Letters from a Long Illness with the World: The D.H. Lawrence Poems by Barry Dempster
Reviewed by E.L. Edmunds (Canadian Book Review Annual 1994)
Lawrence was a prolific writer of letters: some 5500 are still extant. The Cambridge University Press edition of Lawrence’s letters is Dempster’s primary source of background information and inspiration, as he graciously acknowledges. Dempster’s own “letters,” 56 in all (some in verse, some in prose), span the period from 1906 (when Lawrence was 21) to 1950 (when Lawrence died of tuberculosis). In the process, Dempster becomes Lawrence’s alter ego, giving passionate voice to all his fears and frustrations, his impatience with the world around him, his sorrow for what is, his glimpse of what might be. “Whenever I close my eyes,” he says, “I can see the outline of a perfect world” (“Mallorca 1929”). Some of the more richly sensuous poems focus on Frieda (Lawrence’s wife), and what she meant to him in their tempestuous but enduring relationship.
Dempster not only portrays Lawrence the man with astonishing verisimilitude, but also recaptures Lawrence’s style, those colloquial rhythms and vivid images. In short, Dempster’s book is a remarkably adept simulation exercise, a tribute to the master by a most devoted, proficient, and worthy disciple.