Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Lawrence, D.H. (1885–1930)
Author:
Shucard, Alan
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Like that of other critics, such as Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence's assessment of Walt Whitman was ambivalent. Finally, though, no one had a sense of closer kinship with Whitman or praised him more extravagantly than Lawrence did in two versions of his essay "Whitman"—a 1918 text published much later in The Symbolic Meaning (1962), and the later, better-known, more balanced evaluation published in Studies in Classic American Literature (1923).

In the earlier version, Lawrence, with his insistence on the primacy of the present and the spontaneous physical self, celebrated Whitman above all other writers. Despite the weaknesses he found in Whitman, he saw that "Whitman, at his best, is purely himself. His verse springs sheer from the spontaneous sources of his being. Hence its lovely, lovely form and rhythm. . . . The whole soul speaks at once, and is too pure for mechanical assistance of rhyme and measure. The perfect utterance of a concentrated spontaneous soul. The unforgettable loveliness of Whitman's line!" (Symbolic 264).

Lawrence tempers his adulation in the later text of "Whitman." For example, he pokes fun at Whitman's dissolution of self by merging with everything, a process Lawrence finds a kind of death: "Walt's great poems are really huge fat tomb-plants, great rank graveyard growths," he mocks (Studies 245). Still, Lawrence finds Whitman's artistic salvation in his feeling for death: "Whitman would not have been the great poet he is if he had not taken the last steps and looked over into death" (252). But he was indeed great, Lawrence asserts, "the one pioneer" in American and European literature among "mere innovators" (253).

Bibliography

Delavenay, Emile. D.H. Lawrence: The Man and His Work. The Formative Years: 1885–1919. Trans. Katharine M. Delavenay. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1972.

Lawrence, D.H. Studies in Classic American Literature. New York: Seltzer, 1923.

———. The Symbolic Meaning: The Uncollected Versions of Studies in Classic American Literature. Ed. Armin Arnold. Arundel: Centaur, 1962.

Trail, George Y. "Lawrence's Whitman." The D.H. Lawrence Review 14 (1981): 172–190.


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