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The Beastly Bourgeois and I

July 16, 2011

I have a thing for D.H. Lawrence. (No, I won’t make you read a book by him. At least not this year.)

I can’t help it—I like a man who pushes buttons, who knows how to brood and uses his initials in place of his name. A man who isn’t alive anymore to disappoint. All his work is done.

Take his poem “How Beastly the Bourgeois Is,” for example. I read it a long time ago, and I liked it, but I never learned it in a class or taught it, so there’s no obvious reason it should have stuck with me the way it does. And yet every time I hear myself complaining or discussing the minutiae surrounding items like “iPad” and “iPhone” and “Kindle” and “toenail polish,” I recognize that so much of my life could be described with the Twitter hashtag “firstworldproblems.” Then I repose into a moment of reflection and gratitude and recognize that perhaps, as Lawrence accuses, I’ve grown a little soggy.

Almost a century has passed since D.H. Lawrence wrote this poem. People rarely use the term “bourgeois” anymore–especially in the States–but are we just as, if not more, beastly?

Of course, I’m a female, so I suppose I might be completely innocent.

"I must be brilliant. I am skinny and severe."

"How Beastly the Bourgeois Is"

How beastly the bourgeois is
especially the male of the species–

Presentable, eminently presentable–
shall I make you a present of him?

Isn’t he handsome?  Isn’t he healthy?  Isn’t he a fine specimen?
Doesn’t he look the fresh clean Englishman, outside?
Isn’t it God’s own image? tramping his thirty miles a day
after partridges, or a little rubber ball?
wouldn’t you like to be like that, well off, and quite the

Oh, but wait!
Let him meet a new emotion, let him be faced with another
man’s need,
let him come home to a bit of moral difficulty, let life
face him with a new demand on his understanding
and then watch him go soggy, like a wet meringue.
Watch him turn into a mess, either a fool or a bully.
Just watch the display of him, confronted with a new
demand on his intelligence,
a new life-demand.

How beastly the bourgeois is
especially the male of the species–

Nicely groomed, like a mushroom
standing there so sleek and erect and eyeable–
and like a fungus, living on the remains of a bygone life
sucking his life out of the dead leaves of greater life
than his own.

And even so, he’s stale, he’s been there too long.
Touch him, and you’ll find he’s all gone inside
just like an old mushroom, all wormy inside, and hollow
under a smooth skin and an upright appearance.

Full of seething, wormy, hollow feelings
rather nasty–
How beastly the bourgeois is!

Standing in their thousands, these appearances, in damp
what a pity they can’t all be kicked over
like sickening toadstools, and left to melt back, swiftly
into the soil of England.


Doesn’t this poem just drip with disdain? I love it.


Photo by D.H. Lawrence taken from

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