Friday, June 16, 2006


At evening, sitting on this terrace,
When the sun from the west, beyond Pisa, beyond the mountains of Carrara
Departs, and the world is taken by surprise ...

When the tired flower of Florence is in gloom beneath the glowing
Brown hills surrounding ...

When under the arches of the Ponte Vecchio
A green light enters against stream, flush from the west,
Against the current of obscure Arno ...

Look up, and you see things flying
Between the day and the night;
Swallows with spools of dark thread sewing the shadows together.

A circle swoop, and a quick parabola under the bridge arches
Where light pushes through;
A sudden turning upon itself of a thing in the air.
A dip to the water.

And you think:
"The swallows are flying so late!"


Dark air-life looping
Yet missing the pure loop ...
A twitch, a twitter, an elastic shudder in flight
And serrated wings against the sky,
Like a glove, a black glove thrown up at the light,
And falling back.

Never swallows!
The swallows are gone.

At a wavering instant the swallows gave way to bats
By the Ponte Vecchio ...
Changing guard.

Bats, and an uneasy creeping in one's scalp
As the bats swoop overhead!
Flying madly.

Black piper on an infinitesimal pipe.
Little lumps that fly in air and have voices indefinite, wildly vindictive;

Wings like bits of umbrella.


Creatures that hang themselves up like an old rag, to sleep;
And disgustingly upside down.

Hanging upside down like rows of disgusting old rags
And grinning in their sleep.

Not for me!
D.H. Lawrence


I've loved D.H. Lawrence's poetry since I also discovered him as a favourite novelist in my teens.

This poem seems to me a counterpart of another poem he wrote about animals, the much-better known Snake, which in would urge you to read if you haven't come across it before. (It's too good not to have in your head.) Both poems deal with prejudice and how it seems to be a culturally learned reaction running contrary to our instinctive selves.

The words of this poem used to floods back into my head every time I take a late evening walk here. There's always that incredibly beautiful and peaceful moment when the sun dips behind the horizon, the call to prayers unwinds melodiously from the mosque ... and the swallows are suddenly replaced in the sky by bats. Take a stroll yourselves and see!

Lawrence's poem is set in Italy. The speaker realises that this "changing of the guard" has happened until some time after the bats have taken the place of swallows.

There's much to say about the poem, but I want to leave the fun of saying it to you!

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Blogger Spot said...

This is such a nice reminder of the landscapes I've so recently visited. :)

Funny, I've always associated swallows (though I call them swifts, perhaps mistakenly) with the evening call to prayer too.

The first impression I get is a sense of grey, indefinite connections that separate a whole into two parts

- the bridge, Ponte Vecchio, connects the two distinct sides of the Arno
- the evening, a time between day and night, and how the swallows stitch the two parts together

I like how the sudden transition marked by the realisation that he's looking at bats, not swallows, is reflected in the throwing of a black glove at the light.

It's like a challenge to his perception - what he initially perceived in positive light is revealed and in knowing its true nature, he then changes his tune.

Kinda underscores for me how easily you can erase the chalk line that prejudice draws, how tenuous the self-imposed line that separates "we" into "us vs them" is.

5:41 PM, June 20, 2006  
Blogger dreameridiot said...

Spot, what profound thoughts...It's always nice to read your comments.

For me, I particularly like the line "A twitch, a twitter, an elastic shudder in flight" which really shows "an uneasy creeping of one's scalp". One can feel Lawrence's revulsion and hatred for bats who are reduced into "lumps that fly in the air".

I guess bats have gained their notoriety through their association with darkness, and through popular culture, with dracula, evil and villainy (even batman is a Dark hero). Moreover, their "serrated wings" that flap differently, and as imagined less gracefully than birds, along with their high pitched, almost screeching sounds, they do not come off as nice creatures. How true is it, as Sharon and Spot pointed out, that much of our perceptions are culturally acquired, and our prejudices through perceived 'weird / unntural' differences.

2:25 PM, June 21, 2006  
Blogger Leon Wing said...

Sharon, Lawrence your fav writer in your teens? Actually he was that too in MY teens. And now, he is still one of my all-time favorites.

I find it funny that Lawrence, at first, thought the objects, the "spools of dark thread sewing the shadows together", in the air, were swallows. How he did an about-turn in his impression, to the new objects as "Little lumps that fly in air". And he was so creeped out by his new discovery that he has to repeat "disgusting", "old rags", and also "sleep", all down in the last few stanzas; as if these bats would "swoop" and "grin" at him in his own "sleep".

Also, a Lawrence fan, of both his fiction and poetry, I love his handling of free verse. I have his tome of complete poems, and reading them, you can see how his take on poetry progressed from rhyming stanzas, to, at later stages, to non-rhyming ones, and free verse.

3:21 PM, June 21, 2006  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

spot - here we have both swifts and swallows. more specifically:
Barn Swallow
Pacific Swallow
Striated Swallow
House Swift
Glossy Swiftlet

Go here for pics if you want 'em

i love the parallel you draw between the bridge as transition point and the transition between day and night ...

i'm sure the poem did bring back memories of italy ...

dreamer idiot, leon - yes, lawrence captures that feeling of revulsion so well. notice how he almost doesn't have words for the bats, so disgusted does he feel? he uses the most commonplace of words and images - "a lump" "a rag" ... and then that repetition ... it gives it a spontaneous, unformulated feel (does that make sense?) as he stumbles to make sense of the scene in front of him.

leon - yes, i discovered lawrence when i was about 17 and just marvelled at how he was able to capture the thought process ... espcially loved "women in love" and "the rainbow" - lawrence was more in fashion back then, he doesn't seem as widely read nowadays

his poem "fig" is another favourite - very sexy!

i have just a penguin edition of his selected poems so no doubt there are loads i've missed

11:12 AM, June 22, 2006  
Blogger Leon Wing said...

Sharon, since you mentioned Women in Love, did you ever catch the movie version with a young and slimmer Alan Bates, and other then younger actors like Glenda Jackson and naughty Oliver Reed? The Brit director Ken Russel was very famous and controversial. I read a film analysis of it one time, and it seems he followed the book very very closely, using certain motifs for symbolism, and various parallelisms, just like in the book. And of cos, the movie was notorious for all the full frontals.

Also, talking about Lawrence's sexy poems, check out his "Gloire de Dijon", where he's some kind of voyuer.

3:45 PM, June 22, 2006  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

not only did i see it - i saw it at the cinema the first week it came out! the nude wrestling scene stays with me ...

10:26 PM, June 22, 2006  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

found the sexy poem, leon - it's so loving too - i love it!

Gloire de Dijon
by D.H. Lawrence

When she rises in the morning
I linger to watch her;
She spreads the bath-cloth underneath the window
And the sunbeams catch her
Glistening white on the shoulders,
While down her sides the mellow
Golden shadow glows as
She stoops to the sponge, and her swung breasts
Sway like full-blown yellow
Gloire de Dijon roses.

She drips herself with water, and her shoulders
Glisten as silver, they crumple up
Like wet and falling roses, and I listen
For the sluicing of their rain-dishevelled petals.
In the window full of sunlight
Concentrates her golden shadow
Fold on fold, until it glows as
Mellow as the glory roses.

10:29 PM, June 22, 2006  
Blogger dreameridiot said...

Wow, Thanks Leon and Sharon for sharing this poem. This is such a sensuous poem... and the image of his lover so beautifully and lovingly painted in colours. If I have a girlfriend, this is what I would love to write for her.

12:47 PM, June 23, 2006  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

dreamer idiot - you can always just recite it to her ... and she'll melt like sunshine

(store up poetry for later use - women have no armour against it)

9:37 PM, June 23, 2006  
Anonymous naija poets said...

This' my first time of seeing this poem at first I was confused but later I caught the message within even the analysis and comments gave me a better understanding. Bat might be disgusting but the good sides of bats cannot be known unless they're watched closely.

2:09 AM, March 30, 2015  
Anonymous Patent Attorney said...

Ah no! DH Lawrence isn't very complimentary towards bats is he?

12:07 AM, April 30, 2015  

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