“Walter, leave off” | D.H. Lawrence on Walt Whitman

From D.H. Lawrence’s chapter on Whitman in Studies in Classic American Literature (more):

POST-MORTEM effects?

But what of Walt Whitman?

The ‘good grey poet’.

Was he a ghost, with all his physicality?

The good grey poet.

Post-mortem effects. Ghosts.

A certain ghoulish insistency. A certain horrible pottage of human parts. A certain stridency and portentousness. A luridness about his beatitudes.

DEMOCRACY! THESE STATES! EIDOLONS! LOVERS, ENDLESS LOVERS!

ONE IDENTITY!

ONE IDENTITY!

I AM HE THAT ACHES WITH AMOROUS LOVE.

Do you believe me, when I say post-mortem effects ?

When the Pequod went down, she left many a rank and dirty steamboat still fussing in the seas. The Pequod sinks with all her souls, but their bodies rise again to man innumerable tramp steamers, and ocean-crossing liners. Corpses.

What we mean is that people may go on, keep on, and rush on, without souls. They have their ego and their will, that is enough to keep them going.

So that you see, the sinking of the Pequod was only a metaphysical tragedy after all. The world goes on just the same. The ship of the soul is sunk. But the machine-manipulating body works just the same: digests, chews gum, admires Botticelli and aches with amorous love.

I AM HE THAT ACHES WITH AMOROUS LOVE.

What do you make of that? I AM HE THAT ACHES. First generalization. First uncomfortable universalization. WITH AMOROUS LOVE! Oh, God! Better a bellyache. A bellyache is at least specific. But the ACHE OF AMOROUS LOVE!

Think of having that under your skin. All that!

I AM HE THAT ACHES WITH AMOROUS LOVE.

Walter, leave off. You are not HE. You are just a limited Walter. And your ache doesn’t include all Amorous Love, by any means. If you ache you only ache with a small bit of amorous love, and there’s so much more stays outside the cover of your ache, that you might be a bit milder about it.

I AM HE THAT ACHES WITH AMOROUS LOVE.

CHUFF! CHUFF! CHUFF!

CHU-CHU-CHU-CHU-CHUFF!

Reminds one of a steam-engine. A locomotive. They’re the only things that seem to me to ache with amorous love. All that steam inside them. Forty million foot-pounds pressure. The ache of AMOROUS LOVE. Steam-pressure. CHUFF!

An ordinary man aches with love for Belinda, or his Native Land, or the Ocean, or the Stars, or the Oversoul: if he feels that an ache is in the fashion.

It takes a steam-engine to ache with AMOROUS LOVE. All of it.

Walt was really too superhuman. The danger of the superman is that he is mechanical.

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1 thought on ““Walter, leave off” | D.H. Lawrence on Walt Whitman”

  1. Very sad and ironic that both of these writers are naturists and naturalistic, both very much celebrating the body. Yet D.H. seems not to want to “get” W.W. Perhaps because D.H. was coming, pun intended, from an aspirational background to be an English gentleman, while WW was most definitely an all-American, with his primitive “barbaric yarp.” Politically and philosophically, Lawrence leaned toward authoritarianism, if not fascism; Whitman, in word and deed (volunteer service to the Civil War wounded in hospital), personified democracy.

    Even in the above passage, Lawrence was calling on Whitman to be more self-limiting, like himself perhaps? but Whitman professed to “contain multitudes.”

    Here it sounds as if Lawrence didn’t want to acknowledge the many shared qualities of their work–the sensuality, the importance and incredibly complex simplicity of human touch. Lawrence most most definitely old world and Whitman new.

    I think there was also some artistic jealousy and envy of Whitman’s success as a poet. Lawrence’s tone is mocking, dismissive, an incessant put-down. While D.H. also wrote poetry, Whitman’s will always be known and appreciated more.

    Unlike Ezra Pound’s later, wiser view of Whitman, even though they, too, shared the same vocation and sprung from similar sources, Lawrence didn’t want to give Whitman his due and “let there be commerce between us.”

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