21 pages 42 minutes read

D. H. Lawrence

Whales Weep Not!

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1932

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Symbols & Motifs


The whales in “Whales Weep Not!” perform several symbolic functions. First and foremost, in their oblong, blunted shape they resemble phalluses. Lawrence cements this association by naming a few whale species which explicitly evoke male sexuality (hammer-heads, sperm whales, Line 5). The way the whales are invigorated and propelled forward by blood suggests the biological process of a phallus becoming erect. While female whales and calves are present in the poem, Lawrence is most interested in using whales as symbols of masculine sexuality, especially in the first half of the poem.

The whales also represent an almost Leviathan, spiritual force. Lawrence emphasizes their overwhelming hugeness (“and roll with massive, strong desire,” Line 12; “as mountain pressing on mountain,” Line 15), elevating the whales to a mythological, primordial status. The ancient Greeks imagined their gods as being physically larger than humans—literally larger than life—and Lawrence provides a lingering sense that his whales might stand for something greater too, something inscrutable. As timeless, god-like beings, they paradoxically represent people, but also exist entirely separate from destructive human artifices like civilization and time. 

But Lawrence is careful to fix his highly metaphorical poem in rote biology too. There is no doubt that despite the poet’s anthropomorphizing and sacramentalizing, his whales are also animals which behave as whales do.