(top:a photo of german bomber over surrey docks. bottom: proof that “the walls do not fall”)
So, in our secretive, sly way,
we are proud and chary
of companionship with you others,
our betters, who seem to imply
that we will soon be swept aside,
crumpled rags, no good for banner-stuff,
no fit length for a bandage;
The “you” remains those who claimed that they fight for life and breath [section 10], those who question the political value of these “scribblings.” H.D. does not dismiss their critique, but aligns herself with them, is proud to contribute to their fight, to web poetry with action. Chary means wary or cautious, and the use of this word seems to suggest that even though poetry should align itself with social activism, poets should be cautious of those that imply poetry is not fit for politics or healing. That poetry has its own mission:
but when the shingles hissed
in the rain of incendiary,
other values were revealed to us,
other standards hallowed us;
strange texture, a wing covered us,
and though there was whirr and roar in the high air,*
there was a Voice louder,
though its speech was lower
than a whisper.
I love the use of “incendiary” as a noun; could mean: an arsonist. an incendiary device. one who creates or stirs up factionalism or sedition; an agitator. [Middle English, from Latin incendirius, from incendium, fire, from incendere, to set on fire.] Using a phrase like “in the rain of incendiary” does not remove the poem from the real atrocities of war, but locates these atrocities within the words themselves – a site where the words (as signifiers) do not signify war, but the war itself becomes the signifier that signifies these words.
In this section also, we come to the word “values” again – it is already infused with the idea of “recovering old values”: the “true-rune.” It is this wisdom that hallows us, that gives the poetic project meaning and answers the critique of “you others” that question the value of poetry in times of social crisis. The ‘strange texture” echoes the “shroud” that the poet has wrapped herself in: the protective wing. And despite the “whirr and roar” of war, the Voice of the poet can be heard, the Voice of poetry itself and the source of its Value.
* September 7, 1940: At around 4:00 PM, 348 German bombers escorted by 617 fighters blasted London until 6:00 PM. Two hours later, guided by the fires set by the first assault, a second group of raiders commenced another attack that lasted until 4:30 the following morning.
For the next consecutive 57 days, London was bombed either during the day or night. Many residents fleed to the Underground stations that sheltered as many as 177,000 people during the night. In the worst single incident, 450 were killed when a bomb destroyed a school being used as an air raid shelter. The Blitz ended on May 11, 1941,