At the heart of Apocalypse is one recurring theme: The modern world is in crisis because men and women have lost their power of directly experiencing and participating in the power and vitality of the cosmos. They are cut off from the source of their being. This “long, slow death of the human being” began in the time of Socrates and Jesus and continued throughout Christian history. The book of Revelation, however, stands at a crossroad; it contains the remnants of the pagan universe which the Christians attempted to destroy, and it still has power to stimulate its readers, through its pregnant symbolism, into a new way of perceiving and experiencing.
Lawrence thinks habitually in terms of dualities and correspondences; they are the basic elements around which his entire argument revolves. First, he divides Christianity into two distinct and contradictory camps: the Christianity of Jesus and the Christianity of John, the author of Revelation. The former embodies love and tenderness, meditation, reflection, and service; the latter has none of these qualities but stands for the “self-glorification of the humble.” The first is “thoughtful religion.” It belongs only to individuals (mental aristocrats in Lawrence’s terminology) and is the religion of the strong. The second is “popular religion.” It is nonindividual; it belongs to the mediocre masses, the collective self (democrats), and is the religion of the weak. It embodies the primal will-to-power, the dark, frustrated side of the human psyche, which the Gospels attempt to transcend. Lawrence sees it dominating the religion of his day, which he thought was based on envy, fear, and a moralistic, “thou-shalt-not” attitude.
Running not quite parallel to this duality is a duality of another kind, consisting of two distinct ways of experiencing the world: the ancient and the modern. Here Lawrence is the quintessential romantic. He opposes instinct and intuition with reason, emotion with logic. Ancient man, whom Lawrence finds it convenient to idealize, perceived his world with a kind of intimate “feeling-awareness.” His senses were far richer than those of modern man, and he grasped what he knew in an intuitive, holistic, nonsequential manner. He thought in images, not words, and would not have understood the linear, concept-oriented nature of modern thought, which fragments reality.
This shift in the mechanics of perception, which began as the old pagan world was dying and the new Christian world was being born, resulted in a split between man and his environment. Lawrence places this split much earlier than his fellow romantics of the previous century, who had seen it occurring as a result of the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, had done. It suited Lawrence’s purpose to do so, however, because it led him into his great, recurring refrain: Man has lost the cosmos. He has lost his connection with the sun and the moon and the stars. A familiar Lawrentian theme, it inspires him to some of the most powerful, and poetic, passages of Apocalypse.
The theme rests on the idea of the correspondence between the microcosm and the macrocosm, that for everything in the “little body” of man there is a corresponding reality in the “great body” of the cosmos. The belief is common to most ancient cultures and is found throughout the Western esoteric tradition, from Hermetism to alchemy and Renaissance magic. Lawrence expresses it...
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Lawrence first conceived the idea of Apocalypse in October, 1929, and the manuscript was “roughly finished” by December 15 of the same year. It was to be Lawrence’s last book; when he wrote it he was already suffering from the disease which would kill him less than three months later. Apocalypse continues Lawrence’s lifelong concern with exploring and delineating fresh states of human consciousness, beyond the ordinary run of daily experience and perception. One of its principal themes, the reinterpretation of the Christian understanding of death and resurrection, is present in much of Lawrence’s work in his last years. In the short novel The Man Who Died (1931), for example, the resurrected Jesus is no longer a teacher or a savior. Instead, he enjoys the newly discovered holy life of the flesh; he is finally in touch with his own physical being and with the marvels of the created universe. The pagan element is present also; in his journeying, Jesus encounters a priestess of Isis. “The Risen Lord,” an essay written in July, 1929, and published in Everyman in October, 1929, continues the same theme.
Lawrence is frequently compared to William Blake, a poet whom he greatly admired. Yet the differences between the two men can be clearly seen in their attitudes to Revelation. Both were strongly affected by it, but Blake revered Revelation as a sacred, visionary text, while Lawrence detested and reviled it (apart from its pagan elements, that is). Whereas Lawrence expressed contempt for the penultimate chapter—in which a new heaven and a new earth replace those that have been destroyed—and focused only on the power lust of the early Christians and their urge to destroy, Blake saw this event as a revelation of a pure, eternal world which had formerly been hidden within the fallen, time-space sense world. This reveals a difference in emphasis. Lawrence valued the sense world more highly than did Blake, and Blake, particularly late in his life, would perhaps have censured Lawrence for the same reason he condemned William Wordsworth—for being a worshiper of nature, not of the eternal reality which is revealed through nature but does not belong to it.