|DH Lawrence at 21 years old (Wikimedia Commons).|
I have beside me a stack of books by and about three of my favourite writers: Rainer Maria Rilke, Thomas Hardy and DH Lawrence. Right now I've nearly finished DH Lawrence: The Savage Pilgrimage by his friend and admirer Catherine Carswell. It's a fascinating narrative. Through Carswell I feel I've got closer to the character and personality of Lawrence than in any other biography of him I've read.
Lawrence spent some of the happiest times of his relatively short life (he died of complications resulting from tuberculosis at the age of forty-four) in Taos, New Mexico. He identified immediately with Native American culture, joining in at times with ritual Indian dances. Out of this experience, and his trips over the border into Mexico, came the novel The Plumed Serpent. For Lawrence, old pre-Christian ways of life still retained a true consciousness of what it was to be fully human, a primal life-force guided by feeling not intellect — far removed from what he regarded as insipid, sanctimonious, hypocritical western Christian society.
In New Mexico, and for the first time, he found physical relief from the 'cheerful, triumphant success' which was killing the white races with ennui. He became a partaker as well as a spectator. Not by the abnegation of the Christian saint or the Oriental fakir, not by the psychic powers of the yogi, not by the short cut by which a modern world contemplates the conquest of the cosmos by science, not by any victory over matter by either the spirit or the intellect did Lawrence see the possibility of our salvation from boredom and sterility. We were all starving in the midst of plenty. Nothing was needed but for us to perceive religiously that the cosmos itself was alive, and to enter into the richness of that perception. In wrestling with a live cosmos men would immediately become themselves gods of a kind — fallible still, but potent with cosmic energy. Then, and only then, could man properly solve his great problems. But to do so we had to 'destroy our own conception', our accustomed consciousness.
CATHERINE CARSWELL DH Lawrence: The Savage Pilgrimage