Study Guide

D. H. Lawrence

D. H. Lawrence Essay - Lawrence, D. H. (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Lawrence, D. H. (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Introduction

Lawrence, D. H. 1885-1930

(Full name David Herbert Lawrence. Also wrote under the pseudonym Lawrence H. Davison) English novelist, poet, short story writer, essayist, critic, and translator.

The following entry presents criticism of Lawrence's poetry. See also D. H. Lawrence Short Story Criticism and D. H. Lawrence Poetry Criticism.

Highly acclaimed as a forerunner in adapting psychological themes for literary purposes in such novels as Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, Women in Love, and Lady Chatterley's Lover, Lawrence's status as a poet is among the most heatedly disputed topics of twentieth-century literature. Much of the debate stems from the perception that Lawrence published a large quantity of poetry that is often considered very uneven in quality. Although many of his detractors concede that Lawrence wrote several classic poems, they claim that these works are the exceptions rather than the rule when compared to the bulk of poems Lawrence published. Many of his defenders, however, claim that Lawrence's body of poetry constitutes one unified work in which no one piece can be isolated from the whole, and that Lawrence's occasional lapses of poetic technique are minor when weighed against his thematic concerns and the instantaneous nature of his poems. His poetic work is often described as visionary, prophetic, and Romantic in intent. Furthermore, Lawrence insisted that his work be read as an autobiography as well as a manifesto for the Utopia he envisioned, a "new heaven and earth" that rejected Victorian prudishness and rampant industrialization in favor of a more primitive "blood-wisdom" and sexual freedom. Despite disagreements over his rank among twentieth-century poets, Lawrence's influence is noted in the works of such writers as Galway Kinnell, Denise Levertov, Karl Shapiro, Ted Hughes, Adrienne Rich, and Robert Bly.

Biographical Information

The fourth child of an illiterate coal miner and his wife, a former school teacher, Lawrence was raised in the colliery town of Eastwood, Nottinghamshire. Temperamentally alienated from his environment, he grew to hate the debilitating mine work that he blamed for his father's debased condition. Lawrence won a scholarship to the local grammar school and later to Nottingham University College. He taught school at Coyden for three years, during which time Ford Madox Ford published some of Lawrence's poems in the English Review. The onset of tuberculosis forced Lawrence to resign from teaching in 1911, and that same year he published his first novel, The White Peacock, which received positive critical reviews. When he was twenty-seven, Lawrence eloped with Frieda von Richtofen Weekly, the wife of one of his college professors. The couple's erotic and emotional life during their first years together is chronicled in Look! We Have Come Through! After their marriage, the Lawrences lived briefly in Germany, Austria, Italy, Sicily, England, France, Australia, Mexico, and in the southwestern United States, where Lawrence hoped to establish a Utopian community. These locales provided the settings of many of his novels written during the 1920s, and also inspired his books of travel sketches. In 1930, Lawrence entered a sanitorium in Vence, France, in an attempt to cure the tuberculosis that afflicted him throughout his adult life. He died soon after.

Major Works

Like his fiction, most of Lawrence's poetry is intensely personal. His earliest poetry, which he began writing in his twenties, adhered to traditional poetic forms and is seldom as highly regarded as his later free-verse works. His first four volumes—Love Poems and Others, Amores, New Poems, and Bay—display Lawrence's adherence to traditional rhyme schemes. Poems from these volumes were placed by Lawrence in the "Rhyming Poems" section of The Collected Poems of D. H. Lawrence. These poems are often compared to the poetry of Thomas Hardy, who was an acknowledged influence on Lawrence, in their reliance on regional dialects and subject matter. Look! We Have Come Through! marks a departure in Lawrence's poetics from closed forms to free verse forms that display Lawrence's affinity for the work of American poet Walt Whitman. Birds, Beasts, and Flowers features celebratory and mystical poems about flora and fauna, including his most famous poem, "Snake," and the frequently anthologized and discussed "Medlars and Sorb Apples." He followed this work with Pansies and Nettles, two works noted for their acerbity and use of doggerel. Critics note that the poems in the posthumously published Last Poems are preoccupied with death, including the frequently anthologized "Bavarian Gentians" and "The Ship of Death."

Principal Works

The White Peacock (novel) 1911

The Trespasser (novel) 1912

Love Poems and Others (poetry) 1913

The Prussian Officer (short stories) 1914

The Rainbow (novel) 1915

Amores (poetry) 1916

Twilight in Italy (essays) 1916

Look! We Have Come Through! (poetry) 1917

New Poems (poetry) 1918

Bay (poetry) 1919

The Lost Girl (novel) 1920

Women in Love (novel) 1920

Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious (essay) 1921

Sea and Sardinia (essays) 1921

Tortoises (poetry) 1921

Aaron's Rod (novel) 1922

England, My England (short stories) 1922

Fantasia of the Unconscious (essay) 1922

Movements in European History [as Lawrence H. Davison] (essays) 1922

Birds, Beasts and Flowers (poetry) 1923

Kangaroo (novel) 1923

Studies in Classic American Literature (essays) 1923

Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine (essays) 1925

The Plumed Serpent (novel) 1926

Mornings in Mexico (essays) 1927

The Collected Poems of D. H. Lawrence, 2 vols, (poetry) 1928

Lady Chatterley's Lover (novel) 1928

The Woman Who Rode Away (short stories) 1928

Pansies (poetry) 1929

The Escaped Cock (novella) 1930; also published as The Man Who Died, 1931

Love among the Haystacks (short stories) 1930

Nettles (poetry) 1930

The Virgin and the Gipsy (novel) 1930

Etruscan Places (essay) 1932

Last Poems (poetry) 1932

The Lovely Lady (short stories) 1933

The Ship of Death (poetry) 1933

A Modern Lover (short stories) 1934

The Spirit of the Place (essays) 1935

Phoenix (essays and criticism) 1936

Fire (poetry) 1940

The First Lady Chatterley (novel) 1944

The Complete Short Stories of D. H. Lawrence, 3 vols.(short stories) 1955

The Collected Letters of D. H. Lawrence, 2 vols, (letters) 1962

The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence, 2 vols. (poetry) 1964

The Complete Plays of D. H. Lawrence (drama) 1966

Phoenix II (essays and criticism) 1968

John Thomas and Lady Jane (novel) 1972

Criticism

John Gould Fletcher (essay date 1918)

SOURCE: A review of Look! We Have Come Through, in Poetry, Vol. XII, No. V, August, 1918, pp. 269-74.

[In the following review of Look! We Have Come Through! Fletcher praises Lawrence's poetry as uncompromising and original, and finds similarities with the poetry of Walt Whitman.]

D. H. Lawrence has recently published[Look! We Have Come Through!] a third volume of poetry to stand beside his Love Poems and Amores. This event has, so far as I am aware, passed almost without notice in the English press. The reviewers of the English press know perfectly well that Mr. Lawrence is supposed to be a dangerous man, writing too frankly on certain subjects which are politely considered taboo in good society, and therefore they do their best to prevent Mr. Lawrence from writing at all, by tacitly ignoring him. If they are driven to the admission, these selfsame reviewers are obliged grudgingly to acknowledge that Mr. Lawrence is one of the most interesting of modern writers. Suchare the conditions which a modern writer with something new to say is obliged to accept in England to-day. The press can make a great to-do about the innocuous, blameless and essentially minor poetry of Edward Thomas (to take but one example); they politely refuse to discuss the questionable, but essentially major effort of a D. H. Lawrence. Is it any wonder that such an attitude drives a man to sheer fanaticism?

For a fine, intolerant fanatic D. H. Lawrence undoubtedly is. That is his value for our present day, so rich in halfmeasures and compromises. Lawrence does not compromise. In this last collection of poetry he gives us works which are not good poetry, which are scarcely readable prose. He includes them because they are necessary to the complete understanding of his thought and gospel. We, if we are wise, will read them for the same reason. For Lawrence is an original thinker, and his message to our present day is a valuable message.

Briefly, the message is this: that everything which we call spiritual is born and comes to flower out of certain physical needs and reactions, of which the most patent is the reaction of sex, through which life is maintained on this planet. Lawrence therefore stands in sharp contrast to the Christian dogma of the middle ages, and to those writers of the present day who still maintain an attitude of respect to the Christian view, which is that we are each endowed with an immortal soul, at strife with our physical needs, which can only be purged by death. Lawrence, like a recent French writer, "does not desire to spit out the forbidden fruit, and recreate the Eden of the refusal of life." He is frankly pagan. To him, the flesh is the soil in which the spirit blossoms, and the only immortality possible is the setting free of the blossoming spirit from the satiated flesh. When this is accomplished, then the spirit becomes free, perfect, unique, a habitant of paradise on earth. This is the doctrine of which he is the zealot, the intolerant apostle.

The specific value of this idea need not concern us very greatly. The question is, rather, of its poetical value; and there is no doubt that it is a system of philosophy which is essentially poetical....

(The entire section is 1345 words.)

Conrad Aiken (essay date 1919)

SOURCE: "The Melodic Line: D. H. Lawrence," in Scepticisms: Notes on Contemporary Poetry, Alfred A. Knopf, 1919, pp. 91-104.

[In the following essay on Lawrence's Look! We Have Come Through! Aiken argues that the poem reads more like a novel, and that Lawrence's grasp of poetic techniques are limited.]

It has been said that all the arts are constantly attempting, within their respective spheres, to attain to something of the quality of music, to assume, whether in pigment, or pencil, or marble, or prose, something of its speed and flash, emotional completeness, and well-harmonied resonance; but of no other single art is that so characteristically or persistently...

(The entire section is 2749 words.)

Arthur Waugh (essay date 1919)

SOURCE: "Mr. D. H. Lawrence," in Tradition and Change: Studies in Contemporary Literature, Books for Libraries Press, 1919, pp. 131-7.

[In the following essay, Waugh assesses Lawrence's poetry as lacking in unifying ideas and the poetic skills necessary to espouse them.]

The modern conception of poetry is so astonishingly different from the conception, for example, of the last generation before our own, that it is worth while to take stock of the situation now and again, and to try to get some clear notion of the direction in which we are drifting. Changes there must be, of course; and the critic who withstands change for its own sake is self-condemned already. But in...

(The entire section is 1684 words.)

Richard Aldington (essay date 1926)

SOURCE: "D. H. Lawrence as Poet," in The Saturday Review of Literature, New York, Vol. 11, No. 40, May 1, 1926, pp. 749-50.

[In the following overview of Lawrence 's poetry, including Birds, Beasts, and Flowers, Aldington attempts to cast aside the poet's ideology and sexual subject matter in order to isolate the poetry he writes, which Aldington believes to be representative of its author's genius.]

If a difficult problem were being set for what Mr. Bennett calls the "young aspirant" in criticism, there could scarcely be found a better topic than Mr. D. H. Lawrence. He is not the sort of man who becomes master of Balliol or an Oracle to thoughtful, cautious...

(The entire section is 1349 words.)

R. P. Blackmur (essay date 1935)

SOURCE: "D. H. Lawrence and Expressive Form," in Language as Gesture: Essays in Poetry, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1935, pp. 286-300.

[In the following essay, Blackmur argues that Lawrence's poetry is too often marred by the author's unchecked inclusion of biographical detail and personal feelings.]

As a poet, and only to a less degree as a novelist, Lawrence belongs to that great race of English writers whose work totters precisely where it towers, collapses exactly in its strength: work written out of a tortured Protestant sensibility and upon the foundation of an incomplete, uncomposed mind: a mind without defenses against the material with which it builds and...

(The entire section is 5466 words.)

Kenneth Rexroth (essay date 1947)

SOURCE: An introduction to D. H. Lawrence: Selected Poems, New Directions, 1947, pp. 1-23.

[In the following introduction to Lawrence's Selected Poems, Rexroth believes that, rather than being a major poet like Thomas Hardy, Lawrence was a minor prophet like William Blake and William Butler Yeats.]

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...

(The entire section is 7207 words.)

Charles I. Glicksberg (essay date 1948)

SOURCE: "The Poetry of D. H. Lawrence," in The New Mexico Quarterly Review, Vol. 14, March 13, 1948, pp. 289-303.

[In the following essay, Glicksberg examines Lawrence's poetry to support his thesis that Lawrence was engaged in creating his own religion that eschewed science and materialism. ]

There is no contradiction in the fact that Lawrence's ideas on human nature and society are muddled while his poetry is flame-like, instinct with beauty organically felt and sensuously communicated. When he trusted his feelings he was on firm ground; when his powerful sensibility ruled him he could not go wrong. Each impression leaped forth like a radiant beam of sunlight; form...

(The entire section is 6064 words.)

W. H. Auden (essay date 1948)

SOURCE: "D. H. Lawrence," in The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays, Random House, 1948, pp. 277-95.

[In the following essay, Auden echoes Richard Aldington's assessment that readers should not read Lawrence to reinforce ideologieswhich are better expressed elsewhere by other writersand that his genius lay in his ability to articulate humankind's aggressive and hateful natures. ]

If men were as much men as lizards are lizards,
They 'd be worth looking at.

The artist, the man who makes, is less important to mankind, for good or evil, than the apostle, the man with a message. Without a religion, a philosophy, a code of behavior,...

(The entire section is 6262 words.)

George G. Williams (essay date 1951)

SOURCE: "D. H. Lawrence's Philosophy as Expressed in His Poetry," in The Rice Institute Pamphlet, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 2, July, 1951, pp. 73-94.

[In the following essay, Williams proposes that the body of Lawrence 's poetical works must be read in order to give a full understanding of the author's philosophical and sociological intent. ]

I. A NEGLECTED POETRY

Books by D. H. Lawrence would fill a good-sized shelf, and books about him would fill an even larger shelf. Ten years after his death an editorial writer in the Saturday Review of Literature said that he has been the subject of "more books than any other writer since...

(The entire section is 5781 words.)

Phyllis Bartlett (essay date 1951)

SOURCE: "Lawrence's Collected Poems: The Demon Takes Over," in PMLA, Vol. 66, 1951, pp. 583-93.

[In the following essay, Bartlett examines the nature and breadth of Lawrence's revisions of his earlier poems for the 1928 Collected Poems.]

It is well known that D. H. Lawrence was an unsparing rewriter of his fiction, and the tradition persists that "he could never revise, he could only rewrite." Yet, although he rewrote a number of poems, as he did his short stories and novels, he revised many more—nearly all of them, in fact, either before or after publication. His most concentrated period of activity as a poetic reviser was the winter of 1927-28, when he collected...

(The entire section is 4821 words.)

William J. Fisher (essay date 1956)

SOURCE: "Peace and Passivity: The Poetry of D. H. Lawrence," in The South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 55, 1956, pp. 337-48.

[In the following essay, Fisher examines what he believes is the paradoxical nature of Lawrence's poetry. ]

To read the poems of D. H. Lawrence after knowing his novels and other prose is to confront the paradox of the romantic. The rebellious individualism which distinguishes Lawrence's fiction is inverted in the poetry into a continuing desire to be merged, to be soothed into some harmonious and self-obliterating whole. In contrast with the turbulent fiction, Lawrence's poetry is generally temperate, expressing a craving for an "oblivion," for an...

(The entire section is 3691 words.)

Adrienne Rich (essay date 1965)

SOURCE: "Comment: Reflections on Lawrence," in Poetry, Vol. 106, 1965, pp. 218-25.

[In the following review of The Complete Poems of D.H. Lawrence, Rich assesses Lawrence as a major poet, finding evidence that Lawrence deliberately reduced many poems to doggerel for effect, and arguing that Lawrence is the English language's best love poet since William Shakespeare.]

"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...

(The entire section is 2806 words.)

Michael Kirkham (essay date 1972)

SOURCE: "D. H. Lawrence's Last Poems," in The D. H. Lawrence Review, Vol. 5, No. 2, Summer, 1972, pp. 97-120.

[In the following essay, Kirkham examines Lawrence's Last Poems as a poetic sequence with consistent themes and execution.]

This essay falls into three parts. In the first part I suggest that Last Poems is best read as a single work, forming a loosely connected sequence of thought. I see Lawrence performing an act of spiritual preparation, the directing purpose of which is to construct a state of mind that will steady him in the face of death. In the second part I discuss the central themes of the sequence. I try to show that, though much of the...

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Evelyn Shakir (essay date 1975)

SOURCE: "'Secret Sin': Lawrence's Early Verse," in The D. H. Lawrence Review, Vol. 8, No. 2, Summer, 1975, pp. 155-75.

[In the following essay, Shakir examines Lawrence's early poems for evidence of his sexual preoccupations. ]

Throughout his career as a writer, Lawrence's attitude toward literature was remarkably ambivalent. "Artspeech is the only truth," he declared (SCAL 2).1 Yet his mistrust of art was profound. He knew how easily it could degenerate into pretty artifice or aesthetic exercise and so seduce the artist into a lie. But when literature spoke truth, it was perhaps most dangerous and the artist finally most guilty. An examination of...

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John W. Presley (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: "D. H. Lawrence and the Resources of Poetry," in Language and Style, Vol. XII, No. 1, Winter, 1979, pp. 3-12.

[In the following essay, Presley examines Lawrence's deployment of free verse and its relationship to the themes of his poetry.]

The poetry of D. H. Lawrence presents an interesting problem for stylistic investigation. Nearly all critics agree that Lawrence evolved a new form; that, from a mediocre Georgian lyricist, he became a sometimes excellent free-verse lyricist. Though his mature work has been widely influential, especially in America, his poetry is often treated as an adjunct to the novels, and has received little detailed examination.

...

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George Y. Trail (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: "The Psychological Dynamics of D. H. Lawrences's 'Snake'," in American Imago, Vol. 36, No. 4, Winter, 1979, pp. 345-56.

[In the following essay, Trail employs Freudian psychology to explicate Lawrence's poem "The Snake."]

"Snake" is D. H. Lawrence's best known poem. It is not only the most anthologized (and hence the most taught) but also the most analyzed. A glance at the poem itself provides some immediate, if only surface, explanations:

The poem has a narrative line. A man, on a hot noon in Italy, comes to fill his water pitcher from a trough and finds a snake there. For an interval, in spite of the "voice" of his education which tells him...

(The entire section is 4407 words.)

Ross C. Murfin (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: "Hymn to Priapus: Lawrence's Poetry of Difference," in Criticism, Vol. XXII, No. 3, Summer, 1980, pp. 214-29.

[In the following essay, Murfin finds similarities and differences between Lawrence's "Hymn to Priapus" and works by Charles Algernon Swinburne and Thomas Hardy.]

The speaker of the "Hymn to Priapus," like the speakers in all the other lyrics in D. H. Lawrence's volume of poems entitled Look! We Have Come Through!, may be taken to be Lawrence himself. He tells us he "danced at a Christmas party/Under the mistletoe"

Along with a ripe, slack country lass
Jostling to and fro.

...

(The entire section is 5981 words.)

Sandra M. Gilbert (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: "D. H. Lawrence's Uncommon Prayers," in D. H. Lawrence: The Man Who Lived, edited by Robert B. Partlow, Jr., and Harry T. Moore, Southern Illinois University Press, 1980, pp. 73-93.

[In the following essay, Gilbert agrees with T. S. Eliot's assessment of Lawrence as a hater of orthodoxy, but disagrees with Eliot when he negatively evaluates Lawrence's moral canon.]

. . . we've got the world inside out. The true living world of fire is dark, throbbing, darker than blood. Our luminous world that we go by is only the reverse of this.

—Count Johann Dionys Psanek, in "The Ladybird"

Who...

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Merle R. Rubin (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: "'Not I, but the Wind That Blows Through Me': Shelleyan Aspects of Lawrence's Poetry," in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. 23, No. 1, Spring, 1981, pp. 102-22.

[In the following essay, Rubin discusses resemblances between the poetry of Lawrence and Percy Bysshe Shelley.]

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...

(The entire section is 8988 words.)

Roger Poole (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: "D. H. Lawrence, Major Poet," in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. 26, No. 3, Fall, 1984, pp. 303-30.

[In the following essay, Poole attempts to defend Lawrence as a major poet fully in control of poetic technique.]

Over the years, a number of studies of Lawrence's poetry have appeared, though by no means as many as his merits suggest, and it is astonishing that the Open University's third-level course on twentieth-century poetry1 not only omits Lawrence from the poets studied, but manages to accord him little more than a passing mention.

Nevertheless, some good studies have appeared, but the emphasis has hardly been on...

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Frederic Vanson (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: "D. H. Lawrence—The Poetry," in Contemporary Review, Vol. 247, No. 1438, November, 1985, pp. 257-60.

[In the following essay, Vanson argues that Lawrence was a master craftsman, and places him alongside such poets as Gerard Manley Hopkins, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Robert Browning, while finding him not equal to Virgil, Dante, and Shakespeare.]

At the time of the Lady Chatterley obscenity trial in an article for a provincial newspaper I suggested that in time to come (i.e. now!) the real fame of D. H. Lawrence would derive not from his novels but from his poetry. Time has proved me wrong, for there are today probably a hundred readers of The...

(The entire section is 1641 words.)