the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico, one sprang
awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly and the
old world gave way to the new."
(Lawrence on arriving in Taos in 1922)
..shrine or chapel?
THE last resting
place of D H Lawrence, arguably the greatest English author
of the twentieth century, is to be found, not in his home
country, but in Taos, New Mexico. In 1934, some years
after his death in France, on a pine-covered slope in
the vast and mountainous Wild West, about twenty miles
north of the town of Taos, Frieda Lawrence built what
looks like a chapel (indeed it is often referred to as
a shrine), and what she called a small "memorial"
to DHL, his talent and his work. These days it is referred
to as the Lawrence Memorial at the D H Lawrence Ranch.
is about 12 feet wide at the front by about 15 feet in
depth and its walls stand eight feet high topped with
a steeply gabled, shingled roof. Built of local stone
and adobe, it stands solid on the hill, completely white-washed
and entered through a double wooden door, latched to keep
out the wind, dust and leaves.
his ashes brought here from Vence, where Lawrence had
been buried in the south of France, near Cannes, following
his death there from tuberculosis on 2 March 1930. In
March 1935 Frieda had his body exhumed and cremated and
brought back to the ranch in September of that year, where
she had settled with her Italian lover Angelo Ravagli,
whom she married in Taos in 1950.
décor of the building is spare but bright, with
yellow and white paint on the walls and lit by a small,
round window painted with yellow flowers, behind what
looks most disconcertingly like a central altar.
Above the altar
block, in a niche, is a carved and painted phoenix, DHL's
personal symbol, about two feet high. The initials DHL
are painted on the front of the altar and embellished
with yellow flowers intertwined with green leaves.
There is a
stone-and-timber rail and small gate in front of and across
the altar which looks as if you might be expected to kneel
.in prayer and communion, but no doubt it is
there to keep visitors from touching the 'altarpiece'.
The widely accepted
story these days is that, following arguments with the overbearing
host and patron, Mabel Luhan, about whether to scatter his
ashes on the plains or retain them in the memorial in an
urn, as Frieda wished, Frieda dumped the ashes in a wheelbarrow
of wet cement used to make the concrete altarpiece, saying:
"Now let's see them steal this!"
Along the inside
left wall a small but tall desk or table carries a visitors
book in which I duly inscribed my mark and indicated my
Australian identity, alongside the other entries and comments.
Particularly eye-catching was the entry by a gentleman
from Beijing who recorded his mother's great love for
Lady Chatterley's Lover. Another visitor prosaically
cited his favorite DHL quote: "I do not think you
are right (sic!").
in the enchanted land
In the Fall
of 1922 Lawrence wrote from Taos (Letters, Aldous
Huxley Collection, p542):
I do think, still more now I am out here, that we made
a mistake forsaking England and moving out to the periphery
of life. After all
..as far as we go, they are only
the negation of what we stand for and are; and we're rather
like Jonah's running away from the place we belong
I tried to
imagine what might have brought Lorenzo and his aristocratic
Germanic wife, Frieda, to such a remote if beautiful location,
such a long way from their European roots, and from his
English Midlands birthplace in Eastwood - indeed, how
they both ended up interred there; he in the memorial
and she in a grave on the left hand side of its entrance
on her death in 1956. Frieda bequeathed the property to
the University of New Mexico.
invited to Taos by the very persistent, manipulative and
by all accounts powerful personality, heiress to a banking
fortune and philanthropist, Mabel Dodge Stern Luhan (the
names of her three successive husbands). Interested in
promoting the location as a centre for arts and literature,
she thought Lawrence the ideal writer to capture the wonders
and colours of this high-desert landscape and its Indian
cultural heritage. Her idiosyncratic memoir "Lorenzo
in Taos" (1932) gives her side of the relationship
and tensions that developed between them.
He and Frieda
arrived in Taos on 11 September 1922, his 37th birthday,
having come from Australia and via San Francisco. "It
was in Taos that he was to write the final chapter of
Kangaroo, crammed with nostalgia for a land he
had forced himself to leave. But he was prepared to accept
Taos..." (Anthony Burgess, Flame into Being,
page 148). He also worked there on his other Australian
novel The Boy in the Bush.
But the perpipatetic
writer continued his ceaseless travels. Subsequently,
on his return to Taos in April 1924 (via Mexico and London),
Mabel Luhan gifted Frieda the 160 acres that came to be
known as Kiowa Ranch. In return, Frieda gave her the original
manuscript of Sons and Lovers. It was to be the
only property Lawrence ever owned.
It is a 6-mile
drive up the dirt track ascending from the Taos main road
to the isolated Kiowa Ranch property where, on and off,
the Lawrences spent a total of nine months over three
years, between September 1922 and September 1925. The
ranch is well sign-posted off the highway by the University
of New Mexico, which continues as the custodian of the
reason is New Mexico known as the 'enchanted land' and
the drive through the mountains known as the 'enchanted
circle' passes the Kiowa Ranch. The Rocky Mountains are
a towering presence over the sage-covered desert plains.
On the late April day in 2010 that we visited it was sunny
with blue sky, but bitterly cold for early spring, at
only 30 degrees F. Snow still lay in patchy drifts a couple
of feet deep, but the steep path from the parking area
to the shrine had been cleared. The distant views from
this elevation of 8,600 feet are breathtaking.
There was no
sign of a caretaker, and the little office was locked
so, helping d ourselves to a small photocopied leaflet,
we headed up the track to the memorial. It was refreshing
to find the site open and free of charge, and the absence
of any other vistors brought home the isolated, wild and
natural beauty of the area. In the way that Lawrence must
have experienced it.
The original homesteader's cabin where DHL and Frieda
lived sits down the slope from the memorial about 100
metres distant. Extremely small and basic, it is reminiscent
of such early settlers' cottages found in the Australian
bush. Sadly, it was locked
..and no information about
when it might be made open for visits.
It is a crudely-built
four rooms cut into a small bench in the small hill. Framed
and clad with adobe plaster and timber, it has a single
gabled roof of unpainted corrugated iron. There are two
doors and two small windows at the front, the main door
leading to the kitchen and living room covered by a small
The cabin has
been variously 'improved' since Lawrence's time, when
it had dirt floors, no ceilings, and a very crude kitchen
arrangement. On the front wall hangs a roughly fashioned,
battered and weathered tin plate depiction of a phoenix,
whether from his time there or not it is not clear. Similarly,
in the small porch at the front door rests a picturesque,
if dilapidated and old-looking wood and wicker chair,
in which it is easy to imagine Lorenzo having a snooze.
place appears weather-proof and reasonably well-maintained,
the land around it looks unkempt and littered with farm
debris of fallen trees and their limbs, tumbling fences,
and assorted bits of equipment and machinery.
the front windows of the hut I could make out essentially
bare rooms with a fireplace and mantle in the living room
and a small desk at the window with a typewriter on it,
perhaps used by DHL. I could see only a single bed in
the small bedroom, and a simple wooden table in the kitchen
Just next to the house stands a very tall and mature pine
tree which according to an information marker there is
known as The Lawrence Tree, and under which sat in the
mornings, writing at a table, of which he said: "The
big pine tree in front of the house, standing still and
unmoved and alive
..one goes out of the door and
the tree-trunk is there, like a guardian angel
tree-trunk, the long work table and the fence".
time there he also wrote "The Lady Who Rode Away"
(1925), with Mabel featuring as the American heroine,
and the novella St Mawr, in which he wrote about
the country around the ranch:
desert swept its great fawn-coloured circle around, away
beyond and below like a beach, with a long mountainside
of pure blue shadow closing in the near corner, and strange
bluish hummocks of mountains rising like wet rock from
a vast strand, away in the middle distance, and beyond,
in the farthest distance, pale blue crests of mountains
looking over the horizon from the west, as if peering
in from another world altogether".
Taos painter Georgia O'Keeffe, although a contemporary
of Lawrence, never met him and only visited the hut in
May 1929, five years after he last left. She painted the
tree from a perspective looking directly up its trunk
to its crown and titled the painting 'The Lawrence Tree'.
Her wonderfully evocative, sinuous and pastel-coloured
paintings of the New Mexico landscape are well worth seeing
at the museum dedicated to her work in Santa Fe.
by and to the rear of the Lawrence house, at a distance
of only ten metres or so, stand a one-room cabin and a
small shed or barn. The shack was lived in by the Lady
Dorothy Brett, a painter, at the tail-end of the time
that Lawrence and Frieda were there. She reportedly assisted
him by typing his manuscripts .