Our H.D. Book 3

How relevant is The War Trilogy to our times? :

we know crack of a volcanic fissure,
slow flow of terrible lava,

pressure on heart, lungs, the brain
about to burst its brittle case
(what the skull can endure!):

over us, Apocryphal fire,
under us, the earth sway, dip of a floor,
slope of a pavement

where men roll, drunk
with a new bewilderment,
sorcery, bedevilment:

the bone-frame was made for
no such shock knit within terror,
yet the skeleton stood up to it:

the flesh? it was melted away,
the heart burnt out, dead ember,
tendons, muscles shattered, outer husk dismembered,

yet the frame held:
we passed the flame: we wonder
what saved us? what for?

from The Walls Do Not Fall [1]

This section has always been to me one of the most powerful passages within “literature of resistance.” Resistance, within ruin, does not of necessity imply survival. She resists and is shocked by “what the skull can endure!” Particularly amidst a violence that began with “incidents”, mythologized into “ruin” and now is the natural violence of the earth itself. Duncan, in a letter to Levertov, notes “THERE WAS NO TIME IN HUMAN HISTORY THAT WAS NOT A TIME OF WAR.” The “Apocryphal fire” is always already over us – a natural fire, given as earth is given. The presence of the body here is disembodied. “The Luxor bee, chick and hare” feel whole, unalterable corporality. The human body becomes “heart, lungs, the brain” within a “brittle case” – the body itself becomes the “poor utensils.”

The “dip of a floor” is an inversion of Dickinson:

I saw no Way – The Heavens were stitched –
I felt the Columns close –
The Earth reversed her Hemispheres –
I touched the Universe –

And back it slid – and I alone –
A Speck upon a Ball –
Went out upon Circumference –
Beyond the Dip of Bell –

H.D.’s Apocalyptic scene is without circumference, or I should say that the entire project of The War Trilogy is to establish this circumference, to resist the “dip of a floor” and the now drunk, bewildered, and bedeviled by those who would “deform democracy” (as Whitman described it). A condition that the “bone-frame” was not made for –

“no such shock knit within terror” —

i remember Sept 11, i was studying in florence, so distant yet my heart and my own body knotted within that terror. and so many bodies, so many skeletons did not stand up to it. But not the actual body, not even the mythologized “our body”, not the heart burnt out, not the flesh melted away, not the tendons, muscle, or outer husk. Dismembered. As if H.D. saying: Re-member: Remembered:

Only the frame. Yet what frame? and why the word “frame”? To counter rhyme “flame”, and by doing, to establish the symbolic mirror: that the flame has revealed our frame. That the ruins have opened up the sealed room. That the fissuring earth has proven eternity endures.

That the incidents have united us.

That resistance is to find a way “Beyond the Dip of Bell.”

That we begin to locate the answers to: “what saved us? what for?”


3 thoughts on “Our H.D. Book 3

  1. csp, just to say i like yr blog & yr posts elsewhere ..(have linked u). yesterday i was reading ‘out of battle’ – a great book about wwi poetry – extracts from hardys ‘the dynasts'(napoleonic wars) – it sounds pretty good – in his intro john silkin contextualises war poetry in the wake of romanticism – of poets relation to longed-for revolution..

  2. thanks michael, for the comment and the link and the ‘out of battle’ reference…will check it out. H.D., i would argue, is definitely “in the wake of romanticism” and desires a revolution, of sorts…more of which i hope becomes elucidated as i work thru the Trilogy.

    Thanks again and hope to hear your voice around here often.


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