D. H. Lawrence had written poetry all his creative life, but he did not set his poetic theory down until 1923. His poetry, as with nearly everything that he wrote, is uneven; and he knew it, distinguishing between his early self-conscious verse and the “real poems” that his “demon” shook out of him, poems he called “a biography of an emotional and inner life.” In a preface to another man’s poetry, Lawrence defined the process by which he himself transmuted “inner life,” the core of his work, into art: “a bursting of bubbles of reality, and the pang of extinction that is also liberation into the roving, uncaring chaos which is all we shall ever know of God.” Lawrence’s poetry is thus best seen in the context of his life and through the painful paradox of his creativity, rooted in his most profound basic concept, the theory of human regeneration that he conveyed so often in the image of Paradise Regained.
As Richard Hoggart has observed, Lawrence’s inner life spoke with both “the voice of a down-to-earth, tight, bright, witty Midlander” and “the voice of a seer with a majestic vision of God and life and earth.” The Midlands voice first announced the major themes that Lawrence never abandoned: class, religion, and love. Lawrence very early felt the strictures of a workingman’s life and the humiliation of poverty as keenly as he felt the happiness he shared at the Chambers’ farm, among birds, beasts, and flowers threatened by encroaching industrialism. His “Rhyming Poems” also reflect his youthful love, quivering between the extremes of idealistic “spirituality” pressed on him by his mother and Jessie Chambers, so fatally alike, and a powerful sexual drive crying out for satisfaction. At sixteen, he abandoned his mother’s harsh Congregationalism, though the “hymns of a man’s life” never lost their appeal for him, and from 1906 to 1908, he was affected deeply by his experience of Arthur Schopenhauer’s “Metaphysics of Sexual Love,” which places sex at the center of the phenomenal universe, and Friedrich Nietzsche’s works, probably including Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik (1872; The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music, 1909), which sees Greek tragedy as the result of creative tension between Apollonian rationalism and Dionysian ecstasy. Lawrence’s prophetic voice had begun to whisper.
Although his mother’s slow death gradually disengaged him from her domination, Lawrence tried to weave his early concerns of class, love, and religion into an organic whole. Once he recovered from his own severe illness late in 1911, he looked toward new physical and creative horizons, and after his elopement with Frieda, he at last was able to complete Sons and Lovers in a new affirmation of life. There were, however, characteristic growing pains. Frieda’s aristocratic connections in Germany afforded him the social position that he, like his mother, had always envied while decrying its values, and he delighted in using his wife’s baronial stationery at the same time that he was undergoing inevitable agonies at her cavalier disregard for sexual fidelity. The first book of Lawrence’s “Unrhyming Poems,” Look! We Have Come Through!, records the resolution of his complicated marital relationship in a form completely liberated from Georgian poetic convention. During World War I, Lawrence tried to locate humanity’s vital meaning in a balance of power between love and friendship, replacing the God he had lost with the human values promised by his The Rainbow and the four-part sexual harmony of Women in Love.
After the debacle of The Rainbow , Lawrence’s social message became more strident. From 1917 to 1925, rapt in his dream of human regeneration—now fixed on the figure of a patriarchal political leader—Lawrence went to the ends of the...
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