D.H. Lawrence is most well-known for his loverly novels, but I am most fond of his book “Apocalypse.” I picked it up again when it caught my eye, patiently waiting, wedged between Bataille and Baudrillard – out of order, why? I opened it up to a random page, and found this passage. I loved it so much that I want to share it with you.
Perhaps the greatest difference between us and the pagans lies in our different relation to the cosmos. With us, all is personal. Landscape and the sky, they are to us the delicious background of our personal life, and no more. Even the universe of the scientists is little more than an extension of our personality, to us. To the pagan, landscape and personal background were on the whole indifferent. But the cosmos was a very real thing. A man lived with the cosmos, and knew it greater than himself.
Don’t let us imagine we see the sun as the old civilisations saw it. All we see is a scientific little luminary, dwindled to a ball of blazing gas. In the centuries before Ezekiel and John, the sun was still a magnificent reality, men drew forth from him strength and splendor, and gave him back homage and lustre and thanks. But in us, the connection is broken, the responsive centers are dead. Our sun is quite a different thing from the cosmic sun of the ancients, so much more trivial. We may see what we call the sun, but we have lost Helios forever. We have lost the cosmos, by coming out of responsive connection with it, and this is our chief tragedy. What is our petty little love of nature – Nature!! – compared to the ancient magnificent living with the cosmos, and being honored by the cosmos!
And some of the great images of the Apocalypse move us to strange depths, and to a strange wild fluttering of freedom: of true freedom, really, an escape to somewhere, not an escape to nowhere. An escape from the tight little cage of our universe: tight, in spite of all the astronomist’s vast and unthinkable stretches of space: tight, because it is only a continuous extension, a dreary on and on, without any meaning: an escape from this into the vital cosmos, to a sun who has a great wild life, and who looks back at us for strength or withering, marvellous, as he goes his way. Who says the sun cannot speak to me! The sun has a great blazing consciousness, and I have a little blazing consciousness. When I can strip myself of the trash of personal feelings and ideas, and get down to my naked sun-self, then the sun and I can commune by the hour, the blazing interchange, and he gives me life, sun-life, and I send him a little new brightness from the world of the bright blood. The great sun, like an angry dragon, hater of the nervous and personal consciousness in us. All these modern sunbathers must realize, for they become disintegrated by the very sun that bronzes them. But the sun, like a lion, loves the bright red blood of life, and can give it an infinite enrichment if we know how to receive it. But we don’t. We have lost the sun. And he only falls on us and destroys us, decomposing something in us: the dragon of destruction instead of the life-bringer.
And we have lost the moon, the cool, bright, ever-varying moon. It is she who would caress our nerves, smooth them with the silky hand of her glowing, soothe them into serentiy again with her cool presence. For the moon is the mistress and mother of our watery bodies, the pale body of our nervous consciousness and our moist flesh. Oh, the moon could soothe us and heal us like a cool great Artemis between her arms. But we have lost her, in our stupidity we ignore her, and angry she stares down on us and whips us with nervous whips. Oh, beware of the angry Artemis of the night heavens, beware of the spite of Cybele, beware of the vindictiveness of horned Astarte.
For the lovers who shot themselves in the night, in the horrible suicide of love, they are driven mad by the poisoned arrows of Artemis: the moon is against them: the moon is fiercely against them. And oh, if the moon is against you, oh, beware of the bitter night, especially the night of intoxication.
Now this may sound nonsense, but that is merely because we are fools. There is an eternal vital correspondence between our blood and the sun: there is an eternal vital correspondence between our nerves and the moon. If we get out of contact and harmony with the sun and the moon, then both turn into great dragons of destruction against us. The sun is a great source of blood-vitality, it streams strength to us. But once we resist the sun, and say: It is a mere ball of gas! – then the very streaming vitality of sunshine turns into subtle disintegrative force in us, and undoes us. The same with the moon, the planets, the great stars. They are either our makers or our unmakers. There is no escape.
We and the cosmos are one. The cosmos is a vast living body, of which we are still parts. The sun is a great heart whose tremors run through our smallest veins. The moon is a great gleaming nerve-centre from which we quiver forever. Who knows the power that Saturn has over us, or Venus? But it is a vital power, rippling exquisitely through us all the time. And if we deny Aldebaran, Aldebaran will pierce us with infinit dagger-thrusts. He who is not with me is against me! – that is a cosmic law.
Now all this is literally true, as men knew in the great past, and as they will know again.
By the time of John of Patmos, men, especially educated men, had already almost lost the cosmos. The sun, the moon, the planets, instead of being the communers, the comminglers, the life-givers, the splendid ones, the awful ones, had already fallen into a sort of deadness; they were the arbitrary, almost mechanical engineers of fate and destiny. By the time of Jesus, men had turned the heavens into a mechanism of fate and destiny, a prison.
The Christians escaped this prison by denying the body altogether. But alas, these little escapes! especially the escapes by denial! – they are the most fatal of evasions. Christianity and our ideal civilisation have been one long evasion. It has caused endless lying and misery, misery such as people know today, not of physical want but of a far more deadly vital want. Better lack bread than lack life. The long evasion, whose only fruit is the machine!
We have lost the cosmos. The sun strengthens us no more, neither does the moon. In mystic language, the moon is black to us, and the sun is as sackcloth.
Now we have to get back the cosmos, and it can’t be done by a trick. The great range of responses that have fallen dead in us have to come to life again. It has taken two thousand years to kill them. Who knows how long it will take to bring them to life?
When I hear modern people complain of being lonely then I know what has happened. They have lost the cosmos. – It is nothing human and personal that we are short of. What we lack is cosmic life, the sun in us and the moon in us. We can’t get the sun in us by lying naked like pigs on a beach. The very sun that is bronzing us is inwardly disintegrating us – as we know later. Process of katabolism. We can only get the sun by a sort of worship; and the same with the moon. By going forth to worship the sun, worship that is felt in the blood. Tricks and postures only make matters worse.
D.H Lawrence, Apocalypse. Viking Compass Edition, 1966, pp. 41-47. Copyright The Estate of David Herbert Lawrence, 1931.