Walk Warily, walk warily, be careful what you say:
because now the Sunderers are hovering round,
the Dividers are close upon us, dogging our every breath
and watching our every step,
and beating their great wings in our panting faces.
The angels are standing back, the angels of the kiss.
They wait, they give way now
to the Sunderers, to the swift ones
the ones with the sharp black wings
and the drumming of pinions of thunder
and hands like salt
and the sudden dripping down of the knife-edge cleavage of the lightning
Lo, we are in the midst of the Sunderers the Cleavers,
that cleave us forever apart from one another
and separate heart from heart, and cut away all caresses
with the white triumphance of lightning and electric delight
the Dividers, the Thunderers, the Swift ones, blind with speed
who put salt in our mouths
and excitement in our limbs
and hotness, and then more crusted brine in our hearts.
It is the day of the Sunderers
and the angels are standing back
This poem was written in the late nineteen-twenties by D. H. Lawrence, the English poet and novelist. It is a remarkable work, speaking of the forces opposing all that wishes to form warm, open and loving human relationships. If Lawrence had written Walk Warily today, it would be in no way less relevant to our modern times, where the experiences of alienation are intensifying in society. This poem looks directly into these forces, describing them, yet it is not a negative picture. The poem, as an artistic work, has its own magic which can open a response in the human soul. In reading it one can be stimulated to not only understand these forces but to discover what is necessary to overcome them. In this way the poem can become a meditation.
The poem begins with a warning, to ‘walk warily’ and be careful what we say. How often in life is this not the case? Rather, our ill-considered and unthoughtful words to one another can cause much harm, pushing selfishly or thoughtlessly into situations. What is this force that seems to hover, waiting to enter and cause a conflict between people, darkening the ‘space’ between them, even destroying it? These forces Lawrence describes as the ‘Sunderers,’ Beings possessing the quality of being ‘blind with speed’ and having ‘sharp black wings’. These images are the antithesis of an angelic form. These ‘Sunderers’ exist to separate and divide human soul from human soul, and divide the soul against itself. One of the ways they achieve this is to bring excitement into people’s lives. This is not an excitement born from joy, which is a warm expanding force radiating outwards from the heart, but rather it is an excitement pushed into the human nervous system, against our wills, making us unaware of anything except our own selves.
Although Lawrence did not write Walk Warily as a poem for Michaelmas, it is perfectly relevant to the motif of that festival. Michaelmas reveals itself through a picture of Michael, a Sun-Being, overcoming the Dragon. It is these ‘dragon forces’ of which Lawrence’s poem speaks; an anti-Christian force stands behind Walk Warily. Overcoming the dragon is a universal theme, appearing in the legends of many cultures around the world. A spiritual view sees Michael as a Cosmic being imbued with the Sun-forces of Christ, able to subdue the Dragon. There are many legendary stories in different cultures which embody this theme of overcoming the Dragon. The dragon is not to be destroyed, because it has a legitimate task to challenge us, but we need help to subdue and transform these forces which appear in our souls.
The deed of Michael conquering the Dragon offers courage to human hearts to overcome these dragon forces in our own souls. That, rather simply stated, is the message of Michaelmas, which is rhythmically given each year as a profound imagination into human life. Imaginations can have a real power in them. If human hearts can warm to the life in these Michaelmas pictures, then the power of the spirit can shine like a sun into human souls, bringing courage to overcome these forces of darkness. Lawrence’s poem takes us into this darkness, to confront these forces and challenge us to come to this sun-filled response.
Excerpt from D H Lawrence by Tom Haines
© New View 2001