D.H. Lawrence and the Phoenix of Regeneration

In our second guest blog exploring the relevance of the Phoenix, David Brock takes a broader look at representations of the Phoenix in Lawrence’s work and asks why he believed it was important to be “erased, cancelled, made nothing”. 

It is almost central to a satisfactory understanding of D.H. Lawrence to be aware that his life and creative output are packed with symbolic meaning. One has only to consider such works as The Rainbow, The Plumed Serpent, The Thimble, The Ladybird, The Fox, The Captain’s Doll, or the powerful novella, St Mawr, where the titular fiery Welsh stallion is an almost phoenix-like messenger from a lost world, representing the instinctive life which man has lost, to realise how vitally important symbols are in Lawrence’s writing.

In fact, in St Mawr, it is significant that there is a character, named Phoenix, who understands the horse, and helps lead the heroine of the story to the possibility of a new life. But, more about that another time.

Plumed Serpent
Artwork from www.dawnoftheunread.com

The Plumed Serpent, is the Mexican God, Quetzalcoatl – which is the title Lawrence chose for the novel, prior to interference from his publisher. As Lawrence scholar Keith Sagar points out, Quetzalcoatl “is a phoenix, for he threw himself into a volcano… there to sleep the great sleep of regeneration until his cycle should come round”.

There are many quite fabulous references to Lawrence’s cherished symbol, that fabled bird, the phoenix, in his amazing, large-scale, post-war symbolic essay, The Crown. Here the phoenix is “like an over-sumptuous eagle” which “passes into flame above the golden palpable fire of the desert”. We glimpse “the young phoenix within the nest, with curved beak growing hard and crystal, like a scimitar, and talons hardening into pure jewels”. Lawrence wills that our souls should come “into being in the midst of life, just as the phoenix in her maturity becomes immortal in flame”.

In Aaron’s Rod – where the “Rod”, which is Aaron’s flute, is a symbol itself, at the point where Aaron’s desire returns, Lawrence writes, “The phoenix had risen in fire again, out of the ashes”.

Phoenix by D.H. Lawrence

Are you willing to be sponged out, erased, cancelled,
made nothing?
Are you willing to be made nothing?
dipped into oblivion?

If not, you will never really change.

The phoenix renews her youth
only when she is burnt, burnt alive, burnt down
to hot and flocculent ash.
Then the small stirring of a new small bub in the nest
with strands of down like floating ash
shows that she is renewing her youth like the eagle,
immortal bird.

It should go without saying that Lawrence’s headstone in Vence, where he died, depicted a phoenix (now displayed at the Birthplace Museum, Eastwood), or that one appears on his memorial plaque at his ranch, in Taos, in New Mexico. Or there being a play by Tennessee Williams, a playwright who adored Lawrence, which is called I Rise in Flame, Cried the Phoenix. And here on this digital screen, hosting this guest blog, Lawrence is reborn once more, this time for 21st century audiences, soon to transform into a series of artefacts in James Walker and Paul Fillingham’s Memory Theatre.

Lawrence defiantly designed and drew the phoenix which appeared on the privately printed, signed, limited edition of 1,000 copies of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, published in Florence, in 1928, when the novel was banned in England. And, in 1929, the year before his death, Lawrence wrote a challenging, yet affirmatory, short poem, called Phoenix, in which he interrogates his reader, asking “Are you willing to be sponged out, erased, cancelled, made nothing?. . .If not you will never really change”, explaining that the phoenix can only renew her youth when she is “burnt down to hot and flocculent ash”.

It is only then that “the small stirring of a new bub in the nest with strands of down like floating ash shows that she is renewing her youth like the eagle, immortal bird”.

David organises a D.H. Lawrence reading, study and performance group, The Lawrence Players, which meets fortnightly, between 5 and 7 pm in Chapel-en-le-Frith library (16th, 30th May and so on). Any enquiries, please contact David at vegan.lawrentian@gmail.com

dhl-trunk redIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer. How do we represent the phoenix or encourage our audience to render themselves “sponged out, erased, cancelled, made nothing”?  In 2019 we begin building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here

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D.H. Lawrence and his Immortal Bird, the Phoenix

Badger with phoenix
David Brock with the Phoenix tapestry. Photo: James Walker

In this guest blog, David Brock explains how the phoenix became an iconic symbol of Lawrence’s intellectual and spiritual struggles, as well as being a familiar sign used by local businesses close to his birthplace of Eastwood. David also discusses how he came to become the owner of a phoenix tapestry created by Lawrence and Frieda during their troubled stay in Cornwall.   

The phoenix was a frequently employed symbol in D. H. Lawrence’s day. Insurance companies, in particular, favoured it. There were Phoenix Cottages in Eastwood, and a Phoenix Coffee Tavern. The famous mythical bird featured in the catalogue produced by Haywoods, the surgical goods factory in Nottingham, where Lawrence worked as a clerk for a few months, in 1901, before leaving due to illness.

Owing to its association with Lawrence, the phoenix is still a familiar sight to Eastwood residents and visitors, clearly visible on canopies, set as metal studs into the pavement and as the name of the local snooker hall. And many companies large and small throughout the country employ it, even those as seemingly mundane as Phoenix Mould Tools Ltd. or Phoenix Damp Proofing!

Pheonix_stuff eastwood

But, Lawrence was first seriously struck by this ancient symbol, and drawn to adopt it as his life-long and dearly-held symbol of regeneration, on being given a book containing Christian iconography. From being connected to the sun-god in Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilisations, the pagan phoenix becomes an image of resurrection used by Christianity, representing the triumph of life over death, as in the Easter story.

It became D.H. Lawrence’s own great religion of life that man must die away from the disastrous living-death of mass industialism in order to be reborn into a more complete existence, and the phoenix represented his hope for this regeneration of humanity splendidly. In Lawrence’s fiction, many of his characters break down and lose their former consciousness before achieving individual renewal. The central character and eponymous hero of Aaron’s Rod, for instance, must undergo the phoenix experience, having “to go to destruction to find his way through from the lowest depths”.

A century ago, in order to distance himself from horrendous critical attacks – his great novel, The Rainbow, had been prosecuted, banned and burned in the streets of London, outside the courthouse, by the Public Hangman, rather deterring publishers from taking on any other of his works – Lawrence moved to that most pagan part of the country, Cornwall. While living near Zennor, and helping on the farm at Higher Tregerthen, Lawrence embroidered a tapestry of a phoenix. It represented his deep desire to found a new community, leading to a new civilisation, from what he regarded as the ashes of the old. He gave this phoenix to his young farmer friend, William Henry Hocking, who was very much impressed by Lawrence and Frieda, never having previously come across such lively free spirits. I am now the proud owner of the tapestry phoenix, as you can see in the picture, which I purchased from an auction a long time ago.

David organises a D.H. Lawrence reading, study and performance group, The Lawrence Players, which meets fortnightly, between 5 and 7 pm in Chapel-en-le-Frith library (16th, 30th May and so on). Any enquiries, please contact David at vegan.lawrentian@gmail.com

dhl-trunk redIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer. How do we represent the phoenix or Lawrence’s ideas on community and creating a new civilisation?  In 2019 we begin building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here

 

D.H. Lawrence and the Risen Lord in All of Us.

DHL Easter Egg image

To celebrate Easter, David Brock takes a look at Lawrence’s controversial take on the Crucifixion in the essay ‘Resurrection’ and how Easter eggs led to the novel The Man Who Died.  

In our so-called ‘Christian country’, we’re told fewer couples choose to marry in church. But let’s welcome this greater honesty. And while Easter is a commercial bonanza now. . .the stores stacked with machine-laid eggs – Easter is symbolic of Oestrus, and the Pagan origin of our great spring festival.

Unsurprisingly, D.H. Lawrence – who was brought up steeped in the Bible and Christian mythology, and has been depicted as a Christ-like figure himself, even described by some as ‘messianic’ – offers some challenging, alternative suggestions when it comes to the Church, the Easter Story and the Resurrection. What he says can help us all to rise up again, achieving fuller being, at this most regenerative time of year.

Inspired by the sight of eggs at Easter, and at first called The Escaped Cock, the subsequent title of Lawrence’s controversial fictional version of Christ coming back to life, and emerging from the tomb, The Man Who Died, tells us quite a lot. This is a mortal ‘Man’, rather than a Saviour, King of Kings or Son of God. This ‘Man’ has died the death of his old self, and his new, individual, flesh and blood self, has returned to life. He is taking the first hesitant steps away from a past he now repudiates, towards his difficult but vital human resurrection. He is becoming ‘The Man Who Lived’, rather than ‘The Christ Who Died’.

In a short essay, ‘Resurrection’, Lawrence berates fellow writer, Tolstoy, for wanting Christ to go on ‘being crucified everlastingly’, and urges all of that ilk to ‘Put away the Cross; it is obsolete.’ For the ‘stigmata’ are ‘healed up’. And ‘The Lord is risen,’

The Cross has become the ‘Tree of Life’ again, Lawrence insists. It has taken root and is issuing buds. However, the multitudes are mistakenly putting their Lord on the Cross again.

Whereas those who are prepared to rise along with the Risen Lord can do so as lords themselves. Facing inwards towards the ‘Whole God’ – which is, our central living integrity, the hub of our being – on the ‘Wheel of fire’, we can all be lit up with ‘bright and brighter and brightest and most-bright faces’, Lawrence believes.

In his poem, ‘The Risen Lord’ Lawrence’s Jesus opens his eyes ‘afresh’, seeing for the first time ‘people of flesh’. Having conquered the fear of death, he must now ‘conquer the fear of life’ – living as a ‘man among men’. He rejects the old denial of substance and physical desires – ‘never can denial deny them again.’

This vision in Lawrence of us all as Lords of Life is infectious. The last of his Pansies, ‘Prayer’, written as his health declined, expresses an extraordinary wish. . .one we might share – ‘Give me the moon at my feet / Put my feet upon the crescent, like a Lord!”

David organises a D.H. Lawrence reading, study and performance group, The Lawrence Players, which meets fortnightly, between 5 and 7 pm in Chapel-en-le-Frith library (18th April, 2nd, 16th, 30th May and so on). The ultimate aim of the group is to raise the profile of this radical exciting author by performing his work on stage.
Any enquiries, please contact David at vegan.lawrentian@gmail.com

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer. How do we get across Lawrence’s indifferent relationship with religion or the self-deification of his later works? Will chocolate eggs melt inside our memory theatre or hatch and rise from the flames? In 2019 we begin building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here

 

How Lawrentian ideals have come to influence future generations of poets

look book jackets
This is our second blog exploring the influence of Look! We Have Come Through! This time David Brock explores how Lawrentian ideals, particularly those of renewed inner life, have come to influence future generations of poets and artists. He pays particular attention to Steve Taylor’s collection The Calm Centre, which picked lines from Lawrence’s ‘Song of a Man Who Has Come Through’ to preface his own book of verse on the theme of individual enlightenment.

In an enlivening introduction to a 1990s Wordsworth edition of D.H. Lawrence’s Poetry, Albert Glover writes of the amazing breakthrough Lawrence made as man and poet on finding fulfilment in love and marriage. ‘Everything Lawrence wrote after Look! We Have Come Through! [the cycle of love poems he produced during this important phase] comes from a soul forged in the ecstasy of spiritual awakening’, Glover asserts, before quoting the memorable, mysterious opening of Lawrence’s ‘Song of a Man Who Has Come Through’. . .’Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me!/ A fine wind is blowing the new direction of time. . .’ This being ‘the prophetic stance of the risen man’, Glover suggests.

A present day writer, thinker and poet, Steve Taylor (who gave spell-binding, unscripted talks to the Lawrence Society in its glory days, about Lawrence as Pagan, and as Mystic, and now appears annually in Mind, Body and Spirit magazine’s list of ‘the world’s 100 most spiritually influential living people’), has picked lines from this key poem to preface his own book of verse on the theme of individual enlightenment. Entitled The Calm Center, it features an introduction by spiritual teacher and author of The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle.

Of the Lawrence poem in question, composed around the time of Lawrence’s marriage to Frieda, on 13th July 1914, the late great Keith Sagar writes that it is ‘about life and art, about Lawrence the married man and Lawrence the poet’, and that it ‘consists almost entirely of images – wind, chisel, fountain, angels.’

What is the ‘wind’ which Lawrence speaks of? Keith suggests it signifies the release of a new imaginative, poetic energy suddenly at large, and which may provide him with inspiration so powerful it may break through the rock encasing our soul, to open up a new ‘Pagan paradise’ – the Hesperides – where the golden apples offer a life free from the old (Eden apple) fear of sin.

The poem ends with ‘the three strange angels’ knocking on the door, at night. Lawrence is ready and willing to face this disturbing challenge – ‘Admit them, admit them’. Together with his wife, he feels able to save the seeds of creativity – these wind-blown, winged gifts – from a world descending into war and destruction. And, as Keith also puts it, the ‘exorcism’ of Sons and Lovers has brought the re-birth of Lawrence’s ‘demon’ – a force now ‘free to become no longer the writhing repressed half of a split psyche.’

Steve Taylor’s therapeutic poems (which are reflective discourses, rather in the manner of Lawrence’s Pansies) reveal how we too might heal our mental ailments, achieve this ‘new’ Lawrentian ‘wholeness and courage’, and find a ‘self’ free of negativity ‘which can recognise and respond to the sacred’, within what Frieda called ‘the great vast show of life’.

One must be prepared to change. As with Lawrence there are difficult questions and challenges. ‘The Off-Loading’ is reminiscent of one of Lawrence’s most famous final poems, ‘Phoenix’, in asking ‘Are you willing to give yourself up?’ It is only when you can let go that ‘you’ll be empty, peaceful and light/ and ready to float free’ – rather like Lawrence’s ‘immortal bird’ rising from the flames.

There are poems about engagement with trees, something Lawrence understood uncannily well. It is of unfathomable value – balm to the suffering soul – to wake up to nature and reconnect in this profound way.

‘The Project’ is concerned with permitting your inner self to unfold and have expression.

‘The End of Desire’, about the erroneous pursuit of false goals in life, feels pure Lawrence, while Steve’s concluding poem ‘The Essence’ has that grand Lawrentian theme that we can each be a living manifestation of cosmic energy.

Lawrence’s remarkable verse contains next to nothing that is ‘chaff’. In common with his other work, it offers a great and nourishing influence on succeeding generations of writers, whose own uplifting poetry can achieve similar spiritual breakthroughs, leading to the awakening of new ‘integrity’, ‘vital sanity’ and holistic being. Steve Taylor’s latest volume offers this Lawrentian vision of renewed inner life and fulfilling emotional health.

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer.  How do we capture and track his influences? What are you personally ‘willing to give up’ and how does this compare with Lawrence’s own principles? How do we represent renewed inner life? In 2019 we will be building our Memory Theatre and retracing Lawrence’s savage pilgrimage both physically and digitally. If you have an idea for an artefact get involved and submit ideas here.