D. H. Lawrence Lawrence, D(avid) H(erbert) - Essay


(Poetry Criticism)

D(avid) H(erbert) Lawrence 1885-1930

English poet, novelist, essayist, and short story and travel writer.

The following entry presents criticism of Lawrence's life and career from 1913 through 2000.

Lawrence is considered one of the most influential literary figures of the twentieth century. Best remembered as a novelist, he wrote prolifically in other genres, as well. In his poetry and fiction, he rejected industrialization and what he saw as its dehumanizing effects and presented instead a vision of men and women freed from the restraints of society, in harmony with the natural, physical world.

Biographical Information

Lawrence was born in central England on September 11, 1885. His father was a coal miner who drank heavily. His mother, to whom he was devoted, was an unhappily married former schoolteacher who steered her son toward a university education and away from his father's way of life. Lawrence's Nottinghamshire upbringing was marked by family discord. Money was scarce and financial hardship caused him to rely on scholarships and periods of factory work in order to complete his education. In 1905 he graduated from a teacher-training course at University College, Nottingham, and began teaching in Croydon, a suburb of London. He had begun writing by this time, and in 1909 he began publishing verse. When his first novel, The White Peacock, was published in early 1911, his success was tempered by his grief at the recent death of his mother from cancer. Throughout the next several months he was plagued by ill health and depression. The following year he decided to quit teaching and support himself exclusively as a writer. He managed to maintain a simple lifestyle by selling a steady stream of short stories, essays, articles, and poetry to magazines, while continuing to write novels that more fully addressed his dreams of a changed world.

In 1912 Lawrence also began a passionate and stormy relationship with Frieda Weekley, the German-born wife of one of his former professors. They ran off to Germany together, returning to England in 1914 to be married after she was granted a divorce. During World War I, they were not allowed to leave England; his outspoken antiwar sentiments and her German heritage caused officials to suspect them of being spies. In 1915 the government took action against Lawrence's work by officially censoring his novel The Rainbow (1915) for its descriptions of sex and use of vulgarities. After the war, the couple left England permanently and Lawrence delighted in his own escape from the “coffin” he thought England had become. From 1919 until his death in 1930, Lawrence and Frieda lived a nomadic existence, residing first in Italy; their travels led them to France, Germany, Mexico, the United States (New Mexico), Australia, and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). The experiences of these years are reflected in Lawrence's fiction, poetry, and nonfiction writings of the period. Near the end of his life came the episode for which he would be most remembered. Lady Chatterley's Lover, a novel written and printed privately in 1928 in Florence, Italy, was censured by British officials for its explicit description of the physical relationship between a noblewoman and one of her husband's servants. An expurgated edition appeared in England in 1932, after Lawrence's death in 1930. His most explicit version was not published commercially until 1959, in the United States, and 1960, in England; it was the subject of heated legal debate until courts in both countries finally upheld its publication. Unaware of the legacy his controversial novel would ultimately have on the artistic and literary freedom of generations of writers, Lawrence died in the South of France on March 2, 1930 of tuberculosis.

Major Works

His first published poems appeared in the English Review in 1909. Lawrence’s first volume of poetry, Love Poems and Others, was published in 1913. Subsequent collections of poetry, Amores (1916) and Look! We Have Come Through! (1917), deal with similar subject matter—primarily, the sexual and psychological relationships of men and women. Significantly, Look! We Have Come Through!, was Lawrence’s first sustained experiment in the “poetry of the present.” It was organized by an autobiographical but novelistically defined plot, a structure that emphasizes the intimate connection between Lawrence’s life, his prose, and his verse. Most of the poems in this volume are not yet artistically mature, but they are a remarkable advance towards poetic honesty. In his critically-praised volume Birds, Beasts and Flowers (1923), Lawrence drew upon his travel experiences in the Meditteranean and the American southwest. Written in the years right after the war, the collection is profoundly affirmative, even exuberant, as if in these poems Lawrence had resolved to express the pure “life-rapidity” he still felt, despite everything, both in himself and in the nonhuman world of nature. Later collections, Pansies (1929) and Nettles (1930), show Lawrence at his wittiest, slangiest, and most acerbic. Brief, casual verses, composed in what the writer himself described as “a loose little poem form, Frieda says with joy: real doggerel,” these pieces, as he punningly explained, were “meant for Pensées... not lyrical poetry” even while they were also intended, like pansies, to be fleeting yet rooted in “corrosive humus.” Lawrence’s death-haunted Last Poems, published posthumously in 1932, appears to be a set of prayerful meditations designed, like the spiritual exercises practiced by traditional religious thinkers from ancient Egypt to seventeenth-century England, to prepare his soul for its passage from life to death to mystical rebirth. “I intend to find God: I wish to realize my relation with Him,” the dying poet evidently told an old friend in conversation one day, and that is what he did, especially in such famously resonant and sonorous works as “Bavarian Gentians” and “The Ship of Death.” These not only explore more varied emotional and psychological territory in subject matter, but they exhibit a maturity of form, structure, and pacing not found in his previous works.

Lawrence's frank approach to writing about human sexuality led to censorship of several of his works, including the novels The Rainbow and Lady Chatterley's Lover, and the poetry collection Pansies. More than fifty years after his death, Lawrence's controversial writings seem tame. However, during his time, Lawrence's creative vision threatened orthodox political and religious standards, with his descriptions of the natural, physical aspects of human relationships and his expressed belief that sexual freedom was a necessary cure for what he saw as the ills of an industrialized society.

Critical Reception

Lawrence is best remembered as a novelist, not as a poet. During his life, and for a number of decades following his death, his poetry was frequently ignored or underrated. Ultimately, Lawrence’s verse has received equal respect and scholarly attention, but even staunch advocates of Lawrence note that his work exhibits an unevenness of quality, particularly among his prolific output of poetry. Marked by high emotion and intensity, some of Lawrence's lesser poems have been said to suffer from repetitive language, carelessness in metaphor, and deviation from established structural techniques and poetic norms. The poet's recurring themes, including grief for his lost mother, nostalgia for a pre-industrialized world, and the quest for sexual freedom and fulfillment, invite high emotion and, in the minds of some critics, are themselves worthy of blame in the assessment of the success or failure of particular poems. However, Lawrence's poetic voice managed to evolve from youthful uncertainty and unrestrained expression to a more refined, mature mastery of form that still conveys the sense of freedom, spontaneity, and emotional immediacy so important to the writer. Adrienne Rich lauds Lawrence as a major poet, emphasizing that the “the organic shape and movement” of the poems found in The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence (1957) “has nothing mindless and happenstance about it: he knows what he is doing with line-length, with diction, with pause, repetition, termination.” Keith Sagar, in the introduction to his edition of Selected Poetry (1989), is more cautious in his praise, pointing out that of the hundreds of poems Lawrence wrote, “we must concede that an unusually high proportion are unsuccessful.” Yet Sagar also asserts that in considering the best of Lawrence's verse, “we can support the claim that Lawrence is a great poet in every sense, including the technical.”

Principal Works

(Poetry Criticism)

Love Poems and Others 1913

Amores 1916

Look! We Have Come Through! 1917

New Poems 1918

Bay 1919

Tortoises 1921

Birds, Beasts and Flowers 1923

Collected Poems 1928

Pansies 1929

Nettles 1930

Last Poems 1932

The Ship of Death 1933

Fire and Other Poems 1940

Selected Poems 1947

Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence 1957

The White Peacock (novel) 1911

The Trespasser (novel) 1912

Sons and Lovers (novel) 1913; earlier version published as Paul Morel [edited by Helen Baron] 2003

The Prussian Officer and Other Stories (short stories) 1914

The Rainbow (novel) 1915

Twilight in Italy (travel writing) 1916

The Lost Girl (novel) 1920

Women in Love (novel) 1920

Pyschoanalysis and the Unconscious (nonfiction) 1921

Sea and Sardinia (travel writing) 1921

Aaron's Rod (novel) 1922

Fantasia of the Unconscious (nonfiction) 1922

Kangaroo (novel) 1923

The Boy in the Bush (novel) 1924

St. Mawr (novel) 1925

The Plumed Serpent (novel) 1926

Lady Chatterley's Lover (novel) 1928

Pornography and Obscenity (essays) 1929

Love among the Haystacks and Other Pieces (short stories) 1930

Apocalypse (essays) 1931

Etruscan Places (travel writing) 1932

The Letters of D. H. Lawrence [edited by Aldous Huxley] (letters) 1932

Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D. H. Lawrence (nonfiction) 1936

Collected Letters [edited by Harry T. Moore] (letters) 1962

The Complete Plays of D. H. Lawrence (plays) 1965

Phoenix II: Uncollected, Unpublished and Other Prose Works by D. H. Lawrence (prose) 1968

The Letters of D. H. Lawrence (letters) 1991

Ezra Pound (review date July 1913)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Pound, Ezra. Review of Love Poems and Others. Poetry: A Magazine of Verse 2, no. 4 (July 1913): 149-51.

[In the following review, poet Pound offers a brief review of Lawrence's first book of verse.]

The Love Poems, if by that Mr. Lawrence means the middling-sensual erotic verses in this collection, are a sort of pre-raphaelitish slush, disgusting or very nearly so. The attempts to produce the typical Laurentine line have brought forth:

I touched her and she shivered like a dead snake.

which was improved by an even readier parodist, to

I touched her and she came off in scales.


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Horace Gregory (essay date 1933)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Gregory, Horace. “The Georgian Poet: 1909-1919.” In D. H. Lawrence: Pilgrim of the Apocalypse, pp. 1-16. New York, N.Y.: Grove Press, 1933.

[In the following essay, Gregory examines the works of D. H. Lawrence that appeared or were written between 1909 and 1919.]

Some effort is required to get at the Lawrence of the early poems, to get behind the beard of the prophet, the half-closed eyes and the red, V-shaped, pointed smile. The early poems belong to a white-skinned boy, back in Nottinghamshire, a boy who had the clean, water-translucent stare of an H. G. Wellsian hero. All this, of course, was long before the war and he was a Georgian poet before the...

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Kenneth Rexroth (essay date 1947)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Rexroth, Kenneth. “The Poetry of D. H. Lawrence.” In D. H. Lawrence: A Collection of Criticism, edited by Leo Hamalian, pp. 118-32. New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1973.

[In the following essay, first published as the introduction to a 1947 volume of Selected Poems by D. H. Lawrence, Rexroth notes the faults of the poet's many volumes but concludes that Lawrence's poetry is successful art.]

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...

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Richard Ellman (essay date 1953)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Ellman, Richard. “Barbed Wire and Coming Through.” In The Achievement of D. H. Lawrence, edited by Frederick J. Hoffman and Harry T. Moore, pp. 253-67. Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1953.

[In the following essay, Ellman explores the “healing” elements of Lawrence's poetry and the development of poetic voice through revision.]

Lawrence wrote his poetry, and much of his prose, as a healer. This description is not pejorative; it ranks him, as Auden has suggested, with Blake; it ranks him with Auden himself, and with the later Pound. It dissociates him from Yeats, Eliot, and Dylan Thomas, whose poetry aims first at being visionary rather than...

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Babette Deutsch (essay date 1956)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Deutsch, Babette. “The Earthly and the Definite.” In Poetry in Our Time, pp. 86-92. New York, N.Y.: Columbia University Press, 1956.

[In the following excerpt, Deutsch characterizes Lawrence's poetry as generally undisciplined and subjective, yet not totally without merit or fine moments of imagery and drama.]

The poetry of both Walsh and Carnevali has something of the vitality, something of the savage exacerbated tenderness, that marks the work of D. H. Lawrence. He attached himself early to the imagists rather because, like them, he craved immediacy, than because he understood their principles. He was too subjective to share their interest in technical...

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Gamini Salgado (review date winter 1965)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Salgado, Gamini. Review of The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence. The Critical Quarterly 7, no. 5 (winter 1965): 389-92.

[In the following review of The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence, Salgado briefly traces the general tenor of critical assessment of Lawrence's poetry.]

“In England, they have that loathsome superior knack of refusing to consider me a poet at all—‘your prose is so good’ say the kind fools, ‘that we are obliged to forgive you your poetry’. How I hate them.”

The fifty years that have passed since Lawrence's outburst have done little to alter the general attitude to his poetry; if anything, the...

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Jules Zanger (essay date spring 1965)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Zanger, Jules. “D. H. Lawrence's Three Strange Angels.” Papers on English Language & Literature 1, no. 2 (spring 1965): 184-87.

[In the following essay, Zanger focuses attention on a cycle of three poems found in Look! We Have Come Through!, Lawrence's third volume of poetry.]

It seems to me that no poetry, not even the best, should be judged as if it existed in the absolute, in the vacuum of the absolute. Even the best poetry, when it is at all personal, needs the penumbra of its own time and place and circumstance to make it full and whole. … So, one would like to ask the reader of Look! We Have Come Through! to fill...

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Adrienne Rich (review date June 1965)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Rich, Adrienne. “Reflections on Lawrence.” Poetry 106, no. 3 (June 1965): 218-25.

[In the following review of The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence, Rich suggests that this collection is essential to understanding the depth and breadth of Lawrence's significance as a major poet.]

“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 hopeless business to publish the stuff at all,” he wrote to Harriet...

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Del Ivan Janik (essay date April 1973)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Janik, Del Ivan. “Toward ‘Thingness’: Cézanne's Painting and Lawrence's Poetry.” Twentieth Century Literature 19, no. 2 (April 1973): 119-28.

[In the following essay, Janik asserts that two of Lawrence's essays focusing on the paintings of Paul Cézanne can also be read as descriptions of Lawrence's poetic development.]

Two essays that reveal D. H. Lawrence's interest in and admiration for the paintings of Paul Cézanne deserve attention as expressions of Lawrence's own artistic problem, and the manner in which he solved it in the realm of poetry. “Art and Morality,” published in 1925, and the “Introduction to These Paintings” that Lawrence...

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Gerald Solomon (essay date July 1973)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Solomon, Gerald. “The Banal, and the Poetry of D. H. Lawrence.” Essays in Criticism 23, no. 3 (July 1973): 354-67.

[In the following essay, Solomon discusses the role of self-knowledge in the development of poetic depth, and suggests that a certain unevenness of quality and tone in Lawrence's poetry may be due to the poet's fear of self-knowledge.]

The banal is that in which we see a statement falling back on itself, returning us, empty-handed, to where we were. This is the tautology that lies at the end of all ultimate thinking, the tautology of the closed and therefore vicious circle, the circle of intellectual process that sends Marlowe's Faust to...

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Del Ivan Janik (essay date winter 1975)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Janik, Del Ivan. “D. H. Lawrence's ‘Future Religion’: The Unity of Last Poems.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 16, no. 4 (winter 1975): 739-54.

[In the following essay, Janik considers the posthumously-published Last Poems of Lawrence, asserting that they are among the finest of the poet's works.]

Several of the poems that D. H. Lawrence wrote in the last months of his life are considered to be among his finest, and among the finest English poems of the century; but it has not been observed that the posthumously published notebook that includes “Bavarian Gentians” and “The Ship of Death” is a unified and cohesively...

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L. D. Clark (essay date 1980)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Clark, L. D. “The Bright Doorway.” In The Minoan Distance: The Symbolism of Travel in D. H. Lawrence, pp. 26-39. Tucson, Ariz.: University of Arizona Press, 1980.

[In the following excerpt, Clark traces the influence of D. H. Lawrence's “rootless” years on the subject matter and evolution of his poetry.]

No experience went deeper with Lawrence than the forging on into unknown places. In the re-creation of his travel adventures, this two-fold response of the male and the female is common also, elaborated often with the overtones of religious pilgrimage. We note above that Ursula has her heart set on the goal, the paradise, while to Birkin the...

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R. P. Draper (essay date 1987)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Draper, R. P. “The Poetry of D. H. Lawrence.” In D. H. Lawrence: New Studies, edited by Christopher Heywood, pp. 16-33. New York, N.Y.: St. Martin's Press, 1987.

[In the following essay, Draper offers a critical overview of the range of Lawrence's poetry and its evolution in subject matter, structure, and tone.]

As Richard Hoggart pointed out some time ago (in a review of The Complete Poems [CP] published in the Listener, 29 October 1964), there is a wide variety of tone in Lawrence's poetry, but in the main it falls into two kinds: the vatic or rapturous (which Hoggart calls the ‘prophetic or mystical voice’) and the more...

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M. J. Lockwood (essay date 1987)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Lockwood, M. J. “Early Poetry.” In A Study of the Poems of D. H. Lawrence: Thinking in Poetry, pp. 11-34. New York, N.Y.: St. Martin's Press, 1987.

[In the following excerpt, Lockwood focuses attention on the poems written between 1905 and 1908 by D. H. Lawrence.]

I 1905-1908

Lawrence wrote his first poems, the two companion-pieces called “Campions” and “Guelder Roses” (854-5), in the spring of 1905, when he was nineteen and a student teacher. The two poems are Lawrence's earliest surviving literary work, written almost a year before he began his first novel, The White Peacock, as ‘Laetitia’, and two years before...

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Michael W. Thomas (essay date fall 1988)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Thomas, Michael W. “Lawrence's ‘After the Opera’.” The Explicator 47, no. 1 (fall 1988): 26-9.

[In the following essay, Thomas provides a line-by-line explication of Lawrence's poem, “After the Opera.”]


Down the stone stairs
Girls with their large eyes wide with tragedy
Lift looks of shocked and momentous emotions up at me.
And I smile.
Stepping like birds with their bright and pointed feet
Peer anxiously forth, as if for a boat to carry them out of the wreckage,
And among the wreck of the theatre crowd
I stand and smile.
They take tragedy so becomingly.

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Judith Farr (essay date summer 1990)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Farr, Judith. “D. H. Lawrence's Mother as Sleeping Beauty: The ‘Still Queen’ of His Poems and Fictions.” Modern Fiction Studies 36, no. 2 (summer 1990): 195-207.

[In the following essay, Farr examines the recurring motif of the “Sleeping Beauty” in Lawrence's works from the perspective of the poet's intense affection for his mother.]

                    A queen, they'll say,
Has slept unnoticed on a forgotten hill.
Sleeps on unknown, unnoticed there, until
                    Dawns my insurgent day.

—“On That Day,” New Poems (1918)

To the demon, the past is not past.

—MS: Discarded...

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Charles W. Schaefer (essay date fall 1999)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Schaefer, Charles W. “Lawrence's ‘Mystic.’” The Explicator 58, no. 1 (fall 1999): 31-3.

[In the following essay, Schaefer offers an explication of Lawrence's poem, “Mystic.”]

“Mystic” is a poetic exercise in demythologizing mystical experience, demystifying mysticism, one could say, while defending its elevated function in the life of the mind. Mystical experience was vital to D. H. Lawrence. Toward the end of “Excurse” in Women in Love, the cautious reader will note repeated use of some form of the word mystery in Lawrence's description of the physical relationship between Ursula and Birkin.

The tone of “Mystic”...

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T. R. Wright (essay date 2000)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: Wright, T. R. “Last Poems: final thoughts.” In D. H. Lawrence and the Bible, pp. 245-51. Cambridge, Great Britain: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

[In the following essay, Wright traces the appearance of Scripture phrases in Lawrence's Last Poems, and discusses Biblical influences on the poet's works throughout his career.]

Lawrence's last years at Bandol from November 1928 onwards saw a regeneration of his interest in poetry which was to result in four volumes of verse: Pansies (1929), Nettles (1930), More Pansies and Last Poems, the last two edited from his notebooks by Richard Aldington in 1932. The word...

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Further Reading

(Poetry Criticism)


Mace, Hebe R. “The Genesis of D. H. Lawrence's Poetic Form.” In Critical Essays on British Literature, edited by Dennis Jackson and Fleda Brown Jackson, pp. 189-202. Boston, Mass.: G. K. Hall, 1988.

Discusses nontraditional structure and form in Lawrence's poetry.

Marshall, Tom. The Psychic Mariner: A Reading of the Poems of D. H. Lawrence, New York, N.Y.: Viking Press, 1970, 275 p.

Provides an overview of critical opinion regarding Lawrence as a poet and examines the poetic works as arranged in five chronological stages.

Pollnitz, Christopher. “D. H. Lawrence's Last Poems:...

(The entire section is 295 words.)