Behind the dancing: D. H. Lawrence's "Apocalypse" and "Last Poems"

Ellen Macleod Mahon, Fordham University


When he published D. H. Lawrence's Last Poems, Richard Aldington stated that "nobody can really understand and judge these poems until he has made a study of Apocalypse." These works, both published posthumously, are the last imaginative and the last theoretical volumes Lawerence wrote. As the cross-fertilization between the author's creative and critical writing receives increased attention, it seems necessary to examine his final statement in each kind. After the critical treatment of the poetry, especially Last Poems, attention is given to the creative process as Lawrence presents it at the end of his life. In Apocalypse, the poet advocates following an image until it "completes its own little circle of meaning," then jumping to another image or plane. This manner of thinking explains the "clusters" of poems, characteristic of Lawrence, that develop a single theme. Moreover, Lawrence attributes the many layers of meaning in Revelation to the universalizing power of images used as symbols. The breaking of the seven seals symbolizes the death of the microcosm, a progressive separation of four physical natures and three spiritual ones, and the sounding of the seven trumps a corresponding death of the macrocosm. Applying the poet's theory to his practice, I see the method of rotary image-thought as the unifying technique of Last Poems, whereby the author shapes the growing resolve of his death-journeying persona. Human knowing involves iterative abstraction until insight is gained, hence the grappling through workaday poems until a lyric bursts through and the topic, now understood, can be put aside for a new, usually associated, consideration. In Last Poems Lawrence chooses symbolic images, borrowed from not only Revelation, vegetation myths and rebirth rituals as well as ancient philosophy and cosmology. Finallly, I show that the overall action of Last Poems is shaped by the narrative of the seven seals and seven trumps. Complementing the mythic symbolism discussed earlier, an allusive unity results from Lawrence's use of James Pryse's commentary on Revelation. This study of his final poetry in the light of his last theoretical statement, confirms Lawrence's conscious artistry. "Behind all the dancing," to use his own words about the Etruscans, "was a vision." (Abstract shortened with permission of author.)

Subject Area

British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Mahon, Ellen Macleod, "Behind the dancing: D. H. Lawrence's "Apocalypse" and "Last Poems"" (1988). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8818465.