Monday, August 29, 2016

Sexy D. H. Lawrence - Now I am all / One bowl of kisses

D. H. Lawrence’s Amores (1916) is the book I have at hand.  It’s his second collection of poems, but his Nth book.  He already has four novels behind him, including Sons and Lovers (1913) and The Rainbow (1915), along with other kinds of books.  And he is thirty years-old.

Based on the contents of Amores I would guess much younger, but no, he is a mature poet writing sexual poems against some serious constraints about subject matter – constraints which he ignores – that make him sound more adolescent than he really is.  In the first poem, “Tease,” he imagines that a woman is his housekeeper, caring for and exploring “All the chambers of my soul”:

You have fingered all my treasures,
    Have you not, most curiously,
Handled all my tools and measures
    And masculine machinery?

“Virgin Youth” is about masturbation, likely from a woman’s perspective, which is bold:

Then I tremble, and go trembling
Under the wild, strange tyranny of my body,
Till it has spent itself,
And the relentless nodality of my eyes reasserts itself…

I had to include that last line, which is hilariously bad, an example of the way Lawrence’s poems sometimes fling themselves into grotesqueries and bad taste.  In my notes I see that I only labelled two entire poems as “terrible,” but I could pick out plenty of lines that made me laugh.  Not that I care.  I know who I am reading here, and I am happy to push beyond my dull notions of taste:

from Mystery

Now I am all
One bowl of kisses,
Such as the tall
Slim votaresses
Of Egypt filled
For a God’s excesses.

By the sixth stanza, this poem has turned pornographic (“Comingled wines / Of you and me”), and where else could that marvelous, bonkers opening go?  This guy’s girlfriend would need a sense of humor, as do the readers of certain of his poems.  In “Mating,” Lawrence turns into Cole Porter.  “Birds do it, anemoNES do it”:

 Round clouds roll in the arms of the wind,
The round earth rolls in a clasp blue sky,
And see, where the budding hazels are thinned,
         The wild anemones lie
In undulating shivers beneath the wind.

The birds (ducks) are in the next stanza, with a drake preening over his harem.  This poem is a good example of how Lawrence’s insightful observations of nature get pulled into his other concerns.

Ah love, with your rich, warm face aglow,
What sudden expectation opens you
    So wide as you watch the catkins blow
        Their dust from the birch on the blue
Lift of the pulsing wind – ah, tell me you know!

Not everyone finds the windborne distribution of pollen so sexy.  This poem ends graphically, too, although with an additional cry – why “do you call it evil, and always evil?”

My understanding is that Lawrence’s next collection of poems, Look! We Have Come Through! (1917) has plenty of poems from or about Lawrence’s honeymoon, so I expect more of the same but with the frustration removed, or displaced.  No room for a surprising poem like “Hands of the Betrothed,” where the poet’s crazed desire for his fiancée makes him too handsy,

She puts me away, like a saleswoman whose mart is
Endangered by the pilferer on his quest.

She keeps tight control over her “Two wild, dumb paws in anguish,” “suppressed in the folds of her skirt,” holding back “the pain that is her simple ache for me.”

Some of these really looked like new kinds of poems.  I see I haven’t gotten to the ones I thought were especially good, so I’ll spend one more day on Amores.


  1. Violently casting about, yet still somehow precise. This is exactly what I would think Lawrence's poetry would be like. Including the occasional very awful line, the price paid for all his reaching for whatever it was he sought. I like him more, the more of him I read. Way back in college when I read "The Rocking Horse Winner," I had no idea DHL had written stuff like these poems a decade earlier.

  2. "Violently casting about" is good. Lawrence is so energetic. "Calm down," I think.

    These poems probably really need to be read up against the novels, and vice versa. Lawrence tries out idea in one form, then another, then another.

    Yeah, I like him, too. Temperamental differences keep me at a distance, but I like him. I'll read the next book of poems pretty soon.