On the dappled pathway to the village this morning I spotted a crude graffito that instantly reminded me of that crazed Englishman, D.H. Lawrence.
Yes, I mean totally crazed. That effete fop hated Italy, and hated Italians, but he gained considerable attention by writing nasty things about them. What the natives here find most offensive is that Lawrence repeatedly insisted they have a subconscious obsession for the prime sexual symbol, The Phallus.
Well, to give the devil his due, you need only go to the ancient city of Pompeii to see to what extent The Phallus is graphically and shamelessly displayed in statues and frescoes. I refer to the House of Vetti, where near the front door on a vertical panel stands Priapus with his grotesquely oversized penis resting on one of the dishes of a scale. And then there is the current exhibition of Pompeian brothel frescoes, erotic art with the most carefully wrought detail, in the National Archeological Museum in Napoli.
But in any event, Lawrence said the secret of Italy’s attraction to foreigners—and the reason so many tourists crowd the country—is to witness. . .phallic worship! “To the Italian,” Lawrence declared, “the phallus is the symbol of individual creative immortality, to each man his own Godhead.”
Can you imagine the outrage these blatherings caused in this country when they were first published?
Well, Lawrence wasn’t the first foreign literary artist to find his material in Italy. A hundred years ago Henrik Ibsen lived not too far from my villa in Forio, on the island’s west coast. It was here that he found inspiration for a poem entitled “Brand,” which became a great popular success in Norway.
The poem is about a rural pastor who believes he must give all of himself or nothing to God, and the pastor, in turn, expects the same from not only his parishioners but also his own family. His religious passion allows no compromise, and he is not swayed by human sympathy or warmth. The thus becomes a moral hero. . .AND a monster. At the end of the poem this obsessed wretch is engulfed by a roaring avalanche and the last he hears are words from a disembodied voice: “He is the god of love.”
Now, Ibsen’s inspiration for the catastrophic collapse of earth that served as Divine Justice for the obsessed pastor came from Punta Imperatore, a massive promontory that sits as a Sphinx paw, its claws curling into the sea. After a long climb, Ibsen became terrified by the nearly vertical drop from the side of the narrow path to rocks far below.
Ibsen was convinced the cliff would at any moment crumble and fall into the sea. His companion, a fellow named Bergsoe, laughed. “We are in proportion to this cliff as a fly to a tower,” he said. But Ibsen shook his head. “Even a fly can bring down a tower if it were on the point of collapse.”
But let’s go back to that lunatic, Lawrence. The Phallus is, indeed, a symbol of creative divinity. “But,” Lawrence said, “it represents only part of creative divinity. The Italian has made it represent the whole. Which is now his misery, for he has to destroy his symbol in himself.”
This is why Lawrence thought Italian men have an unashamed enthusiasm for war. Partly it is true phallic worship, for the phallic principle is to absorb and dominate all life. But at the same time it is a desire to be exposed to death, to know death, so that death may destroy in them a too strong dominion of the blood.
Well, there’s no doubt in my mind that D. H. Lawrence attempted to further his literary career by twisting, as it were, the true facts about Italy. Which of course says entirely more about his own twisted psyche than about his subject.
Oh, and by the way. Not too long ago godista steered me to the poems of Sharon Old. One seems rather on topic:
The Pope's Penis
It hangs deep in his robes, a delicate
clapper at the center of a bell.
It moves when he moves, a ghostly fish in a
halo of silver seaweed, the hair
swaying in the dark and the heat-and at night,
while his eyes sleep, it stands up
in praise of God.