Reflections on Lawrence

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Author: Adrienne Rich
Editor: Timothy J. Sisler
Date: 2004
From: Poetry Criticism(Vol. 54)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 3,160 words

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[(review date June 1965) In the following review of The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence, Rich suggests that this collection is essential to understanding the depth and breadth of Lawrence's significance as a major poet.]

"Thought," he says in More Pansies, "is a man in his wholeness wholly attending." Have his readers wholly attended to him? "But, my dear God, when I see all the understanding and suffering and the pure intelligence necessary for the simple perceiving of poetry, then I know it is an almost hopeless business to publish the stuff at all," he wrote to Harriet Monroe. It seems scarcely possible that the old charges of hysteria, anti-craftmanship, can still be leveled, that his own references to "the demon" (in the Preface to the Collected Poems, 1928) can still be misread. ("From the first, I was a little afraid of my real poems--not my 'compositions' but the poems that had the ghost in them. ... Now I know my demon better, and after bitter years, respect him more than my other, milder and nicer self.") Organic form, about which we still understand so little, for which the textbooks have yet to be written, we perhaps now know better than to equate with formlessness. That Lawrence was capable of writing formless poems (some of them in traditional patterns, e.g. the early, curiously perfunctory "Sigh No More") cannot be denied, any more than it can be denied of Whitman or Emily Dickinson. What is clearly visible in the early poetry is the process, the struggle, of choice, the wresting out of other identities into his own, the growing knowledge that Hardy, Whitman, though natural affinities, can provide no final solutions: he must create his own forms.

Reading the essay on "Poetry of the Present" (here published as a preface to the "Unrhymed Poems"): could anything be clearer, more conscious of its purpose? It works organically, like a poem: very rarely a piece of criticism can do this, demonstrate in its own movement and texture the possibilities of which it speaks. Lawrence draws his distinction between poetry which is "the voice of the far future or of the past, and the poetry of the quick, pulsing, immediate. The former must have that exquisite finality, perfection which belongs to all that is far off. ... This completeness, this consummateness ... are conveyed in exquisite form: the perfect symmetry, the rhythm which returns upon itself like a dance where the hands link and loosen and link for the supreme moment of the end." The "rare new poetry" of the flux and flight of the immediate present "cannot have the same body or the same motion as the poetry of the before and after. ... There is no static perfection, none of that finality which we find so satisfying because we are so frightened." There follows an enlightening passage on the metrics of free verse. Lawrence never argues that the poetry of the present moment is or should be the unique, the only...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420056220