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Monday, 17 May 2010

D. H. Lawrence: To Women, As Far As I'm Concerned


American Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) and Pelican, Duisburg Zoo: photo by Pierre Wasser, 2006

The feelings I don't have I don't have.
The feelings I don't have, I won't say I have.
The feelings you say you have, you don't have.
The feelings you would like us both to have, we neither of us have.
The feelings people ought to have, they never have.
If people say they've got feelings, you may be pretty sure they haven't got them.

So if you want either of us to feel anything at all
you'd better abandon all idea of feelings altogether.


Lesser Flamingos (Phoenicopterus minor), Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania: photo by Charles J. Sharp, 2004

D.H. Lawrence: To Women, As Far As I'm Concerned, from Pansies, 1929


Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Lawrence, Lawrence, Lawrence ... I love him, I hate him, I love him, I hate him, he makes me feel like Dunaway's character in Chinatown.

One of our great short story writers, a great poet, a great essayist, an ok novelist. I love him because he is always confrontational, always in your face, always challenging the reader ... further, further, further still.

The insight of "If people say they've got feelings, you may be pretty sure they haven't got them." is spot on, a zen / psychoanalytic approach.

He must have been hell to be around.

I think the most important word in this poem though is "idea" - I would posit, if I know him, that he is not saying give up feelings, he is saying give up the idea of feelings, plain and simple.


Annie said...

Reading today's series, I was reminded of another poet as inclined to slit the veil of love as dance with it. However, I find Edna St. Vincent Millay to be more evenhanded and generous in spirit:

I Shall Forget You Presently, My Dear

I shall forget you presently, my dear,
So make the most of this, your little day,
Your little month, your little half a year,
Ere I forget, or die, or move away,
And we are done forever; by and by
I shall forget you, as I said, but now,
If you entreat me with your loveliest lie
I will protest you with my favorite vow.

I would indeed that love were longer-lived,
And oaths were not so brittle as they are,
But so it is, and nature has contrived
To struggle on without a break thus far,—
Whether or not we find what we are seeking
Is idle, biologically speaking.

TC said...

How could one not have known this series would have a bit of a hot-button element in it.

Not so much meant to provoke, as to admit the fact that provocation is one of those many mansions they talk about (whoever they are or were).

A least where there is stimulation there is reaction, where there is reaction there is probably life, where there is life there is (perhaps?) hope.

The confrontational address in Lawrence, at this late stage, is of course impossible to separate from the totality of Lawrence.

It seems that the example of Whitman gave him permission to write poems with this sort of propositional directness. Bald and unmediated, some might call such poems. Straight up and right to the point, others might say.

Aware that DHL is a no-no, these days, one is not supposed to acknowledge he existed, much less read him. Which of course makes it so interesting to read him.

I hate poets who preach to the choir.

But of course to claim that there is no friction generated by this approach of his would be naive.

I expected the poem might serve as a lightning rod, and am happy that it did, if only that it caused people to talk honestly.

On both sides of "the question".

And of course, "the question" might really be: what is to be done about these problematic creatures, the males of the species?

Can't help but agree that, were all men taken out behind the barn and done away with snappish, the problem might disappear.

But then, the trouble with the disappearance of any human problem is that it usually serves to turn the attention to the next problem in the endless list.

Still, one can always dream.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


I absolutely agree ... this is what makes Lawrence great, warts and all. I am a big proponent of direct speech in poetry and so here it is. The lineage connection to Whitman is telling.

What to do with the male of the species, indeed?

Thanks for the great post and response.


PS I'm so removed from things I didn't realize DHL was, as you say, a no-no these days.

TC said...

It's always good to have a conversation.

Stevie Smith's contribution to this conversation is here.

What would she have thought of Lawrence and his poem?

Are they not both shying away from certain entanglements?

Annie said...

Hmm, the only time I have headed out behind the barn with a guy, my intent was far from murderous...well, okay, maybe un petit mort was on my mind...

Actually, my very first response to the series was wow, these folks are really narcissistic. But I suppose staking out their claim to a different sort of life required a certain armored approach.

Unfashionable or not, at one time I had an intense fascination with DHL (his freight, heavy though it may be, not to be confused with the shipping company...ghosts of today's diary posts must have brought that up) so there was no p.c. position about him as impetus for my response. I was just hoping to offer a different take on the theme that sidestepped Smith's ridicule, Milton's sexual imperialism and Lawrence's bullying, while being written by someone who was also staking out an alternative life from the expected.

Speaking of sons and mothers, I hear something, er, familiar and willfully boyish in his absolute pronouncements and extortionate attempt to prescribe the conditions for a relationship devoid of expressed thoughts.

I guess my idealistic answer to the "problem" is we all need to become real mensches.

TC said...


Well, who could but agree that it would be swell if everybody on earth were a mensch all the time. Noble, kind, good, fair, & c. What's not to like.

But writers... write. Kindness sometimes comes to the fore. But not every time out. Thank heavens.

Narcissism, I believe, is an overused catch-all term, a net with mesh so tight it captures every living creature that has a discretionary dollar to waste on therapy; to therapists, narcissism is what ski slopes are to orthopedists, a great source of business. Without it, tragedy: no business for shrinks.

Other than the fact that like all living creatures their motive is to be themselves, I'm not able to see what these three writers really have in common. They're poets; they're dead. But beyond that: everything is nothing but itself. And I'd say each of the three writers in question is relatively individualized.

Stevie Smith is declaring in favour of self sufficiency. What's narcissistic about that?

I take it when you speak of Milton, you mean Donne. The two are both dead white males, but apart from that, I believe they probably have less in common with each other, as writers, than any two other writers who have ever existed.

Let us be fair (menschlike) to Donne, and if we don't like him, at least let's know who it is we don't like.

Milton was probably a narcissist too.

Here are a few other poems by these three poets. Maybe I have been unfair to them by grouping them together in this series. Here they are, being nobody but themselves:

D. H. Lawrence: Baby Tortoise

John Donne: The good-morrow

Stevie Smith: Bog-Face

Stevie Smith: Tenuous and Precarious

~otto~ said...

YES YES YES YES YES ... I could just go on like that

Annie said...

Oops. My mistake, on several levels. Shouldn't have tried to post something on the fly (period?)in between various interruptions and everything else going on. Don't know where the Milton gaffe came from, unless I had Little Milton on my tinier mind. By coincidence, he's dead, too, albeit not white, and about as close to Donne. Duh. Stick me with a fork, I'm Donne...(as if!)But if I ain't sorry, grits ain't groceries, eggs ain't poultry, and Mona Lisa was a man. (Wait, isn't there some theory that ML WAS a self-portrait? Egad, I cannot refrain from tying my own noose.)

C'mon, Tom, despite my many banalities, I would never advocate "if you don't have anything nice to say..." And I did not mean to deny any of the poets their individual due when blurting my response to the collective impact of the series. Instead of just staying with the poets' posited p.o.v., I got to wondering about the other side. Admittedly, that really isn't germane or fair in terms of the poems themselves, but more in line with Don's casual aside about how hard it must have been to be around Lawrence (even if Don was referring to the perils or impossibility of relaxing near that laser-beam of truth). I surely did not mean to be throwing down any gauntlets. I mean, I am dumb, but there is a limit to my stupidity. I hope, anyway. Perhaps blog posts don't lend themselves to explanation without coming across as argumentative.
The series poems have it all over Millay's featherlight sonnet in terms of impact, no contest. I thought the difference in attitude was itself interesting, that she could say something subversively unromantic about love without using a club, the old "kill them with kindness." I don't want to stake out any position as the Queen of Anti-Clubs, though. Bring on the blunt force! (cue Ian Dury's Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick)

Guess we have moved from behind the barn to behind the woodshed. In addition to pleading nolo contendre to the crime of having used a lazy catch-all term, I am duly chastised, chagrined, etc. (I agree, it seems I am always sorry of late, in each and every sense of the word...)

I will now go practice my Shame Flute. Getting really good at it, unfortunately.

TC said...


I have a whole orchestra, so don't even think about it.

Actually I thought it might be interesting to return to the scene of original innocence and begin again. With
Lawrence and Stevie, anyway.

The Miltons big and Little maybe next time.