H.D. Blog 4

From the last post, H.D. leaves us with the questions “What saved us? what for?” it had been echoing in my head all day and finally stopped when I remembered this from Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday”:

Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to sateity
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live?

H.D. is not certain that God has saved us; the question “What saved us?” is an indictment of God. An indictment that only finds redemptive within the “what for”, or within the discovery of purpose, of “unalterable purpose. Eliot continues:

And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness.

The singing of that which had been contained, H.D.’s opened tomb, only sings because of the motives of “this Lady” – and sings against the the “three white leopards,” against ruin and incidents. Dickinson wrote “My business is to Sing.” This act becomes an act of resistance in times when:

Evil was active in the land,
Good was impoverished and sad;

Ill promised adventure,
Good was smug and fat;

Dev-ill was after us,
tricked up like Jehovah […]

“The Walls Do Not Fall” [2]

I can’t help reading this section with H.D.’s letter to WCW in mind: “I don’t know what you think but I consider this business of writing a very sacred thing!–I think you have the “spark”–am sure of it, and when you speak direct are a poet. I feel in the hey-ding-ding touch running through your poem a derivative tendency which, to me, is not you–not your very self. It is as if you were ashamed of your Spirit, ashamed of your inspiration!–as if you mocked at your own song. It’s very well to mock at yourself–it is a spiritual sin to mock at your inspiration–”

I quote this letter because to my ear there is a bit of the “hey ding-ding touch” running thru the Trilogy, and this is one instance: the “smug and fat” the drawl of “Dev-ill” and the slangy quality of “tricked up.” There seems to be both a little bit of Eliot and some WIlliams is this early part of “Walls.” Continuing in section [2]:

they were angry when we were so hungry
for the nourishment, God;

they snatched off our amulets,
charms are not, they said, grace;

but gods always face two-ways,
so let us search the old highways

for the true-rune, the right-spell,
recover old values […]

The actual violence here of snatching off the amulets surprised me when we read this aloud. It is that small gesture, that specific violation, that made the incidents, the ruin, the drunk and evil men all seem real and present. I was also struck by the idea of the “true-rune” and the “right-spell”, things of “unalterable purpose” that are not as easily broken as charms or amulets, that do not fall quite as easily as walls or flesh. The “old values” prepares us for the palimpsest of the evocation of ancient gods/goddesses in that search for the “right-spell.” In this search, however, H.D. knows that we will face persecution:

nor listen if they shout out,
your beauty, Isis, Aset or Astarte,

is a harlot; you are retrogressive,
zealot, hankering after old flesh-pots;

your heart, moreover,
is a dead canker,

they continue, and
your rhythm is the devil’s hymn,

your stylus is dipped in corrosive sublimate
how can you scratch out

indelible ink of the palimpsest
of past misadventure?

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