March 2

Dorothy Brett's 1925 portrait of DHL

The Man Who Died, died. Frieda described it like this:

"He never felt like an invalid, I saw to that! Never should he feel a poor sick thing as long as I was there and his spirit! Now we had to give in... we were beaten. With a set face Lawrence made me bring all of his papers onto his bed and he tore most of them up and made everything tidy and neat and helped to pack his own trunks and I never cried... His self-discipline kept me up, and my admiration for his unfailing courage...

"Patiently, with a desperate silence, Lawrence set out on his last journey... in spite of his thinness and his illness he never lost his dignity, he fought on and he never lost hope. Friends brought flowers, pink and red cyclamen and hyacinths and fruit... One day he said to my daughter, 'Your mother doesn’t care for me anymore, the death in me is repellent to her.' But it was the sadness of his suffering... and he would not eat and he had much pain... and we tried so hard to think of different foods for him. His friends tried to help him, the De Chiaras and the Brewsters and Aldous and Maria Huxley and Ida Rauh. Wells came to see him, and the Aga Khan with his charming wife. Jo Davidson did a bust of him...

"We prepared to take him out of the nursing home and rented a villa... It was the only time he allowed me to put on his shoes, everything else he always did for himself..."

No, I don’t want to write down any more of this. The death of Lawrence still seems to me akin to the death of life itself. The world divides into two camps around his grave, the spitters and the acolytes; I have always found it hard to make any sort of friendship with the other sort.

(And writing that makes me suddenly realise why I have never called myself an atheist, even though I reject that infantile fantasy of the white-bearded Santa wrapping his karma-gifts in reindeer heaven. To refuse to accept a fairy-tale is one thing, but atheism is the denial not just of the atavism and the superstition, but of the force of life embodied in the metaphor as well.)

8a Victoria Street, Eastwood, Nottingham
Lawrence once described his life as a "savage pilgrimage", and reading his work has always seemed to me to merit the same description - I confess (confession is an integral element of pilgrimage, or so my Christian and Moslem friends tell me) that I have read everything that Lawrence ever wrote: the poems, the novels (many of them more than once), the short stories (ditto, and taught many of them for GCSE and A level as well), the essays (all the critical essays and travelogue and journalism collected in the three volumes of "Phoenix"), the letters (not the ones in German, that would have been beyond me, but in translation). Twice I have gone further, and made a physical pilgrimage.

The first time was back in the late 1980s, to his childhood home in Eastwood, now a museum in his honour, to see where he grew up, right there in the heart of the Black Country collieries where his father was worked to death with emphysema and silicone-induced cancer, the one fictionalised in his "auto-mythology" (my term for any novel that is really a memoir in disguise) "Sons and Lovers"... you can't understand an author unless you have glimpsed, at the very minimum, the wounds and scars of childhood that drove him into writing in the first place, and DHL's were deep as coal mines, deep as the gorgeous valleys that the coal-mines somehow managed not to ruin, deep as the human heart and its capacity for joy as well as pain.

The second time was fully thirty years later, on a road-trip from Florida to California that took us through Albuquerque and Los Alamos and Santa Fe (Ogha Po'oge to the Tewa people, Yootó to the Navajo), to the summit of what the Pueblo Indians call "Big Mountain", the uplands of the Camino Real of New Mexico, to Taos, where DHL lived on and off from September 1922, and wrote "Mornings in Mexico" and "The Plumed Serpent" and the "Studies in Classic American Literature", and where nine of the paintings that were banned as obscene in England can still be seen, at La Honda hotel in the centre of the tourist part of Taos.

Twenty miles north of Taos, closer to San Cristobal, now owned by the university of New Mexico, but closed to visitors on the only day that we were passing through, is the Kiowa Ranch, owned by Mabel Dodge Luhan, the woman who invited the Lawrences to New Mexico, and where they lived during their second and third visits in 1924 and 1925, and where both Frieda and DHL are buried (Mabel offered them the house as a gift, but DHL wouldn't take it as a gift; he insisted there had to be an exchange, and gave her the manuscript of "Sons and Lovers"). 

Having driven three thousand miles to get here, the last seven miles along a dirt track that my companion, who shared the ownership of the car with an insurance company and a leasing dealership, was not convinced we should be taking, getting there to find the place was closed was not an option. I found a minuscule gap where the chain link wasn't dug into the dust effectively, poached my way in, walked the remaining half mile, completely breathless from the eight and a half thousand feet of altitude, and took my snaps.

506 D.H. Lawrence Ranch Rd, Taos, NM87564
as it is now officially addressed

"The D.H. Lawrence Ranch is situated on Lobo Mountain and comprises 160 acres. Under the 1955 Last Will and Testament of D.H. Lawrence’s widow Frieda, it was entrusted to the University of New Mexico (UNM) for the purpose of creating a public memorial to the world-renowned writer."

The signboard on the dust-track outside the ranch.

New Mexico wasn’t where the brief flame of his being was extinguished, however. The thin air of Taos was making his consumption even worse, and he came back to Europe, ending his days at the Villa Robermond in Vence, in the south of France. (No chance of making pilgrimage there however, it was demolished some years later, and is now a small apartment house, Le Saint Martin, on the Chemin de Clairefontaine, Quartier de Saint Donat, off the road to Grasse, though the original gate is apparently still there.)

"He was breathing more peacefully, and then suddenly there were gaps in his breathing. The moment came when the thread of life tore in his heaving chest, his face changed, his cheeks and jaw sank, and death had taken hold of him... Death was there, Lawrence was dead. So simple, so small a change, yet so final, so staggering. Death!"

It was that last paragraph that I went back to when I wrote my epitaph-poem for him, "To Be Carved On His Tombstone", trying to imitate his voice, wanting to demonstrate the triumphs and achievements of his remarkable life, ending with precisely that last paragraph, save only one alteration: in place of the minor key diminuendo "Death", the major key crescendo "Immortality".

“I walked up and down beside his room, beside the balcony, and everything looked different, there was a new thing, death, where there had been life, such intense life. The olive trees outside looked so black and close, and the sky so close... I looked at his face. So proud, manly and splendid he looked, a new face there was. All suffering had been wiped from it, it was as if I had never seen him or known him in all the completeness of his being. I wanted to touch him, but dared not, he was no longer in life with me. There had been the change, he belonged somewhere else now, to all the elements; he was the earth and sky, but no longer a living man. Lawrence, my Lorenzo, who had loved me and I him… he was dead…
"Then we buried him, very simply, like a bird we put him away, a few of us who loved him. We put flowers into his grave, and all I said was 'Goodbye, Lorenzo' as his friends and I put lots and lots of mimosa on his coffin. Then he was covered over with earth while the sun came out on to his small grave in the little cemetery of Vence which looks over the Mediterranean that he cared for so much."

Lawrence's remains were exhumed in March 1935, placed in an urn for transportation to Taos, and entrusted to ... but no, you can surf the net yourself to find that sad and really very tragic ending to his story...

All excerpts from Frieda's writings are taken from "Not I But The Wind".
My epitaph-poem for DHL can be found in "Welcome To My World".

You can find David Prashker at:

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