Representative Poetry Online
  Poet Index   Poem Index   Random   Search  
  Introduction   Timeline   Calendar   Glossary   Criticism   Bibliography  
  RPO   Canadian Poetry   UTEL  
by Name
by Date
by Title
by First Line
by Last Line
Short poem

David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930)

Tortoise Shout

              1I thought he was dumb,
              2I said he was dumb,
              3Yet I've heard him cry.

              4First faint scream,
              5Out of life's unfathomable dawn,
              6Far off, so far, like a madness, under the horizon's dawning rim,
              7Far, far off, far scream.

              8Tortoise in extremis.

              9Why were we crucified into sex?
            10Why were we not left rounded off, and finished in ourselves,
            11As we began,
            12As he certainly began, so perfectly alone?

            13A far, was-it-audible scream,
            14Or did it sound on the plasm direct?

            15Worse than the cry of the new-born,
            16A scream,
            17A yell,
            18A shout,
            19A pæan,
            20A death-agony,
            21A birth-cry,
            22A submission,
            23All tiny, tiny, far away, reptile under the first dawn.

            24War-cry, triumph, acute-delight, death-scream reptilian,
            25Why was the veil torn?
            26The silken shriek of the soul's torn membrane?
            27The male soul's membrane
            28Torn with a shriek half music, half horror.

            30Male tortoise, cleaving behind the hovel-wall of that dense female,
            31Mounted and tense, spread-eagle, out-reaching out of the shell
            32In tortoise-nakedness,
            33Long neck, and long vulnerable limbs extruded, spread-eagle over her house-roof,
            34And the deep, secret, all-penetrating tail curved beneath her walls,
            35Reaching and gripping tense, more reaching anguish in uttermost tension
            36Till suddenly, in the spasm of coition, tupping like a jerking leap, and oh!
            37Opening its clenched face from his outstretched neck
            38And giving that fragile yell, that scream,
            40From his pink, cleft, old-man's mouth,
            41Giving up the ghost,
            42Or screaming in Pentecost, receiving the ghost.

            43His scream, and his moment's subsidence,
            44The moment of eternal silence,
            45Yet unreleased, and after the moment, the sudden, startling jerk of coition, and at once
            46The inexpressible faint yell --
            47And so on, till the last plasm of my body was melted back
            48To the primeval rudiments of life, and the secret.

            49So he tups, and screams
            50Time after time that frail, torn scream
            51After each jerk, the longish interval,
            52The tortoise eternity,
            53Agelong, reptilian persistence,
            54Heart-throb, slow heart-throb, persistent for the next spasm.

            55I remember, when I was a boy,
            56I heard the scream of a frog, which was caught with his foot in the mouth of an up-starting snake;
            57I remember when I first heard bull-frogs break into sound in the spring;
            58I remember hearing a wild goose out of the throat of night
            59Cry loudly, beyond the lake of waters;
            60I remember the first time, out of a bush in the darkness, a nightingale's piercing cries and gurgles startled the depths of my soul;
            61I remember the scream of a rabbit as I went through a wood at midnight;
            62I remember the heifer in her heat, blorting and blorting through the hours, persistent and irrepressible;
            63I remember my first terror hearing the howl of weird, amorous cats;
            64I remember the scream of a terrified, injured horse, the sheet-lightning
            65And running away from the sound of a woman in labor, something like an owl whooing,
            66And listening inwardly to the first bleat of a lamb,
            67The first wail of an infant,
            68And my mother singing to herself,
            69And the first tenor singing of the passionate throat of a young collier, who has long since drunk himself to death,
            70The first elements of foreign speech
            71On wild dark lips.

            72And more than all these,
            73And less than all these,
            74This last,
            75Strange, faint coition yell
            76Of the male tortoise at extremity,
            77Tiny from under the very edge of the farthest far-off horizon of life.

            78The cross,
            79The wheel on which our silence first is broken,
            80Sex, which breaks up our integrity, our single inviolability, our deep silence
            81Tearing a cry from us.

            82Sex, which breaks us into voice, sets us calling across the deeps, calling, calling for the complement,
            83Singing, and calling, and singing again, being answered, having found.

            84Torn, to become whole again, after long seeking for what is lost,
            85The same cry from the tortoise as from Christ, the Osiris-cry of abandonment,
            86That which is whole, torn asunder,
            87That which is in part, finding its whole again throughout the universe.


1] The previous poem in the Tortoises group is "Tortoise Gallantry."

8] in extremis: (pushed) to his limits (Latin "extremus").

14] plasm: the speaker's blood (cd. 47), or perhaps the uttermost stellar matter.

36] tupping: copulating.

42] Pentecost: Christian feast celebrating the descent of the Holy Ghost in tongues of fire on the apostles, who in this way received the gift of speaking in many languages.

62] blorting: onomatopoeic for the heifer's mating cry.

85] Osiris: the Egyptian god of the dead, a king who was murdered and hacked to pieces by his brother Set.

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): 43-50. 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: 4:2002/1/12

Composition date: 15 September 1920 - 30 September 1920
Composition date note: Composed in the garden of La Canovaia (See Kinkead-Weekes, 604-05, 748, 859)
Form: Free Verse

Other poems by David Herbert Lawrence