Friday, January 13, 2017

sweet, printed books, / bright, glancing, exquisite corn - Lawrence writes sequences of poems in Look! We have come through!

Look! We have come through!, a 1917 book of poems by D. H. Lawrence, his third, but also his ninth book if I am counting right.  Four novels, short stories, travel, etc.  What a phenomenon.

Look! What a terrible title!  Lawrence’s poems are often beyond good and bad, and this book is more beyond than the previous two.  Plus it has more bad poems.  It is also a poetry book with a concept,

an essential story, or history, or confession, unfolding one from the other in organic development, the whole revealing the intrinsic experience of a man during the crisis of manhood, when he marries and comes into himself.  The period covered is, roughly, the sixth lustre of a man’s life.  (“Foreword”)

These are mostly honeymoon poems, when David and Frieda were wandering about Europe in 1912.  None of the poems are about the incident where he was arrested as a spy, unfortunately.

One representative bad bit, just for laughs:

A woman has given me strength and affluence.

All the rocking wheat of Canada, ripening now,
has not so much strength as the body of one woman
sweet in ear, nor so much to give
though it feeds nations.  (Manifesto I,” ll. 1-6)

I have long argued that All the Rocking Wheat of Canada (Neil Young & the Rocking Wheat, 1983) is the most underrated Neil Young album.  As a metaphor, though, it is pretty silly.  The “Manifesto” sequence is built on a series of hungers, including, in the third poem, for books, which is heartwarming:

man’s sweetest harvest of the centuries, sweet, printed books,
bright, glancing, exquisite corn of many a stubborn
glebe in the upturned darkness (III, ll. 6-8)

Then sex, the “hunger for the woman” (IV), and finally the “ache for being” (VI), ending with an apotheosis as men, free from hunger, become like angels and flowers, with emotions “like music, sheer utterance.”

We shall not look before and after.
We shall be, now.We shall know in full.
We, the mystic NOW.  (VIII, last lines)

That is the kind of D. H. Lawrence poem I read with a lot of skepticism.

“Manifesto” is a kind of sequence poem, which is the great innovation of Look! We have come though!  There is a set of Bavarian poems, a set of “night” poems,” a set of “rose” poems.  Single poems become stronger as parts of longer arguments.  Wild roses found on a walk, where the “simmering / Frogs were singing” (“River Roses”), suggest a comparison the next morning while watching his wife bathes, that the parts of her body are roses (“her shoulders / Glisten as silver, they crumple up / Like wet and falling roses,” “Gloire de Dijon”), then, picked, reappear on the breakfast table where “their mauve-red petals on the cloth / Float like boats on a river” (“Roses on a Breakfast Table”).  Individual poems can be minor, individual images banal, with the theme-and-variation creating most of the meaning.

At this point the sequences are more likely to be semi-formal, rhymed and so on.  Not true of the “tortoise” sequence, a few years in the future, although one poem in the “night” sequence, “Rabbit Snared in the Night,” sounds like the tortoise poems.

What are you waiting for?
What are you waiting for?
What is the hot, plumb weight of your desire on me?
You have a hot, unthinkable desire of me, bunny.

Oh Lawrence is so weird.  I mean, the bunny is in some sense Frieda, I know.  Still.  I read Look! We have come though! as much in anticipation of, preparation for, the poems Lawrence would soon write as for those he actually was writing.


  1. I'm reading the complete poems of Marina Tsvetaeva, and having a similar reaction -- lord, how much crap she had to work through in order to produce her great stuff! There are pages and pages of what I think of as "I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!" poetry, full of exclamation marks, repetitions, and Ye Olde Pseudo-Medieval Imagery; I confess to skimming or (in extreme cases) skipping whole swaths of it. But then I hit a lyric that has nothing to do with her X-treme Romantic Feelings and takes my breath away with its mysterious brilliance, and I forgive her everything. I wonder how she and DHL would have hit it off?

  2. Yes, kindred aesthetics, the cost of their Romantic hyper-subjectivity. Pages of pure goo of the ecstatic variety.