Lawrence, D(avid) H(erbert)
D(avid) H(erbert) Lawrence 1885-1930
English poet, novelist, essayist, and short story and travel writer.
The following entry presents criticism of Lawrence's life and career from 1913 through 2000.
Lawrence is considered one of the most influential literary figures of the twentieth century. Best remembered as a novelist, he wrote prolifically in other genres, as well. In his poetry and fiction, he rejected industrialization and what he saw as its dehumanizing effects and presented instead a vision of men and women freed from the restraints of society, in harmony with the natural, physical world.
Lawrence was born in central England on September 11, 1885. His father was a coal miner who drank heavily. His mother, to whom he was devoted, was an unhappily married former schoolteacher who steered her son toward a university education and away from his father's way of life. Lawrence's Nottinghamshire upbringing was marked by family discord. Money was scarce and financial hardship caused him to rely on scholarships and periods of factory work in order to complete his education. In 1905 he graduated from a teacher-training course at University College, Nottingham, and began teaching in Croydon, a suburb of London. He had begun writing by this time, and in 1909 he began publishing verse. When his first novel, The White Peacock, was published in early 1911, his success was tempered by his grief at the recent death of his mother from cancer. Throughout the next several months he was plagued by ill health and depression. The following year he decided to quit teaching and support himself exclusively as a writer. He managed to maintain a simple lifestyle by selling a steady stream of short stories, essays, articles, and poetry to magazines, while continuing to write novels that more fully addressed his dreams of a changed world.
In 1912 Lawrence also began a passionate and stormy relationship with Frieda Weekley, the German-born wife of one of his former professors. They ran off to Germany together, returning to England in 1914 to be married after she was granted a divorce. During World War I, they were not allowed to leave England; his outspoken antiwar sentiments and her German heritage caused officials to suspect them of being spies. In 1915 the government took action against Lawrence's work by officially censoring his novel The Rainbow (1915) for its descriptions of sex and use of vulgarities. After the war, the couple left England permanently and Lawrence delighted in his own escape from the “coffin” he thought England had become. From 1919 until his death in 1930, Lawrence and Frieda lived a nomadic existence, residing first in Italy; their travels led them to France, Germany, Mexico, the United States (New Mexico), Australia, and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). The experiences of these years are reflected in Lawrence's fiction, poetry, and nonfiction writings of the period. Near the end of his life came the episode for which he would be most remembered. Lady Chatterley's Lover, a novel written and printed privately in 1928 in Florence, Italy, was censured by British officials for its explicit description of the physical relationship between a noblewoman and one of her husband's servants. An expurgated edition appeared in England in 1932, after Lawrence's death in 1930. His most explicit version was not published commercially until 1959, in the United States, and 1960, in England; it was the subject of heated legal debate until courts in both countries finally upheld its publication. Unaware of the legacy his controversial novel would ultimately have on the artistic and literary freedom of generations of writers, Lawrence died in the South of France on March 2, 1930 of tuberculosis.
His first published poems appeared in the English Review in 1909. Lawrence’s first volume of poetry, Love Poems and Others, was published in 1913. Subsequent collections of poetry, Amores (1916) and Look! We Have Come Through! (1917), deal with similar subject matter—primarily, the sexual and psychological relationships of men and women. Significantly, Look! We Have Come Through!, was Lawrence’s first sustained experiment in the “poetry of the present.” It was organized by an autobiographical but novelistically defined plot, a structure that emphasizes the intimate connection between Lawrence’s life, his prose, and his verse. Most of the poems in this volume are not yet artistically mature, but they are a remarkable advance towards poetic honesty. In his critically-praised volume Birds, Beasts and Flowers (1923), Lawrence drew upon his travel experiences in the Meditteranean and the American southwest. Written in the years right after the war, the collection is profoundly affirmative, even exuberant, as if in these poems Lawrence had resolved to express the pure “life-rapidity” he still felt, despite everything, both in himself and in the nonhuman world of nature. Later collections, Pansies (1929) and Nettles (1930), show Lawrence at his wittiest, slangiest, and most acerbic. Brief, casual verses, composed in what the writer himself described as “a loose little poem form, Frieda says with joy: real doggerel,” these pieces, as he punningly explained, were “meant for Pensées... not lyrical poetry” even while they were also intended, like pansies, to be fleeting yet rooted in “corrosive humus.” Lawrence’s death-haunted Last Poems, published posthumously in 1932, appears to be a set of prayerful meditations designed, like the spiritual exercises practiced by traditional religious thinkers from ancient Egypt to seventeenth-century England, to prepare his soul for its passage from life to death to mystical rebirth. “I intend to find God: I wish to realize my relation with Him,” the dying poet evidently told an old friend in conversation one day, and that is what he did, especially in such famously resonant and sonorous works as “Bavarian Gentians” and “The Ship of Death.” These not only explore more varied emotional and psychological territory in subject matter, but they exhibit a maturity of form, structure, and pacing not found in his previous works.
Lawrence's frank approach to writing about human sexuality led to censorship of several of his works, including the novels The Rainbow and Lady Chatterley's Lover, and the poetry collection Pansies. More than fifty years after his death, Lawrence's controversial writings seem tame. However, during his time, Lawrence's creative vision threatened orthodox political and religious standards, with his descriptions of the natural, physical aspects of human relationships and his expressed belief that sexual freedom was a necessary cure for what he saw as the ills of an industrialized society.
Lawrence is best remembered as a novelist, not as a poet. During his life, and for a number of decades following his death, his poetry was frequently ignored or underrated. Ultimately, Lawrence’s verse has received equal respect and scholarly attention, but even staunch advocates of Lawrence note that his work exhibits an unevenness of quality, particularly among his prolific output of poetry. Marked by high emotion and intensity, some of Lawrence's lesser poems have been said to suffer from repetitive language, carelessness in metaphor, and deviation from established structural techniques and poetic norms. The poet's recurring themes, including grief for his lost mother, nostalgia for a pre-industrialized world, and the quest for sexual freedom and fulfillment, invite high emotion and, in the minds of some critics, are themselves worthy of blame in the assessment of the success or failure of particular poems. However, Lawrence's poetic voice managed to evolve from youthful uncertainty and unrestrained expression to a more refined, mature mastery of form that still conveys the sense of freedom, spontaneity, and emotional immediacy so important to the writer. Adrienne Rich lauds Lawrence as a major poet, emphasizing that the “the organic shape and movement” of the poems found in The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence (1957) “has nothing mindless and happenstance about it: he knows what he is doing with line-length, with diction, with pause, repetition, termination.” Keith Sagar, in the introduction to his edition of Selected Poetry (1989), is more cautious in his praise, pointing out that of the hundreds of poems Lawrence wrote, “we must concede that an unusually high proportion are unsuccessful.” Yet Sagar also asserts that in considering the best of Lawrence's verse, “we can support the claim that Lawrence is a great poet in every sense, including the technical.”
Love Poems and Others 1913
Look! We Have Come Through! 1917
New Poems 1918
Birds, Beasts and Flowers 1923
Collected Poems 1928
Last Poems 1932
The Ship of Death 1933
Fire and Other Poems 1940
Selected Poems 1947
Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence 1957
The White Peacock (novel) 1911
The Trespasser (novel) 1912
Sons and Lovers (novel) 1913; earlier version published as Paul Morel [edited by Helen Baron] 2003
The Prussian Officer and Other Stories (short stories) 1914
The Rainbow (novel) 1915
Twilight in Italy (travel writing) 1916
The Lost Girl (novel) 1920
Women in Love (novel) 1920
Pyschoanalysis and the Unconscious (nonfiction) 1921
Sea and Sardinia (travel writing) 1921
Aaron's Rod (novel) 1922
Fantasia of the Unconscious (nonfiction) 1922...
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SOURCE: Pound, Ezra. Review of Love Poems and Others. Poetry: A Magazine of Verse 2, no. 4 (July 1913): 149-51.
[In the following review, poet Pound offers a brief review of Lawrence's first book of verse.]
The Love Poems, if by that Mr. Lawrence means the middling-sensual erotic verses in this collection, are a sort of pre-raphaelitish slush, disgusting or very nearly so. The attempts to produce the typical Laurentine line have brought forth:
I touched her and she shivered like a dead snake.
which was improved by an even readier parodist, to
I touched her and she came off in scales.
Jesting aside, when Mr. Lawrence ceases to discuss his own disagreeable sensations, when he writes low-life narrative, as he does in “Whether or Not” and in “Violets,” there is no English poet under forty who can get within shot of him. That Masefield should be having a boom seems, as one takes count of these poems, frankly ridiculous.
It is no more possible to quote from them as illustration than it would be to illustrate a Rembrandt by cutting off two inches of canvas. The first is in mood-ridden chiaroscuro, the characters being a policeman, his sweetheart, his mother, and a widow who has taken advantage of his excitement and by whom he has had a child. It is sullen and heavy, and as ugly as such a tale must...
(The entire section is 581 words.)
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SOURCE: Gregory, Horace. “The Georgian Poet: 1909-1919.” In D. H. Lawrence: Pilgrim of the Apocalypse, pp. 1-16. New York, N.Y.: Grove Press, 1933.
[In the following essay, Gregory examines the works of D. H. Lawrence that appeared or were written between 1909 and 1919.]
Some effort is required to get at the Lawrence of the early poems, to get behind the beard of the prophet, the half-closed eyes and the red, V-shaped, pointed smile. The early poems belong to a white-skinned boy, back in Nottinghamshire, a boy who had the clean, water-translucent stare of an H. G. Wellsian hero. All this, of course, was long before the war and he was a Georgian poet before the Georgians appeared.
In a note placed as a preface to his Collected Poems (1928) Lawrence was a bit uneasy about these early poems first printed as Love Poems and Others and Amores. He went to no small trouble to rewrite them, for he believed in his “demon” rather than “the young man” making a tentative approach to writing poetry. It was natural for the later Lawrence to believe that this young man was quite a different person, and the change to him seemed greater than to us now who merely read the poems and have no more than an historical concern about the writing of them. In the later Lawrencian sense the young man was not a good poet, nor will many of the poems stand rigid examination by a...
(The entire section is 3889 words.)
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SOURCE: Rexroth, Kenneth. “The Poetry of D. H. Lawrence.” In D. H. Lawrence: A Collection of Criticism, edited by Leo Hamalian, pp. 118-32. New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1973.
[In the following essay, first published as the introduction to a 1947 volume of Selected Poems by D. H. Lawrence, Rexroth notes the faults of the poet's many volumes but concludes that Lawrence's poetry is successful art.]
At the very beginning Lawrence belonged to a different order of being from the literary writers of his day. In 1912 he said: “I worship Christ, I worship Jehovah, I worship Pan, I worship Aphrodite. But I do not worship hands nailed and running with blood upon a cross, nor licentiousness, nor lust. I want them all, all the gods. They are all God. But I must serve in real love. If I take my whole passionate, spiritual and physical love to the woman who in turn loves me, that is how I serve God. Any my hymn and my game of joy is my work. All of which I read in …”
Do you know what he read all that in? It makes you wince. He thought he found that in Georgian Poetry, 1911-1912, in Lascelles Abercrombie, Wilfred Gibson, John Drinkwater, Rupert Brooke, John Masefield, Walter de la Mare, Gordon Bottomley! What a good man Lawrence must have been. It is easy to understand how painful it was for him to learn what evil really was. It is easy to understand why the...
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SOURCE: Ellman, Richard. “Barbed Wire and Coming Through.” In The Achievement of D. H. Lawrence, edited by Frederick J. Hoffman and Harry T. Moore, pp. 253-67. Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1953.
[In the following essay, Ellman explores the “healing” elements of Lawrence's poetry and the development of poetic voice through revision.]
Lawrence wrote his poetry, and much of his prose, as a healer. This description is not pejorative; it ranks him, as Auden has suggested, with Blake; it ranks him with Auden himself, and with the later Pound. It dissociates him from Yeats, Eliot, and Dylan Thomas, whose poetry aims first at being visionary rather than therapeutic. Healing has two aspects: the patient must know first that he has a wound which needs to be searched. Here Lawrence's Pansies (with his suggestion that he connects the word with panser) and Nettles establish his diagnostic skill, in the same way that Auden's clinical excoriations of the will's negative inversion and Pound's satirical epigrams do. Then the wound must be dressed, and Lawrence's “coming through” is a medication comparable in efficacy to Auden's “Love” and Pound's “claritas” and “unwobbling pivot.”
That Lawrence thought of his poetry as curative is suggested by the plan of the two volumes of Collected Poems that he published in 1928. “The crisis...
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SOURCE: Deutsch, Babette. “The Earthly and the Definite.” In Poetry in Our Time, pp. 86-92. New York, N.Y.: Columbia University Press, 1956.
[In the following excerpt, Deutsch characterizes Lawrence's poetry as generally undisciplined and subjective, yet not totally without merit or fine moments of imagery and drama.]
The poetry of both Walsh and Carnevali has something of the vitality, something of the savage exacerbated tenderness, that marks the work of D. H. Lawrence. He attached himself early to the imagists rather because, like them, he craved immediacy, than because he understood their principles. He was too subjective to share their interest in technical subtleties, too apt to pour into his poems the crude emotion of the moment in all its turbidness. Yet his eye was the alert servant of his feeling, and he had an ear for personal rhythms. Scattered among his poems are a few small clear images, like that of the baby asleep after pain, hanging numb and heavy as “a drenched, drowned bee,” or the slight dawn poem called “Green,” which has the clarity of living green stems through which the sun is shining. There are pictures alive with color, among others, the woman bathing in the sunlight by the window, which glows like a golden Renoir come to life in music, and as against that, the sullen pigments in which he paints the Thames embankment at night, where houseless sleepers lie in huddled...
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SOURCE: Salgado, Gamini. Review of The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence. The Critical Quarterly 7, no. 5 (winter 1965): 389-92.
[In the following review of The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence, Salgado briefly traces the general tenor of critical assessment of Lawrence's poetry.]
“In England, they have that loathsome superior knack of refusing to consider me a poet at all—‘your prose is so good’ say the kind fools, ‘that we are obliged to forgive you your poetry’. How I hate them.”
The fifty years that have passed since Lawrence's outburst have done little to alter the general attitude to his poetry; if anything, the original opposition has hardened into something like a dogma. Edith Sitwell called him, amusingly, the Jaeger poet, all hot and woolly; Ezra Pound saw the early poems (except those in dialect) as pre-Raphaelite slush and achieved a one-line parody of a long sequence: ‘I touched her and she came off in scales’. ‘They may have come through’ quipped Bertrand Russell about the same sequence, ‘but I don't see why I should look’. Lawrence's poetry embarrasses Eliseo Vivas the spectacle of a great artist making a fool of himself, while Anthony West epitomises his view of Lawrence the poet by recalling Ada Lawrence's anecdote about her brother at the piano; he sat down to it with some theoretical knowledge and the ability to read music, but...
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SOURCE: Zanger, Jules. “D. H. Lawrence's Three Strange Angels.” Papers on English Language & Literature 1, no. 2 (spring 1965): 184-87.
[In the following essay, Zanger focuses attention on a cycle of three poems found in Look! We Have Come Through!, Lawrence's third volume of poetry.]
It seems to me that no poetry, not even the best, should be judged as if it existed in the absolute, in the vacuum of the absolute. Even the best poetry, when it is at all personal, needs the penumbra of its own time and place and circumstance to make it full and whole. … So, one would like to ask the reader of Look! We Have Come Through! to fill in the background of the poems, as far as possible, with the place, the time, the circumstance.1
While a great deal of critical discussion has been devoted to the D. H. Lawrence-Freida von Richthofen relationship as it stands revealed in Lawrence's fiction, relatively little attention has been directed toward the avowedly autobiographical treatment it receives in Look! We Have Come Through!—Lawrence's third volume of poems—and particularly in what is one of the most significant poems in the collection, “Song of a Man Who Has Come Through.” The importance of this poem is attested to both by Lawrence's own echoing of its title in the title of the collection and by Frieda's use of its...
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SOURCE: Rich, Adrienne. “Reflections on Lawrence.” Poetry 106, no. 3 (June 1965): 218-25.
[In the following review of The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence, Rich suggests that this collection is essential to understanding the depth and breadth of Lawrence's significance as a major poet.]
“Thought,” he says in More Pansies, “is a man in his wholeness wholly attending.” Have his readers wholly attended to him? “But, my dear God, when I see all the understanding and suffering and the pure intelligence necessary for the simple perceiving of poetry, then I know it is an almost hopeless business to publish the stuff at all,” he wrote to Harriet Monroe. It seems scarcely possible that the old charges of hysteria, anti-craftmanship, can still be leveled, that his own references to “the demon” (in the Preface to the Collected Poems, 1928) can still be misread. (“From the first, I was a little afraid of my real poems—not my ‘compositions’ but the poems that had the ghost in them. … Now I know my demon better, and after bitter years, respect him more than my other, milder and nicer self.”) Organic form, about which we still understand so little, for which the textbooks have yet to be written, we perhaps now know better than to equate with formlessness. That Lawrence was capable of writing formless poems (some of them in traditional patterns, e.g. the early,...
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SOURCE: Janik, Del Ivan. “Toward ‘Thingness’: Cézanne's Painting and Lawrence's Poetry.” Twentieth Century Literature 19, no. 2 (April 1973): 119-28.
[In the following essay, Janik asserts that two of Lawrence's essays focusing on the paintings of Paul Cézanne can also be read as descriptions of Lawrence's poetic development.]
Two essays that reveal D. H. Lawrence's interest in and admiration for the paintings of Paul Cézanne deserve attention as expressions of Lawrence's own artistic problem, and the manner in which he solved it in the realm of poetry. “Art and Morality,” published in 1925, and the “Introduction to These Paintings” that Lawrence wrote for the 1929 edition of his own paintings both describe the special intuitive consciousness that Lawrence saw revealed in Cézanne's work, and provide an insight into what Lawence himself had been attempting to achieve in the medium of poetry.1 Even more than Lawrence's Etruscan Places, which Christopher Hassall has identified as being in part an essay on poetic theory,2 these discussions of Cézanne can be read as retrospective descriptions of Lawrence's own poetic development.
The “Introduction to These Paintings” echoes Lawrence's earlier essay “Poetry of the Present” (1918), in which he had asserted the supreme artistic importance of immediacy and intuitive knowledge. In the...
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SOURCE: Solomon, Gerald. “The Banal, and the Poetry of D. H. Lawrence.” Essays in Criticism 23, no. 3 (July 1973): 354-67.
[In the following essay, Solomon discusses the role of self-knowledge in the development of poetic depth, and suggests that a certain unevenness of quality and tone in Lawrence's poetry may be due to the poet's fear of self-knowledge.]
The banal is that in which we see a statement falling back on itself, returning us, empty-handed, to where we were. This is the tautology that lies at the end of all ultimate thinking, the tautology of the closed and therefore vicious circle, the circle of intellectual process that sends Marlowe's Faust to the Devil, and a later philosopher, Wittgenstein, to the premature retirement of a schoolmaster's life. Fortunately, Wittgenstein found it possible to overcome the immobilisation of his thought by a sense of banality by questioning the established conventions of language, and proposing to leap over the boundaries that had previously brought him to a standstill. As an ‘enemy of convention’, to use Lawrence's epitomisation of the poet, he explains his new approach:
To say ‘this combination of words makes no sense’ excludes it from the sphere of language and thereby bounds the domain of language. But when one draws a boundary, it may be for various kinds of reason. If I surround an area with a...
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SOURCE: Janik, Del Ivan. “D. H. Lawrence's ‘Future Religion’: The Unity of Last Poems.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 16, no. 4 (winter 1975): 739-54.
[In the following essay, Janik considers the posthumously-published Last Poems of Lawrence, asserting that they are among the finest of the poet's works.]
Several of the poems that D. H. Lawrence wrote in the last months of his life are considered to be among his finest, and among the finest English poems of the century; but it has not been observed that the posthumously published notebook that includes “Bavarian Gentians” and “The Ship of Death” is a unified and cohesively organized work that extends Lawrence's most fundamental religious perceptions into one of his major literary accomplishments. In his introduction to Lawrence's Last Poems, first published by Giuseppe Orioli in 1932, Richard Aldington lamented the fact that the poet had not lived to complete his work: “He was too weary, he could not find the strength to build his ship of death and at the same time to build the full whole song of it.”1 But whether or not the sequence of sixty-seven poems that begins with “The Greeks Are Coming!” and ends with “Phoenix” represents Lawrence's final intention, it stands as a coherent and important work. As Tom Marshall has implied and Elizabeth Cipolla and Michael Kirkham have stated,...
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SOURCE: Clark, L. D. “The Bright Doorway.” In The Minoan Distance: The Symbolism of Travel in D. H. Lawrence, pp. 26-39. Tucson, Ariz.: University of Arizona Press, 1980.
[In the following excerpt, Clark traces the influence of D. H. Lawrence's “rootless” years on the subject matter and evolution of his poetry.]
No experience went deeper with Lawrence than the forging on into unknown places. In the re-creation of his travel adventures, this two-fold response of the male and the female is common also, elaborated often with the overtones of religious pilgrimage. We note above that Ursula has her heart set on the goal, the paradise, while to Birkin the journey itself is all in all. In Lawrence the woman perennially seeks a point, a fixed center, while the man seeks an outflinging of movement for its own sake. These are the complementary halves of any venture.
One of the first new imaginative roles that the resolution to travel and the coincidental discovery of the right companion brought to Lawrence was that of the dark wanderer, who pursues a solitary integrity outside the ordinary confines of life, a figure who after many appearances culminates in the figure of Jesus in The Escaped Cock. In conjunction with the dark wanderer is the wayfaring woman, now discovered in Frieda but also in one aspect of himself. The whole of their migrant life together is epitomized in...
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SOURCE: Rubin, Merle R. “‘Not I, but the Wind That Blows through Me’: Shelleyan Aspects of Lawrence's Poetry.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 23, no. 1 (spring 1981): 102-22.
[In the following essay, Rubin discusses parallels between the poetry of D. H. Lawrence and the works of English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822).]
Despite Lawrence's strenuous denials of influence, specific influences upon his poetry are clearly discernible. In addition to Whitman, Wordsworth, and Blake,1 other influences were the King James Bible, the Nonconformist hymns of Lawrence's chapel youth, and the poetry of the Pre-Raphaelites, Swinburne, and Hardy. The early love poems are faintly Pre-Raphaelite in their vivid attention to color and detail and more than faintly Swinburnian in their plangent use of small, simple words (“sweet,” “cool,” “pain,” “ache,” “darkness,” “moon,” “sun”). This strain in turn is traceable to the major tradition of English Romanticism,2 and more specifically a certain aspect of it reverts to Shelley, who was among the first of Wordsworth's heirs to uncover in the Wordsworthian landscape the sexual elements which Wordsworth, for the most part, conceals. Lawrence himself speculates that fear of the body drove English painters—with the exception of Blake—into the realm of landscape,3 but he does not evolve a...
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SOURCE: Draper, R. P. “The Poetry of D. H. Lawrence.” In D. H. Lawrence: New Studies, edited by Christopher Heywood, pp. 16-33. New York, N.Y.: St. Martin's Press, 1987.
[In the following essay, Draper offers a critical overview of the range of Lawrence's poetry and its evolution in subject matter, structure, and tone.]
As Richard Hoggart pointed out some time ago (in a review of The Complete Poems [CP] published in the Listener, 29 October 1964), there is a wide variety of tone in Lawrence's poetry, but in the main it falls into two kinds: the vatic or rapturous (which Hoggart calls the ‘prophetic or mystical voice’) and the more down-to-earth, colloquially familiar voice of his working-class background. Some readers might wish to identify the dialect poems as belonging to a third kind; and yet a fourth group—nostalgic in tone and fin de sièce in style—might be found in the early poems written on the theme of the mother and about Lawrence's relationships with the soulful women he knew before he met Frieda. But the dialect poems and the poems of the colloquially familiar voice, especially as this is expressed in Pansies and Nettles, are similar in attitude and manner (it is in Pansies that the actual use of dialect reappears after a period of several years' absence), and many of the early poems, though the variation of theme and mood is such...
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SOURCE: Lockwood, M. J. “Early Poetry.” In A Study of the Poems of D. H. Lawrence: Thinking in Poetry, pp. 11-34. New York, N.Y.: St. Martin's Press, 1987.
[In the following excerpt, Lockwood focuses attention on the poems written between 1905 and 1908 by D. H. Lawrence.]
Lawrence wrote his first poems, the two companion-pieces called “Campions” and “Guelder Roses” (854-5), in the spring of 1905, when he was nineteen and a student teacher. The two poems are Lawrence's earliest surviving literary work, written almost a year before he began his first novel, The White Peacock, as ‘Laetitia’, and two years before the earliest short story or play. He had told Jessie Chambers, when he decided to begin writing, that ‘it will be poetry’, suggesting that he had considered, and for the time being rejected, other literary forms.1
Twenty-three years later, in the Foreword intended for a collected edition of his poems, Lawrence looked back slightingly at his first efforts at poetry-writing:
I remember the slightly self-conscious Sunday afternoon, when I was nineteen, and I ‘composed’ my first two ‘poems’. One was to Guelder-roses, and one to Campions, and most young ladies would have done better: at least I hope so. But I thought the effusions very nice, and so...
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SOURCE: Thomas, Michael W. “Lawrence's ‘After the Opera’.” The Explicator 47, no. 1 (fall 1988): 26-9.
[In the following essay, Thomas provides a line-by-line explication of Lawrence's poem, “After the Opera.”]
“AFTER THE OPERA”
Down the stone stairs Girls with their large eyes wide with tragedy Lift looks of shocked and momentous emotions up at me. And I smile.
Ladies Stepping like birds with their bright and pointed feet Peer anxiously forth, as if for a boat to carry them out of the wreckage, And among the wreck of the theatre crowd I stand and smile.
They take tragedy so becomingly. Which pleases me.
But when I meet the weary eyes The reddened aching eyes of the bar-man with thin arms, I am glad to go back where I came from.
—D. H. Lawrence
The poem [“After the Opera”] appears in the collection Bay.1 In it, the first-person speaker describes opera-goers—women and girls—as they depart after an evening's performance. They fascinate him, but his fascination is not engendered by their dress or even their physicality. Their expressions and behaviour, signifying varied emotional states, are what engage his attention.
In this regard, the poem's pivotal lines are ten and eleven: “They take tragedy so becomingly. / Which pleases me.”...
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SOURCE: Farr, Judith. “D. H. Lawrence's Mother as Sleeping Beauty: The ‘Still Queen’ of His Poems and Fictions.” Modern Fiction Studies 36, no. 2 (summer 1990): 195-207.
[In the following essay, Farr examines the recurring motif of the “Sleeping Beauty” in Lawrence's works from the perspective of the poet's intense affection for his mother.]
A queen, they'll say, Has slept unnoticed on a forgotten hill. Sleeps on unknown, unnoticed there, until Dawns my insurgent day.
—“On That Day,” New Poems (1918)
To the demon, the past is not past.
—MS: Discarded Foreward to Collected Poems (1928) (Printed in Appendix I of Complete Poems II 850)
D. H. Lawrence's deep and painful love for his mother is one of the best known facts of literary biography. He was himself utterly candid about its nature and effects, writing to Rachel Annand Taylor as Mrs. Lawrence lay dying in 1910, “We have loved each other, almost with a husband and wife love, as well as filial and maternal. We knew each other by instinct. … It has been rather terrible, and has made me, in some respects, abnormal” (Collected Letters I 69). Readers of Sons and Lovers and the powerful elegies and mother poems for Lydia Beardsall Lawrence may surmise how fervently...
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SOURCE: Schaefer, Charles W. “Lawrence's ‘Mystic.’” The Explicator 58, no. 1 (fall 1999): 31-3.
[In the following essay, Schaefer offers an explication of Lawrence's poem, “Mystic.”]
“Mystic” is a poetic exercise in demythologizing mystical experience, demystifying mysticism, one could say, while defending its elevated function in the life of the mind. Mystical experience was vital to D. H. Lawrence. Toward the end of “Excurse” in Women in Love, the cautious reader will note repeated use of some form of the word mystery in Lawrence's description of the physical relationship between Ursula and Birkin.
The tone of “Mystic” is sardonic-colloquial, beginning with an almost out of-the-side-of-the-mouth mutter: “They call all experience of the senses mystic, when the experience is considered.” Beginning as he does with the imprecisely referential third person plural, Lawrence establishes two facts: first, the poetic voice is that of a common man who refers to his fellows as “They,” meaning that although among them, he is in no way of them; second, the sense Lawrence gives of being a common man himself preconditions us to expect an act of demythologizing, a simplified apology for mystic experience. It is likely that there will be no conventional discourses on the stages of trance, nor on one's encompassing vision of totality in this statement about the...
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SOURCE: Wright, T. R. “Last Poems: final thoughts.” In D. H. Lawrence and the Bible, pp. 245-51. Cambridge, Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
[In the following essay, Wright traces the appearance of Scripture phrases in Lawrence's Last Poems, and discusses Biblical influences on the poet's works throughout his career.]
Lawrence's last years at Bandol from November 1928 onwards saw a regeneration of his interest in poetry which was to result in four volumes of verse: Pansies (1929), Nettles (1930), More Pansies and Last Poems, the last two edited from his notebooks by Richard Aldington in 1932. The word ‘pansies’, as Lawrence explains in his introduction to the volume, derives (in Derridean fashion) from a conflation of the French for to think (penser) and to soothe (panser) ([The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence] CP 417). Sandra Gilbert, acknowledging their spontaneous, deliberately rough and fragmentary quality, calls them ‘inspired graffiti’ (Gilbert 1990: 259). Nettles are particularly slight, provocative little stings at bourgeois convention, while More Pansies bridge the gap between ‘the slangy doggerel of Pansies and the more serious music of Last Poems’ (266). It is undoubtedly on this last volume that the strongest claims for Lawrence as a serious religious poet rest....
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Mace, Hebe R. “The Genesis of D. H. Lawrence's Poetic Form.” In Critical Essays on British Literature, edited by Dennis Jackson and Fleda Brown Jackson, pp. 189-202. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall, 1988.
Discusses nontraditional structure and form in Lawrence's poetry.
Marshall, Tom. The Psychic Mariner: A Reading of the Poems of D. H. Lawrence, New York, N.Y.: Viking Press, 1970, 275 p.
Provides an overview of critical opinion regarding Lawrence as a poet and examines the poetic works as arranged in five chronological stages.
Pollnitz, Christopher. “D. H. Lawrence's Last Poems: Taking the Right Tack.” Journal of Modern Literature 23, no. 3-4 (summer 2000): 503-17.
An explanation of Pollnitz's approach to the preparation of a critical edition of Lawrence's poems.
Smith, L. E. W. Laurence Lerner. “Two Views of D. H. Lawrence's Poetry: ‘Snake’ and ‘How Beastly the Bourgeois Is’.” The Critical Survey 1, no. 2 (spring 1963): 81-89.
Explications of two of Lawrence's most frequently-anthologized poems.
Additional coverage of Lawrence's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction: Biography & Resources, Vol. 2; British...
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