A Poem In The Cinema

Edmund Hardy

What happens when a poem, already known, appears in a film?

1. D. H. Lawrence, 'Figs'

Lunch in the garden early on in Ken Russell's Women In Love (1969). Hermione cuts a fig open and Rupert, seeing this action, appears to suddenly have something to say: he rings a bell. "The proper way to eat a fig, in society," he says, "is to split it in four, holding it by the stump". This is exactly what Hermione is doing, and there is a tiny pause in her action, before she continues blissfully on. Rupert continues: "So that it is a glittering, rosy, moist, honied, heavy-petalled four-petalled flower." Looks are exchanged around the table.

Rupert appears to be reciting, or he is improvising on a thought he has pursued before. As viewers who have read 'Figs', a jolt of recognition as the poem is given back to us, in an edited form, transplanted into the wrong place in Lawrence's work though here the poem is actively embarrassing a period audience; for a moment it is as if we see Lawrence first having his fig-concept, externalised to a polite lunch as we take up our part in this artifice. "But the vulgar way is just to put your mouth to the crack, and take out the flesh in one bite," and he does.

A fig is also a figure. "It stands for the female part," says Rupert, "the fig fruit, the fissure, the yoni, the wonderful moist conductivity towards the centre, involved, inturned." The trees around the picnic table are blowing around as if, "For a moment, all the figures have been replaced by foliage" (Lisa Robertson), though perhaps there are crew members shaking the branches with a summer-breeze machine. "Only one road of access," says Rupert, as Ursula looks left and right in a performance of not knowing where to look, "and that close-curtained." That which was a poem is now a conversation with only one person speaking. A poem which folded in on itself several times, in lists and pledges, has been drastically cut to fit into the script. "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." Rupert emotes, "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."

Lawrence's published poem continues on, and ends with two questions, what if, what if? It is not a poem which needs or inspires great explication but in Russell's version there is instead a dying fall drawn out from two-thirds of the way through: it is caught strongly on the open day, a summer's day like this one which is contrived with the trees swaying noisily. There are shots of the listening faces in various attitudes, all of them in some way fixed by Rupert's show. He has finished eating his fig now, and he looks back at them and says, "That's how women die too." And men seems to be the further echo produced by this shortened, intensified poem, a sex which is bursten. Lawrence's diagrammatic figure, of Eve and "any Mohammedan woman", womb and fertilisation, is rubbed out so that figs and sex are carried into the cinema, and the larger diagram replaced by a picnic table, an audience and restless foliage, "as much the dense overlapping foliage of our voices as that of the leaves themselves." (Gustaf Sobin) A silence, then Hermione brightens and addresses the group. "Would you like to come for a walk? The dahlias are so pretty."

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