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F R A N K W A T E R S Taos, New Mexico Quetzalcoatl Versus D. H. Lawrence’s Plumed Serpent* It seems unusually fitting to me that the subject of discussion at your annual meeting being held here in Taos is D. H. Lawrence, that irascible, red-bearded Englishman of genius who was once Taos’ most distinguished resident. It also seems appropriate that now at Easter, sanctified by the Redeemer of Christianity, my own remarks should include a comment on another Redeemer who founded a religion similar to, and about the same time as Chris­ tianity, which spread throughout all Mesoamerica and endured for some fifteen centuries. For Quetzalcoatl, his myth and meaning, was the prime motif of Lawrence’s The Plumed Serpent. Brief as these comments must be, my approach to Quetzalcoatl vis-a-vis Lawrence’s Plumed Serpent must be gradual; for neither can be regarded superficially. D. H. Lawrence. Poet, novelist, essayist, philosopher, painter, and to increasing thousands St. Lawrence, the prophet. Just what was the divine mission to which he was dedicated? Why, ostensibly to free Victorian mankind from the prudishness of sex. And he did cure us of a lot of our prudishness, all right. But Lawrence *This paper was delivered before the Rocky Mountain American Studies Association, Taos, New Mexico, April 13, 1968. 104 Western American Literature was on the track of something beyond sex. He was oppressed by the tragic split between the dual opposites of life itself—the con­ scious and unconscious, instinct and reason. He abhored the dead­ ening constriction of life in our machine age. If nature comprised no more than inanimate resources for utilitarian use, man was werely a social entity, a slave to bigoted rationalization. How Lawrence excoriated those who proclaimed the universe a welloiled machine! How he damned our abject slavery to the iron monster! Strike off the shackles of our shallow rationalization, our materialistic-mechanistic civilization, he urged. Go back to the realm of the instincts, back to the deep dark wisdom of the blood! How? Lawrence pointed the way in his early novel, St. Mawr. In it a woman in England, Lou Carrington, compares her rather effete and ineffectual artist-husband, Rico, with the proud and vital stallion St. Mawr she has bought. Rico is concerned with inviting to tea those people who might buy his paintings. He can’t control the stallion; it throws him, as reason is so often thrown by instinct. So Mrs. Carrington abandons him and takes St. Mawr to America, to New Mexico, where she can begin a new life in the realm of the instinctive. The place we recognize instantly. It is Lawrence’s own ranch on the high slope of Lobo Mountain which we glimpse out the north window here in the Sagebrush Inn. On this ranch Lawrence himself settled in his small log cabin. He worked in the alfalfa field, milked his cow Susan, baked his own bread. How wonderful it must have been for this tortured, red-bearded Englishman from the dreary Midlands to see the Red Indians of America for the first time! To watch Trinidad and his companions from Taos Pueblo plastering his walls with adobe, and at night after work dancing among the pines. To hear the beat of their drums, to see their naked painted bodies leaping in flamelight. And in the morning, sitting under a pine and scribbling away in that neat calligraphy his neighbors knew so well, Lawrence resumed his literary fight to return man to the instinctive forces of life, to the deep dark wisdom of the blood. His vehicle this time was The Woman Who Rode Away. In The Plumed Serpent 105 this strange and compelling novelette he developed the theme of St. Mawr. The setting is Chihuahua, Mexico; and the principal character is another woman who rides a:way, the wife of a mining engineer named Lederman and the mother of two children. Lederman , like all mining engineers, is a practical man of reason whom she has never understood. Her own first name we do not know. It does not matter. She is Frieda, Mabel, Brett, all the Anglo women of our senseless and sterile...


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