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A Man’s Song of Life


ISSUE:  Winter 1933

The Letters of D. H. Lawrence. Edited, with an introduction, by Aldous Huxley. New York: The Viking Press. $5.00. Apocalypse. By D. H. Lawrence. New York: The Viking Press. $3.00. Son of Woman. By John Middleton, Murry. New York: Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith. $3.00. The Savage Pilgrimage. By Catherine Carswell. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company. $2.50. Lorenso in Taos. By Mabel Dodge Lillian. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. $3.50.

The charm, the wonder of D. H. Lawrence is just this—that you take him or you leave him. For you he is or he is not. He’s yours or he isn’t. You have a feeling that he never really cared, not about that. I mean that he never really cared about too much vulgar being taken. There was something for which he did care. Caring was strong, a living impulse in him.

He was a man absorbed and intent. What man would not prefer to live his life so? Any man, who is a man, would like to carry all through his life all he can carry. “The Now is a country to discover which, to be the pioneer in which I would give all thought, all memories, all hope. My ship has but skirted the shores of that country.”

The Now—the Present—is dark and uncertain. How well, how cleverly, men fix up, in their minds, the past and the future. They do not have to face immediately the past and the future. There is time always to make up lies.

Not that all men necessarily want to make up lies.

The Now—the Present—is right here. It is in this room. It is like someone coming suddenly, unexpectedly, in at the door there, that door, there by my desk.

Saying, “Well, what about it?” Let them tackle the problem of the Now, as Lawrence did, try to penetrate that, go into the immediacy of the living Now. If there is darkness, let them try to penetrate and understand darkness, the strange terrible darkness of the Now. Lawrence did. Lawrence was always willing to shoot the works, to plunge.

I have never been able to read a Lawrence book without feeling something—

His Kingship. That is what I feel.

Most of us—who live in our day—are such cave-ins. We are defeatists, lost souls. We grow smart and cynical. “Life isn’t worth living,” we say. Why? What sheer hopeless nonsense.

Life—what else is there?

We humans are both too much and not enough concerned with one another. We are in a half-way stage, out of something and, we hope, into something. Individuality has gone to seed in us and we do not dare yet reach toward all life— sense of a moving pageant outside self—that might lead into a purer, finer individuality.

The glory of Lawrence is that he never gave out that kind of betraying cry against life. He never went smart-aleck. I am not taking into account, in writing of this man, some of the books that have been written about him since his death. I have looked into some of them and they do not touch him. What they do to me is to give me an interesting, or shuddering picture, of some other personality—utterly outside Lawrence. They are like the Spanish moss on a sturdy live-oak tree in the south—not a part of the tree and its life at all— living not on the tree, or with roots in the ground from which the tree came, but just floating, detached things—attaching —feeding on air.

Ever since I began to know D. H. Lawrence . . . and I have known him since he began to appear in print . . . you do not miss such a man . . . I never met him, never had any correspondence with him . . . but, from the first, I’ve said to myself, regarding him: “There’s Kingship. There is nice clean maleness, alive again in this man.”

Try to imagine D. H. Lawrence creeping through streets, taking strange women, taking another man or another woman, casually—the ultimate insult. You can’t. Try to imagine him a Don Juan. You can’t.

It is a thing—this clean maleness—that very few men achieve in any generation. D. H. Lawrence had it. He was born with it. He fought valiantly all of his life to hold it. I know of but one other man—at least in the arts—who in the last half-dozen generations has seemed to me to have it so clearly. I have felt the thing in only two men of our times whose work has touched me closely, and in the case of each man I have got my sense of it entirely from the work each man has done.

There was Cézanne, the painter.

There was D. H. Lawrence, the writer.

You get oddly the same impression of both men . . . both men sensitive and shy about the great problem every man has to face. How am I to find the woman? Can I function with her on the high fine plane of real manhood . . . an end to whoredom . . . male and female whoredom.

Recently I’ve read books about him. The Virginia Quarterly Review has sent me books: “The Letters of D. H. Lawrence”—”Apocalypse”—Murry’s “Son of Woman,” and Catherine Carswell’s “The Savage Pilgrimage.” I’ve read Mabel Dodge Luhan’s “Lorenzo in Taos.” I wrote, just after Lawrence died, for the New Republic, an article I called “A Man’s Mind.” The occasion was the printing of a book called “Assorted Essays.” I tried then to say what I am again trying here to say. In it, however, I was not tackling quite as much as I am here. I was expressing a fervent love for a great man—to me the greatest, at least among writers, who has lived in my times.

Now I would like, here in the Virginia Quarterly, to say something about D. H. Lawrence’s Kingship, the whole notion of Kingship in men—in the male—the Kingship D. H. Lawrence represented for me so perfectly.

To me it is like this. . . . Nowadays, for all of us I think, there is a choice to be made. Lawrence was a man of talent. His talent wasn’t steady, a sure balanced thing. It was fine, high, and delicate, that talent of his. He had to carry it. He knew it. He wasn’t afraid to try. Suppose you had to carry a cup, full to the brim with delicate wine . . . yourself bound by some law of your being always to try never to spill or waste a drop of it but to carry it forward during your life, through the modern world.

What time have you to be saying . . . ”Is life worth living,” etc. . . . that sort of thing?

Carrying it through the life of a young coal miner.

Through coal mining towns.

In publishers’ houses.

To literary parties.

To socialistic meetings.

You know what modern life is like. D. H. Lawrence couldn’t stay hidden away. He always wanted, I dare say, to go through life walking in quiet forests, in fields, in the quieter back streets of little towns, but the man was too arresting. There was too much male force in him. He always attracted others. They came flocking to him in crowds, men and women.

I dare say he muddled it with a few women himself. He said he did.

He never went whoring with one of them. Let me try to say a word now about the wine Lawrence was always trying to carry in the cup. It was dark, rich, and fragrant. It was the essence of manhood. It was something he wanted to give to a woman. It has come to be the style now—men without women—women without men . . . an impotent generation, talking big out of its impotence. They would—the impotent ones—turn and shout at this man—carrying, as he always did, the essence of that strange thing, manhood, through a world that doesn’t, just now, accept the often terrifying implications of manhood—or womanhood— they would turn and shout the word impotence at Lawrence.

You will see what I am driving at. Let us go on to the other implication of the man—his talent.

I think, and have always thought, that is what talent is . . . it’s manhood . . . the essence of manhood . . . masculinity if you please. I admit that I often see a woman carrying it, the appearance of it. It is all right with me. I am glad for talent wherever it appears.

It seems to me there are and have always been two basic impulses in life. To do. To be. Am I being arbitrary in calling them male and female impulses?

Talent implies always one definite thing—a challenge.

The challenge is rather terrific just now, for the man of our times.

I think it is like this . . . manhood that finds its full fruition only in work, and womanhood that comes to full bloom only in physical life—in the reproduction of physical life—both these qualities, when they appear fully and richly in an individual, imply also a rich full flowering of individuality.

That means, if it means anything, Kingship and Queen-ship. In myself, absolute unquestioned Kingship — or Queenship. Others may question it if they will but I, if I am the man carrying the wine, spoken of above . . . it will not do for me to question.

If I have it—the thing I am here speaking of . . . I admit it is seldom understood . . . it arouses hatred . . . if I have it I should be singing songs to myself.

Having it, I know, or should know, the intense preciousness of my own life. Knowing introduces me to all life, in animals, in trees, in grasses, in the sea. Who could make you feel an animal or a tree or a flower as could D. H. Lawrence?

He knew it—in its essence—the fine wine he carried through life.

We talk much nowadays of the giving up of individuality. We have begun to say now that there is a new world born. I think it is true. The day of the old individuality has passed. We men, of our day, strive to give up individuality. We want to give it up.

It is right that we should. Why?

Here is where the contradiction comes in . . . the paradox that always rules all life. I hope I may for once say clearly what is in my mind. If you haven’t talent, manliness, masculinity, or womanhood—the essence of womanhood—obviously a thing as beautiful as masculinity—then you can’t give. You can’t spend what you haven’t got. There’s your tragedy.

If you haven’t a thing you can’t give it. By giving you get. It is a simple enough old truth. Don’t be foolish. All men want to give. What I am saying here all men know.

If you haven’t to give and try to give—as you do—as all of us do—then you give always, not having to give, apologetically, hesitatingly, shamefully. You botch it. You can’t help botching it. What mature man has not tried to give to some woman when he wasn’t rich with giving? What woman hasn’t done it? Let us confess. It is what is the matter with most of us now. There is the reason so many of us nowadays go around saying that life isn’t worth living.

If I, in my own self, cannot give, having lost, because of cowardly denial of the import of manhood, or womanhood, in myself, it is obviously the easier way out to cry out against life.

Sing the song of life again.

Kings and Queens be born again.

I think that D. H. Lawrence was one man in our times who spent his life . . . a high, feverish, eager life . . . a life that should make the rest of us ashamed . . . he spent it running with the cup, offering it to the lips of others. He had to find someone rich to receive. It may also sound a bit mystic and unclear, what I am trying to say, but it really isn’t. Most men . . . and women . . . will understand well enough. You have to give up individuality to get it. There is nothing in the world you get except by giving. It is the great lesson that over and over, like children, we have to keep trying to learn. D. H. Lawrence began life as a school teacher. He always was, as are all men of talent, a teacher. He was a revolutionist—a giver. I have said it before and I say it again that I believe that D. H. Lawrence . . . the finest proseman of our times . . . was also, all his life, one of the most truly male men of our times.

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