The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

This short poem in free verse opens with a two-line stanza that implies the speaker has some bavarian gentians (bright blue flowers) growing in his house in September. The poem then turns into an invocation, or prayer written in the imperative mood, in which the speaker calls to the flowers to act as torches to lead him into the dark underworld of Pluto and Persephone’s marriage. “Bavarian Gentians” thus becomes an imaginative journey motivated by the contrast between the somber and unexceptional scene evoked in the opening lines and the vividly described phantasmal underworld of Roman mythology.

The poet’s allusions to Pluto, Dis, Demeter, and Persephone invoke a particular Roman myth that explains seasonal change. Pluto, the ruler of the underworld, abducts Persephone, the daughter of the goddess of grain and fertility, Demeter. Though Pluto makes Persephone his underworld queen, Demeter exacts a compromise: Persephone can return each April to her mother for six months, after which (in September) she must return to her husband and the underworld. During the time Persephone is away from her mother, Demeter mourns her absence and the ground becomes barren; with Persephone’s return in spring, the earth becomes fertile anew.

Thus, the poem’s September setting is significant. The speaker longs to follow Persephone back into Pluto’s kingdom at the very time when the earth is dormant and barren: “even where Persephone goes, just...

(The entire section is 401 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Lawrence’s mythological allusions structure “Bavarian Gentians,” and the reader senses quickly that some knowledge of the myth invoked is necessary for an understanding of the poem. The imagery, however, as reinforced through word repetition, is the poem’s most startling technical characteristic. Lawrence repeats references to darkness and blueness throughout the poem. Forms of the word “dark” appear seventeen times in this nineteen-line poem. It seems as if Lawrence is straining the resources of the language to suggest an ultimate darkness, a darkness beyond the power of visual imagery. He refers to “the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness”; the world is a blind one, a “sightless realm where darkness is awake upon the dark.” The references to the color blue come from the gentians’ natural color, but the use of blue darkness rather than black allows Lawrence to charge the description with vitality. This underworld is not a realm of lifelessness, nor is its darkness antithetical to light in the sense of knowledge or awareness. Thus the “torch-like” flowers offer a “blaze of darkness.” The oxymoron of “torches of darkness, shedding darkness” is crucial to the poem: The darkness attains some of the metaphorical properties of light. The darkness can illuminate, in contrast to “Demeter’s pale lamps.” All the intense, even hyperbolic imagery of darkness contrasts with the staid quality of the opening lines:...

(The entire section is 402 words.)