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Table of Contents and Introductions by Purdy and Beardsley

Al Purdy
Doug Beardsley
There Are No Gods
Man and Bat
The Mosquito
Whales Weep Not!
Invocation to the Moon
The Man of Tyre
Tortoise Shout
Two poems on Lawrence:
Lawrence's Shrine, Taos Doug Beardsley
In Etruscan Tombs Al Purdy


WHY THESE DOZEN POEMS OF D.H. LAWRENCE, and why these discussions between two friends of like mind about Lawrence?

Lawrence's genius has long been obscured by the brilliance and fame of his novels and essays, especially Lady Chatterly's Lover. "Oh that's the guy who wrote the sexy book with all those four-letter words" is liable to be the first comment one hears. "Wasn't he convicted of pornography?" is the second. The answer is yes to both those questions. And so was James Joyce, so have been a host of other writers whose names live, while those of their judges and accusers fade without even an echo.

Lawrence's critics have accused him of just about every sin in the book; his admirers are equally single-minded in their praise. But let's ignore both critics and admirers and look at the poems. At his very best, Lawrence's poems are unequaled. In the animal poems especially, the reader has joined the writer and leaped into the head of a kangaroo, has forgotten entirely that he/she is reading a few words on a page and becomes part of a trilogy consisting of reader, kangaroo, and above all, Lawrence.

In Italy a she-goat is climbing a low-growing almond tree: "like some horrid hairy God the Father in a William Blake imagination." One is stopped in his/her tracks by that line. How could anyone write it? There's a wild leap of the earthbound mind about it; link a hundred poets together with telepathy, and all of them together couldn't think of it. But there he is: God the Father without a depilatory inside the mind of long-dead William Blake, and yourself fascinated by it all.

Forget the nonsense you've read and heard about Lawrence; misconceptions are like a brain-eating disease. You have to read things for yourself, and not take anyone else's opinion, including ours. You have to voyage with the brain yourself, and these are far places of the imagination:

Nobody stuffs the world in at the eyes
The optic heart must venture

-thus saith Margaret Avison, and she speaks true.


FATHER WAS BORN ON THE MIDLAND RAILWAY LINE above a pub in the town of Kimberley, three miles southeast of Lawrence's Eastwood, six miles northwest of Nottingham. I'd like to believe this explains my deep affinity for Lawrence, but there's another reason.

in grade ten I had an English teacher, a Mrs. Lampert. Our textbook had an enticing Mediterranean cover, but the same could not be said of its contents. This was the mid-1950s in cosmopolitan Montreal, but the book was stuffed with imitative Romantic and Neo-Georgian fluff designed to kill any reader's interest in poetry. My friend George Vlahos and I had convinced each other that there were only two true-blue poems here worthy of that name. His favourite was Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts." Mine was Lawrence's "Snake."

In our teenage arrogance we slouched toward Mrs. Lampert, requesting that we take these two poems in class. When asked why, we responded like a Greek chorus, saying that these were the only two poems in the book. "No," said Mrs. Lampert. "Why not?" we asked, our jaws jutting toward her menacingly, our faces set in twin smirks like masks. "Because I don't understand them," she replied. "Poems aren't about meaning," we exclaimed triumphantly. "But, if you feel this way, we'd be glad to teach them in class." I never understood how she could have refused our generous offer. Or if this incident played any role in both of us soon after dropping out of school.

Eastwood is still uneasy about Lawrence. In 1971, while visiting relatives there, I happened to meet a very old man - probably an ex-miner - whose wife used to sit the wee Lawrence on her knee and take him for walks when he was a small boy. The old man told me: "After Lawrence left, Jessie Chambers moved in up there, ay, just a block away from Lynn Croft. I remember Jessie telling me wife "He was just a sexmaniac, ay", and the old miner's eyes went slightly crazy, as if he could almost see the dismembered bodies of young virgins Lawrence had hacked up.

The book you hold in your hands came about as the result of dozens of lunches over a three-year period. We began by discussing poetry, then poems, then the best poems of our time. We kept an anthology of these "best" poems, though it grew slowly, rather like the interest in a bank account. To say it was difficult to "get in" is an understatement. Stakes were high. We'd read a poet a week. The great poets of our century were represented by two or three poems; in the uppermost echelons Yeats had five or six.

Lawrence had twelve. We were nervous. How could this be? Were we suggesting that Lawrence was twice as good as Yeats? This was not only not possible, it was not permitted. Yet there it was.

And here it is. Such a different book. I'm certain nothing like it has been done.

Our wish is to turn and return the reader to Lawrence's best work, particularly the creatures, reptiles, and animals in Birds, Beasts and Flowers. This is the book to read first. Might I suggest that the commentaries be read the same way poems are read: one or two at a time?

Finally, I'd like to say how much we enjoyed making this book.

Victoria, BC
March 17, 1998