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Saturday, September 18th, 2010
|English lit ...
This is one of those charming “Dover Thrift Editions”, the little gems that I throw in when my on-line book (or other, this went in with a CD and a wireless adapter) order is a bit shy of the free-shipping “promised land”. As I've noted previously in this space, I've taken advantage of these “economic add-ons” (this $1.00 book saved me $7.56 in shipping!) to plug in gaps that are still out there from my (otherwise excellent) liberal arts education.
While D.H. Lawrence is most famous (notorious) for his Lady Chatterley's Lover
, he had a reasonably successful career as a writer in the period just before, during, and for many years after World War I. According to the editor's introductory essay: Lawrence authored some of the twentieth century's greatest short stories, novels, essays, criticism, travel writing, and poetry. So powerful is his fiction that it overshadowed his poetry. A contemporary of Pound, Hardy, Eliot, and Yeats, his exuberance and intensity were unmatched by any of them.
The poems in Snake and Other Poems
are collected from four of his poetry collections, as well as a half dozen or so periodicals (the editor noted his regret of the absence of a few later poems, which are still under copyright). I was somewhat surprised, given the “theme” of the book leaning towards his “animal poems” to find how sexual many of these are, dealing obliquely with relationships between men and woman, or directly with marital interactions. The theme even finds its way into the animal poems, with much of the “Tortoise” material dealing with the mating activities, here's how “Tortoise Shout” concludes:
Sex, which breaks us into voice, sets us calling
across the deeps, calling, calling for the complement,
Singing, and calling, and singing again, being answered,
Torn, to become whole again, after long seeking for what is lost,
The same cry from the tortoise as from Christ, the Osiris-cry
That which is whole, torn asunder,
That which is in part, finding its whole again throughout the universe.
Themes of sex, and death, and loss, and longing weave through these poems. They are old enough to seem from a different world (most have a rural setting), but there is a modern voice (and, strangely enough, some very modern phrasing in parts) within them. The sex here is not explicit, the frame shifting from voice to voice, be it man to woman, or age to age. The violence of the animal kingdom is more plain, be it the death of a rabbit, or the decline of a man. Here's the end of another poem, “And Oh – That the Man I Am Might Cease to Be –”
What is sleep?
It goes over me, like a shadow over a hill,
but it does not alter me, nor help me.
And death would ache still, I am sure;
it would be lambent, uneasy.
I wish it would be completely dark everywhere,
inside me, and out, heavily dark
The volume is, as is usually the case with the Dover Thrift books, quite slim, just over 60 pages including titles page, intro, etc., so this is hardly a encyclopedic look at Lawrence's poems, but it's an interesting exposure to his voice, which reached more infamous levels in other contexts. The odds of finding this in your local book vendor are also rather slim (the $1.00 cover price leaves little room for markup!), but it's in print so could be ordered, but these are best kept “at the ready” when you find yourself with an order to one of the on-line guys which hasn't quite made it to $25 and the free shipping.