wildfillysama: Poets and What They’re Good For – 4

I’m going to talk a little bit about one of my favourite poets. Hilda Doolittle, otherwise known as H.D. (1886-1961), was one of the major American writers of the Imagist movement (some critics theorised that Pound started the movement just to describe H.D.’s work, but this has been proven untrue). She engaged with many other modernist writers at the time, writing poetry, essays, fiction, memoirs and ancient Greek translations, gaining respect from even some of the biggest prats when it came to women writers (I’m looking at you, Ezra). Her oeuvre encompasses a broad range of themes, stemming from the shift from Victorian sensibilities and fashions to more modern, technological advances, and a poetry to match these developments. There are very few things that H.D. doesn’t write about and do a superb job in doing so.

 

Things that H.D. likes: Feminist theory and exploring ideas from a female point of view, clarity and brevity, ancient Greek mythology, natural world imagery, love/passion, sexuality, linguistic innovations.

 

Thing that H.D. dislikes: Not keen on conventional femininity or anything repressive or restrictive. Anti-war and very suspicious of patriotism.

 

Things that are cool about H.D.’s poetry: H.D. is one of the best Imagist poets out there, skillfully applying their main rules: That an Imagist poem must use “1. Direct treatment of the ‘thing,’ whether subjective or objective. 2. To use absolutely no word that did not contribute to the presentation. 3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.” Her work is succinct, very engaging and extremely accessible, as well as touching on a wide array of themes. It’s one of the best places to start when reading poetry, but still keep coming back for deeper analysis.

 

Some good poems: Ideas of domestic oppressiveness are aired in “Sheltered Garden”, which contrasts “stuffy” forms of contact and natural imagery with a desire for less conventionally beautiful freedom. A shorter poem that explores similar themes, acknowledging restriction and different value systems for female bodies, is “Sea Rose.” Greek mythology is reimagined in “Priapus” and “Acon”, reworking these with H.D.’s less excessively florid descriptions than those traditionally applied, while also recognising modern, relevant images within these.

 

Acon

Bear me to Dictaeus,

and to the steep slopes;

to the river Erymanthus.

 

I choose spray of ditany,

cyperum, frail of flower,

buds of myrrh,

all-healing herbs,

close pressed in calathes.

 

For she lies panting,

drawing sharp breath,

broken with harsh sobs.

She, Hyella,

whom no god pities.

 

Sea Rose

Rose, harsh rose,

marred and with stint of petals,

meagre flower, thin,

sparse of leaf,

 

more precious

than a wet rose

single on a stem —

you are caught in the drift.

 

Stunted, with small leaf,

you are flung on the sand,

you are lifted

in the crisp sand

that drives in the wind.

 

Can the spice-rose

drip such acrid fragrance

hardened in a leaf?

 

Sheltered Garden

I have had enough.

I gasp for breath.

 

Every way ends, every road,

every foot-path leads at last

to the hill-crest —

then you retrace your steps,

or find the same slope on the other side,

precipitate.

 

I have had enough —

border-pinks, clove-pinks, wax-lilies,

herbs, sweet-cress.

 

O for some sharp swish of a branch —

there is no scent of resin

in this place,

no taste of bark, of coarse weeds,

aromatic, astringent —

only border on border of scented pinks.

 

Have you seen fruit under cover

that wanted light —

pears wadded in cloth,

protected from the frost,

melons, almost ripe,

smothered in straw?

 

Why not let the pears cling

to the empty branch?

All your coaxing will only make

a bitter fruit —

let them cling, ripen of themselves,

test their own worth,

nipped, shrivelled by the frost,

to fall at last but fair

with a russet coat.

 

Or the melon —

let it bleach yellow

in the winter light,

even tart to the taste —

it is better to taste of frost —

the exquisite frost —

than of wadding and of dead grass.

 

For this is beauty,

beauty without strength,

chokes out life.

I want wind to break,

scatter these pink-stalks,

snap off their spiced heads,

fling them about with dead leaves —

spread the paths with twigs,

limbs broken off,

trail great pine branches,

hurled from some far wood

right across the melon-patch,

break pear and quince —

leave half-trees, torn, twisted

but showing the fight was valiant.

 

O to blot out their garden

to forget, to find a new beauty

in some terrible

wind-tortured place.

 

Priapus

Keeper of Orchards

I saw the first pear

As it fell.

The honey-seeking, golden-banded,

The yellow swarm

Was not more fleet than I,

(Spare us from loveliness!)

And I fell prostrate,

Crying,

“Thou hast flayed us with thy blossoms;

Spare us the beauty

Of fruit-trees!”

 

The honey-seeking

Paused not,

The air thundered their song,

And I alone was prostrate.

 

O rough-hewn

God of the orchard,

I bring thee an offering;

Do thou, alone unbeautiful

(Son of the god),

Spare us from loveliness.

 

The fallen hazel-nuts,

Stripped late of their green sheaths,

The grapes, red-purple,

Their berries

Dripping with wine,

Pomegranates already broken,

And shrunken figs,

And quinces untouched,

I bring thee as offering.

 

 

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