H.D Blog 14: "a spacious, bare meeting-house"

(the Eye of Ra)

*

After establishing the premise and ethic of the “dream-parallel,” H.D. shows us what is within the “dream-parallel”:

[16]

Ra, Osiris, Amen appeared
in a spacious, bare meeting-house;

he is the world-father,
father of past aeons,

present and future equally;
beardless, not at all like Jehovah,

he was upright, slender,
impressive as the Memnon monolith,

yet he was not out of place
but perfectly at home

in that eighteenth century
simplicity and grace;

*

Ra is the sun-god of Heliopolis in ancient Egypt. Ra originally meant “mouth” in the Egyptian language, and was a reference to his creation of the deities of the Ogdoad system, excluding the 8 concepts which created him, by the power of speech.

The sun is either the symbolic interpretation of Ra, his entire body, or just his eye. The symbols of Ra are the solar symbols of a golden disk or the symbol ⊙. He was also associated with the Phoenix, as he rose again each morning in flames. He was the One God of Egyptian Monotheism, of which all other gods and goddesses were aspects, manifestations, phases, or forms of the God.

(Ra in his “solar barge”)

In order to pass through the underworld each night so that he might rise in the morning, Ra used a boat to avoid being extinguished by the waters. It was Maàt (order) that guided the boat. Thoth, representative of the moon, stood at the helm next to Horus, who represented the sky, and whose dark eye was the moon.

Many of the other gods travelled with them to defend the boat from attack by the monster of darkness, who wished to devour Ra. In early mythology, it was Set who was the hero defending the boat, and Apep who was the attacker, but in later myth, after Set became regarded as evil, it was Thoth who defended and Set who was the demon. Temporary failure to protect Ra was said to be the cause of solar eclipses. (wiki)

*

Ra was an ancestor of Osiris, the Egyptian God of the dead and the underworld. Osiris was not only the merciful judge of the dead, but also the underworld agency that granted all life, including vegetation and the flooding of the Nile River.

In the first mentions of Osiris, he was regarded as one of the four children of the earth (Geb) and the sky (Nuit), and was the husband of Isis (Aset), who represented life. Every Khu, an aspect of the soul, seeking admission to Aaru, the Egyptian paradise, was referred to as an Osiris. As god of the dead, Babi, the god who devoured unworthy souls, was described as his first-born son.

In art, Osiris was usually depicted as a mummified man, with a beard, and the crown, flail, and crozier. Usually, he also was depicted as having green skin, a reference to rotting flesh. Alternatively, the green color could also recall the color of new vegetation in Osiris’ capacity of renewing life, similar to his nightly resurrection by Ra.

(Osiris Statuette, Cairo Museum)

In the Book of the Dead there are a series of funerary formulas addressed almost exclusively to Osiris. Only those initiated into the Osirian cult would know its doctrines and ceremonials, for these were, according to the Book of the Dead, “an exceedingly great mystery…in the handwriting of the god himself…. And these things shall be done secretly.” The Greeks, who also copied these sacred writings, declared it a sacrilege to reveal the rites or doctrines of the mysteries.

[This sense of “secrecy” has already been established by H.D., as well as the idea that poets are “those initiated.” Despite of this, H.D. will go against the silence of these initiates, and argue instead for the value of revealing (of revelation) the sacred rites of poetry – an argument which takes on a gendered edge as well.]

A NOTE ON CENTIPEDES:

The main visible source of decomposition, of rotting flesh, is its consumption by insects, beetles, and other small animals. Since these animals are the prey of centipedes, centipedes became seen by the Egyptians as protecting the dead, and consequently, in Heliopolis, became thought of as an aspect of Osiris.

* this connection opens up our reading of the poet as “worm” in section [6]

The myth described Osiris as having been killed by his brother Set who wanted Osiris’ throne. Osiris was subsequently resurrected by Anubis. Osiris and Isis gave birth to Horus. As such, since Horus was born after Osiris’ resurection, Horus became thought of as representing new beginnings. This combination, Osiris-Horus, was therefore a life-death-rebirth deity, and thus associated with the new harvest each year. (all info from wiki)

*

The word Amen is a declaration of affirmation found in the Hebrew Bible and in the Qur’an. It has always been in use within Islam. It has been generally adopted in Christian worship as a concluding formula for prayers and hymns. In Islam, it is the standard ending to suras. Common English translations of the word amen include: “Verily”, “Truly”, “So be it”, and “Let it be”.

Among certain Gnostic sects Amen became the name of an angel. In Revelation 3:14, Jesus calls himself, “the Amen, the faithful and true witness.” Amen concludes the New Testament at Rev. 22:21.

It also refers to Amun (also spelt Amon, Amoun, Amen, and rarely Imenand, and spelt in Greek as Ammon, and Hammon) was the name of a deity, in Egyptian mythology, who was originally a deification of the concept of air, and thus wind, one of the four fundamental concepts held to have composed the primordial universe, in the Ogdoad cosmogeny, whose cult was strongest in Hermopolis.

His name reflects this function, since it means the hidden one, reflecting the invisibility of the air, and of the wind. Like all other members of the Ogdoad, his male aspect was usually depicted as a frog, or frog-headed. Symbolically, invisibility was represented by the color blue, since it was the color of the sky, seen through the air, and so this was the color usually given to Amun’s image.

(Amun and his wife Mut, the divine mother)

Gradually, as god of air, he came to be associated with the breath of life. As Amun’s cult grew bigger, Amun rapidly became identified with the chief God that was worshipped in other areas, Ra-Herakhty, the merged identities of Ra, and Horus. This identification led to a merger of identities, with Amun becoming Amun-Ra. As Ra had been the father of Shu, and Tefnut, and the remainder of the Ennead, so Amun-Ra was likewise identified as their father.

Ra-Herakhty had been a sun god, and so this became true of Amun-Ra as well, Amun becoming considered the hidden aspect of the sun (e.g. during the night), in contrast to Ra-Herakhty as the visible aspect, since Amun clearly meant the one who is hidden.

However, in the rest of Egypt, his cult was rapidly overtaken, in popularity, by the less divisive cult of the Legend of Osiris and Isis, which had not been associated with Akhenaten’s actions. And so there, his identity became first subsumed into Ra (Ra-Herakhty), who still remained an identifiable figure in the Osiris cult, but ultimately, became merely an aspect of Horus.

(bas relief depicting Amun as king)

*

The Colossi of Memnon are two massive stone statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III. For the past 3400 years they have stood in the Theban necropolis, across the River Nile from the modern city of Luxor.

The twin statues depict Amenhotep III (fl. 14th century BC) in a seated position. his hands resting on his knees and his gaze turned eastward toward the river and the rising sun. Two shorter figures are carved into the front throne alongside his legs: these are his wife Tiy and mother Mutemwia. The side panels depict the Nile god Hapy.

The statues are made from blocks of quartzite sandstone which was quarried at either Giza (near modern-day Cairo) or Gebel el-Silsileh (60 km north of Aswan). Including the stone platforms on which they stand, they reach a towering 18 metres (approx. 60 ft) in height.

The original function of the Colossi was to stand guard at the entrance to Amenhotep’s memorial temple (or mortuary temple): a massive cult centre built during the pharaoh’s lifetime, where he was worshipped as a god-on-earth both before and after his departure from this world. In its day, this temple complex was the largest and most opulent in Egypt.

With the exception of the Colossi, however, very little remains today of Amenhotep’s temple. Standing on the edge of the Nile floodplain, successive annual inundations gnawed away at the foundations – a famous 1840s lithograph by David Roberts shows the Colossi surrounded by water:

Why are these statues named Memnon? Actually, their name applies only to the northern statue. It was damaged in an earthquake and began producing at sunrise a musical sound which Greek visitors associated with the mythological Memnon calling to his mother Aurora, the goddess of the morning sun. Memnon was a hero of the Trojan War, a King of Ethiopia who led his armies from Africa into Asia Minor to help defend the beleaguered city but was ultimately slain by Achilles. Whether associating the Colossi with his name was whimsy or wishful thinking on the part of the Greeks – they generally referred to the entire Theban Necropolis as the “Memnonium” – the name has remained in common use for the past 2000 years.

The legend of the “Vocal Memnon”, the luck that hearing it was reputed to bring, and the reputation of the statue’s oracular powers, travelled the length of the known world, and a constant stream of visitors, including several Roman Emperors, came to marvel at the statues. The mysterious vocalisations of the broken colossus ceased in 199, however, when Emperor Septimius Severus, in an attempt to win favor with the oracle, reassembled the two shattered halves.

(all info from wikipedia)

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4 thoughts on “H.D Blog 14: "a spacious, bare meeting-house"

  1. i got my collected poems of h.d. in the mail today. i’m looking forward to reading it and cross-referencing to yr posts on the trilogy when the time comes in my reading schedule (probably next week or so). thanks for sharing your reading of h.d.!

  2. i’m jealous! i only have the selected H.D. and Trilogy as a separate book 😦

    i would love to hear about any connections / insights you find on cross-referencing (especially since, at the rate i’m going) i won’t even be finished with the first poem in trilogy till…July? oh well, this work deserves careful attention i suppose (plus, i am avoiding reading an anthology of contemporary russian poetry). hee.

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