Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Thursday, November 13, 2008

One By D.H. Lawrence

A student recently asked me what I thought of D.H. Lawrence's writing. She had been reading some of his short stories, including "The Horse-Dealer's Daughter," in another class, and she didn't like them much. I told her I thought Lawrence, especially as a fiction-writer, may be the kind of writer who, as the years pass, seems more tied to (in this case) his era than was the case earlier. I told her that, to some extent, he had used writing to attack behavior he didn't like, especially repression and the deadening forces of modernity. Put more simply, his stories and novels now may seem a little clumsy and/or over-the-top, especially with regard to sex.

I also told her I preferred his poetry to his fiction (although I do still like some of the fiction), partly because I found it more subtle. I encouraged her to read the poem, "Snake," for example.

Here's another poem by Lawrence, not as famous or as good as "Snake," but still interesting:

People

by D.H. Lawrence

THE great gold apples of light

Hang from the street's long bough

Dripping their light

On the faces that drift below,

On the faces that drift and blow

Down the night-time, out of sight

In the wind's sad sough.


The ripeness of these apples of night

Distilling over me

Makes sickening the white

Ghost-flux of faces that hie

Them endlessly, endlessly by

Without meaning or reason why

They ever should be.



The scene reminds me of the London-Bridge scenes in T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land. For me, one intriguing surprise in the poem is that Lawrence praises the beauty of streetlights. I assume that at the time they were gaslights, which probably did project a light that might have haunting beauty. Certainly, Lawrence is riding his hobby-horse: modern people are dead inside. But it's a short ride, at least, and the imagery succeeds, in my opinion.



By the way, I still rather like the little known "bio-pic" about Lawrence, Priest of Love, in which Ava Gardner has a small role.
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