Friday, November 03, 2006

The Elephant is Slow to Mate by D.H. Lawrence

I know what you're thinking: of all the great poems about elephant sex, why pick this one? Ok, ok, so the subject is a little strange, but Lawrence handles it with genuine wonder and affection. He might just win you over.

A note on the poem's form: Lawrence uses short lines after the longer four-beat lines to frustrate the poem's momentum. The rhythm built up in one line stalls in the next. This, obviously, goes hand in hand with the poem's subject matter.

Lawrence is one of only a few writers to excel as a poet and a novelist (though he's more celebrated for the latter). Thomas Hardy is another. It says a lot about the differences between the genres that even the great writers had trouble making the switch.



The Elephant is Slow to Mate
by D.H. Lawrence

The elephant, the huge old beast,
is slow to mate;
he finds a female, they show no haste
they wait

for the sympathy in their vast shy hearts
slowly, slowly to rouse
as they loiter along the river-beds
and drink and browse

and dash in panic through the brake
of forest with the herd,
and sleep in massive silence, and wake
together, without a word.

So slowly the great hot elephant hearts
grow full of desire,
and the great beasts mate in secret at last,
hiding their fire.

Oldest they are and the wisest of beasts
so they know at last
how to wait for the loneliest of feasts
for the full repast.

They do not snatch, they do not tear;
their massive blood
moves as the moon-tides, near, more near
till they touch in flood.



D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930) novelist, short-story writer, poet and essayist, was born in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England, in 1885. Though better known as a novelist, Lawrence's first-published works (in 1909) were poems, and his poetry, especially his evocations of the natural world, have since had a significant influence on many poets on both sides of the Atlantic. He believed in writing poetry that was stark, immediate and true to the mysterious inner force which motivated it. Many of his best-loved poems treat the physical and inner life of plants and animals.

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