Shortly before D. H. Lawrence died his medical specialist stated, “an ordinary man with those lungs would have died long ago; but with a real artist no normal prognosis is ever sure; there are other forces involved”. (D. H Lawrence Penguin Critical Anthologies ed. H. Coombes 1973). His friend, Aldous Huxley, writes of him: “He looked at things with the eyes, so it seemed, of a man who had been on the brink of death and to whom, as he emerges from the darkness, the world reveals itself as unfathomably beautiful and mysterious. For Lawrence, existence was one continuous convalescence, it was as though he were newly reborn from a mortal illness every day of his life. ( Huxley: Introduction to Letters of D. H. Lawrence. Henemann 1932). Living with tuberculosis for years, dangerously ill on several occasions it is amazing how much he packed into his life of forty-four years. In his “Last Poems” Lawrence writes marvellous poems ( including “The Ship of Death” and Bavarian Gentians) about preparing for death: he writes about God as he conceives God and about the Demiurge.
Here is a poem that fits interestingly, following our recent discussion of the Coleridge quotation on God’s activity and the way in which the poet, working from his creative imagination, reflects, at a lesser level, the greater creative activity of the divine.
RED GERANIUM AND GODLY MIGNONETTE Imagine that any mind ever thought a red geranium! As if the redness of a red geranium could be anything but a sensual experience and as if sensual experience could take place before there were any senses. We know that even God could not imagine the redness of a red geranium nor the smell of a mignonette when geraniums were not, and mignonette neither. And even when they were , even God would have to have a nose to smell at the mignonette. You can't imagine the Holy Ghost sniffing at cherry -pie heliotrope. Or the Most High, during the coal age, cudgelling his mighty brains even if he had any brains : straining his mighty mind to think, among the moss and mud of lizards and mastadons to think out, in the abstract, when all was twilight green and muddy: "Now there shall be tum-tiddly-um, and tum-tiddly-um, hey presto! scarlet geranium!" We know it couldn't be done. But imagine, among the mud and the mastadons God sighing and yearning with tremendous creative yearning, in that dark green mess oh, for some other beauty, some other beauty that blossomed at last, red geranium, and mignonette.
It is as if Lawrence is seeking to see God in creation as reflecting the creative “yearning” or imagination of the artist. For Lawrence, who wrote, “one has to be terribly religious to be an artist” (ibid. Huxley), the wondrous creation he himself so vividly evokes in his work, needed God, but could not have been created pre-formulated, designed beforehand. Beauty emerges from the struggle resulting from a striving to go beyond what is. Here, is another of his “Late Poems” making the comparison directly between divine creativity and human.
THE WORK OF CREATION The mystery of creation is the divine urge of creation, but it is a great, strange urge, it is not a Mind. Even an artist knows that his work was never in his mind, he could never have thought it before it happened. A strange ache possessed him, and he entered the struggle, and out of the struggle with his material, in the spell of the urge his work took place, it came to pass, it stood up, and saluted his mind. God is a great urge, wonderful, mysterious, magnificent but he knows nothing beforehand. His urge takes shape in the flesh, and lo! it is creation! God looks himself on it in wonder, for the first time. Lo, there is a creature formed! How strange! Let me think about it! Let me form an idea!
Although this sounds different from creation in the Hebrew Bible, it is intriguing how Lawrence’s saying”God looks on in wonder, for the first time” relates to God in Genesis 1 at the end of each day of creation looking at what he has created and seeing that “it was good” and at the end of the week, “it was very good” . Note too the use of the Biblical phrase “it came to pass” and the wonderful further development of Genesis with “it stood up and saluted his mind”
Theologically, we may say Lawrence is writing about the Demi-urge (and indeed Lawrence has another lovely Last Poem entitled “The Demiurge” ) and not God, but that the demiurge- like the Holy Spirit- inspires the aspirational embodiment that develops within evolution; but I leave that for students of theology to consider. However, as we have recently been considering Coleridge’s quotation (see the post “God said, ” Let Newton Be!”) linking the creative activity of the infinite I AM with the lesser finite creativity of the artist, it is fascinating that Lawrence transfers the kind of experience of creativity, he knew as a great writer, to the activity he recognises as God-like: the creation of the wondrous phenomenal world.
( Poetry quotations from D.H. Lawrence Complete Poems Penguin Books 1993)