The H.D Blog 7: "bearers of the secret wisdom"

[Unnamed collage from H.D.’s scrapbook containing photographs of the observatory at Upper Darby and classical Greek photographs and prints].

poets are useless,

more than that,
we, authentic relic,

bearers of the secret wisdom,
living remnant

of the inner band
of the sanctuaries’ initiate,

are not only ‘non-utilitarian’,
we are ‘pathetic’:

this is the new heresy;
but if you do not even understand what words say,

how can you expect to pass judgement
on what words conceal?

“The Walls Do Not Fall” [8]

The “you” shifts throughout the first sections of the poem: first it is the initiate / reader, but it also at times becomes a critic of H.D.’s project (as in this passage above) of the poem, itself, and of the spiritual project that the poem manifests. This passage illustrates one of the many times thruout Trilogy wwhen H.D. completely abandons imagism / vorticism for a more didactic argument. Personally, I find these moments refreshing and intelligent. On the other hand, the linebreaks really go slack to serve the argument, and the language itself, altho still containing a remnant of rhythm, loses much of the texture that some of the other sections blossom within. A line like “but if you do not even understand what words say,” contains nothing but the argument of the line. Despite this, I find the argument here quite compelling: that poets are the “bearers of secret wisdom” — that words may conceal that secret wisdom and it is there for us, the initiates, to enter the inner sanctuaries of meaning.

OPEN QUESTIONS: Do you believe that poets are the “bearers of the secret wisdom”? What is this wisdom? Or has Language Poetry proved this romantic idea to be false? Do you agree / disagree that poets are “useless” and “non-utilitarian” and “pathetic”? What do words conceal? Well, maybe there will be some responses.


2 thoughts on “The H.D Blog 7: "bearers of the secret wisdom"

  1. My gut reaction: poets do not bear secrets; they communicate the conditions of our shared humanity. BUT perhaps the poetic act itself (poetry) is the mystery, the well-kept secret.

    They say poetry is going out of fashion, that it’s elitist, read and understood only by small circles of intellectuals, that it stands no chance against the mighty power of the novel. Well, that may be true. And poetry is certainly non-utilitarian in the Fordist sense–there’s no stainless steel, no assembly lines, no mass production (unless you count those websites and software programs that randomly generate poems by the trillions).

    But does that make poetry useless? What you’re really asking us is what is the function of poetry–what role does it serve, what potential does it have? Tomas Rivera says that poetry is “finding the search.” Calling poetry a journey seems to imply a beginning, a middle and an end–a resolution. I like the immediacy of Rivera’s idea of “finding the search” that keeps poetry forever positioned on the threshold of quest. You never stop searching, each poem is always a beginning. And that’s the thing about quests–they’ll always be somebody telling you you’re crazy, chasing after windmills, that your search is hopeless, “pathetic.”

    Poetry may not be practical in the way that bombs are practical, or Costco is practical, or Fords are practical. But it is sacred, in the way that prayer is sacred. And like prayer, a poem begins as the most intimate and desperate of expressions. Whether or not a poem ultimately serves a “greater” purpose, it means something to the poet who wrote it and that’s not useless, not pathetic.

    Poems are like children: some are destined for greatness and success, and others are content with small lives. But you love them all because they are yours.

  2. theres something about the cultural position of poetry & the structure of the greater discourse that means that when a poetics discourse speaks/writes its inevitably framed as secret wisdom .. ‘its a secret because only poets know it because only poets read it’saying poetry bears no secret wisdom is what passes for secret wisdom (that everyone knows) in these dessicated times. i use poetry to make sense of the world in all sorts of ways – therefore its utilitarian to me. (sorry this is so belated)

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