(H.D. in Egypt)
But we fight for life,
we fight, they say, for breath,
so what good are your scribblings?
this — we take them with us
beyond death; Mercury, Hermes, Thoth
invented the script, letters, palette;
the indicated flute or lyre-nots
on papyrus or parchment
are magic, indelibly stamped
on the atmosphere somewhere,
forever; remember, O Sword,
you are the younger brother, the latter-born,
your Triumph, however exultant,
must one day be over,
in the beginning
was the Word.
Poetry survives beyond death; it endures indelibly stamped. Along with Hermes and Thoth, Mercury is now named and I wonder why he was not mentioned in section . Mercury (a Roman God) had essentially the same aspects as Hermes, wearing winged shoes and a winged petasos, and carrying the caduceus, a herald’s staff with two entwined snakes that was Apollo’s gift to Hermes. He was often accompanied by a cockerel, herald of the new day, a ram or goat, symbolizing fertility, and a tortoise, referring to Mercury’s legendary invention of the lyre from a tortoise shell.
Like Hermes, he was also a messenger of the gods and a god of trade, perculiarly of the grain trade. Mercury was also considered a god of abundance and commercial success, particularly in Gaul. He was also, like Hermes, the Romans’ psychopomp, leading newly-deceased souls to the afterlife.
In this section, the “you” changes again and becomes the Sword itself, symbolic of weaponry and war. The reference to The Gospel of John at the end is another attempt to embed this project in acient religion / history / wisdom. There is also a search for legitimizing the poet’s role: EVEN IF the word was the beginning, what good are those words / scribblings now in a time of war? H.D. is not writing political protest poetry ala Levertov. H.D. abandons any sense of the real or any journalistic tone after the very first stanza in section . This is not a poetry of witness. This is a poetry that defines the role of the poet as a bearer of secret wisdom, a wisdom that is being threatened by war; the poet must preserve herself (within the protective shroud) and pass on the “pearl-of-great-price.” I am reminded strongly of Williams: “it is difficult / to get the news from poems / Yet men die miserably every day / for lack / Of what is found there.” This, I believe, illuminates the very heart of H.D.’s project.
In section , H.D. continues to build her argument that “in the beginning was the word” and that the Sword, and war itself, is dependent on the word. This is not simply poetic philosophy, but an actual argument that if we use our words against the Sword, if we use poetry to end war, then the reign of the Sword will end (since the very existence of the Sword is a result of the power of the “mediation” of words. Simply put, if the Word (rooted in Dream, Vision, Thought and Invention) created the Sword, then words can destroy the Sword. The idea of “the Word’s mediation” is the political heart of Trilogy.
Without thought, invention,
you would not have been, O Sword,
without idea and the Word’s mediation,
you would have remained
unmanifest in the dim dimension
where thought dwells,
and beyond thought and idea,