Human, Animal and Plant in the Poetry of D. H. Lawrence


Love, Sexuality, and Freud



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3.5 Love, Sexuality, and Freud
Most of Lawrence's writing, especially his fiction, repeatedly touches on the issue of sex and love. The fact that Lawrence did not bother with pacifying his sexual ideas onto the level acceptable by society of his days made him the 'writer of pornography' as Oates suggests: "It is ironic that Lawrence was known for most of his life as an 'immoral' person, a writer of 'pornography', when he seems to have understood the absolute need for sublimation of basic instincts." He adds that "Lawrence believed in the totally spontaneous synthesis of 'spiritual' and 'sensual' love"44 which could bring man and a woman to transcending themselves in the sense that Lawrence's ideal of a man would – coming closer to nature. While relationships are explained in Lawrence's fiction, these notions of transcending love can be traced down in his poetry. In his essay on Lawrence's poetry, Kenneth Rexroth expresses a belief that Lawrence "was not a Freudian. He seems to have read little Freud, not to have understood him any too well, and to have disliked him heartily"45 – nevertheless, even if Lawrence did not plant Freudian ideas into his writing consciously, the 'little reading of Freud' certainly left some background thoughts and subconscious relating to him reflected in his poetry. Despite the claim that "It is unthinkable to Lawrence that men should ever cease to be domineering individualists"46 (Millet 244), he celebrates woman as a sacred product of nature bringing life to the world. Lawrence was always 'feminine-like' and lacking manly strength due to his unstable health, which might have supported his defiant inclination to praise masculinity as the dominating strength in society. However, the main significance of a man and a woman is in their common desire to come in touch with the Life Force through their transcendent love: "The chief problem of modern man, and of Lawrence as an individual, is to break from under the all but impenetrable and immovable pyramid of tradition, egoism, falsity, and misunderstanding under which modern love and sex are buried, and to come 'in touch' with the Life Force as healthily and normally as an animal, and as quietly and beautifully as a flower."47 (Williams 89)
3.6 Men and Civilization
The animalistic individualism that Lawrence's poetry teems with is in direct contrast to the industrialisation and modernisation of his era. Caudwell describes Lawrence's position as follows: "It is Lawrence's importance as an artist that he was well aware of the fact that the pure artist cannot exist today, and that the artist must inevitably be a man hating cash relationships and the market, and profoundly interested in the relations between persons."48 Lawrence happened to be such a man, with his contempt towards humans alienated from their true source of happiness, which to him is following instincts as other animals do without doubting it – being closer to nature than any man has ever been: "Lawrence believes humans have become too cerebral, neglecting their animal nature, which comprises both the physical and instinctual"49 (Keese 137).

As Oates states, he does not believe in that 'man is the measure of all things' - "how contemptible Lawrence found such pronouncements, and how shrewdly he recognized the melancholy nihilism behind them!" To him, humankind was an obstacle that needed to be overreached. Civilization was running in the wrong direction, forgetting its origins deep in the nature's womb: "And this world that egoistic man has created and lives in – what is it like? For one thing, it is a machine world – and Lawrence hates machines with a living passion" (Williams 85). Lawrence's view is that machines lack the natural and the elemental in them, the Life Force could not possibly be connected to machines, because they "destroy natural beauty, enslave the bodies and stupefy the minds" (85). Lawrence's ideology was that of cultivating individual souls in their true nature rather than herding into mass society of blind and instincts-suppressing men. As we will see in the following chapters, and as Aldington points out: "If the poetry of D. H. Lawrence is largely a revolt, it is a revolt against a non-human scale of values"50 (750).



As one must have assumed, Lawrence's opinions on all aspects of life spring up in all products of his fertile literary career. The matters discussed above are generated from one common nucleus, and that is Lawrence's unshakable faith in nature. As nature is home to all creatures including animals and plants – the core subject of this thesis in relation to humans – all the issues touched in this chapter will show up again through the analysis of selected poems in chapters 4 to 5. As Rick Rylance mentions in the Reception of Writers in Europe, Lawrence is "the voice of a vanishing moral centre based on organic virtues of local relatedness and intimacy."51 (14) The following chapters will study this voice and analyse Lawrence's world of thoughts in his later poetry.

4 The elements of human, animal and plant in Birds, Beasts and Flowers
D. H. Lawrence's collection Birds, Beasts and Flowers is the one most often quoted when it comes to the elements of animals and plants in his poetry. According to Becket, it is a transitional work52 (84) shifting to the non-biographical part of Lawrence's literary career, while Rexroth believes that this collection "is the mature Lawrence, in complete control of his medium, or completely controlled by his demon."53 As Vivian De Sola Pinto points out in his introduction to Collected Poems, in Birds, Beasts and Flowers Lawrence "found a new theme which freed him from the trammels of autobiography. It was a subject matter that he was particularly well-qualified to treat: the immediate apprehension of the flux of life."54 (11, 12) It contains poems that best demonstrate Lawrence's interest in living organisms other than humans, and a comparison between them and humans. This chapter includes a textual analysis of the poems Almond Blossom, Snake, The Mosquito, and Fish, with support of a few other contextually relevant poems such as Man and Bat and the Baby Tortoise. As Rexroth puts it: "Beyond Holy Matrimony lies the newly valued world of birds, beasts, and flowers – a sacramentalized, objective world… A transformed world, with a glory around it everywhere like ground lightning,"55 which will be revealed to the reader in the following paragraphs.
4.1 Analysis of selected poems
The whole collection of poems is divided into nine parts of Fruits, Trees, Flowers, The Evangelistic Beasts, Creatures, Reptiles, Birds, Animals and Ghosts. The section Flowers opens with the poem Almond Blossom, which describes a miracle of life in a simple flower. It is a hymn to renewed life, where Lawrence combined "ecstasy of praise and adoration" with "rational imagination."56 (Pinto 14) Lawrence praises the almond's courage and determination to put forth its life every year despite the "December's bare iron hooks" of the Almond tree that "knows the deadliest poison"57 (304), as if it was exposed to death when experiencing the coming of winter every year. Lawrence brings up a comparison between the tree and the human race, saying that "trees suffer, like races, down the long ages", yet they always manage to storm up from the frozen earth – the iron exile – with "supreme annunciation to the world" (CP 304), emerging with the "unquenchable heart of blossom!" (CP 305) It is the annual resurrection of life that Lawrence celebrates, stressing the grandiosity of the blossom, the "pride", "honey-triumph", and the "most exquisite splendour" with which the almond is reborn. The idea of a rebirth, of the resurrection of the plant – as if having previously undergone crucifixion – is underlined by the appearance of the Cross in the poem, where Lawrence asks for the "tree of life in blossom / and the Cross sprouting its superb and fearless flowers." (CP 305) Keith Sagar in her D. H. Lawrence: Poet states that "the annual miracle of sprouting of the tree of life is, for Lawrence, 'supreme', the true resurrection, which does not degrade and destroy the body in order to release an immortal soul."58 (76) There is something "reassuring to the almond" (CP 305) that feeds faith in the new sprouting of the tree, which, however, is "unpromised / no bounds being set" (CP 306) to ensure the early blooming, apart from the faith and instinct for life.

There is a focus on "iron" which symbolizes the almond's persistency, its innocent endurance to push its life through, as if being the indestructible life fluid which can "break and bud". On the other hand, Lawrence describes iron as "rusty" and mentions "iron-breaking", which underlines the negative under-paint of the word – symbolizing the age of industrialization. The opening lines say that "Even iron can put forth, even iron" (CP 304) – where "even" as if suggested that iron in terms of the "iron age" – the age of machines which is the wrong way for people to go – still has a hope to follow. It indicates that even if civilization is following the wrong path, it can still return to the true pursuit of life, following nature and the flow of the universe. Even though Lawrence's true aim is zooming in on beauty of a simple flowering miracle, Sagar observes that it also serves as a symbol of all living vegetation59 (76), it is an ode to the blossom, while also a symbolic meaning for humans, as it corresponds with Lawrence's idea from the essay A propos: "The people is an organic whole, rising from the roots, through trunk and branch and leaf, to the perfect blossom."60 (110) He does not use human soul or human personality to express life teeming at every second, but a simple flower, as if ascertaining nature's perfection in contrast to human incompleteness.

After the sections on trees, plants, and flowers, poems about animals follow: "In these poems living things are seen in the context of human life but on their own, rather than on human, terms."61 (Wareham 2) Such is a characterisation that applies to The Mosquito, a poem about the encounter between a man and a tiny 'beastly' insect. The confrontation begins with Lawrence directly addressing the mosquito from the perspective of the man who is the speaker of the poem. His words address the mosquito as if it was an enemy from the very beginning, with its "tricks" and "so much devilry." (CP 332) The seemingly sarcastic and negatively charged talking to the mosquito marks the creature as "a translucent phantom", a "nothingness" that carries the weight of the "Winged Victory", as if being extremely dangerous, while being almost invisible to the eye of an innocent victim – the man pondering: "Yet what an aura surrounds you; / Your evil little aura, prowling, and casting a numbness on my mind." Even the frail corpus of the mosquito makes the speaker disgusted, revealing the creature's great power: "That is your trick, your bit of filthy magic: / Invisibility, and the anaesthetic power / To deaden my attention in your direction." The mosquito is being attributed human means of behaviour, when the man feels that he 'knows its game', accusing the mosquito of intentionally harming humans and spreading a serious sickness, yet as Keese points out, it is only an allusion to humans who "often take much more than they need from other people, and no matter how well off they may become, they continue to desire more"62 (140), while the mosquito, no matter how repellent an animal it may be, follows only its natural instinct to survive and takes no more than needed. The speaker, however, continues to charge the insect with playing a "sly game of bluff" (CP 333) where the mosquito is "cunningly conscious" that the man is aware of him.

There appears a paradox between the subtlety and diminutiveness of the little creature called "speck" and "winged blood drop", and the greatness of the devilry that the "pointed fiend" carries on its thin, high legs. The man is afraid of a creature significantly smaller than he is, charging it with bad intensions and getting involved in a struggle for survival. "Which one will have dominance? Though the poet seems confident that he will triumph, the mosquito irks him with its 'hateful little trump'"63 (Keese 4) and finally manages to "snatch [his] scalp". The mosquito bites and its victim observes the creature "enspasmed in oblivion, obscenely ecstasied, sucking live blood" as if the encounter ended bloodily by the victory of the mosquito. The real 'bloody massacre', however, comes after the speaker offended by being deprived of a drop of his blood starts to wonder and put up angry courage: "Can I not overtake you? / Am I not mosquito enough to out-mosquito you?" (CP 334) And so by equalling himself to the mosquito, yet also by taking the advantage of being bigger, the man turns the mosquito into "the infinitesimal faint smear", a "dim dark smudge" made up mostly of his own blood.

The poem offers a hidden mockery of humans unable to find an equal enemy, while absurdly fighting against a small creature of nature that teems with no evil whatsoever, but merely a natural instinct to survive. Keith Sagar describes it as a "dialogue, the man garrulous, the spaces between the lines representing the silence of the mosquito." Even though the man comes out of the story as a winner – the one who survived the battle – "there is no compunction over the killing of the mosquito. After all, the blood shed is more his own than the mosquito's."64 (57)

A similar encounter appears in another man-versus-animal poem called Man and Bat, where a bat enters the room and is unable to get out or stop moving "round and round and round" (CP 342) in a chaotic manner. This poem reveals man's fear of, or rather disgust in the animal and his endless determination to never let the insane bat rest, until it leaves the room. The subject matter of the poem is similar to The Mosquito in that human is portrayed as the fearful creature while animals demonstrate only their natural behaviour. Sagar draws a comparison between The Mosquito and Man and Bat and stresses out that the human "hates the mosquito much more than any other creature, much more than the bat which invades his room. For the mosquito has invaded his very blood-being."65 (57) What the two poems have in common, apart from an unpleasant encounter, is the man's perception of the animal, which unknowingly invaded his private space, and his fearful retraction as well as the final turnout of 'becoming a winner', which, however, is more apparent in the picture of the dead mosquito than the bat, whom the man frees using a flannel jacket. The closing lines are the man's ideas of what the bat thinks of him: "There he sits, the long loud one! / But I am greater than he… / I escaped him…" (CP 347) Through these words Lawrence mocks the human as being the insane one, who may come out of the struggle as a winner, but it is only through his own eyes that the victory belongs to him.



Lawrence is very witty in portraying human perception of animals, which he perfectly handles in the poem Fish where he ponders about the exquisiteness and secrecy of yet another living creature. This poem is different from those previously analysed in that it captures human limitations in understanding the realm of non-human living creatures and it does not portray the struggle or strong desire to get rid of the animal, but merely the author's fascination about the subject: "It is as if the poet were at first struggling without much effect to capture the fish's nature and then suddenly finding an insight into his subject. It is a pattern throughout the poem: doubt as to whether he can really know the fish and sudden, darting perception of it."66 (Wareham 7) The poem starts with short insecure lines "Fish, oh Fish, / So little matters!" where Lawrence seems to struggle to comprehend that "As the waters roll / Roll you. / The waters wash, / You wash in oneness / And never emerge. / Never know, / Never grasp." (CP 335) Suddenly a quick lively description brings forth an image of joyfully moving waters: "Your life a sluice of sensation along your sides, / A flush at the flails of your fins, down the whorl of your tail, / And water wetly on fire in the grates of your gills;" as if the fire in the water was lit by the flash of fish's smooth movements. The pattern, however, continues to offer sort of the negatively charged admiration where the poet ponders about the mystery in which fish live under the water: "Who lies with the waters of his silent passion, womb-element? / - Fish in the waters under the earth. / What price his bread upon the waters?" (CP 335) Calling the fish 'himself' unveils Lawrence's apprehension of the fact that the fish may be a personality, living for 'himself', keeping the underwater secrets to 'himself' and never revealing what the waters hide. Fish are characterized by knowing fear, being hungry, being lively and swimming in shoals, yet they are out of contact: "Food, and fear, and joie de vivre, / Without love." (CP 336) The poet tries to understand some of the aspects of the fish's life through the aspects of human life, because that is what naturally comes to one's mind when assessing a certain phenomenon, but the fish remains different, it is something 'other', something "Born before God was love, / or life knew loving. / Beautifully beforehand with it all." (CP 337) At this point Lawrence fathoms that even though he may watch them or even catch them, he cannot get into their mystery, their natural freedom: "I said to my heart, who are these? / And my heart couldn't own them…" The poem's development leads the poet to repeating "I didn't know his God, / I didn't know his God," which "is perhaps the last admission that life has to wring out of us." (CP 338) Lawrence understands that there is more to life than believing in one God, that nature created its wonders before people started worshipping their Lord, and that people have limits while living creatures stay beyond them in their natural mysterious way of life, "gods beyond my God." Lawrence's true God is the Life Force which gives birth to natural instincts, it is a mysterious creative force beyond any religious figures, and so are fishes. Lawrence is "trying very hard to get into the suchness of fish"67 (Oates) rather than to convey human emotions or assess his relation to fish, even though he describes his own feelings and realizations, out of which the most revolutionary one is understanding that "I am not the measure of creation. / This is beyond me, this fish. / His God stands outside my God." (CP 339) The poet, however, arrives at this consciousness only after he fishes out the fish and feels it beat in his hands, until the beating dies away… Only then the poet's heart abounds with guilt of killing a creature that "was born before my day", a creature that "outstarts me." This statement suggest the influence of Darwinian theory of evolution on Lawrence's writing, where creatures are not regarded as inferior, on the contrary, they play the role of pre-constituents of the human race, they were 'born before our days'. Fish "move in other circles" (CP 339) and Lawrence's final apprehension is that even though he can seize their bodies, he can never access their consciousness, their mysterious lives: "But I, I only wonder / And don't know. / I don't know the fishes." (CP 340) "While Lawrence's blunt 'I don't know fishes' is contradicted by the brilliant descriptions of them, that is yet another means to examine these astonishing creatures in a non-human perspective. Man is a limited measure of all things."68 (Wareham 8)

As Wareham writes in his work: "Natural imagery had always been a staple of [Lawrence's] verse but now he began to write poems taking a specific creature as subject, exploring its emotional, spiritual and ethical significance for him as well as its appearance and biology."69 (2) The Mosquito and Fish are exemplary poems concerning Wareham's description of Lawrence's focus, and so is Snake, probably Lawrence's most famous piece of writing within the 'animalistic-themes' area. Pinto praises it as "an affirmation of the grandeur and mystery of the life of nature."70 (12) Keith Sagar devoted the whole chapter of her book to this poem, stating that Snake is one of the poems "about how difficult it is to simply let them come and go, to shed all the anthropocentric assumptions mankind (the voice of one's education) has been putting over one all one's life."71 (49) The poem offers several levels for analysis, of which the most important concerning the topic of this thesis is the poet's innocent admiration of the snake contradicting his 'human' way of thinking. The poem describes how Lawrence found a snake lying at the water-trough on a hot day in Sicily. Despite the fact that the snake was one of the poisonous kind, the poet expresses no disgust, but offers the reader a description of the snake in the light of a valuable living creature worth admiring, as the snake "remains, in the poem, an ordinary 'earth-brown, earth-golden' Sicilian snake, but at the same time becomes a mythical, godlike lord of the underworld, an embodiment of all those dark mysterious forces of nature which man ignobly fears and neglects."72 (Pinto 13) The snake comes from the mysterious "burning bowels of the earth" with its golden body shining in the Sicilian sunlight while "Etna smoking" adds stress to the secret forces of the earth unknown to men.

Quite an interesting aspect of the poem is Lawrence's use of verbs: "The human receives second-class treatment; the absence of a finite verb allows the static participle to change the human into a fact, a passive bit of environment, while the snake acts through a full verb."73 (Presley 9) When Lawrence describes their encounter, he writes: "A snake came to my water-trough / On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat, / To drink there," ignoring the fact that it is 'his' water-trough and the snake is actually the unexpected visitor, Lawrence seems to marginalize the importance of the human by focusing on a rich description of the snake's activity via using verbs that are omitted when talking about the human: "Someone was before me at my water-trough, / And I, a second comer, waiting." (CP 349) The poet accepts the snake as equal 'someone', a 'second comer', even a 'guest', and is honoured by the snake's presence: "I came down the steps with my pitcher / And must wait, must stand and wait, for there he was at the trough before me." There are, however, voices in his head, saying "If you were a man / You would take a stick and break him now, and finish him off" (CP 350) – the voices of human education preaching to get rid of dangerous and unimportant creatures standing in his way, making Lawrence struggle with his emotions contradicting the inside voice based on education of wrong values: "Was it cowardice, that I dared not kill him? / Was it perversity, that I longed to talk to him? / Was it humility, to feel so honoured? / I felt so honoured. / And yet those voices: / If you were not afraid, you would kill him!" (CP 350) As the snake finishes drinking from the water-trough, he slowly moves back to its animal under-earth kingdom, which to the watcher is "a sort of horror", and so he throws a log at the water-trough, though not hitting the snake, who quickly disappears in the "horrid black hole." (CP 351) The poet suddenly realizes his silly demeanour and wishes for the snake to come back: "And immediately I regretted it, / I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act! / I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education." (CP 351) At this point, there comes the full realization of the human values turned upside-down – against the natural instincts and the natural flow of emotions taking its place. The snake to the poet is "like a king" and his act soon meets plenty of regrets: "And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords / Of Life. / And I have something to expiate; / A pettiness." (CP 351)

Keith Sagar, however, points at the mythical level of Snake, where Lawrence seems to be the author, yet not the actor of the poem: "In 'Snake' the image of the snake is inseparable from that of a fissure. The narrator throws the log at the snake not in protest against its presence, but against its 'withdrawing into that horrid black hole'." She adds that "the hole is causing him greater problems than the snake; that he finds it impossible to bring into consciousness and accept what the fissure stands for."74 (97) Sagar states that the speaker of the poem is not Lawrence, as he would not have problems encountering a snake and accepting the symbolism of the fissure: "In 'Figs' Lawrence baldly tells us that the fissure 'stands for the female part', and at one level the narrator's horror in 'Snake' is that of a Puritan witnessing the sex act." (97) Since Lawrence, with his at-that-time controversial notions towards sexuality, could not fit an image of a Puritan, it seems just for Sagar to point out that the narrator is not the poet himself, but "a representative of our civilization" who is left accursed at his violent act towards the snake whose withdrawal is non-recurring. Nevertheless, the effect that the poem has upon a reader, beside the mythical level that Sagar draws on, is that of an experience of a man confused by human education, but rightly impressed by natural forces and beauty embodied in a simple snake.



As Keese accurately points out, "man has largely lost the qualities which the animal possesses. Only by introducing a non-human character can Lawrence adequately convey the splendour and power of pristine instinct."75 (151) The snake became such splendid object of Lawrence's attention, and so did tortoises. It is worth mentioning poems such as Baby Tortoise and Tortoise Shell on the ground of the simple appreciation of non-human life that Lawrence's poems abound with. Baby Tortoise tells the story of "a tiny, fragile, half-animate bean" (CP 352) which is born alone and yet instinctively and courageously struggles on its way towards survival. "It is a contest of life against non-life"76 (Wareham 5) where the baby tortoise's descriptions on a small scale seem to embody the whole process of the creation of life and its evolution. At first, it is only "a bean", "not quite alive", which then turns into "small insect", as if innocently striving to survive with its "first bite at some dim bit of herbage", while later turning into "small bird" and finally being likened to "a baby working its limbs". Wareham comments that this sequential description allows "Lawrence to universalise his observations on development in a hostile environment," (5) while the poet at the same time succeeds to remark on their unblemished will to follow their instinct: "No one ever heard you complain." Here Lawrence's voice seems to dispraise the human tendency to complain about life rather than to stand on one's feet and follow the life instinct, the natural flow and Life Force. The baby tortoise, such a small speck of life is comparable to a baby, except that it makes "slow, ageless progress, / And a baby makes none." Even though Lawrence stresses its smallness and loneliness, the tiny "slow one", a "solitary bite" on its "solitary hunt" stays "so indomitable" at the same time and is a great "Challenger" rowing against the "huge vast inanimate […] incalculable inertia." (CP 353) Lawrence praises the marvellous persistence of life represented by a miniature creature, he " broadens out from this realistic base to consider the tortoise, 'no bigger than my thumb' as the Homeric hero, Ulysses, rowing on his wanderings and a Titan, or courageous giant god, sheltering under his shell as battle-shield." (Wareham 5) This monumental space and time which is given to the simple tale of a baby tortoise then shrinks into the real-scale world of the little creature towards the end of the poem: "Fulfilled of the slow passion of pitching through immemorial ages / Your little round house in the midst of chaos / Over the garden earth." (CP 354) Keith Sagar's thought on Lawrence's approach serves us with a thorough idea on what the author offers in his Baby Tortoise: "The poet sheds all his habitual ways of seeing and responding to the creature, gives it his whole attention, as though it has just been created, and its nature had to be apprehended afresh, or as though it were the first creature in the universe, and all the laws of creation had to be inferred from it."77 (69)

Lawrence serves the reader with such apprehension of nature as a whole organic system where non-human creatures deserve even better treatment than humans often do. The poems analysed above prove his fascination by living organisms and the affirmation of life is not omitted. The struggle for survival praises following natural instincts, which humans battling other living organisms often lack. The collection of Birds, Beasts and Flowers is a blooming tree of Lawrence's sometimes critical, and sometimes admiring thoughts on the elements of human, animal, and plant.



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