What is the theme of D.H. Lawrence's, "Bat?"

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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As part of Lawrence's anthology of poems entitled Birds, Beasts, and Flowers, "Bat" seeks to make a statement that shows how the natural world can communicate realities within the human one.  A thematic aspect of this is how Lawrence sees the experience of the bats in his poem reflective of the shift in human consciousness that is an essential part of Modernist thought.  Virginia Woolf describes this essence behind the Modernist movement: “All human relations shifted,” Woolf continued, “and when human relations change there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics, and literature.”   The theme that explores this shifting in human consciousness lies at the essence of Modernism, and is a significant theme in Lawrence's "Bat."

The poem's exposition reveals a beautiful world in which the human being lives. The sun drenched stones of Italy casts an impression both reader and poet alike.  There is a beauty in consciousness, even with the image of "the tired flower of Florence," the feeling one develops is a joy of being in the world. Lawrence accentuates this with the belief that the swallows emerge at night. The poet wonders why the swallows "are flying so late."  It is here in which the shift emerges into something more sinister, more unknown.  The illuminating power of the sun is replaced with the potential malevolence in the night.  This theme of shifting one's being in the world lies at the center of the poem's thematic purpose:  "Bats, and an uneasy creeping in one's scalp/ As the bats swoop overhead."  The uneasiness in consciousness is a reflection of the shift that is intrinsic to Modernism.  Lawrence uses the natural world to evoke realities within human consciousness, seen in lines such as "Little lumps that fly in air and have voices indefinite, wildly vindictive."  The bats come to represent the pain of being in the world, a far cry from the poem's exposition. Lawrence concludes the poem with a description of the bats, "Hanging upside down like rows of disgusting old rags/ And grinning in their sleep."  This adds to the shift in being in the world.  When the poem ends with "Not for me," it is almost a raging at the condition of consciousness, a raging at the shift of being from the light of the swallows that "are gone" and replaced with the pain and fear at the "grinning" of the bats.

With this shift, I think that one of the dominant themes in the poem is how individuals experience a change in consciousness.  Whether one wants to frame this theme as a loss of innocence into experience or the change that Woolf identifies as part of Modernism's essence, Lawrence's "Bat" articulates a fundamental difference in being.  This experience is a part of the human predicament.  Lawrence's poem revels in the theme that juxtaposes happiness with a sense of fear and looming fear that is inescapable in what it means to be a human being.

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