POETRY IN LOCKDOWN: 16


Like William Blake, D. H. Lawrence was a highly unusual character, in life and in his writing. As a poet Lawrence's lines are ragged, of varying lengths and rhythms, in a tone like everyday speech, or everyday thinking. They also deal with quite everyday things, like finding a snake at his watertrough or explaining the sexual significance of a fig. He writes a bit like a jazz musician improvising on a theme or riff.

The previous item in this series, by Theodore Roethke, describes a chance personal encounter between man and small beast. Today’s poem by Lawrence is also that, but in every other way it’s quite different. The poem is long, a little rambling and apparently shapeless, yet it feels intensely immediate.

Living in Florence during a hot summer he comes into his shuttered and shaded bedroom one day to find a bat fluttering around. Lawrence has a horror of bats so he opens the window and flaps his handkerchief at the bat, trying to chase it out. But it will not go into the daylight, obstinately flying “flicker splashing” around and around the room. What does he do?  

I’ve omitted a few lines. Lawrence uses three dots at various points, so I’ve marked my two edits with […].

Man and Bat

by D.H.Lawrence

When I went into my room, at mid-morning,
Say ten o’clock …
My room, a crash-box over that great stone rattle
The Via de’ Bardi …

When I went into my room, at mid-morning,

Why? …  a bird!

A bird
Flying round the room in insane circles.

In insane circles!
A bat!

A disgusting bat
At mid-morning! …

Out! Go out!

Round and round and round
With a twitchy, nervous, intolerable flight,
And a neurasthehic lunge,
And an impure frenzy;
A bat, big as a swallow.

Out, out of my room!

The venetian shutters I push wide
To the free calm upper air;
Loop back the curtains …

Now out, out from my room!

So to drive him out, flicking with my white handkerchief: Go!
But he will not.

Round and round and round
In an impure haste,
Fumbling, a beast in the air,
And stumbling, lunging, touching the walls, the bell-wires
About my room!

Always refusing to go into the air,
Above that crash-gulf of the Via de’Bardi
Yet blind with frenzy, with cluttered fear
[…]
Flicker-splashing about my room.
I would not let him rest;
Not one instant cleave, cling like a blot with his breast to the wall
In an obscure corner.
Not an instant!

I flicked him on,
Trying to drive him through the window.

Again he swerved into the window-bay
And I ran forward to frighten him forth.
But he rose and from a terror worse than me he flew past me
Back into my room, and round, round, round in my room
Clutch, cleave, stagger,
Dropping about the air
Getting tired.

Something seemed to blow him back from the window
Every time he swerved at it;
Back on a strange parabola, then round, round, dizzy in my room.

He would not go out,
I also realized …
It was the light of day, which he could not enter,
Any more than I could enter the white-hot door of a blast-furnace.

[…]

Silent!
He was having a silent rest.
But never!
Not in my room.

Round and round and round
Near the ceiling as if in a web,
Staggering;
Plunging, falling out of the web,
Broken in heaviness,
Lunging blindly,
Heavier;
And clutching, clutching for one second’s pause,

Always, as if for one drop of rest,
One little drop.

And I!
Never, I say …
Go out!

Flying slower,
Seeming to stumble, to fall in air.
Blind-weary.

Yet never able to pass the whiteness of light into freedom…
A bird would have dashed through, come what might.

Fall, sink, lurch, and round and round
Flicker, flicker-heavy;
Even wings heavy:
And cleave in a high corner for a second, like a clot, also a prayer.

But no.
Out, you beast,

Till he fell in a corner, palpitating, spent.
And there, a clot, he squatted and looked at me.
With sticking-out, bead-berry eyes, black,
And improper derisive ears,
And shut wings,
And brown, furry body.

Brown, nut-brown, fine fur!
But it might as well have been hair on a spider; thing
With long, black-paper ears.

So, a dilemma!
He squatted there like something unclean.

       No, he must not squat, nor hang, obscene in my room

Yet nothing on earth will give him courage to pass the sweet fire of day.

What then?
Hit him and kill him and throw him away?

Nay,
I didn’t create him.
Let the God that created him be responsible for his death…
Only, in the bright day, I will not have this clot in my room.

Let the God who is maker of bats watch with them in their unclean corners…
I admit a God in every crevice,
But not bats in my room;
Nor the God of bats, while the sun shines.

So out, out, you brute! …
And he lunged, flight-heavy, away from me sideways, a sghembo!
And round and round and round my room, a clot with wings,
Impure even in weariness.

Wings dark skinny and flapping the air,
Lost their flicker.
Spent.

He fell again with a little thud
Near the curtain on the floor.
And there lay.

Ah death, death.
You are no solution!
Bats must be bats.

Only life has a way out.
And the human soul is fated to wide-eyed responsibility
In life.

So I picked him up in a flannel jacket,
Well covered lest he should bite me.
For I’d have had to kill him if he bit me, the impure one …
And he hardly stirred in my hand, muffled up.
Hastily I shook him out of the window.

And away he went!
Fear craven in his tail.
Great haste, and straight, almost bird straight above the Via del’ Bardi.
Above that crash-gulf of exploding whips,
Towards the Borgo San Jacopo.

And now, at evening, as he flickers over the river
Dipping with petty triumphant flight, and tittering over the sun’s departure,
I believe he chirps, pipistrello, seeing me here on this terrace, writing:
There he sits, the long loud one!
But I am greater than he…
I escaped him…

Posted on April 30th, 2020

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