Pan in America by D H Lawrence

Pan in America by D H Lawrence: The significance of Pan as a god representing nature and its many dimensions, accommodating a quiet, bur responsive ambience has been well acknowledged in the Western cultural tradition.

But the reception of Pan has not always followed the same trajectory. Wordsworth, for instance, sought to engage with Pan in terms of what nature suggested and offered for human conduct and action, nature acting as one of the cornerstones in his poetic philosophy.

The mere engagement of an ethos that seeks to understand Nature in an all-encompassing role is what Lawrence asks questions of.

That is why he does not subscribe to the idea that the display of affinity with Nature is the only way to make sense of the way life operates.

A telling example of this is evident when he is critical of the nineteenth-century American poet, Walt Whitman: "all Walt is Pan, but all Pan is not Walt.” Lawrence is critical of the tradition in which Pan is placed, especially when it comes to aesthetic representation, for he feels that there is a shift in focus, and the association of Pan with Nature does not quite justify the way it should be done. For Lawrence, there is a paradox at the heart of Pan, a figure whose emergence in Western culture has often been taken to represent a quiet and innocuous nature.

But Pan is not to be seen or understood only in terms of its supposed calm and quiet aspects; for Pan has the aggressive side too, which, once it is active, can overwhelm static modes of functioning.

What Lawrence is trying to argue is that the idea of Pan must be approached and accessed without disengaging that aspect which complements his image as a quiet, calm god of Nature.

The multiple dimensions of Nature cannot be appreciated by just the idea of the picturesque and calm that Pan is conventionally associated with, but the ignored side of the mythical figure must brought to bear on the proper understanding of nature and the human response to it.

Pan in America by D H Lawrence

Lawrence's reappropriation of the Pan myth for a sustained, and involved response to the environment is presented by means of an argument that draws on the practice of reciprocity.

He comes down on the problematic and partial representation of Pan in literature and art, suggesting that the ways in which the Greek god has been reduced to a bystander occupied with a limited space and range, such reduction does not present the balance that is at the heart of the mannature relationship.

Lawrence looks at the need for a more nuanced and subtle understanding of the circumstances in which the world of nature encompasses man and his activities.

Failure to come to terms with the environment can lead to a crisis from which recovery would be almost impossible. When he looks at the parallel possibilities through the register of the oppositional terms of 'savage' and 'civilized' bo is not arguing for a return to the days prior to civilization.

What he is arguing for is a more accommodative response whereby it would be possible to extend the human view beyond the merely mechanical. For such a holistic response to be engendered in man, it is imperative that the world be seen for its organicity, and not simply reduced to some form of space which is bounded by physical limits.

Lawrence calls for overhauling of that restrictive attitude which hampers the widening of the human vision. Pan, for Lawrence, becomes a principle, one which constitutes the very idea of freedom and a fetter free environment where no constraints impinge upon the very condition of existence.

He is, in other words, arguing for a form of life that does not subject itself to mechanized formats, but rather, opens up to engage with the vast possibilities of living that a sustained involvement with the environment facilitates.

In spite of the fact that this essay by Lawrence was published in 1924, almost a century ago, the call for a reciprocal understanding of the world in which we live not only remains very vital to the state of the world, it also brings to the limelight the importance of the joy of submitting oneself freely to the environment that moulds us from the beginning.
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