In one of his early poems entitled “Contagion” James Tate wrote: So this is the dark street/where only an angel lives/I never saw anything like it. I read that poem when I was twenty and saw the “dark street” as Emerson—saw the angel as Emerson’s strange angel which is also D.H. Lawrence’s strange angel, the wings are too much like ours; the wings are possibly sinister. In any case, we never saw anything like it and yet we always knew they were there—the wings, the humanoid specter, and our expectation they are a completion, one answer to the betrayals of phenomenology. Such a view is not Romantic, though plenty have said so. Its tougher. It took Freud and Jung to show us what the figurines mean: they’re neither enemy or friend, but fact. How you will live, in what manner you will live, depends on what you can challenge yourself to admit about the angels. The ones I’m talking about are freakish angels and not the sanitized “idea” of the angel that Wallace Stevens preferred. Stevens’ angels are like those paper wrapped seats in the washroom—sanitized for your protection—and so they are not angels at all. Here is what the angels felt like to Lawrence:
The Song of a Man Who has Come Through
Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me!
A fine wind is blowing the new direction of Time.
If only I let it bear me, carry me, if only it carry me!
If only I am sensitive, subtle, oh, delicate, a winged gift!
If only, most lovely of all, I yield myself and am borrowed
By the fine, fine wind that takes its course though the chaos of the world
Like a fine, and exquisite chisel, a wedge-blade inserted;
If only I am keen and hard like the sheer tip of a wedge
Driven by invisible split, we shall come at the wonder, we shall find the Hesperides.
Oh, for the wonder that bubbles into my soul,
I would be a good fountain, a good well-head,
Would blur no whisper, spoil no expression.
What is the knocking?
What is the knocking at the door in the night?
It’s somebody wants to do us harm.
No, no, it is the three strange angels.
Admit them, admit them.
Notice Lawrence’s angel is both the man or woman who feels wind blowing inside the body and then the angel is, when more fully realized, like a fine chisel, a wedge that rents chaos—a dangerous tool to be sure. Lawrence’s angel is a wire that pierces. Oh its imagination alright. Its your dream. Its your fear about the future. Its your regret about the past. Its your dead father tuning a piano in the underworld. As Robert Bly would say: Its the distance between the head and the feet as we lie down. The freaky angel is us and not us unless we reckon with time. Its our ambition. Our completion. Its the hard work of consciousness which must admit what’s under the boat. (Ahab) or cry because space has pierced us with a sharp tip (Emerson’s cosmological Boston Commons). I like the word “freaky” better than strange. Freaky can’t be domesticated though we build churches or sideshows and put angels on pedestals so the frightened gazers can gaze and then go home saying, “well, I saw it—good thing it is not me.”
But of course the “freaky angel” turns up. It knocks if you’re lucky. Lawrence was lucky. His angels passed right through his carapace of fear, the lobster back of the psyche, and then he was stronger, undoubtedly weirder, perhaps thinner, maybe with the taste of honey and excrement in his mouth, happy to the point of rending his garments, and sharp, very sharp.