The sensuality of post-modern and contemporary poetry (Whitman the preeminent exception among the American Romantics), the permissions given us to write/say anything in the best of the writing that tries to convey our Edenic nature– is on my mind at the moment: see my exchange with Lyle Daggett on yesterday’s post: here is the D.H. Lawrence poem I told him about and that he found: beautiful!
Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.
Naturally as a woman writer looking back at this poem I love the lines…”my manhood is cast/Down in the flood of remembrance…” and the sensuality of the man-child touching his mother’s feet as she plays.
The poem that changed my view of literature– and perhaps me, forever, is Love on the Farm, a D.H. Lawrence poem I first read at the tender and self-seducing age of sixteen. I’m not much of an intellectual sort of literary critic. I can only say that the blazing sensuality of this poem so captivated me that I read it many times.
Lawrence is renowned for his marriage of the carnal and spiritual. In my memoir Nightfall in Verona, I use lines from opera as epigraphs but the final chapter begins with the final stanza of this poem:
Love on the Farm
What large, dark hands are those at the window
Grasping in the golden light
Which weaves its way through the evening wind
At my heart’s delight?
Ah, only the leaves! But in the west
I see a redness suddenly come
Into the evening’s anxious breast —
‘Tis the wound of love goes home!
The woodbine creeps abroad
Calling low to her lover:
The sunlit flirt who all the day
Has poised above her lips in play
And stolen kisses, shallow and gay
Of pollen, now has gone away —
She woos the moth with her sweet, low word;
And when above her his moth-wings hover
Then her bright breast she will uncover
And yield her honey-drop to her lover.
Into the yellow, evening glow
Saunters a man from the farm below;
Leans, and looks in at the low-built shed
Where the swallow has hung her marriage bed.
The bird lies warm against the wall.
She glances quick her startled eyes
Towards him, then she turns away
Her small head, making warm display
Of red upon the throat. Her terrors sway
Her out of the nest’s warm, busy ball,
Whose plaintive cry is heard as she flies
In one blue stoop from out the sties
Into the twilight’s empty hall.
Oh, water-hen, beside the rushes
Ride your quaintly scarlet blushes,
Still your quick tall, lie still as dead,
Till the distance folds over his ominous tread!
The rabbit presses back her ears,
Turns back her liquid, anguished eyes
And crouches low; then with wild spring
Spurts from the terror of his oncoming;
To be choked back, the wire ring
Her frantic effort throttling:
Piteous brown ball of quivering fears!
Ah, soon in his large, hard hands she dies,
And swings all loose from the swing of his walk!
Yet calm and kindly are his eyes
And ready to open in brown surprise
Should I not answer to his talk
Or should he my tears surmise.
I hear his hand on the latch, and rise from my chair
Watching the door open; he flashes bare
His strong teeth in a smile, and flashes his eyes
In a smile like triumph upon me; then careless-wise
He flings the rabbit soft on the table board
And comes towards me: ah! the uplifted sword
Of his hand against my bosom! and oh, the broad
Blade of his glance that asks me to applaud
His coming! With his hand he turns my face to him
And caresses me with his fingers that still smell grim
Of the rabbit’s fur! God, I am caught in a snare!
I know not what fine wire is round my throat;
I only know I let him finger there
My pulse of life, and let him nose like a stoat
Who sniffs with joy before he drinks the blood.
And down his mouth comes to my mouth! and down
His bright dark eyes come over me, like a hood
Upon my mind! his lips meet mine, and a flood
Of sweet fire sweeps across me, so I drown
Against him, die, and find death good.
You can imagine the reaction among the stolid academics to this poem in the twenties, as to Lawrence’s other work. Interestingly, perhaps, only to me, is that I rented an old farm house some years ago that had been trashed by ex-flea marketeers/hoarders: among the chaff I found a banned copy/ first edition, The Swiss edition, of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in perfect shape.
I did not want to choke my Golden Retriever in a snare when she chewed the cover off a book that might be worth a chunk of change on e-bay…. but close.
Now that I’ve reread this dramatic poem after years away from it, I wonder what an editor would say to a living writer who wrote, “I only know I let him finger there/My pulse of life, and let him nose like a stoat/Who sniffs with joy before he drinks the blood.”
Lawrence perpetuated the idea that women like to be “taken”. As in swept away ala Lina Wertmuller, the film by that name, a sort of remake of Lady Chatterley, that we long to be ravished/dominated like a lioness in heat by someone primitive, hirsute, a man of few words with good hands and… is that true? ?????
Meanwhile, into this terminal Romantic’s life, comes opera, longing of operatic dimension or longing for love of operatic intensity. It makes me sad to sense that men and women may not come together in these terms anymore, leaving it to art to plumb these depths for us.
Here is a spectacular poem– the title poem, in essence, of Lyle Dagget’s The First Light Touches Me, published last year by Red Dragonfly Press:
copyright Lyle Daggett 2009
I wish I had time to fully come to terms with this poem in a way that illuminates it for others but I think it illuminates itself. When I first read it I was blown away by several things. First of all, it is almost a whisper of a series of allusions to something holy: the making of woman. That it has this quality makes it inherently sensual and romantic in the literary sense of reverence for the felt, more than the understood or rational world. This mythic woman is coming awake to who she is; her senses are attuned to Eden. Furthermore, you can feel the intensity of the poet’s scrutiny of his subject in terms of the care with which he chooses each and every word. There is a deliberateness here that is the hallmark of brilliant writing, and something of a mystery in “this is the tree of our making,/where i speak to you and you speak to me/and we know each other. One assumes the serpent and all of nature, as lover, and allusion to biblical “knowing.”
I close this post with a poem I wrote four years ago abounding with Lawrence’s influence: The last few lines define my sensibility even as I age, beseeching my neglected dugs to not wither up in the moonlight. I like this poem for its expansiveness and lyrical generosity, as well as the ways in which it is suggestive of an opening to experience.
Othello Returns as Desire to Claim His Poet
Tonight from the plains, a wind
Comes into the garden: it is the wind
That carries pollen, the promise of kisses
Flower to flower;
One rose wants to open; another is bitten off
By something feral, at dusk.
I walk along the path, humming old Spanish songs
From the New Mexico years, carry a candle
Out to the cherry tree, a glass of cider,
The branches lean down over the dreaming twilight
And the first stars
And then, into the garden, steps
Desire, in his long cloak,
His deceptively gentle footfall;
He too is humming, lines from Verdi, Puccini.
He is a shape in the darkness,
A semblance, a Moor, half-sinister.
It seems we know each other well.
But I have not wanted him to visit this night—
A long hot day, thinking of practical things
At work on a book, pinching back the ivy.
As I say, he knows me too well; he steps to the back
Of the chair where I sit, and bends down
To kiss my neck.
Electricity travels down my spine. Yearning
Stirs in the belly, nerves
Waken where they wake, yes
The corners of the mouth, and between the thighs.
He is persistent, patient, like night itself.
He lurks in the shadows;
I pretend he is not there for as long as I can
Before I go in, light candles, put on jazz
And a filmy gown, turn back the quilt,
Take my Victorian grandmother’s photograph off the wall,
Should we find ourselves in that room.
But he loiters, whistling, by the gate, feigning indifference.
I go back out to where I was, under the wings of the cherry tree,
As if I am alone, I sit down,
Slide out of my underwear and kick off my sandals.
A moon, then—orange, full of honey, on the horizon;
He takes off his cloak,
And kneels down on the damp grass.
His is an ageless face, half-discernible in the darkness.
Better not to know who this is
Who takes me then, drinking my kisses,
Tearing off my gown, bracing my feet
On his shoulders,
Stifling my cries of joy
Teasing me with long and tapered fingers.
After midnight, jazz still on the stereo
I wake, and go out to the garden
Remembering that something took place
In the deep summer night,
That I was known and devoured
Plundered, and fed–
Afflicted by such tender, ephemeral
And proficient touch
As to be doomed to be hungry forever.
In Lawrencian fashiion I give myself to the imagined Other; the poem itself may be seen as a metaphor for inhabiting the rich sensual world– a moment of ecstasy at being, and being awakened in an Edenic sense. The “I” of the poem wants to be consumed by experience and yet in the consuming is rendered the more hungry, infused with more longing to know and to be known.
I make use of a number of mythologies and archetypes in this poem, principally as it were, The Prince of Darkness, the Otello, the Moor, the Vampire Lover, the Devourer. The persona is “plundered and fed” at the same time, and “afflicted” by touch by something overwhelming and powerful: a mythical, darkly sensual presence.
Now that I’ve thought about these poems again and written about them a little, here’s a thought: a potent writing challenge would be to relate an erotic experience solely in imagery and metaphor, without commenting or becoming prosaic.
(formatting notes: something in the blog won’t recognize stanza breaks without a character; hence the dots…)
copyright Jenne’ R. Andrews 2010