D.H. Lawrence wrote some riveting death scenes in his time, but Richard Aldington's account of the English author's early death was as good as any of them.
Imagine a villa in Vence, in the south of France, to which Lawrence had just been moved by his wife Frieda because he hated the sanatorium he'd been in. It was March 2, 1930, and Lawrence was dying of the tuberculosis that had plagued most of his 44 years. Even though he was frail and had been warned to take life easy, Lawrence did the opposite -- travelling the world and pouring his energies into a stream of novels, short stories, poems, essays, even painting. He lived in poverty, moving constantly as the whim took him, often to places terrible for his health. He walked the Alps in winter; he fought with everyone -- critics, the authorities, his friends, his wife. He had, as Aldington writes in Portrait of a Genius, but. . ., "an instinctive belief that better a short life than the quarter-life of a permanent invalid prolonged to seventy."
Five years earlier, he'd been told he had a maximum of two years left, and on this day of 1930, his time had finally run out. He asked Frieda, who had been the love of his tumultuous life, to sleep on the couch beside him so he could see her when he woke up. "He kept saying: 'Don't leave me. Don't go away.' About five he seemed to be in great pain, and said: 'I must have a temperature, I am delirious. Give me a thermometer.' Frieda could now hold back her tears no longer, but in a quick compelling voice he told her not to cry. He asked for morphia and [Aldous] Huxley hurried away to find the doctor.
"His mind wandered: 'Hold me, hold me. I don't know where I am. I don't know where my hands are. Where am I?' When the injection of morphia was given, he relaxed, saying: 'I am better now. If I could only sweat, I would be better. I am better now.' To soothe him, Frieda sat by the bed holding his ankle, unconsciously answering his last Prayer:
"Give me the moon at my feet,
Put my feet upon the crescent, like a Lord!
O let my ankles be bathed in moonlight, that I may go
sure and moon-shod, cool and bright-footed
towards my goal.
"At 10 o'clock that night he died."
In the years before his death, Lawrence's poetry began to reflect what was ahead. Aldington's book contains excerpts of some of the poems from that time. Here are some excerpts of excerpts:
"Not every man has gentians in his house
in soft September, at slow, sad Michaelmas.
Bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark,
darkening the day-time torch-like with the smoking blueness
of Pluto's gloom,
ribbed and torch-like, with their blaze of darkness spread blue
down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of white day,
torch-flower of the blue-smoking darkness, Pluto's dark-blue
black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue,
giving off darkness, blue darkness, as Demeter's pale lamps
give off light,
lead me then, lead me the way."
"I have been defeated and dragged down by pain
and worsted by the evil world-soul of today.
But still I know that life is for delight
and for bliss
as now when the tiny wavelets of the sea
tip the morning light on edge, and spill it with delight
to show how inexhaustible it is."
"And it is time to go, to bid farewell
to one's own self, and find an exit
from the fallen self."