The H.D. blog 5: that pearl-of-great-price

(h.d. in egypt)

Our search for the “true-rune” and “right-spell” – our initiative to to recover old values and to “recover the Sceptre” [3] is an attempt to answer the still echoing questions: “what saved us? what for?” In section 4, we return to the allegorical tone of the “Luxor bee, chick and hare” in their “unalterable purpose”:

There is a spell, for instance,
in every sea-shell:

continuous, the sea thrust
is powerless against coral,

bone, stone, marble
hewn from within by that craftsman,

the shell-fish:
oyster, clam, mollusc

is master-mason planning
the stone marvel:

[4] “The Walls Do Not Fall”

I love the “for instance’ in this passage; it highlights the pedagogical tone and foregrounds the voice in the poet, you really hear this when read aloud. The loss of the amulels in section [2] really doesn’t matter because there are “spells” everywhere in nature; from nature itself we can discover the “true-rune.” Besides being a craftsman, the master-mason is also a

[,,,] flabby, amorphous hermit
within, like the planet

senses the finite,
it limits its orbit

of being, its house,
temple, fane, shrine:

it unlocks the portals
at stated intervals:

prompted by hunger,
it opens to the tide-flow:

but infinity? no,
of nothing-too-much:


It limits its orbit of being – this seems like an important survival tactic. But also, an aesthetic statement: these poems never stray too far from their organizing principles or from their specific narrative vehicles or imagistic tropes. Each couplet is like a sea-shell opened to the tide-flow of syntax. Each section unlocking “the portals / at stated intervals.” But nothing too much, no section surrenders to the “sea-thrust” of consciousness. This limitness acquires a psychological dimenstion in this next passage;

I sense my own limit,
my shell-jaws snap shut

at invastion of the limitless
ocean-weight; infinite water

can not crack me, egg in egg-shell;
closed in, complete, immortal

full-circle, I know the pull
of the tide, the lull

as well as the moon;
the octopus-darkness

is powerless against
her cold immortality;

so I in my own way know
that the whale

can not digest me:

Here again is the sealed room opened to the tide-pull of incidents and the sea-thrust of ruin, both of which are “invasions” upon the inner life. The value of this closure is palpable in the lines: “infinite water / can not crack me” and becomes chillingly creepy in the lines: “the octopus-darkness / is powerless against / her cold immortality.” This reminds of some of the critique against H.D. as being “too cold’ in her poems … but it seems like this coldness has a certain value in protecting the poet. The motive of this limiting and closure seems to be desperate survival.

In the next passage, the allegory completes itself: first, the story, then its relation to the teller, then the moral lesson to the initiate:

be firm in your own small, static, limited

orbit and the shark-jaws
of outer circumstance

will spit you forth:
be indigestible, hard, ungiving,

so that, living within,
you beget, self-out-of-self,

that pearl-of-great-price.

The “shark-jaws” contrast with the poet’s “shell-jaws” and the argument for the motive of being limited is strengthened: be hard and ungiving or you will be digested by “outer circumstance.” That you must live within yourself and beget “that pearl-of-great-price.” I wonder how much of this section relates to Freud, how much of this could be actual advice that he gave to her? Is this how one not only survives war, but is it also how one survives the psychological effects of ruin? and is this what we were saved for? to beget the pearl?


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