Passion by Kathleen Raine is an eight stanza poem written in the first person about heartbreak. In this poem, the main character or narrator goes through the process of healing from a severe heartbreak. She feels lifeless when her beloved doesn’t reciprocate her love. The only way to survive such trauma is to rebuild yourself and choose to move on. If you do not choose life for yourself you will never be able to live on. You can read the poem in full here.
Full of desire I lay, the sky wounding me,
Possessing what my soul lacked, tranquillity.
The first stanza of this poem introduces the narrator in a perplexing mental state. The very first line jumps into the raw emotions of this individual. She claims to be “full of desire”, relating to her readers that this poem is not simply about passion in general but is about her passion for her desire. The reader can safely assume the desire and passion are directed towards a love interest. The second half of the first line gives the reader a better idea of the situation; “the sky wounding me” heavily suggests that she is suffering due to the situation or “sky” around her. Just from the first line, the reader can comprehend this poem is about heartbreak. Line two illustrates a ship made out of clouds, leaving her behind; this is an important image because it portrays the narrator’s helplessness as she discloses that she is heartbroken because she has been left behind. The final line in the stanza tells the reader that the narrator “lacks tranquillity” in her life; she feels as though nature (specifically the trees) “possesses” the harmony that she so desperately desires. This stanza uses nature to emphasize that her feelings were completely natural for someone in her situation of heartbreak.
Waiting for the longed-for voice to speak
With the well-known and mortal death, heartbreak.
In the second stanza, the reader is quickly presented with the reason behind the narrator’s “wounds”. Line four exposes that she has actually been waiting for someone to speak to her, line five further explains that the telephone has been “mute” causing her to feel physically “weak”. It seems that the narrator has been waiting for a phone call from a loved one who does not share the affection she apparently does, since he never calls (hence the mute phone), and receiving such a cold shoulder is having a very negative impact on her. The weakness that her body is subjected to is revealed to be heartbreak. The narrator chooses to describe heartache as “the well known and mortal death”, indicating that she realizes that it is common and she knows that it causes death; obviously it is the death of the heart and emotions that are being referred to here.
The language I knew best, my human speech
Were Homer’s ghosts, the savage conches of the beach.
Stanza three is about language, which is an essential part of any communication. Line seven reveals that the narrator believed that the best command of her language was her speech, her words. However, line eight goes on to explain she felt as though her words and language had disowned or abandoned her. This is important because it tells the reader that she could not even write to her loved one even if she had tried to reach him that way, so her beloved was truly out of reach for her. Line nine brings up Homer’s odyssey, which is interesting because it is about a woman fighting to wait for her loved one to return to her. The narrator indicates that this story is out of reach for her as she loved one (unlike in the odyssey) is not fighting to get back to her. The stanza ends with the depiction of “savage conches of the beach”, this is important because the image is supposed to be a tranquil one but is depicted with negativity due to the narrator’s emotional turmoil.
Then the sky spoke to me in language clear,
The sky said to my soul, `You have what you desire.
In this fourth stanza, the poem makes an emotional shift; Going from suffering a heartbreak to beginning the process of healing. Line ten begins with the sky speaking to the narrator in a clear language; this is important because it is a moment of epiphany for her. She is realizing that there is life all around her even though she feels her heart is dead. The clouds in the sky clear and she realizes she has everything she desired. Lines eleven and twelve disclose that the world around you has a way of waking you up, letting you know that life is grander than the people that live it. Every individual has love and companionship in Mother Nature. The sky is there every day along with the trees and the winds to connect you to who you are and that self-love is valuable.
`Know now that you are born along with these
And forest dwellers. This your nature is.
Stanza five explores a philosophical take on self-love and finding company with nature. Lines thirteen through fifteen express the notion of being born along with the rest of nature so we are a part of it. Just as the sun the stars and the winds were “born” into this world, so were humans; because of this fact, there is a connection between us all. A person is never alone or left behind because he/she is surrounded by other things that are full of life and are present for him/her on a daily basis, committing to a relationship. Humans are so heavily dependent on relationships in order to survive, and the relationship between a human and nature is the most intimate and unfaltering of them all. We are a part of the nature that envelops us in every moment of our existence.
Lift up your heart again without fear,
This world you with the flower and with the tiger share.’
The sky continues to speak to the narrator in this stanza whilst uplifting and motivating her to heal from her heartbreak. In line sixteen she is being advised to pick up the pieces of her heart and put them together fearlessly. This is significant because when one is dependent on themselves for feeling complete they do not have to fear losing anyone or anything. After the motivation, lines seventeen and eighteen bring her to the reality of her situation: she has a choice. She can choose to be dead as her body keeps living or she could start fresh by realizing there is space for her to breathe and come out of this heartbreak stronger. This stanza is clear in communicating that in life you will experience the good and the bad, how we react to these situations will define what our life is actually made up of.
Then I saw every visible substance turn
Burned with the holy fire of passion.
The seventh stanza returns to the subject of the narrator, she feels rejuvenated by the epiphany. The narrator claims to see the life around her as something new and “immortal”. She realizes the strength that comes from choosing to move on. This stanza is obviously depicting the empowerment the narrator feels, implying that personal empowerment and strength is actually in the hands of every individual. Line twenty one is significant because it is the first time passion is introduced to the reader within the actual poem. The narrator discovers this fire of passion when she realizes that she can simply choose to turn her old desires into a passion of rebuilding herself; giving herself a second chance at life after having suffered a tremendous loss in the war of love.
This world I saw as on her judgment day
And all is light, love and eternity.
The final stanza concludes the poem with a quite fitting topic: judgement day. The narrator speaks of seeing the world with a new light; as if on judgement day because that is the only time the world will not look like what it does on a normal day. When all the normal disappears and even the undying sky is “rolled away” then there will be “light, love and eternity”, she supposes. This stanza displays the high hopes that the narrator has set for herself, she hopes to find light love and eternity now that she is putting the heartbreak behind her. She has decided this is her judgement day and she deserves another chance at love even if it is just self-love.