Promo video: Green by D.H. Lawrence

In our third blog exploring Look! We Have Come Through! we have created a YouTube short (thanks Izaak Bosman) to celebrate the poem ‘Green’. This was originally published in the Poetry Review (1914) and then in an anthology of imagist poetry in 1916, meaning that Lawrence could no longer be simply cast as a Georgian poet.

Lawrence started and ended his career with verse, writing around 750 poems. One of his earliest collections was Look! We have come through! which was written between 1911 and 1917 and followed on the tails of Love Poems and Amores.

In the forward to the collection, Lawrence states ‘These poems should not be considered separately, as so many single pieces. They are intended as an essential story, or history, or confession, unfolding one from the other in organic development, the whole revealing the intrinsic experience of a man during the crisis of manhood, when he marries and comes into himself. The period covered is, roughly, the sixth lustre of a man’s life.’

Graham Hough describes the collection as ‘simply the development of an intelligible train of feeling through a number of fragmentary occasions’. These fragmentary occasions are mainly structured between 1912-14, the period when Frieda Weekley left her husband and three children and eloped with Lawrence, before marrying him once her divorce came through. Consequently, the poems were written on the hoof in Germany, Austria and Italy.  Given the scandal their relationship aroused, it’s not surprising that Bertrand Russell chose to snort ‘They may have come through, but I don’t see why I should look.’

The collection includes this somewhat unnecessary ‘argument’ before the poems, detailing Lawrence’s relationship verbatim. ‘After much struggling and loss in love and in the world of man, the protagonist throws in his lot with a woman who is already married. Together they go into another country, she perforce leaving her children behind. The conflict of love and hate goes on between the man and the woman, and between these two and the world around them, till it reaches some sort of conclusion, they transcend into some condition of blessedness.’

Perhaps to get across this struggle, Lawrence uses free verse (which doesn’t adhere to set structures) having previously used closed forms. The flexibility of form allows him to articulate, in the immediate, the trials and tribulations of love as two people struggle to unite their wills. As Joyce Carol Oats notes, ‘For Lawrence, as for Nietzsche, it is the beauty and mystery of flux, of “Becoming,” that enchants us; not permanence, not “Being.” Permanence exists only in the conscious mind and is a structure erected to perfection, therefore airless and stultifying.

One poem in the collection that particularly stands out is ‘Green’. This was published in an anthology of imagist poetry, Des Imagistes (1916), meaning that Lawrence could no longer be simply cast as a Georgian poet. Imagism, according to the British Library, ‘was a small but influential poetry movement that flourished between 1912 and 1917. It was crucial in the development of modernist literature. Rebelling against Romantic and Victorian verbosity, Imagists abandoned poetic metre and traditional narratives. Instead they cultivated short, exact poems in vers libre (free verse) built around distilled, emotionally-intense single images that often depicted the natural world. They drew influence from Japanese haiku as well as ancient Greek lyric poetry’. However, the Modernist Journals Project states that ‘Imagism was anything but a cohesive movement’ and instead ‘resembles a Gerhard Richter painting, a fuzzy work of art undertaken by several artists with different styles over a long period of time, or perhaps a William Burroughs-like cut-up composition aimlessly meandering in search of the “image.”’

frieda green

The inspiration for ‘Green’ was Frieda’s eyes, which Lawrence compares to dawn. Dawn represents the beginning of an unknown new day, and her eyes represent a new unknown love: ‘For the first time, now for the first time seen.’ The use of assonance throughout the short poem (green, between, seen/ sun, undone) helps weave these elements (love, new day, nature) together through the colour green. If green were to be used in Georgian poetry it would most likely be as a reference to nature and fields. Here it is something more spiritual, more transient, a ‘becoming’ to use Joyce Carol Oates expression.

The imagists were established by Ezra Pound in 1912 in opposition to the perceived parochial outlook of the Georgian poets. Lawrence may very well have been included, along with other established names such as Richard Adlington, as a means of validating this new poetic movement. His books may have been banned and burned, but his reputation was a commodity always ready to be exploited. This was certainly the case with the publication of Look! We Have Come Through! which Andrew Nash has argued was taken on by Chatto and Windus as a means of resurrecting an otherwise dying brand. Frank Swinnerton, part of their new editorial board, agreed to publishing Lawrence ‘on the ground that Lawrence’s name would be valuable to our list’. There is no such thing as a bad reputation.

It’s worth noting that another seminal Nottingham writer, Alan Sillitoe, refers to Doreen’s eyes in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1958), as ‘green like novelty matches’. Clearly this colour means a lot to folk from the East Midlands.

dhl-trunk GREENIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts to try to understand this complex writer.  Was he a Georgian poet, or an Imagist, or simply someone who defied categorisation? How do we incorporate the colour green into our design? 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.

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Promo video: Figs – a very secretive fruit

Ficus carica L., aka the fig, was so popular 9,000 years ago that folk in Palestine lined them up in groves to ensure local supplies were met, thereby predating grain cultivation. D.H. Lawrence would have admired the fig during his Italian sojourn, but it only made its way into Europe during the 15th century after being plundered from Persia, Asia Minor and Syria. The above video was created to celebrate Lawrence’s seductive ode to this sun-ripened fruit, but the fig has been a source of reverence for centuries. Figs have come to symbolise fertility, peace and prosperity in many world religions, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Buddhism. In Ancient Greece, athletes scoffed as many as they could get their hands on, believing it would enhance speed and strength. King Nebuchadnezzar II had them planted in the hanging gardens of Babylon whereas Egyptian kings were buried with them to please the mother goddess Hathor who would emerge from a mythic fig tree to welcome them into the afterlife. Figs also appear in the Old and New Testament, offering remedies for illness – both medical and social. Hezekiah, King of Judah, recovered from a plague of boils after his servants applied a paste of crushed figs to his skin. Whereas the fig leaf provided Adam and Eve with a bit of dignity after an apple left them rotten to the core. Or as Lawrence puts it: ‘She got the fact on her mind, and quickly sewed fig-leaves/ And women have been sewing ever since’.

Hathor
Egyptian goddess Hathor pops out of a Fig tree to greet you in the afterlife. Nice.

Although Lawrence’s naughty poem has become synonymous with the fig, it appears elsewhere in literature. In The Bell Jar (1963), Sylvia Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel about a young woman’s descent into madness, Esther encounters a fig tree and later reflects ‘I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story’. But it is best known in the 5th century epic poem The Mahavamsa, which covers the early history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, and sees the Buddha gaining enlightenment under a fig tree.

Lawrence writes that ‘The fig is a very secretive fruit,’ so secretive in fact that it defies definition. Ben Crair, writing in The New Yorker, explains ‘a clever botanist would sell them at the florist, with the fresh-cut roses’. This is because a fig is technically a ball of flowers, with enclosed flowers that bloom inwards or as Lawrence writes ‘There was a flower that flowered inward, womb-ward;/ Now there is a fruit like a ripe womb’.

This unique fruit, I mean flower – or more accurately a syconium, requires pollination to reproduce and this can only be done by a fig wasp which is just small enough to crawl inside. And not just any fig wasp by the way! Each of the 750 varieties has its own unique species of fig wasp to do the business. So next time you sink your teeth into the ‘glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled’ interior, remember you are most likely chomping into a female fig wasp that got stuck.

Mike Shanahan in Ladders to Heaven explains that this process of codependent evolution has been going on for sixty million years. The fig, unlike seasonal fruit, can be found all year round, making it a vital food source for over 1300 bird and mammal species. High in potassium, iron, fiber, and plant calcium, it has also been essential to survival of certain species in times of want. A 2003 study of Uganda’s Budongo Forest found that figs were ‘the sole source of fruit for chimpanzees at certain times of year’. I doubt these species would care to be instructed on the best way to eat this keystone fruit as Lawrence does in his poem, taking the Italians to task:  ‘But the vulgar way/ Is just to put your mouth to the crack, and take out the flesh in one bite.’

Mike Shanahan is particularly enamoured with the Strangler breed of fig which grows ‘from seeds dropped high on other trees by passing birds and mammals. By starting out high in the forest canopy instead of on its gloomy floor, the strangler seedlings get the light they need to grow with vigour. As they do, they send down aerial roots that become thick and woody, encasing their host trees in a living mesh. They can even smother and kill giant trees, growing into colossal forms’. Shanahan also points out that the struggles faced by the Strangler fig would inspire the British biologist Alfred Russel Wallace to develop his own theory of evolution by natural selection, independently of Charles Darwin. High-energy figs may also have helped our ancestors to develop bigger brains.

However you eat yours, and for whatever purpose, we hope you enjoy our short video, lovingly put together by Izaak Bosman.

OTHER PROMO VIDEOS

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 Lawrence’s playfulness in poems such as Figs? Does the poem draw out important issues regarding nudity and shame or does the idea that ‘ripe figs won’t keep’ chide with modern attitudes towards female sexual identity? Just as Figs have been around for centuries, so to women have faced centuries of insults. 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.

 

Figs

D.H. Lawrence

The proper way to eat a fig, in society,

Is to split it in four, holding it by the stump,

And open it, so that it is a glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled four-petalled flower.

Then you throw away the skin

Which is just like a four-sepalled calyx,

After you have taken off the blossom, with your lips.

But the vulgar way

Is just to put your mouth to the crack, and take out the flesh in one bite.

Every fruit has its secret.

The fig is a very secretive fruit.

As you see it standing growing, you feel at once it is symbolic :

And it seems male.

But when you come to know it better, you agree with the Romans, it is female.

The Italians vulgarly say, it stands for the female part ; the fig-fruit :

The fissure, the yoni,

The wonderful moist conductivity towards the centre.

Involved,

Inturned,

The flowering all inward and womb-fibrilled ;

And but one orifice.

The fig, the horse-shoe, the squash-blossom.

Symbols.

There was a flower that flowered inward, womb-ward ;

Now there is a fruit like a ripe womb.

It was always a secret.

That’s how it should be, the female should always be secret.

There never was any standing aloft and unfolded on a bough

Like other flowers, in a revelation of petals ;

Silver-pink peach, venetian green glass of medlars and sorb-apples,

Shallow wine-cups on short, bulging stems

Openly pledging heaven :

Here’s to the thorn in flower ! Here is to Utterance !

The brave, adventurous rosaceæ.

Folded upon itself, and secret unutterable,

And milky-sapped, sap that curdles milk and makes ricotta,

Sap that smells strange on your fingers, that even goats won’t taste it ;

Folded upon itself, enclosed like any Mohammedan woman,

Its nakedness all within-walls, its flowering forever unseen,

One small way of access only, and this close-curtained from the light ;

Fig, fruit of the female mystery, covert and inward,

Mediterranean fruit, with your covert nakedness,

Where everything happens invisible, flowering and fertilization, and fruiting

In the inwardness of your you, that eye will never see

Till it’s finished, and you’re over-ripe, and you burst to give up your ghost.

Till the drop of ripeness exudes,

And the year is over.

And then the fig has kept her secret long enough.

So it explodes, and you see through the fissure the scarlet.

And the fig is finished, the year is over.

That’s how the fig dies, showing her crimson through the purple slit

Like a wound, the exposure of her secret, on the open day.

Like a prostitute, the bursten fig, making a show of her secret.

That’s how women die too.

The year is fallen over-ripe,

The year of our women.

The year of our women is fallen over-ripe.

The secret is laid bare.

And rottenness soon sets in.

The year of our women is fallen over-ripe.

When Eve once knew in her mind that she was naked

She quickly sewed fig-leaves, and sewed the same for the man.

She’d been naked all her days before,

But till then, till that apple of knowledge, she hadn’t had the fact on her mind.

She got the fact on her mind, and quickly sewed fig-leaves.

And women have been sewing ever since.

But now they stitch to adorn the bursten fig, not to cover it.

They have their nakedness more than ever on their mind,

And they won’t let us forget it.

Now, the secret

Becomes an affirmation through moist, scarlet lips

That laugh at the Lord’s indignation.

What then, good Lord ! cry the women.

We have kept our secret long enough.

We are a ripe fig.

Let us burst into affirmation.

They forget, ripe figs won’t keep.

Ripe figs won’t keep.

Honey-white figs of the north, black figs with scarlet inside, of the south.

Ripe figs won’t keep, won’t keep in any clime.

What then, when women the world over have all bursten into affirmation?

And bursten figs won’t keep?

‘Track Nottingham’ Paper Boats on Private Road

track Nottingham

Shaun Belcher started a multimedia project in 2010 exploring local history in two locations, one of which was Nottingham. He began uncovering some incredible stories, such as Albert Einstein giving a guest lecture at Nottingham University College (as it was known then) on 6 June 1930. A section of blackboard he used to show his calculations is preserved in the university’s archives. The university also holds many artefacts relating to DH Lawrence, but we’ll come back to his connection with the College later on.

As Shaun began to amass more of these hidden histories he began to share his findings through art, talks and more recently, poetry. For the 2018 Nottingham Poetry Festival the poems were written ‘large’ and illustrated for display in Jermy & Westerman’s secondhand bookshop on Mansfield Road.

The project has the working title of Track Nottingham which Shaun explains “takes individual ‘derives’ as the starting point for poems that literally ‘track’ individuals’ movement through urban and rural space and their interactions with the current technology to analyse how art and technology interact.”

poem

So far he has written three poems about Picasso, Chaplin and DH. Lawrence which neatly bookend three concurrent aspects of modernity in Painting – Film – Literature. Shaun said “I am interested in the relation between technology and how these individuals were enabled to move and in turn have their works ‘distributed’ by the new channels of literary and film distribution and their link to networks of travel especially the railway.” Through poetry, Shaun hopes to map these hinterlands of change. He is keen to stress that “no person is an island and no artist is independent of the tentacles of mass distribution and technological change”. The poems are also stories about relationships played out against 19th, 20th and 21st century backdrops. One of these relationships is that of DH Lawrence and Frieda Weekley.

Private road and ernest weekely
Frieda (L) Private Road (M) Ernest Weekley (R)

After coming first in the King’s Scholarship Examination in 1904, Lawrence received a grant to attend Nottingham University College (now part of the Arkwright building owned by NTU) but had to work for a year as an uncertified teacher at the British School in Eastwood in order to save £20 for the advance fees. He enrolled in September 1906 at the age of 21 and graduated in 1908. Although he found the experience disappointing he was interested in the botany and French course taught by Prof Ernest Weekley, the then husband of Lawrence’s future wife Frieda. Frieda and Ernest Weekley lived on Private Road, Sherwood and an enthusiastic Lawrence came to have a chat with his Professor one afternoon and immediately fell in love with Frieda. There are varying accounts on how quickly the two became lovers but which ever version of history you believe, the relationship was built on pain and against the backdrop of World War I. This had particular resonance as Frieda was not only a married woman, but a distant relation of Manfred von Richthofen, the “Red Baron”. All of which inspired Shaun to write the following poem.

PAPER BOATS ON PRIVATE ROAD

A lone slim figure in Sunday best gets off the tram on Woodborough Road,
Hesitates then proceeds down Private Road until it dog-legs east at his destination
As he turns along the high brick wall he hears children’s laughter, a maid calling
He stands at the gate hidden by trees and calls, the maid comes to the gate

Later she recalls his patent leather shoes and his smart appearance that day
Frieda stands at the French Windows, behind the red curtains, eyes sparkling like a hawk
He is ushered into the sitting room, red velvet curtains caught in the breeze billowing
Initial stiffness is washed away in a heated conversation about Oedipus and women

D.H. Lawrence is being bewitched by this most ‘un-English’ and strong-willed of women,
Her exotic and erotic vibrancy entrances him, already struggling to escape this England
Her husband delayed by work she leads him past then in to her bedroom,
An English sparrow in the talons of a German hawk he is taken in hand, finds himself

Then they are both entwined in secrecy, taking tram and train to secret assignations
One day with her daughters they play on a local stream with paper boats
He flicks matches at them saying look it is the Spanish Armada come to sink England
Two paper boats catching fire in a Nottinghamshire backwater, then phoenix-like rising

From the crazed machinery of Edwardian England, the conservatism of suburbia
Sometimes of an evening Frieda would dash up Mapperley Plains just seeking freedom
In a cottage near Moor Green they continued their first loving act on Private Road
Under Pear-blossom, ‘a fountain of foam’, Frieda crawls naked over him, he writes a poem

To her and to freedom, to his sexual and intellectual fulfilment with a gushing woman
By May 3rd they were sat together on a night-boat to Ostend, that old England fading
A peaceful Anglo-German union as the two empires ramped up production of munitions and cruisers
The Suffragette movement beginning… the war to end all wars looming.

Paper boats burning…

dhl-trunkIn the DH Lawrence Memory Theatre we want to address various aspects of Lawrence’s life through artefacts.  How do we get across Lawrence’s relationship with Frieda? If Ernest Weekley hadn’t excelled in his teaching, Lawrence would never have visited his house. Can we convey this chance encounter somehow? 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.

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