October 21, 2017
D. H. Lawrence's "Ship of Death"On this day in 1930 forty-four-year-old D. H. Lawrence died in Vence, France, of tuberculosis. Lawrence was so scoffing of medical (or any other) science that he refused to name or accept his condition, or to submit to any of the "magic mountain" treatments recommended to him. This fatalism was combined with a belief that he was in the grip of an evil spirit, visited upon him by a lifetime of vilification from misguided critics and an outraged public -- most recently for the banned Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928), and for an exhibition of paintings condemned as "filth" by the press and confiscated by the police. "The hatred which my books have aroused comes back at me and gets me here," he told a friend, tapping his chest. "If I get the better of if in one place it goes to another."
In order to escape the English attitude and weather, and to cope with his usual impoverishment, Lawrence spent decades on the move -- Europe, Ceylon, Australia, Mexico, a year and a half at the ranch near Taos, New Mexico which he had swapped for the manuscript of Sons and Lovers. Whether due to his illness or to a lifetime of being temperamental, outspoken and eccentric, Lawrence's last years were characterized by an ever-narrowing circle of friends, an increasingly conflicted relationship with his wife, Frieda, and an attempt to face what he knew was coming. From "The Ship of Death," written several months before he died:
O build your ship of death, for you will need it.
The grim frost is at hand, when the apples fall
thick, almost thundrous, on the hardened earth.
And death is on the air like a smell of ashes!
Ah! can't you smell it?
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