Phoenix and Phoenix II
by D.H. Lawrence, by Viking
Phoenix II, 640 pp., $12.50
It was a miserable war, a dirty war, a war fought low in the loins, in his tubercular chest, in the loving, bitter household of himself, the pits, in the flame he liked to fancy was an image of all honest healthy phallic life; his sharply burning beard and head circumnavigated in Brett’s paintings of him by a wake of holy light or by the ship of death—it was hard, sometimes, to tell which. “Savage,” he said (he and Henry Savage were sitting on the edge of a Kent cliff, and Lawrence was striking his chest), “I’ve something here that is heavier than concrete. If I don’t get it out it will kill me.” It was Lawrence, of course, who was in there, glaring past the ribs like Rilke’s panther past its bars, and there were always other bars before him, colliery chimneys and mother’s arms, banning judges, timid editors, tea-cup society, sycophants and sucking friends, abundant Frieda…the menacing female monolith.
His hand was often used to stop his mouth. His cough boiled by his fist. “…after our Crucifixion, and the darkness of the tomb, we shall rise again in the flesh, you, I, as we are today, resurrected in the bodies….” In the physical sense, what this meant was very simple. The flesh should rise; it should be swollen with the power of the blood; then, at last, it should be feasible and safe to enter women. But there was always that dangerous limpness after, that weakness, that depletion; there was always the fear, in the middle of success, that this was the end, the sexual ash; there was always in him this awareness, at the very moment of his exultation, when he had in fact triumphantly come through it (and a curse upon such consciousness), that the woman to whom he’d given his seed and feeling had won somehow a vital battle; that she had brought it off herself, committed theft, ensnared his soul as she’d enclosed his penis. Presumably, it was the great adventure, a fall into the future.
It is so arranged that the very act which carries us out into the unknown shall probably deposit seed for security to be left behind. But the act, called the sexual act, is not for the depositing of the seed. It is for leaping off into the unknown, as from a cliff’s edge, like Sappho into the sea.
For Lawrence, the green fuse celebrant, sex was suicidal. “It is so plain in my plant, the poppy,” he goes on to say in his study of Thomas Hardy^1 how the life-force flows through the stem to flower.
…a little hangs back, in reservoirs that shall later seal themselves up as quick but silent sources. But the whole, almost the whole, splashes splendidly over, is seen in red just as it drips into darkness, and disappears.
The famous doctrine is a futile deception, but the images are honest, and …