My H.D. Book

For my last poetry workshop, our class met at Aaron Shurin’s apartment and read aloud H.D.’s Trilogy. We had been reading Duncan’s H.D. Book all semester, and Aaron (in his endless pedagogical creativity) wanted us to read Trilogy after reading Duncan’s circuitous meditations on Trilogy. This was the first time I had listened to and read aloud from Trilogy (it took about 2 hours) and even though i’ve read the poems many times, so much was revealed in this communal recitation. So i wanted to dedicate the next few posts to Trilogy (Duncan at one point describes his project as a “Daybook” and it reads much like an extended series of blogposts incorporating history, myth, biography, autobiography, criticism, poetry and poetics). This is also a mini-homage to Aaron (who was Duncan’s student at CCA) and to Duncan (who was H.D.’s “student”) and of course to H.D.


“The Walls Do Not Fall”


An incident here and there,
and rails gone (for guns)
from your (and my) old town square:

mist and mist-grey, no colour,
still the Luxor bee, chick and hare
pursue unalterable purpose

in green, rose-red, lapis;



The “incident” referring to the “fifty thousand incidents,” the phrase the British media used to describe the Blitz bombings. It wasn’t till hearing this first line aloud that I caught the “reportage” or “journalistic” tone of this line. It brought me immediately to the “from London” of the title page – the flat H.D. and Bryher shared was only blocks from the anti-aircraft batteries in Hyde Park and within priority range for incoming bombers. An etmology of the word “incident” is interesting mapped in Scott Boehnen’s “‘H.D., war poet’ and the ‘language fantasy’ of Trilogy.'” SAGETRIEB 14.1-2:

[…] “incident,” from the Latin incidere, means “a falling in,” a multiply appropriate phrase for the physical danger of bombing, for the emotional danger of civilian life, and for the linguistic danger to a poem called The Walls Do Not Fall. Suddenly the physical, emotional, and linguistic valences of this word flicker through its outer “husk.” And the fact that, for five centuries, Anglophones have used that very word, perhaps recognizing its multiple significance during a moment of crisis, offers a different sort of salve for the Londoner who would otherwise turn to ether.

The word “incident” does nothing to stop physical bombardment, but for the civilian war poet the word offers an enduring mold for emotion that might otherwise collapse in on itself—a linguistic structure for fearfully unstructured (or destructured) subjectivity. And within the poem called The Walls Do Not Fall, the five-hundred-year-old word “incident” suggests that language, if nothing else, can resist both sudden trauma and gradual decay. […]


The “here and there” establishes a matrix of dichotomies that continues thruout the poem: 1) past / present 2) London / Karnak 3) psychic / social space 4) dream / reality 5) the poetic / real space 6) memory / forgetfulness … etc … The generic trope of “here and there” works also to highlight the often randomness of the Blitz, of the incidents of history, of a refusal to localize the incident (that these incidents are occurring elsewhere), and of the project of Trilogy as a cartography of the “here and there”, an effort to map (both psychically and socially) the dislocation of fragmentation of a “here” and a “there” — that oneness gone mad.

The relation between rails and guns seems to draw a parallel between industrialism and war – a similar act was done in america, where many of the abandoned rail lines from the building of the Transcontinental was used during WW2 for guns.

The move from reportage, to history, to the second person address and the first person possessive in “from your (and my)” establishes an intimate exchange between reader/initiate and poet (the keeper of secret wisdom) which will become further established in the poem’s pedagogical / storytelling overtones.

The poem then completely abandons any premise of reportage with “Luxor bee, chick and hare.” When read aloud, the appearance of these small animals amidst the “no colour” “mist and mist-grey” is shocking. How often in war reporting do we hear about the activities of the animals who are also affected. I can only remember a story I read regarding stray / abandoned dogs after Katrina and efforts to rescue them and reunite them with their owners.

The Luxor bee, chick and hare become mythologized heralds for those that “pursue unalterable purpose” despite the “incidents.” It is a brief, allegorical moment and for that moment we are safe (unalterable) (and in contrast to the “mist-grey, no colour”) in “green, rose-red, lapis”

Let us remain here (there) for the moment.


2 thoughts on “My H.D. Book

  1. csp – u might be interested in ‘The Goldfinches of Baghdad’ title poem of robert adamson’s new book from flood:

    ‘…a goldfinch with a slashed throat
    was the subject of a masterpiece painted in the
    sixteenth century on the back of a highly
    polished mother-of-pearl shell – it burns
    tonight in Baghdad, along with the living,
    caged birds. Flesh and feathers, hands
    and wings. Sirens wail, but the tongues
    of poets and the beaks of goldfinches burn

    Falcons on their silver chains, the children
    of the falcon trainer, smother in the smoke
    of burning feathers and human flesh.
    We sing or die, singing death
    as our songs feed the flames.’

    also ‘Flag-tailed Bird of Paradise’ from the same book.

    compare geraldine mckenzie from ‘another nature poem’

    ‘…the sound of men
    who knew they’d die tomorrow
    and you can see them feathered
    on the wire…’

    the adamson poem influenced my own ‘war poem for judith wright’ which started of a series of poems thinking about war through wwi.

    id be happy to send it to u if u like.


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