Sunday, May 8, 2016

An' a fork an' a spoon an' the moon an' the moon - D. H. Lawrence's first book of poems

D. H. Lawrence’s first book of poems is Love Poems, and Others (1913).  I read the 1915 edition, the copy at the Princeton Library, which was a bequest of Hamilton Cottier, class of 1922.  Cottier, or someone, added a handwritten note on what the scan calls page iv, that the book “add[s] to the interesting, but far from satisfying, impression of Love that Lawrence gives” and is “Of minor interest and no importance as poetry.”  Ouch!  I have little temperamental sympathy for Lawrence, but I liked it more than that.

Sometimes, certainly, a poem falls into Lawrence kitsch, like a self-parody:

        If only then
You could have unlocked the moon on the night,
And I baptize myself in the light
Of your love; we both have entered then the white
        Pure passion, and never again.  (from “Reminder,” p. 29)

Specifically, the “white / Pure passion” is what I am calling kitsch, but there are surely too many moons in this book.

Having said that, his voice is already original, truly his own, and he is thinking in terms of imagery that is his own:

I slept till dawn at the window blew in like dust,
Like the linty, raw-cold dust disturbed from the floor
Of a disused room: a grey pale light like must
That settled upon my face and hands till it seemed
To flourish there, as pale mold blooms on a crust.  (from “Coldness in Love,” 21)

It took me some effort to understand that this sentence followed ordinary grammatical rules.  The speaker does not sleep until dawn!  Well, he does, but the sentence has other business.  My point is more that this stanza could be plopped into a Lawrence novel with minor changes.

Sometimes Lawrence is playful in the way of poets.  Assume a bee, a rose, a “you”:

Wait among the beeches
For your late bee who beseeches
To creep through your loosened hair till he reaches,
    Your heart of dismay.  (from “Song-day in Autumn,” 35)

Lawrence also experiments with loose long lines, long for English, with six or seven feet, if I am counting right, which I doubt (this is a complete poem):

A White Blossom

A tiny moon as white and small as a single jasmine
Leans all alone above my window, on night’s wintry
Liquid as lime-tree blossoms, soft as brilliant water or
She shines, the one white love of my youth, which
        all sin cannot stain.

This poet really loves the moon.

Aside from the love poems, Love Poems contains a section of narrative poems in dialect, the highlight being “The Collier’s Wife,” where the title character is told her husband is injured and is in response almost too practical.  It is a different kind of love poem:

An’ a fork an’ a spoon he’ll want, an’ what else;
    I s’ll never catch that train –
What a trapse it is if a man gets hurt –
    I s’d think he’ll get right again.  (76)

The book ends with three poems under the heading “The Schoolmaster,” a glimpse of Lawrence’s frustrations (“I am sick, and tired more than any thrall,” 88) from his short time as a schoolteacher.  The poems are a mix of the concrete and Lawrence weirdness:

But the faces of the boys, in the brooding, yellow light
Have shone for me like a constellation of stars,
Like full-blown flowers dimly shaking at the night,
Like floating froth on an ebbing shore in the moon.  (from “A Snowy Day in School,” 82)

Maybe this is also a love poem.  It uses the same language as the rest of the book.


  1. rather single-minded is mr. lawrence. reading the excerpts kind of reminds me of when i accidently dropped a bottle of maple syrup on the kitchen floor... hard to clean up and very sticky...

  2. I may have enhanced the sense of stickiness with my selections, but I don't think so. A choice of nothing but Lawrence's forks and spoons would be more distorting.

  3. Maybe for Lawrence, everything is a love poem and a complaint, all at once, even his novels. Especially his novels. He's a novelist who loves the moon, too. The moon is always there, looking over treetops, into windows, reflecting in lakes and rivers. Half of Women in Love is about the moon.

    I also had problems with that "slept till dawn" until I stumbled at the end of the first line and had to start over again.

    "A White Blossom" is good, but "The Collier's Wife" looks better. Lawrence understood collier's wives pretty well, I think. Half of Sons and Lovers is about a collier's wife.

  4. These poems are contemporary with Sons and Lovers, by the way. I wondered which collier's wife came first, the poem or the novel, or if they are somehow one and the same.

    1. I'd have thought the poems would also be full of flowers, then. The flower imagery in Sons and Lovers is pretty powerful and runs all through the book.

      How much Lawrence poetry have I read? As much as you've put into this post.

  5. Flowers, yes! Scrolling through the book, not as many flowers as moons, but still lots of flowers.

  6. The "poetry" quoted here is so bad and pretentious that it is almost incredible

  7. One thing always want to know about a writer, especially one with a strong voice, is when the voice appears or is invented or whatever the process is. With Lawrence, boy, he is Lawrence right away, purely himself, for better and worse.

  8. Ouch for Mark Justin, too! I expect Lawrence will survive both attacks... Sometimes lesser poems must be written because they are bridges to something else. And a poet can often be in love with those bridges because he/she knows it's the real path elsewhere.

    There are some unfortunate bits--that first quote and the "heart of despair"--but I would say this is completely recognizable Lawrence. I admire some of his poems and his bravery in teetering on the trapeze line over a sea of too much feeling.

    It reminds (I think it was here, hope so!) me of "Poetic Meter and Poetic Form," how Fussell's students had no idea what to make of Lawrence's "Piano."

    1. I don't know if "Piano" is in Fussell, but it's one of the poems which floored students in I.A. Richards' Oractical Criticism. In some ways, I think it was unfair of Richards to put it in without context: it's very hard to tell a poem about sentimentality from a sentimental poem.

  9. Well, I plan to keep reading Lawrence's poems. They are a good challenge for me, in good part not because they are bad or in bad taste but because they contain many signifiers that they are bad or in bad taste. Gives me something to fight with, something to do.

    Having no idea what to do with a poem - yes, outstanding!