Academic journal article D.H. Lawrence Review

Responding to Non-Human Otherness: Poems by D.H. Lawrence and Katherine Mansfield

Academic journal article D.H. Lawrence Review

Responding to Non-Human Otherness: Poems by D.H. Lawrence and Katherine Mansfield

Article excerpt

This essay examines varying epistemological positions of the human poetic "I" as it encounters nonhuman otherness, focusing specifically on an analysis of selected poems by D. H. Lawrence and Katherine Mansfield. Many critics over the years have used this approach in their discussions of Lawrence's work, but such a study has not been undertaken with regard to Mansfield's poetry. A comparative reading of specific poems by these two poets, paying peculiar attention to subjective inflections where the "I" faces non-human otherness, brings new insight to the work of both writers.

If Lawrence's poetry has attracted considerable attention, in academic studies Mansfield's has regrettably remained marginal. The number of essays dedicated to her poetry has been surprisingly sparse, and when reference is made to her poetic work at all, it is quite often within a biographical context. The intensely personal dimension of her poems--like "The New Husband" for instance, written in 1919 and addressed to Murry--tends to marginalize her work and place it outside of more canonical modernist poetry, as it strays from Poundian objectification and Eliotian "escape from emotions." In her poems, the emphasis indeed is primarily on expression of emotions. And yet Mansfield's work also combines various formal modernist and Imagist features, like acuteness and conciseness. Lawrence's position as a modernist poet is similarly not easy to determine. Like Mansfield, he gave prominence to emotions and spontaneity, and his essay "Poetry of the Present" promotes the expression of such emotions in vers libre, in the literal sense of the term: poetry should be dictated by nothing but the "quick" of the self. This approach to versification blatantly contrasts with T. S. Eliot's in Eliot's "Reflection on Vers Libre" (1917), in which vers libre is said to be based on the iambic pentameter. The themes of Lawrence's poetry (nature, spontaneity, love, etc.), although they raise fundamental issues related to man in the modern world, have also tended to appear to some critics as more late Romantic and Georgian than modernist, and what can sometimes appear as a form of lyricism sharply contrasts with the modernist insistence on objectivity.

Edmund Blunden commented on the poetry of Mansfield in 1924 and R. P. Blackmur on that of Lawrence in1935; both critics denounced what they saw as formal artlessness and carelessness. Blunden describes Mansfield's verse as "thin metrical wanderings [...] chimerical, pallid and toyish" and he concludes that it is "not quite poetry" (609). R. P. Blackmur blames Lawrence's poetry for the same absence of "external form," for being obsessively dictated by the intensity of too private "hysterical" emotions (295). Since Blackmur's initial attack, his accusations have been repeatedly denounced by other critics (1) who have rightly apprehended Lawrence's naivete of form as a peculiarly powerful poetic technique. By naivete of form, one means a form of positive artlessness in which poetic expression "has not been trained in a formal manner" (2) and the emotions thus expressed have not been affected by a particular pre-existing experience. There is, in contrast, a sense of emotional immediacy and a direct contact with the world and with emotions. This Lawrence refers to directly towards the end of his life (1927) in "Chaos in Poetry" when he talks about "the intrinsic naivete without which no poetry can exist, not even the most sophisticated. This naivete is the opening of the soul to the sun of chaos" (I&R 115). Such naivete, Lawrence argues, is prerequisite to the experience of "acts of attention," enabling one to touch the "quick" of life when one has deliberately lost appetite for knowing too much. He adds, "the new naivete, erect, and ready, sufficiently sophisticated to wring the neck of sophistication, will be the new spirit of poetry, the new spirit of life" (I&R 116). On a formal level, it is with this chosen un-sophistication that years before in his introduction to Chariot of the Sun, he wrote that he was endeavouring the "wring the neck" of formal patterns and conceits. …

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