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Short poem

David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930)

Lui et Elle

              1She is large and matronly
              2And rather dirty,
              3A little sardonic-looking, as if domesticity had driven her to it.

              4Though what she does, except lay four eggs at random in the garden once a year
              5And put up with her husband,
              6I don't know.

              7She likes to eat.
              8She hurries up, striding reared on long uncanny legs,
              9When food is going.
            10Oh yes, she can make haste when she likes.

            11She snaps the soft bread from my hand in great mouthfuls,
            12Opening her rather pretty wedge of an iron, pristine face
            13Into an enormously wide-beaked mouth
            14Like sudden curved scissors,
            15And gulping at more than she can swallow, and working her thick, soft tongue,
            16And having the bread hanging over her chin.

            17O Mistress, Mistress,
            18Reptile Mistress,
            19Your eye is very dark, very bright,
            20And it never softens
            21Although you watch.

            22She knows,
            23She knows well enough to come for food,
            24Yet she sees me not;
            25Her bright eye sees, but not me, not anything,
            26Sightful, sightless, seeing and visionless,
            27Reptile mistress.

            28Taking bread in her curved, gaping, toothless mouth,
            29She has no qualm when she catches my finger in her steel overlapping gums,
            30But she hangs on, and my shout and my shrinking are nothing to her,
            31She does not even know she is nipping me with her curved beak.
            32Snake-like she draws at my finger, while I drag it in horror away.

            33Mistress, reptile mistress,
            34You are almost too large, I am almost frightened.

            35He is much smaller,
            36Dapper beside her,
            37And ridiculously small.

            38Her laconic eye has an earthy, materialistic look,
            39His, poor darling, is almost fiery.

            40His wimple, his blunt-prowed face,
            41His low forehead, his skinny neck, his long, scaled, striving legs,
            42So striving, striving,
            43Are all more delicate than she,
            44And he has a cruel scar on his shell.

            45Poor darling, biting at her feet,
            46Running beside her like a dog, biting her earthy, splay feet,
            47Nipping her ankles,
            48Which she drags apathetic away, though without retreating into her shell.

            49Agelessly silent,
            50And with a grim, reptile determination,
            51Cold, voiceless age-after-age behind him, serpents' long obstinacy
            52Of horizontal persistence.

            53Little old man
            54Scuffling beside her, bending down, catching his opportunity,
            55Parting his steel-trap face, so suddenly, and seizing her scaly ankle,
            56And hanging grimly on,
            57Letting go at last as she drags away,
            58And closing his steel-trap face.

            59His steel-trap, stoic, ageless, handsome face.
            60Alas, what a fool he looks in this scuffle.

            61And how he feels it!
            62The lonely rambler, the stoic, dignified stalker through chaos,
            63The immune, the animate,
            64Enveloped in isolation,
            66Now look at him!

            67Alas, the spear is through the side of his isolation.
            68His adolescence saw him crucified into sex,
            69Doomed, in the long crucifixion of desire, to seek his consummation beyond himself.
            70Divided into passionate duality,
            71He, so finished and immune, now broken into desirous fragmentariness,
            72Doomed to make an intolerable fool of himself
            73In his effort toward completion again.

            74Poor little earthy house-inhabiting Osiris,
            75The mysterious bull tore him at adolescence into pieces,
            76And he must struggle after reconstruction, ignominiously.

            77And so behold him following the tail
            78Of that mud-hovel of his slowly-rambling spouse,
            79Like some unhappy bull at the tail of a cow,
            80But with more than bovine, grim, earth-dank persistence,
            81Suddenly seizing the ugly ankle as she stretches out to walk,
            82Roaming over the sods,
            83Or, if it happen to show, at her pointed, heavy tail
            84Beneath the low-dropping back-board of her shell.

            85Their two shells like domed boats bumping,
            86Hers huge, his small;
            87Their splay feet rambling and rowing like paddles,
            88And stumbling mixed up in one another,
            89In the race of love --
            90Two tortoises,
            91She huge, he small.

            92She seems earthily apathetic,
            93And he has a reptile's awful persistence.

            94I heard a woman pitying her, pitying the Mère Tortue.
            95While I, I pity Monsieur.
            96"He pesters her and torments her," said the woman.
            97How much more is he pestered and tormented, say I.

            98What can he do?
            99He is dumb, he is visionless,
          101His black, sad-lidded eye sees but beholds not
          102As her earthen mound moves on,
          103But he catches the folds of vulnerable, leathery skin,
          104Nail-studded, that shake beneath her shell,
          105And drags at these with his beak,
          106Drags and drags and bites,
          107While she pulls herself free, and rows her dull mound along.


1] The title means "him and her" in French.
The next poem in the Tortoises group is "Tortoise Gallantry."

40] wimple: the loose skin hanging from his head and neck,compared to a medieval hair-covering.

67] Cf. John 19.33-34: "but when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water."

74] Osiris: the Egyptian god of the dead, a king who was murdered and hacked to pieces by his brother Set, here associated with the bull Apis.

85] domed: "doomed" in 1921 but corrected in 1928.

94] Mère Tortue: "Mother Tortoise" (French).

95] Monsieur: "the Gentleman" (French).

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, Tortoises (New York: Thomas Seltzer, 1921): 27-35. PR 6023 A93 T6 1921 Robarts Library
First publication date: 1921
Publication date note: See Roberts A19
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 2000.
Recent editing: 4:2001/12/28

Composition date: 15 September 1920 - 30 September 1920
Composition date note: Composed in the garden of La Canovaia (Kinkead-Weekes, 604-05, 747-48, 859)
Form: free verse

Other poems by David Herbert Lawrence