Book 64: H.D. Collected Poems 1912-1944

H.D. is a bit of a badass, as I learned in poetry workshop this semester. Her writing is incredible, she was at one point involved with Ezra Pound, and she didn’t take much shit from anyone from what I can tell.

It was an ongoing read over the course of the semester, so I started it in August and have had the pleasure of working through it slowly, though I did read a great deal of it on my own time.

My favorite section of poetry in the collection was definitely Trilogy. I couldn’t get over how beautifully woven the poems were, and I’ll go into more detail in a bit about them.

H.D.’s definitely worthy of note in the feminist realm; in the introduction she discusses thinking that women should be able to do as they please, and with the years 1912-44 on the cover it’s quite clear that she wasn’t among the popular school of thought at the time.

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I’ve decided to include one lovely poem of H.D.’s here. It’s long, so I limited myself to the one:

Fragment Thirty-Six

I know not what to do
my mind is divided. —Sappho

I know not what to do,
my mind is reft:
is song’s gift best?
is love’s gift loveliest?
I know not what to do,
now sleep has pressed
weight on your eyelids.

Shall I break your rest,
devouring, eager?
is love’s gift best?
nay, song’s the loveliest:
yet were you lost,
what rapture
could
I take from song?
what song were left?

I know not what to do:
to turn and slake
the rage that burns,
with my breath burn
and trouble your cool breath?
so shall I turn and take
snow in my arms?
(is love’s gift best?)
yet flake on flake
of snow were comfortless,
did you lie wondering,
wakened yet unawake.

Shall I turn and take
comfortless snow within my arms?
press lips to lips
that answer not,
press lips to flesh
that shudders not nor breaks?

Is love’s gift best?
shall I turn and slake
all the wild longing?
O I am eager for you!
as the Pleiads shake
white light in whiter water
so shall I take you?

My mind is quite divided,
my minds hesitate,
so perfect matched,
I know not what to do:
each strives with each
as two white wrestlers
standing for a match,
ready to turn and clutch
yet never shake muscle nor nerve nor tendon;
so my mind waits
to grapple with my mind,
yet I lie quiet,
I would seem at rest.

I know not what to do:
strain upon strain,
sound surging upon sound
makes my brain blind;
as a wave-line may wait to fall
yet (waiting for its falling)
still the wind may take
from off its crest,
white flake on flake of foam,
that rises,
seeming to dart and pulse
and rend the light,
so my mind hesitates
above the passion
quivering yet to break,
so my mind hesitates
above my mind,
listening to song’s delight.

I know not what to do:
will the sound break,
rending the night
with rift on rift of rose
and scattered light?
will the sound break at last
as the wave hesitant,
or will the whole night pass
and I lie listening awake?

*

I was assigned to read Trilogy for a week in workshop dedicated to Invocations – a form that H.D. has clearly conquered. In her section of poems about the Virgin Mary in “Tribute to the Angels,” the second section of Trilogy, she ends with a consideration of Mary as her own being, presented without the Child and therefore depicted as a human and not just a vessel. She calls upon many portraits of Mary through the section of poems and interweaves her own thoughts with biblical imagery and those depictions. H.D. writes of other goddesses in this section as well, sometimes interlacing them in her poems about Mary – drawing on strong women in myth was quite an interesting choice here, and one that I appreciated.

In the final section of Trilogy, “The Flowering of the Rod,” I fell in love with H.D.’s depiction of Mary Magdalene – there’s so much to go on in these poems, so many images and the development of such a strong female character. She followed a brief allusion to the thief crucified alongside Jesus, which was also artfully woven in here. Again H.D. ties in mythology (Siren, mermaid, etc.). There’s even a glance at Lilith!

Though I found Trilogy to be quite a coded (down to the fact that it’s broken up into three parts, alluding to the holy trinity), I felt it was all well worked and very well thought out.  All three sections were divided into 43 parts, which sent me to research the numerology/symbolism of the number – 43 didn’t draw many results that I could tie definitively to H.D.’s poems (partially because I’m not sure how prevalent numerology was in her lifetime), but it is a number associated with the archangels in modern numerology.

*

 

I think my principal complaint, which isn’t purely complaint, is the repetitive themes – Greek mythology is pretty constant in theme. Though I love mythology, I did often wish there was more poetry separate from lore.

I give this book a 7/10.

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