- Author: [[Frances Wilson]]
- Full Title: Burning Man
- Category: #books
- the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
- He called his colony Rananim and gave it a heraldic emblem of ‘a phoenix argent, rising from a flaming nest of scarlet, on a black background’.
- ‘one sheds one’s sicknesses in books’.
- The Inferno is the part of the Comedy that Dante’s readers have most enjoyed, not least because of his hierarchical ordering of punishment and the combination of people – historical, biblical, mythical and those known to him personally – that he consigns to hell. The first circle is reserved for pre-Christians like Virgil who were not baptised and must therefore live in limbo; the second circle is a wind tunnel in which lustful and adulterous lovers are blown about on the storms of their own passion; in the third gluttons mired in sludge are rained upon by ice; in the fourth, hoarders and squanderers push boulders with their chests; the wrathful and sullen in the fifth circle choke in the River Styx; the heretics in the sixth circle are consigned to flaming tombs; the seventh circle is a vast Piranesi-style penitentiary in which murderers are sunk in boiling blood and fire, suicides are turned into trees, profligates are savaged by hounds, and sodomites run on burning sand beneath a rain of fire. In the eighth circle fraudulent counsellors are held in tongue-shaped flames, falsifiers are plagued with scabs, flatterers are buried in excrement, Simoniacs are turned upside down in baptismal fonts while fire burns their feet, false prophets walk with their heads facing backwards, hypocrites wear robes lined with lead, and thieves and falsifiers are turned into snakes. In the ninth circle, presided over by a silent, three-headed Lucifer, the treacherous, including Cain and Judas Iscariot, are frozen in an icy lake.
- Lawrence structured his life – ‘that piece of supreme art’, as he called it – around Dante’s great poem in the way that James Joyce shaped Ulysses around The Odyssey.2 This was his primal plan, the complex figure in the Persian carpet that Lawrence’s biographers – because they have been looking from a flat perspective – have failed to see. Followed horizontally on a map, Lawrence’s movements look like a mad flight: the journey that began with a detour when he went to Cornwall rather than Florida in the winter of 1915 goes haywire as he then ricochets around the globe, but if we unfold his journey in terms of descent and ascent, then the apparent chaos reshapes itself. Follow his footsteps and you see that every house Lawrence lived in, from birth to burial, was positioned at a higher spot than the last; he rose from underworld to empyrean. It was not an especially erudite or eccentric move on Lawrence’s part, to use Dante as his guiding principle; he was always led by poets rather than by novelists and saw himself as a figure of allegory.
- ‘Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them,’ wrote T. S. Eliot in his essay ‘Dante’. ‘There is no third.’
- Lawrence, whose debt to Dante has barely been recognised, saw Dante not as a poet at all but as a cartographer who plotted the route to Paradise, and he chose Shelley as his guide through hell because Shelley had been there before. ‘Hell’, as Shelley put it in ‘Peter Bell the Third’, ‘is a city much like London,’ where ‘all sorts of people’ are ‘undone’.
- And it was Shelley on whom the Divine Comedy made the deepest impression; no body of poetry contains more adaptations from, allusions to and imitations of Dante than that of Percy Bysshe Shelley.
- Shelley’s years in Italy were dominated by Dante, whom he now read in Italian. His ‘Ode to the West Wind’, which meant so much to Lawrence, was written in terza rima, and his translation of the opening section of Purgatory, Canto 28, posthumously published as ‘Matilda gathering flowers’, was the first attempt at rhymed terza rima in English.
- The Romantics turned the second circle of sad hell into a desirable address, and this was where Lawrence now lived too.
- Looking on to the same sea, Shelley had written The Triumph of Life, his response to Inferno. Composed, like the Divine Comedy, in terza rima, Shelley’s last major work was the unrolling of a ‘waking dream’ in which a ‘great stream of people’ were ‘hurrying to and fro’. He compares ‘this perpetual flow’ to ‘gnats upon the evening air’, and the swarm is charged by a chariot driven by a blindfolded, four-faced figure leading a pageant of historical characters including Kant, Napoleon, Voltaire and Catherine the Great. The shade of Rousseau, looking like ‘an old root which grew / To strange distortion out of the hill side’, serves as the dreamer-poet’s Virgilian guide.
- Lawrence was the first to employ the word ‘other’ in the sense of radical alterity, but then otherness – sexual otherness, the otherness of plants, birds and animals – was his subject as much as ‘oneness’ was Whitman’s.
- Those areas of Lawrence’s thinking which are most derided, from his dismissal of evolution to his faith in the ganglia at the pit of the stomach, come from theosophy and because his personal philosophy was deeply rooted in this pseudo-religion, it is necessary to introduce the theory and its founder, Madame Helena Blavatsky.
- H.D.’s voice, Pound told Harriet Monroe at Poetry magazine (for which he was the British agent), had ‘the laconic speech of the Imagistes … Objective – no slither; direct – no excessive use of adjectives, no metaphors that won’t permit examination. It’s straight talk, straight as the Greek!’20
- When he reworked the beginning of the Memoir of Maurice Magnus, it became a piece of writing, and the ‘best single piece of writing, as writing’, he believed, that he had ever done.
- Lawrence’s introduction to Magnus’s strange story was, his critics agree, the best single piece of writing as writing that he had ever done – which means that D. H. Lawrence’s best single piece of writing is an unclassifiable document virtually unknown to the majority of his readers.
- The first of his celebrations of Capri and its environs, Siren Land is an entirely idiosyncratic creation: erudite, curmudgeonly, witty, digressive and nostalgic. Siren Land, said Douglas, was simply an account of ‘dreaming through the summer months to the music of cicadas’.
- It was probably now that Lawrence produced his astonishing essay on Michelangelo’s David with its refrain ‘Perpetual sound of water’. He wrote in a clipped, staccato present tense which he called ‘cinematographic’ because it sounds like he is directing a film: ‘Morning in Florence. Dark, grey and raining, with a perpetual sound of water’.
- In Canto 28 of Purgatory, Dante finds himself in a wood where, on the far side of a stream, he sees a garden of flowering boughs. Into this ‘earthly paradise’ comes a fair maiden called Matelda, his final temptation before his encounter with the jealous Beatrice. Matelda explains that the stream comes from a fountain and that drinking from one side of the stream takes away the memory of sin, and from the other side the water restores the memory of good deeds. Shelley’s translation of the canto is called ‘Matilda Gathering Flowers’,
- All Lawrence’s novels are about the hellishness of home, but Alvina’s claustrophobia in houses outstrips even that of Siegmund in The Trespasser, or that of Paul Morel.
- It was now, inspired by the insect-smeared walls of his hotel bedroom and the blood which Magnus was both sweating and sucking, that Lawrence wrote ‘The Mosquito’, a summing-up of his relations with Magnus to date
- Over the next few weeks, in poems born directly from Dante’s lines and published in Birds, Beasts and Flowers, Lawrence allowed the sour sorbs and the sweet figs and all the beasts of Fiesole to fructify.
- Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus. Hercules the demi-god stands triumphant, and crouching at his feet is the cave-dwelling, cattle-thieving cannibal.
- Note: Look up statue and myth
- Lawrence called Aaron’s Rod ‘the last of my serious English novels, the end of The Rainbow, Women in Love line’,
- Kangaroo, Lawrence’s most modernist novel, in many ways recalls Ulysses, which was published the month the Lawrences sailed for Ceylon. Lawrence had not yet read Joyce’s book but the synchronicity between the two is remarkable: episode 7 of Ulysses, ‘Aeolus’, is interspersed with newspaper headlines, and chapter 8 of Kangaroo, ‘Volcanic Evidence’, does something similar.
- In the poem ‘When I Went to the Film’, Lawrence described film culture as a form of pornography. Cinema, he believed, detaches us from our own souls by replacing vitality with abstraction: film actors – false gods – are shadows who ‘live in the rapid and kaleidoscopic realm of the abstract’.106 When I went to the film and saw all the black and white feelings that nobody felt, And heard the audience sighing and sobbing with all the emotions that none of them felt, And saw them cuddling with rising passions they none of them for a moment felt, And caught them moaning from close-up kisses, black and white kisses that could not be felt It was like being in heaven …
- ‘The Woman Who Rode Away’ is a dream-like parable about a bored American wife who rides off to discover the secrets of the Chilchui people.
- Note: Read 'The Woman Who Rode Away'
- If ‘The Woman Who Rode Away’ is read as the sacrifice of a single and specific woman, then it might certainly seem like a work of sexual sadism. The tale is sick, but then we shed our sicknesses in books. Yet it can equally be read as an allegory in which modern America sacrifices the mechanical world it now worships for the cosmic world it has lost, thus displacing the power of the dynamo with that of the virgin. Either way, ‘The Woman Who Rode Away’ is concerned with regeneration rather than death, because the woman’s sacrifice is to ensure the movement of the planets.
- Quotations from The Divine Comedy are from the translation by Allen Mandelbaum (Everyman, 1995).
- Note: Divine Comedy translation