On December 15 this year, thanks entirely to the magnificent efforts of DH Lawrence Society member Robert Bullock, a splendid plaque created by gifted stonemason Monsieur Christian Lisarelli will be unveiled.
The plaque will be revealed at the site of the Ad Astra Sanatorium, in the hills of Vence, in southeast France, where Lawrence languished from February 1930 until the day before his death, on March 2 that year.
Despite his chronic lung condition and bouts of illness that left him bed-bound, Lawrence was so full of life that it seems impossible his fierce flame of life could ever be finally extinguished, or that he could write so eloquently on the subject of death.
Lawrence considered sickness to be a kind of infirmity of the soul and so constantly endeavoured to rise above it.
When his friend, the short story writer Katherine Mansfield, seemed to be surrendering to tuberculosis he wrote, in 1920, rather viciously: ‘I loathe you. You revolt me stewing in your consumption.’
Yet, when the disease claimed her life in 1923, Lawrence addressed himself more tenderly to her husband, John Middleton Murry, reassuring him that ‘the dead don’t die. They look on and help.’
In a short but vehement poem, entitled simply Death, Lawrence curses those obstinate, dogged, resistant people who have hardened themselves against death, fearing that ‘in death’ they may be ‘washed with fire...till they are softened back to life stuff again.’
It is Lawrence’s warning that, in fearing our mortality, we resist life, too.
The heroically self- disciplined manner in which the painfully frail Lawrence came to suffer and die is all too movingly documented.
It was only through acute pain that he cried out - in a way he never had before - and due to extreme disorientation, having a distressing out of body experience.
Frieda held his left ankle, which felt to her ‘so full of life’ until the end. It is said his last words were the optimistic request to Frieda to “wind my watch”.
In one of his most ambitious poems, The Ship of Death, Lawrence had anticipated taking the ‘longest journey’.
Following on from the unfathomable wonder of life, he had speculated whether death might be the next great adventure and this poem imagines a brave voyage to a terrible oblivion, but also a ‘coming back to life’ of ‘the heart renewed with peace’.
Another of Lawrence’s beautiful last poems, Shadows, is often chosen to be read at funerals.
Despite the intense gloominess of mortality pervading the work, Lawrence senses ‘snatches of renewal’...’new blossoms of me’ and feels that some ‘unknown God...is breaking me down to his own oblivion to send me forth on a new morning, a new man’.