Bavarian Gentians: About the Poet
David Herbert Lawrence, novelist, short-story writer, poet, and essayist, was born in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England, on September 11, 1885. Though better known as a novelist, Lawrence’s first-published works (in 1909) were poems, and his poetry, especially his evocations of the natural world, have since had a significant influence on many poets on both sides of the Atlantic. His early poems reflect the influence of Ezra Pound and the Imagist movement, which reached its peak in the early teens of the twentieth century. When Pound attempted to draw Lawrence into his circle of writer-followers, however, Lawrence decided to pursue a more independent path.
He believed in writing poetry that was stark, immediate, and true to the mysterious inner force which motivated it. Many of his best-loved poems treat the physical and inner life of plants and animals; others are bitterly satiric and express his outrage at the puritanism and hypocrisy of conventional Anglo-Saxon society. Lawrence was a rebellious and profoundly polemical writer with radical views who regarded sex, the primitive subconscious, and nature as cures to what he considered the evils of modern industrialized society. Tremendously prolific, his work was often uneven in quality, and he was a continual source of controversy, often involved in widely-publicized censorship cases, most famously for his novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover(1928). His collections of poetry include Look! We Have Come Through (1917), a collection of poems about his wife; Birds, Beasts, and Flowers (1923); and Pansies (1929), which was banned on publication in England.
Besides his troubles with the censors, Lawrence was persecuted as well during World War I for the supposed pro-German sympathies of his wife, Frieda. As a consequence, Lawrence left England. He traveled restlessly to Italy, Germany, Ceylon, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, the French Riviera, Mexico, and the United States, unsuccessfully searching for a new homeland. In Taos, New Mexico, he became the center of a group of female admirers who considered themselves his disciples and whose quarrels for his attention became a literary legend. A lifelong sufferer from tuberculosis, Lawrence died in 1930 in France at the age of forty-four.
Bavarian Gentians The poem is a symbolism of death for the poet and is represented by Bavarian gentians, dark blue flowers. Throughout the poem, various imageries are included to describe the symbolism and depth of the poem’s sense. Written in wonderful allegorical reference, this is the supreme of Laurence’s work.
Bavarian Gentians: Summary
“Not every man has gentians in his house
in Soft September, at slow, Sad Michaelmas.”
The first two lines express the poet’s insistence on telling his readers that not everyone has gentian in their house. Gentians are small dark blue flowers. The poet also relates it to ‘ Soft September, at slow, sad Michaelmas. ‘ Michaelmas is a festival celebrated in September. It is said that Michael and all other angels feast on this day. The poet expresses the thought as gloomy and sad.
“Bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark
darkening the daytime torch-like with the smoking blueness
of Pluto’s gloom,
ribbed and torch-like, with their blaze of darkness spread
down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of
torch-flower of the blue-smoking darkness, Pluto’s dark-
black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue,
giving off darkness, blue darkness, as Demeter’s pale lamps
give off light,
lead me then, lead me the way.”
Now the poet describes the Bavarian gentians as big and dark and then focuses on the dark by saying ‘big and dark, only dark darkening the daytime torch-like, ‘meaning that they are contributing and pioneers of darkness bringing darkness during the day. He then compares this darkness to Pluto’s gloom. Pluto is the king of the underworld. The flowers have changed to big dark flowers filled with darkness and have become the torches of the underworld ruled by Pluto. Here the poet uses a different approach; he tells us that the flames are blue like the color of the flower, and they cover all the light and darkness with their darkening blueness, which has become the light of the underworld. He then describes the underworld as filled with blueness. From Pluto’s dark blue gaze to lamps burning dark blue to blue darkness. Thus the blue color of the gentians is given a much higher and deeper meaning in relation to the darkness. The poet also refers to ‘Demeter’s pale lamps.’Demeter is the goddess of harvest and agriculture. The poet then asks the blue darkness or, rather to the gentians to lead him to the underworld.
“Reach me a gentian, give me a torch!
let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of a flower
down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on
even where Persephone goes, just now, from the frosted
to the sightless realm where darkness is awake upon the dark
and Persephone herself is but a voice
or a darkness invisible enfolded in the deeper dark
of the arms Plutonic, and pierced with the passion of dense
amsplendorplendour of torches of darkness, shedding
darkness on the lost bride and her groom.”
Here the poet changes his tone from the last line of the previous stanza and says, “Reach me a gentian, give me a torch.” He wants to be handed gentian so that he can have the torch and thus guide himself using the blue flames or light from the torch formed by the flower as he descends slowly down the stairs into the dark underworld. Here the poet again refers to the blueness which has darkened the blue light given by the flower. Now the poet refers to Persephone, the wife of Pluto whom he abducted and married. She stays on earth for six months and then returns to the underworld during September. The poet again describes hell as “the sightless realm where darkness is awake upon the dark.” Here, even Persephone is not visible. But the imagery here becomes sexual as it is suggested that she is enfolded in the deep dark Plutonic arms filled with dense passion. In the last lines, the poet continues to give us the dark blue image even when describing the couple. He considers them as lost or rather forgotten as their tale is old and resides so deep beneath amidst the blueness.
Bavarian Gentians : Theme
The central theme of this poem deals with Bavarian gentians and their deep blue color. The poem also showcases themes of darkness, longing, searching. The poem repeatedly refers to the blue color of the gentians and compares them to the darkness. It even goes as far as to suggest these flowers be torched in the underworld. Using strong allusions to the Greek mythology of Pluto and Persephone, the themes of death, male sexual dominance, and perversion are shown as Pluto abducts Persephone and marries her.
Bavarian Gentians: Analysis
The poem ‘ Bavarian Gentians’ is written by D.H. Lawrence. This poem was written at a time when he found out that he had TB and he was going to die. We find the poet’s desire to be led by someone to the underworld rather than walking in alone. He calls on to the Bavarian gentians. He sees them as torches throwing blue flames and covering everything with their darkening blueness. He wants this darkness to lead him to the underworld, where he sees these flowers to be covering the entire underworld with their blueness. The poet also brings out the theme of male sexual dominance, perversion through the use of allusions to Pluto and Persephone. The poem also brings out the gloom of September, calling it to be sad as Persephone returned to the underworld leaving the world infertile and dull. We can see the poet’s close interaction with the theme of death. This is because he himself was experiencing something similar. The poem thus in itself is a realization of darkness in human motivation.
Bavarian Gentians: Setting
The setting of the poem is late September as Michaelmas is celebrated on 29th September. It starts on earth with the poet talking about Bavarian gentians and then takes a darker turn towards the underworld. Where the poet asks the gentians to lead him to the underworld. The rest of the poem is set in the underworld as it covers the journey of the poet as he descends into the darker, deeper regions of the underworld. In the last lines, the poem describes the place where the lost bride and groom, i.e., Pluto and Persephone, live.
Bavarian Gentians: Tone
The tone is melancholic in nature. The flowers are symbolic of death, and the theme of male domination and perversion is also prevalent. This focuses on the darkness of the human mind and thus reflects on pathos. Overall, the tone is sad and melancholic.
The poem uses wonderful imagery, great references to bring out the theme of death. The flower is a symbol. This poem has learned imageries, conceits, and ideas, and this is the epitome of wonderful and great content worth the reader’s interest.
Contributor: Bidisha Das
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