Forwarding Thomas's poems while he's away...
(Poem #77) Bavarian Gentians
Not every man has gentians in his house in soft September, at slow, sad Michaelmas. Bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark darkening the daytime, torch-like, with the smoking blueness of Pluto's gloom, ribbed and torch-like, with their blaze of darkness spread blue down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of white day torch-flower of the blue-smoking darkness, Pluto's dark-blue daze, black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue, giving off darkness, blue darkness, as Demeter's pale lamps give off light, lead me then, lead the way. Reach me a gentian, give me a torch! let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of this flower down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness even where Persephone goes, just now, from the frosted September to the sightless realm where darkness is awake upon the dark and Persephone herself is but a voice or a darkness invisible enfolded in the deeper dark of the arms Plutonic, and pierced with the passion of dense gloom, among the splendor of torches of darkness, shedding darkness on the lost bride and her groom.
Published posthumously. From 'Last Poems', 1932. Lawrence's 'Bavarian Gentians' hypnotizes the reader with its rolling, flowing sounds, its gently rising and falling cadences, its almost soporific repetitions... as the soft and sweeping syllables wrap themselves around you, you become entranced, slipping into the world of "Pluto's dark-blue daze", falling under the spell of the gently spoken words... thomas. [Commentary] This poem, written close to Lawrence's death, is much more meaningful if you know what a Bavarian Gentian looks like. It's a blue tubular flower and was one of the symbols that Lawrence claimed as his own, along with the phoenix, dark sun, and rainbow symbols. Here he relates the flower with the Persephone myth. Persephone, a daughter of Zeus and Demeter, was abducted by Pluto, King of Hades. For six months of the year she must reign as Queen alongside Pluto but is allowed to return to the surface for the other six. Persephone carries the flower torch-like into the underground to light her way to Pluto's chambers. Or rather it is Pluto's "blue-smoking darkness" which overtakes the light of day, her consciousness. "Black lamps from the halls of Dis." It is Death which has come, and the flower acts as guide into the "sightless realm." But like the phoenix, Persephone will once again be resurrected for she is a symbol of springtime rebirth. And although Lawrence's body is dead, his consciousness arises again each time we read his words. In a letter to Ernest Collings dated Jan. 17, 1913, Lawrence writes: "I conceive a man's body as a kind of flame, like a candle flame, forever upright and yet flowing: and the intellect is just the light that is shed on to the things around. And I am not so much concerned with the things around--which is really mind--but with the mystery of the flame forever flowing, coming God knows how from out of practically nowhere, and being itself, whatever there is around it, that it lights up. We have got so ridiculously mindful, that we never know that we ourselves are anything--we think there are only the objects we shine upon. And there the poor flame goes on burning ignored, to produce this light. And instead of chasing the mystery in the fugitive, half-lighted things outside us, we ought to look at ourselves, and say 'My God, I am myself!'" (p. 563-64/The Portable D.H. Lawrence/Penguin) This is what's known as Lawrence's "belief in the blood" speech. I quoted the second half of the speech first because it's important to understand that Lawrence wasn't so much anti-intellectual as he was anti-self-conscious. He was himself both self-conscious and intellectual, and therefore knew that these things came at a high price. So here then is the first part of that speech: "My great religion is a belief in the blood, the flesh, as being wiser than the intellect. We can go wrong in our minds. But what our blood feels and believes and says, is always true. The intellect is only a bit and a bridle." The blue gentian, the "forked flame" which plays a part at the end of Lady Chatterley's Lover, is also the body of man. It is our bodies that wilt and die, drawing us to Pluto's chambers in the "marriage of the living dark." We are all virgins to Death. And the reason not everyone has "gentians in his house in soft September" is because not everyone knows how to be truly alive in the flesh. Not everyone knows how to "achieve your own beauty as the flowers do" -- existing instead in a kind of living-death so that the "nuptials" are replaced with apathy. Lawrence relished the contrast between life and death, day and night, male and female. It is the "marriage of the living dark" at which he is "wedding guest." -- Tina Ferris, from the WWW.