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Complete Poems by D. H. Lawrence
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Complete Poems (1964)

by D. H. Lawrence

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Favorite male poet.
  Efficacious | Aug 24, 2013 |
A poet is a man who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times. – Randall Jarrell

D.H. Lawrence was, and remains, a great writer. You can say what you will about his style, his subject matter, or his personal life, but the fact remains that Lawrence was one of the most important writers of the last century. One may not like what Lawrence dug up, but that he broke new ground remains undisputable. As a writer of novels, short stories, essays, and travel pieces, Lawrence reveals his mastery of prose style. But here I only wish to say a few things about his poetry. As the above quotation indicates, inspiration is a rare thing, even among gifted poets. Yet Lawrence seemed not so much to wait for lightning to strike, as to give off sparks of his own. His poetry is, admittedly, uneven, but it always retains a certain smell of ozone, the divine charge of stirring soul-fullness. Lawrence, as poet, is much neglected nowadays. This is mostly because people read his Pansies (or, God forbid, Nettles) and think that these collections are all that Lawrence has to offer. I admit to also feeling ambivalent towards these two collections, in which Lawrence seems to have plonked down his thoughts willy-nilly, without due consideration for artistic effect. Unfortunately, they make up a large part of his oeuvre, and give the idea that Lawrence was a bit of a doggerel poetaster. I hope to show in this review that nothing could be further from the truth.

The best way to appreciate someone’s poetry is to read it. Obvious, really. I will therefore quote one of Lawrence’s poems in full. Hopefully, this does not break any copyright laws. I would have liked to quote from Lawrence’s most ambitious, and best, collection, Birds, Beasts and Flowers, but the poems tend to be very long (e.g. many people know his poem, Snake, from this collection, which, although not the longest, is already three pages in length). Therefore I will quote a poem from his Last Poems, the poems collected from manuscript after Lawrence’s early death. Lawrence, who had been sick for a while, was fascinated by death, the main subject of nearly all his last poems. This is one of the best.

Bavarian Gentians

Not every man has gentians in his house
in soft September, at slow, sad Michaelmas.

Bavarian Gentians, big and dark, only dark
darkening the day-time, torch-like with the smoking blueness of Pluto’s gloom,
ribbed and torch-like, with their blaze of darkness spread blue
down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of white day
torch-flower of the blue-smoking darkness, Pluto’s dark-blue daze,
black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue,
giving off darkness, blue darkness, as Demeter’s pale lamps give off light,
lead me then, lead the way.

Reach me a gentian, give me a torch!
let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of this flower
down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness
even where Persephone goes, just now, from the frosted September
to the sightless realm where darkness is awake upon the dark
and Persephone herself is but a voice
or a darkness invisible enfolded in the deeper dark
of the arms Plutonic, and pierced with the passion of dense gloom,
among the splendour of torches of darkness, shedding darkness on the lost bride and her groom.

The poem really needs to be read aloud to appreciate the cumulative effect of the repetition, the ominous tone, the references to Greek mythology and to Milton… it all builds up to a poem of immense atmosphere and startling depth. Lawrence is contemplating his own death, which seems morbid enough, but there is an artistic detachment here that gives the poem force and originality. Lawrence detested sentimentality, as is obvious from his withdrawal from overly emotional responses to death, especially his own. Lawrence also rebelled against doctrinaire Christianity (perhaps indicated by his reference to ‘slow, sad Michaelmas’?), turning to the religions of other cultures, not as a believer, but as a man who was interested in humanity and the beauty it was capable of. He thus incorporates both Greek and Roman mythology, and even older traditions, like those of the Etruscans. But his incorporation of these myths does not lead to a dilettante’s eclecticism. Rather, Lawrence indicates how death is part of a universal, natural cycle, like the seasons (the Persephone myth is instructive here). How many of us could accept such a dark, dreary destiny with the élan and vitality that Lawrence displays, less than a year before his death?

Lawrence is a life-affirming poet and writer. He would not have given a damn about his detractors. It is, however, a shame that he is not more widely read today. In many ways an English Walt Whitman (whom he admired, but also criticised), Lawrence deserves more recognition as a truly great modern poet. ( )
3 vote dmsteyn | Jun 20, 2012 |
Showing 2 of 2
A very great deal survives in Lawrence. He is certainly one of the major poets of the twentieth century, along with Guillaume Apollinaire and William Carlos Williams. He is one of the leaders in the rejection of rhetoric and Symbolism and the return of poetry to colloquial honesty and presentational immediacy. This was one of the remarkable bouleversements in the history of the human sensibility. It put to rest once and for all many of the major esthetic quarrels that have dogged literature since Euripides and Sophocles, the conflict of classicism and romanticism, form and content, architecture and emotion, and fulfilled countless programs of the sort promulgated in the preface to Lyrical Ballads or in the Imagist Manifesto. However, the critic whose apparatus prevents him from realizing this is going to have trouble dealing with Lawrence and is hardly the sort of person qualified to introduce his Collected Poems. Vivian de Sola Pinto is as whimsical a choice for such a task as Diana Trilling was for the Viking Portable Lawrence.

Several of his poems in Birds, Beasts and Flowers and his death poem, “Blue Gentians,” are the perfect expression of what in England was called the Imagist esthetic. They are quite the equal of anything by Apollinaire, Reverdy or William Carlos Williams. The only English poem of the period that compares with them is Ford Madox Ford’s “L’Oubli, Temps de Sécheresse.” Lawrence may have been sick, but poetry like this will always be a life-giving metaphor for literature, a mithridate for the young poet. For the layman it will always be a permanently memorable experience, more real than real. That, after all, is all Lawrence wanted.
added by SnootyBaronet | editThe Nation, Kenneth Rexroth
 

» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
D. H. Lawrenceprimary authorall editionscalculated
de Sola Pinto, VivianEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roberts, F. WarrenEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The quick sparks on the gorse bush are leaping...


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Orphic farewell, and farewell, and farewell/And the ego sum of Dionysus/The sono io of perfect drunkenness/Intoxication of final loneliness.
-from "Medlars and Sorb-Apples"
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