Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Random 1930s poetry in English - My wordy wounds are printed with your hair - Lawrence, Thomas, Wheelwright, Eberhart, Yeats

English-language poetry I read in April.

I’ve read a lot of D. H. Lawrence over the last few years, including all of his short fiction, all of his poems, and a few other books.  I have thought about some kind of Lawrence essay, since even at his worst he gives me a lot to think about and is worth reading.

Except for the books I read in April, Mores Pansies and Last Poems, both from 1932, a couple of years after Lawrence’s death.

Lawrence had created an unusual loose-lined form in Birds, Beasts and Flowers (1923), a collection of poems that were full of his personality.  A perverse cuss, he then abandoned poetry for five years – in his life, an era – only returning to it in Pansies (1929) to, well, to complain.  To rant, whine, moan in doggerel, squibs, aphorisms with line breaks.  The second collection was titled Nettles (1930), which is about right.  Lawrence was sick and angry, and rightfully angry.  England had treated him badly, again and again.  But these are “books” of “poems” to be read, mostly, for biographical reasons.

The scraps in Last Poems show that Lawrence was also messing around with poetry.  It is a grim book.  He is looking directly at his own death.  This book is worth reading, or worth mining for a theoretical Selected Poems:

from The Ship of Death

Now it is autumn and the falling fruit
and the long journey towards oblivion.

The apples falling like great drops of dew
to bruise themselves an exit from themselves.

And it is time to go, to bid farewell
to one’s own self, and find an exit
from the fallen self.


Dylan Thomas, 18 Poems (1934), Thomas’s first little pamphlet or chapbook or whatever it is.  Thomas was criticized for his sonorous gibberish:

from If I were tickled by the rub of love

If I were tickled by the rub of love,
A rooking girl who stole me from her side,
Broke through her straws, breaking my bandaged string,
If the red tickle as the cattle calve
Still set to scratch a laughter from my lung,
I would not fear the apple nor the flood
Nor the bad blood of spring.

This poem has seven stanzas and is entirely based on slant rhymes – string / spring is an exception – so it is a bit of a virtuoso piece, and of course it is not really gibberish, although like many of Thomas’s early poems it must sound like it when declaimed in the appropriate pub setting.  The apple and flood are pretty big clues.  The poet is being shaped from Eve’s rub, I mean rib, or perhaps has merely been born like everyone else.  Running through 18 Poems is what may even amount to an idea about the biology of life and death and man as a creature of nature, smart stuff given that many of the poems were written by a teenager.

Still, they must be terrific fun at poetry karaoke night.  “My wordy wounds are printed with your hair” and so on.  Even though the principles are different, I thought about E. E. Cummings – “Those aren’t poems – he’s just screwing around with his typewriter!”  Yeah, sometimes.


John Wheelwright, Rock and Shell (1933).  A true Boston patrician turned Modernist poet.  Published three little books then was killed by a drunk driver, age 43.  This one has a superb, bitter tribute, if that is the right word, to Hart Crane.  A subject for future research.


Richard Eberhart, Collected Poems, the first ninety pages or so.  When I got to the war poems I figured I was in the 1940s.  Eberhart is a curious creature, a death-soaked American optimist.  Positive and light-hearted, and his signature poem is about the rotting corpse of a groundhog.  The Groundhog,” 1934.  A superb poem.  Another subject for future research, meaning reading.


William Butler Yeats, New Poems (1938) and the poems from Last Poems and Two Plays (1939).  A great end to a great life.

           Now that my ladder’s gone
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.


  1. Yeats is touched by magic sometimes... never had that feeling re Lawrence, tho...

  2. Magic, that's about right.

    Maybe I should add asterisk breaks to this post.

  3. I've been reading MacNiece's Autumn Journal lately. Poetic diary from a troubled time--don't know why it occurs to me now...I'm finding it fairly impressive & would fit your theme, though you likely already know it.

    Eberhart is totally new to me. The Groundhog is great. Is he generally so, um, clinical?

  4. I have been reading MacNeice's earlier poems from the 1930s, before Autumn Journal, and have been enjoying them immensely. He works on opposite principles than those I whined about in the previous post. His poems are highly material. I am looking forward to Autumn Journal.

    Eberhart is often but not always that clinical. I am just speaking of the 1930s - no idea what he does later - he had a long career. He wrote a number of variations on "The Groundhog," in a similar spirit. Death a long ways from an abstraction.