Hymns in a Man's Life
David Herbert Lawrence
Last modified 11 Mar 2014, 15:57-0400

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Nothing is more difficult than to determine what a child takes in, and does not take in, of its environment and teaching. This fact is brought home to me by the hymns which I learned as a child, and never forgot. They mean to me almost more than the finest poetry, and they have for me a more permanent value, somehow or other.

It is almost shameful to confess that the poems which have meant the most to me, like Wordsworth's Ode to Immortality and Keats's Odes, and pieces of Macbeth or As You Like It or Midsummer Night's Dream, and Goethe's lyrics, such as Uber allen Gipfeln ist Ruh, and Verlaine's Aynte poussela porte qui clancelle -- all these lovely poems which after all give the ultimate shape to one's life; all these lovely poems woven deep into a man's consciousness, are still not woven so deep in me as the rather banal Nonconformist hymns that penetrated through and through my childhood.

D.H. Lawrence Each gentle dove
And sighing bough
That makes the eve
So fair to me
Has something far
Diviner now
To draw me back
To Galilee.
O Galilee, sweet Galilee,
Where Jesus loved so much to be,
O Galilee, sweet Galilee,
Come sing thy song again to me!

To me the word Galilee has a wonderful sound. The Lake of Galilee! I don't want to know where it is. I never want to go to Palestine. Galilee is one of those lovely, glamorous worlds, not places, that exist in the golden haze of a child's half-formed imagination. And in my man's imagination it is just the same. It has been left untouched. With regard to the hymns that had such a profound influence on my childish consciousness, there has been no crystallising out, no dwindling into actuality, no hardening into commonplace. They are the same to my Man's experience as they were to me nearly forty years ago. When all comes to all, the most precious element of life is wonder.

Even the real scientist works in the sense of wonder. The pity is, when he comes out of the laboratory he puts aside his wonder along with his apparatus, and tries to make it perfectly didactic. Science in its true condition of wonder is as religious as any religion. But didactic science is as dead and boring as dogmatic religion. Both are wonderless and productive of boredom, endless boredom.

Now we come back to the hymns. They live and glisten in the depths of the man's consciousness in undimmed wonder, because they have not been subjected to any criticism or analysis. By the time I was sixteen I had criticised and got over the Christian dogma.

It was quite easy for me; my immediate forbearers had already done it for me. Salvation, heaven, Virgin birth, miracles, even the Christian dogma of right and wrong - one soon got them adjusted. I never could really worry about them. Heaven is one of the instinctive dreams. Right and wrong is something you can't dogmatise about; it's not so easy. As for my soul, I simply don't and never did understand how I could "save" it. One can save one's pennies. But how can one save one's soul? One can only live one's soul. The business is to live really alive. And this needs wonder.