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.
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,
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,
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
In 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