Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Clamorously falling / Into gabbling incoherence, never resting - good D. H. Lawrence poetry

Sometimes the interest of a D. H. Lawrence poem is the subject – the sexual longing of an engaged couple, parents arguing, a mother dying – and sometimes it is the sheer overwhelming Lawrenceness of the thing, but often he is just doing what good poets do, although maybe not as often as most good poets.  Doing things like describing the sounds of bells:

from Week-Night Service

The five old bells
Are hurrying and eagerly calling,
Imploring, protesting
They know, but clamorously falling
Into gabbling incoherence, never resting,
Like spattering showers from a bursten sky-rocket dropping
In splashes of sound, endlessly, never stopping.

It is like a children’s poem for adults (and also children), full of imaginative personifications, not just of the bells:

The wise old trees
Drop their leaves with a faint, sharp hiss of contempt,
While a car at the end of the street goes by with a laugh…

Barely a hint of a human, a poet, but the exhilaration as “the old church sobs and brags” as well as the contempt when “the poor bells cease” must be his, really.

“Week-Night Service” comes early in Amores amidst other energetic poems of sound and movement.  It would also fit at the end of the book, as part of a sequence of five night poems.  Or maybe seven, but the longer, ambitious “Blue” I don’t understand, and the longer, ambitious “Snap-Dragon” is another of the “no sex before marriage” poems; the former begins on a “dark sea” and ends in “The Darkness,” while the latter ends with repetitions of the word “dark” before a harvest moon appears, so you see my confusion.

Anyway, the last five begin with “In Trouble and Shame,” where the “swaling sunset” and the poet’s shame lead him to yearn for death, a trip “Through the red doors beyond the black-purple bar.”  Then “Elegy” – grief, “small sharp stars,” a white moon.  Then “Grey Evening,” “Firelight and Nightfall,” and “The Mystic Blue” – so that earlier “Blue” poem must be part of the sequence.

None of these are among Lawrence’s most famous poems, but they are a good argument for reading Amores rather than a selection of poems.

“Grey Evening” in particular is a beauty.

When you went, how was it you carried with you
My missal book of fine, flamboyant hours?
My book of turrets and of red-thorn bowers,
And skies of gold, and ladies in bright tissue?

Now underneath a blue-grey twilight, heaped
Beyond the withering snow of the shorn fields
Stands rubble of stunted houses; all is reaped
And garnered that he golden daylight yields.

Dim lamps like yellow poppies glimmer among
The shadowy stubble of the under-dusk,
As farther off the scythe of night is swung,
And little stars come rolling from their husk.

And all the earth is gone into a dust
Of greyness mingled with a fume of gold,
Covered with aged lichens, pale with must,
And all the sky has withered and gone cold.

And so I sit and scan the book of grey,
Feeling the shadows like a blind man reading,
All fearful lest I find the last words bleeding
With wounds of sunset and the dying day.

Nothing to cheer you up like a good book.  This particular poem gives no hint of what grief the poet may be suffering, although other poems in Amores present plenty of possibilities.  “You” in the first line could refer to a death, a lover, or the sun, which could make the lines about the book amusingly literal.  But no, the poet’s happier if fantastic thoughts turn back to a troubling reality, even if it is thickly covered with metaphor – the shift from the harvested field to the harvest in the sky is wonderful.  The poet peers into Nature, which is almost unreadable.


  1. When you went, how was it you carried with you
    My missal book of fine, flamboyant hours?
    My book of turrets and of red-thorn bowers,
    And skies of gold, and ladies in bright tissue?

    Man, I am just incapable of appreciating poetry like this, whether in English (the kind of stuff Pound wrote before Ford Madox Ford cured him of it by rolling on the floor laughing) or in Russian (all the Fair Lady stuff the symbolists kept mooning about before the Mandelstam/Pasternak crew came along to blow it out of the water). I know the problem is with me, not with the poetry -- good poetry can be written in any style -- but I can't help it, it makes me itch in the same way as what I have called Historical Novelese, with its solemn avoidance of contractions and use of musty words and turns of phrase. I guess I'm just a modernist kinda guy.

  2. To the reader allergic to this kind of late Romanticism, Lawrence must be the most powerful allergen. Watery eyes, sneezing, rashes.