Wednesday 27 April 2022

Oranges are not the only Figs

 In the previous thread, mr mike reminded us of D.H. Lawrence's poem Figs, from his 1917 to '28 collection Unrhyming Poems. It isn't short - but then David Herbert was not renowned for his brevity - and, whilst referencing a sexual activity regarded as shocking at the time of writing, it is both misogynistic, a tad racist, and expresses male fear of emancipated women. Larry Kramer imported it into his screenplay for the Ken Russell 1969 film Women in Love and placed it into the mouth of Rupert, whose ambiguous sexuality perfectly suited the actor, Alan Bates, his career demanding that he be regarded as a ladies' man, but whose sexual preferences lay elsewhere. Bates reconciled his dual sexuality by choosing many roles with an aspect of homosexuality. 
The proper way to eat a fig, in society,
Is to split it in four, holding it by the stump,
And open it, so that it is a glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled four-petalled flower.
Then you throw away the skin
Which is just like a four-sepalled calyx,
After you have taken off the blossom with your lips.
But the vulgar way
Is just to put your mouth to the crack, and take out the flesh in one bite.
Every fruit has its secret.
The fig is a very secretive fruit.
As you see it standing growing, you feel at once it is symbolic:
And it seems male.
But when you come to know it better, you agree with the Romans, it is female.
The Italians vulgarly say, it stands for the female part; the fig-fruit:
The fissure, the yoni,
The wonderful moist conductivity towards the centre.
The flowering all inward and womb-fibrilled;
And but one orifice.
The fig, the horse-shoe, the squash-blossom.
There was a flower that flowered inward, womb-ward;
Now there is a fruit like a ripe womb.
It was always a secret.
That's how it should be, the female should always be secret.
There never was any standing aloft and unfolded on a bough
Like other flowers, in a revelation of petals;
Silver-pink peach, venetian green glass of medlars and sorb-apples,
Shallow wine-cups on short, bulging stems
Openly pledging heaven: Here's to the thorn in the flower! Here is to Utterance!
The brave, adventurous rosaceae.
Folded upon itself, and secret unutterable,
And milky-sapped, sap that curdles milk and makes ricotta,
Sap that smells strange on your fingers, that even goats won't taste it;
Folded upon itself, enclosed like any Mohammedan woman.
Its nakedness all within-walls, its flowering forever unseen.
One small way of access only, and this close-curtained from the light;
Fig, fruit of the female mystery, covert and inward,
Mediterranean fruit, with your covert nakedness,
Where everything happens invisible, flowering and fertilisation, and fruiting
In the inwardness of your you, that eye will never see
Till it's finished, and you're over-ripe, and you burst to give up your ghost.
Till the drop of ripeness exudes,
And the year is over.
And then the fig has kept her secret long enough.
So it explodes, and you see through the fissure the scarlet.
And the fig is finished, the year is over.
That's how the fig dies, showing her crimson through the purple slit
Like a wound, the exposure of her secret, on the open day.
Like a prostitute, the bursten fig, making a show of her secret.
That's how women die too. 
The year is fallen over-ripe.
The year of our women.
The year of our women is fallen over-ripe.
The secret is laid bare.
And rottenness soon sets in.
The year of our women is fallen over-ripe.
When Eve once knew in her mind that she was naked
She quickly sewed fig-leaves, and sewed the same for the man.
She'd been naked all her days before,
But till then, till that apple of knowledge, she hadn't had the fact on her mind.
She got the fact on her mind, and quickly sewed fig-leaves.
And women have been sewing ever since.
But now they stitch to adorn the bursten fig, not to cover it.
They have their nakedness more than ever on their mind,
And they won't let us forget it.
Now, the secret
Becomes an affirmation through moist, scarlet lips
That laugh at the Lord's indignation  What then, good Lord! cry the women. 
We have kept our secret long enough.
We are a ripe fig.
Let us burst into affirmation.
They forget, ripe figs won't keep.
Ripe figs won't keep.
Honey-white figs of the north, black figs with scarlet inside, of the south.
Ripe figs won't keep, won't keep in any clime.
What then, when women the world over have all bursten into affirmation?
And bursten figs won't keep?
Probably best to cook them at the height of their ripeness. I find that Lidl sells figs that go over after only a couple of days, so they are perfect for this glittering, rosy, moist, honied confection:
Or you could pluck them from the fig tree in your conservatory or back garden.
Slice in half, to reveal all that crimson through the purple slit, arrange prettily in an oven-proof shallow dish and annoint with a liqueur of your choice:
Insert into a hot oven, turn down the temperature to prolong the cooking time, then serve with a nice thick cream:


Mike said...

In its day, Women in Love was quite risque. I have to admit that a young Glenda Jackson still creates a frisson. And the nude wresting scene excited some (not me, I'll add).

I had not made the connection with the poem, so thank you for that, Mrs I.

Anonymous said...

Presumably the Right Honourable Sharon is subliminally signalling her classical education, guiding us to the Greek etymology* of "sycophant" - no fig-flasher, she.

*loosely, if I have it right, the pedantic sycophant would rather be tailed than topped.

(speaking of subliminals, is that a silver spoon, mrs ish? Boris standing at attention? A different kind of Eton Mess?)


mrs ishmael said...

You're welcome, mr mike. Kramer wanted to film Lawrence's Women in Love and commissioned a screenplay from David Mercer. Kramer didn't like it. He said: "It was a horrible Marxist tract. Just horrible. I had no script and no more money for another writer." So he cobbled together a script himself, stitching together some material from the original novel, but also Lawrence's letters, essays, poems and plays - which is why it is an incomprehensible whirlwind of nonsense, jammed together and shot in pretty settings.
Much over-admired, D.H. Lawrence, I think - could have done with a ruthless editor with a view to concision. I do admire his poetry, though - I commend to you Bavarian Gentians:

mrs ishmael said...

I have little Latin and less Greek, mr verge, so I hied me hence to Wikipedia for the derivation of sycophant.
Bloody hell. Whoa. Who'da thought it?
Figs were jolly important in Greek culture. There were a shed-load of laws about harvesting and not nicking your neighbour's fig.Showing the fig was an "obscene gesture of phallic significance".
So, was Sharon Raynor fucking Boris off, enticing, distracting, or using the submissive display of pudenda in acknowledgement that you is boss, Boris?
How the heckers did we get onto figs? Oh, yes, I blame you, mr mike, with your fig-obsession. And Glenda Jackson.

Anonymous said...

I fail to see anything racist in the poem, but I'm an American. Some in my country would; the Woke see race in everything.
--Tennessee Budd

mrs ishmael said...

Hi, mr tennessee bud - I did say that it was maybe a tad racist, in amongst all the lubricious misogyny, because Lawrence writes of the white figs of the north and the black figs of the south. We know his extended metaphor is that "fig" is code for "vulva" - so isn't it slyly inviting the reader to contrast the honey-whiteness of northern ladies with the blackness of southern belles bursten so their scarlet insides are all exposed? He could have taken it further, I suppose, and written of the split creamy yellow figs of the East. Not being woke - just literary criticism, honest, not invent.
Now, I really do think that Lawrence knew exactly what he was up to, unlike Christina Rossetti, whose poem Goblin Market seems drawn from the Jungian collective subconscious.
Her goblins are clearly nasty untermenschen who like to predate upon white maidens for capitalist purposes before, enraged by consumer resistance, they bukkake upon our blonde heroine. I don't think Christina had anything other than a pious, innocent intent in creating this astonishing poem. It just boiled out of her.