Monday, October 6, 2014

all swum together

Powys made me think of Mrs Morel from Sons and Lovers who has the Powysian infinity in her garden with the flowers stretching and the air itself shiny, as if it is solid or magical (glass is shiny, water is shiny, surfaces are shiny but where is the surface of the air?), everything, all emotional effects, physical, physical, which C.S. Lewis decided was one of the characteristics of medieval allegory: “It is as if the insensible could not knock at the door of the poetic consciousness without transforming itself into the likeness of the sensible [...] Allegory, besides being many other things, is the subjectivism of an objective age,” in The Allegory of Love: a Study in Medieval Tradition.

She became aware of something about her. With an effort she roused herself to see what it was that penetrated her consciousness. The tall white lilies were reeling in the moonlight, and the air was charged with their perfume, as with a presence. Mrs. Morel gasped slightly in fear. She touched the big, pallid flowers on their petals, then shivered. They seemed to be stretching in the moonlight. She put her hand into one white bin: the gold scarcely showed on her fingers by moonlight. She bent down to look at the binful of yellow pollen; but it only appeared dusky. Then she drank a deep draught of the scent. It almost made her dizzy.

Mrs. Morel leaned on the garden gate, looking out, and she lost herself awhile. She did not know what she thought. Except for a slight feeling of sickness, and her consciousness in the child, herself melted out like scent into the shiny, pale air. After a time the child, too, melted with her in the mixing-pot of moonlight, and she rested with the hills and lilies and houses, all swum together in a kind of swoon.

Here is the thing itself and not a euphemism; here is the lily, here, touch. Becoming “aware of something” was the smallest part, the easiest part, your consciousness is penetrated, so, now, you didn't do that: it was done to you by the atmosphere, now she feels the atmosphere with her hands. She has to make an “effort,” she has to “rouse” herself; this transcendence has a work ethic. “She touched the big, pallid flowers on their petals.” Go in, go in. “She put her hand into one white bin.” Establishing her critique, “She bent down to look at the binful of yellow pollen; but it only appeared dusky.” It's only after she has gone through this physical wrestle that she gets her savoury moment.

Then I'm looking at the passage flowerville quoted from Hans Henny Jahnn under the heading, “The Nature of the Artist,” in her essay Landscape as the Origin of Music in Hans Henny Jahnn's Shoreless River: the artist is listening and absorbing, not touching, and Dorothy Wordsworth, in her journals, doesn't have to fondle the landscape the way Mrs Morel does and still she comes away with similar sensations, she feels swoony and rapt, she sees nature shining “and she rested with the hills and lilies and houses,” but she gets there by walking across the countryside and seeing the objects in it.

After tea we went to Butterlip How and backwards and forwards there. All the young oak leaves are dry as powder. A cold south wind portending Rain. After we came in we sate in deep silence at the window -- I on a chair and William with his hand on my shoulder. We were deep in Silence and Love, a blessed hour.

(The Grasmere Journals, Wednesday 2nd June, 1802)


  1. That is one of the greatest scenes from Sons and Lovers. Do you know if Powys and Lawrence read each other's books? They both could create the sense of the world animated and aware, all things connected. I was thinking about this on my commute to work today, when I looked out off the elevated freeway I was on and saw a flock of geese in loose formation, and starlings on every light pole, and crows hurrying along, all of the birds with important business of their own, and it occurred to me that nature--nature beyond mankind, I mean--is busy and active, and is not mere backdrop, the way it seems most of the time. And when we were gardening this weekend (120 bulbs to plant, etc) there was so much going on in the soil, the worms, beetles, spiders and centipede civilizations, etc, that I had similar thoughts. I do really love what Lawrence does with flowers and plants. This winter I'm going to make a serious study of the science of trees, because I don't know enough about them. The knowledge will come in handy, I hope, in a Thomas Mann sort of way.

  2. I don't remember hearing that they did and I don't remember anyone denying it either. Powys, writing on Dostoevsky, once said that Lawrence was "right" about religious love, but does that mean he'd read him or only that he'd heard his ideas from other people? Either one is possible.

    (Lawrence has to be one of the greatest flower writers in English.)

  3. I just had a brief image of Dostoyevsky writing about Lawrence; it made my head hurt.

    1. I can't imagine him writing anything more positive than qualified praise.