DH Lawrence began to write the lively groups of poetic observations on life, which he called Pansies, after the French word pensées (thoughts), while staying at La Vigie on the island of Port Cros in 1928.
They were composed swiftly, conveying his many moods with a wonderful spontaneity and freshness, and are often sharp, bitter and highly satirical, varying considerably in style and level of artistic achievement.
In his Composite Biography of Lawrence, Edward Nehls records: “He was intensely happy and proud of the Pansies. He would read the newest ones with delight.”
Their subject matter ranges from Elephants in the Circus, who ‘have aeons of weariness round their eyes’, to the destiny of man, from the beastliness of the bourgeois to democracy, from the gods to the false ‘ecstasy’ experienced at the cinema.
Lawrence considers, with a sense of wonder, how the flow of life is transferred or transmitted through touch into the lovely things people make with their hands, but curses industrialism and feels for the victims of wage-slavery.
Again and again he questions our reliance on money, asking ‘why have a financial system to strangle us all in its octopus arms?’
He repeatedly longs for a revolution to sweep money and class away, urging the young to fight against this stifling world of ‘money, hypocrisy, greed, machines that have ground you so small and reject the ‘mealy-mouthed truths that the sly trot out’.
There’s much sensitive advice on ‘true sex’ the unholy ‘mess’ we’ve made of love, with comments on the ego and on the gem of ‘fidelity’.
Nottingham’s New University and Sir Jessie Boot’s ‘shrewd cash chemistry’ are lampooned.
Even Shakespeare (his lovely language ‘like the dyes from gas tar’) does not escape the treatment.
Fish, mosquitos, lizards... everything conceivable is covered by the author.
Richard Hoggart correctly described Lawrence’s voice in Pansies as that of ‘a down-to-earth, tight, bright, witty Midlander... slangy, quick, flat and direct, lively, sceptical, non-conforming, nicely bloody-minded.’
Lawrence wrote of panises: ‘Each little piece is a thought... with its own blood of emotional instinct running in it like the fire in a fire-opal’ and advised ‘live and let live and each pansy will tip you its separate wink’.
The streaked and sometimes snarling faces of his poems address the reader openly, honestly and directly.
Several of them, such as The Primal Passions, Beautiful Old Age and God Is Born can stand as invaluable advice on how to satisfy our ‘great desire to drink life direct from the source’.
And while not aspiring to the breathtaking heights and depths of the author’s Last Poems, they all clearly emerge from the same astonishingly perceptive and courageous imagination.