21 pages 42 minutes read

D. H. Lawrence

Whales Weep Not!

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1932

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Ancient Sensibility Versus Modern Rationality

In the notebooks from which the Last Poems collection are drawn, Lawrence sets the scene in the Mediterranean sea, the vast expanse of water tucked between Europe to the north, and Africa to the south. For Lawrence, the Mediterranean is an ancient body of water, a quasi-mythological space where humans and gods and those in-between could interact with and impact each other. He wanted to return his readers to a mental space in mankind’s distant past; the collection opens, in fact, with “The Greeks Are Coming!”, a poem detailing the return of Greek gods and heroes on their ships.

The ancient Greeks held special significance for Lawrence as representatives of a more “primitive,” and therefore idealized, form of man. In contrast to modern people, Lawrence envisions the Greeks not only as assigning a mysterious spiritual value to all things—as Lawrence himself was inclined to do—but also as displaying a comfort with constant change and metamorphosis (as evoked by Venus’s many transformations in “Whales Weep Not!”). Most importantly, Lawrence believed the Greeks to be hyperattentive to physicality and sensory experience. As he wrote in his Apocalypse, “We have lost almost entirely the great and intricately developed sense-awareness, and sense-knowledge, of the ancients.