Women in Love, by D. H. Lawrence

Chapter 15

Sunday Evening

As the day wore on, the life-blood seemed to ebb away from Ursula, and within the emptiness a heavy despair gathered. Her passion seemed to bleed to death, and there was nothing. She sat suspended in a state of complete nullity, harder to bear than death.

‘Unless something happens,’ she said to herself, in the perfect lucidity of final suffering, ‘I shall die. I am at the end of my line of life.’

She sat crushed and obliterated in a darkness that was the border of death. She realised how all her life she had been drawing nearer and nearer to this brink, where there was no beyond, from which one had to leap like Sappho into the unknown. The knowledge of the imminence of death was like a drug. Darkly, without thinking at all, she knew that she was near to death. She had travelled all her life along the line of fulfilment, and it was nearly concluded. She knew all she had to know, she had experienced all she had to experience, she was fulfilled in a kind of bitter ripeness, there remained only to fall from the tree into death. And one must fulfil one’s development to the end, must carry the adventure to its conclusion. And the next step was over the border into death. So it was then! There was a certain peace in the knowledge.

After all, when one was fulfilled, one was happiest in falling into death, as a bitter fruit plunges in its ripeness downwards. Death is a great consummation, a consummating experience. It is a development from life. That we know, while we are yet living. What then need we think for further? One can never see beyond the consummation. It is enough that death is a great and conclusive experience. Why should we ask what comes after the experience, when the experience is still unknown to us? Let us die, since the great experience is the one that follows now upon all the rest, death, which is the next great crisis in front of which we have arrived. If we wait, if we baulk the issue, we do but hang about the gates in undignified uneasiness. There it is, in front of us, as in front of Sappho, the illimitable space. Thereinto goes the journey. Have we not the courage to go on with our journey, must we cry ‘I daren’t’? On ahead we will go, into death, and whatever death may mean. If a man can see the next step to be taken, why should he fear the next but one? Why ask about the next but one? Of the next step we are certain. It is the step into death.

‘I shall die — I shall quickly die,’ said Ursula to herself, clear as if in a trance, clear, calm, and certain beyond human certainty. But somewhere behind, in the twilight, there was a bitter weeping and a hopelessness. That must not be attended to. One must go where the unfaltering spirit goes, there must be no baulking the issue, because of fear. No baulking the issue, no listening to the lesser voices. If the deepest desire be now, to go on into the unknown of death, shall one forfeit the deepest truth for one more shallow?

‘Then let it end,’ she said to herself. It was a decision. It was not a question of taking one’s life — she would NEVER kill herself, that was repulsive and violent. It was a question of KNOWING the next step. And the next step led into the space of death. Did it? — or was there —?

Her thoughts drifted into unconsciousness, she sat as if asleep beside the fire. And then the thought came back. The space o’ death! Could she give herself to it? Ah yes — it was a sleep. She had had enough So long she had held out; and resisted. Now was the time to relinquish, not to resist any more.

In a kind of spiritual trance, she yielded, she gave way, and all was dark. She could feel, within the darkness, the terrible assertion of her body, the unutterable anguish of dissolution, the only anguish that is too much, the far-off, awful nausea of dissolution set in within the body.

‘Does the body correspond so immediately with the spirit?’ she asked herself. And she knew, with the clarity of ultimate knowledge, that the body is only one of the manifestations of the spirit, the transmutation of the integral spirit is the transmutation of the physical body as well. Unless I set my will, unless I absolve myself from the rhythm of life, fix myself and remain static, cut off from living, absolved within my own will. But better die than live mechanically a life that is a repetition of repetitions. To die is to move on with the invisible. To die is also a joy, a joy of submitting to that which is greater than the known, namely, the pure unknown. That is a joy. But to live mechanised and cut off within the motion of the will, to live as an entity absolved from the unknown, that is shameful and ignominious. There is no ignominy in death. There is complete ignominy in an unreplenished, mechanised life. Life indeed may be ignominious, shameful to the soul. But death is never a shame. Death itself, like the illimitable space, is beyond our sullying.

Tomorrow was Monday. Monday, the beginning of another school-week! Another shameful, barren school-week, mere routine and mechanical activity. Was not the adventure of death infinitely preferable? Was not death infinitely more lovely and noble than such a life? A life of barren routine, without inner meaning, without any real significance. How sordid life was, how it was a terrible shame to the soul, to live now! How much cleaner and more dignified to be dead! One could not bear any more of this shame of sordid routine and mechanical nullity. One might come to fruit in death. She had had enough. For where was life to be found? No flowers grow upon busy machinery, there is no sky to a routine, there is no space to a rotary motion. And all life was a rotary motion, mechanised, cut off from reality. There was nothing to look for from life — it was the same in all countries and all peoples. The only window was death. One could look out on to the great dark sky of death with elation, as one had looked out of the classroom window as a child, and seen perfect freedom in the outside. Now one was not a child, and one knew that the soul was a prisoner within this sordid vast edifice of life, and there was no escape, save in death.

But what a joy! What a gladness to think that whatever humanity did, it could not seize hold of the kingdom of death, to nullify that. The sea they turned into a murderous alley and a soiled road of commerce, disputed like the dirty land of a city every inch of it. The air they claimed too, shared it up, parcelled it out to certain owners, they trespassed in the air to fight for it. Everything was gone, walled in, with spikes on top of the walls, and one must ignominiously creep between the spiky walls through a labyrinth of life.

But the great, dark, illimitable kingdom of death, there humanity was put to scorn. So much they could do upon earth, the multifarious little gods that they were. But the kingdom of death put them all to scorn, they dwindled into their true vulgar silliness in face of it.

How beautiful, how grand and perfect death was, how good to look forward to. There one would wash off all the lies and ignominy and dirt that had been put upon one here, a perfect bath of cleanness and glad refreshment, and go unknown, unquestioned, unabased. After all, one was rich, if only in the promise of perfect death. It was a gladness above all, that this remained to look forward to, the pure inhuman otherness of death.

Whatever life might be, it could not take away death, the inhuman transcendent death. Oh, let us ask no question of it, what it is or is not. To know is human, and in death we do not know, we are not human. And the joy of this compensates for all the bitterness of knowledge and the sordidness of our humanity. In death we shall not be human, and we shall not know. The promise of this is our heritage, we look forward like heirs to their majority.

Ursula sat quite still and quite forgotten, alone by the fire in the drawing-room. The children were playing in the kitchen, all the others were gone to church. And she was gone into the ultimate darkness of her own soul.

She was startled by hearing the bell ring, away in the kitchen, the children came scudding along the passage in delicious alarm.

‘Ursula, there’s somebody.’

‘I know. Don’t be silly,’ she replied. She too was startled, almost frightened. She dared hardly go to the door.

Birkin stood on the threshold, his rain-coat turned up to his ears. He had come now, now she was gone far away. She was aware of the rainy night behind him.

‘Oh is it you?’ she said.

‘I am glad you are at home,’ he said in a low voice, entering the house.

‘They are all gone to church.’

He took off his coat and hung it up. The children were peeping at him round the corner.

‘Go and get undressed now, Billy and Dora,’ said Ursula. ‘Mother will be back soon, and she’ll be disappointed if you’re not in bed.’

The children, in a sudden angelic mood, retired without a word. Birkin and Ursula went into the drawing-room.

The fire burned low. He looked at her and wondered at the luminous delicacy of her beauty, and the wide shining of her eyes. He watched from a distance, with wonder in his heart, she seemed transfigured with light.

‘What have you been doing all day?’ he asked her.

‘Only sitting about,’ she said.

He looked at her. There was a change in her. But she was separate from him. She remained apart, in a kind of brightness. They both sat silent in the soft light of the lamp. He felt he ought to go away again, he ought not to have come. Still he did not gather enough resolution to move. But he was DE TROP, her mood was absent and separate.

Then there came the voices of the two children calling shyly outside the door, softly, with self-excited timidity:

‘Ursula! Ursula!’

She rose and opened the door. On the threshold stood the two children in their long nightgowns, with wide-eyed, angelic faces. They were being very good for the moment, playing the role perfectly of two obedient children.

‘Shall you take us to bed!’ said Billy, in a loud whisper.

‘Why you ARE angels tonight,’ she said softly. ‘Won’t you come and say good-night to Mr Birkin?’

The children merged shyly into the room, on bare feet. Billy’s face was wide and grinning, but there was a great solemnity of being good in his round blue eyes. Dora, peeping from the floss of her fair hair, hung back like some tiny Dryad, that has no soul.

‘Will you say good-night to me?’ asked Birkin, in a voice that was strangely soft and smooth. Dora drifted away at once, like a leaf lifted on a breath of wind. But Billy went softly forward, slow and willing, lifting his pinched-up mouth implicitly to be kissed. Ursula watched the full, gathered lips of the man gently touch those of the boy, so gently. Then Birkin lifted his fingers and touched the boy’s round, confiding cheek, with a faint touch of love. Neither spoke. Billy seemed angelic like a cherub boy, or like an acolyte, Birkin was a tall, grave angel looking down to him.

‘Are you going to be kissed?’ Ursula broke in, speaking to the little girl. But Dora edged away like a tiny Dryad that will not be touched.

‘Won’t you say good-night to Mr Birkin? Go, he’s waiting for you,’ said Ursula. But the girl-child only made a little motion away from him.

‘Silly Dora, silly Dora!’ said Ursula.

Birkin felt some mistrust and antagonism in the small child. He could not understand it.

‘Come then,’ said Ursula. ‘Let us go before mother comes.’

‘Who’ll hear us say our prayers?’ asked Billy anxiously.

‘Whom you like.’

‘Won’t you?’

‘Yes, I will.’

‘Ursula?’

‘Well Billy?’

‘Is it WHOM you like?’

‘That’s it.’

‘Well what is WHOM?’

‘It’s the accusative of who.’

There was a moment’s contemplative silence, then the confiding:

‘Is it?’

Birkin smiled to himself as he sat by the fire. When Ursula came down he sat motionless, with his arms on his knees. She saw him, how he was motionless and ageless, like some crouching idol, some image of a deathly religion. He looked round at her, and his face, very pale and unreal, seemed to gleam with a whiteness almost phosphorescent.

‘Don’t you feel well?’ she asked, in indefinable repulsion.

‘I hadn’t thought about it.’

‘But don’t you know without thinking about it?’

He looked at her, his eyes dark and swift, and he saw her revulsion. He did not answer her question.

‘Don’t you know whether you are unwell or not, without thinking about it?’ she persisted.

‘Not always,’ he said coldly.

‘But don’t you think that’s very wicked?’

‘Wicked?’

‘Yes. I think it’s CRIMINAL to have so little connection with your own body that you don’t even know when you are ill.’

He looked at her darkly.

‘Yes,’ he said.

‘Why don’t you stay in bed when you are seedy? You look perfectly ghastly.’

‘Offensively so?’ he asked ironically.

‘Yes, quite offensive. Quite repelling.’

‘Ah!! Well that’s unfortunate.’

‘And it’s raining, and it’s a horrible night. Really, you shouldn’t be forgiven for treating your body like it — you OUGHT to suffer, a man who takes as little notice of his body as that.’

‘— takes as little notice of his body as that,’ he echoed mechanically.

This cut her short, and there was silence.

The others came in from church, and the two had the girls to face, then the mother and Gudrun, and then the father and the boy.

‘Good-evening,’ said Brangwen, faintly surprised. ‘Came to see me, did you?’

‘No,’ said Birkin, ‘not about anything, in particular, that is. The day was dismal, and I thought you wouldn’t mind if I called in.’

‘It HAS been a depressing day,’ said Mrs Brangwen sympathetically. At that moment the voices of the children were heard calling from upstairs: ‘Mother! Mother!’ She lifted her face and answered mildly into the distance: ‘I shall come up to you in a minute, Doysie.’ Then to Birkin: ‘There is nothing fresh at Shortlands, I suppose? Ah,’ she sighed, ‘no, poor things, I should think not.’

‘You’ve been over there today, I suppose?’ asked the father.

‘Gerald came round to tea with me, and I walked back with him. The house is overexcited and unwholesome, I thought.’

‘I should think they were people who hadn’t much restraint,’ said Gudrun.

‘Or too much,’ Birkin answered.

‘Oh yes, I’m sure,’ said Gudrun, almost vindictively, ‘one or the other.’

‘They all feel they ought to behave in some unnatural fashion,’ said Birkin. ‘When people are in grief, they would do better to cover their faces and keep in retirement, as in the old days.’

‘Certainly!’ cried Gudrun, flushed and inflammable. ‘What can be worse than this public grief — what is more horrible, more false! If GRIEF is not private, and hidden, what is?’

‘Exactly,’ he said. ‘I felt ashamed when I was there and they were all going about in a lugubrious false way, feeling they must not be natural or ordinary.’

‘Well —’ said Mrs Brangwen, offended at this criticism, ‘it isn’t so easy to bear a trouble like that.’

And she went upstairs to the children.

He remained only a few minutes longer, then took his leave. When he was gone Ursula felt such a poignant hatred of him, that all her brain seemed turned into a sharp crystal of fine hatred. Her whole nature seemed sharpened and intensified into a pure dart of hate. She could not imagine what it was. It merely took hold of her, the most poignant and ultimate hatred, pure and clear and beyond thought. She could not think of it at all, she was translated beyond herself. It was like a possession. She felt she was possessed. And for several days she went about possessed by this exquisite force of hatred against him. It surpassed anything she had ever known before, it seemed to throw her out of the world into some terrible region where nothing of her old life held good. She was quite lost and dazed, really dead to her own life.

It was so completely incomprehensible and irrational. She did not know WHY she hated him, her hate was quite abstract. She had only realised with a shock that stunned her, that she was overcome by this pure transportation. He was the enemy, fine as a diamond, and as hard and jewel-like, the quintessence of all that was inimical.

She thought of his face, white and purely wrought, and of his eyes that had such a dark, constant will of assertion, and she touched her own forehead, to feel if she were mad, she was so transfigured in white flame of essential hate.

It was not temporal, her hatred, she did not hate him for this or for that; she did not want to do anything to him, to have any connection with him. Her relation was ultimate and utterly beyond words, the hate was so pure and gemlike. It was as if he were a beam of essential enmity, a beam of light that did not only destroy her, but denied her altogether, revoked her whole world. She saw him as a clear stroke of uttermost contradiction, a strange gem-like being whose existence defined her own non-existence. When she heard he was ill again, her hatred only intensified itself a few degrees, if that were possible. It stunned her and annihilated her, but she could not escape it. She could not escape this transfiguration of hatred that had come upon her.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/lawrence/dh/l41w/chapter15.html

Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:49