Sensuous language and abstraction in "The Crucifix Across the Mountains"

Kevin Zimmer '02, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

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D.H. Lawrence intersperses highly imagistic language that appeals to the senses with passages of more detached, abstract commentary. In describing and nearly idolizing the highland peasants that he encounters, Lawrence uses vivid, sensuous language to entrance the reader:

The body bent forward towards the earth, closing round on itself; the arms clasped full of hay, clasped round the hay that presses soft and close to the breast and the body, that pricks heat into the arms and the skin of the breast, and fills the lungs with the sleepy scent of dried herbs: the rain that falls heavily and wets the shoulders, so that the shirt clings to the hot, firm skins and the rain comes with heavy, pleasant coldness on the active flesh, running in a trickle down towards the loins, secretly; this is the peasant, this hot welter of physical sensation. And it is all intoxicating. It is all intoxicating almost like a soporific, a senusous drug, to gather the burden to one's body in the rain, to stumble across the living grass to the shed, to relieve one's arms of the weight, to throw down the hay on to the heap, to feel light and free in the dry shed, then to return again into the chill, hard rain, to stoop again under the rain, and rise to return again with the burden.

Lawrence then indicates the higher intellectual value of the peasant to the reader, referring to his fluid, timeless conception of existence and death:

Whether it is the singing or dancing or play-acting or physical transport of love, or vengeance or cruelty, or whether it is work or sorrow or religion, the issue is always the same at last, into the radiant negation of eternity. Hence the beauty and completeness, the finality of the highland peasant. His figure, his limbs, his face, his motion, it is all formed in beauty, and it is all completed. There is no flux nor hope nor becoming, all is, once and for all. The issue is eternal, timeless, and changeless. All being and all passing away is part of the issue, which is eternal and changeless. Therefore there is no becoming and no passing away. Everything is, now and for ever. Hence the strange beauty and finality and isolation of the Bavarian peasant.

The variance in tone and style between these two passages is striking. In the sensual passage on the peasant, two flowing, run-on sentences conveying Lawrence's personal feelings of captivation and awe are sandwiched around the brief, commanding statement "And it was all intoxicating". The sensational immediacy of his description of the peasant dependent on continuous action and physical labor is well-suited to his extended, flowing sentence structure. The second passage, however, is marked by grand philosophical musings connecting the peasant's beauty and completeness to the over-arching permanence of time. The sentence structure is much more repetitive ("is" appears 11 times), organized and conventional, forcing the reader to slow down and ponder the meaning of Lawrence's loaded personal commentary.

Which style is more appealing to the reader (both modern and Lawrence's contemporary)? Is the sensual, descriptive style reciprocally dependent on the philosophizing style in this case? How does this contrast of style mirror or differ from the distinction that he makes between sensational and horrific depictions of Jesus' suffering on the Cross to simpler, more reverent crucifixes that convey religious truths?

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Last modified 26 October 2003