Expansive Poetics – (Lawrence and Whitman)

Allen’s Expansive Poetics lectures continue

AG: These specimens in American poetry of open-form verse are not that easy to find. Even after (Ezra) Pound and (William Carlos) Williams– 1905 or so – most American poets continued writing in the more archaic, nineteenth-century, iambic patterns. And when I first discovered free verse, working with William Carlos Williams, it was an adventure going out and trying to find poets in America or England who had written in an open form and had done it well (not just sloppy free verse, but poets who had some kind of electricity in the line).

One of them Williams recommended to me was Marsden Hartley – and (D.H.) Lawrence, obviously. Robinson Jeffers, also, who was a favorite of Gary Snyder’s (but I don’t have any Jeffers in our anthology yet, though he’ll be put in).

But a big thick book of open form verse like this is hard to find by a great writer. There aren’t that many. I mean, see if you can think of that many? Maybe after 1950 you can find a large body of work by many poets, like Robert Duncan or Denise Levertov or myself or Gary Snyder or Philip Whalen. But (D.H.) Lawrence is rare because there is less of a rigid artistic idea as you might find in (Ezra) Pound or (Gary) Snyder. His really is open form verse, loose verse. It really is a novelist writing poetry with his ear and with his mind but he ‘s not really trying to arrange the lines by any archaic order, or any new invented order like William Carlos Williams. It’s just open speech, open loose talk. Loose talk. And because of that it has a vivacity and vividness and clarity and personality that my own work or Snyder’s doesn’t, because ours is a little literary – or Duncan, say, or Pound. Here is just a guy – a man, or an intelligent man – spouting off.

So here’s his spouting off in Whitmanics, or (a) post-Whitmanic Timonian complaint about America. But here he’s setting the case specifically for America, given the disillusionment that Whitman hinted at in “Respondez!”  where he turned everything around, and a disillusionment that Whitman spells out in detail in his prefaces (and) in his prose works, particularly the preface to Democratic Vistas (which we might pick up on in a few minutes)

[Allen then begins reading D.H.Lawrence’s poem, “The Evening Land”, stumbling with the opening before reading it in its entirety] – “Oh America,/The sun sets in you./Are you the grave of our day?/ Shall I come to you, the open tomb of my race?/ I would come, if I felt my hour had struck,/I would rather you came to me./For that matter/Mahomet never went to any mountain/Save it had first approached him and it had cajoled his soul./ You have cajoled the soul of millions of us, America/ Why won’t you cajole my soul?/I wish you would/ I confess I am afraid of you./ The catastrophe of your exaggerate love,/You who never finds yourself in love/But only loses yourself further, decomposing…”….”Dark faery,/Modern, unissued, distinctive America/Your nascent faery people/Lurking among the deeps of your industrial thicket,/Allure me till I am beside myself,/ A nympholept./ “These States”, as Whitman said – / Whatever he meant!”

AG: That’s a pretty good poem for..whatever year that was..

Student: Wow!  Really!

AG: Baden-Baden. So, it would be in the (19)20’s – There’s a number of little poems about America – a little note, a little notice. And then he’s got a great essay on Whitman in.. what is it?

Student: Classic Studies of American Literature

AG:  Studies in Classic American Literature

Student: Yeah

AG: A book worth reading. But the chapter on Whitman is totally devastating. It’s mean, actually. It’s just macho mean. I mean, it’s so mean that it’s untrue.

Student: Um-hmm

AG: Because he won’t have any homosexual contact of any kind, and that’s what he sees in Whitman immediately – some kind of a vast outspreading piece of fat – trying to rub up against everything in the universe, or trying to annihilate all boundaries. And it scares Lawrence (although he’s got that himself, in his book The Plumed Serpent). But it’s an intelligent view, actually, and it’s the best anti-Whitmanic, anti-gasbag statement ever made, I think, except that it doesn’t have as much humor as Whitman himself, so it fails that way. It’s not as simple-minded and amusing (ultimately it’s not as amusing as Whitman –  It’s not as sophisticated as Whitman, finally – because Whitman did have a basic humor, as in that “certain impalpable rest, neither in the game, nor out of it” that surpasses Lawrence’s spleneticism, finally – (a) splenetic shot.


  1. An arbitrary generalized slur – and your comment is related to the above post on Lawrence and open-form verse, how exactly? – oh, that's right, Pound (along with Williams, of course) is cited briefly at the beginning there! – Please don't use this Comments option for simplistic graffiti and name-calling. If you feel you need to address Pound's fascism (and it still seems arbitrary in this particular context) at least say something, "comment", add to the discussion (and preferably not to some other discussion, but the discussion at hand)

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