A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Work (3)

DH Lawrence has long been one of my favourite writers. He poured his bohemian soul into so many diverse literary forms: the novel, the short story, the play, the poem, the essay, the travel book. He was also a painter. Unfashionable today, perhaps his uncompromising and idealistic vision for humanity — harnessing instinct, sexuality and the human imagination — will once again be taken seriously. He could not help but write. Not everything he wrote was successful, but there are many, many truths and sublimities to be found in his torrent of words and ideas. Here's a poem of Lawrence's you may not know. I wonder what he would have made of today's technologies?


There is no point in work
unless it absorbs you
like an absorbing game.

If it doesn’t absorb you
if it’s never any fun,
don’t do it.

When a man goes out into his work
he is alive like a tree in spring,
he is living, not merely working.

When the Hindus weave thin wool into long, long lengths of 
with their thin dark hands and their wide dark eyes and their 
        still souls absorbed
they are like slender trees putting forth leaves, a long white 
        web of living leaf,
                the tissue they weave,
and they clothe themselves in white as a tree clothes itself in its 
        own foliage.

As with cloth, so with houses, ships, shoes, wagons or cups or 
Men might put them forth as a snail its shell, as a bird that 
                its breast against its nest, to make it round,
as the turnip models its round root, as the bush makes 
        flowers and gooseberries, 
                putting them forth, not manufacturing them,
and cities might be as once they were, bowers grown out from 
        the busy bodies of people.
And so it will be again, men will smash the machines.

At last, for the sake of clothing himself in his own leaf-like 
                tissued from his life,
and dwelling in his own bowery house, like a beaver’s 
        nibbled mansion
and drinking from cups that came off his fingers like flowers 
        off their five-fold stem,
he will cancel the machines we have got.


I love the line arrangement in this poem, and I also love the mix of both 'poetic' and 'awkward' expression Lawrence intentionally employs.


George said...

I like this poem very much — like the way it moves from the conversational to the poetic, and, yes, the line arrangement is appealing and interesting. If Lawrence was concerned about the machines in our lives when he wrote this poem, he would find our addiction to today's technology absolutely maddening!

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes, imagine the poem arranged more traditionally, and it would lose out, I think. Meaning can be in the structure, and often poets don't exploit this fact to the full. Then again, it depends, as always, on the particular poem and what it wants to convey. EE Cummings, of course, was brilliant at this kind of unconventional structuring. Also look at Daniela Elza in the final issue of The Passionate Transitory.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Quite right Robert - I didn't know this poem at all.

am said...

"When a man goes out into his work
he is alive like a tree in spring,
he is living, not merely working."

Not sure if I have read this poem before. I do know that I wrote a poem when I was 21 years old that could have been influenced by this poem ("... men will smash the machines...").
I was reading a lot of D.H. Lawrence at that time.

It is good to revisit these poets!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks Pat...

... and Am, I'm so enjoying revisiting them myself! I'm trying to include poems that are less well known, but the anthology favourites will creep in — because they are often just so damn good.

The Solitary Walker said...

PS What's just brilliant about Lawrence — which reinforces and makes even more authentic the sentiments behind this poem — is that he was just so good about the house: cleaning, cooking, making furniture...

The Solitary Walker said...

A practical Northerner as well as an outcast and visionary!

Howellsey said...

Have you ever read Ron Berry? He reminds me very much of Lawrence.

The Solitary Walker said...

I'd never heard of him, Howellsey, until I looked him up just now!