(1885-1930) was an English novelist and poet, ranked as one of the most influential and controversial figures among literary circles of the 20th century. He extolled a personal vision of the whole human as a natural being, adverse to the modern industrial society with it's dehumanizing and artificiality of life and love. His early poems reflect the influence of Ezra Pound
movement, which reached its peak in the early teens of the twentieth century. When Pound attempted to draw Lawrence into his circle of writer followers, Lawrence decided to pursue a more independent path.
Authoring over 40 books in his lifetime, most were misunderstood, attacked and even suppressed because of their outspoken candor about sexual and psychological relationships between men and women. His most notorious novel was Lady Chatterley's Lover. It remained unpublished in the United States until 1959 and in 1960 saw its debut in England; it had been suppressed in both countries until the courts upheld its publication.
Lawrence's novels, or his short stories, or even his thousands of letters would have been enough to establish him as a great 20th century writer, but he also wrote astonishing poetry. Whales Weep Not! is an illustration of how Lawrence makes sex religious. Lawrence wrote a companion poem to this one called They Say the Sea is Loveless. In both poems the sea becomes symbolic of passions where the sea life are the beings that romp and folly with the mythological gods. The whale here is the ' bearer of the cosmos ' as ' a symbol of the Earth's foundations' when he writes:
And enormous mother whales lie dreaming suckling their whale-tender young
and dreaming with strange whale eyes wide open in the waters of the beginning and the end.
Scholars put the composition date around October 1929. The first publication date was in 1933 where it appeared in his collection titled Last Poems
. You may recognize the first two lines ...
They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains
the hottest blood of all, and the wildest, the most urgent
They are indeed quoted by Captain James T. Kirk
in the film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
(1986), where the intrepid Enterprise ventures back in time to save the Earth by re-establishing the humpback whale in its oceans so that an alien ship may communicate with them. Other scholars relate that Lawrence was influenced by what he remembered from reading Moby Dick
and point to in particular chapters 87 and 132 in Herman Melville's
If angels could swim they might be dolphins? Cherubim in line 21 of the poem refers to the order of angels renowned for their knowledge:
that wait on whales in mid-ocean, suspended in the waves of the sea
great heaven of whales in the waters, old hierarchies.
Line 28 refers to Seraphim
another order of angels renowned for their love who:
....facing the threat
encircling their huddled monsters of love.
and all this happiness in the sea, in the salt
where God is also love, but without words:
in line 32 is:
the wife of whales
most happy, happy she!
and Venus among the fishes skips and is a she-dolphin
she is the gay, delighted porpoise sporting with love and the sea
Refers to the birth of Aphrodite who most know as as Venus, Greek goddess of love, born of the ocean foam. Some say Lawrence had it in mind that this is an act of atonement between the elements of the water and the air, while the fusion of fire and earth is implied in the depiction of procreation as a universal desire shared by human beings and whales. Finally in line 36 tunny-fish is Lawrence using his poetical license
Whales Weep Not! is also the title of a selection on a recording entitled Whales Alive! (1981) prepared by Paul Winter and Paul Halley.
The composers "create a new musical adventure, with original compositions based on melodies by the humpback whales. Soprano sax and whale voices soar over the titanic pipe organ of New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and Leonard Nimoy narrates selections from Moby Dick and the poetry of D. H. Lawrence, Gary Snyder, and Roger Payne."
review from The Whale Conservation Institute.
It's difficult to imagine in this day why Lawrence's works caused such controversy. His realism, honesty, and a didactic awareness of humanity's potential to experience life with a sincere perception keeps his works in the literary canon. A lifelong sufferer from tuberculosis, Lawrence died in 1930 on March 2 in a sanatorium in Vence, France.
in memoriam of Christopher-Daniel Edwards (1974?-2001)
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