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Picture of Frieda Lawrence

December 31, 2006
D. H. Lawrence   (1885 - 1930)
Auld Lang Syne Rhyme
by Steve King

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"New Year's Eve," by D. H. Lawrence, is a love poem from a collection titled, Look! We Have Come Through!, published when Lawrence was in his early thirties. The collection tells a connected "story, or history, or confession," Lawrence says in his Foreword, "of a man during the crisis of manhood, when he marries and comes into himself." Autobiographically, the "crisis" was provoked by the emotional tumult of Lawrence's recent past -- his meeting, running off to Europe with, and marriage to Frieda Weekley. Whether they ultimately reveal too little or too much -- W. H. Auden said they made him feel like a Peeping Tom -- poems such as "New Year's Eve" give a vivid glimpse of new love:
    There are only two things now,
    The great black night scooped out
    And this fire-glow.

    This fire-glow, the core,
    And we the two ripe pips
    That are held in store.

    Listen, the darkness rings
    As it circulates round our fire.
    Take off your things.

    Your shoulders, your bruised throat!
    Your breasts, your nakedness!
    This fiery coat!

    As the darkness flickers and dips,
    As the firelight falls and leaps
    From your feet to your lips!
Look! We Have Come Through! was published in 1917, the same year that T. S. Eliot published Prufrock and Other Observations. "Take off your things" is not the sort of line found in J. Alfred's love song, where all urges remain wrapped in "decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse." So Lawrence soon came to stand for all that the Hollow Men of the Lost Gen. did not -- the fiery blaze of phoenix-life, set against a slow drowning in irony and intellectuality.

Many of the poems in Look! We Have Come Through! were first written during the spring and summer of 1912, as Lawrence and Frieda walked and argued their way through Germany and Italy. He was twenty-six, with a broken-off marriage engagement and his mother's death still fresh (he carried the Sons and Lovers manuscript in his rucksack); she was thirty-two, leaving behind a husband and three children for an impoverished writer she had known for only a month. Though this seems enough to have to come through, their demanding personalities added more, even by their own account. After one week in Europe, Lawrence wrote back to the jilted husband that his wife could not return home because "Mrs. Weekley must live largely and abundantly. It is her nature." Shortly afterwards, as her own punctuation point to an exhausting day hiking the Alps in the wrong direction, Frieda told Lawrence that she had extended her abundance to one of their acquaintances not many miles back, and had it warmly received. Other poems in the Look! collection chronicle similar battles -- "Rabbit Snared in the Night," for instance, which begins its inquiry into Frieda's personality with these tender, pre-coital questions: "Why do you spurt and sprottle / like that, bunny? / Why should I want to throttle / you, bunny?" Aldous Huxley and other friends seemed resigned to her impossible ways, as perhaps were her abandoned children: "Mama was a great cake-eater and cake-haver," one of them later reflected.

But it is clear from the letters and memoirs that Lawrence knew and prized the woman he discovered on this honeymoon trip. In Mr. Noon, Lawrence's unfinished autobiographical novel, a young man rejoices at the liberation he found in Europe, while in a passionate relationship with an unhappily married woman. As Gilbert Noon was "unEnglished" by the new continent and the unusual woman, so Lawrence would begin to unEnglish the world through his writing and living. John Worthen, author of the first book in the recent, three-volume Cambridge Biography, says that Lawrence's relationship with Frieda made him the kind of writer he was, and that the process started in these crucial first months of the Look! poems. "His relationship was often violent, his writing tumultuous and experimental: both had continually to be reimagined and recreated. Yet he knew that, together, they could make his life."

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