make a living. So he became an apprenticed engraver rather than a painter in oils or that sort of thing. But as far as that goes, in the world of art, he received an excellent education.
Stanford: In answer to my question then, both you and Blake at times felt yourselves to be outsiders but for totally different reasons.
Raine: I don’t think Blake did feel himself to be an outsider. What was he supposed to be outside of? I don’t know. Blake had a circle of—one might call it a sort of left wing of the intellectual circle. His friends were Flaxman the sculptor, who became very famous; Tom Paine, the political leftwinger; Blake was a friend of Mary Wollstonecraft. They had a sort of intellectual circle that met once a week in St. Paul’s Churchyard at the bookseller [Joseph] Johnson’s book shop to which Godwin came. I don’t think Blake was particularly outside anything. He was very much against the government, but that’s a different thing from being an outsider.
Stanford: The notion that Blake felt a strong sense of alienation in his society is erroneous?
Raine: Totally. I think that he was a born rebel; he was a left-wing man. I think there’s no doubt that he supported the French Revolution at a time when this was not a good thing to do in England if you wished to escape alive, so to say. And there was the case in the country when he turned a soldier out of his garden who had been employed by Hayley to mow the grass and said something like, “Damn the King and all his soldiers,” which was taken to be rather a pro-French attitude to express at the time. It was much more a question of political alignment with France and the Revolution and the American Revolution, of course. He was very much in support of the American Revolution, rather than feeling an outsider.
Stanford: Being a rebel does not necessarily mean you have a sense of alienation or that you consider yourself an outsider.
Raine: No, no, not at all.
Stanford: Tell me a little bit more about your concept of aristocracy.
Raine: I will, yes. Aristocracy in England is much more related to the caste system in India. Social set, that has nothing whatsoever to do with it; it is not a thing you choose. A social set is presumably like-minded people who get together, “birds of a feather,” “the jet set,” whatever; but aristocracy is a hereditary thing, of course upheld by education more than property, because if you are a poor member of an aristocratic family — and there always were such things as “poor relations” — you are nevertheless included within that family. You are not cut off because you are poor. In fact, one of the people I knew very well, Constance Lane — I became her lodger during the War — was a poor relation of an aristocratic family. She hadn’t a bean. She was an artist, but she often went to stay with her relations and they acknowledged her. You can’t, as it were, opt in or opt out. It’s like being a Brahmin. It seems to me, if I may say so, Don, that the caste system is man’s natural social structure. After all, Jung pointed out the four functions of man: the rational, the feeling, the intuitive, and the physical. And this is basic, like Blake’s Four Zoas. These are the four leading human types. And it seems to me that any society needs all four.
Stanford: You would describe, then, the caste system in India as being a natural structure and not an artificial structure?
Raine: I would say it was a natural structure, but that in the course of India’s six thousand years it had certainly become rigid and corrupt. And what I would like to see is the four castes maintained in a sort of permanence so that people could move with a certain freedom into or out of one or other of the castes.
Stanford: Is that true in India, today, that people can move into and out of castes?
Raine: Well, caste was abolished by law at the time of the formation of the Indian state, which was done very much on a Western democratic basis. It hasn’t worked. It’s working remarkably badly because it goes counter to six thousand years of Indian civilization. As you know, the troubles that are being caused in India now are very severe. But, I think the caste system had become extremely rigid. Gandhi, of course, was against the caste system, and one reason was that he felt that members of the lowest caste, the outcastes, were being lured to become Christians and Muslims.
Stanford: How about in England, is it fairly easy now to move from lower-middle class to middle class to the aristocracy?
Raine: Well, unfortunately the whole thing’s just gone by the board in England. It’s no longer there, and we have mass media culture which is all pervasive. There are enclaves of aristocratic culture, but with the loss of the empire, the aristocratic class no longer has any function in our society. They were the people who went and ruled the empire, and the great public schools essentially were producing empire builders, and that’s gone. What do they do?
Stanford: Kathleen, I’m bothered by something in American society. All of a sudden, I discover that “elite” in America has become a dirty word.
Raine: Well, here too, the word “elitist” is the term of uttermost reproach, and yet it seems to me there has to be not only one elite but an elite in every subject. If you’re a carpenter, if you are a gardener, if you are a violinist, if you are whatever you are, there is such a thing as excellence. There is, in every sphere of life. Therefore, there is not just one hierarchy but many hierarchies in which human beings should be honored for excelling in whatever they are doing, whether it is intellectual or crafts or skills of whatever kind. And I would not wish to see anyone “an elite.” What would “an elite” mean? Nothing really. It should be, as I say, many elites.
Stanford: You were talking before the interview about social realism in the 1930s and such poets as Auden.
Raine: Poets who had the imaginative vision in England were rather scarce. There was David Gascoyne; there was David Jones who was a Catholic poet; he was a friend of Eliot; he was a great, really very great writer.
Stanford: David Jones? Was he a close friend of yours?
Raine: I knew him well, yes. And also Cecil Collins was a very imaginative painter. They were rebelling, but in the ‘30s, the Marxist ideology had very much taken on with Auden, Spender, Day-Lewis, and the Oxford poets of that time and some other Cambridge poets, so that the prevalent style of these poets was what was prescribed in Moscow, social realism. So social realism was a great sort of wet blanket on imagination at that time. Unfortunately the Marxism is gone but the dullness has remained.
Stanford: Why do you say “unfortunately?”
Raine: Well, what I mean is there is a certain element of idealism in the Marxism of that time, although the social realist style was extremely dull, but now there is a dullness without the idealism.
Stanford: David Gascoyne calls it the celebration of the commonplace.
Raine: The commonplace is not “commonplace” at all, which is what Traherne said and what many great poets have always said. They’ve said the commonplace is not “commonplace.” But the modern fashions in English verse seem to be that the commonplace is absolutely the cat’s whiskers, it’s wonderful; they love it. I don’t.
A critical version of this discussion between Donald Stanford and Kathleen Raine, with editorial remarks by J. C. Marler, is published as a supplement to this volume of Explorations.