Among the writers of the ages, there is a profound sense of tragedy that seems to reverberate through so very many of their lives. Though the pressures rise, both internal and external, there are those that have been pressed to yet bleaker corners, by forces uncontrollable, and by a refusal to conform. One of the very best known of these is the amazingly talented D.H. Lawrence.
The British Lawrence was another of our creative whirlwinds–a novelist, a poet, a playwright, and even a painter as time allowed. Born to the end of the 19th century, and living through the beginnings of the 20th, he was a writer seated at the very cusp of modernity, and consequently one who lamented the often dehumanizing aspects it, and industrialism, so often placed upon the individual. He wrote with fire, reflected with purpose, and most importantly, wrote as he saw, as well as what he believed.
Unfortunately, the world did not agree with him. Though today he is regarded as one of the most visionary and significant writers of his age, the people of the early 1900s regarded him largely as a troublemaker, and a wasted talent. He was shunned by literary communities, censored by those with the power to do so, and blasted by critics. This led to poverty, sickness, and other grim visions. In response to this, and to the horrors of World War I, the “savage pilgrimage,” as he dubbed it, proved to be Lawrence’s end result–his self-exile from Britain, to spend the remainder of his life traveling the world.
Yet he wrote until the very end. He defended his works, even as his health failed him, and eventually died in exile in France, in 1919, of tuberculosis.
The Evening Land
The sun sets in you.
Are you the grave of our day?
Shall I come to you, the open tomb of my race?
I would come, if I felt my hour had struck.
I would rather you came to me.
For that matter
Mahomet never went to any mountain
Save it had first approached him and cajoled his soul.
You have cajoled the souls of millions of us
Why won’t you cajole my soul?
I wish you would.
I confess I am afraid of you.
The catastrophe of your exaggerate love,
You who never find yourself in love
But only lose yourself further, decomposing.
You who never recover from out of the orgasm of loving
Your pristine, isolate integrity, lost aeons ago.
Your singleness within the universe.
You who in loving break down
And break further and further down
Your bounds of isolation,
But who never rise, resurrected, from this grave of mingling,
In a new proud singleness, America.
Your more-than-European idealism,
Like a be-aureoled bleached skeleton hovering
Its cage-ribs in the social heaven, beneficent.
And then your single resurrection
Into machine-uprisen perfect man.
Even the winged skeleton of your bleached ideal
Is not so frightening as that clean smooth
Automaton of your uprisen self,
Do you wonder that I am afraid to come
And answer the first machine-cut question from the lips of
your iron men?
Put the first cents into metallic fingers of your officers
And sit beside the steel-straight arms of your fair women
This may be a withering tree, this Europe,
But here, even a customs-official is still vulnerable.
I am so terrified, America,
Of the iron click of your human contact.
And after this
The winding-sheet of your self-less ideal love.
Like a poison gas.
Does no one realise that love should be intense, individual,
This boundless love is like the bad smell
Of something gone wrong in the middle.
All this philanthropy and benevolence on other people’s
Just a bad smell.
Your New England uncanniness,
Your western brutal faery quality.
My soul is half-cajoled, half-cajoled.
Something in you which carries me beyond
What we call human.
Carries me where I want to be carried . . .
Or don’t I?
What does it matter
What we call human, and what we don’t call human?
The rose would smell as sweet.
And to be limited by a mere word is to be less than a
hopping flea, which hops over such an obstruction at
Your horrible, skeleton, aureoled ideal.
Your weird bright motor-productive mechanism,
A dark, unfathomed will, that is not un-Jewish;
A set, stoic endurance, non-European;
An ultimate desperateness, un-African;
A deliberate generosity, non-Oriental.
The strange, unaccustomed geste of your demonish
New World nature
Glimpsed now and then.
Nobody knows you.
You don’t know yourself.
And I, who am half in love with you,
What am I in love with?
My own imaginings?
Say it is not so.
Say, through the branches
Of all your machines,
Say, in the deep sockets of your idealistic skull,
Dark, aboriginal eyes
Stoic, able to wait through ages
Say, in the sound of all your machines
And white words, white-wash American,
Deep pulsing of a strange heart
New throb, like a stirring under the false dawn that
precedes the real.
Demonish, lurking among the undergrowth
Of many-stemmed machines and chimneys that smoke
Modern, unissued, uncanny America,
Your nascent demon people
Lurking among the deeps of your industrial thicket
Allure me till I am beside myself,
“These States!” as Whitman said,
Whatever he meant.