Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem presents several paradoxes: The darkness is illuminating; the dead underworld possesses vitality; the reluctant journey of Persephone becomes the desired journey of the speaker. These paradoxes are familiar ones for Lawrence, who saw contemporary European society as overly cerebral and stripped of life-giving, primitive physicality. Throughout his poetry and fiction, Lawrence espouses the virtues of blood and earth: The spiritual is rooted in the bodily and the natural, not in the intellectual (at least not in contemporary society, which has corrupted the intellectual). “Bavarian Gentians” is wholly consistent with and expressive of this vision.

The opening lines identify the time of year not only as September but also as Michaelmas, the Christian celebration of the Archangel Michael held on September 29. Significantly, this Christian reference falls in the lines set above ground in the barren world of deserted Demeter. Against this lone Christian allusion, Lawrence places a plethora of pagan images, which he associates with life and sexuality. This contrast identifies the central tension of the poem: between those respectable European and Christian forces of the staid aboveground world and the seething vitality Lawrence locates within the earth and through pagan mythology.

Poet and speaker value the existence of passion in Pluto’s kingdom, signified by Pluto’s original desire for Persephone and its continued enactment....

(The entire section is 598 words.)