Nature Through Symbols: D.H. Lawrence

edit dh lawrenceA characteristic of the Romantic poets (setting aside their glorification of Antiquity and the Greeks) is their tendency to constantly revert and apostrophize Nature. Nature (with a capital N) takes on the place of a character instead of being limited to the background as a setting. Nature, in their works, is not limited to the physical, tangible perception as we see it. It is of spiritual value to their intellect and of great symbolic value to their Art. Wordsworth placed in Nature the memories of his past by associating his emotions directly with particular natural elements. His utilization of the natural imagery is extensive and varied. For Shelley, the West Wind becomes the natural symbolic substitute of the French Revolution. Keats’ odes employ natural imagery to stand for a variety of things- the passage of time, his desire for an easeful death, his constant search for an escape. Blake uses the Christian symbolic significance of the lamb and the tiger. While the application of nature in poetry is perhaps seen most evidently in the works of the Romantics, it is not restricted to them. Elements of natural creation have gone on to inspire poets and writers beyond specified demarcations of time, right up to 20th century poets like Edward Thomas and D.H. Lawrence.

D h Lawrence’s (1885-1930) use of natural imagery is highly vivid, symbolic and artistic. His poem “Bavarian Gentians” is constructed on the foundational image of a gentian. Lawrence uses the idea of the flower to build the entire setting, atmosphere and essential description of the entire poem. He alternatively compares other symbols with gentians and with the colour blue, creating an incredibly detailed image using just a flower and a colour as his repository of description. The gentians change from flowers, symbolizing a “slow, sad Michaelmas”, to a torch that emits a smoking blue darkness instead of fire. The poem is extremely surrealist in technique, and the elements of nature don’t remain only in the realm of the natural. The gentian is the fountainhead of a velvety dark blueness that exists in the poem and is easily concocted in the reader’s imagination as well, but its existence or form is almost impossible to articulate through description.

 In “Snake”, Lawrence describes with great artistry the movements of a snake. While that seems to be too banal a thought process to run through an entire poem and substantiate it, Lawrence clearly brings out the mastery he exercises over the nuances of the English language. His words paint for the reader the unfolding action in visuals, and the effect is exactly one of watching a movie in slow motion. He anthropomorphizes the snake, and details it so vividly that by the end, the reader has an opinion of not only the narrator of the poem, but also the snake. The titular invertebrate takes on a role of a character, thus becoming the subject instead of the object of the poem.

D.H. Lawrence is not someone commonly associated with nature poetry, yet his use of natural imagery is so surreal that his poems unfold like works of fine art instead of literature. His ability to infuse the senses with symbols is so completely intricate that in his works, natural elements take on a life of their own, and are inextricable from the poem.

Ashmita Chatterjee

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