17. lawrence and the resurrection of pan




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17. LAWRENCE AND THE RESURRECTION OF PAN
At the beginning of the Christian era, voices were heard off the coasts of Greece, out to sea, on the Mediterranean, wailing: 'Pan is dead! Great Pan is dead!' [D.H. Lawrence, 'Pan in America']
“I will not have it so”, I said

“I heard his pipes:

Pan is not dead”. [W. E. Hopkin, ‘The Dispute’]
The three books which meant most to Lawrence in his formative years were the Authorized Version of the Bible, the Congregational Hymnbook, and Palgrave's Golden Treasury of Songs and Lyrics. Palgrave was crammed with Wordsworth, who exerted a more powerful influence on Lawrence than any other writer, an influence which proved to be a very mixed blessing.

Some of the earliest Wordsworth poems memorably gave voice to sentiments of 'natural piety' which would no doubt have been Lawrence's in any case, contrasting 'Nature's holy plan' with 'what man has made of man' ('Written in Early Spring'). But as early as 'The Crown' (1915) Lawrence was ridiculing Wordsworth's anthropomorphism and sentimentality:


Let no one suffer, they have said. No mouse shall be caught by a cat, no mouse. It is a transgression. Every mouse shall become a pet, and every cat shall lap milk in peace, from the saucer of utter benevolence. This is the millennium, the golden age that is to be, when all shall be domesticated, and the lion and the leopard and the hawk shall come to our door to lap milk and to peck the crumbs, and no sound shall be heard but the lowing of fat cows and the baa-ing of fat sheep. ... The tiger, the hawk, the weasel, are beautiful things to me; and as they strike the dove and the hare, that is the will of God, it is a consummation. [Reflections, 275-6, 297]
Yet he never quite escaped its influence. What sounds would Lawrence rather hear than lowing and baa-ing? He seems deaf to what Hughes calls the 'screeching finales' of the victims of predators. It is possible to praise the perfection of the predator without discounting the prey. When Hughes claims that the tiger 'blesses with a fang' ('Tiger-Psalm'), he has earned the right to make such a claim by paying full attention to suffering:
Creation quaked voices -

It was a cortege

Of mourning and lament

Crow could hear and he looked around fearfully.

['Crow Tyrannosaurus']
Even Crow is not entirely heedless, but has the grace to weep as he walks and stabs.

The Wordsworth poem which remained Lawrence's favourite for most of his life was the 'Intimations' Ode, which no doubt helped to imprint in him the dualism against which he had to struggle for so long. For though Lawrence quickly came to rebel against Wordsworth's rejection of earth in favour of heaven and of body in favour of soul, and to reverse that choice, he accepted for many years that such a choice had to be made.

Another classic dualist text which Lawrence met early was Plato's Phaedrus:
Pure was the light and pure were we from the pollution of the walking sepulchre which we call a body, to which we are bound like an oyster to its shell. [57]
In Plato's (or Socrates') parable, the mind or ego is the driver of a chariot drawn by two horses, one white (spirit) and one black (body). The parable seeks to justify any amount of cruelty to the body and its needs and desires:
The driver ... jerks the bit from between the teeth of the lustful horse, drenches his abusive tongue and jaws with blood, and forcing his legs and haunches against the ground reduces him to torment. [63]
This image of cruelty to a horse, representing the delicate sensitivity of the body, affected Lawrence so powerfully that he returned to it several times in his works. In Women in Love there is Gerald's bullying of the Arab mare at the level crossing, which prefigures his later relationships with women and his final self-destruction. In St. Mawr, Rico precipitates the crisis when he treats the stallion exactly as Plato had recommended. In Women in Love the horse threatens to fall backwards on top of its rider; in St. Mawr it actually does so. It is a part of themselves, their own affective life, their Pan life, that such riders are damaging. Lou sees Pan in St. Mawr. In his 'London Letter' to The Laughing Horse, Lawrence equates the death of Pan with the death of 'the horse in us'. In The First Lady Chatterley, Connie and Clifford argue about Plato's parable, which Connie sees as suicidal, a recipe for disaster.

Gradually Lawrence came to see all cruelty, perversion, pollution and sterility as a direct result of such blasphemous conceit as that of Socrates and Plato. Lawrence first responded by flying to the opposite extreme:


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. [Letters I 503]
Lawrence is here quoting the Psalms: 'Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle' [32:9]. This is the Christianity of St. John of the Cross, Augustine, Aquinas, and the Puritans ('to whom all things are impure') down to Lawrence's day. In the same year in which Lawrence began Lady Chatterley's Lover, Eliot quoted with approval St. John of the Cross: 'Hence the soul cannot be possessed of the divine union, until it has divested itself of the love of created beings'.

Lawrence soon saw the need to modify his position and began to write on this issue in a spirit of reconciliation. In The Rainbow, the rainbow itself was a symbol of reconciliation, harmony, between the sexes, between the universe and the innermost, between God and man. The rainbow is also the crown in the essay of that name: 'The iridescence which is darkness at once and light, the two-in-one'. Lawrence here modifies traditional dualism by arguing that the lion (body) and unicorn (spirit) are not fighting for ultimate victory, which would be the death of both, but for equilibrium. Yet even here there is no questioning the basic duality of existence. Whether he took sides or strove for reconciliation, Lawrence perpetuated a dualism he was unable to see beyond until he reached the American South-West.


*
The elements of Lawrence's vision were there from the start - his love of nature and his ability to activate the responses of others to it, his hatred of urban ugliness and mechanization, his respect for the life of the body and its feelings. No great writer had ever been in a better position, growing up in a miner’s home in the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire coalfield, to know first-hand the truth of Wendell Berry's assertion that
Fossil fuels have always been produced at the expense of local ecosystems and of local human communities. The fossil-fuel economy is the industrial economy par excellence, and it assigns no value to local life, natural or human. [10]
As early as 1909 Lawrence expressed this as powerfully as it has ever been expressed in the opening paragraph of 'Odour of Chrysanthemums':
The small locomotive engine, Number 4, came clanking, stumbling down from Selston with seven full waggons. It appeared round the corner with loud threats of speed, but the colt that it startled from among th gorse, which still flickered indistinctly in the raw afternoon, outdistanced it at a canter. A woman, walking up the railway-line to Underwood, drew back into the hedge, held her basket aside, and watched the footplate of the engine advancing. The trucks thumped heavily past, one by one, with slow inevitable movement, as she stood insignificantly trapped between the jolting black waggons and the hedge; then they curved away towards the coppice where the withered oak-leaves dropped noiselessly, while the birds, pulling at the scarlet hips beside the track, made off into the dusk that had already crept into the spinney. In the open, the smoke from the engine sank and cleaved to the rough grass. The fields were dreary and forsaken, and in the marshy strip that led to the whimsey, a reedy pit-pond, the fowls had already abandoned their run among the alders, to roost in the tarred fowl-house. The pit-bank loomed up beyond the pond, flames like red sores licking its ashy sides, in the afternoon's stagnant light. Just beyond rose the tapering chimneys and the clumsy black headstocks of Brinsley Colliery. The two wheels were spinning fast up against the sky, and the winding-engine rapped out its little spasms. The miners were being turned up. [Prussian Officer 181]
The engine has the dignity of a number, but the woman has no name. The engine is a ludicrously ineffective machine, yet all life which cannot fly away (including the human beings trapped by the economic system) are subject to it. Nature here seems to have given up the struggle against pollution, as though succumbing to some hellish disease spreading from the pit-bank. The locomotive is only an extension of the larger, equally clumsy and spasmodic machine, the colliery itself. We do not need to be told that the miners are often turned up maimed or dead. The paragraph is far more than background or scene painting. The subsequent story renders its meanings in terms of the specific tragedy of a single family.

And these meanings remain constant throughout Lawrence's life. They emerge most notably in the Wiggiston chapter of The Rainbow, the 'Industrial Magnate' chapter of Women in Love', and in Connie's drive through Tevershall in Lady Chatterley's Lover. There Connie sees


the utter negation of natural beauty, the utter negation of the gladness of life, the utter absence of the instinct for shapely beauty which every bird and beast has, the utter death of the human intuitive faculty. [152]
The cinema offers A Woman's Love as a degraded substitute for the Eros which has been exiled to its last fastness in the woods artificially preserved for Clifford, the presiding Mammon, to look out on, shoot pheasants in, and drive his motorized wheelchair through. The pit-banks are the visible stinking excrement of the whole operation.

The beginning of The Rainbow harks back to a pre-industrial paradise. The early Brangwens had lived in cyclic, not in linear or historical time - an earthbound life with all the advantages and disadvantages of rootedness. The main disadvantage was the mental and imaginative and spiritual inertia. After the day's work was over there was nothing for them to do but gaze into the back of the fire. The industrial revolution, arriving belatedly here, brings not only the pits, but also improved communications and education, the lure of travel, knowledge, experience - ever widening circles of consciousness. The whole organization of the novel is in terms of the dualistic alternatives of the horizontal (the land, the life of the senses) and the vertical (Lincoln Cathedral, mental or spiritual aspiration), with the possibility held out of reconciliation in the arched (the rainbow). Ursula pursues a series of false rainbows (transcendental religion, romantic love, knowledge). The true rainbow she sees at the end of the novel symbolizes the reconciliation of all the opposites, worker and employer, man and woman, body and spirit, man and God, but it is only a momentary vision. It tells her, very vaguely, how the life that is in her wants to be lived, but not how to live it.

Lawrence's search for the life proper to his species was interrupted by the war. The war put a spear through the side of his hopes for mankind. The news from the front and the moral debacle at home combined with his ill-health, marital problems, and the persecution of himself and his work by the authorities to produce a misanthropy verging on madness. By the time he finished The Rainbow, the ordinary human world had come to seem to him a dead shell, like the dead shells of all the individual egos of which it is composed, artificially insulating humanity from nature and its gods. Ursula's rainbow vision becomes possible only when she has broken that shell, suffered an ego-death, and thereby entered another more real world where inner and outer realities are no longer polarized.

Lawrence was later to call this period of his life his 'nightmare', and the novel which came out of it, Women in Love, would be well described as 'a nightmare of mental disintegration and spiritual emptiness'. The hero, Birkin, imagines a future world, after some debacle, cleansed of humanity - 'just the long grass waving, and a hare sitting up'. Birkin recapitulates many of Lawrence's own earlier mistakes. His attachment to the shell of a dead world of ideas and values is what has to be violently broken when Hermione smashes a ball of lapis lazuli onto his head. Birkin, barely conscious, walks to a nearby hillside, takes off his clothes, rolls in the vegetation, presses himself against the trees. It is not delirium, any more than the behaviour of the Bacchantes was delirium. It is a return to sanity, a rediscovery of where he belongs and what really matters. The coolness and subtlety of the vegetation comes into his blood and heals him:


Why should he pretend to have anything to do with human beings at all? Here was his world, he wanted nobody and nothing but the lovely, subtle, responsive vegetation, and himself, his own living self. [107]
Of course he cannot stay there, and Lawrence is far from advocating a return to nature in that simplistic sense - he was later to satirize the hermit's attempt to be through with the world of men. The point is rather that nature should be there, within and without us, a perpetual source of healing and renewal.

Before 1914 Lawrence's work had been anthropocentric, concerned almost exclusively with human relationships, with nature as a background - a very lively and prominent background, but a background nonetheless. Subsequently it became much more central. What saved Lawrence's sanity in the worst days of the war was his deepening faith in the non-human world as a source of health and wholeness:


What massive creeping hell is let loose nowadays. It isn't my disordered imagination. There is a wagtail sitting on the gate-post. I see how sweet and swift heaven is. [Letters, II, 331]
In the years which followed, Lawrence's fiction suffered from his loss of belief in people. You can't have novels without people. But you can have poems without people. Lawrence's greatest work of the immediate post-war period was his finest collection of poems Birds, Beasts and Flowers.
*
In The First Lady Chatterley Lawrence was to write of 'a new flux that would change one away from the old self as a landscape is transfigured by earthquake and lava floods'. Sicily changed Lawrence in just such a way, and provided him with rich imagery of such transformation. What emerges through the fissure in these poems is not angels but streams of red-hot lava, royal snakes, hounds of hell pursuing Persephone. All the flora and fauna of Sicily are but manifestations of a deeper more potent life in the underworld, the world under the world.

Lawrence's creed, which he offers as an alternative to Benjamin Franklin's narrowly anthropocentric creed, focuses on the opening up of communications between the human and the non-human, the self and the not-self, the conscious and the unconscious. Lawrence believed:


'That I am I.'

'That my soul is a dark forest.'

'That my known self will never be more than a little clearing in the

forest.'


'That gods, strange gods, come forth from the forest into the clearing

of my known self, and then go back.'

'That I must have the courage to let them come and go.'

'That I will never let mankind put anything over me, but that I will try

always to recognize and submit to the gods in me and the gods

in other men and women.' [Studies 22]


These strange gods are symbolized in the poems by birds, beasts and flowers. There are several poems, 'Snake', 'Man and Bat' and ‘Fish’, for example, about how difficult it is even to simply let them come and go, to shed all the humanistic assumptions which mankind (the voice of one's education) has been putting over one all one's life. The strong temptation is to anthropomorphize flora and fauna, which is an attempt to accommodate them to that which is known.

Lawrence's misanthropy was in one sense a sickness, but in another a healthy purging of his hitherto anthropocentric vision and of what was left of the anthropomorphic attitude to Nature of his youth. Man now appears on the scene, if at all, as the intruder, the aberration, who, in the presence of the sacred, can think of nothing better to do than to try to kill it (or, in psychological terms, refuse to acknowledge it, drive it into the seething darkness of the unconscious).

In ‘Snake’ Lawrence castigates the mistakes not only of unregenerate men, but also of his own earlier self, concentrating into a few minutes of poetic time an education in consciousness which had taken him decades. For by the end of the poem the narrator, our representative, has learned that he must expiate the pettiness of the whole perverse rigmarole of sin and guilt which Western Man has allowed to be foisted onto his psyche.

The narrator’s problem is as much with the fissure into which the snake draws itself as with the phallic snake itself. In the fruit poems he calls it ‘the female part’. But of course the fissure is very much more than the vagina. It is, among other things, an image for the creative or mythic imagination, corresponding to Joseph Campbell's description of myth as 'the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation' [Hero, 13]. As early as 1915, Lawrence had used the image in connection with the female, with prophetesses and 'some of the great women saints': 'the truth came as through a fissure from the depths and the burning darkness that lies out of the depth of time'. The fate of Cassandra at the hands of the male (including Apollo) Lawrence takes to be


symbolic of what mankind has done to her since - raped and despoiled and mocked her, to their own ruin. It is not your brain you must trust to, nor your will - but to that fundamental pathetic faculty for receiving the hidden waves that come from the depths of life, and for transferring them to the unreceptive world. It is something which happens below the consciousness, and below the range of the will - it is something which is unrecognised and frustrated and destroyed. [Letters II 297-8]
In Kangaroo we find:
Alone like a pythoness on her tripod, like the oracle alone above the fissure into the unknown. The oracle, the fissure down into the unknown, the strange exhalations from the dark, the strange words that the oracle must utter. Strange cruel, pregnant words: the new term of consciousness. [310]
And in a 1926 letter to Rolf Gardiner: 'We'll have to establish some spot on earth, that will be the fissure into the under world, like the oracle at Delphos' [V 591]. We are familiar with the Delphic oracle, through Greek tragedy, as the oracle of Apollo; but Lawrence is clearly thinking of the original Delphic oracle which was the Oracle of Mother Earth. (Cashford and Baring speak of 'her priestesses, sitting in the hot sun beside cracks in the earth' [305].) When Apollo wounded Python with his arrows, the serpent fled to the Oracle at Delphi 'but Apollo dared follow him into the shrine, and there despatched him beside the sacred chasm' [Graves, Greek Myths I, 76]. Zeus demanded expiation, but Apollo, having coaxed the secret of prophesy from Pan, 'seized the Delphic Oracle and retained its priestess, called the Pythoness, in his own service'.

For Lawrence Etna was such a 'fissure into the under world'; and the debate within him between the voice of spontaneous reverence for the creatures of that world, and the voice of his education, is a debate between Dionysos and Apollo, with Apollo, the apotheosis of reason, characteristically resorting to violence. Since the narrator in the poem is not Lawrence but a representative of our civilization it is essential that Apollo wins, by fair means or foul, leaving the man 'accursed'. He repents too late, seeing belatedly that the snake is


Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,

Now due to be crowned again. [Collected Poems, 351]


We cannot but think of Lucifer, once brightest of angels, and of what Frederick Carter calls 'the mysterious triple communion in the garden between woman and snake and man from which it would seem came the discovery of seed and its purpose' [BM 29]. The assault on the snake is a version of the primal sin, which, for Lawrence, was not the eating of the apple but the bruising of the head of the serpent. Kate Leslie in The Plumed Serpent is the new Eve, released, at last, from the compulsion to violate the serpent:
It was a snake, with a subtle pattern along its soft dark back, lying there over a big stone, with its head sunk down to earth.

It felt her presence, too, for suddenly, with incredible soft quickness, it contracted itself down the boulder, and she saw it entering a little gap in the bottom of the wet wall.

The hole was not very big. And as it entered it quickly looked back, poising its little, dark, wicked, pointed head, and flickered a dark tongue. Then it passed on, slowly easing its dark length into the hole.

When it had all gone in, Kate could see the last fold still, and the flat little head resting on the fold, like the devil with his chin on his arms, looking out of a loop-hole. So the wicked sparks of the eyes looked out at her, from within the recess. Watching out of its own invisibility.

So she wondered over it, as it lay in its hidden places. At all the unseen things in the hidden places of the earth. And she wondered if it was disappointed at not being able to rise higher in creation: to be able to run on four feet, and not keep its belly on the ground.

Perhaps not! Perhaps it had its own peace. She felt a certain reconciliation between herself and it. [425]


The witty, throwaway style of 'Peach' or 'Figs' will not serve when it is a matter of recognizing and submitting to the gods of snakes, bats or fishes. What is needed is a technique for shutting out the voices of education and 'listening-in to the voices of the honourable beasts that call in the dark paths of the veins of our body, from the God in the heart' [Phoenix 759]. Description pulls us towards betraying similes. A pike is not, in the last analysis, 'like a lout on an obscure pavement'. He is not like anything in our world:
I had made a mistake, I didn't know him,

This grey, monotonous soul in the water,

This intense individual in shadow,

Fish-alive.


I didn't know his God.

I didn't know his God. ['Fish']


Lawrence had an almost occult insight into the being of non-human creatures, even into the spirit of landscapes; but in the best poems of Birds, Beasts and Flowers, having gone further than any other English poet into the non-human life mode, he has to acknowledge the essential unknowability of it and stand in silent awe, in the presence of gods not his. One of those gods was Lucifer, once brightest of angels, now exiled to the underworld, but 'due to be crowned again'. According to Jung, when God cast Lucifer out of heaven, he cut off a vital part of himself, his link with the world of the flesh; he repudiated nature itself. Lawrence always associated Satan with fallen Pan.

Lawrence also frequently gives to the god of the flora and fauna and of the underworld of the human unconscious the name of Dionysus or Hades (Pluto), who, according to Heraclitus, are one. The courage to admit messengers from that realm is only a stage in the journey. Much greater courage is needed to abandon the world of normal human consciousness altogether and follow those messengers back through the fissure into their world. That shamanic journey, is already adumbrated in one or two of the fruit poems, 'Grapes' for example:

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