D.H. Lawrence most likely wrote “The Mosquito” on the way to Malta on May 17, 1920 when staying at the Grand Hotel in Syracuse. The original draft of the poem was authored around that time and signed “Siracusa.” Lawrence remembered the hotel they stayed in that night in his memoirs as “a rather dreary hotel – and many bloodstains of squashed mosquitoes on the bedroom walls” (Sagar, 1979, p. 61). In the same foreword he exclaims “Ah, vile mosquitoes!” (Sagar, 1979). Inspiration, apparently, strikes in unusual ways.
Although other opinions expand on Lawrence’s presumed reluctant admiration for mosquitoes, Sagar views the style differently. In his analysis, Lawrence’s attitude towards the titular mosquito is wholly hate-filled. In Sagar’s view, because the mosquito has violated Lawrence’s bodily autonomy by drinking his blood he views it as obscene and does not hesitate to kill it without compunction. There are several lines of the poem to support this view – “ghoul on wings,” “evil little aura,” “such obscenity of trespass,” to name a few. However, along with other analyses, I don’t agree that is the complete picture (Everington, 2011). Other phrases seem to marvel at the mosquito – such as “you turn your head towards your tail, and smile,” “but I know your game now, streaky sorcerer.” While I agree Lawrence certainly disliked mosquitoes I can’t fathom that it was blind hatred and disgust alone that inspired him to write this poem. One analysis sees Lawrence as viewing the mosquito as both “weird and wonderful” (Rukhaya, 2012) and I believe that’s an excellent encapsulation of Lawrence’s contradictory thoughts towards the tiny pest. Andrew Spielman (2001), in his book Mosquito: The Story of Man’s Deadliest Foe, calls mosquitoes the “magnificent enemy,” a paradoxical view I feel Lawrence shared (Spielman & D'Antonio, 2001).
The poem takes the form of a somewhat one-sided dialogue – even though the mosquito says nothing his actions and assumed internal responses are interpreted by Lawrence. The style is entertaining and conversational, covering Lawrence’s musings on the mosquito as well as the timeline of events from seeing the mosquito to successfully squashing it (Sagar, 1979 p. 61). In the style of many of Lawrence’s poems it’s slightly bizarre – the entire subject matter of the poem is a conversation and confrontation between man and mosquito immortalized in verse (Everington, 2011). The confrontation between man and mosquito is presented as a battle of wits and skill; the mosquito has his small size and ability to waft away silently and nearly invisibly while the man has his intelligence and awareness of the mosquito’s behavior.
The mosquito is presented as simultaneously both insignificant (“you speck,” “you nothingness”) and larger than life (“you exaltation,” “monsieur”) (Rukhaya, 2012). Lawrence credits the mosquito with almost other-worldliness with phrases such as “streaky sorcerer” and “translucent phantom shred.” Some of these seem to cast the mosquito as evil: commenting on its devilry, its “evil little aura,” its “filthy magic,” and calling it a “ghoul on wings.” Other lines touch on the mosquito’s believed awareness of the competition between man and mosquito, Lawrence writing that it is “eying me sideways, and cunningly conscious that I am aware” and how the mosquito evades him “having ready my thoughts against you.” He even seems to confer smugness on the mosquito as “you turn your head towards your tail, and smile” (Lawrence, 1920).
Even though in the end the mosquito is squashed into an “infinitesimal faint smear” there’s not a sense that he was soundly defeated. Lawrence was able to kill the mosquito but not before the mosquito was able to suck his blood with “a yell of triumph as you snatch my scalp” (Lawrence, 1920). The confrontation is over (at least with this particular mosquito) but not before the mosquito successfully sucks his blood, something that is built up into this nearly sacred substance with phrases such as “super-magical forbidden liquor” and “obscenity of trespass” (Lawrence, 1920).