Where the old world gives way to a new

DH Lawrence (1885-1930) travelled extensively after his marriage to Frieda Weekley. This edited extract is from an essay called "New Mexico", written in 1928. The comments on global travel seem incredibly modern but more poignant is Lawrence's description of being liberated and invigorated by New Mexico. He was already very ill and was to die in France two years later.

DH Lawrence (1885-1930) travelled extensively after his marriage to Frieda Weekley. This edited extract is from an essay called "New Mexico", written in 1928. The comments on global travel seem incredibly modern but more poignant is Lawrence's description of being liberated and invigorated by New Mexico. He was already very ill and was to die in France two years later.

Superficially, the world has become small and known. Poor little globe of earth, the tourists trot round you as easily as they trot round the Bois or round Central Park. There is no mystery left, we've been there, we've seen it, we know all about it. We've done the globe and the globe is done.

The same is true of land travel. We skim along, we get there, we see it all, we've done it all. And as a rule, we never once go through the curious film which railroads, ships, motor-cars and hotels stretch over the surface of the whole earth. Peking is just the same as New York, with a few different things to look at: rather more Chinese about, etc. Poor creatures that we are, we crave for experience, yet we are like flies that crawl on the pure and transparent mucous-paper in which the world like a bon-bon is wrapped so carefully that we can never get at it.

Our great-grandfathers, who never went anywhere, in actuality had more experience of the world than we have, who have seen everything. When they listened to a lecture with lantern-slides, they really held their breath before the unknown, as they sat in the village school-room. We, bowling along in a rickshaw in Ceylon, say to ourselves: "It's very much what you'd expect." We really know it all.

We are mistaken. The know-it-all state of mind is just the result of being outside the mucous-paper wrapping of civilisation. Underneath is everything we don't know and are afraid of knowing.I realised this with shattering force when I went to New Mexico.

New Mexico, one of the United States, part of the USA. New Mexico, the picturesque reservation and playground of the eastern states, very romantic, old Spanish, Red Indian, desert mesas, pueblos, cowboys, penitentes, all that film-stuff. Very nice, the great South-West, put on a sombrero and knot a red kerchief round your neck, to go out in the great free spaces! That is New Mexico wrapped in the absolutely hygienic and shiny mucous-paper of our trite civilisation. That is the new Mexico know to most of the Americans who know it at all. But break through the shiny sterilized wrapping and actually touch the country, and you will never be the same again.

I think New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I have ever had. It certainly changed me for ever. Curious as it may sound, it was New Mexico that liberated me from the present era of civilisation, the great era of material and mechanical development. Months spent in holy Kandy, in Ceylon, the holy of holies of southern Buddhism, had not touched the great psyche of materialism and idealism which dominated me. And years, even in the exquisite beauty of Sicily, right among the old Greek paganism that still lives there, had not shattered the essential Christianity on which my character was established.

But the moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine high up over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul, and I started to attend. There was a certain magnificence in the high-up day, a certain eagle-like royalty, so different from the equally pure, equally pristine and lovely morning of Australia, which is so soft, so utterly pure in its softness, and betrayed by green parrot flying. But in the lovely morning of Australia one went into a dream. In 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 a new.

A novelist's New Mexico

In 1924 the New York socialite Mabel Dodge Luhan gave the Kiowa Ranch in Taos, New Mexico, to Lawrence and his wife, Frieda, receiving in return an original manuscript of Lawrence's novel Sons And Lovers. After Lawrence's death, Frieda moved to the ranch and built a small memorial chapel to Lawrence, where his ashes still lie. Now owned by the University of New Mexico, the ranch, known as The D H Lawrence Ranch, is open to the public. Admission is free.

How to get there

Lawrence originally travelled to Santa Fe by train from San Francisco. For tickets and timetables contact Leisurail (0870 7500222) or Amtrak ( www.amtrak.com). By air, fly with American Airlines (020-8572 5555; www.im.aa.com) to Albuquerque via Dallas or Chicago from £453.80 in January.

For car hire in Albuquerque contact Holiday Autos (0870 400 0099). For accommodation in Santa Fe, visit www.nmtravel.com or www.all-santafe.com.

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