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Blake and Lawrence between the Relative and the Absolute

Nick Ceramella

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  • 1 The Letters of William Blake. Ed. Geoffrey Keynes (Cambridge: MA, 1968), 59-63.

1Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Lawrence’s vision of the world is its dualism. In his Study of Thomas Hardy he insists on the opposition between light and dark, good and evil, soul and mind, Father and Son. This recalls William Blake who, likewise, used to explore opposite ideas balancing one against the other. However, the two writers did not only share their focus on themes of contrasting forces. They also had in common the belief that there is something beyond what we call the real world, that there are in the world “things that cannot be seen” and which may only be perceived through what Lawrence called the “third eye”1 and Blake the “fourfold vision.” Here is how the latter presents it at the end of this famous letter to his friend, Thomas Butts (22 Nov. 1802):

Now I a fourfold vision see,
And a fourfold vision is given to me:
’Tis fourfold in my supreme delight
And threefold in soft Beulah’s night
And twofold always, may God us keep
From single vision and Newton’s sleep!

2In other words, what Blake suggests here is that we all experience single and threefold vision. And more specifically, according to Neville Goddard, Blake described threefold and fourfold vision as follows:

threefold vision is yours when the images begin to dream, to have love affairs, marry, and beget. Your dreams of the day and night are threefold vision, which he [Blake] calls “soft Beulah’s night.” Your moods are your dreams in daylight, forming a threefold vision. Capture a mood which would imply the fulfilment of your desire, then become so intense in that threefold vision that you enter your fulfilled desire, and you will move into fourfold vision.2

3Lawrence uses the term “third eye” in an almost similar way in St Mawr when Cartwright evokes Pan: “[…] He was Pan, All: what you see when you see in full. In the daytime you see the thing. But if your third eye is open, which sees only the things that can’t be seen, you may see Pan within the thing, hidden: you may see with your third eye, which is darkness” (StM 65).

4Lawrence refers to the “third eye” also in Apocalypse, describing the resurrection or second rebirth which takes place at the end of the ritual of the Mysteries of Isis. And again, in “The Woman Who Rode Away” where the unnamed heroine has her “third eye” opened by the drugs which the Indians who had captured her force her to take. One further instance may be found in a letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell, dated 24 May 1916 where, alluding to Women in Love, he writes:

I have got a long way with my novel. It comes rapidly, and is very good. When one is shaken to the very depths, one finds reality in the unreal world. At present my real world is the world of my inner soul, which reflects on to the novel I write. The outer world is there to be endured, it is not real –neither the outer life. (Lii 610)

  • 3 William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Ed. Geoffrey Keynes (Oxford: Oxford University Pres (...)

5Like Blake, Lawrence was struggling to free himself from the false perception of the outer world. He also wrote to Mark Gertler: “Nothing matters, in the end, but the little hard flame of truth one has inside oneself, and which does not blow about in the draught of blasphemous living. It seems to me, things matter to one less and less and less, till little remains to one but the pure abstraction within one, and that is inviolable” (Ibid. 657). He shared with Blake a dualistic conception of the world. This is perceptible notably in such a poem as “Pomegranate” (Birds, Beasts and Flowers), where, like Blake, he makes us imagine the existence of two different worlds, one that we know well, which is about to die and break apart, owing to the pressure of the other –the mystical world: “The end cracks open with the beginning: / Rosy, tender, glittering within the fissure” (CP 278). Of equal importance is the relatedness between human beings and the surrounding environment, which both writers extend to the relationship with the cosmos. Blake expressed that through opposite principles in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, stressing how much the contrast is needed: “Without contraries there is no progression. Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence. […] From these contraries spring what the religious call good and evil.”3

6There is a similar dualistic vision in most of Lawrence’s works. He believed that only a polarized tension between antithetical elements can result in the fulfillment of beings and their consequent equilibrium. The acceptance of duality produces a purer being, as he maintains in the essay “The Reality of Peace”: “Because we are both these, because we are lambs, frail and exposed, because we are lions furious and devouring, because we are both and have the courage to be both. […]” (RDP 48). Needless to say that the lion and the lamb echo Blake’s “lamb” and “tiger” whose “fearful symmetry” he sees as absolute perfection both in artistic and natural terms. This Blakeian influence can be clearly seen in the poem “Michael Angelo” where Lawrence employs Blake’s typical rhetoric language: “Who shook the roundness in his finger’s cup? / Who sunk his hands in firmness down thy sides?” (CP 69) to be compared with Blake’s: “What immortal hand or eye, / Dare frame thy fearful symmetry? And Lawrence will again make an explicit reference to Blake’s contrasting images of the Creator in the 1915 second version of Twilight in Italy, when discussing the power of the ego:

There is the I, always the I. And the mind is submerged, overcome. But the senses are superbly arrogant. The senses are the absolute, the god-like. For I can never have another man’s senses. These are me, my senses absolutely me. […] The rest, that is not me, is nothing, it is something which is nothing. So the Italian, through centuries, has avoided our northern purposive industry, because it has seemed to him a form of nothingness. It is the spirit of the tiger. The tiger is the manifestation of the senses made absolute. This is the “Tiger, tiger, burning bright, / In the forests of the night” of Blake. It does indeed burn within the darkness. But the essential fire of the tiger is like a cold and white ecstasy. (TI 117)

7The dichotomy between the tiger and the lamb hinges on the physical representation of human beings, which is the very core of Lawrence’s dualistic philosophy, where the opposed elements are apprehended in symbolic terms which can be figured by way of the dichotomy of the eagle and the dove, or the lion and the unicorn. However, unlike all the other dualist philosophers, Lawrence imagines a union where the discordant forces preserve their integrity. Hence, they do not merge into one but complement each other as he intends to show in Twilight in Italy:

It is past the time to cease seeking one Infinite, ignoring, striving to eliminate the other. The Infinite is twofold, the Father and the Son, the Dark and the Light, the Senses and the Mind, the Soul and the Spirit, the self and the non-self, the Eagle and the Dove, the Tiger and the Lamb. The consummation of man is twofold, in the Self and in the Selflessness. (Ibid. 125)

8Lawrence suggests that there are two Infinites: the Original, Creative one, which is reached by going back to the darkness within ourselves, and the Ultimate one, which is reached by projecting ourselves forward, an accomplishment which is obtainable through the elimination of our absolute sensual self. Despite that, he says that man “must never confuse them. They are eternally separate. The lion shall never lie with the lamb. The lion eternally shall devour the lamb, the lamb eternally shall be devoured of the lion,” then he concludes that “There are two opposite ways to consummation. But that which relates them, like the base of the triangle, this is the constant, the Absolute, this makes the Ultimate Whole” (Ibid. 126). This position led Lawrence to view the relationship between men and women in much the same way. He set out his concept of duality in terms of the “female” (Will-to-Inertia) and the “male” (Will-to-Motion), two principles that can be included in the principles of Love and Law, without which nothing can be created unless they are united. Yet, he also stresses that, however fruitful their union may be, this is not a merging of the two opposites into one but is rather a way to bring to perfection the one with the other. In brief, it would seem that it is the connection itself that is the only Absolute which Lawrence is ready to acknowledge, as he declares in “The Novel”: “A man’s manhood is to honour the flames in him, and to show that none of them is absolute: even a flame is only relative” (STH 189). It follows that sex is seen as a flame scorching the absolute and the ego, while placing the duality of male and female in a central position in his dualism.

9Now, I will try to show how Lawrence embodies all that in his fiction, though before proceeding I would like to duly stress how he attacks the predominance of the “moral absolute”:

The novel is a great discovery: far greater than Galileo’s telescope or somebody else’s wireless. The novel is the highest form of human expression so far attained. Why? Because it is so incapable of the absolute,” adding that “in a novel, everything is relative to everything else, if that novel is art at all. (Ibid. 189)

10It is worth noting that, while Lawrence here emphasizes his hate for the “moral absolutes,” in “Why the Novel Matters” he explores the relativity of parts and wholes to celebrate the novel over philosophy, science, and religion, which only concern part of us, whereas the novel reaches us thoroughly. Therefore, he concludes that “We should ask for no absolutes. Once and for all and for ever, let us have done with the ugly imperialism of any absolute” (Ibid. 196).15 Lawrence tried to put that in practice by associating his father with the female principle and his mother with the male, thus breaching his own nature. It is this infringement that led him to harmonise the opposite sexes within himself. In order to achieve that, he struggled through all his life, which proves that his concern for sexual relationships is twofold since it is also connected with his intimate conflict.

11This is evident in his milestone novels, starting from Sons and Lovers, which represents Lawrence’s attempt to exorcise the Oedipus complex and solve the problems with the girls he flirted with, thus leaving a deep feeling of duality through all his life. This struggle can also be detected in the subsequent period of his creative activity when he wrote two of his best novels, The Rainbow and Women in Love. It is there that he tried to reconcile and balance the male and female principles, what he calls in Study of Thomas Hardy, the “law of the man” and the “law of the woman.” In this essay, Lawrence maintained that the male-female opposition is not just a case of duality, but is the very principle on which this dichotomy is based: “Man and woman are, roughly, the embodiment of Love and the Law: they are the two complimentary parts […]” (Ibid. 127). On the personal level what he meant can be best understood by considering his dualistic conception of love in which the sex act is a union and not a fusion of man and woman:

But the love between a man and a woman, when it is whole, is dual. It is the melting into pure consummation, and it is the friction of sheer sensuality, both. […] All whole love between man and woman is thus dual, a love which is the motion of melting, fusing together into oneness, and a love which is the intense, frictional, and sensual gratification of being burnt down […]. There must be two in one, always two in one –the sweet love of communion and the fierce, proud love of sensual fulfilment, both together in one love. (RDP 10-11)

12In other words, this means that the source of all life and knowledge is in man and woman who are bound to meet. This is also the case in The Rainbow where we can see that the coming together of Tom and Lydia represents the first step towards some sort of true male-female polarity as envisaged in the Hardy essay: “she awakens her senses, whereas he thanks to her meets the unknown, what he feels as ‘the awful unknown’” (R 88). But after two years of marriage, Tom is “tortured” when he realises that he is far from conquering the unknown because she always remains “other than himself.” Given the relevance that the “rainbow” has to the theme we are addressing here, it seems clear that Lawrence uses it as a symbol through which to convey his sense of unity in a dualistic universe uniting heaven and earth (recalling “the intercourse between heaven and earth” in the opening pages of the novel), sun and water, which is what he calls the “two in one” (Ibid. 10). He tries to show how the conflicting desires to preserve the self and yield to the beloved can be reconciled through the rainbow in a balance of separate and responsive forces. Here is how Henry Miller throws further light on the issue:

  • 4 Henry Miller, In the World of Lawrence (Oxford: Olden Press, 1985), 222.

[Lawrence] is forever bringing one back to the source, to the very heart of the cosmos, through a mystic labyrinth by means of symbol and metaphor. Phoenix, Crown, Rainbow, Plumed Serpent, all these symbols center upon the same obsessive idea: the resolution of two opposites in the form of a symbolic mystery.4

  • 5 John Middleton Murry, D. H. Lawrence: Son of Woman (London: Lowe & Brydone, 1936), 101.

13John Middleton Murry, refering to those very Lawrencian symbols said that the rainbow, representing Lawrence’s sense of a unity in a dualistic universe, uniting heaven and earth, is endowed with the same symbolic meaning as the Holy Ghost which connects the dual nature of God, while the crown, relating the lion and the unicorn, is a “symbol of their unity in division.”5

14In Women in Love, Lawrence once again struggles to reconcile and balance the male and female principles. But here, Gerald, whose deepest desire is to bend Gudrun to his will applies the forceful thrust of his real self, that of the wilful industrial magnate, to impose his dominance: “And she, subject, received him as a vessel filled with his bitter poison of death. She had no power at the crisis to resist. The terrible frictional violence of death filled her, and she received it in an ecstasy of subjection, in throes of acute, violent sensation […]” (WL 344). In “The Crown,” Lawrence explains what he means by “frictional,” saying that “ego reacts upon ego only in friction. […] And then, when a man seeks a woman, he seeks not a consummation in union, but a frictional reduction” (RDP 283) (See also letter to C. Carswell, July 1916). This is far from the ideal relationship which Lawrence has in mind, and which Birkin aspires to with Ursula, that of a “mutual unison in separateness,” (WL 264) or “the pure duality of polarization, each one free from any contamination of the other” (Ibid. 201). Birkin manages to find this polar equilibrium, Gerald fails to do that. Gerald is the rich and successful industrialist who, after his father’s death, radically changes the work system in the mines by introducing some new machinery imported from the United States, and electrifies the production chain. The system he devises is so perfect that he becomes some sort of inhuman, superior, mechanical instrument elevating himself above the level of the God of the machine, if I may use Lawrence’s own expression. Gerald realises that, unless he is in his dark underground world, deep down in the mines where he can mercilessly disrupt the lives of the miners, he has no identity. In line with my argument here, I wish to suggest that this represents an example of how the absolute becomes relative, leaving Gerald, a God on earth with his devilish machinery, in a state of annihilation.

  • 6 D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover Version 1 in The First and Second Lady Chatterley Novels. E (...)

15Finally, this figure is an anticipation of that of Sir Clifford, in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Lawrence’s last novel, which is based once again on a set of opposites. In the first place, there are the two antipodal “worlds” of the setting: the mansion, Wragby Hall, and the wood, Sherwood Forest, or rather what is left of it. As a counterpart to these places, there are two completely different characters, Sir Clifford, the owner of Wragby, and Mellors, Lady Chatterley’s lover, who lives in a hut in the wood. The rich industrialist who destroys the local environment, the “almighty” mine owner, is however reduced to the state of an impotent cripple, dependent on his modern machinery to blight nature and harm the lives of the miners. This man is some sort of half-human robot, dependent on a motorised chair to move around. One day, when he goes to the wood, accompanied by Connie, the engine stops, and he refuses Connie’s help to push it by angrily saying: “What’s the good of the damned thing if it has to be pushed!” (LCh 187) But he has no option other than to summon Mellors, who comes and obediently pushes the chair, while declaring, “I ride upon the achievements of the mind of man, and that beats a horse” (Ibid. 179). This remark recalls an episode in Women in Love when Gerald forces his mare to “stand with him at the railway crossing whilst a horrible lot of trucks went by. Hermione asked him why he did that, and he replied: ‘She must learn to stand –what use is she to me in this country, if she shies and goes off every time an engine whistles” (WL 138). Most importantly, this combination of man and machine shows that Clifford is far from being the mighty person, who keeps everybody and everything under control. This is merely an illusion, showing that, after all, he is only half human. He is presented to us as “having suffered so much, the capacity for suffering had to some extent left him” (LCh 6). Indeed, Lawrence is utterly pitiless in his depiction of Clifford as someone in a state of complete dependence on a machine and on the help of other people. Unlike Mellors, he is a man who, due to his paralysis, has no idea of what a sexual relation is all about. He lives in detachment from the real world, seemingly devoid of any feelings either with women or with the miners. Thus, Clifford and Mellors are a living dramatization of a conflict between “mental consciousness” and “phallic consciousness” which Lawrence comments on as follows:” Man need not sacrifice the intellect to the penis, nor the penis to the intellect. But there is an eternal hostility between the two, and life is forever torn across by the conflict between the two of them. Yet man has a holy ghost inside him which partakes of the nature of both.”6

16It is not at all surprising that ever since Lawrence started working on Lady Chatterley’s Lover, as testified by its three different versions, his aim was to reconcile this conflict. But the problem was that the “phallic consciousness” was his way of giving himself “female” qualities while using a “male” expression. Only in his later works as in Lady Chatterley did he seem to be more relaxed and less fearful that he might lose his identity in sexual intercourse, seen as a destructive experience. Mellors overcomes that phobia, and Connie tells him he has something that “other men don’t have.” He asks her what that is and she answers, “It’s the courage of your own tenderness” (LCh 277). Indeed, it is tenderness that drives out all fear of the “loss of identity,” as was the case with Birkin, who insists on singleness in Women in Love, whereas Will in The Rainbow is ready to merge with Anna in an undistinguished oneness, “two in one.” But in Lady Chatterley the process is a gradual one, and until the appearance of Mellors, none of Lawrence’s male characters succeeds in giving himself as generously to his partner as when he and Connie lose themselves in each other. Lawrence shows how this reluctance can be overcome: “And she felt him like a flame of desire, yet tender, and she felt herself melting in the flame. She let herself go.”33 This is a case of yielding to primeval tenderness when they are both willing to accept their loss of self, which represents Lawrence’s attempt to reconcile sensuality with love and tenderness. After that encounter Connie runs home, waking to the “living universe.” At the end of the novel Mellors writes her a most significant letter, reading: “So I believe in the little flame between us. For me now, it’s the only thing in the world. I’ve got no friends, not inward friends. Only you. And now the little flame is all I care about in my life. […] It’s my Pentecost, the forked flame between me and you” (Ibid. 173).

17Lawrence’s work has thus come full circle. He has found the “third thing” between man and woman. Instead of the rainbow here, there is the pentecostal forked flame. Yet, while in Lady Chatterley Connie is expecting, in The Rainbow Ursula has a miscarriage. However, it is difficult to say whether Lawrence managed to reconcile the “male” and the “female” impulses in himself. The dilemma continued to cause a violent clash within himself as shown through his main novels until his last days spent working on Lady Chatterley. This proves there is no absolute truth in the division between the two sexes, even that is relative. To end, I would like to quote from A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, where Lawrence says what I consider a very appropriate close to the argument here:

  • 7 D. H. Lawrence, A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in LC, 334.

Then one paper pitying the poor printer who was deceived into printing the book. Not deceived at all. A white-moustached little man [Pino Orioli] who has just married a second wife, he was told: Now the book contains such and such words, in English, and it describes certain things. Don’t you print it if you think it will get you into trouble! — What does it describe? he asked. And when told, he said, with the short indifference of a Florentine: O! ma! But we do it every day! — And that seemed, to him, to settle the matter entirely. Since it was nothing political or out of the way, there was nothing to think about. Everyday concerns, commonplace.7

18On reading the above and seeing how an average person like a Florentine printer responds so openly and honestly to a novel involving sexual intercourse, we are made to comprehend that writing about sexual intercourse as Lawrence did, could imply an equally honest attitude of mind and an open-mindedness towards such a natural act, thus further confirming that nothing is absolute, that it all depends on questions of cultural background. Or, drawing on Shakespeare, we might indeed conclude that it was “much ado about nothing,” and as Orioli says, in agreement with Lawrence, that it was just “commonplace.”

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Blake, William. The Letters of William Blake. Ed. Geoffrey Keynes. Cambridge: MA, 1968.

—. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Ed. Geoffrey Keynes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975.

Goddard, Neville. Fourfold Vision, 01-26-1968 (

Lawrence, D. H. The Complete Poems. Eds. and intro. Vivian De Sola Pinto & Warren Roberts. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1977.

—. The Letters of D. H. Lawrence Vol. II. Eds. George J. Zytaruk & James T. Boulton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

—. Reflection on the Death of a Porcupine. Ed. Michael Herbert. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

—. St Mawr and Other Stories. Ed. Brian Finney. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

—. Twilight in Italy. Ed. Paul Eggert. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

—. “The Novel” in Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays. Ed. Bruce Steele. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

—. The Rainbow. Ed. Mark Kinkead Weekes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

—. Women in Love. Eds. D. Farmer, L. Vasey, J. Worthen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

—. Fantasia of the Unconscious. Ed. Bruce Steele. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

—. Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Ed. Michael Squires. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

—. Lady Chatterley’s Lover Version 1 in The First and Second Lady Chatterley Novels. Eds. D. Mehl & C. Jansohn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

—. “A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Ed. Michael Squires. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Murry, John Middleton. D. H. Lawrence: Son of Woman. London: Lowe & Brydone, 1936.

Miller, Henry. In the World of Lawrence. Oxford: Olden Press, 1985.

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Note de fin

1 The Letters of William Blake. Ed. Geoffrey Keynes (Cambridge: MA, 1968), 59-63.

2 Neville Goddard, Fourfold Vision, 01-26-1968 (

3 William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Ed. Geoffrey Keynes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), XVI.

4 Henry Miller, In the World of Lawrence (Oxford: Olden Press, 1985), 222.

5 John Middleton Murry, D. H. Lawrence: Son of Woman (London: Lowe & Brydone, 1936), 101.

6 D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover Version 1 in The First and Second Lady Chatterley Novels. Eds. D. Mehl & C. Jansohn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 132.

7 D. H. Lawrence, A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in LC, 334.

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Nick Ceramella, « Blake and Lawrence between the Relative and the Absolute »Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 51 | 2020, mis en ligne le 10 juillet 2020, consulté le 31 octobre 2020. URL :; DOI:

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Nick Ceramella

Nick Ceramellataught English and American Literatures, Translation Studies, History of English, and ESP in various Italian Universities: Napoli (‘l’Orientale’), Roma (‘La Sapienza’, ‘Roma Tre’, ‘LUMSA’), Perugia, l’Aquila, and Trento. He was visiting professor at the Universities of Maceiò (Brazil) and Moscow. From 2010 to 2013, he was a curricula developer and consultant of English literature, Translation studies, and ESP, in the EU financed project for the Advancement of Languages c/o University of Perugia. His latest publications include: “Lorenzo at the Theatre: Meeting Actors and Audience”(Journal DHL Studies,Eastwood, UK, 2107); Lake Garda: Gateway to D. H. Lawrence’s Voyage to the Sun (Cambridge Scholar’s Publishing, 2013); “Italian American Women Writers: The Long and Winding Road to a National Identity” in Voices in Italian Americana (Bordighera Press c/o Calandra University, NY, 2017); “HamletTorn Between Catholicism and Protestantism” (Cambridge Scholar’s Publishing, 2016); “Silence Symphony” Conducted by Pinter and Eduardo, Two World Theatre Maestri’ in Harold  Pinter on International Stages (Frankfurt am Mein: Peter Lang, 2014); Cambridge English for the Media, New edition Shanghai Foreign Language Press, China, under CUP licencing, 2014).

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