Nature and the Machine

Ann Pepi, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

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D.H. Lawrence writes of his time in Italy in the aptly titled, D.H. Lawrence in Italy, alternating between blind optimism and bitter despair. In his moments of optimism Lawrence turns towards nature as a source of hope and salvation from, "[An] England [that] was conquering the world with her machines and her horrible destruction of natural life." Lawrence's bouts of despair were the result of the inescapable machine infiltrating a beloved nature in the countries through which he walked. As if out of fear that industrialization would consume nature, Lawrence set about to memorialize it through his writing. He would strike upon some new way of glimpsing a crocus, "pale, fragile, lilac-coloured flowers with dark veins, pricking up keenly like myriad little lilac-coloured flames among the grass...", or a lake, "a moonstone in the dark hills..." in attempt to create not only an image, but a symbol out of nature. It is a symbol that he creates when describing the Greek asphodel flower on p. 7 and 8 of "Estruscan Places".

Though the smell of the asphodel is not objectionable, to me: and I find the flower, now I know it well, very beautiful, with its way of opening some pale, big, starry pink flowers, and leaving many of its buds shut, with their dark reddish stripes.

Many people, however, are very disappointed with the Greeks, for having made so much of this flower. It is true, the word 'asphodel' makes one expect some tall and mysterious lily, not this sparky, assertive flower with just a touch of the onion about it. But for me, I don't care of mysterious lilies, not even for that weird shyness the mariposa lily has. And having stood on the rocks in Sicily, with the pink asphodel proudly sticking up like clouds of sea, taller than myself, letting off pink different flowerets with such sharp and vivid eclat, and saving up such a store of buds in ear, stripey, I confess I admire the flower. It has a certain reckless glory, such as the Greeks loved.

Lawrence personifies the asphodel, giving it character and glory, creating for it a special place and purpose in the reader's mind. But who was his reader? Was he hoping to convince only the English that they were wrong in allowing the machine to destroy natural life? Or was he also attempting to possibly reach those in the countries that he travelled through in hopes that they could stave off the invasion of the machine? Lastly, do Lawrence's use of nature symbols function in terms of salvation the same way that Thoreau's use of the waterlily did?

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Last modified 26 October 2003