COLUMN: Haeckelian philosophy inspired DH Lawrence by Dave Brock

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In his essay Lawrence’s God, which is based on a DH Lawrence Society birthday lecture delivered in Cossall Church, the late scholar and critic Keith Sagar notes the influence of philosopher Ernst Haeckel on Lawrence, as expressed in this early poem The Wild Common.

Keith observes astutely that in rewriting this poem in 1928, Lawrence significantly introduced the word ‘substance’ five times to emphasise his belief, and the Haeckelian philosophy, that the spirit can only exist through the body.

The poet finds sensual pleasure in the ‘caresses’ of water and in sunshine, concluding: ‘All that is right, all that is good, all that is God takes substance!’

Lawrence clearly perceived that Christianity failed to appreciate this.

He goes so far, in his wonderful essay on Walt Whitman, as to state: ‘The Christians, phase by phase, set out to annihilate the sensual being in man.’

Lawrence’s most famous, most recited, most anthologised poem, Snake, makes reference to Christian myth, in which the snake has been condemned and sent into exile in the underworld.

But, for Lawrence, it represents, as he once wrote, ‘a deep, deep life which has been denied us, and is still denied’.

Lawrence knew that we can’t be bullied or compelled into loving, by any religious command, and that such repression is dangerous.

He says as much in his short Retort to Jesus: ‘And whoever forces himself to love anybody begets a murderer in his own body.’

In his quite breathtakingly powerful later poetry Lawrence’s redefines his concept of God and the gods, again and again.

God is Born is Lawrence’s stunning imaginative and poetic take on creation and evolution.

God and the Holy Ghost warns us that if ‘we go counter to our own deepest consciousness naturally we destroy the most essential self in us’.

What are the Gods?, The Gods! The Gods!, Name the Gods!, There Are No Gods, Bodiless God, The Body of God, The Hands of God all urgently seek to connect mankind to something modern life fails to offer.

In Tabernacle, Lawrence has become so opposed to the facile practice of pinning the gods down that he denounces ‘all description’ as ‘blasphemy’.

While in Spiral Flame he bemoans that ‘when the One God made a monopoly of it/He wore us out, so now we are godless and unbelieving’.

He says that we are in need of a ‘vivifier’... a ‘swan-like flame... so we can ‘roar up like bonfires of vitality’.

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