On Lawrence’s fine poem about all things green
Was D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930) an imagist? He’s well-known as a novelist, slightly less celebrated as a poet and a writer of some truly wonderful short stories. But how should we categorise his poetry? Can he be labelled, and analysed as, ‘imagist’? Here is his fine short poem ‘Green’, which was published in the first anthology of imagist poetry, Des Imagistes, in 1914:
The dawn was apple-green,
The sky was green wine held up in the sun,
The moon was a golden petal between.
She opened her eyes, and green
They shone, clear like flowers undone
For the first time, now for the first time seen.
D. H. Lawrence was most closely associated with the Georgian poets, whose name marked them out as patriotically British (named after the then king, George V, who reigned from 1910 until 1936) and as formally conventional (their name was also a nod back to the previous ‘Georgian’ era when Romanticism has arrived on the scene in the 1790s, and much of their work contains Romantic elements, such as the worship of nature).
The imagists, who were established (and named) by Ezra Pound in 1912, set themselves up in opposition to Georgian poetry. Richard Aldington, one of the leading imagists along with Pound, sniffily dismissed the Georgians as regional and narrow in focus, in love with ‘littleness’: poets who took ‘a little trip for a little weekend to a little cottage where they wrote a little poem on a little theme’. Yet although D. H. Lawrence the poet seems to fit more with the Georgians than the imagists, he appeared alongside Aldington, Pound, and H. D. in the first anthology of imagist poetry – partly, one suspects, because Pound was keen to enlist a few established names among the up-and-coming poets to help give the new poetic movement some ‘weight’. (James Joyce, whose poetry is not now widely read, also has a poem in this first anthology.)
‘Green’ is an especially fine example of Lawrence’s poems from this imagist anthology. Although not really an ‘imagist’ poem in any obvious sense, ‘Green’ shows Lawrence’s ability to use colour and imagery to make us see the world in a new way. The line ‘The sky was green wine held up in the sun’ is especially fine, and perhaps one antecedent to Dylan Thomas’s memorable description of ‘fire green as grass’ in ‘Fern Hill’. Greenness exists in unusual places: this is not the Georgian poetry of verdant fields and hedgerows, but something that invites closer analysis, and gives us pause. In much the same way, the moon is figured as gold rather than silver; and the two tercets might even call to mind the three-line Japanese haiku, which often present the natural world in a similar way.
Discover more of Lawrence’s poetry with his poem about discord in childhood, his very short poem about self-pity, and his ‘New Heaven and Earth‘. You can also get hold of all of Lawrence’s poetry in a marvellous fat volume, The Complete Poems (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics).