Guest column: Lawrence’s view on humans and animals by Dave Brock

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In his essay, Reflections on the Death of a Porcupine, DH Lawrence gives a vivid and unsentimental account of his experiences as he seeks to manage his ranch in New Mexico.

This hard-hitting philosophical treatise determines that while “we did not make creation” and “we are not the authors of the universe”, it is necessary for survival that one cycle of existence must subjugate another.

He writes: “In nature, one creature devours another, and this is an essential part of all existence and of all being.”

Even the Buddhist, he says, must eat rice – which is a form of life.

In dealing with the different ways in which an ant and a pine tree are alive, Lawrence observes “one truth does not displace another. Even apparently contradictory truths do not displace one another. Logic is far too coarse to make the subtle distinctions life demands”.

Several of Lawrence’s most moving animal poems offer a different perspective to that of his essay.

His poem Snake describes the conflicting emotions of a man in pyjamas as he encounters a venomous, golden snake drinking from a water trough on a hot, July day in Sicily.

With Mount Etna smoking in the background, the snake seems to belong more than the man, who suddenly despises the voices of his “accursed human education” for making him so mean and petty as to want to lob a log at “a god, one of the lords of 
life”.

Interestingly, at around the same time, Lawrence had written to his friends wishing that he “had poison fangs and talons” as good as those of cobras, leopards and tigers, so he could wreak vengeance on despicable humans who hunt animals.

Later, in Lizard, Lawrence delights in what a “dandy fellow” a lizard on a rock is, listening to “the sounding of the spheres”, while tossing his chin and swishing his tail.

He concludes: “If men were as much men as lizards are lizards, they’d be worth looking at.”

Paltry Looking People is a stinging retort to the unbalanced view that humanity is vastly superior to nature.

Compared to the “assertion of life” wild animals make, as they “trot in splendour”, people are ridiculous.

Lawrence writes about human beings as “mean, paltry, mingy and dingy and squalid”, in “rag garments, scuttling through the streets, or sitting stuck like automata in automobiles”.

It is worth noting that Lawrence was true to his own dictums and lived as simply and chirpily as a sparrow.

As the poem, A Living, suggests, he was more concerned with earning “his life” than “his living”.

He wanted us to learn from “wild things”, which, even in captivity, he contended, may maintain “their own wild purity”, but “won’t breed, mope and die”.

In fact, he wanted us all to break free from the emotional death of our domestic cages.