Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilNuméros44Adjectives and Anti-Imperialism i...

Adjectives and Anti-Imperialism in Lawrence’s Poetry

Sarah Bouttier
p. 77-96

Texte intégral

1Even though the titles of most of D.H. Lawrence’s poems are nouns, from “Altercation” to “Zeppelin Nights,” one of the most striking features of his poetry lies in his extensive and idiosyncratic use of adjectives. As we shall see, this may be due to the fact that adjectives are, semantically as well as syntactically, less constraining than other lexical categories such as verbs and nouns. Adjectives would therefore allow the poetic object more “freedom” from the hold of language and representation—a concern that is pregnant in Lawrence’s aesthetics.

2In her authoritative study, D.H. Lawrence: Aesthetics and Ideology, Anne Fernihough thus argues that in his writings on art, Lawrence advocates an anti-imperialist aesthetics, that is to say an aesthetics that refuses to impose its own logic onto creatures, and nature in general. In Etruscan Places, Lawrence therefore condemns the works of art of the Romans, which serve their imperialism, and damage the earth:

It is better to keep life fluid and changing than to try to hold it fast down in heavy monuments. Burdens on the face of the earth are man’s ponderous erections […]. Why this lust after imposing creeds, imposing deeds, imposing buildings, imposing language, imposing works of art? (Etruscan Places 32-33)

3Instead, he favours the “unimposing” Etruscan temples, which parallel the vividness of the cosmos instead of trying to get hold of it:

[…] terra cotta plaques fitted neatly, and alive with freely modelled painted figures in relief, gay dancing creatures, rows of ducks, round faces like the sun, and faces grinning and putting out a tongue, all vivid and fresh and unimposing. The whole thing small and dainty in proportions, and fresh, somehow charming instead of impressive. (Etruscan Places 32)

4I argue that in some of his poems, (as, undoubtedly, in some of his prose) Lawrence thus develops an aesthetics which seeks to disentangle language from its potentially imperialist power over the material world. Later in this study, I argue that this aesthetics also aims at liberating language from the imperialist power that reason and realism are believed to hold upon it. Lawrence’s idiosyncratic use of adjectives serves both these purposes.

5I am relying here on one of the OED’s definitions of imperialism, “an imperial system of government […] especially when despotic and arbitrary,” and retaining two characteristics for an imperialist power: as a system, it necessarily tends to categorize its objects, which means that it has a propensity to generalizations; it is moreover arbitrary.

6When Lawrence refers to the act of “imposing language,” or when he condemns (later in Etruscan Places, as he mentions Mussolini’s renaming of certain places) “the Fascist power to name and unname,” he himself uses the image of an imperialist language.

7Which therefore are the parts of language that are likely to seem “imperialist” to Lawrence?

8To begin, one may think of the linguistic cliché that imposes a set, commonplace image or expression upon an ever-changing reality. In her article on “Lawrence, Cézanne and the Cliché,” Ginette Katz-Roy shows that Lawrence was well aware of the dangers of clichés and was constantly trying to subvert them. To Lawrence, clichés are all the more dangerous as they are not always clearly distinct from other forms of perception, and are thus very difficult to avoid: “We can see what a fight it means, the escape from the domination of the ready-made mental concept, the mental consciousness stuffed full of clichés that intervene like a complete screen between us and life” (Phoenix 582).

9He may therefore have considered that any part of language is potentially imperialist. This would amount to subscribing to what Tzvetan Todorov calls “the romantic theory of metaphor as a rule,” (14), where language is considered as inherently metaphorical, and metaphors as inevitably fitting the material object into a system of identities in which its particularity disappears. Todorov places Nietzsche in this romantic tradition when the latter claims:

Every concept arises from the equation of unequal things. Just as it is certain that one leaf is never totally the same as another, so it is certain that the concept “leaf” is formed by arbitrarily discarding these individual differences and by forgetting the distinguishing aspects. (Nietzsche 117)

10In Apocalypse, Lawrence muses on the intuitive perception and representation of the universe in the ancient world. In doing so, he sets words against images:

It was a great depth of knowledge arrived at direct, by instinct and intuition, as we say, not by reason. It was a knowledge based not on words but on images. The abstraction was not into generalizations or into qualities, but into symbols. And the connection was not logical but emotional. The word “therefore” did not exist. (Apocalypse 91)

11Words imply “generalizations” and categorizations, via “qualities,” that is to say they enforce an imperialist power upon the object represented, by making its particularity disappear. Even though Lawrence never wholly discarded the intellect, and as a writer could not maintain that words were indiscriminately and inevitably likely to serve the imperialism of logics, and what he would have called “the ideal” over material reality, the passage quoted implies that his defiance may have applied not only to conspicuous clichés, but may have extended to more subtle potential forms of imperialism.

12When, indeed, is a poet absolutely certain that his poetic vision does not entail a categorization or a generalization? It seems that, for Lawrence, the poet’s immunity to cliché lies in the certainty that the poetic image to which he gives verbal expression does not exist prior to or apart from the experience to be conveyed. In Fantasia of the Unconscious, Lawrence describes the damage that a fixed, pre-existent idea may cause on life, and the necessarily posterior mode of any idea that is respectful of life:

[…] an idea is just the final concrete or registered result of living dynamic interchange and reactions: […] no idea is ever perfectly expressed until its dynamic cause is finished; and […] to continue to put into dynamic effect an already perfected idea means the nullification of all living activity […].The idea, the actual idea, must rise ever fresh, ever displaced, like the leaves of a tree, from out of the quickness of the sap, and according to the forever incalculable effluence of the great dynamic centres of life. (Fantasia 116)

13Admittedly, Lawrence is here focusing on education rather than on literary creation. However, similar images are to be found in the expression of his wish that, in the “Poetry of the Present,” theorized in the preface to the New Poems, everything be “left in its own rapid, fluid relationship with the rest of things” rather than turned into static “poems of eternities,” “crystalline, pearl-hard jewels,” (CP 183). This allows us to surmise that his recommendations for education also apply to literary creation.

14Therefore, just as the educator in Fantasia must let the child experience the world rather than teach it to him, the poet must, in order to avoid “the nullification of all living activity” in his poetic object, constantly ensure that his ideas, or poetic visions, come after experience, are induced by the object of the poem rather than precede it. Such a certainty is very difficult to attain, as any sort of poetic image may have its main root outside the object it is representing. The poet must make sure that his images remain “images,” akin to those of the Ancients described in Apocalypse, that they do not become imperialist “words,” generalizations and clichés. As we shall see, it is in the furtherance of such a poetic enterprise that an extensive use of adjectives is relevant.

15Among lexical categories, adjectives may indeed appear as the most fit for such a task. As I mentioned earlier, in Etruscan Places, Lawrence deplores the “Fascist power to name and unname.” As linguists such as Mark Baker put it, nouns are the most linguistic items most inclined to refer to things:

Only common nouns have a component of meaning that makes it legitimate to ask whether some X is the same (whatever) as Y. This lexical semantic property is the precondition that makes nouns particularly suited to the job of referring, since it is fundamental to reference to be able to keep designating the same entity over and over again. (Baker 96)

16Interestingly, if nouns can refer it is because of their inherent tendency to include what they refer to within a system of identity and differences. Thus, they may be said to have a stronger hold on the outer world, through their ability to categorize: they may be the “imperialist” category par excellence. Verbs may hold a certain imperialist power too, if not over things, at least over language. Indeed, as “the nucleus around which sentences are typically built” (Baker 23), they require a subject, sometimes complements, and inform the syntax of any sentence. On the contrary, adjectives may be a way out of this overwhelming power of and on language, in that they have much less referential power, and are most of the time not essential in a sentence. In fact, to Baker, adjectives are not even a proper lexical category: “Adjectives are simply the “elsewhere case” in the world of lexical categories; they appear wherever no more specialized category will do” (Baker 230).

17Adjectives appear as a very shifting category, whose identity is unclear and whose uncoercive pliancy is equally evident, whether in questions of reference or of syntax. Their extensive use may thus be the best means to write poems according to an anti-imperialist aesthetics.

18Yet adjectives abound in all types of poetry, whether they intentionally engage in such aesthetics or not. To what extent then is Lawrentian poetry particularly non-imperialist, that is to say how do Lawrentian adjectives ensure that poetic visions are “images,” in the Lawrentian meaning of the term, and not generalizations and categorizations?

19“Hibiscus and Salvia Flowers” (CP 312) is a particularly relevant example, as it is easy to consider the association of the salvia’s redness with anger, and of anger with a fantastic beast like the dragon or with fire, as a cliché. This cliché may then be an imperialist form of language, since it associates the peculiarity of the flower with what are common, pre-existing metaphors. However, the extended and peculiar use of adjectives prevents the flower from disappearing behind the cliché:

Or salvia!
Or dragon-mouthed salvia with gold throat of wrath!
Flame-flushed, enraged, splendid salvia,
Cock-crested, crowing your orange scarlet like a tocsin
Along the Corso all this Sunday morning.


The dragon-faced,
The anger-reddened, golden-throated salvia
With its long antennae of rage put out
Upon the frightened air

20Even though each adjective contributes to the building of the common metaphor, it does so with such precision, with such attention to the delicate form and intense colour of the flower that a sense of proximity with the physicality of the salvia remains. More importantly, the compound adjectives, whose second part is a past participle, highlight the process, and not the result of likening the flower to an angry dragon. Adjectives such as “cock-crested” or “golden-throated” suggest that something has been added to the flower, that the association of the flower with the dragon is not a seamless process and, most of all, that the flower existed before it was granted the attributes of an angry dragon, whereas an imperialist use of language would have attempted to erase the process and the pre-existence of the object in order to focus on the resulting image.

21Since all sorts of poetic images are deemed potentially imperialist, even when there is no obvious cliché to be warded off, Lawrentian adjectives tend to convey a sense of semantic pertinence to the object of the poem. Indeed, if we examine Lawrentian adjectives in the light of Jean Cohen’s Structure du Langage Poétique, we observe that those chosen by Lawrence in order to describe his creatures have two characteristics: they are “redundant,” and only slightly “impertinent.” By redundant, I mean that they are not determinative. As for an “impertinent” epithet, it is one whose quality is not semantically congruent with the noun it qualifies, as for example “black perfume.” Of course, a pinch of impertinence is essential to modern poetry; but if we assume that there are degrees of impertinence, then we can say that Lawrence’s adjectives are not, most of the time, very impertinent.

22For example, in “Lui et Elle” (CP 358), a poem describing a pair of tortoises, many adjectives seem semantically pertinent, either as the result of what appear as “objective” observations on the appearance of the tortoise:

Taking bread in her curved, gaping, toothless mouth
His low forehead, his skinny neck, his long, scaled, striving legs

or because the images which they convey pertain to the immediate background of the little tortoise, whether its physical background, (the adjective “earthy” occurs four times in the poem) or the non-human world it belongs to: epithets such as “reptile,” “snake-like,” or “more than bovine” also appear.

23The proximity and the non-imperialist workings of epithets are also in evidence when an image that is not acknowledged as a cliché, but which may be imperialist in that it may be granted primacy over the material poetic object, is at the core of a poem. In “Cypresses” (CP 296), Tuscan cypresses are likened to ancient Etruscan men:

Among the sinuous, flame-tall cypresses
That swayed their length of darkness all around
Etruscan-dusky, wavering men of old Etruria:
Yet more I see you darkly concentrate,
Tuscan cypresses,
On one old thought:
On one old slim imperishable thought, while you remain
Etruscan cypresses;
Dusky, slim marrow-thought of slender, flickering men of Etruria,
Whom Rome called vicious.

Vicious, dark cypresses:
Vicious, you supple, brooding, softly-swaying pillars of dark flame.

24Three images are woven together here: the cypresses, the Etruscan men, the thought they share. While such audacious associations may be considered imperialist, in that they are likely to abstract the presence of the actual tree by imposing a pre-existent image upon it, the introduction of numerous adjectives tends to convey the sense that the cypresses produce rather than endure the presence of these images. Most adjectives in this quotation relate to the idea of a physical delicate flexibility (“sinuous,” “flame-tall,” “wavering,” “slim,” “flickering,” “supple,” “softly-swaying”), which, even though it is applied to the three entities, is semantically closest or most pertinent to the tree. As a result, the tree is not forgotten in the process. On the contrary, it would seem to endow the men and the thought with its intrinsic qualities. The semantic pertinence of adjectives to the primary poetic object thus ensures that the image is a real “image” and not a cliché, since it is not pre-existent to the tree but has been elicited by its physical aspect: were it not for the presentation of the delicate flexibility of the cypresses, neither their “thought” nor the Etruscan men would have been praised for their delicacy.

25Thus, it is first through their semantic pertinence that adjectives attend to the particularity of the creature that they qualify, thus creating what Lawrence would call an “image” instead of a “generalization.” His description of the workings of images in the ancient world of Apocalypse recalls the repetition of adjectives in “Cypresses,” and the absence of linearity resulting from an endless return to the physical characteristics of the trees:

Images or symbols succeeded one another in a procession of instinctive and arbitrary physical connection—some of the Psalms give us examples—and they “get nowhere” because there was nowhere to go to, the desire was to achieve a consummation of a certain state of consciousness, to fulfil a certain state of feeling-awareness. (Apocalypse 91)

26Here Lawrence seems to be describing the movement implied by semantic pertinence: pertinent adjectives do not lead the object they describe towards something else than itself (this, in turn, would be the result of an imperialist use of language). On the contrary, their design is to achieve an awareness of the creature by endlessly returning to it, in a series of spiralling repetitions.

27At a syntactic level as well, Lawrentian adjectives serve an anti-imperialist aesthetics in the way they tend to dismantle the potential imperialism of nouns. Indeed, even though it would be an exaggeration to contend that Lawrence was wary of nouns in general, he seems to have sensed that through their strong referential power, they were, in certain circumstances, more likely to bring about generalization than a respectful attention to the object described.

28For example the poem “Lui et Elle” (CP 358), which constantly stresses the gap between the tortoise and the poet (“What she does […] I don’t know,” “she sees me not”) and which may therefore be engaged in the struggle against language’s imperialist hold on the creature, presents what is a peculiar use of adjectives. Let us consider the two following occurrences:

Opening her rather pretty wedge of an iron, pristine face
Into an enormously wide-beaked mouth
And so behold him following the tail
Of that mud-hovel of his slowly rambling spouse,

29While these prepositional constructions exist in English, it is without the epithets which here qualify the semantic nucleus “face” or “spouse.” An example found in a grammar book is that cumbersome felt animal of a hat (Garnier, Guimier and Dilys 57). The article preceding hat is here supposed to be non-referential, but determinative. It does not refer to any hat in particular. Rather it classifies the hat as being a member of that class of hats which look like cumbersome felt animals. This structure appears a rather imperialist metaphor, insofar as it does not refer to the object but integrates it into a category that it has created, replacing the object’s particularity by its identity with other items of the same category. By introducing redundant (that is, namely non determinative) epithets or proto-adjectives (“iron,” “pristine” and “slowly rambling”), before the noun, Lawrence somehow dismantles the imperialist power of such nouns and their potential for generalization, since the face and the spouse are not to be apprehended as being parts of a category that he has just defined, but in terms of their singularity. These are of course very specific occurrences, of which we only find a handful in Lawrence’s poetry. They may not however have been used by any other poet, and this is something which confers importance on them. They thus reflect a broader process, which is that the extended and peculiar use of adjectives always subverts the potential “imperialism” of a noun used as a metaphor.

30The presence of adjectives in addition to, or instead of a noun, whose generalizing tendency would be too imperialistic, is conducive to the more respectful forms of invocation found in Lawrence’s poems. Indeed while invocation, that is to say the summoning of an entity into presence, most often uses nouns, which, as we have already stated, are the most effective mode for the direct designation of things and for the apparently seamless replacement of a material object by a linguistic token utterance, Lawrence sometimes uses adjectives in poems whose status is that of invocation. It is the case in “Eagle in New Mexico” (CP 373):

With iron between your two eyes;
You feather-gloved
To the feet;
Erect one;
The god-thrust entering you steadily from below.

31The eagle is not brutally summoned. Its entire presence is not presumed to come forth though the gesture of naming. The efficiency of the poem comes not from the establishment of a link between the verbal utterance and the eagle which is the subject of its invocation. It results from the gradual building of the link. A noun would furthermore inevitably categorize the bird (in relation or in distinction to other eagles, other species, etc.), whereas these manifold adjectives attempt, one after the other, to reach to a perfection of pertinence that will allow the reader to grasp this particular eagle in its integrity. Putting to the fore the gradual accession to the presence of the eagle is an anti-imperialist position insofar as it does not seem to summon an eagle through any pre-conceived name. It rather attends to its singularity, carrying the implication that the poetic vision is here posterior to the relation to the creature.

32This mode of deferent, anti-imperialist operation is present with greatest force in compound adjectives:

Cyclamen leaves
Toad-filmy, earth-iridescent
Spumed with mud
Low down. (“Sicilian Cyclamens” CP 310)

33In compounds such as “toad-filmy,” “earth-iridescent” or “snail-nacreous” two tendencies, which could be construed as imperialist, are opposed. Firstly, though a hasty association of cyclamen leaves with toads, earth and snail may have been conducive to a form of metonymic continuity, it may also have resulted in the cyclamen leaves losing their individuality. However the second adjective in each compound prevents any sense of complete merging, doing so by expressing a form of physical resistance in the cyclamens. Indeed in their description of the light emanating from the leaves, adjectives such as “filigreed,” “iridescent” or “nacreous” refer to a light reflected or filtered by a material that is not entirely transparent, so that the cyclamen leaves retain a form of integrity and do not therefore become a mere projection of the light or of other elements inhabiting their immediate environment. Secondly, the addition of a noun to adjectives such as “iridescent” or “nacreous” prevents these qualifiers from stating essential qualities in the cyclamens. Qualities, in Lawrence’s conception of images in Apocalypse, are considered as generalizations and are opposed to singular images. Cyclamen leaves are iridescent and nacreous, but only to the extent that earth and snails are respectively iridescent and nacreous as well. Compound adjectives thus encapsulate the tensions an anti-imperialist aesthetics inevitably triggers in Lawrence’s poems: language is constantly fighting against its own inclination to generalization.

34Such an example shows that adjectives appear not only to be the best linguistic tool with which to fight the generalizing tendency in language. They are also the linguistic category within which the conflict is the most visible. Adjectives are not only the agents of an anti-imperialist aesthetics, they also bear the marks of the latter’s operation within language.

35Indeed if, for Lawrence, language is endowed with an imperialist tendency to generalize instead of letting images come forth from poetic objects, it will require the exercise of a certain power over language on the part of the poet to counter this drive and finally represent things without making their singularity disappear into generalizations and categorizations. Since adjectives would seem to be the most “passive” of lexical categories, they may be the first to be affected by this transfer of power.

36Adjectives in Lawrence’s poetry are indeed deeply marked by this transfer of power. For example, the traditional semantic categories of adjectives, whose conventional use participates in the logocentric mimetic vision of the world, are often subverted: qualities traditionally considered as essential (the redness of a flower, the reptilian aspect of a tortoise) are presented as contingent and to be marvelled at:

In Syracuse, rock left bare by the viciousness of Greek women,
No doubt, you have forgotten the pomegranate-trees in flower,
Oh so red, and such a lot of them. (“Pomegranate” CP 278)

O Mistress, Mistress,
Reptile mistress,
Your eye is very dark, very bright […]. (“Lui et Elle” CP 358)

37This subverted use of contingent qualities as essential qualities proves to be part and parcel of the anti-imperialist aesthetics. Indeed, it assumes that what an imperialist use of language, whose inclination is to categorization, usually construes as essential qualities, and as such not to be questioned, are present in the objects described only by virtue of improbable miracle. This process removes any presupposition, because the object is defined and characterized each time from scratch: in Lawrentian terminology, it allows these “qualities” to become “images.”

38Anne Fernihough shows that for Lawrence, mimesis tends to deny phenomena a real presence, for which is substituted an essential, and thus necessarily selective, idea of the thing represented, so that things are made to fit into a general and supposedly objective idea of what they are or should be, being made to disappear in the process: “The realist project, then, can be seen to imply an erosion of presentness. […] The real becomes hidden rather than openly present” (Fernihough 179).

39In that sense, mimesis is just a further aspect of the overall imperialist tendency of language, and the use of adjectives which are habitually expressive of the essential qualities in order to convey what instead are contingent qualities appears as a way to attenuate this drive. As a result, the more authorial power there is directed towards language and to the textual world, the less “realist” a text is and the more the poetic object is respected in its non-textual singularity.

40What we can examine now is the nature of the power that affects language (and in particular adjectives), and no longer things, within an anti-imperialist aesthetics. Are we dealing with a pure transfer of power, or is authorial power transformed in the process? What, furthermore, is its overall effect on language?

41I have established that the imperialist power of language over material reality exerts itself by imposing a pre-existent cliché upon material reality. This cliché is both arbitrary, since it is not commanded by an experience of the material reality, and generalizing, since, by naming the material object, it tends to include it within a wider category which cannot apprehend its singularity. Now both the arbitrary quality and the generalizing tendency of the imperialist power of language over things disappear when this power is transferred and displaced. Indeed, in lines such as those quoted above from “Pomegranate” and “Lui et Elle,” the authorial power that appears to be exerted through the use of essential adjectives as if they were contingent is only equal to the power that is imposed on things when they are attributed fixed, essential qualities. It is only because in the first place language obeys a logocentric, mimetic system, according to which some qualities are essential to a noun while others are not, that power is required in order to overcome this system. The poet must therefore manifest his power over language in order to counter this drive and finally break “the stiff neck of [language’s] habits” (“Poetry of the Present” CP 184). Moreover, in merging categories such as those of essential and contingent qualities, Lawrence liberates language as much as it liberates the poetic object that it describes: the generalizing drive of the imperialist power has also disappeared in the process.

42Therefore, not only does the transfer of power liberate poetic objects from their imperialist representation, but by rendering language more fluid and more open to new possibilities, it also redeems a certain materiality of language itself. Indeed, if language becomes affected and is no longer a mere tool, it is endowed with the possibility of its being passive. Showing the mark of this power on language implies that language is material enough to be imprinted upon, as material as the Etruscan earth bearing the mark of the Roman monuments.

43The authorial power which Lawrence confers on adjectives would thus appear to serve the credo he shares with Heidegger, according to Fernihough: art must not pretend to reach any underlying truth, but, on the contrary, must show its own nature as art. For a poem, this means the foregrounding of textuality, so that even though we may not grasp the phenomenon described, it at least shows something actually present. The poem thus becomes something that exists for itself, just as the phenomenon exists for itself and not in order to be fitted into a pre-existing category or cliché. Through the slightly distorted use of adjectives, the poems appear as examples of things in themselves, not directly referring to a poetic object but sharing its way of existing.

44The distortion of the use of adjectives in order to redeem corporeality both for and within the text involves many other aspects other than the inversion of essential and contingent qualities. It seems that the many uncanny accumulations, the “strings” of adjectives to be found in Lawrence’s poetry, all serve that purpose.

45In “Cypresses,” (CP 296) Lawrence deplores the emptiness of modern languages compared to the vitality of the bygone Etruscans and their language. He does not however admit defeat. Precisely thanks to adjectives, the poet seeks to redeem a certain materiality of and in language: “Vicious, you supple, brooding, softly-swaying pillars of dark flame.” Here, nouns are reduced to a pronoun (“you”) and a biblical symbol (“pillar of flame”). They are the “empty seed-pods,” the poem claims words have become, unable to tell the mysterious secret of the Etruscans embalmed in the cypresses. The Adjectives (and I include the gerundives, which have an attributive function here), are however redundant, unexpected, they are placed in focal position; moreover, they are not only qualifying but are themselves qualified by adverbs. Lawrence takes advantage of the flexibility of adjectives to use them as layers of textual units. These units, just like the painterly brushstrokes Lawrence admired in Cézanne, interact and are added to each other in order to convey a synthetic idea of the object while not concealing that the line is textual.

46The analogy between these adjectives and Cézanne’s painterly brushstrokes can be further applied to the organization of these long strings of adjectives that are emblematic of Lawrence’s poetry. In “Turkey Cock” (CP 369), adjectives insist on their own textuality through an erratic network of relationships:

Burning, pale positive pole of your wattled head!
And from the darkness of that opposite one
The upstart of your round-barred, sun-round tail!

47In the first line, “pale” and “positive” are linked as if they were on the same level, even though one expresses an essential quality while the other expresses a dynamic one. Similarly, the juxtaposition of “round-barred” and “sun-round” exploits the plasticity of adjectives, their ability to elicit variations upon a sound or a semantic nucleus. As a result, these adjectives seem endowed with mysterious, non-logical connections to each other, bound together by a sort of contagion, in the absence however of any ultimate overcoming on the part of a quality thus rendered imperial. Indeed, adjectives still appear equal with one another, as a word per se is only worth another word, or a brushstroke another brushstroke, but their mysterious and non-hierarchical relationship is able to conjure up a poetic image. Just as, for Cézanne, a few brushstrokes somehow suggest an object without losing their “paintedness” in the process, in the long strings of adjectives, the association of textuality and mystery parallels, rather than refers to, the mode of being of Lawrence’s poetic objects.

48Adjectives thus serve an anti-imperialist aesthetics in the poems: their extended and idiosyncratic use conveys the impression that the poetic visions are elicited by their objects, and not imposed upon them. Syntactically, Lawrentian adjectives dismantle the occasional generalizing power of nouns by replacing them, or abundantly qualifying them. This anti-imperialist aesthetics entails a transfer of power. In an anti-realist movement, the usual imperial power of language is disturbed and it is the adjectives which are the most affected. Their pliancy as a lexical category thus allows them to be distorted and to be accumulated in an attempt to attain a form of textual corporeality meant to echo the physicality of Cézanne’s brushstrokes, of Etruscan frescoes, and of each of Lawrence’s poetic objects.

Haut de page


Works Cited

Baker, Mark C. Lexical Categories: Verbs, Nouns and Adjectives. Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Cohen, Jean. Structure du langange poétique. Paris: Flammarion, 1966.

Fernihough, Anne. D.H. Lawrence: Aesthetics and Ideology. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993.

Garnier, Georges, Guimier Claude et Dilys, Rosalind. L’Épreuve de linguistique à l’agrégation d’anglais : grammaire, phonologie, Paris: Nathan Université, 2002.

Katz-Roy, Ginette. “Lawrence, Cézanne and the Cliché” in Études Lawrenciennes 19 (1999).

Lawrence, D.H. Apocalypse. Ed. Mara Kalnins. Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Lawrence, D.H. Complete Poems. Ed. Vivian de Sola Pinto and Warren Roberts. London: Penguin, 1977.

Lawrence, D.H. Sketches of Etruscan Places and other Italian Essays. Ed. Simonetta de Filippis. Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Lawrence, D.H. Fantasia of the Unconscious in Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious and Fantasia of the Unconscious. Ed. Bruce Steele. Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Lawrence, D.H. Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D.H. Lawrence. London: Heinemann, 1936.

Nietzsche, Friedrich W. “On Truth and Lies in the Nonmoral Sense” in Ansell-Pearson, Keith (ed.) and Large, Duncan (ed.). The Nietzsche Reader. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006.

Todorov, Tzvetan, et al. Sémantique de la poésie, Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1979.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Sarah Bouttier, « Adjectives and Anti-Imperialism in Lawrence’s Poetry »Études Lawrenciennes, 44 | 2013, 77-96.

Référence électronique

Sarah Bouttier, « Adjectives and Anti-Imperialism in Lawrence’s Poetry »Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 44 | 2013, mis en ligne le 01 avril 2014, consulté le 18 juin 2021. URL : ; DOI :

Haut de page


Sarah Bouttier

Sarah Bouttier received her PhD (Writing the Non-Human in D.H. Lawrence’s Poetry) from La Sorbonne Nouvelle in December 2011, and is currently teaching English Literature and Linguistics at the University of Stockholm, Sweden. Her research interests include 20th and 21st century poetry and representations of the non-human in literature.

Articles du même auteur

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Études lawrenciennes est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Haut de page
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search