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D. H. Lawrence

Whales Weep Not!

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1932

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Summary and Study Guide


“Whales Weep Not!” was written by the English poet D. H. Lawrence. It was posthumously published in a collection curated from Lawrence’s notebooks called Last Poems (1932). A highly anthropomorphized vision of the behavior of whales, “Whales Weep Not!” plunges its reader into a sea of sensory images, mysticism, and eroticism. This curious pastiche is a useful sample from a poet intensely interested in the connections between humanity and the animal world, particularly the shared pleasures of physical sexuality.

While D. H. Lawrence is best known for his novels (e.g. Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, Women in Love, Lady Chatterley’s Lover), he was first published as a poet and produced an astoundingly large corpus of poetry: over 1,000 poems. Like many of his literary contemporaries, Lawrence is difficult to categorize in terms of poetic school or style—not just because his writing saw significant evolution over the course of his career. There are elements of Modernism in his dedication to free verse and his use of images to express abstract concepts and feelings. The influence of the Romantics appears in his attention to interior, individual emotion and introspection, while his highly personal (and often provocative) subject matter also takes influence from confessional poets like Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. Finally, Lawrence was obsessed with animals and the natural world—an interest on full display in “Whales Weep Not!”—putting him in conversation not only with other nature poets like William Carlos Williams, but also with novelists like Herman Melville. (For a thorough exploration of these influences and more, see Helen Sword’s chapter in the section Further Reading).  

“Whales Weep Not!” is a late addition to Lawrence’s literary oeuvre and displays the hallmarks of Lawrence’s interests and style near the end of his life. While the poems of Last Poems can be examined individually, they are interconnected with each other, forming a thematic unit best appreciated as a whole. There is a deeply personal quality to Last Poems, and the collection’s overarching message is two-fold. First, Lawrence criticizes the cerebral, machine-like rationality of modern man. Second, he encourages a return to a more primitive, animalistic, and sensory means of interacting with the world. Both themes are at play in “Whales Weep Not!”, though more attention is paid to the latter.

Poet Biography

David Herbert Lawrence was born in 1885 in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England, to a decidedly working-class family. His father, Arthur John Lawrence, was a coal miner; his mother Lydia, a teacher-turned-factory worker. While Lydia had fallen on hard times, she had been educated in her youth, and she passed down her lifelong love of literature to her son. Books and nature—in the form of the nearby Sherwood Forest—were escape hatches for Lawrence, who felt stifled not only by the industrial atmosphere of Eastwood, but also by his poor health and by the ostracization he suffered at the hands of his classmates.

As a young man in the early years of the 1900s, Lawrence worked first as a factory worker, then as a teacher. His colleague at school, Jessie Chambers, encouraged him to try writing. In 1906 Lawrence left Eastwood to attend college at the University College of Nottingham, where he earned a teaching certificate in 1908. Publishers began to take notice of the young writer. His first book, The White Peacock, was published in 1911.

1912 saw a titanic shift in Lawrence’s life. He fell deeply in love with Frieda von Richthofen, the wife of his literary mentor Ernest Weekley. The couple eloped in the same year, with Frieda leaving Ernest and their children behind to adventure with Lawrence throughout Europe. This was a prolific period for Lawrence. He quickly published his first volume of poetry, Love Poems and Others, in 1913, and soon followed it with one of his most famous novels, Sons and Lovers.

In 1914 Lawrence and Frieda returned to England and married. In 1915 Lawrence published the sequel to Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow, which quickly drew fire for its obscene sexual content. Unwelcome in England, but unable to leave due to World War I, Lawrence and Frieda relied on the goodwill of friends from 1916-9, moving constantly. Despite the hardship, Lawrence continued to write and publish.

After the war ended in 1918, Lawrence and Frieda embarked on a two-year voluntary exile from England, travelling to locales as far-flung as Australia and Sri Lanka. In 1922 the Lawrences immigrated to the United States, where they established an artists’ commune in Taos, New Mexico. There Lawrence published Studies in Classic American Literature, a collection of critical essays on American writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville.

Lawrence was prepared to settle permanently in the United States, but a nearly fatal bout of malaria and tuberculosis contracted in Mexico in 1925 forced him and Frieda to return to Europe in 1927. There he wrote his last great novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, to even more vocal outrage than Sons and Lovers and The Rainbow. Increasingly ill and sensing death was near, Lawrence produced his later works—including Last Poems—before passing away in France on March 2, 1930 at the age of 44.

Poem Text

They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains

the hottest blood of all, and the wildest, the most urgent.

All the whales in the wider deeps, hot are they, as they urge

on and on, and dive beneath the icebergs.

The right whales, the sperm-whales, the hammer-heads, the killers

there they blow, there they blow, hot wild white breath out of

  the sea!

And they rock, and they rock, through the sensual ageless ages

on the depths of the seven seas,

and through the salt they reel with drunk delight

and in the tropics tremble they with love

and roll with massive, strong desire, like gods.

Then the great bull lies up against his bride

in the blue deep bed of the sea,

as mountain pressing on mountain, in the zest of life:

and out of the inward roaring of the inner red ocean of whale-blood

the long tip reaches strong, intense, like the maelstrom-tip, and

  comes to rest

in the clasp and the soft, wild clutch of a she-whale's

  fathomless body.

And over the bridge of the whale’s strong phallus, linking the

  wonder of whales

the burning archangels under the sea keep passing, back and


keep passing, archangels of bliss

from him to her, from her to him, great Cherubim

that wait on whales in mid-ocean, suspended in the waves of the


great heaven of whales in the waters, old hierarchies.

And enormous mother whales lie dreaming suckling their whale-

  tender young

and dreaming with strange whale eyes wide open in the waters of

  the beginning and the end.

And bull-whales gather their women and whale-calves in a ring

when danger threatens, on the surface of the ceaseless flood

and range themselves like great fierce Seraphim facing the threat

encircling their huddled monsters of love.

And all this happens in the sea, in the salt

where God is also love, but without words:

and Aphrodite is the wife of whales

most happy, happy she!

and Venus among the fishes skips and is a she-dolphin

she is the gay, delighted porpoise sporting with love and the sea

she is the female tunny-fish, round and happy among the males

and dense with happy blood, dark rainbow bliss in the sea.

Lawrence, D.H. “Whales Weep Not!” 1932. Academy of American Poets.


The poet opens by claiming that while some say the sea is cold, it also contains “the hottest blood of all” (Line 2). Lawrence describes who this blood belongs to in the second stanza: whales—right whales, sperm-whales, hammer-heads, and killer whales (Line 5)—who dive beneath icebergs (Line 4) and rise again, spouting air from their blowholes as they crest the surface (Lines 6-7). 

In the third stanza, Lawrence describes whales mating. Like people, they “reel with drunk delight” and “tremble […] with love” (Lines 10-1). In the blue depths of the sea, an enormous bull whale joins with his “bride” (Line 13). Lawrence concentrates first on the image of the red ocean of blood inside the bull whale (Line 16). The blood inside him propels his erection to “come[s] to rest” in the female whale’s body (Lines 17-20). The whales are now linked by the bull whale’s phallus, which serves as a bridge for oceanic angels, Cherubim, “archangels of bliss,” to pass pleasure back and forth between them (Stanza 4). This scene, says Lawrence, is the “great heaven of whales” (Line 29).

The poem shifts to an image of mother whales suckling their calves and dreaming, open-eyed, in the “waters of / the beginning and the end” (Lines 30-3). In dangerous situations, the bull-whales form a protective circle around their “women” and the baby whales, protecting them like “great fierce Seraphim” (another order of angel) (Line 36). Lawrence reaffirms the setting: This all happens in the sea, he says, where God is “love, but without words” (Line 39), and the Greek sea goddess of sexual desire, Aphrodite, is the happy wife of the whales (Stanza 5).

In the sixth and final stanza, Lawrence expands on Aphrodite, this time in her Roman aspect, Venus. Venus skips among the fishes—she is a she-dolphin, then a porpoise, then a female tunny-fish (i.e., a tuna). Venus seems to be transforming before the reader’s eyes. She is “happy among the / males” and as full of blood as they are (Lines 44-5). The poem concludes with an enigmatic summary image: “dark rainbow bliss in the sea” (Line 45).