Men, Women & Beasts

The Dying Game 1922-1930

by David Ellis
Cambridge University Press, 780, Vol. 3 pp., $44.95 (boxed set of three volumes, $125.00)

Among the still somewhat shocking early poems of D.H. Lawrence is a group of lyrics about his mother’s final sickness and death, in which the poet deliberately presents himself as his mother’s lover. He carries his mother downstairs, and later finds her hairs on his jacket. He contemplates her on her sickbed:

My love looks like a girl to-night, But she is old.
The plaits that lie along her pillow Are not gold,
But threaded with filigree silver and uncanny cold.

A few lines on, we discover that she is indeed dead, “And her dead mouth sings/By its shape, like thrushes on clear evenings.” He calls his dead mother “my love,” “the darling,” “like a young maiden,” “like a bride,” and indeed the poem itself is called “The Bride.” And its author is quite clearly the groom.

Next to it in the volume called Amores, Lawrence’s second collection, published in 1916, we find “The Virgin Mother”:

My little love, my darling,
You were a doorway to me:
You let me out of the confines
Into this strange countrie
Where people are crowded like thistles,
Yet are shapely and comely to see.

And under this stanza, in the manuscript, an exasperated hand has written “You love it, you say!!!!!” and in the margin, “I hate it,” and by the next stanza “I hate it” again. In the third stanza Lawrence develops the theme of his indebtedness:

You sweet love, my mother
Twice you have blooded me,
Once with your blood at birth-time
Once with your misery.
And twice you have washed me clean,
Twice-wonderful things to see.

Beside this verse the horrified scholiast has written “Good God!!!!!” and by the last stanza again “I hate it.” Here is how the poem was originally going to conclude:

And so, my love, Oh mother
I shall always be true to thee.
Twice I am born, my mother
As Christ said it should be,
And who can bear me a third time?
—None love—I am true to thee.

After which Frieda Lawrence, who was responsible for these marginalia, has written:

Yes, worse luckwhat a poem to write! yes, you are free, poor devil, from the heart’s homelife free, lonely you shall be, you have chosen it, you choose freely, now go your way.—Misery, a sad, old woman’s misery you have chosen, you poor man, and you cling to it with all your power. I have tried I have fought, I have nearly killed myself in the battle to get you into connection with myself and other people, sadly I proved to my self that I can love, but never you.—Now I will leave you for some days and I will see if being alone will help you to see me as I am, I will heal again by myself, you cannot help me, you are a sad…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.