The Last Poems of D.H. Lawrence: Shaping a Late Style

The Last Poems of D.H. Lawrence: Shaping a Late Style

The Last Poems of D.H. Lawrence: Shaping a Late Style

The Last Poems of D.H. Lawrence: Shaping a Late Style

Synopsis

In the first book to take D. H. Lawrence's Last Poems as its starting point, Bethan Jones adopts a broadly intertextual approach to explore key aspects of Lawrence's late style. The evolution and meaning of the poems are considered in relation to Lawrence's prose works of this period, including Sketches of Etruscan Places, Lady Chatterley's Lover, and Apocalypse. More broadly, Jones shows that Lawrence's late works are products of a complex process of textual assimilation, as she uncovers the importance of Lawrence's reading in mythology, cosmology, primitivism, mysticism, astronomy, and astrology. The result is a book that highlights the richness and diversity of his poetic output, also prioritizing the masterpieces of Lawrence's mature style which are as accomplished as anything produced by his Modernist contemporaries.

Excerpt

The aim of this book is to reveal the sheer breadth and profundity of D.H. Lawrence’s late poems, also considering their status as late or last works. I have taken as my starting-point the two poetry notebooks filled by Lawrence in 1929 and posthumously published: notebooks encompassing some of his great acknowledged masterpieces such as ‘Bavarian Gentians’ and ‘The Ship of Death’. I am equally concerned, however, with the unacknowledged masterpieces and even with poems that are less stylistically accomplished but engage fascinatingly with key preoccupations of Lawrence’s last years. Since the publication of Edward Said’s book On Late Style in 2003, there has been a wave of interest in artistic ‘lateness’ or ‘lastness’ – with all that these terms imply and entail – across the arts. Current issues and debates within this field serve as useful catalysts for a discussion of the works composed by Lawrence between 1927 and 1930, with particular focus on the late poetry.

‘Lateness’ and ‘lastness’ are slippery terms, while the ‘shaping’ of any poem (or poetry collection) is a complex process that tends to elude definition. A poem created within a sequence exists in relation to the other surrounding poems rather than in a vacuum; arguably, then, it is best considered in its place. The development of poems might also be explained through recourse to the word ‘reshaping’, given that they evolve through draft stages and often undergo an intricate process of correction, revision and even rewriting. In Lawrence’s case, the complexity is heightened by the fact that he was working with and between two notebooks in 1929, deriving material from the earlier manuscript for interpolation into the later, so that drafts of the same poem frequently occur in both. The notebooks were not in any sense finalized and Lawrence’s intentions for them remain unclear. These poems thus retain the tantalizing provisionality so often associated with – or imposed by – lateness.

This study adopts a contextual approach, in which the last poetry notebooks are discussed not only in relation to their earlier draft stages but in conjunction with the works written by Lawrence during the last three years of his life. Individual chapters indicate connections between the late poems and Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Sketches of Etruscan Places, Apocalypse, The Escaped Cock, selected articles from this period and his last review. More broadly still, Lawrence’s late works are discussed here as products of a lifelong process of intertextual assimilation, though the books read or re-read by him during his last three years are prioritized. Works on mythology, cosmology, primitivism, mysticism, astronomy and astrology are brought into play, illustrating the way in which ideas or images are borrowed and transformed through incorporation into the late verse. The resulting poems emerge as astonishingly rich and diverse.

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