by D. H. Lawrence
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By D. H. Lawrence





Baby Tortoise


Tortoise Family Connections

Lui et Elle

Tortoise Gallantry

Tortoise Shout


You know what it is to be born alone, Baby tortoise! The first day to heave your feet little by little from the shell, Not yet awake, And remain lapsed on earth, Not quite alive.

A tiny, fragile, half-animate bean.

To open your tiny beak-mouth, that looks as if it would never open, Like some iron door; To lift the upper hawk-beak from the lower base And reach your skinny little neck And take your first bite at some dim bit of herbage, Alone, small insect, Tiny bright-eye, Slow one.

To take your first solitary bite And move on your slow, solitary hunt. Your bright, dark little eye, Your eye of a dark disturbed night, Under its slow lid, tiny baby tortoise, So indomitable.

No one ever heard you complain.

You draw your head forward, slowly, from your little wimple And set forward, slow-dragging, on your four- pinned toes, Rowing slowly forward. Whither away, small bird?

Rather like a baby working its limbs, Except that you make slow, ageless progress And a baby makes none.

The touch of sun excites you, And the long ages, and the lingering chill Make you pause to yawn, Opening your impervious mouth, Suddenly beak-shaped, and very wide, like some suddenly gaping pincers; Soft red tongue, and hard thin gums, Then close the wedge of your little mountain front, Your face, baby tortoise.

Do you wonder at the world, as slowly you turn your head in its wimple And look with laconic, black eyes? Or is sleep coming over you again, The non-life?

You are so hard to wake.

Are you able to wonder?

Or is it just your indomitable will and pride of the first life Looking round And slowly pitching itself against the inertia Which had seemed invincible?

The vast inanimate, And the fine brilliance of your so tiny eye.


Nay, tiny shell-bird, What a huge vast inanimate it is, that you must row against, What an incalculable inertia.


Little Ulysses, fore-runner, No bigger than my thumb-nail, Buon viaggio.

All animate creation on your shoulder, Set forth, little Titan, under your battle-shield.

The ponderous, preponderate, Inanimate universe; And you are slowly moving, pioneer, you alone.

How vivid your travelling seems now, in the troubled sunshine, Stoic, Ulyssean atom; Suddenly hasty, reckless, on high toes.

Voiceless little bird, Resting your head half out of your wimple In the slow dignity of your eternal pause. Alone, with no sense of being alone, And hence six times more solitary; Fulfilled of the slow passion of pitching through immemorial ages Your little round house in the midst of chaos.

Over the garden earth, Small bird, Over the edge of all things.

Traveller, With your tail tucked a little on one side Like a gentleman in a long-skirted coat.

All life carried on your shoulder, Invincible fore-runner.

The Cross, the Cross Goes deeper in than we know, Deeper into life; Right into the marrow And through the bone.


Along the back of the baby tortoise The scales are locked in an arch like a bridge, Scale-lapping, like a lobster's sections Or a bee's.

Then crossways down his sides Tiger-stripes and wasp-bands. Five, and five again, and five again, And round the edges twenty-five little ones, The sections of the baby tortoise shell.

Four, and a keystone; Four, and a keystone; Four, and a keystone; Then twenty-four, and a tiny little keystone.

It needed Pythagoras to see life placing her counters on the living back Of the baby tortoise; Life establishing the first eternal mathematical tablet, Not in stone, like the Judean Lord, or bronze, but in life-clouded, life-rosy tortoise-shell.

The first little mathematical gentleman Stepping, wee mite, in his loose trousers Under all the eternal dome of mathematical law.

Fives, and tens, Threes and fours and twelves, All the volte face of decimals, The whirligig of dozens and the pinnacle of seven, Turn him on his back, The kicking little beetle, And there again, on his shell-tender, earth-touching belly, The long cleavage of division, upright of the eternal cross.

And on either side count five, On each side, two above, on each side, two below The dark bar horizontal.

It goes right through him, the sprottling insect, Through his cross-wise cloven psyche, Through his five-fold complex-nature.

So turn him over on his toes again; Four pin-point toes, and a problematical thumb- piece,

Four rowing limbs, and one wedge-balancing- head,

Four and one makes five, which is the clue to all mathematics.

The Lord wrote it all down on the little slate Of the baby tortoise.

Outward and visible indication of the plan within, The complex, manifold involvedness of an individual creature Blotted out On this small bird, this rudiment, This little dome, this pediment Of all creation, This slow one.


On he goes, the little one, Bud of the universe, Pediment of life.

Setting off somewhere, apparently. Whither away, brisk egg?

His mother deposited him on the soil as if he were no more than droppings, And now he scuffles tinily past her as if she were an old rusty tin.

A mere obstacle, He veers round the slow great mound of her.

Tortoises always foresee obstacles.

It is no use my saying to him in an emotional voice: "This is your Mother, she laid you when you were an egg."

He does not even trouble to answer: "Woman, what have I to do with thee?" He wearily looks the other way, And she even more wearily looks another way still, Each with the utmost apathy, Incognizant, Unaware, Nothing.

As for papa, He snaps when I offer him his offspring, Just as he snaps when I poke a bit of stick at him, Because he is irascible this morning, an irascible tortoise Being touched with love, and devoid of fatherliness.

Father and mother, And three little brothers, And all rambling aimless, like little perambulating pebbles scattered in the garden, Not knowing each other from bits of earth or old tins.

Except that papa and mama are old acquaintances, of course, But family feeling there is none, not even the beginnings.

Fatherless, motherless, brotherless, sisterless Little tortoise.

Row on then, small pebble, Over the clods of the autumn, wind-chilled sunshine, Young gayety.

Does he look for a companion? No, no, don't think it. He doesn't know he is alone; Isolation is his birthright, This atom.

To row forward, and reach himself tall on spiny toes, To travel, to burrow into a little loose earth, afraid of the night, To crop a little substance, To move, and to be quite sure that he is moving: Basta!

To be a tortoise! Think of it, in a garden of inert clods A brisk, brindled little tortoise, all to himself— Croesus!

In a garden of pebbles and insects To roam, and feel the slow heart beat Tortoise-wise, the first bell sounding From the warm blood, in the dark-creation morning.

Moving, and being himself, Slow, and unquestioned, And inordinately there, O stoic! Wandering in the slow triumph of his own existence, Ringing the soundless bell of his presence in chaos, And biting the frail grass arrogantly, Decidedly arrogantly.


She is large and matronly And rather dirty, A little sardonic-looking, as if domesticity had driven her to it.

Though what she does, except lay four eggs at random in the garden once a year And put up with her husband, I don't know.

She likes to eat.

She hurries up, striding reared on long uncanny legs, When food is going. Oh yes, she can make haste when she likes.

She snaps the soft bread from my hand in great mouthfuls, Opening her rather pretty wedge of an iron, pristine face Into an enormously wide-beaked mouth Like sudden curved scissors, And gulping at more than she can swallow, and working her thick, soft tongue, And having the bread hanging over her chin.

O Mistress, Mistress, Reptile mistress, Your eye is very dark, very bright, And it never softens Although you watch.

She knows, She knows well enough to come for food, Yet she sees me not; Her bright eye sees, but not me, not anything, Sightful, sightless, seeing and visionless, Reptile mistress.

Taking bread in her curved, gaping, toothless mouth, She has no qualm when she catches my finger in her steel overlapping gums, But she hangs on, and my shout and my shrinking are nothing to her, She does not even know she is nipping me with her curved beak. Snake-like she draws at my finger, while I drag it in horror away.

Mistress, reptile mistress, You are almost too large, I am almost frightened. He is much smaller, Dapper beside her, And ridiculously small.

Her laconic eye has an earthy, materialistic look, His, poor darling, is almost fiery.

His wimple, his blunt-prowed face, His low forehead, his skinny neck, his long, scaled, striving legs, So striving, striving, Are all more delicate than she, And he has a cruel scar on his shell.

Poor darling, biting at her feet, Running beside her like a dog, biting her earthy, splay feet, Nipping her ankles, Which she drags apathetic away, though without retreating into her shell.

Agelessly silent, And with a grim, reptile determination, Cold, voiceless age-after-age behind him, serpents' long obstinacy Of horizontal persistence.

Little old man Scuffling beside her, bending down, catching his opportunity, Parting his steel-trap face, so suddenly, and seizing her scaly ankle, And hanging grimly on, Letting go at last as she drags away, And closing his steel-trap face.

His steel-trap, stoic, ageless, handsome face. Alas, what a fool he looks in this scuffle.

And how he feels it!

The lonely rambler, the stoic, dignified stalker through chaos, The immune, the animate, Enveloped in isolation, Forerunner. Now look at him!

Alas, the spear is through the side of his isolation. His adolescence saw him crucified into sex, Doomed, in the long crucifixion of desire, to seek his consummation beyond himself. Divided into passionate duality, He, so finished and immune, now broken into desirous fragmentariness, Doomed to make an intolerable fool of himself In his effort toward completion again.

Poor little earthy house-inhabiting Osiris, The mysterious bull tore him at adolescence into pieces, And he must struggle after reconstruction, ignominiously.

And so behold him following the tail Of that mud-hovel of his slowly-rambling spouse, Like some unhappy bull at the tail of a cow, But with more than bovine, grim, earth-dank persistence, Suddenly seizing the ugly ankle as she stretches out to walk, Roaming over the sods, Or, if it happen to show, at her pointed, heavy tail Beneath the low-dropping back-board of her shell.

Their two shells like doomed boats bumping, Hers huge, his small; Their splay feet rambling and rowing like paddles, And stumbling mixed up in one another, In the race of love— Two tortoises, She huge, he small.

She seems earthily apathetic, And he has a reptile's awful persistence.

I heard a woman pitying her, pitying the Mere Tortue. While I, I pity Monsieur. "He pesters her and torments her," said the woman. How much more is he pestered and tormented, say I.

What can he do? He is dumb, he is visionless, Conceptionless.

His black, sad-lidded eye sees but beholds not As her earthen mound moves on, But he catches the folds of vulnerable, leathery skin, Nail-studded, that shake beneath her shell, And drags at these with his beak, Drags and drags and bites, While she pulls herself free, and rows her dull mound along.


Making his advances He does not look at her, nor sniff at her, No, not even sniff at her, his nose is blank.

Only he senses the vulnerable folds of skin That work beneath her while she sprawls along In her ungainly pace, Her folds of skin that work and row Beneath the earth-soiled hovel in which she moves.

And so he strains beneath her housey walls And catches her trouser-legs in his beak Suddenly, or her skinny limb, And strange and grimly drags at her Like a dog, Only agelessly silent, with a reptile's awful persistency.

Grim, gruesome gallantry, to which he is doomed. Dragged out of an eternity of silent isolation And doomed to partiality, partial being, Ache, and want of being, Want, Self-exposure, hard humiliation, need to add himself on to her.

Born to walk alone, Forerunner, Now suddenly distracted into this mazy sidetrack, This awkward, harrowing pursuit, This grim necessity from within.

Does she know As she moves eternally slowly away? Or is he driven against her with a bang, like a bird flying in the dark against a window, All knowledgeless?

The awful concussion, And the still more awful need to persist, to follow, follow, continue, Driven, after aeons of pristine, fore-god-like singleness and oneness, At the end of some mysterious, red-hot iron, Driven away from himself into her tracks, Forced to crash against her.

Stiff, gallant, irascible, crook-legged reptile, Little gentleman, Sorry plight, We ought to look the other way.

Save that, having come with you so far, We will go on to the end. J


I thought he was dumb, I said he was dumb, Yet I've heard him cry.

First faint scream, Out of life's unfathomable dawn, Far off, so far, like a madness, under the horizon's dawning rim, Far, far off, far scream.

Tortoise in extremis.

Why were we crucified into sex?

Why were we not left rounded off, and finished in ourselves, As we began, As he certainly began, so perfectly alone?

A far, was-it-audible scream, Or did it sound on the plasm direct?

Worse than the cry of the new-born, A scream, A yell, A shout, A paean, A death-agony, A birth-cry, A submission, All tiny, tiny, far away, reptile under the first dawn.

War-cry, triumph, acute-delight, death-scream reptilian, Why was the veil torn?

The silken shriek of the soul's torn membrane? The male soul's membrane Torn with a shriek half music, half horror.


Male tortoise, cleaving behind the hovel-wall of that dense female, Mounted and tense, spread-eagle, out-reaching out of the shell In tortoise-nakedness, Long neck, and long vulnerable limbs extruded, spread-eagle over her house-roof, And the deep, secret, all-penetrating tail curved beneath her walls, Reaching and gripping tense, more reaching anguish in uttermost tension Till suddenly, in the spasm of coition, tupping like a jerking leap, and oh! Opening its clenched face from his outstretched neck And giving that fragile yell, that scream, Super-audible, From his pink, cleft, old-man's mouth, Giving up the ghost, Or screaming in Pentecost, receiving the ghost.

His scream, and his moment's subsidence, The moment of eternal silence, Yet unreleased, and after the moment, the sudden, startling jerk of coition, and at once The inexpressible faint yell— And so on, till the last plasm of my body was melted back To the primeval rudiments of life, and the secret.

So he tups, and screams Time after time that frail, torn scream After each jerk, the longish interval, The tortoise eternity, Agelong, reptilian persistence, Heart-throb, slow heart-throb, persistent for the next spasm.

I remember, when I was a boy, I heard the scream of a frog, which was caught with his foot in the mouth of an up-starting snake; I remember when I first heard bull-frogs break into sound in the spring; I remember hearing a wild goose out of the throat of night Cry loudly, beyond the lake of waters; I remember the first time, out of a bush in the darkness, a nightingale's piercing cries and gurgles startled the depths of my soul; I remember the scream of a rabbit as I went through a wood at midnight; I remember the heifer in her heat, blorting and blorting through the hours, persistent and irrepressible; I remember my first terror hearing the howl of weird, amorous cats; I remember the scream of a terrified, injured horse, the sheet-lightning And running away from the sound of a woman in labor, something like an owl whooing, And listening inwardly to the first bleat of a lamb, The first wail of an infant, And my mother singing to herself, And the first tenor singing of the passionate throat of a young collier, who has long since drunk himself to death, The first elements of foreign speech On wild dark lips.

And more than all these, And less than all these, This last, Strange, faint coition yell Of the male tortoise at extremity, Tiny from under the very edge of the farthest far-off horizon of life.

The cross, The wheel on which our silence first is broken, Sex, which breaks up our integrity, our single inviolability, our deep silence Tearing a cry from us.

Sex, which breaks us into voice, sets us calling across the deeps, calling, calling for the complement, Singing, and calling, and singing again, being answered, having found.

Torn, to become whole again, after long seeking for what is lost, The same cry from the tortoise as from Christ, the Osiris-cry of abandonment, That which is whole, torn asunder, That which is in part, finding its whole again throughout the universe.


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