TWILIGHT IN ITALY
TWILIGHT IN ITALY
By D. H. Lawrence
THE CRUCIFIX ACROSS THE MOUNTAINS
ON THE LAGO DI GARDA
1 _The Spinner and the Monks_
2 _The Lemon Gardens_
3 _The Theatre_
4 _San Gaudenzio_
5 _The Dance_
6 _Il Duro_
ITALIANS IN EXILE
THE RETURN JOURNEY
_The Crucifix Across the Mountains_
The imperial road to Italy goes from Munich across the Tyrol through
Innsbruck and Bozen to Verona over the mountains. Here the great
processions passed as the emperors went South or came home again from
rosy Italy to their own Germany.
And how much has that old imperial vanity clung to the German soul? Did
not the German kings inherit the empire of bygone Rome? It was not a
very real empire perhaps but the sound was high and splendid.
Maybe a certain Groessenwahn is inherent in the German nature. If only
nations would realize that they have certain natural characteristics if
only they could understand and agree to each other's particular nature
how much simpler it would all be.
The imperial procession no longer crosses the mountains going South.
That is almost forgotten the road has almost passed out of mind. But
still it is there and its signs are standing.
The crucifixes are there not mere attributes of the road yet still
having something to do with it. The imperial processions blessed by the
Pope and accompanied by the great bishops must have planted the holy
idol like a new plant among the mountains there where it multiplied and
grew according to the soil and the race that received it.
As one goes among the Bavarian uplands and foothills soon one realizes
here is another land a strange religion. It is a strange country
remote out of contact. Perhaps it belongs to the forgotten imperial
Coming along the clear open roads that lead to the mountains one
scarcely notices the crucifixes and the shrines. Perhaps one's interest
is dead. The crucifix itself is nothing a factory-made piece of
sentimentalism. The soul ignores it.
But gradually one after another looming shadowily under their hoods
the crucifixes seem to create a new atmosphere over the whole of the
countryside a darkness a weight in the air that is so unnaturally
bright and rare with the reflection from the snows above a darkness
hovering just over the earth. So rare and unearthly the light is from
the mountains full of strange radiance. Then every now and again recurs
the crucifix at the turning of an open grassy road holding a shadow
and a mystery under its pointed hood.
I was startled into consciousness one evening going alone over a marshy
place at the foot of the mountains when the sky was pale and unearthly
invisible and the hills were nearly black. At a meeting of the tracks
was a crucifix and between the feet of the Christ a handful of withered
poppies. It was the poppies I saw then the Christ.
It was an old shrine the wood-sculpture of a Bavarian peasant. The
Christ was a peasant of the foot of the Alps. He had broad cheekbones
and sturdy limbs. His plain rudimentary face stared fixedly at the
hills his neck was stiffened as if in resistance to the fact of the
nails and the cross which he could not escape. It was a man nailed down
in spirit but set stubbornly against the bondage and the disgrace. He
was a man of middle age plain crude with some of the meanness of the
peasant but also with a kind of dogged nobility that does not yield its
soul to the circumstance. Plain almost blank in his soul the
middle-aged peasant of the crucifix resisted unmoving the misery of his
position. He did not yield. His soul was set his will was fixed. He was
himself let his circumstances be what they would his life fixed down.
Across the marsh was a tiny square of orange-coloured light from the
farm-house with the low spreading roof. I remembered how the man and
his wife and the children worked on till dark silent and intent
carrying the hay in their arms out of the streaming thunder-rain into
the shed working silent in the soaking rain.
The body bent forward towards the earth closing round on itself; the
arms clasped full of hay clasped round the hay that presses soft and
close to the breast and the body that pricks heat into the arms and the
skin of the breast and fills the lungs with the sleepy scent of dried
herbs: the rain that falls heavily and wets the shoulders so that the
shirt clings to the hot firm skin and the rain comes with heavy
pleasant coldness on the active flesh running in a trickle down towards
the loins secretly; this is the peasant this hot welter of physical
sensation. And it is all intoxicating. It is intoxicating almost like a
soporific like a sensuous drug to gather the burden to one's body in
the rain to stumble across the living grass to the shed to relieve
one's arms of the weight to throw down the hay on to the heap to feel
light and free in the dry shed then to return again into the chill
hard rain to stoop again under the rain and rise to return again with
It is this this endless heat and rousedness of physical sensation which
keeps the body full and potent and flushes the mind with a blood heat
a blood sleep. And this sleep this heat of physical experience becomes
at length a bondage at last a crucifixion. It is the life and the
fulfilment of the peasant this flow of sensuous experience. But at last
it drives him almost mad because he cannot escape.
For overhead there is always the strange radiance of the mountains
there is the mystery of the icy river rushing through its pink shoals
into the darkness of the pine-woods there is always the faint tang of
ice on the air and the rush of hoarse-sounding water.
And the ice and the upper radiance of snow are brilliant with timeless
immunity from the flux and the warmth of life. Overhead they transcend
all life all the soft moist fire of the blood. So that a man must
needs live under the radiance of his own negation.
There is a strange clear beauty of form about the men of the Bavarian
highlands about both men and women. They are large and clear and
handsome in form with blue eyes very keen the pupil small tightened
the iris keen like sharp light shining on blue ice. Their large
full-moulded limbs and erect bodies are distinct separate as if they
were perfectly chiselled out of the stuff of life static cut off.
Where they are everything is set back as in a clear frosty air.
Their beauty is almost this this strange clean-cut isolation as if
each one of them would isolate himself still further and for ever from
the rest of his fellows.
Yet they are convivial they are almost the only race with the souls of
artists. Still they act the mystery plays with instinctive fullness of
interpretation they sing strangely in the mountain fields they love
make-belief and mummery their processions and religious festivals are
profoundly impressive solemn and rapt.
It is a race that moves on the poles of mystic sensual delight. Every
gesture is a gesture from the blood every expression is a symbolic
For learning there is sensuous experience for thought there is myth and
drama and dancing and singing. Everything is of the blood of the
senses. There is no mind. The mind is a suffusion of physical heat it
is not separated it is kept submerged.
At the same time always overhead there is the eternal negative
radiance of the snows. Beneath is life the hot jet of the blood playing
elaborately. But above is the radiance of changeless not-being. And life
passes away into this changeless radiance. Summer and the prolific
blue-and-white flowering of the earth goes by with the labour and the
ecstasy of man disappears and is gone into brilliance that hovers
overhead the radiant cold which waits to receive back again all that
which has passed for the moment into being.
The issue is too much revealed. It leaves the peasant no choice. The
fate gleams transcendent above him the brightness of eternal
unthinkable not-being. And this our life this admixture of labour and
of warm experience in the flesh all the time it is steaming up to the
changeless brilliance above the light of the everlasting snows. This is
the eternal issue.
Whether it is singing or dancing or play-acting or physical transport of
love or vengeance or cruelty or whether it is work or sorrow or
religion the issue is always the same at last into the radiant
negation of eternity. Hence the beauty and completeness the finality of
the highland peasant. His figure his limbs his face his motion it is
all formed in beauty and it is all completed. There is no flux nor hope
nor becoming all is once and for all. The issue is eternal timeless
and changeless. All being and all passing away is part of the issue
which is eternal and changeless. Therefore there is no becoming and no
passing away. Everything is now and for ever. Hence the strange beauty
and finality and isolation of the Bavarian peasant.
It is plain in the crucifixes. Here is the essence rendered in sculpture
of wood. The face is blank and stiff almost expressionless. One
realizes with a start how unchanging and conventionalized is the face of
the living man and woman of these parts handsome but motionless as
pure form. There is also an underlying meanness secretive cruel. It is
all part of the beauty the pure plastic beauty. The body also of the
Christus is stiff and conventionalized yet curiously beautiful in
proportion and in the static tension which makes it unified into one
clear thing. There is no movement no possible movement. The being is
fixed finally. The whole body is locked in one knowledge beautiful
complete. It is one with the nails. Not that it is languishing or dead.
It is stubborn knowing its own undeniable being sure of the absolute
reality of the sensuous experience. Though he is nailed down upon an
irrevocable fate yet within that fate he has the power and the delight
of all sensuous experience. So he accepts the fate and the mystic
delight of the senses with one will he is complete and final. His
sensuous experience is supreme a consummation of life and death
It is the same at all times whether it is moving with the scythe on the
hill-slopes or hewing the timber or steering the raft down the river
which is all effervescent with ice; whether it is drinking in the
Gasthaus or making love or playing some mummer's part or hating
steadily and cruelly or whether it is kneeling in spellbound subjection
in the incense-filled church or walking in the strange dark
subject-procession to bless the fields or cutting the young birch-trees
for the feast of Frohenleichnam it is always the same the dark
powerful mystic sensuous experience is the whole of him he is mindless
and bound within the absoluteness of the issue the unchangeability of
the great icy not-being which holds good for ever and is supreme.
Passing further away towards Austria travelling up the Isar till the
stream becomes smaller and whiter and the air is colder the full
glamour of the northern hills which are so marvellously luminous and
gleaming with flowers wanes and gives way to a darkness a sense of
ominousness. Up there I saw another little Christ who seemed the very
soul of the place. The road went beside the river that was seething
with snowy ice-bubbles under the rocks and the high wolf-like
pine-trees between the pinkish shoals. The air was cold and hard and
high everything was cold and separate. And in a little glass case
beside the road sat a small hewn Christ the head resting on the hand;
and he meditates half-wearily doggedly the eyebrows lifted in strange
abstraction the elbow resting on the knee. Detached he sits and dreams
and broods wearing his little golden crown of thorns and his little
cloak of red flannel that some peasant woman has stitched for him.
No doubt he still sits there the small blank-faced Christ in the cloak
of red flannel dreaming brooding enduring persisting. There is a
wistfulness about him as if he knew that the whole of things was too
much for him. There was no solution either in death. Death did not
give the answer to the soul's anxiety. That which is is. It does not
cease to be when it is cut. Death cannot create nor destroy. What
The little brooding Christ knows this. What is he brooding then? His
static patience and endurance is wistful. What is it that he secretly
yearns for amid all the placidity of fate? 'To be or not to be' this
may be the question but is it not a question for death to answer. It is
not a question of living or not-living. It is a question of being--to be
or not to be. To persist or not to persist that is not the question;
neither is it to endure or not to endure. The issue is it eternal
not-being? If not what then is being? For overhead the eternal
radiance of the snow gleams unfailing it receives the efflorescence of
all life and is unchanged the issue is bright and immortal the snowy
not-being. What then is being?
As one draws nearer to the turning-point of the Alps towards the
culmination and the southern slope the influence of the educated world
is felt once more. Bavaria is remote in spirit as yet unattached. Its
crucifixes are old and grey and abstract small like the kernel of the
truth. Further into Austria they become new they are painted white
they are larger more obtrusive. They are the expressions of a later
newer phase more introspective and self-conscious. But still they are
genuine expressions of the people's soul.
Often one can distinguish the work of a particular artist here and there
in a district. In the Zemm valley in the heart of the Tyrol behind
Innsbruck there are five or six crucifixes by one sculptor. He is no
longer a peasant working out an idea conveying a dogma. He is an
artist trained and conscious probably working in Vienna. He is
consciously trying to convey a _feeling_ he is no longer striving
awkwardly to render a truth a religious fact.
The chief of his crucifixes stands deep in the Klamm in the dank gorge
where it is always half-night. The road runs under the rock and the
trees half-way up the one side of the pass. Below the stream rushes
ceaselessly embroiled among great stones making an endless loud noise.
The rock face opposite rises high overhead with the sky far up. So that
one is walking in a half-night an underworld. And just below the path
where the pack-horses go climbing to the remote infolded villages in
the cold gloom of the pass hangs the large pale Christ. He is larger
than life-size. He has fallen forward just dead and the weight of the
full-grown mature body hangs on the nails of the hands. So the dead
heavy body drops forward sags as if it would tear away and fall under
its own weight.
It is the end. The face is barren with a dead expression of weariness
and brutalized with pain and bitterness. The rather ugly passionate
mouth is set for ever in the disillusionment of death. Death is the
complete disillusionment set like a seal over the whole body and being
over the suffering and weariness and the bodily passion.
The pass is gloomy and damp the water roars unceasingly till it is
almost like a constant pain. The driver of the pack-horses as he comes
up the narrow path in the side of the gorge cringes his sturdy
cheerfulness as if to obliterate himself drawing near to the large
pale Christ and he takes his hat off as he passes though he does not
look up but keeps his face averted from the crucifix. He hurries by in
the gloom climbing the steep path after his horses and the large white
Christ hangs extended above.
The driver of the pack-horses is afraid. The fear is always there in
him in spite of his sturdy healthy robustness. His soul is not sturdy.
It is blenched and whitened with fear. The mountains are dark overhead
the water roars in the gloom below. His heart is ground between the
mill-stones of dread. When he passes the extended body of the dead
Christ he takes off his hat to the Lord of Death. Christ is the Deathly
One He is Death incarnate.
And the driver of the pack-horses acknowledges this deathly Christ as
supreme Lord. The mountain peasant seems grounded upon fear the fear of
death of physical death. Beyond this he knows nothing. His supreme
sensation is in physical pain and in its culmination. His great climax
his consummation is death. Therefore he worships it bows down before
it and is fascinated by it all the while. It is his fulfilment death
and his approach to fulfilment is through physical pain.
And so these monuments to physical death are found everywhere in the
valleys. By the same hand that carved the big Christ a little further
on at the end of a bridge was another crucifix a small one. This
Christ had a fair beard and was thin and his body was hanging almost
lightly whereas the other Christ was large and dark and handsome. But
in this as well as in the other was the same neutral triumph of death
complete negative death so complete as to be abstract beyond cynicism
in its completeness of leaving off.
Everywhere is the same obsession with the fact of physical pain
accident and sudden death. Wherever a misfortune has befallen a man
there is nailed up a little memorial of the event in propitiation of
the God of hurt and death. A man is standing up to his waist in water
drowning in full stream his arms in the air. The little painting in its
wooden frame is nailed to the tree the spot is sacred to the accident.
Again another little crude picture fastened to a rock: a tree falling
on a man's leg smashes it like a stalk while the blood flies up.
Always there is the strange ejaculation of anguish and fear perpetuated
in the little paintings nailed up in the place of the disaster.
This is the worship then the worship of death and the approaches to
death physical violence and pain. There is something crude and
sinister about it almost like depravity a form of reverting turning
back along the course of blood by which we have come.
Turning the ridge on the great road to the south the imperial road to
Rome a decisive change takes place. The Christs have been taking on
various different characters all of them more or less realistically
conveyed. One Christus is very elegant combed and brushed and foppish
on his cross as Gabriele D'Annunzio's son posing as a martyred saint.
The martyrdom of this Christ is according to the most polite convention.
The elegance is very important and very Austrian. One might almost
imagine the young man had taken up this striking and original position
to create a delightful sensation among the ladies. It is quite in the
Viennese spirit. There is something brave and keen in it too. The
individual pride of body triumphs over every difficulty in the
situation. The pride and satisfaction in the clean elegant form the
perfectly trimmed hair the exquisite bearing are more important than
the fact of death or pain. This may be foolish it is at the same time
But the tendency of the crucifix as it nears the ridge to the south is
to become weak and sentimental. The carved Christs turn up their faces
and roll back their eyes very piteously in the approved Guido Reni
fashion. They are overdoing the pathetic turn. They are looking to
heaven and thinking about themselves in self-commiseration. Others
again are beautiful as elegies. It is dead Hyacinth lifted and extended
to view in all his beautiful dead youth. The young male body droops
forward on the cross like a dead flower. It looks as if its only true
nature were to be dead. How lovely is death how poignant real
satisfying! It is the true elegiac spirit.
Then there are the ordinary factory-made Christs which are not very
significant. They are as null as the Christs we see represented in
England just vulgar nothingness. But these figures have gashes of red
a red paint of blood which is sensational.
Beyond the Brenner I have only seen vulgar or sensational crucifixes.
There are great gashes on the breast and the knees of the Christ-figure
and the scarlet flows out and trickles down till the crucified body has
become a ghastly striped thing of red and white just a sickly thing of
They paint the rocks at the corners of the tracks among the mountains;
a blue and white ring for the road to Ginzling a red smear for the way
to St Jakob. So one follows the blue and white ring or the three
stripes of blue and white or the red smear as the case may be. And the
red on the rocks the dabs of red paint are of just the same colour as
the red upon the crucifixes; so that the red upon the crucifixes is
paint and the signs on the rocks are sensational like blood.
I remember the little brooding Christ of the Isar in his little cloak
of red flannel and his crown of gilded thorns and he remains real and
dear to me among all this violence of representation.
'_Couvre-toi de gloire Tartarin--couvre-toi de flanelle._' Why should
it please me so that his cloak is of red flannel?
In a valley near St Jakob just over the ridge a long way from the
railway there is a very big important shrine by the roadside. It is a
chapel built in the baroque manner florid pink and cream outside with
opulent small arches. And inside is the most startling sensational
Christus I have ever seen. He is a big powerful man seated after the
crucifixion perhaps after the resurrection sitting by the grave. He
sits sideways as if the extremity were over finished the agitation
done with only the result of the experience remaining. There is some
blood on his powerful naked defeated body that sits rather hulked.
But it is the face which is so terrifying. It is slightly turned over
the hulked crucified shoulder to look. And the look of this face of
which the body has been killed is beyond all expectation horrible. The
eyes look at one yet have no seeing in them they seem to see only
their own blood. For they are bloodshot till the whites are scarlet the
iris is purpled. These red bloody eyes with their stained pupils
glancing awfully at all who enter the shrine looking as if to see
through the blood of the late brutal death are terrible. The naked
strong body has known death and sits in utter dejection finished
hulked a weight of shame. And what remains of life is in the face
whose expression is sinister and gruesome like that of an unrelenting
criminal violated by torture. The criminal look of misery and hatred on
the fixed violated face and in the bloodshot eyes is almost impossible.
He is conquered beaten broken his body is a mass of torture an
unthinkable shame. Yet his will remains obstinate and ugly integral
with utter hatred.
It is a great shock to find this figure sitting in a handsome baroque
pink-washed shrine in one of those Alpine valleys which to our thinking
are all flowers and romance like the picture in the Tate Gallery.
'Spring in the Austrian Tyrol' is to our minds a vision of pristine
loveliness. It contains also this Christ of the heavy body defiled by
torture and death the strong virile life overcome by physical
violence the eyes still looking back bloodshot in consummate hate
The shrine was well kept and evidently much used. It was hung with
ex-voto limbs and with many gifts. It was a centre of worship of a sort
of almost obscene worship. Afterwards the black pine-trees and the river
of that valley seemed unclean as if an unclean spirit lived there. The
very flowers seemed unnatural and the white gleam on the mountain-tops
was a glisten of supreme cynical horror.
After this in the populous valleys all the crucifixes were more or
less tainted and vulgar. Only high up where the crucifix becomes
smaller and smaller is there left any of the old beauty and religion.
Higher and higher the monument becomes smaller and smaller till in the
snows it stands out like a post or a thick arrow stuck barb upwards.
The crucifix itself is a small thing under the pointed hood the barb of
the arrow. The snow blows under the tiny shed upon the little exposed
Christ. All round is the solid whiteness of snow the awful curves and
concaves of pure whiteness of the mountain top the hollow whiteness
between the peaks where the path crosses the high extreme ridge of the
pass. And here stands the last crucifix half buried small and tufted
with snow. The guides tramp slowly heavily past not observing the