H.D. Blog 15: "amber shining"

(film still of H.D. from Borderline (1930) with Paul Robeson)

haven’t posted in a fews because i wanted to let the “appearance” of Ra, Osiris, and Amen sink into my mind (an important moment since “Spirit announced the Presence” in section [1] and now the Presence actually appears) (i’ve also been overindulging myself over at k.silem mohammad’s blog)

The “spacious, bare meeting-house” of [16] — as the site of appearance [a site that contrasts with the site of ruin in section [1]– also functions as the space of the poem itself: Trilogy becomes the meeting house where the reader is initiated into the secret wisdom of the “dream parallel.”

Ra, Osiris, and Amen all in some way represent resurrection and transformation. They are all aspects of the divine father that have changed over time – have died and resurrected thru various empires / cultures. Their names become the shroud that protects the “divine parallel” – and they endure by being open to transformation.

H.D. – up to this point in Trilogy – clearly advocates this kind of transformation, so it is not surprising that she chooses these gods to “appear.” It is also a testament to her travels to Egypt, and her fetishization of antiquity’s ancient wisdom as the antidote to contemporary ruin. However, the end of section [16] is one of the most haunting moments in all of Trilogy; it leaves us in the border between this world and the dream parallel, where only amber shines thru the ellipses:

then i woke with a start
of wonder and asked myself,

but whose eyes are those eyes?
for the eyes (in the cold,

i marvel to remember)
were all one texture,

as if without pupil
or all pupil, dark

yet very clear with amber
shining . . .


Altho i always just read amber here as perhaps just a reference to a kind of amulet [which connects to the idea of runes and of objects possessing spells] or as a reference to fossilization since most of the world’s amber is 30-90 million years old [which also makes sense considering the emphasis on shrouding and enduring like worms and in preserving antiquity], but further research has revealed a couple of other interesting connections:


The name comes from the Arabic عنبر, ʻanbar, probably through Spanish, but this word referred originally to ambergris, which is an animal substance quite distinct from yellow amber. True amber has sometimes been called kahroba, a word of Persian derivation signifying “that which attracts straw”, in allusion to the power which amber possesses of acquiring an electric charge by friction. This property, first recorded by Thales of Miletus, suggested the word “electricity”, from the Greek, elektron, a name applied, however, not only to amber but also to an alloy of gold and silver. By Latin writers amber is variously called electrum, sucinum (succinum), and glaesum or glesum. The Old Hebrew חשמל hashmal seems to have meant amber, although Modern Hebrew uses Arabic-inspired ענבר `inbar. The German word is Bernstein (burning stone).


(insect fossilized in amber)

Amber has been collected by people living along the shores of the Baltic Sea since the Bronze Age. This region of the Baltic Sea became known as the “Amber Coast”. The earliest evidence that amber was known about, mined, and worked with in the Baltic Sea/Gdansk area dates from between 8000 – 4000 B. C. The locals produced amber amulets in the shape of animals, deities, and hero figurines for cult purposes, and believed it was imbued magical power.

Amber is the rosin of an ancient, now extinct pine tree, growing in northeastern Europe under semitropical conditions. This pine exuded sap when it was injured. The sap globules fell to the earth where they were washed down stream. Over the eons these rosin chunks with their inclusions of plant and insect material dessicated and hardened. They collected in the same places the dark soil, now known as blue loam, collected. The deposits of blue loam were later eroded and the amber freed to be washed away a second time, this time upon the beaches.

Pieces of amber torn from the sea-floor are cast up by the waves, and collected at ebb-tide. Sometimes the searchers wade into the sea, furnished with nets at the end of long poles, by means of which they drag in the sea-weed containing entangled masses of amber; or they dredge from boats in shallow water and rake up amber from between the boulders. Divers have been employed to collect amber from the deeper waters.

In the marshy regions along this coast, where the tides were unpredictable, amber was collected on horseback by “amber riders” who used poles and nets called “amber-catchers.” There were also “amber divers” who carried a wooden spade to loosen amber from the sea floor.

The natural harvest of amber was at times quite substantial. In a one morning after a storm in 1862 4400 pounds of amber were collected from the beaches near the town of Palmnicken. But relying upon storms to wash large amounts of amber onto the beaches was too risky. People learned to cast nets into the surf to catch the amber. They also learned to stir up the sediment in shallows and use nets to catch the amber pieces. But the harvest from even these methods were limited.


Amber has been found at Neolithic sites far from its source on the shores of the Baltic sea to long-distance trade routes established before the Bronze Age. There is strong evidence for the theory that the Baltic coasts during the advanced civilization of the Nordic Bronze Age was the source of most amber in Europe, for example the amber jewelry found in graves from Mycenaean Greece has been found to originate from the Baltic Sea.

Amber was one of the first items of long distance trade. It was light and of unique characteristics that made it worthwhile to transport it from the place where it was plentiful, the Baltic Sea area, to the places like the Mediterrean where it was not. Amber could be used like a gem for decoration, but was light and warm unlike gem stones. Its other characteristics were also unusual. It could be set on fire and burned with the aroma of pine wood. Also, Amber rosaries were also popular in Rome.

The Amber Road, as one of the waterways and ancient highways, led from Europe to Asia and back, and from northern Europe to the Mediterranean. Amber was transported from the North Sea and Baltic Sea coasts overland by way of the Vistula and Dnieper rivers to Italy, Greece, the Black Sea, and Egypt long before the birth of Jesus, and long after.

In Roman times, a main route ran south from the Baltic coast in Prussia through the land of the Boii (modern Bohemia) to the head of the Adriatic Sea. The Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun had Baltic amber among his burial goods, and amber was sent from the North Sea to the temple of Apollo at Delphi as an offering. From the Black Sea, trade could continue to Asia along the Silk Road, another ancient trade route.

The Prussian town of Truso on the Baltic, was one of the main trading places; Truso was near the town of Elbląg, near lake Druzno, in the Masurian lake district. In Scandinavia the amber road probably gave rise to the thriving Nordic Bronze Age culture, bringing influences from the Mediterranean Sea to the northernmost countries of Europe.


The Amber Room in the Catherine Palace of Tsarskoe Selo near Saint Petersburg is a complete chamber decoration of amber panels backed with gold leaf and mirrors. it covered more than 55 square meters and contained over six tonnes of amber. It took over ten years to construct.

It was created in the beginning of 18th century in Prussia. Soon after its creation, it was given by the Prussian king, Friedrich Wilhelm I, to his then ally, Tsar Peter the Great of the Russian Empire.

Shortly after the beginning of German invasion of the Soviet Union in World War II, the curators responsible for removing the art treasures of Leningrad tried to disassemble the Amber Room, so it could be removed to safety. However, over the years the amber had dried out and become brittle, so that when they tried to remove it, the fragile amber started to crumble. The Amber Room was therefore hidden behind mundane wallpaper, in an attempt to keep Nazi forces from seizing it.

However, these attempts failed: the Nazis disassembled the Amber Room, and removed it to Königsberg, (renamed Kaliningrad in 1946), in East Prussia, for storage and display in the town’s Castle. Later in the war, Königsberg was heavily bombarded by the Royal Air Force, then further very heavily damaged by the advancing Soviets before and after its fall on April 9, 1945. The Amber Room was never seen again, though reports have occasionally surfaced stating that components of the Amber Room survived the war.




12 thoughts on “H.D. Blog 15: "amber shining"

  1. a note on ambergris: its a feature of the recent matthew barney (& bjork) film ‘drawing restraint 9’ (or yawning restraint) – theres a huge block of ambergris on the whaling ship – it looks like a pale brown creamy dessert. cod says found in the sea & intestines of sperm whales. (which does make me ‘the eyes in the cold’ have something to do with whales underwater.. – irrelevantly i know..)

  2. u asked a while ago about russian poets – i like pasternak (ohara was a fan & i think u can see it) – but also mandelstam (though i know him less well) – read this this morning ‘the living swallow fell/on hot snow’ but more appositely this reminded me of yr amber post: ‘this unlovely dry necklace of dead bees/that once made a sun out of honey’ (from 116 in selected poems; brown/merwin trans.)

  3. thanks for posting! not irrelevant! but a great connection with the whale and Jonah perhaps and of being protected within.

    and thanks for the pasternak & mandelstam – i have not read either – and that part is nice “necklace of dead bees.”

    and thanks francois…moravian upbringing…hmm…

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