I have read this over and over. Maybe I don't know enough about whales, but I can't grasp much of anything of what he is saying. The only thing I am thinking is maybe he is illustrating some sort of human nature or culture and using the sea creatures as the vehicle of that illustration.
Any comments on this poem is much appreciated!!!
Whales Weep Not
by D.H. Lawrence
They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains
the hottest blood of all, and the wildest, the most urgent.
All the whales in the wider deeps, hot are they, as they urge
on and on, and dive beneath iceburgs.
the right whales, the sperm-whales, the hammer-heads, the killers
there they blow, there they blow, hot wild hot breath out of the sea!
And they rock, and they rock, through the sensual ageless ages
on the depths of the seven seas,
and through the salt they reel with drunk delight
and the tropics tremble they with love
and roll with massive, strong desire, like gods.
Then the great bull lies up against his bride
in the blue deep bed of the sea, as the mountain, in the zest of life:
and out of the inward roaring of the inner red ocean of whale-blade
the long tip reaches stron, intense, like the maelstrom-tip, and comes to rest
in the clasp and the soft, whild clutch of a she-whale's fathomless body.
And over the bridge of the whale's strong phallu, linking the wonder of whales
the burning archangels under the sea keep passing, back and forth
keep passing, archangeslof bliss
from him to her, from her to him, great Chreubim
that wait on whales in mid-ocean, suspended in the waves of the sea
great heaven of whales in the waters, old hierarchies.
And enormous mother whales lie dreaming suckling their whale-tender young
and dreaming with strange whale eyes wide openin the waters of the beginning and the end
And bull-whales gather their women and whale-calves in a ring
when danger threaten, on the surface of the ceaseless flood
and range themselves like a great fierce Seraphim facing the threat
encircling their huddled monsters of love.
And all this happens in the sea, in the salt
Where God is also love, but without words:
and Aphrodite is the wife of whales
most happy, happy she!
And Venus among the fishes skips and is a she-dolphin
she is gay, delighted porpoise sporting with love and the sea
she is the female tunny-fish, round and happy among the males
and dense with happy blood, dark rainbow bliss in the sea.
I think what he's saying is that in this sea of life, love is the whale of emotions. Just my take. I thought this poem was very deep. (he he)
D HLawrence ain't too good at natural history- whales do weep and hammerheads are sharks. His main concern- obsession- was that human beibgs had stoppedliving a natural life when they became civilised and urbanised. He wrote many more poems, stories and novels with this underlying theme.
Now the idea of the whale representing the emotion in life makes sense. Do you think it's crazy to think that maybe he is also illustrating a cycle of love starting with the second stanza?
What's the title from? Reminds me of the little freezing birds that don't complain.
I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.
Here's what the Japanese think about whales.
In Japan it's always sushi,
Or other dishes that would make you pale.
But the plate they like best, and that's not in jest,
Is the slice of the ass of a whale.
I like Les's idea, and I think the cycle of love and procreation is also a good point.
Thankd for your good sense, Pam. Your such a lamb.
Hugh, I like that poem, as morbid as it may be. Thanks for sharing. Always loads of creativity around here!
I think it was Marian2 that figured out the message of the frozen bird was that he has freedom, therefore does not complain. The unweeping whales could convey a similar message. They are content with being a family, making love, protecting the pod from danger, frolicking in the oceans.
When I read the title, I was reminded of the lilies of the field, for some reason: they toil not; neither do they spin.
I'd forgotton all about that discussion, Hugh. I think that what I tried to say was that because animals live in the present and don't think about consequences, they aren't able to compare things with how they might have been and that's why they aren't sorry for themselves. That's a freedom we don't have. Lawrence seems to consider it a virtue - I think it's a fortunate accident which we can envy them, but there are advantages to being able to see beyond the present, and, except when very young, we are unable not to do it whether it's good or not. That's why so many people envy the unselfconsciousness of aninals and children. Certainly that's how I feel about it now, whatever I may have said before, and this attitude makes me a bit impatient with Lawrence (not an unusual state of affairs!).
Les, I like the "Whale of (an) emotion" idea.
Here's Carlyn Spencer agreeing that the whales are meant as role models for us uptight human-types:
The stuff of Lawrence's poetry, the 'lifeline,' are those essential experiences in which he registers his full humanity. His poems are the inner flow of a man in the act of becoming aware--aware not only of his feelings and their cause, but of their full implications. (219)
Therefore, in watching the animals and their way of life, Lawrence became more aware of how he believed humans should be. He saw animals as being closer to life fulfillment and happiness, making him more aware of it. In "Whales Weep Not," Lawrence shows us whales encountering each other in different aspects of their lives, through their making love and playing among each other. He believed that we too could and should be living our lives in this way.
Considered a companion poem to "They Say the Sea is Loveless," "Whales Weep Not" shows us the lives of whales compared to the lives of different gods and goddesses and also different ranks of angels.
I have two more thoughts to contribute.
1. Re the TITLE - I have a feeling (but no evidence) that "Whales Weep Not" is a quotation from something, and Lawrence is DISPUTING the claim in the earlier work. THEY say the sea is loveless, do they? Well, maybe THEY say that whales don't weep, either. THEY haven't actually paid attention to whales, now, have they? (Sayeth DHL.)
2. He's right, by the way. Whales have extraordinary social and emotional lives. Here's a dazzling passage from MOBY DICK. Here the Pequod is surrounded by so many whales, in such a dense crowd, that they can't even think of spearing one; they'd be instantly crushed. So all they can do is watch what the whales do together. If you don't feel like reading the whole thing, skip to the last paragraph and read just that:
Excerpt from Chapter LXXXVII - THE GRAND ARMADA
. . . as if from some mountain torrent we had slid into a serene valley lake. Here the storms in the roaring glens between the outermost whales, were heard but not felt. In this central expanse the sea presented that smooth satin-like surface, called a sleek, produced by the subtle moisture thrown off by the whale in his more quiet moods. Yes, we were now in that enchanted calm which they say lurks at the heart of every commotion. And still in the distracted distance we beheld the tumults of the outer concentric circles, and saw successive pods of whales, eight or ten in each, swiftly going round and round, like multiplied spans of horses in a ring; and so closely shoulder to shoulder, that a Titanic circus-rider might easily have over-arched the middle ones, and so have gone round on their backs. Owing to the density of the crowd of reposing whales, more immediately surrounding the embayed axis of the herd, no possible chance of escape was at present afforded us. We must watch for a breach in the living wall that hemmed us in; the wall that had only admitted us in order to shut us up. Keeping at the centre of the lake, we were occasionally visited by small tame cows and calves; the women and children of this routed host.
Now, inclusive of the occasional wide intervals between the revolving outer circles, and inclusive of the spaces between the various pods in any one of those circles, the entire area at this juncture, embraced by the whole multitude, must have contained at least two or three square miles. At any rate - though indeed such a test at such a time might be deceptive - spoutings might be discovered from our low boat that seemed playing up almost from the rim of the horizon. I mention this circumstance, because, as if the cows and calves had been purposely locked up in this innermost fold; and as if the wide extent of the herd had hitherto prevented them from learning the precise cause of its stopping; or, possibly, being so young, unsophisticated, and every way innocent and inexperienced; however it may have been, these smaller whales - now and then visiting our becalmed boat from the margin of the lake - evinced a wondrous fearlessness and confidence, or else a still becharmed panic which it was impossible not to marvel at. Like household dogs they came snuffling round us, right up to our gunwales, and touching them; till it almost seemed that some spell had suddenly domesticated them. Queequeg patted their foreheads; Starbuck scratched their backs with his lance; but fearful of the consequences, for the time refrained from darting it.
But far beneath this wondrous world upon the surface, another and still stranger world met our eyes as we gazed over the side. For, suspended in those watery vaults, floated the forms of the nursing mothers of the whales, and those that by their enormous girth seemed shortly to become mothers. The lake, as I have hinted, was to a considerable depth exceedingly transparent; and as human infants while suckling will calmly and fixedly gaze away from the breast, as if leading two different lives at the time; and while yet drawing mortal nourishment, be still spiritually feasting upon some unearthly reminiscence; - even so did the young of these whales seem looking up towards us, but not at us, as if we were but a bit of Gulf-weed in their new-born sight. floating on their sides, the mothers also seemed quietly eyeing us. One of these little infants, that from certain queer tokens seemed hardly a day old, might have measured some fourteen feet in length, and some six feet in girth. He was a little frisky; though as yet his body seemed scarce yet recovered from that irksome position it had so lately occupied in the maternal reticule; where, tail to head, and all ready for the final spring, the unborn whale lies bent like a Tartar's bow. The delicate side- fins, and the palms of his flukes, still freshly retained the plaited crumpled appearance of a baby's ears newly arrived from foreign parts.
"Line! line!" cried Queequeg, looking over the gunwale; "him fast! him fast! - Who line him! Who struck? Two whale; one big, one little!"
"What ails ye, man?" cried Starbuck.
"Look-e here," said Queequeg pointing down.
As when the stricken whale, that from the tub has reeled out hundreds of fathoms of rope; as, after deep sounding, he floats up again, and shows the slackened curling line buoyantly rising and spiralling towards the air; so now, Starbuck saw long coils of the umbilical cord of Madame Leviathan, by which the young cub seemed still tethered to its dam. Not seldom in the rapid vicissitudes of the chase, this natural line, with the maternal end loose, becomes entangled with the hempen one, so that the cub is thereby trapped. Some of the subtlest secrets of the seas seemed divulged to us in this enchanted pond. We saw young Leviathan amours in the deep.
And thus, though surrounded by circle upon circle of consternations and affrights, did these inscrutable creatures at the centre freely and fearlessly indulge in all peaceful concernments; yea, serenely revelled in dalliance and delight. But even so, amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being, do I myself still for ever centrally disport in mute calm; and while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there i still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy.
I like your sense of the argument/response that this poem seems to call up. The title has been bringing up other bits and pieces constructed the same way.
Weep no more, my lady
Sigh no more
and the one that's really been in my head: Soldier, Ask Not (a science fiction title ) [www.kevingoebel.com] />
DHL was obsessed by the notion that humans needed to discard their sexual inhibitions to be happy. He idealizes what he imagines to be the behaviour of whales in that respect, implying that they set a worthwhile example. I can’t grasp anything deeper than that in this poem.
I say ‘what he imagines’ because anyone who thinks hammerheads are whales clearly knows next to nothing about the subject. Anyone who can romanticise a tunny-fish as the symbol of Venus “round and happy among the males” has no idea about such fish. Like all pelagic school fish they are ruthless predators existing to eat or be eaten. Moreover they don’t copulate, they lay eggs. Even allowing for poetic licence, I find his whale descriptions and his language ludicrous (e.g. “they rock, they rock, through the sensual ageless ages” and “through the salt they reel with drunk delight” and “the she-whale’s fathomless body” and “great fierce Seraphim … encircling their huddled monsters of love”).
He appears uninterested in poetic rhythm and form. I assume he was so carried away by his philosophy that he rejected technical conventions in writing, and was content to express himself in a sort of Whitmanesque outpouring. Sometimes that works well enough (e.g. in ‘The Snake’), and sometimes – as here – the result is loose and absurd.
By way of contrast, here’s a poem by the Australian poet Jill Hellyer, which doesn’t labour under any delusion that we know whales’ thoughts and feelings or that they are role models for humans.
Song Of The Humpback Whales
From oceans huge with time the whales surface
and plunge in a rolling of hills. The curious soft
indigo explosions of their cries
that trail like comets in the night are heard as
trumpet-calls, submerged, sharp, shuddering,
as the spatial music of gulls, as sounds of blunt
tugs nosing mournfully through eternal mist.
It is a salt-white sorcery: they sing
of arctic pilgrimage, the bleak migration
ordained by the rhythm of seasons. Buffeted
by surface storms of their known world, they flow
as we ourselves in terrible formation,
trapped each in a lifetime in compelling seas,
plunging half-blinded, calling one to another
from green-scarped waves, set on divergent courses
but frozen, frozen to our destinies.
Post Edited (01-18-04 16:02)
DH Lawrence was a perv, so far as I can tell. I mean, Lady Chatterley's Lover? Mills & Boon would turn up their collective nose. He probably just thought whale sex was sex on the grandest scale available, and therefore worth writing about.
Speaking of science fiction, Captain Kirk in the movie "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" quoted the first two lines of "Whales Weep Not." (Don't tell me that there aren't any other Star Trek fans lurking here on E-Mule!)
Well, Star Trek as a subarea of science fiction, yes.
IanB wrote: "anyone who thinks hammerheads are whales clearly knows next to nothing about the subject."
This reminded me: There's a passage* in MOBY DICK where Melville argues passionately that whales are "fish." He says he doesn't care if they're mammals or if they give live birth or breath air. A whale is a fish, he says, and to hell with anyone who says they're not.
*(I was going to say "a long passage in MOBY DICK," but there are no short passages in it.)
Marion-NYC, the bible also refers to Jonah's whale, not as a whale but as a fish. Perhaps that is why.
I am reading Lady Chatterly's Lover right now. I didn't know anything about ir, just picked off the library shelf to take with me on vacation. At first I had the same impression as you, but as I get further into it, I think Lawrence is realizing the unimportance of sex, or the over-importance of it. I would appreciate some more of your insight on it.
Lawrence was into the working classes being less artificial in their lives and responses to others than the upper and middle classes. This extends to enjoyment of all pleasures, eating, drinking, friendship, sex.
Of his novels I enjoyed reading Kangaroo most, but its been years since I read any of them (not since I moved away from Nottingham)
Linda wrote "Lawrence was into the working classes being less artificial in their lives and responses to others than the upper and middle classes". Nicely put.
I read 'Kangaroo' many years ago, and though it had become a bit dated even then, was impressed at the way he had, in a short visit to Australia, managed to tune in to a new setting and vernacular. (Angela Thirkell was another English writer who did that in 'Under the Southern Cross'). Not DHL's most important novel, but a good read.
So what was DHL's most important novel?
LADY CHATTERLY'S LOVER was for most readers the first novel that dealt with sex by actually describing sex acts and conversations about sex and what people thought about sex. That overshadows its literary qualities when you talk about it's "importance." Nobody was writing for the public about anything as raw as who climaxes first, or even about things as mild as whether people are still embarrassed to be naken with someone they've already had sex with. According to the movie PRIEST OF LOVE, Lawrence interviewed Frieda ferociously to find out about a woman's experience of sex. That's just ONE WOMAN, mind you, but he was only writing about ONE WOMAN anyway. And I -- also ONE WOMAN -- find it absolutely believable.
It was also important in the history of censorship. Which reminds me of these most famous lines from Philip Larkin's "Annus Mirabilis":
"Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(Which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles' first LP ..."
Read a short essay about the ban and when it was lifted at:
AS LITERATURE, the academic community generally considers SONS AND LOVERS and WOMEN IN LOVE the most important DHL novels. The Modern Library's list of the "100 best novels of the 20th Century" includes those two and THE RAINBOW.
But I still vote for LADY CHATTERLY.
I can see why it was banned, I mean it's horrid in comparison to Madame Bovary, and some of those words he uses I find offensive in 2004, but I'll ignore it anyway. If this book had been written later I would have given up on it. But, I'm glad to hear that I'm not alone in liking it.
About the words you find offensive in 2004:
Are they in the narrative (Lawrence's terms), or are they in the dialogue (words he has Lady C and Mellors speak) ?
I think the offensive words are in the narrative (so far).
Well now, I havn't gotten that far....um yes, I find that offensive too and am supposing the strange dialect of that man (Sir Clifford's servant) has something to do with that.
I do NOT feel obligated to defent DHL's vocabulary, but I admit to a prejudice in his favor. I know I come to the question predisposed to find his word choices okay CONSIDERING...
So I just pulled up the text of the novel and had a look.
The first word that struck me, the reader of 2004, as problematic is CRIPPLE: He says of Clifford, paralyzed from the waiste down by a war injury: "...in his face one saw the watchful look, the slight vacancy of a cripple." And as a contemporary reader I reject the idea that there is a certain look that "a" (any) cripple has.
However - CONTEXT IS KING! DHL is talking about one particular paralyzed veteran. Of Clifford he says: "He had so very nearly lost his life, that what remained was wonderfully precious to him. It was obvious in the anxious brightness of his eyes, how proud he was, after the great shock, of being alive. But he had been so much hurt that something inside him had perished, some of his feelings had gone. There was a blank of insentience." And Clifford's EMOTIONAL (un) availability is part of his wife's situation, as well as his physical (dis)ability.
So, moving on... the next issue is vocabulary refering to sexual intercourse. (If you're reading along on line, search for "tentative.") There's a passage about a page long that describes the first sexual experiences of Constance and her sister. Here are the TERMS, in the order they appear:
the love connexxion
give the gift of herself
love-making and connexion
sordid connexions and subjections
this sex business
the sex thing
a very pleasant connexion
[to] take a man
What I notice here is (1) that the vocabulary changes along with the girls' experience and attitudes. It RECORDS their changes. And (2) this would make a great term paper. Oh, to be in college again!
So, while these words and phrases are, strictly speaking, in the NARRATIVE, they are not merely DHL's chosen words for sex; they are a
record of how these particular people think and talk about sex before and during their acquisition of sexual experience.
This is not the place to go through the whole novel, but I suspect that the entire novel would stand up nicely to this kind of word analysis. I don't mean merely the dialogue (how the aristocrats use euphemisms for sex--or French words!--and Mellors by contrast uses direct earthy language). I mean the way words are used in the prose.
"Though Lord Clifford is vestured more nattily,
The size of his member is rattly
When he sticks it down there,
So I had an affair
With Mellors," the Lady said chattily.
Your moving rather difficulty for me. Help me out here by stating your thesis real simple for me. Are you saying that all this contreversial stuff (the dialogue, words, narrative, whatever) are merely nothing. That what DHL is getting at is not really sex?
No, that's NOT what I meant. I'm not saying any one thing that I can sum up in a single sentence.
BASICALLY, I guess I'm saying that when Lawrence chooses to use a given word, he's
1. He is choosing from the vocabulary of 80 years ago. For example, he refers to Clifford as a "cripple," where a contemporary author wouldn't use that word.
2. He is choosing the words that he believes ONE PARTICULAR CHARACTER would have used in speaking or thinking. For example, as he describes Constance and her sister going from romantic virgins to experienced women, he moves from referring to "the love connexxion" to "sexual intercourse." With them he is moving from romantic euphemism to unembarrassed statement.
So I'm saying: There may be exceptions (you can post them here if you want), but generally his word choices are very carefully made. He's not writing with the aim of offending, but he is interested in how the language that people use reflects what they find offensive.
Is that clearer?
By coincidence, I just recently finished reading "Erotic Faith - Being in Love from Jane Austin to D.H.Lawrence" by Robert M. Polhemus (University of Chicago Press).
In the chapter on Lady C the author agrees with Marian's comments on DHL's word choices being very carefully made - and to quote a little bit of it- "representing sexual acts openly and in detail, celebrating them extensively, giving them moral and religious importance - these features are what made Lady C new, or 'novel', in English ....what's missing in nineteenth-century novels is the direct rendering of those moments of high intimacy and religious oneness that sexual intercourse can bring. Lawrence wants to move beyond the metaphorical representation of sexuality ... the habit of sublimating sex, treating it with euphemism, or thinking of it as dirty, he sees as dangerous .... his novel seeks to rescue sex from alienation, taboo and obscenity, and to reintegrate it into moral life.
Lawrence demands from each reader a strong response; be it disgust, pleasure, anger, embarrassment, release, mockery, or venereal pontificating."
"Venereal Pontificating"- I love it! Sounds like Hugh's job description!
Nah, the Pope giving a lecture on unlawful carnal knowledge.