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Short poem

David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930)


              1The proper way to eat a fig, in society,
              2Is to split it in four, holding it by the stump,
              3And open it, so that it is a glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled four-petalled flower.

              4Then you throw away the skin
              5Which is just like a four-sepalled calyx,
              6After you have taken off the blossom with your lips.

              7But the vulgar way
              8Is just to put your mouth to the crack, and take out the flesh in one bite.

              9Every fruit has its secret.

            10The fig is a very secretive fruit.
            11As you see it standing growing, you feel at once it is symbolic:
            12And it seems male.
            13But when you come to know it better, you agree with the Romans, it is female.

            14The Italians vulgarly say, it stands for the female part; the fig-fruit:
            15The fissure, the yoni,
            16The wonderful moist conductivity towards the centre.

            19The flowering all inward and womb-fibrilled;
            20And but one orifice.

            21The fig, the horse-shoe, the squash-blossom.

            23There was a flower that flowered inward, womb-ward;
            24Now there is a fruit like a ripe womb.

            25It was always a secret.
            26That's how it should be, the female should always be secret.

            27There never was any standing aloft and unfolded on a bough
            28Like other flowers, in a revelation of petals;
            29Silver-pink peach, venetian green glass of medlars and sorb-apples,
            30Shallow wine-cups on short, bulging stems
            31Openly pledging heaven:
            32Here's to the thorn in flower! Here is to Utterance!
            33The brave, adventurous rosaceæ.

            34Folded upon itself, and secret unutterable,
            35And milky-sapped, sap that curdles milk and makes ricotta,
            36Sap that smells strange on your fingers, that even goats won't taste it;
            37Folded upon itself, enclosed like any Mohammedan woman,
            38Its nakedness all within-walls, its flowering forever unseen,
            39One small way of access only, and this close-curtained from the light;
            40Fig, fruit of the female mystery, covert and inward,
            41Mediterranean fruit, with your covert nakedness,
            42Where everything happens invisible, flowering and fertilisation, and fruiting
            43In the inwardness of your you, that eye will never see
            44Till it's finished, and you're over-ripe, and you burst to give up your ghost.

            45Till the drop of ripeness exudes,
            46And the year is over.

            47And then the fig has kept her secret long enough.
            48So it explodes, and you see through the fissure the scarlet.
            49And the fig is finished, the year is over.

            50That's how the fig dies, showing her crimson through the purple slit
            51Like a wound, the exposure of her secret, on the open day.
            52Like a prostitute, the bursten fig, making a show of her secret.

            53That's how women die too.

            54The year is fallen over-ripe,
            55The year of our women.
            56The year of our women is fallen over-ripe.
            57The secret is laid bare.
            58And rottenness soon sets in.
            59The year of our women is fallen over-ripe.

            60When Eve once knew in her mind that she was naked
            61She quickly sewed fig-leaves, and sewed the same for the man.
            62She'd been naked all her days before,
            63But till then, till that apple of knowledge, she hadn't had the fact on her mind.

            64She got the fact on her mind, and quickly sewed fig-leaves.
            65And women have been sewing ever since.
            66But now they stitch to adorn the bursten fig, not to cover it.
            67They have their nakedness more than ever on their mind,
            68And they won't let us forget it.

            69Now, the secret
            70Becomes an affirmation through moist, scarlet lips
            71That laugh at the Lord's indignation.

            72What then, good Lord! cry the women.
            73We have kept our secret long enough.
            74We are a ripe fig.
            75Let us burst into affirmation.

            76They forget, ripe figs won't keep.
            77Ripe figs won't keep.

            78Honey-white figs of the north, black figs with scarlet inside, of the south.
            79Ripe figs won't keep, won't keep in any clime.
            80What then, when women the world over have all bursten into affirmation?
            81And bursten figs won't keep?

San Gervasio.


5] four-sepalled calyx: a group of four leaves cupping a plant's flowers.

15] yoni: Hindu symbol for the female genitalia.

19] womb-fibrilled: haired or threaded womb-like.

29] medlars and sorb-apples: European trees, the medlar and the service,with crab-apple-like fruit.

33] rosaceæ: oil of roses (Latin, "rosaceum")?

35] ricotta: Italian white whey cheese.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: D. H. Lawrence, Birds, Beasts and Flowers: Poems (London: Martin Secker, 1923): 18-21. PR 6023 A93B5 1923 Robarts Library
First publication date: 1923
Publication date note: see Roberts A27
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2000.
Recent editing: 4:2001/12/28

Composition date: 10 September 1921 - 15 September 1921
Composition date note: Composed at Villa La Canovaia (Kinkead-Weekes, 747, 858-59)
Form: free verse

Other poems by David Herbert Lawrence