The subject of this year’s DH Lawrence Poetry Competition is love and has been chosen to acknowledge the opening of a new registry office for weddings in the DH Lawrence Heritage Centre.
This could hardly be more appropriate, as Lawrence was a great champion of marriage and love - the central theme of so much of his work.
Novels and short stories such as Sons and Lovers, Women in Love, Love Amongst the Haystacks and Lady Chatterley’s Lover come immediately to mind.
And Harry T Moore’s great biography of Lawrence takes its title from Lawrence’s candid declaration that he regarded himself as a Priest of Love, as does the splendid film of Lawrence’s life, directed by Lawrence Society vice president Christopher Miles in 1970 and starring Ian McKellen.
Around 1917, during his stay at Mountain Cottage, Middleton-by-Wirksworth, Lawrence composed a fascinating short essay called Love, which opens with the remarkable statement that “Love is the happiness of the world. But happiness is not the whole of fulfilment”.
He goes on to describe love as a force of creation and compares the growth and the fading of love to the pulsing of the human heart as it contracts and expands.
Lawrence abhors the notion that love should be a bond. Using an image employed by Robert Burns, a literary predecessor who he greatly admired, he suggests that love, and we “creatures of time and space” are “like a rose, a perfect arrival.” But warns that love is “manifold”, being both “sacred and profane”.
Ever refusing to be the prisoner of social convention or straight jacketed by ideals, Lawrence condemns fraternity and equality as tyrannies of thought, preventing true freedom and separation.
In A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which has been hailed as one of Lawrence’s finest essays, the dangers of having false, stereotypical or invented feelings, of behaving in accordance with a social pattern, are referred to as “counterfeit emotion” or “false love”, which can corrupt our true, deep, inner, “organic” love.
Nevertheless, while accepting that there has been a certain revolt against marriage, Lawrence heartily celebrates the union of husband and wife, calling it “sacred and inviolable”, as providing an essential freedom and fulfilment in a “little kingdom” outside of state control.
He believed, rather beautifully, that marriage could match “the ever newness of life”, so that a man and woman could be “new to one another throughout a life-time, in the rhythm of marriage that matches the rhythm of the year.”
While there clearly was conflict at times in Lawrence’s own marriage, this was always followed by a warm-blooded and tender coming together, highlighting the destructive but healing power of love as a mysterious force of nature.
The deadline for the DHL Poetry Competition is July 1.