Advertisements

A Short Analysis of D. H. Lawrence’s ‘New Heaven and Earth’

On a remarkable war poem by D. H. Lawrence

Although he is better-known as a novelist, D. H. Lawrence also wrote a great deal of poetry. ‘New Heaven and Earth’, a long poem he wrote in 1917 during the First World War, captures Lawrence’s anger and despair over the destruction of the war, and might be regarded as a forerunner to greater (and longer) poems written by Lawrence’s fellow modernists, such as T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land.

New Heaven and Earth

I

And so I cross into another world
shyly and in homage linger for an invitation
from this unknown that I would trespass on.

I am very glad, and all alone in the world,
all alone, and very glad, in a new world
where I am disembarked at last.

I could cry with joy, because I am in the new world, just ventured in.
I could cry with joy, and quite freely, there is nobody to know.

And whosoever the unknown people of this un- known world may be
they will never understand my weeping for joy to be adventuring among them
because it will still be a gesture of the old world I am making
which they will not understand, because it is quite, quite foreign to them.

II

I was so weary of the world
I was so sick of it
everything was tainted with myself,
skies, trees, flowers, birds, water,
people, houses, streets, vehicles, machines,
nations, armies, war, peace-talking,
work, recreation, governing, anarchy,
it was all tainted with myself, I knew it all to start with
because it was all myself.

When I gathered flowers, I knew it was myself plucking my own flowering.
When I went in a train, I knew it was myself travelling by my own invention.
When I heard the cannon of the war, I listened with my own ears to my own destruction.
When I saw the torn dead, I knew it was my own torn dead body.
It was all me, I had done it all in my own flesh.

III

I shall never forget the maniacal horror of it all in the end
when everything was me, I knew it all already, I anticipated it all in my soul
because I was the author and the result
I was the God and the creation at once;
creator, I looked at my creation;
created, I looked at myself, the creator:
it was a maniacal horror in the end.

I was a lover, I kissed the woman I loved,
and God of horror, I was kissing also myself.
I was a father and a begetter of children,
and oh, oh horror, I was begetting and conceiving in my own body.

IV

At last came death, sufficiency of death,
and that at last relieved me, I died.
I buried my beloved; it was good, I buried myself and was gone.
War came, and every hand raised to murder;
very good, very good, every hand raised to murder!
Very good, very good, I am a murderer!
It is good, I can murder and murder, and see them fall
the mutilated, horror-struck youths, a multitude
one on another, and then in clusters together
smashed, all oozing with blood, and burned in heaps
going up in a foetid smoke to get rid of them
the murdered bodies of youths and men in heaps
and heaps and heaps and horrible reeking heaps
till it is almost enough, till I am reduced perhaps;
thousands and thousands of gaping, hideous foul dead
that are youths and men and me
being burned with oil, and consumed in corrupt thick smoke, that rolls
and taints and blackens the sky, till at last it is dark, dark as night, or death, or hell
and I am dead, and trodden to nought in the smoke-sodden tomb;
dead and trodden to nought in the sour black earth
of the tomb; dead and trodden to nought, trodden to nought.

V

God, but it is good to have died and been trodden out
trodden to nought in sour, dead earth
quite to nought
absolutely to nothing
nothing
nothing
nothing.

For when it is quite, quite nothing, then it is everything.
When I am trodden quite out, quite, quite out
every vestige gone, then I am here
risen, and setting my foot on another world
risen, accomplishing a resurrection
risen, not born again, but risen, body the same as before,
new beyond knowledge of newness, alive beyond life
proud beyond inkling or furthest conception of pride
living where life was never yet dreamed of, nor hinted at
here, in the other world, still terrestrial
myself, the same as before, yet unaccountably new.

VI

I, in the sour black tomb, trodden to absolute death
I put out my hand in the night, one night, and my hand
touched that which was verily not me
verily it was not me.
Where I had been was a sudden blaze
a sudden flaring blaze!
So I put my hand out further, a little further
and I felt that which was not I,
it verily was not I
it was the unknown.

Ha, I was a blaze leaping up!
I was a tiger bursting into sunlight.
I was greedy, I was mad for the unknown.
I, new-risen, resurrected, starved from the tomb
starved from a life of devouring always myself
now here was I, new-awakened, with my hand stretching out
and touching the unknown, the real unknown, the unknown unknown.

My God, but I can only say
I touch, I feel the unknown!
I am the first comer!
Cortes, Pisarro, Columbus, Cabot, they are nothing, nothing!
I am the first comer!
I am the discoverer!
I have found the other world!

The unknown, the unknown!
I am thrown upon the shore.
I am covering myself with the sand.
I am filling my mouth with the earth.
I am burrowing my body into the soil.
The unknown, the new world!

VII

It was the flank of my wife
I touched with my hand, I clutched with my hand
rising, new-awakened from the tomb!
It was the flank of my wife
whom I married years ago
at whose side I have lain for over a thousand nights
and all that previous while, she was I, she was I;
I touched her, it was I who touched and I who was touched.

Yet rising from the tomb, from the black oblivion
stretching out my hand, my hand flung like a drowned man’s hand on a rock,
I touched her flank and knew I was carried by the current in death
over to the new world, and was climbing out on the shore,
risen, not to the old world, the old, changeless I, the old life,
wakened not to the old knowledge
but to a new earth, a new I, a new knowledge, a new world of time.

Ah no, I cannot tell you what it is, the new world
I cannot tell you the mad, astounded rapture of its discovery.
I shall be mad with delight before I have done,
and whosoever comes after will find me in the new world
a madman in rapture.

VIII

Green streams that flow from the innermost continent of the new world,
what are they?
Green and illumined and travelling for ever
dissolved with the mystery of the innermost heart of the continent
mystery beyond knowledge or endurance, so sumptuous
out of the well-heads of the new world. –
The other, she too has strange green eyes!
White sands and fruits unknown and perfumes that never
can blow across the dark seas to our usual world!
And land that beats with a pulse!
And valleys that draw close in love!
And strange ways where I fall into oblivion of uttermost living! –
Also she who is the other has strange-mounded breasts and strange sheer slopes, and white levels.
Sightless and strong oblivion in utter life takes possession of me!
The unknown, strong current of life supreme
drowns me and sweeps me away and holds me down
to the sources of mystery, in the depths,
extinguishes there my risen resurrected life
and kindles it further at the core of utter mystery.

Lawrence himself had an interesting First World War: having eloped with Frieda von Richthofen (a distant relation of the ‘Red Baron’, Manfred von Richthofen), he spent much of the war being accused of collusion with the Germans because of his romantic relationship with ‘the enemy’. They married in 1914, and would be together until Lawrence’s death sixteen years later.

‘New Heaven and Earth’ is undeniably a personal poem, but it is also a poem about feelings like lust (especially bloodlust) and anger more generally, and the way these impulses can lead whole empires to go to war with each other. Of particular interest is the triplet that runs

War came, and every hand raised to murder;
very good, very good, every hand raised to murder!
Very good, very good, I am a murderer!

In ‘New Heaven and Earth’, the use of such repetition – and repetition in place of rhyme where ‘murder’ is effectively ‘rhymed’ with itself – reflects the paralysed mind of Lawrence’s speaker, just as they would be put to similar effect by Eliot five years later. Writing of Eliot’s use of such repetition-as-rhyme in The Waste Land, Sir Christopher Ricks brilliantly observed that it is ‘grim rhyme, at once more richly a rhyme than any other could be, since it is the repetition of the very word itself, and yet more poverty-stricken than a rhyme could be, since it is not truly a rhyme at all, is not a creative cooperation of two things but instead has what is here the singleness of a consternation without parallel.’

D. H. Lawrence’s insistent repetition also prefigures Ivor Gurney’s ‘To God’, written after he had been committed to an insane asylum in the 1920s. There is some hysteria lurking behind Lawrence’s poem, but the poem also strikes an apocalyptic tone, influenced by the ongoing war. ‘New Heaven and Earth’ is not entirely a war poem (in the way that, say, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ is a war poem), but it offers an impassioned and powerful response to the events going on around Lawrence at the time.

Advertisements

About interestingliterature

A blog dedicated to rooting out the interesting stuff about classic books and authors.

Posted on April 10, 2018, in Literature and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. New Heaven and Earth – Hadn’t read this poem before, but the first thing I think of is Walt Whitman. There must be conscious echoes of Whitman here. Only – for me at any rate – it hasn’t quite got the physicality or presence of Whitman. There is something curiously cerebral (though not T S Eliot-like) about it – the mystery and oblivion conquering the sand and the earth, the everything turns out to be the nothing. Oh, and, of course, it takes me to Apocalypse Now – “and whosoever comes after will find me in the new world/a madman in rapture”.

    • Excellent – I agree about the echoes of Whitman. Lawrence’s free verse poems definitely owe more to Whitman than they do to the French vers libre that influenced the imagists (although Lawrence was published in the first imagist anthology). The Apocalypse Now link is very interesting, especially since that film is steeped in modernist literature (back to Eliot again).

  1. Pingback: 10 of the Best D. H. Lawrence Poems Everyone Should Read | Interesting Literature

  2. Pingback: 10 of the Best Poems about Heaven | Interesting Literature

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: