March 25, 2013

DH Lawrence’s poetry to be published, uncensored, for the first time


D.H. Lawrence, one of the twentieth century’s most admired novelists, has never been known for his poetry. His best known work confronted British social hypocrisy and sexual mores in the early twentieth century, causing his novel The Rainbow to be banned, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover to be censored. His poetry, long overlooked, was no less political.

A new collection shows Lawrence as a poet strongly against British imperialism during World War I, particularly concerned with the impact of the war on those left behind. During his lifetime, however, Lawrence was never recognized like other feted war poets, such as Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke.

Dalya Alberge in The Guardian writes that this was partially due to censorship, which mangled much of his poetry beyond recognition. Besides censors cutting into those that did make it into print, one sequence of 31 war poems never found a publisher sufficiently brave.

“Between 1916 and 1919, Lawrence struggled to get the sequence into print. Pollnitz said publishers who knew of the banning of The Rainbow would not touch a collection that criticised imperial policy – the opening up of eastern fronts in Turkey or Iraq – and poetry that explored the evil of self-sacrifice for some abstract greater good.”

Cambridge University Press will be publishing Letters and Works, a two volume edition with more than 860 poems, including the censored poems in full for the first time.

World War I had a significant impact on Lawrence, and although he tried to escape it by traveling overseas, the impact of a devastated Europe and ongoing social turmoil can be felt in his later work. On a self imposed exile, he even spent time in Australia, on what he called a “savage pilgrimage”. He wrote Kangaroo in forty-three days in the south-eastern town of Thirroul, and the legacy of the war shines through the book.

As Nicolas Rothwell muses in The Australian,

“In the mid-20th century, northern Europe was in ruins, its lovely buildings and cathedrals pulverised, its artistic landscape torn by conflicting currents. It was a shattered moral and intellectual space. How to believe in man’s order and religion? How to live when the centre has not been able to hold?”

We’re lucky to have, almost one hundred years later, something more from Lawrence to help us understand.



Ariel Bogle is a former publicist at Melville House.