The Poem

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 670

“The Wild Common” is, in D. H. Lawrence’s own terms, “a good deal rewritten.” Among his earliest writings, it was composed in 1905 or 1906 at a time when he was “struggling to say something which it takes a man twenty years to be able to say.” Lawrence finally got that said when he published his extended version of the poem—twenty percent longer and with more than fifty percent of the original reworded—as the opening poem in his Collected Poems of 1928. The forty-two-year-old poet changed little of the basic scenario, or even of the rhyme scheme and rhythm, of “The Wild Common” from the version he wrote at nineteen. The content of the poem, however, matures markedly.

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Critical consensus prefers the revised poem, with its increased detail and clarified focus. The earlier version is almost never anthologized. Some commentators consider the improvements over the first version as substantive as William Butler Yeats’s sweeping revisions of his poems. Whereas the original is more of a personal effusion on the beauties of the English countryside, the later poem zeroes in on issues of substance and shadow, celebrating the corporeal present in an exultant “I am here! I am here!”

“The Wild Common” in its final form consists of ten four-line stanzas, each stanza following a regular abab rhyme scheme. The rhythm is irregular, and that prosodic irregularity is compounded by alternating short and long lines. The title aptly prefaces Lawrence’s paean to life’s natural beauty, beauty both physical and spiritual. This English “Wild Common” fairly bursts with warm sunshine and inviting water, with ecstatic larks and rejoicing peewits (birds also known as lapwings), with blossoming shrubs and lively flowers. The poem is written in the first person, a perspective that helps sharpen the poignancy of the poet’s personal encounter with the natural world.

On its most fundamental level, the poem is an ode to nature’s beauty. Lawrence writes simultaneously as an observer from the periphery of the natural world and as an active participant in nature. The speaker is at first an observer, content to paint impressions of the common, but as the poem progresses he becomes a participant, immersing himself in the inviting atmosphere of the common. Lawrence’s description invites the reader to accompany him in that rich sensory immersion.

It is in the second stanza that the poet first enters the wild common. He interrupts a tranquil scene of rabbits resting on a hill. Questions in rapid succession—“Are they asleep?—are they living?”—move the poet to startle the rabbits into motion. Lawrence’s excitement pulsing through these images charges his punctuation, where the sparks of exclamation points begin to fly. Though the third stanza returns the poet to passive observation of the common, he manages even in quiescence to enliven the ordinary with crackling details, with kingcups (buttercups) that “surge to challenge the blossoming bushes” and a “streamlet” that, however lazy, “wakes again, leaps, laughs, and gushes.”

The beginning of the fifth stanza marks a crucial shift in the poet’s thought, raising philosophical issues that broaden the significance of “The Wild Common.” Observing his own shadow on the common turf triggers for the speaker crucial questions about the meaning of his life. He ponders the significance of death, which causes him to wonder how physical realities relate to spiritual ones. That thought in turn raises for the speaker the question of how consciousness and unconsciousness interact.

In the final five stanzas Lawrence explores possible answers to those questions. He finds his most satisfying answers in his plunges into the sensuous delights of the wild common. Lawrence makes it clear that the physical and spiritual interweave as thoroughly as the landscape knits together the plants, the birds, the weather, and the light of the common. The poem’s climactic concluding image interweaves at deeper levels the sensual and the metaphysical: The poet immerses himself in the common’s pond to find in its waters answers to his deep questions from stanza 5.

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 516

That experience of integration, like most experiences in D. H. Lawrence’s poetry, is richly physical. The reader can taste in this poem the sweet substance of felt life and relish Lawrence’s incomparably responsive eye for natural detail. It seems significant that Lawrence in his revising of this poem shapes the sensuousness away from the erotic toward the religious. The earlier poem featured a central image of “soul like a passionate woman,” with close-ups of intimate love running “ecstatic over the pliant folds rippling down to my belly from the breast-lights.”

The images that replace those erotic visions in the final version are, in contrast, strikingly incarnational, even liturgical. Lawrence sees a beatific sun whose “substance” transubstantiates into “yellow water-blobs.” He makes simple peewits angelic, “wings and feathers on the crying, mysterious ages.” The climax of the poem is explicit incarnation: “All that is God takes substance!” A rabbit stands in for the priest at this “confirmation,” while in the background lark songs—a decidedly liturgical seven lark songs—are “pealing” like church bells. The underlying emphasis on religious ceremony consecrates the youth’s dive into the pool as emblematic baptism into life.

It is intriguing that the question of Lawrence’s materialism is so much debated among critics. Some readers see him as limited by his focus on natural phenomena to the exclusion of spirit. Perhaps that perception of materialism is more a response to Lawrence’s insistence on the personal. Lawrence’s ultimate poetic technique goes beyond religious emblem and even sensory detail to insistence on personal presentation.

Lawrence wrote frankly from his own experience. What many readers admire in Lawrence’s poetry is not so much the poetry as Lawrence himself; they are drawn to the human feeling rather than the sometimes awkward phrasing. His poetry in general, and this early poem in particular, has been condemned by critics for inept phrasing and frowned upon as imperfectly articulated. Lawrence came out of the Georgian era at the beginning of the twentieth century, sharing with other Georgian poets habits of stodgy syntax, heavy rhyme, and predictable subjects taken from nature. Yet Lawrence also came out of that era in a different sense: His reaction to the natural world seems more deeply felt than that of the usual serene Georgian; it is both emotionally and prosodically more intense.

“The Wild Common” is central to Lawrence’s poetic canon; he comes close in his essay “Poetry of the Present” to suggesting it as a kind of exemplum of the essence of his poetic statement. The poem speaks to the heart of Lawrentian concerns, returning the reader—through the plunge of the speaker into the water and the immersion of the reader into the countryside—to a sense of the divinity inherent in life, to a feeling of the divine nature in all things. Even those who dislike “The Wild Common” think that it has affinities with the best in Lawrence. A companion poem of shared theme and similar method, “Red Moon-Rise,” is seen by many as the finest poem in Lawrence’s volume Love Poems.

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Themes