The above visual essay was created by Will Ryan as part of his final dissertation at Nottingham Trent University. Will and other students on the module have also been helping us to design and create our memory theatre.
D.H. Lawrence, like many 20th century authors, produced a large amount of literature during his writing career. Permeating through many of these works is a spiritual life philosophy concerned with living life to the fullest, and utilising individual uniqueness to live a life for and only for themselves.
Through looking at Lawrence’s poetry it becomes clear there is a recurring theme of energy, best described in his poem Dreams Old and Nascent in which the men are described as ‘vibrating in ecstasy’ and there is ‘an impulse of life.’ I assume that he also speaks of this energy in his poem Non-Existence with the line ‘We don’t exist unless we are deeply and sensually in touch with that which can be touched but not known,’ and to Lawrence this energy is an essential ingredient for fully experiencing life. What this energy is could initially be seen as a mixture of happiness and enthusiasm but after reading the poem We Are Transmitters I noticed that to Lawrence this energy is something spiritual, describing sex as ‘A flow onwards,’ and saying ‘Sexless people transmit nothing.’ So far, it seems that harnessing this energy is the key to living a fulfilling life, but simply hearing this information is useless without knowing how to do so.
The methodology for getting in touch with a person’s internal energy can be found again through Lawrence’s poetry, and can be summarised with two words: discipline and individuality. Ironically in the poem Discipline I will demonstrate Lawrence’s emphasis on the latter. He states ‘the fight is not for existence, the fight is to burn at last into blossom of being, each one his own flower outflung,’ and this burning desire to seize and accept one’s true personality is what Lawrence sees as the proper way of living and experiencing life’s energy. Challenging this viewpoint would lead Lawrence to respond very defensively, as displayed by the line ‘whoever would pluck apart my flower would burn their hands,’ and this emphasises the importance he places on individuality.
After first dealing with the inward self Lawrence then demonstrates how to interact with the outside world, believing that to discipline oneself into consistent maximum effort in all aspects of life allows for a rewarding flow of energy that maintains spirit ‘if, as we work. we can transmit life into our work […] we ripple with life throughout the day,’ and this method of thoroughness is an invaluable element of character to Lawrence, avoiding the wasting of days ‘I never saw a wild thing feel sorry for itself,’ and embracing one’s full potential.
Unfortunately, many of the great writers had a fatal flaw. Ezra Pound was a fascist, H.P Lovecraft a racist. Lawrence, too, divides critics as to his true intentions. His religious upbringing, and the culture of the time, meant he believed strongly in gender roles, a belief steeped in control which can easily blur over into misogyny. In the poem Figs Lawrence lays out rules for women and how they use their bodies ‘The female should always be secret,’ and by metaphorically comparing sexually active females to ripe fruit ‘They forget, ripe figs won’t keep,’ he patronisingly segments this pursuit of energy displayed in his works as a gendered journey; men should embrace everything unique about them without any stated restraints yet women should realise their predetermined place in society. But Lawrence is difficult to pin down as one type of person, and later in the poem is critical of society as ‘they have saved you from yourself, from your own body, saved you from living your own life.’
In Dreams Nascent Lawrence touches on various themes such as modernisation and identity, and these themes are explored through the concept of dreams. Within the poem’s first stanza, Lawrence speaks of ‘old, ineffectual lives linger[ing] blurred and warm,’ and this depicts a world of aged people living life at an unsatisfactory pace. The word ‘blurred,’ signifies a light grip on life, a lack of control almost and in the previous line he describes his world as ‘a painted fresco,’ the combination of the two lines implying we are all part of one orchestrated painting. Again, this signifies missing autonomy, and in the next line, Lawrence speaks of the past weaving a tapestry that is ‘compelling his soul to conform.’ This is reminiscent of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, in which Thoreau attempts to distance himself from societally imposed frameworks and instead think independently. Lawrence speaks of the past having ‘woven drapes/ [in] The halls of [his] life,’ and this evokes a claustrophobic trapping of himself within society’s routines and rules, emphasising the need to escape this and live for himself. In the fourth stanza, Lawrence introduces a conflict in thought; depicting the men as ‘vibrating in ecstasy,’ as they work, implying a positive flow of energy that can be seen to permeate his works. However, at the end of this line he describes the men’s flesh as ‘rounded,’ as if it has been mechanically altered by their labour. This reference is Lawrence’s commentary on the effects of modernisation, it can almost be seen as turning man into machine, and the poem concludes with the line ‘fall back exhausted into the unconscious molten life,’ a double entendré that speaks of natural death but also in relation to the mechanical content of the text, an unnatural one; the men are almost swallowed up by the machines they create. This point can be further emphasised by the line ‘old dreams reflected on the molten metal of dreams,’ the natural dreams personal to individuals are contrasted with the unnatural, the dreams of money earned through labour. Lawrence also uses language to subvert traditional descriptions of a creator: ‘The power of the melting, fusing Force – heat, light, all in one,’ using mechanical lexis to speak how modernisation is akin to a false idol, worshipped, compared blasphemously to God in order to demonstrate what he believes is an unhealthy focus on modernisation in his contemporary era.
In this poem Lawrence sees society as detrimental to the process of following individual dreams. The past holds constricting frameworks and the presents holds labour that ultimately cripples dreams. Analysing this poem in relation to his other literature, these societal binds can be broken through what can best be described in Non-Existence, with the line ‘We don’t exist unless we are deeply and sensually in touch with that which can be touched but not known.’ A deeper spiritual connection with one’s true self is to Lawrence liberating and a way to enforce both happiness and autonomy.
To see more visual essays and other interpretations of Lawrence’s work, please see our YouTube channel: D.H.Lawrence: A Digital Pilgrimage We also post one minute films of Lawrence’s writing on our instagram account: dhldigitalpilgrimage In 2019 we will be begin building our memory theatre. You can submit artefacts here.