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Emptying and Filling: a(n) (Il)logical Poetic Representation of Emotions

“Transference from one place to another”
Elise Brault
p. 205-237

Texte intégral

1I am sick of cerebral emotions,” Lawrence complains in one of his Pansies poems:

I am sick of people’s cerebral emotions
that are born in their minds and forced down by the will
on to their poor deranged bodies. (ll.1-3, CP 500)

  • 1 Jean-Paul Sartre, in Esquisse d’une Théorie des Emotions (1938), declares that “L’émotion est d’abo (...)

2In this opening stanza, Lawrence’s “I,” marginally set against the mass of “people”—his contemporaries –, clearly asserts that modernity has crushed the accidental1 and physical nature of emotions. He comments on the hopeless immediate context, driven—according to him—by ideas and logical principles (by “the mind” and “the will”). In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the “control” over emotions which Lawrence fiercely rejects is introduced by Sir Clifford when he asserts: “The modern world has only vulgarised emotion by letting it loose. What we need is classic control” (LCL 139). And Lawrence himself laments on this point in his essay “Democracy,” in which he blames man for inventing the world in the same ideal fashion he invents machinery: the idea comes first, all derives from the logos and nothing “vital” remains (“Democracy” 70).

3The end of the nineteenth century was actually marked by substantial advances in the sciences, notably in psychology (most especially with the publication in 1890 of the influential Principles in Psychology by William James and Darwin’s Expression of the Emotions). The rising interest in psychoanalysis in the early years of the twentieth century further recentered much attention on emotional experience. Emotions therefore, in that era, were neither stifled nor suppressed (as Lawrence seemed to be repeatedly suggesting): they had probably never been so much talked about. But though Lawrence undoubtedly betrayed a real interest in these new fields of research, he was nonetheless fiercely repelled by what he judged as their ultra scientific and “dissecting” aspects.

4Such renewed approaches to emotions actually—and quite logically—had a significant impact on writers who expressed their concerns about the innovative means and devices they would then have to imagine in order to faithfully represent emotions in their works. T.S. Eliot’s “objective correlative” and Ezra Pound’s definition of “the image” immediately come to mind as efforts to theorize on the poetic representation of emotions. But Lawrence’s reflection on that point diverged from that of these poets. His was intimately linked (not to say fused, or even confused) with the experience of emotions. For Lawrence, emotions cannot be romantically “recollected in tranquility” either: emotion is lived through the fluxes of the body and should be represented in its physical, transient immediacy. In “A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” Lawrence actually asserts that “all the emotions belong to the body, and are only recognised by the mind” (LCL 311), and in the Foreword to Fantasia of the Unconscious, he declares that “the novels and poems come unwatched out of one’s pen [...]. [They] are pure passionate experience” (FU 15). No logic is to dictate either emotional experience or its poetic representation. There is no law but that of the body.

5My purpose will be to look at a very narrow selection of recurring motifs which convey emotions. Particular attention will hence be paid to the dual motif of filling and emptying when it comes to expressing intense emotions: poems are indeed peppered with images of “cups,” “bowls,” “sources,” “gush,” of “drinking up,” “pouring in,” “swelling up,” “emptying hearts,” etc. Taken altogether, these palpitating images and motifs at times somehow subtly weave a sort of logical (sometimes illogical) representation of emotions. If the Lawrentian experience of emotions is il-logical (in the sense that it is not dictated by the logos), a quasi-logical method gradually (and probably unconsciously) builds up throughout some poems to represent or suggest emotions.

An aesthetic logic?

1) From Emotion to Poetry

6As has already been pointed out, the problem of the representation of emotion was raised by some of Lawrence’s contemporaries. T.S. Eliot, through his concept of the “objective correlative” (coined originally to analyze drama, in his essay, “Hamlet and his Problems” in 1919) exposes his theoretical principle:

The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an “objective correlative”; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked. (Eliot 125)

7Eliot’s use of the term “formula” to describe the process of aestheticization ascribes a logical, almost scientific, quality to the process. Each “particular” emotion is to be objectified.

8Six years earlier, Ezra Pound, in “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste”—in an almost cryptic synthesis—had explained that an image is

that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time. I use the term “complex” rather in the technical sense employed by the newer psychologists, such as Hart, though we might not agree absolutely in our application.(Italics mine)

9The idea of immediacy so dear to Lawrence is heightened by Pound too, in his definition, both in time (“in an instant of time”) and in nature (the image “presents” but does not “re-present”); and Pound later actually talks about a “direct treatment of the thing.” And yet, the divergence between both poets’ conceptions is undeniable. Pound’s image is controlled. It derives from a tight technical process of aestheticization and, ideally, is eventually deprived of personal dimension. This sense of tightness and control—so absent in Lawrence—is also what Eliot seeks to promote when he asserts, in his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1917), that “poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion” (SE 10). Poetry, in other words, is the result of the transformation of emotions. And this Eliot makes clear (still in the same essay):

The business of the poet is not to find new emotions, but to use the ordinary ones and, in working them up into poetry, to express feelings which are not in actual emotions at all. (SE 10, my emphasis)

10In fact, what both Pound and Eliot are concerned with, though differently, is the poetic representation of emotions: how can they be objectified and aestheticized? Michel Collot offers the following:“Liée au départ à l’expérience de la vie, elle [l’émotion] se transforme à l’arrivée en émotion esthétique” (Collot 9), the emotion hence being that of the reader as (s)he discovers and contemplates the poem as an aesthetic object. Lawrence, on the other hand, wishes to fuse the experience with the representation of emotion. The physical origin of the emotion needs to be palpable in the very material of poetry and, by nature, cannot be “fixed” by the latter. In “Poetry of the Present” he declares:

There is another kind of poetry: the poetry of that which is at hand: the immediate present. In the immediate present there is no perfection, no consummation, nothing finished. [...]. There is no plasmic finality, nothing crystal, permanent. (“Poetry of the Present” 182)

11Through this via negativa definition of poetry, Lawrence means that poetry unfolds together with palpitating emotions—and the semantic fields of emotion, physicality and poetry are melted together, as though poetry could not otherwise be defined. There is no emotion without a living body, and no poetry without flowing emotions. Representation is intertwined with conception, and this Lawrence suggests in a letter addressed to Arthur McLeod in 1912: “to write poetry one has to let oneself fuse with the current” (L i. 488). While Eliot and Pound make sensation evolve into poetic signification—or, as Michel Collot states, make it shift “du pathétique au poétique” (Collot 26)—Lawrence curiously endeavors to have them coincide, entangled.

  • 2 As he makes clear in a letter addressed to Catherine Carswell in 1915: “The poem I liked—but you ha (...)

12For that purpose, all conventional logic of poetry and poetic conception needs to be circumvented. This sense of artistic rebellion, Lawrence finds—and actually admires—in the Italian Futurists’ promotion of creation against conventions. Though he fiercely rejected various aspects of the Futurist manifesto, he nonetheless acknowledges: “I like it [futurism] because it is the applying to emotions of the purging of the old forms and sentimentalities” (L ii. 180). No logic of form should be imposed on artistic creation, the only logic being that of the human flow.2

13And yet, unlike the painter who might let the “quick” that transiently runs through his arm govern the movement of his brush, Lawrence’s raw material as a poet is the linguistic code governed by rules and signs.

2) The Logical System of Signs

14Lawrence is almost logically bound to fail in his creative ambitions to escape the logic of language. This preexistent “common code” (Jakobson 213) sheds a veil on what appears as a Lawrentian fiction according to which polymorphous emotions could be expressed untransformed and regardless of the limitation both of the signifiers and their combinations. According to Diane Bond, “this seeming denial of the preexistence of language, however, is actually a sign of Lawrence’s deep awareness of the determinative power of the linguistic system” (Bonds 10). One of the Lawrentian means for countering such determinative power is to elaborate images, with and within the logical linguistic system, through which the reader (and Lawrence himself) might be able to forget, for a short while at least, that poetry is to unfold within a bounded (linguistic and poetic) logical system. The motif of emptying and filling seems to be one of those devices on which Lawrence relies to convey intense and palpitating emotions, following no apparent logic but that of the rhythms of the body humours.

Filling and Emptying

  • 3 cf. definition of “emotion” in O.E.D.

15The alternating or interdependent movement of emptying and filling is not actually very far from the initial meaning of “emotion.” The first definition in the O.E.D. reads: “a moving out, migration, transference from one place to another.”3 This moving out and in suggests that emotions are not confined to internal spheres. Michel Collot argues on that point: “L’é-motion n’est pas un état purement intérieur. Comme son nom l’indique, c’est un mouvement qui fait sortir de soi le sujet qui l’éprouve” (Collot 11).

16And indeed, one of the motifs that on several occasions appears in Lawrence’s poetry to convey impassioned emotions is that of sudden outward motion.

1) In and Out

17In “Seven Seals,” the male voice addresses his lover on the eve of her departure on a journey. He places seven seals on her face and body so as to have her stay near him. But despite his intensifying pressure to constrain the feminine figure under the power and “chain” (l.40) of his “indomitable me” (l.41), passion and love still emerge:

I will set a seal upon you from my lip,
Will set a guard of honour at each door,
Seal up each channel out of which might slip
Your love for me. (
CP 153, ll.8-11)

18The rhythmic regularity of the first two lines yields to a slightly more irregular prosody and to a shortening of the last line. This shift “out of” tight poetic control is in keeping with the image of unconstrained love which is likely to “slip,” to move out, through the seals. The poetic voice keeps on:

I kiss your mouth, Ah, love,
Could I but seal its ruddy, shining
Of passion, parch it up, destroy, remove
Its softly-stirring crimson
Of kisses! Oh, help me, God! Here at the
I’d lie for ever, drinking and drawing in
Your fountains, as heaven drinks from out their course
The flood. (ll.12-8, italics mine)

19As he measures the untameable nature of love emotions which find their “source” in the woman’s “ruddy” lips, the male persona—through the intense rhythm of the juxtaposition “spring of passion, parch it up, destroy, remove”—conveys both his nervousness and his excitement. Facing such indomitable abundance of emotions (which take the material form of a flow of “kisses”), the “I” voice, as though fearing to waste such precious leaking and gushing love, implores God to let him drink it. The high-paced rhythm of the beginning then significantly gives way to a more flowing and appeased prosody in the last three lines as the persona expresses his wish to fill himself with her love in “drawing [it] in.” In this short stanza, love is transferred from one place to another(somehow remaining faithful to the initial definition of “emotion”). Love emerges from her body—her mouth—to fill his mouth, throat and body.

  • 4 The probably more often encountered “chilliness” would have been less powerful. The absence of the (...)

20This image of a body being filled with intense emotion and palpable lively energy likewise occurs in “Restlessness,” this time not between two lovers, but between man and nature: “I will trail my hands again through the drenched, cold leaves / Till my hands are full of the chillness and touch of leaves” (ll.37-8, CP 180, italics mine). And Lawrence intensifies the idea of filling up by saturating language with the suffix “-ness,” which literally gives flesh to “chill” and makes it touchable.4 This passage quite significantly recalls Birkin at the end of “Breadalby” where he wants to “saturate himself with the touch of them all [bushes and flowers]” (Women in Love, 106).

21In “The Primal Passions,” another poem, the “I” voice exposes to a generic “you” the passion for truth and justice as the “primal” passions and sources of life. Though “truth” and “justice” are not traditionally apprehended in terms of emotions, Lawrence nonetheless devotes much poetic energy to treating them as impassioned emotions. The poem opens:

If you will go down into yourself, under your surface personality
you will find you have a great desire to drink life direct from the source not out of bottles and bottled personal vessels.
What the old people call immediate contact with God.
That strange essential communication of life not bottled up in human bottles. (ll.1-6, CP 481)

22This introspective impassioned process consists in “drinking life”—filling oneself up with life—“direct from the source,” that is, the human body in close contact with the divine. The emphasis on the process of filling (partly emphasized by the liquid alliteration in [l], ll.3-4) is all the more powerful as its poetic expression is somehow thwarted by the babbling chiasmic repetition of “bottle” and “bottled” which seems to want to cork up the existential flow. Lawrence here is therefore struggling against existential and poetic “bottling up”—as a definite filling up would block all possible emptying.

23A similar, but this time unthwarted, motif reappears later in the poem:

The cool, cool truth of pure vitality
pouring into the veins from the direct contact with the source.
       Uncontaminated by even the beginning of a lie.

24“Truth,” one of the primal passions, is here again “poured into” man. It floods into his “veins,” runs through his whole body in such fashion that it brings to mind the early western physiological theory of humours according to which the human body is filled with four types of fluid (blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile) which, when the body is healthy, are perfectly balanced. In “Primal Passions,” Lawrence somehow adds “truth” and “justice” to the traditional list of humours.

25The same movement of impassioned filling is also quite striking in an early poem, “Excursion Train” (CP 116-7), but in a counterfactual mode. The male “I” eagerly voices his wish to fill his lover’s (Helen’s) heart. He asks her:

Come another night, come a new night, say
Will you pluck it apart?
Will you open the amorous aching bud
Of my body, and loose the essential flood
That would pour to you from my heart? (ll.39-42)

26The palpable flow of love emotions is here again pictured as a transference. The young woman, urged to untie his heart and let the emotions gush, is the physical recipient of his love. To what extent then could this Lawrentian transference be qualified as an “objective correlative”? A “formula” for the “particular” emotion which is love? There is undoubtedly a type of correspondence between such a (quite traditional) image and the emotions evoked, but we will see that the mutability of this very image of transference somehow prevents us from properly reading it as an Eliotian “objective correlative.”

27“Come Spring, Come Sorrow,” another early poem, which reads almost like an ode to the renewal of nature and to the masculine sunbeams which impregnate the fecund female globe, provides a new type of transference. The end of the poem, addressed, like the rest, to his sweetheart, pictures his filling of her:

Surely, ah not in words alone I’d spill
The vivid, ah, the fiery surplus of life
From off my measure, to touch you deep, and fill
        You flush and rife
With this year’s newness!—And is that evil! (ll.33-6, CP 127)

28The “I” partly moves out of language (“not in words alone”) and of his “measure”: he empties himself out of the flux of life, which does not read as a drying or dwindling vitality, but as an overflowing, “spilling” life (and here Lawrence mixes fire—“fiery”—with water—“spill”). This “surplus” leads him to transfer his vital emotions into his lover: he fills her up until the vital blood suffuses her hence “flushing” cheeks.

  • 5 La couche purement émotive, dans la langue, est présentée par les interjections. Celles-ci s’écart (...)

29The intensity of the emotions is further highlighted by exclamations which reveal the voice’s will to reach beyond the limits of the poem. Likewise, the interjections signify a moving out of the bounded parameters of language. Lawrence’s use of both devices then makes tangible, in his poem, what Jakobson calls the “emotive function”5 of language. Here, the “poetic form acts out its meaning” (Steiner 129) as the emotions are conveyed with the palpable layer of language—sounds and tones (that is “not with words alone,” as the poet metapoetically says).

30In these few poems then, the loved one and the lover appear as physical containers in which, according to what may be termed a mechanical logic, one can pour in and out emotions that are rendered all the more touchable as they are pictured as a liquid material, once again slightly reminiscent of the concept of the four humours.

  • 6 Two of the poems in Pansies are actually entitled “Cups” and “Bowls” (CP 427).

31The image of the “container” is, on several occasions, even more explicit when Lawrence, still in order to represent emotions, reverts to the symbols of “cups” and “bowls.”6For instance in “The Appeal,” love emotions that are rather light are thus conveyed:

You surely, seeing I am a bowl of kisses
Should put your mouth to mine and drink of me.
CP 86, ll.3-4)

32The “I” is identified with a container of “kisses,” which therefore takes the form of a physical and transient materialisation of love emotions, through an act of the body. “Kisses” are “exchanged” in the sense of “being transferred.” The “I” empties himself of the flow of kisses which, once again, is drunk by his lover (a motif which, by now, may almost sound “logically Lawrentian”). More than mere objects, the “bowl” and the “cup,” of course also have a symbolic dimension. The cup evokes the cultual object calling to mind the idea of the ritual of sharing; and it has evolved into a symbol, suggesting at times the Grail legend where Christ’s blood was collected in a precious cup (hence becoming the symbol of spiritual salvation) and, at other times, the “cup” of the Book of Revelation where “great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness and of His wrath” (Rev 16:19). The cup holds “abominations and filthiness” (Rev 17:4). Lawrence may not have chosen to turn to this symbol innocently. In his “Introduction to The Dragon of the Apocalypse by Frederick Carter,” he actually insists on the emotional dimension of symbols: “A complex of emotional experience is a symbol. And the power of the symbol is to arouse the deep emotional self” (Apocalypse 49). In equating “emotional experience” with “a symbol,” Lawrence once more does not distinguish the experience from its representation. The nature of the representation should be as flexible as the experience itself. And this manifests itself in the unstable symbolic meaning Lawrence ascribes to the cup (which denotes both spiritual salvation and a container of wrath) in his poetry.

33The images of “cup” and “bowl” appear in “Mystery,” still in intimate relation to emotions, but this time with more symbolic weight.

Now I am all
One bowl of kisses,
Such as the tall
Slim votaresses
Of Egypt
For divine excesses.

I lift to you
My bowl of kisses
And through the temple’s
Blue recesses
Cry out to you
In wild caresses.

As to my lips’
Bright crimson rim
The passion
And down my slim
White body drips
The moving hymn.

And still before
The altar, I
the bowl
, and cry
To you to stoop
And drink, Most High.

Ah, drink me up
That I may be
Within your cup
Like a mystery
Like wine that is still
In ecstasy.

Glimmering still
In ecstasy
Commingled wines
Of you and me
In one
The mystery. (CP 96-7, my italics)

  • 7 The great river of male blood touches to its depth the great river of female blood, yet neither br (...)

34The already encountered identification of the “I” with “the bowl of kisses” is reiterated and the bowl is presented to “the Most High” (divine and / or lover). As in “Seven Seals,” passion cannot be contained and thus “slips” through the persona‘s lips (though the prosody is kept in tight control). The poem is gradually filled with intensifying emotions till the voice, in a climactic effect, implores the “transference” of all the kisses (“drink up”) into the addressee’s “cup.” Such moving out and in, yielding—so typical of Lawrence7—not to a fusion but to a “commingling,” works towards the utmost emotional filling up which is “fulfilment.” Through the symbolic quality of the images—woven suggestions of the Grail with the reference to wines and of the Book of Revelation with the mysterious image of the Lady holding the cup –, the motifs of filling and emptying, as well as the high-paced rhythm of the poem, Lawrence manages to convey emotional intensity.

35If the “transference” of emotions from a bowl to a cup, the pouring of love feelings from one’s heart to someone else’s mouth or entire body, tends to be pictured as an undisturbed flow, Lawrence proposes situations where the exchange is not as smooth. The “formula” which equates pouring in and out with an exchange of love feelings is thus frequently deconstructed.

2) Essential Contradictions: Illogicalities of Love and Hate

36Lawrence’s almost Blakean approach to existence is partly to be found in his way of bringing together opposite feelings, clashing images, contrasting colours, etc. Such a combination is blatant in “Winter Dawn,” a poem of Look! We’ve Come Through which draws together the renewal of the year with the painful purification of love:

Without a sound
The new year comes in
And is half-way over the lake.
We must begin

This love so full
of hate
has hurt us so,
We lie side by side
Moored—but no,

Let me get up
wash quite clean
Of this hate. –
So green

The great star goes!
I am washed quite clean,
Quite clean of it all.
But e’en

So cold, so cold and clean
Now the hate is gone!
It is all no good
I am chilled to the bone

Now the hate is gone;
There is nothing left;
I am pure like bone,
Of all feeling bereft. (CP 229-30, italics mine)

37In what sounds like an illogical statement, the persona‘s love is pictured as being filled with hate. Hence the unexpected complementariness of these antagonistic emotions hence almost functions as a gear—a mechanical component—in the emotional “system” outlined here by Lawrence. What he is indeed saying is that purifying one’s love by emptying it of its “hate” simply means annihilating all feelings—and at the end of the poem, once hate has been washed away, the persona blames himself for having deprived his soul and body of all lively emotions. There should be no interruption in the filling of love with hate and its emptying: both these intense emotions feed on one another, and when it is cut short, such transference nullifies emotions.

38This interdependence of conflicting feelings and emotions, central in the whole of Lawrence’s oeuvre, reappears in a poem significantly entitled “Both Sides of the Medal.” The poem opens with a statement which, at least superficially, sounds like a logical demonstration:

And because you love me,
think you you do not hate me?
Ha, since you love me
to ecstasy
it follows you hate me to ecstasy. (ll.1-5, CP 235)

39Through tokens of causal and consequential discursiveness (“because,” “since” and “it follows”), the voice, which sounds as though it were resuming a conversation started in the margins of the poem, seeks to demonstrate the logical interdependence of love and hate which consequently appear as logically joined.

40The coexistence of such emotions as love and hate is represented by Lawrence as an essential driving force without which fulfilment is inconceivable. As he suggests in “Winter Dawn,” the end of the flowing and mutual pouring in and out jeopardizes emotional experience, this pouring in and out being either an exchange between individuals, between man and nature or between two antagonistic emotions. Such cases of unbalanced flow are actually evoked by Lawrence and lead to problematically achieved or even unachieved fulfilment.


1) Starving, Overfeeding, Satisfying

41On a few occasions, Lawrence echoes once more the theory of the humours as he summons unbalanced—hence destroying—situations caused either by excessive filling or by excessive emptying (leading to what, in Apocalypse, he calls “unbearable emptiness” or “hideous [...] void” (A 53)). Arid emptiness means the death of emotion, as in “Humiliation,” where the emotional turmoil is prompted by the lover’s desertion—the girl emptying the man’s heart:

I have been so innerly proud, and so long alone.
Do not leave me, or I shall break
Do not leave me.

What should I do if you were gone again
So soon?
What should I think of death?
If I died, it would not be you:
It would be simply the same
Lack of you.
The same want, life or death,
The same insanity of space,
You not there for me. (ll.1-20, CP 214, italics mine)

42The woman’s departure leaves the male-persona‘s heart un-filled, hence “unfulfilled.” The negative prefix paradoxically fills the language to signify absence, hence leading to an illogical contradiction between morphology and semantics—a confrontation which more or less reveals the persona‘s inner struggle against a widening inner void. The prefix that fills the language stands for emptiness and the emotional material that should fill and fulfil the persona is lacking. He is starved.

43Manifesto” (CP 262-8), one of Lawrence’s famous poems, deals with emotions through the motifs of “hunger” and satisfaction. It opens with the male persona drawing a list of types of hunger which he knows exist but has never experienced (hunger “for milk and honey,” hunger for knowledge, and “the fear of hunger” l.8). Yet, he then admits:

But then came another hunger
very deep, and ravening;
the very body’s body crying out
with a hunger more frightening, more profound
than stomach or throat or even the mind;
redder than death, more clamorous.

The hunger for the woman.
The hunger which comes upon us,
which we must learn to satisfy with pure, real satisfaction;
or perish, there is no alternative. (ll. 38-50)

44Emotional distress and impatience are turned into physical pain. The persona is starved; he feels such a void within himself that he later talks about his “voracious desire” (l.66). No woman’s love is poured into him; he is a wasted body and soul.

45But, though this arid void is later filled, the intense grief of the previous state of emptiness has not yet been erased:

A woman fed that hunger in me at last
What many women cannot give, one woman can;
So I have known it.
She stood before me like riches that were mine.
Even then, in the dark, I was tortured, ravening, unfree
Ashamed and shameful and vicious.
A man is so terrified of strong hunger
and this terror is the root of all cruelty.
                                          (ll. 56-64, italics mine)

46Instead of appropriating hunger (in saying “my hunger”) the Lawrentian persona calls up the image of a void within himself (“that hunger in me”) that desperately needs to be filled. But he is trapped in the fear that the woman may be emptying him of her love, a torturing fear which is rendered by “ashamed and shameful” with the prefix and suffix almost locking the persona within his shame. As long as filling is unsure, filling up—that is, fulfilment—is impossible.

47And yet, physical fulfilment (“here in the flesh”) is reached eventually. At that point in the poem, the signifier “fulfilment” proliferates and saturates, fills, the text:

I had eaten of the bread that satisfies
and my body’s body was appeased
there was peace and richness,
Let them praise desire who will,
but only
fulfilment will do,
fulfilment, nothing short.
It is our ratification,
our heaven, as a matter of fact.
Immortality, the heaven is only a projection of this strange but actual
here in the flesh. (ll.74-84, italics mine)

48This form of fulfilment, however, is definitely not a merging since, in the rest of the poem, the Lawrentian voice fiercely insists that “she is all beyond me / she is all not-me, ultimately” (ll.106-7). The other remains other. So if the “hunger” (the word occurs twelve times in the first half of the poem) is fulfilled, one should take care not to think of filling in terms of merging or fusion. Lawrence insists on that in “A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover”: “The blood of man and the blood of woman are two eternally different streams, that can never be mingled” (LCL 324). They interact, desire and fulfil one another, but do not fuse. By contrast, Gerald and Gudrun’s un-fulfilling “corrosive,” “intoxicant” sexual intercourse in the chapter “Death and Love,” is significantly evoked as a fusion:

Her arms were round his neck, he kissed her and held her perfectly suspended, she was all slack and flowing in to him, and he was the firm, strong cup that receives the wine of her life. So she lay cast upon him, stranded, lifted up against him, melting and melting, under his kisses, melting into his limbs and bones, as if he were soft iron becoming surcharged with her electric life [...], gradually her mind went, and she passed away [...] she lay still, contained by him. (WL 331)

49Gudrun has abandoned herself to Gerald. She has poured herself entirely into his cup.

50If, as in “Manifesto,” an arid lack of emotional gifts prompts hunger and distressing avidity (due to an interruption of the flowing process of transferring emotions), the opposite is as harmful. In “Lady Wife” (CP 234-5) an overfeeding of sweet emotions makes Lawrence sick:

Put ashes on your head, put sackcloth on
And learn to serve.
You have fed me with your sweetness, now I am sick,
As I deserve.
Queens, ladies, angels, women rare,
I have had enough. (ll.21-7)

51Women have filled him to excess and have therefore spoilt his emotions, making him extremely nauseous.

52What Lawrence intends to emphasise as he multiplies the use of motifs of filling and emptying, is, once again, the need for a “regulation” of the inflow and outflow, a regulation which, to some extent, partakes of a certain natural, corporeal logic (especially when it is apprehended in terms of hunger and satisfaction). In pointing out that starvation and overfeeding of emotions are devastating, Lawrence—as often throughout his oeuvre—says that fulfilment should be transient, caught in a flow, and rely on a principle of equilibrium. This, he expresses in the concluding stanza of the long poem, “Wedlock”:

And you will always be with me.
And I shall never cease to be filled with newness,

Having you near me. (ll.84-6)

  • 8 Yet, in a highly pessimistic poem (“Dies Irae”), Lawrence declares that such a flow has become hard (...)

53The lover’s proximity fills him with new life. The apparent illogicality in the coexistence of a process (“I shall never cease”) with what is logically an end (“to be filled”) brings forth the fundamental message of this ultimate stanza: filling—and even filling up—must never be an end. It must flow or alternate with phases of emptying, almost like the heart’s diastolic and systolic alternations.8 Emotions must be constantly transferred, or even transfused, from one place to another. In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Lawrence, once again, turns to an ambiguous balanced and fulfilling movement of emptying and filling. Connie for the first time fully experiences the physical and emotional intensity of her sexual union with Mellors:

And she felt the soft bud of him within her stirring and in strange rhythms flushing up into her, with a strange, rhythmic growing motion, swelling and swelling till it filled all her cleaving consciousness. And then began again the unspeakable motion that was not really motion, but pure deepening whirlpools of sensation, swirling deeper and deeper through her tissue and consciousness, till she was one perfect concentric fluid of feeling. (LCL 134)

54Connie’s body and consciousness are gradually and rhythmically being “filled” with Mellors’ phallic physicality. And once again, process coexists with finality: the binary repetitions (“swelling and swelling,” “deeper and deeper”) set and keep the filling in motion, a “motion” which is first introduced reluctantly as Lawrence defines it as “unspeakable,” before it is nullified (“which was not really a motion”)—as though the process of writing itself were ambiguously introducing words (filling) and immediately withdrawing (emptying) them. This two-way movement reaches its apex at the moment of Connie’s very Lawrentian fulfilment: “till she was one perfect concentric fluid of feeling.” “Till,” “one” and “perfect” denote finality—respectively in terms of time, quantity (wholeness) and quality. Connie has just been fulfilled. But, just as in “Wedlock,” finiteness can be fulfilling only when it is balanced with flow, emptying, movement. Here such movement appears when Connie is equated to a “concentric fluid of feeling,”—the singular form introducing “feeling” as palpable matter, a substance that runs through Connie’s body, checked only by a subtly restrained “concentric” movement which almost outlines a geometrical figure where inflow and outflow, sharing the same centre, reach an equilibrium. Fulfilment is then once again conceived in terms of flow, a movement of fluids. In Women in Love, Hermione is Connie’s antithesis: as she is about to strike Birkin with the lapis lazuli, Hermione intimately wishes to fulfil her intensely violent desire to crack Birkin’s skull: “She must smash it, it must be smashed before her ecstasy was consummated, fulfilled for ever. A thousand lives, a thousand deaths mattered nothing now, only the fulfilment of this perfect ecstasy” (WL 105). Hermione yearns for an ultimate, perfected fulfilment, a movement out of herself through which all sense of balance would be destroyed. The Lawrentian use of the term “ecstasy” has a negative connotation here, somehow echoing Lawrence’s statement in a letter addressed to Gordon Campbell in 1914:

But do, for God’s sake, mistrust and beware of these states of exaltation and ecstasy. They send you, anyone, swaying so far beyond the centre of gravity in one direction [...] in the end you exceed the limits of your own soul’s elasticity, and go smash like a tower that has swung too far [...]. Ecstasy achieves itself by virtue of exclusion. (L ii 246-7)

55Hermione’s yearning for ecstatic fulfilment therefore sharply contrasts with Connie’s subtly measured fulfilment, evoked as a “concentric fluid of feeling”—all of Connie’s spasms share the same centre, what Lawrence, in his letter, calls “the centre of gravity.” In contrast, Hermione’s idea of fulfilment breaks with her own centre. She is displaced out of herself, in a one-way final movement.

56The example of Hermione gives rise to questions pertaining to another motif of filling and emptying which appears in a few of Lawrence’s poems: it is the fulfilment of or in violence.

3) Violent fulfilment

  • 9 Title of one of Lawrence’s poems.

57In his Principles of Psychology, an influential work in the early years of the twentieth century, William James writes that “in rage, it is notorious how we ‘work ourselves up’ to a climax by repeated outbreaks of expression” (James 463). This we find in Lawrence’s travel narrative, Sea and Sardinia. As is often the case with Lawrence, his encounters with the “other”—the natives—are reported with a mixed imagery of “kissing and horrid strife,”9 as Lawrence then feels simultaneously intensely attracted and fiercely repelled. This sense of “horrid strife” with the Sardinians, whose ways he fails to comprehend, at one point takes the form of rage mounting up in him, somewhat echoing William James’ description: “My yesterday’s rage towers up again suddenly, till it quite suffocates me” (S&S 18). Unlike in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the perfection denoted by “till” is not balanced by a flowing motion. The recipient persona is filled to the brim, soon gasping for air. The transitive form of the verb “suffocate” intensifies the active materiality of “rage” and the consequential passivity of the helpless recipient. Lawrence’s poetic personae, likewise, build up tension, to gradually fill themselves with blood “to a climax,” as though their yellow bile—one of the four liquid humors whose excess makes the human being choleric—were overflowing. This appears in “Snap Dragon” (CP 122-6) for instance, a poem which pictures the intense face-to-face between a man and a woman who cruelly use the flower as a common weapon to torture and seduce each other. When the woman strangles the flower’s “crimson throat” (l.20), the man reacts, physically identifying with the flower:

She laughed, she reached her hand out to the flower
Closing its crimson throat. My own throat in her power
my heart swelled up so full
As if it would burst
its wine-skin in my throat
Choke me in my own crimson […] (ll.19-23, italics mine)

58The suddenness of the immoderate filling (intensified by “so”) was prompted by the violent tension of the sexual desire. The emotion is lived physically, as a painful gush (“strangle,” “burst,” “choke”). In the chapter “Water Party,” in Women in Love, just after Gudrun struck Gerald in the face, Lawrence actually re-uses the image of this abrupt surfeit of blood to express Gerald’s passionate violence mingled with intense sexual attraction:

For some seconds, he could not speak, his lungs were so suffused with blood, his heart stretched almost to bursting with a great gush of ungovernable emotion. It was as if some reservoir of black emotion had burst within him. (WL 170-1, my emphasis)

59Emotions and blood (barely differentiated) cannot literally be contained in the “reservoir” any longer. Gudrun’s blow suddenly bursts it, emptying it into Gerald, where the contents take the form of a mix of intense resentment and vulnerability (as “black emotion” calls to mind the melancholic and amorous temper which corresponds to the black bile).

60In “Snap Dragon,” the aforementioned first outbreak is followed by a slower movement during which the male persona focuses on the woman’s hand which he significantly sees as a “cup” (sometimes understood as the female sex):

My Grail, a brown bowl twined
With swollen veins that met in the wrist,
Under whose brown the amethyst
I longed to taste! I longed to turn
My heart’s read measure in her cup;
I longed to feel my hot blood burn
With the amethyst in her cup […] (ll.30-6)

61The unstable symbol of the cup mutates from an evocation of his throat (“My Grail, a brown bowl”) to that of her hand (“her cup”) and possibly of her sex. As blood fills the veins of his neck, he yearns to pour the contents of his heart—like Christ’s sacramental blood in the Grail—into the corporeal container she tempts him with. The painful tension and sexual impatience is translated in the exclamation and the anaphoric repetition of “I longed.”

The next stanza reads as another “outbreak”:
Then suddenly she looked up,
And I was blind in a tawny-gold day.
Till she took her eyes away.
So she came down from above
And emptied my heart of love. (ll.37-41, italics mine)

62The eventual desertion of her eyes spurs a further violent wave of emotions conveyed by the image of the heart’s emptying. The discharge seems to be as excessive and therefore as painful as the previous filling—each movement seeming almost finite.

63Later in the poem, it is the male persona‘s turn to throttle the flower with his avenging hand. He vanquishes:

Till her dark deeps shook with convulsive thrills, and the dark
Of her spirit wavered like
water thrilled with light;
And my heart leaped up in longing to
plunge its stark
Fervour within the
pool of her twilight
Within her spacious soul, to find delight. (ll.105-9, italics mine)

64The male persona’s desire is to pour himself wholly into her “spacious soul,” apprehending her once more as a container which is to receive the contents of his heart. The suddenness and tension, central in the poem since the beginning, are still pregnant with meaning, though somewhat alleviated by the liquid metaphor which soothes the potential violence of the act so much desired. Caught in an alliterative flux of liquid [l], the flowing prosody of this penultimate stanza imparts a sense of fulfilment which once again, and almost illogically, defines itself not by a definite end, but, rather by what seems to be a constant pouring in (poetically suggested by the iambic pentameter of the final line), an unbroken “transference from one place to another.”

65Such a type of transfer used to suggest violent emotions is probably even more blatant in another poem, “Rabbit Snared in the Night” (CP 240-2), in which the male persona addresses a rabbit, unexpectedly questioning the animal about its desires for him:

What is the hot plumb weight of your desire on me?
You have a hot, unthinkable desire of me, bunny.
What is that spark
glittering at me [...] (ll.12-5)

66The “spark” of this “hot” desire abruptly triggers a discharge of rage in the persona who gradually fills himself with fiery emotions:

It sets up a strange fire,
a soft, most unwarrantable burning,
a bale-fire
mounting, mounting up in me
I did not want it,
this furnace, this draught-maddened fire
mounts up my arms
making them
swell with turgid, ungovernable strength.
It must have been your inbreathing, gaping desire
that drew this
red gush in me;
I must be reciprocating
your vacuous, hideous passion.

It must be the want in you
that has drawn this terrible draught of white fire
up my veins as up a chimney. (ll. 19-39, italics mine)

  • 10 This poem somewhat foreshadows “Bibbles” in which Lawrence violently reacts to his dog’s excessive (...)

67Violent emotions, not liquid this time, but of fire, are rising in the persona‘s body and the gradual process is in part rendered by the repetition of “mounting.” For the man, this corporeal invasion—his being filled up—was prompted by the rabbit’s reciprocal vacuousness, its inner lack, its drawing desire to be filled with love, to receive and contain reassuring emotions.10 But the transference of emotions from man to rabbit is eventually cut short by the man‘s climactic filling up: filled to the brim with flaming rage, the man finally throttles the animal. The constant flow is suddenly interrupted and violence is consumed in death.

68Lawrence’s representation of emotions through the use of the motif—among others—of filling and emptying, to a moderate extent, actually mirrors the initial definition of “emotions”: a transference from one place to another. Lawrence’s original ambition to fuse the experience of emotions with their representation seems to be taking shape in his way of invariably applying such transferences to the body. Either a container or the material that is transferred (most often blood but also other sorts of undefined humours, like “black emotion” or “fiery surplus of life”), the body lives emotions and, at the same time, is the poetic sign, the image, adopted to outline various kinds of emotional fluxes.

69Can we therefore venture to apprehend this corporeal inflow and outflow as a sort of Eliotian “objective correlative”? Does Lawrence not make use of a “set of objects,” a “chain of events” so as to evoke emotions? To assume a perfect equation would be fundamentally inaccurate. For indeed, the primary difference between Eliot’s concept and Lawrence’s recurrent motif is that in Lawrence’s poetry the emotions are named: words like “love,” “desire,” “fulfilment,” “unfulfilment,” “hate,” “hunger,” “passion,” “delight,” “rage” etc. punctuate the poems and literally co-exist with the motif which gives life and intensity to their representation. Such emotions are not just conveyed by a Poundian image which would present them in “an instant of time”: the name of the reference and the representation of the image (like tenor and vehicle) co-exist in the text.

  • 11 And this fluctuation was actually already noted at the symbolic level. Lawrence relies on and explo (...)

70But a more powerful difference between Lawrence’s motif and Eliot’s “objective correlative” is that while the latter is understood as a “formula” which represents a “particular emotion,” the former is extremely polymorphous. The logic of representation which would draw a correspondence between an image and a “particular” emotion is substantially jeopardized in Lawrence. Hence, a transference also seems to be taking place at the semiotic level: the image is transferred from one reference to another, from “love,” to “hate,” to “desire,” to “satisfaction,” etc. The same changeable motif encompasses emotions of widely different natures.11

71And yet, echoes, repetitions and mirrors (reflecting or distorting) weave a network in Lawrence’s poetry and gradually draw a loose logic. Lawrence’s very peculiar and idiosyncratic type of “objective correlative” eventually evolves into a sort of system of representation. When emotions flow from one place to another, they tend to represent intense love or hate (and here again, the frontiers are blurred and expectations dismantled); when the flow of emotions runs in excess, the persona is nauseous or “intoxicated”; when it is lacking, the persona feels unfulfilled; and when the flow is bluntly interrupted, it leads to utmost violence and death. Though it would be absolutely erroneous to conceive this unsteady “system” as a set of rules or a “formula”—for correspondences between emotions and images are constantly fluctuating—the reader, in weaving his / her way through the poetic oeuvre, may likely have expectations as the reading goes on, and somehow discern a certain logic, that of the corporeal fluxes or their transferences and transfusions. What appears then, is a sort of illogical logic of representation: logic as (and Lawrence would surely have despised such an approach) something almost mechanical (pouring into containers, pouring out or following “concentric” movements) and illogical, since the “emotional” meaning of this pouring in and out is inconstant, like the emotions themselves. That is where Lawrence’s ambition to make signs and references meet is to a certain extent realized, where the real experience of emotion and its linguistic and poetic representation somehow manage to converge.

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Primary Sources

Lawrence, D.H.

. Complete Poems. [CP]. Collected and ed. with an Intro. by Vivian de Sola Pinto and Warren Roberts [1964]. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993.

. “A Propos of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’” in Lady Chatterley’s Lover [1928]. Harmonsworth: Penguin, 1994.

.,The Letters of D.H. Lawrence, general ed. James T. Boulton, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Letters I (1901-13), ed. James T. Boulton, 1979.

Letters II (1913-16), eds. George J. Zytaruk and James T. Boulton, 1981.

. “Democracy” in Selected Essays, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1966.

. “Introduction to The Dragon of the Apocalypse by Frederick Carter” in Apocalypse [1931]. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1995.

. Lady Chatterley’s Lover. [LCL] [1928]. Harmonsworth: Penguin, 1994.

. “Poetry of the Present,” Introduction to the American Edition of New Poems [1918]. Complete Poems, pp.181-6.

. Sea and Sardinia. [S&S] in D.H. Lawrence and Italy. London: Penguin Books, 1997.

. Women in Love. [WL] [1920] London, Penguin, 2000.

Secondary Sources

Bonds, Diane. “Lawrence and the Paradox of Language,” Language and the Self in D.H Lawrence. Ann Arbor, Michigan: U.M.I. Research Press, 1987, 7-28.

Collot, Michel. La Matière Emotion. Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1997.

Eliot, T.S. Selected Essays 1917-1932. New York: Hartcourt, Brace and Company, 1932.

Jakobson, Roman. « Poétique », Essais de Linguistique Générale. 1- Les Fondations du Langage. Traduit de l’anglais et préfacé par Nicolas Ruwett. Paris, Les Éditions de Minuit, 1963, 207-48.

James, William. “The Emotions” in The Principles of Psychology. Vol. II. Bristol: Thoemmes Press: Maruzn Co., LTD, 1998 [1890], 442-85.

Steiner, George. “Linguistics and Poetics,” Extra-territorial—Papers on Literature and the Language Revolution. London: Faber&Faber, 1972, 126-154.

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1 Jean-Paul Sartre, in Esquisse d’une Théorie des Emotions (1938), declares that “L’émotion est d’abord et par principe un accident” (Hermann, 1995, 14).

2 As he makes clear in a letter addressed to Catherine Carswell in 1915: “The poem I liked—but you had scarcely put enough into it, enough passion, to create it. It is not sufficiently fused: the heat of creation was not great enough” (L ii. 493).

3 cf. definition of “emotion” in O.E.D.

4 The probably more often encountered “chilliness” would have been less powerful. The absence of the vowel between the consonants paradoxically saturates the sound.

5 La couche purement émotive, dans la langue, est présentée par les interjections. Celles-ci s’écartent des procédés du langage référentiel à la fois par leur configuration phonique [...] et par leur rôle syntaxique (une interjection n’est pas un élément de phrase, mais l’équivalent d’une phrase complète)” (Jakobson 214).

6 Two of the poems in Pansies are actually entitled “Cups” and “Bowls” (CP 427).

7 The great river of male blood touches to its depth the great river of female blood, yet neither breaks its bounds” (LCL 324).

8 Yet, in a highly pessimistic poem (“Dies Irae”), Lawrence declares that such a flow has become hardly possible in modern society driven by “mechanical self-assertion”:

Even the old emotions are finished
All we can know at this moment
is the fulfilment of nothingness. (ll.1-16,
CP 510-11)

9 Title of one of Lawrence’s poems.

10 This poem somewhat foreshadows “Bibbles” in which Lawrence violently reacts to his dog’s excessive love and need to be loved.

11 And this fluctuation was actually already noted at the symbolic level. Lawrence relies on and exploits the various symbolic meanings of the “cup.” And the “cup,” traditionally feminine (as it is in “Snap-Dragon”) is masculine in Women in Love, when Gerald “was the firm, strong cup that receives the wine of her [Gudrun’s] life” (WL 331), while in the poem “Mystery,” the genre of the “cup” seems to remain quite mysterious.

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Elise Brault, « Emptying and Filling: a(n) (Il)logical Poetic Representation of Emotions »Études Lawrenciennes, 42 | 2011, 205-237.

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Elise Brault, « Emptying and Filling: a(n) (Il)logical Poetic Representation of Emotions »Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 42 | 2011, mis en ligne le 20 janvier 2014, consulté le 03 août 2020. URL :; DOI:

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Elise Brault

Université de Valenciennes

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