What is to be done?
The Machine Will Never Triumph, part twenty-six
To let go or to hold on—?
Shall we let go,
and allow the soul to find its level
downwards, ebbing downwards, ebbing downwards to the flood?
till the head floats tilted like a bottle forward tilted
on the sea, with no message in it; and the body is submerged
heavy and swaying like a whale recovering
from wounds, below the deep black wave?
like a whale recovering its velocity and strength
under the cold black wave.
Or else, or else
shall a man brace himself up
and lift his face and set his breast
and go forth to change the world?
gather his will and his energy together
and fling himself in effort after effort
upon the world, to bring a change to pass?
Tell me first, O tell me,
will the dark flood of our day’s annihilation
swim deeper, deeper, till it leaves no peak emerging?
Shall we be lost, all of us
and gone like weed, like weed, like eggs of fishes,
like sperm of whales, like germs of the great dead past
into which the creative future shall blow strange, unknown forms?
Are we nothing, already, but the lapsing of a great dead past?
Is the best that we are but sperm, loose sperm, like the sperm of fishes
that drifts upon time and chaos, till some unknown future takes it up
and is fecund with a new Day of new creatures? different from us.
Or is our shattered Argosy, our leaking ark
at this moment scraping tardy Ararat?
Have we got to get down and clear away the debris
of a swamped civilisation, and start a new world for man
that will blossom forth the whole of human nature?
Must we hold on, hold on
and go ahead with what is human nature
and make a new job of the human world?
Or can we let it go?
O, can we let it go,
and leave it to some nature that is more than human
to use the sperm of what’s worth while in us
and thus eliminate us?
Is the time come for humans
now to begin to disappear,
leaving it to the vast revolutions of creative chaos
to bring forth creatures that are an improvement on humans,
as the horse was an improvement on the ichthyosaurus?
Must we hold on?
Or can we now let go?
Or is it even possible we must do both?1
Lawrence, here, poses a very important question to all of those deeply concerned about the awe-inspiring beauty of the natural world, namely whether we should fight for a better world free of the Machine, or just let go and allow mankind to exterminate itself so that the world may heal and new beauties take the place of the beauty of the past. Clearly, all those free-spirited, life-loving men and women out there who love nature, animals, and the Gods would like to see things preserved. Ideally, we should preserve that which is good, but a time comes when we must ask ourselves whether humanity is beyond redemption. If that time comes, we should withdraw to places of peace and let robot mankind and the Machine extinguish themselves from the face of the earth. But, until that time comes—and we pray to the Gods that it never comes—we must fight to smash the systems and the machines they have spawned. We must fight, but we must also bide our time and be patient. Rash moves only help to keep the Machine in power. As Lawrence writes:
I believe one must put one’s fist through something much more solid and pernicious than panes of glass. We must make a hole in the bourgeois world which is the whole world of consciousness today. If your mandrake is going to grow, let him shove up under the walls of this prison-system, and bust them. But patience, patience all the time, even while one acts most strenuously, somewhere patience. I am determined, like Samson in the temple of Philistia, to pull the house down sooner or later and all I want is men to tug silently and constantly along with me. […] To live one has to live a life-long fight.2
Even those supporters of the current system seem to see that there is something wrong. Why else would the former president of the United States, Donald Trump, state “make America great again”? Clearly, things are not all well, and just as clearly, people are suffering for it. The more advanced technology becomes, the harder and more costly it is to maintain the infrastructure. Lawrence witnessed just this phenomenon in an early manifestation:
And yet the permanent way of almost every railway is falling into bad disrepair, the roads are shocking. And nothing seems to be done. Is our marvellous, mechanical era going to have so short a bloom? Is the marvellous openness, the opened-out wonder of the land going to collapse quite soon, and the remote places lapse back into inaccessibility again? Who knows! I rather hope so.3
O destiny, destiny,
do you exist, and can a man touch your hand?
if I could see your hand, and it were thumbs down,
I would be willing to give way, like the pterodactyl,
and accept obliteration.
I would not even ask to leave a fossil claw extant,
nor a thumb mark like a clue,
I would be willing to vanish completely, completely.
But if it is thumbs up, and mankind must go on being mankind,
then I am willing to fight, I will roll my sleeves up
and start in.
Only, O destiny
I wish you’d show your hand.4
What is our destiny? Is it to fight or is it to give way? Only inspiration from the Gods can definitively answer those questions, but the instinctive answer should be to fight that which is evil, and strive to create something better. We can never go back to the past, and, equally, we must not stay on our current trajectory. Instead, we must learn from the past, then create a new living truth and way of life. Lawrence makes this eminently clear.
The soul must take the hint from the relics our scientists have so marvellously gathered out of the forgotten past, and from the hint develop a new living utterance. The spark is from dead wisdom, but the fire is life.5
Why have money?
why have a financial system to strangle us all in its octopus arms?
why have industry?
why have the industrial system?
why have machines, that we only have to serve?
why have a soviet, that only wants to screw us all in as parts of the
why have working classes at all, as if men were only embodied jobs?
why not have men as men, and the work as merely part of the game of life?
True, we’ve got all these things
industrial and financial systems, machines and soviets,
But why go on having them, if they belittle us?
Why should we be belittled any longer?6
There is no reason why. To say we must finish what we have started is sheer stubbornness. If you try to fix a broken tool, you must not devote inordinate amounts of time to an object that is beyond repair. Most of our systems today are beyond repair, and for that reason we should stop trying to repair or reform them and instead we should dismantle them, and institute something new and better, which is not based on systems, but on life. A good first start is to ask some hard questions about what we want. Lawrence gets us started:
Suppose a bomb were put under this whole scheme of things, what would be after? What feelings do we want to carry through, into the next epoch? What feelings will carry us through? What is the underlying impulse in us that will provide the motive-power for a new state of things, when this democratic-industrial-lovey-dovey-darling-take-me-to-mammy state of things is bust?7
There is no way out—
There is no way out, we are all caged monkeys
blue-arsed with the money-bruise
and wearing our seats out sitting on money.
There is no way out, the cage has no door, it’s rusted solid.
If you copulate with the finest woman on earth
there’s no relief, only a moment’s sullen respite.
You’re a caged monkey again in five minutes.
Therefore, O therefore, tackle the cage!8
These lines from Lawrence are not simple doggerel, but express a profound truth, as does most of Lawrence’s verse, even the lightest. Lawrence is stating that we can never fix things from within the system. Much of the noble intentioned work of the environmentalists actually serves to reinforce our captivity. Instead we should deconstruct the systems that enslave us and destroy what Lawrence and others call the Machine, even the idea of the Machine. David Jones describes our sad state today and states that it is a just cause for “rage” against the Machine9:
[P]erfection in the cage of mediocrity, and the vulgarization of what once had the vitality of refinement, the disintegration of what was a unity, the emptying of being of what once was proudly full of being, the “signs” inadequate to what they signify, is most cause for “rage”—for perturbation.10
The earth, the birds, the beasts, and the flowers are wonders of beauty, and the mysteries of the cosmos will never cease to marvel the feeling man, but the people of today lack nearly everything of the Divine. As Lawrence writes: “I like the world, the sky and the earth and the greater mystery beyond. But people—yes, they are all monkeys to me.”11
What we need, indeed
Is a new frame of society
Where the attention will be lifted off material things,
Money, machines, furniture—
And where we can begin to learn our great emotional lessons
Wherein we are now blind ugly boors.
The one eye of our cyclopaean instinct put out
We grope and foam and lash around
And hurt, hurt ourselves and everybody,
Roaring and doing damage.12
We have lost the art of being, and exchange being for having, which is a paltry substitute. Material objects may temporarily feign the illusion of giving one joy, but just like a drug that pleases at first, then makes one suffer, then kills, an attachment to things will do the same. We should never be attached to anything but life, and even then we should only be attached to our inner spark of immortality, not to transitory things. Lawrence has put forth his powerful credo for a philosophy of life, as follows:
A few things I know with inner knowledge.
I know that what I am struggling for is life, more life ahead, for myself and the men who will come after me: struggling against fixations and corruptions. […]
I know our vision of life is all wrong. We must be prepared to have a new conception of what it means, to live. And everybody should try to help to build up this new conception, and everybody should be prepared to destroy, bit by bit, our old conception.
I know that a man cannot live by his will alone. With his soul, he must search for the sources of the power of life. It is life we want.
I know that where there is life, there is essential beauty. Genuine beauty, which fills the soul, is an indication of life, and genuine ugliness, which blasts the soul, is an indication of morbidity.—But prettiness is opposed to beauty.
I know that, first and foremost, we must be sensitive to life and to its movements. If there is power, it must be sensitive power.
I know we must look after the quality of life, not the quantity. […] And the birth-rate should be controlled.
I know we must take up the responsibility for the future, now. A great change is coming, and must come. What we need is some glimmer of a vision of a world that shall be, beyond the change. Otherwise we shall be in for a great débâcle.
What is alive, and open, and active, is good. All that makes for inertia, lifelessness, dreariness, is bad. This is the essence of morality.
What we should live for is life and the beauty of aliveness, imagination, awareness, and contact. To be perfectly alive is to be immortal.
I know these things, along with other things. And it is nothing very new to know these things. The only new thing would be to act on them.
And what is the good of saying these things, to men whose whole education consists in the fact that twice two are four?—which, being interpreted, means that twice tuppence is fourpence. All our education, the whole of it, is formed upon this little speck of dust.13
The only thing to be done, now
now that the waves of our undoing have begun to strike on us,
is to contain ourselves.
To keep still, and let the wreckage of ourselves go,
let everything go, as the wave smashes us,
yet keep still, and hold
the tiny grain of something that no wave can wash away,
not even the most massive wave of destiny.
Among all the smashed debris of myself
keep quiet, and wait.
For the word is Resurrection.
And even the sea of seas will have to give up its dead.14
We must not act in a hasty manner. We must not participate in a revolution that will only further entrench the robot. We must stand firm and be both patient and stoic while massive forces try to destroy us. But, that which we truly are can never be destroyed, and all the forces of evil that are destroying this planet are transitory. Let the waves come! Let them wash us clean and hasten the dissolution of our transitory selves, so that our immortal souls may shine forth heavenly rays. The world will be resurrected if we ourselves are resurrected. All we need is patience and discipline: “Discipline is what […] the whole world needs. But it is the discipline from the inside that matters. The machine discipline, from the outside, breaks down.”15
The only reason for living is being fully alive;
and you can’t be fully alive if you are crushed by secret fear,
and bullied with the threat: Get money, or eat dirt!—
and forced to do a thousand mean things meaner than your nature,
and forced to clutch on to possessions in the hope they’ll make you feel
and forced to watch everyone that comes near you, lest they’ve come to do
Without a bit of common trust in one another, we can’t live.
In the end, we go insane.
It is the penalty of fear and meanness, being meaner than our natures are.
To be alive, you’ve got to feel a generous flow,
and under a competitive system that is impossible, really.
The world is waiting for a new great movement of generosity,
or for a great wave of death.
We must change the system, and make living free to all men,
or we must see men die, and then die ourselves.16
Lawrence believed in and put forth a marvelous philosophy of life. A good part of his philosophy can be enacted here and now by any person, but some things really do need a change in the system. Many people, even most people, may be born good, but the system turns them rotten. Other people may still be good, but have to do bad things just to get some bread to eat. Competitive systems, such as capitalism, were, are, and always will be anti-life. These systems instil fear into the hearts of men, and fear, in turn, makes men nasty, brutish, and dumb. Fear is the great equalizer in that it levels all men down to the base, rather than raising them up to transcendent heights. Men still must change themselves, but changing the system will help.
Change the system to what? To no system at all, since all systems are anti-life. All systems tame man, break him down, kill his inner wolf, and replace it with a yelping poodle. Now, I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I want to be a wolf, not a poodle. We must untame ourselves, and rediscover our ancestral primeval spirit. As Lawrence writes:
Man is the only creature who has deliberately tried to tame himself. He has succeeded. But alas, it is a process you cannot set a limit to. Tameness, like alcohol, destroys its own creator. Tameness is an effect of control. But the tamed thing loses the power of control, in itself. It must be controlled from without. Man has pretty well tamed himself, and he calls his tameness civilisation. True civilisation would be something very different. But man is now tame. Tameness means the loss of the peculiar power of command. The tame are always commanded by the untamed. Man has tamed himself, and so has lost his power for command, the power to give himself direction. He has no choice in himself. He is tamed, like a tame horse waiting for the rein.
Supposing all horses were suddenly rendered masterless, what would they do? They would run wild. But supposing they were left still shut up in their field, paddocks, corrals, stables, what would they do? They would go insane.
And that is precisely man’s predicament. He is tamed. There are no untamed to give the command and the direction. Yet he is shut up within all his barb-wire fences. He can only go insane, degenerate.
What is the alternative? It is nonsense to pretend we can un-tame ourselves in five minutes. That, too, is a slow and strange process, that has to be undertaken seriously. It is nonsense to pretend we can break the fences and dash out into the wilds. There are no wilds left, comparatively, and man is a dog that returns to his vomit.
Yet, unless we proceed to connect ourselves up with our own primeval sources, we shall degenerate. And degenerating, we shall break up into a strange orgy of feelings. They will be decomposition feelings, like the colours of autumn. And they will precede whole storms of death, like leaves in a wind.
Now we have to return. Now again the old Adam must lift up his face and his breast, and untame himself. Not in viciousness nor in wantonness, but having God within the walls of himself. In the very darkest continent of the body, there is God. And from Him issues the first dark rays of our feeling, wordless, and utterly previous to words; the innermost rays, the first messengers, the primeval, honorable beasts of our being, whose voice echoes wordless and forever wordless down the darkest avenues of the soul, but full of potent speech. Our own inner meaning.17
All of us have the old Adam or old Eve within. All we need to do is to find it once again. Perhaps we can find it through howling at the moon, perhaps by being isolated in nature, but ultimately, it is not externally that we will discover our primitive selves, but internally. We first need to be primitive, then we can act primitively, and no truly primitive soul would want anything to do with the machines. If we do nothing, vast waves of extinction will seize the planet, as they already have, and only a relatively small number of animals will survive, all of them tame. As Lawrence writes: “Soon the only animals left will be tame ones: man the tamest and most swarming.”18 We must renew ourselves, not into something new, but into something primeval that exists in our souls, and has existed since time began. “The present escapes the danger of emptiness only when it is stirred by the primordial images of the past; the moment is only filled to the brim with life when the souls of olden times renew themselves within us.”19
What is a man to do?
Oh, when the world is hopeless
what is a man to do?
When the vast masses of men have been caught by the machine
into the industrial dance of the living death, the jigging of wage-paid
and fed on condition they dance this dance of corpses driven by steam.
When year by year, year in, year out, in millions, in increasing millions
they dance, dance, dance this dry industrial jig of the corpses entangled in
and there’s no escape, for the iron goes through their genitals, brains, and
then what is a single man to do?
For mankind is a single corpus, we are all one flesh
even with the industrial masses, and the greedy middle mass.
Is it hopeless, hopeless, hopeless?
has the iron got them fast?
are their hearts the hub of the wheel?
the millions, millions of my fellow-men!
Then must a single man die with them, in the clutch of iron?
Or must he try to amputate himself from the iron-entangled body of
and risk bleeding to death, but perhaps escape into some unpopular place
and leave the fearful Laocoön of his fellow-man entangled in iron
to its fearful fate?20
Lawrence asks the important question “What is to be done?” and though he doesn’t give a direct answer in the poem, he certainly insinuates it through the manner of his questioning and tone. Clearly, mankind is one, but a man is singular, and a true man would never allow the iron to go through his soul, so he must separate himself off from the masses. It is a delicate surgery, and it may fail, but one must try. If there are enough people who see the light, separate from the iron-bound masses, and join together in communities, Rananim may live, and it may be a shining beacon to the world, which extricates the iron hook from the gills of the robot masses, and thereby saves the world. Lawrence makes himself more explicit in the following letter:
Something has collapsed in your old order of life. Now accept it as collapsed, and prepare another thing. Several of the archangels have broken their wings lately, and will fly no more. So we have to adapt ourselves to a world without archangels, and accept a lesser brightness, but perhaps a shadow that is eventually more satisfying. Make friends with the new shadow of destiny, and then look for a place to live in. But it is time to know earnestly that there has been a change, that the wings of the archangels have snapped at last, that there are no sheltering wings, only a strange new shadow which after all will have many mansions.21
We must accept our civilization is a failure, then move on towards a great rewilding of our individual and collective selves. We must resist the Machine. The Machine first got its iron hooks into our heads, then our bodies, and now, as R. S. Thomas writes, it is coming for our hearts and souls:
“Dance for me,” time
says. “Half my kingdom
if you dance well.”
The machine does so
coming with its request
at the end not
for humanity’s head but
its heart on a platter.22
Minorities in danger.
Now above all is the time for the minorities of men,
those who are neither bourgeois nor bolshevist, but true to life,
to gather and fortify themselves, in every class, in every country, in every
Instead of which, the minorities that still see the gleams of life
submit abjectly to the blind mechanical traffic-streams of those
the stone-blind bourgeois, and the stone-blind bolshevist;
and pander to them.23
We hear so much today about minority rights, but the minorities that the world makes a big deal about are not the fundamental ones. The color of a person’s skin is of no importance, and those who judge a man based on that, whether positively, or negatively, are fools. As for women and men, they are and never will be equal, but if each party treated the other with tenderness, many problems would be solved. As for languages, religions, and cultures: the more the merrier. The truer gulf is between the rich and the poor, but the true minorities are those who refuse to be party to an evil system, namely the system of factories, robots, and the Machine. A robot is essentially dead inside and shouldn’t be cried over, but there is no sadder sight than a man who has seen the gleam of life, and yet subjects himself to the Machine. All men who see even the faintest gleam of life should free themselves now from the iron grip of the Machine. Together we can smash the Machine; so in the end it will never triumph. But, we must fight with tools that don’t compromise our essence, meaning no internet, no computers; and we must engage locally, rather than globally. As Lawrence writes: “I am sure Ghandi [sic] is right for India—and I’m sure every race and nation will have to fight, and fight hard, to survive the machine. But I am European, and my fight is in Europe.”24
As for those who want to turn back the clock to the past, they are close to the truth, but are wrong. We must become primitive again, and we must look to all of the past as an example, but we must not mechanically imitate dead forms. As such, a return to Eastern religions in order to escape the system is bound to fail for most people. We must start something new, looking to the past—the ancient Greek, Etruscan, and Egyptian religions as examples, perhaps—but something perennially new. The Gods have always and will always exist, but their names have changed. We must rediscover the Gods for our times so that we can come back into a living relationship with them. As Lawrence writes:
I love the Indian art, especially Brahmin, more every time I see it—and I feel Hindu philosophy is big enough for anything. Yet we have to bring forth some different thing, in harmony with the great Hindu conceptions—which need carrying out. You couldn’t hate the “western” machine world more than I do. Only it’s no good running back into the past.25
We must also not have romantic notions of traditional peoples, since none are left who are untainted by modernity. In fact, some aboriginal peoples will be more hostile to true paganism than modern peoples due to the ingrained socialization they have been subjected to. “It is useless to glorify the savage. For he will kill Pan with his own hands, for the sake of a motor-car. And a bored savage, for whom Pan is dead, is the stupefied image of all boredom.”26
Jones, David. The Dying Gaul and Other Writings. London: Faber; Faber, 1978.
Klages, Ludwig. Cosmogonic Reflections. Translated by Joseph D. Pryce. London: Arktos, 2015.
Lawrence, D. H. Late Essays and Articles. Edited by James T. Boulton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
———. Mornings in Mexico and Other Essays. Edited by Virginia Crosswhite Hyde. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
———. Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious and Fantasia of the Unconscious. Edited by Bruce Steele. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
———. “Sea and Sardinia.” In D. H. Lawrence and Italy, 137–326. London: Penguin Books, 2007.
———. Sketches of Etruscan Places and Other Italian Essays. Edited by Simonetta De Filippis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
———. Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays. Edited by Bruce Steele. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
———. The Letters of D. H. Lawrence. Edited by Keith Sagar and James T. Boulton. Vol. VII. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
———. The Letters of D. H. Lawrence. Edited by James T. Boulton, Margaret H. Boulton, and Gerald M. Lacy. Vol. VI. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
———. The Plumed Serpent. Edited by L. D. Clark. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
———. The Poems. Edited by Christopher Pollnitz. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
———. The Poems. Edited by Christopher Pollnitz. Vol. 3. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.
Thomas, R. S. Collected Later Poems. Hexham: Bloodaxe Books, 2004.
D. H. Lawrence, The Poems, ed. Christopher Pollnitz, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 372–73.
D. H. Lawrence, The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, ed. Keith Sagar and James T. Boulton, vol. VII (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 79.
D. H. Lawrence, “Sea and Sardinia,” in D. H. Lawrence and Italy (London: Penguin Books, 2007), 250.
Lawrence, The Poems, 1:373.
D. H. Lawrence, Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious and Fantasia of the Unconscious, ed. Bruce Steele (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 64.
Lawrence, The Poems, 1:391–92.
D. H. Lawrence, Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays, ed. Bruce Steele (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 154.
Lawrence, The Poems, 1:421.
To reiterate, one way of looking at the Machine is as Lawrence’s symbol for the pervasive archetype or mindset that governs the science, technology, and social structures of modern civilization, imprinting a regimented and “mechanical” character to our military, industrial, and financial institutions. See Myth of the Machine Vols 1 & 2 by Lewis Mumford.
David Jones, The Dying Gaul and Other Writings (London: Faber; Faber, 1978), 161.
D. H. Lawrence, The Plumed Serpent, ed. L. D. Clark (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 250.
D. H. Lawrence, The Poems, ed. Christopher Pollnitz, vol. 3 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 1596–97.
D. H. Lawrence, Late Essays and Articles, ed. James T. Boulton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 22–24.
Lawrence, The Poems, 1:446.
Lawrence, The Plumed Serpent, 364.
Lawrence, The Poems, 1:453–54.
Lawrence, Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays, 203–5.
D. H. Lawrence, Sketches of Etruscan Places and Other Italian Essays, ed. Simonetta De Filippis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 142.
Ludwig Klages, Cosmogonic Reflections, trans. Joseph D. Pryce (London: Arktos, 2015), 131.
Lawrence, The Poems, 1:545.
D. H. Lawrence, The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, ed. James T. Boulton, Margaret H. Boulton, and Gerald M. Lacy, vol. VI (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 150–51.
R. S. Thomas, Collected Later Poems (Hexham: Bloodaxe Books, 2004), 330.
Lawrence, The Poems, 1:574.
Lawrence, The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, VII:424.
D. H. Lawrence, Mornings in Mexico and Other Essays, ed. Virginia Crosswhite Hyde (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 164.