Time, tide and the Milky Way
HE’D discovered the magical poetry of the night sky during his Eastwood days, but familiar stars and constellations seemed disconcertingly different to DH Lawrence down under in Australia in 1922.
Richard Lovat Somers, “poet” hero of the novel Kangaroo, which Lawrence had half-written a century ago today, feels “all on one side”, seeing the Milky Way “leaning heavily to the south”. Orion was “standing on his head in the west...his sword-belt upside down...the dog-star prancing in mid-heaven”.
Sailing into Sydney Harbour in “unutterably dismal” rain, Somers felt almost too “miserable” to disembark. Then, there appeared a “huge, brilliant, supernatural rainbow, spanning all Sydney” – a “magnificent” auspicious sign.
With wife Harriet, Somers begins living in seclusion. However, a longing to engage in changing the world leads to involvement with insurgents. Benjamin Cooley, alias Kangaroo, commanding the Diggers’ secret fascist army, and red-faced Socialist Willie Struthers who urges Somers to run his “people’s paper”, The Bulletin. Both demand love and loyalty. The “emotional heat” of this entanglement in “dead ideals” leaves Somers seeking “stillness at the core”.
The ocean offers refreshment, escape. He envied the “cold exultance” of “gleaming white gannets” plunging “like white sky-arrows” into the foam. Now he swiftly undresses, running to the shore for a spontaneous winter solstice swim. He’s submerged by the advancing swell, tumbled over, rolled “rudely up the beach, in a pell-mell”, having “a little taste of the Pacific”.
In amazement, Harriet hastens with a towel. Somers “showered first, touched her cheek, and nodded”. When dry, “he came to her”.
Strolling the tide-line later, they sense the sea is talking constantly “in its disintegrative language”. As Somers assures Harriet he’s “with” her, “No-one” else, a shaft of rainbow light fumes far out at sea – signalling that “pledge of unbroken faith, between the universe and the innermost”.
■100 years ago, on June 21, 1922, Lawrence writes from Thirroul to Thomas Seltzer hoping he will meet them at San Francisco on September 4. He wants no “foolish reporters”. There’s “not a soul” bothers him in New South Wales. He’s completed “more than half” of Kangaroo. It has “no love at all” but “attempt at revolution”.
He offers to help Robert Mountsier publish William Siebenhaar’s translation of Max Havelaar and informs Catherine Carswell the Pacific is “boomingly, crashingly noisy”.