Lawrence, D. H. 1885-1930
(Full name David Herbert Lawrence. Also wrote under the pseudonym Lawrence H. Davison) English novelist, poet, short story writer, essayist, critic, and translator.
The following entry presents criticism of Lawrence's poetry. See also D. H. Lawrence Short Story Criticism and D. H. Lawrence Poetry Criticism.
Highly acclaimed as a forerunner in adapting psychological themes for literary purposes in such novels as Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, Women in Love, and Lady Chatterley's Lover, Lawrence's status as a poet is among the most heatedly disputed topics of twentieth-century literature. Much of the debate stems from the perception that Lawrence published a large quantity of poetry that is often considered very uneven in quality. Although many of his detractors concede that Lawrence wrote several classic poems, they claim that these works are the exceptions rather than the rule when compared to the bulk of poems Lawrence published. Many of his defenders, however, claim that Lawrence's body of poetry constitutes one unified work in which no one piece can be isolated from the whole, and that Lawrence's occasional lapses of poetic technique are minor when weighed against his thematic concerns and the instantaneous nature of his poems. His poetic work is often described as visionary, prophetic, and Romantic in intent. Furthermore, Lawrence insisted that his work be read as an autobiography as well as a manifesto for the Utopia he envisioned, a "new heaven and earth" that rejected Victorian prudishness and rampant industrialization in favor of a more primitive "blood-wisdom" and sexual freedom. Despite disagreements over his rank among twentieth-century poets, Lawrence's influence is noted in the works of such writers as Galway Kinnell, Denise Levertov, Karl Shapiro, Ted Hughes, Adrienne Rich, and Robert Bly.
The fourth child of an illiterate coal miner and his wife, a former school teacher, Lawrence was raised in the colliery town of Eastwood, Nottinghamshire. Temperamentally alienated from his environment, he grew to hate the debilitating mine work that he blamed for his father's debased condition. Lawrence won a scholarship to the local grammar school and later to Nottingham University College. He taught school at Coyden for three years, during which time Ford Madox Ford published some of Lawrence's poems in the English Review. The onset of tuberculosis forced Lawrence to resign from teaching in 1911, and that same year he published his first novel, The White Peacock, which received positive critical reviews. When he was twenty-seven, Lawrence eloped with Frieda von Richtofen Weekly, the wife of one of his college professors. The couple's erotic and emotional life during their first years together is chronicled in Look! We Have Come Through! After their marriage, the Lawrences lived briefly in Germany, Austria, Italy, Sicily, England, France, Australia, Mexico, and in the southwestern United States, where Lawrence hoped to establish a Utopian community. These locales provided the settings of many of his novels written during the 1920s, and also inspired his books of travel sketches. In 1930, Lawrence entered a sanitorium in Vence, France, in an attempt to cure the tuberculosis that afflicted him throughout his adult life. He died soon after.
Like his fiction, most of Lawrence's poetry is intensely personal. His earliest poetry, which he began writing in his twenties, adhered to traditional poetic forms and is seldom as highly regarded as his later free-verse works. His first four volumes—Love Poems and Others, Amores, New Poems, and Bay—display Lawrence's adherence to traditional rhyme schemes. Poems from these volumes were placed by Lawrence in the "Rhyming Poems" section of The Collected Poems of D. H. Lawrence. These poems are often compared to the poetry of Thomas Hardy, who was an acknowledged influence on Lawrence, in their reliance on regional dialects and subject matter. Look! We Have Come Through! marks a departure in Lawrence's poetics from closed forms to free verse forms that display Lawrence's affinity for the work of American poet Walt Whitman. Birds, Beasts, and Flowers features celebratory and mystical poems about flora and fauna, including his most famous poem, "Snake," and the frequently anthologized and discussed "Medlars and Sorb Apples." He followed this work with Pansies and Nettles, two works noted for their acerbity and use of doggerel. Critics note that the poems in the posthumously published Last Poems are preoccupied with death, including the frequently anthologized "Bavarian Gentians" and "The Ship of Death."