In spite of the controversy that for many years surrounded some of the work of English author, David Herbert Richards Lawrence (1885 – 1930), his novels, plays, poetry and critical essays are now valued as significant contributions to English literature in the 20th century. He is certainly viewed as one of the best travel writers, which is my concern here. Lawrence published Sea and Sardinia in 1921 (Thomas Seltzer, New York). It is an account of a voyage from Sicily to and through parts of the island of Sardinia. The book contains the following chapters: I. As far as Palermo; II. The Sea; III. Cagliari; IV. Mandas; V. To Sorgono; VI. To Nuoro; VII. to Terranova and the Steamer; VIII. Back. If you just want to read about Sardinia, you might jump in anywhere and start reading, but if you want a taste of Lawrence's style to whet your appetite, you might as well start at the beginning. Below are two short excerpts: the first, indeed, is the very beginning of the book and takes place before the voyage; it is concerned with Sicily and specifically, Mt. Etna; the second is from the chapter "To Sorgono." Sea and Sardinia contains a map drawn by Lawrence and eight color illustrations by Jan Juta (1895 - 1990), one of which is reproduced below. It is the illustration at the beginning of the chapter, "To Sorgono."
Why can't one sit
still? Here in Sicily it is so pleasant: the sunny
Ionian sea, the changing jewel of Calabria, like a
fire-opal moved in the light; Italy and the
panorama of Christmas clouds, night with the
dog-star laying a long, luminous gleam across the
sea, as if baying at us, Orion marching above; how
the dog-star Sirius looks at one, looks at one! he
is the hound of heaven, green, glamorous and
fierce! —and then oh regal
evening star, hung westward flaring over the jagged dark
precipices of tall Sicily: then Etna, that wicked
witch, resting her thick white snow under heaven,
and slowly, slowly rolling her orange-coloured
smoke. They called her the Pillar of Heaven, the
Greeks. It seems wrong at first, for she trails up
in a long, magical, flexible line from the sea's
edge to her blunt cone, and does not seem tall.
She seems rather low, under heaven. But as one
knows her better, oh awe and wizardry! Remote
under heaven, aloof, so near, yet never with us.
The painters try to paint her, and the
photographers to photograph her, in vain. Because why?
Because the near ridges, with their olives and
white houses, these are with us. Because the
river-bed, and Naxos under the lemon groves, Greek
Naxos deep under dark-leaved, many-fruited lemon
groves, Etna's skirts and skirt-bottoms, these
still are our world, our own world. Even the high
villages among the oaks, on Etna. But Etna
herself, Etna of the snow and secret changing winds, she
is beyond a crystal wall. When I look at her, low,
white, witch-like under heaven, slowly rolling her
orange smoke and giving sometimes a breath of
rose-red flame, then I must look away from earth,
into the ether, into the low empyrean. And there,
in that remote region, Etna is alone. If you would
see her, you must slowly take off your eyes from
the world and go a naked seer to the strange
chamber of the empyrean. Pedestal of heaven! The
Greeks had a sense of the magic truth of things.
Thank goodness one still knows enough about them
to find one's kinship at last. There are so many
photographs, there are so infinitely many
water-colour drawings and oil paintings which
purport to render Etna. But pedestal of heaven!
You must cross the invisible border. Between the
foreground, which is our own, and Etna, pivot of
winds in lower heaven, there is a dividing line.
You must change your state of mind. A
metempsychosis. It is no use thinking you can see
and behold Etna and the foreground both at once.
Never. One or the other. Foreground and a
transcribed Etna. Or Etna, pedestal of heaven.
Why, then, must one go? Why not stay? Ah, what a mistress, this Etna! with her strange winds prowling round her like Circe's panthers, some black, some white. With her strange, remote communications and her terrible dynamic exhalations. She makes men mad. Such terrible vibrations of wicked and beautiful electricity she throws about her, like a deadly net! Nay, sometimes, verily, one can feel a new current of her demon magnetism seize one's living tissue and change the peaceful life of one's active cells. She makes a storm in the living plasm and a new adjustment. And sometimes it is like a madness.
This timeless Grecian Etna, in her lower-heaven loveliness, so lovely, so lovely, what a torturer! Not many men can really stand her, without losing their souls. She is like Circe. Unless a man is very strong, she takes his soul away from him and leaves him not a beast, but an elemental creature, intelligent and soulless. Intelligent, almost inspired, and soulless, like the Etna Sicilians. Intelligent daimons, and humanly, according to us, the most stupid people on earth. Ach, horror! How many men, how many races, has Etna put to flight? It was she who broke the quick of the Greek soul. And after the Greeks, she gave the Romans, the Normans, the Arabs, the Spaniards, the French, the Italians, even the English, she gave them all their inspired hour and broke their souls.