H. D.: Title Commentary
H. D.: TITLE COMMENTARYTrilogy
Helen of Troy
JOYCE LORRAINE BECK (ESSAY DATE SPRING 1982)
SOURCE: Beck, Joyce Lorraine. "Dea, Awakening: A Reading of H. D.'s Trilogy." San Jose Studies 8, no. 2 (spring 1982): 59-70.
In the following essay, Beck finds Trilogy to be a noteworthy feminist work because it exhibits an emerging spiritual consciousness and awareness embodied and symbolized in a central female figure, the Awakening Dea.
H. D., Hilda Doolittle Aldington, is best known as the co-founder—with T. E. Hulme, Ezra Pound, and others—of the pre-World War I English Imagist movement in poetry. However, while it has long been acknowledged that Pound, Eliot, and Williams moved beyond Imagism to more comprehensive and meaningful visions in Four Quartets, the Cantos, and Patterson, the longer and later "major works" of their female contemporary and colleague, H. D., have until recently gone largely unpraised, uncriticized, and unrecognized. Rachel Blau DuPlessis' essay "Romantic Thralldom in H. D.," which appeared in Contemporary Literature in the Spring of 1979, remains a convincing demonstration of how H. D.'s Helen in Egypt helps lead to a reconstructionist view of personal and human integrity, wholeness, or holiness which is relevant to, and present in, twentieth-century women, as well as men. Other significant studies of this poem are those by Susan Friedman "Creating a Woman's Mythology: H. D.'s Helen in Egypt" in Women's Studies (Winter 1977) and Chapter 2 of L. S. Dembo's Conceptions of Reality in Modern American Poetry (Berkeley, 1966).
Susan Gubar in "The Echoing Spell of H. D.'s Trilogy" (Contemporary Literature, Spring 1978) views H. D. as a poet who contributed not only "distinct images" but a total and coherent spiritual vision and a "creative stasis" at once immediate and authentic for contemporary women and men. In this essay Gubar sums up H. D.'s "re-invocation" or "re-creation" of male myths, patriarchal culture, and religious thought in her female epic, the Trilogy, so as to include those women whose names have not been in the book. In the first of the three sections, The Walls Do Not Fall, says Gubar, H. D. "demonstrates the need for imagistic and lexical redefinition, an activity closely associated with the recovery of female myths, especially the story of Isis." In the second and third books, however, the poet moves beyond both imagism and classical mythology to a substantial re-vision or re-creation of Western patriarchal religious thought and tradition. In Tribute to the Angels, she "actually begins transforming certain words, even as she revises Apocalyptic myth." Finally, in The Flowering of the Rod, H. D. "translates the story of the New Testament," "feminizing a male mythology as she celebrates the female or 'feminine' Word made flesh."1
H. D. is important, then, not only as an imagist poet but as a visionary poet who contributed substantially to the discovery of an archetypal identity for contemporary woman. Not only is her concluding masterpiece Helen in Egypt a search for and recognition of archetypal, or prototypal, integrity and wholeness, her Trilogy presents an emerging spiritual consciousness and awareness embodied and symbolized in an important central female figure. H. D.'s Awakening Dea, who appears in her Tribute to the Angels, stands at the poetic center of the Trilogy.
Fascinating as this Goddess may be, she is, within the compass of the poem, still in process of appearing—or of emerging into H. D.'s and our own, spiritual consciousness. Tribute to the Angels, says Norman Holmes Pearson, describes new life springing from the ruins of a city and of a human soul.2 The city is London in 1945, and the human soul is H. D.'s. But whose, we might ask, is the "new Life?" The poet calls us to attention in her wartime hymn and asks that we see—that we behold—this "new Life" as it is placed before us. The life which emerges or springs forth is, indeed, "new," a surprise as well as an expectation even to the soul who conceives it. H. D. had thought only to recall Gabriel, the Angel of Annunciation. How could "she imagine," the poet asks, that the one he is announcing would "come instead:"
We see her visible and actual,…
we asked for no sign
but she gave a sign unto us;…
she set a charred tree before us,
burnt and stricken to the heart.…
Invisible, indivisible Spirit,3
how is it you come so near!
Neither the poet nor we can say exactly who this archetypal figure is yet, or is to be, but we catch gleaming glimpses.
She appears in the fullness of time to the sound of music from the "other world," the realm of "no need of the moon to shine in it," says the poet:
I was talking casually
with friends in the other room,
when we saw the outer hall
grow lighter—then we saw where the door was,
there was no door
(this was a dream of course),
and she was standing there,
actually, at the turn of the stair. (TA [Tribute to the Angels ] 25)
However, H. D. as Mother of Dea does not always have unfailing eyesight or vision. While the Dea struggles to be seen and recognized, or to emerge, so does her poetic Mother, H. D., struggle to give poetic birth:
This is no rune nor riddle
it is happening everywhere;
what I mean is—it is so simple
yet no trick of the pen or brush
could capture that impression;
music could do nothing with it,
nothing whatever; what I mean is—
but you have seen for yourself
that burnt-out wood crumbling …
you have seen for yourself. (TA 21)
Often doubt is expressed, qualifications suggested, prayers offered, comparisons affirmed or denied, truths sorted through and out, figures explored—as the poet continues to evoke Gabriel, and the Mercurial flame which might purify love or through interpretation translate vision into revelation, as dross to golden light:
O swiftly, re-light the flame …
Hermes … poet,
take what the old-church
found in Mithra's tomb,
candle and script and bell,
take what the new-church spat upon
and broke and shattered;
collect the fragments of the splintered glass
and of your fire and breath,
melt down and integrate,
opal, onyx, obsidian,
now scattered in the shards
men tread upon. (TA 11, 1)
There are a few conclusions the poet tentatively arrives at concerning the awakening Dea. She is the "Presence" announced by "Spirit" during a time of crisis. The Dea first appears to H. D. at a time of desolation, when World War II recalls the war experience and post-war collapse of the twenties, which had coincided with the poet's own crisis and mental breakdown. Now, the forties have become, once again, a time of crisis, a time when "Spirit announces the Presence":
the shrine lies open to
the sky the rain falls, here, there
sand drifts; eternity endures:
rain everywhere, yet as the fallen roof
leaves the sealed room
open to the air,
so through our desolation,
thoughts stir, inspiration stalks us
unaware, Spirit announces the Presence;
shivering overtakes us,
as of old.… (WDNF [The Walls Do Not Fall ] 1)
The Dea is announced by the poet-prophets, who, miraculously, have withstood the ordeal. Now, as before, the bards or poets, "companions of the flame," have endured: "the bone-frame was made for / no such shock knit within terror, / … yet the frame held: / we passed the flame: we wonder / what saved us? what for?" "Never / in Rome," says the poet, "so many martyrs fell; / not in Jerusalem / never in Thebes, so many stood and watched" as "the lightning shattered earth and splintered sky," nor did those who endured flee to hide in caves:
but with unbroken will,
with unbowed head, watched
and though unaware, worshipped
and knew not that they worshipped
and that they were
that which they worshipped,
had they known the fire
of strength, endurance, anger
in their hearts,
was part of that same fire
that in a candle or on a candle-stick
or in a star
is known as …
judgement and will of God,
God's very breath. (TA 6)
Also, as before, the poet-prophets must suffer for the awakening Dea's sake and outlast persecution if they are to succeed in their mission of annunciation. Once again the poets, "authentic relic / bearers of the secret wisdom, / living remnant of the inner band / of sanctuaries initiate" are called "useless" creators of "intellectual adornment." This, says H. D., 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?
yet the ancient rubrics reveal that
we are back at the beginning:
you have a long way to go
walk carefully, speak politely. (WDNF 8)
It is the poet-prophet who, by challenging critics and outlasting those who insult or ignore her, has fought for breath and won new life: "… the stylus / the palette, the pen, the quill endure, / though our books are a floor / of smouldering ash under our feet; / we fight,…they say, for breath." When asked, "so what good are your scribblings?" the poet answers, "this—we take them with us / beyond death." (WDNF 10)
The scribes or poets who announce the Dea are true to themselves and to their craft or art; they are loyal to the god Mercury, or to the angel Gabriel. H. D. identifies herself as one of these poet-apostles, one of the "living remnant of the inner band / of sanctuaries initiate." She is herself one of the "companions of the flame:"
(I speak of myself individually
but I was surrounded by companions
in this mystery);
do you wonder we are proud,
indifferent to your good and evil?
peril, strangely encountered, strangely endured,
we know each other
by secret symbols,
though, remote, speechless,
we pass each other on the pavement,
at the turn of the stair;
though no word pass between us,
there is subtle appraisement;
even if we snarl a brief greeting
or do not speak at all,
we know our Name,
we nameless initiates
born of one mother,
of the flame. (WDNF 13)
To remain true to her quest of annunciation requires great virtue, authenticity, and courage of the poet. Indeed, her task seems almost impossible. However, even when her psychoanalyst, Freud, and contemporary medicine and technology are not sufficiently moved, enlightened, or impressed by her interpreted visions or disciplined dreaming, H. D., courageously, does not abandon her vocation to see, to say, and to make known. She remains the castilian soul who is "unintimi-dated by multiplicity of magnified beauty;" who is characteristically "persistent:"
In me (the worm) clearly
is no righteousness, but this—
persistence; I escaped spider-snare,
bird-claw, scavenger bird-beak,…
I escaped, I explored
… I know how the Lord God
is about to manifest, when I,
the industrious worm,
spin my own shroud. (WDNF 6)
The "persistent" poet arrives, tentatively, at a few conclusions concerning the nature and person of the awakening Dea who is "about to manifest." She resembles many medieval visions but seems not to be identical with any of these:
the painters did very well by her;
it is true, they missed never a line
of the suave turn of the head
or subtle shade of lowered eye-lid
or eye-lids half-raised; you find
her everywhere (or did find),
in cathedral, museum, cloister,
at the turn of the palace stair.…
But none of these, none of these
suggest her as I saw her,…
In Tribute to the Angels, says Pearson, "H. D. was moving forward and backward in spiritual realities." All that the poets have written or artists have painted of the Dea over the centuries is "implicit;" but, "all that and much more:"
Ah (you say), this is Holy Wisdom
Santa Sophia, the SS of Sanctus Spiritus
so by facile reasoning logically
the incarnate symbol of the Holy Ghost;…
I see her as you project her,…
all you say is implicit,
all that and much more;…
the same—different—the same attributes,
different yet the same as before. (TA 36-39)
She comes as she is "sensed over the centuries in the differing dreams of artists," from "the green-white of the blossoms as in a dreamed epiphany." In a letter about the Trilogy, dated 1943, H. D. expresses her belief that "protection of the scribe" seems to be the "leitmotif" of the work, along with the "feeling of assurance back of it of the presence of the God of the Scribe—Thoth, Hermes, Ancient of Days." The place of the scribe or poet in the "mysteries of all-time," she sees as "the keeping track of the 'treasures' which contain for every scribe which is instructed, things new and old." The scribes to whom "our Lady Universally" has appeared over the centuries Pearson calls "scribes with the brush;" and, he concludes, "Now, to H. D., she had emerged once more."4
Another characteristic of the awakening Dea is that she loves and actively encourages artists and poets. H. D. is, perhaps, led on in the rediscovery and interpretation of old mysteries through her own intelligence and persistence. But she is also encouraged through the appearance of the awakening Dea Herself, who receives the poems gratefully, as gifts. She is respectful of the poet who gives her birth, of the self-actualized and perfected soul who is "hallowed" by "other standards" than pompous fanfare of brittle fame: "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." (WDNF 12) It is the writers, the "companions of the flame," whom the annointed Dea loves and salutes. She knows those who know her:
So she must have been pleased with us,
who did not forgo our heritage
at the grave-edge;
she must have been pleased
with the straggling company of the brush and quill
who did not deny their birthright;
she must have been pleased with us,
for she looked so kindly at us
under her drift of veils,
and she carried a book. (TA 35)
For John Peck, writing in Parnassus, "the focus of H. D.'s poems is dream-vision," and her Queen is eidolon, a "dialectical image that returns our look." The poet's perception of the Goddess' aura or wholeness frees the Dea to respond; she in turn frees the poet by returning her look, thus overcoming or "verifying" enchantment and restoring aura to fact. He quotes Walter Benjamin's citation of Valery: "In dreams, however, there is an equation. The things I see, see me just as much as I see them." H. D.'s awakening Dea, likewise, sees and responds to the poet who sees her. Peck finds in H. D.'s eidolon of mutual creating and receiving a "suggestive token of healing."5 DuPlessis also views H. D.'s "glorie" as "spiritual vision, which sees the aura of objects." The spiritual quest for this "special realm of consciousness," she contends, "occurs above and beyond the cultural institutions of heterosexuality. The Biblical echo ('neither marriage nor giving in marriage') signifies that H. D. was trying to construct some perspective that avoided the constant subordination of the woman to the man in normal sexual and cultural life. In her view, men and women are equals in the spiritual realm, not seeking the distinctions of fixed sex roles, but rather a mutual suffusion of insight and wisdom. The spiritual dimension termed glorie is the inner radiance set forth by an object or experience, substance beyond dualism."6 It would seem that H. D. bears with her as her own that "glorious faculty" which marks her as one of those "higher minds" who "from their native selves / can send abroad / Kindred mutations; for themselves create / A like existence; and, whene'er it dawns / Created for them, catch it"—or be caught "by its inevitable mastery."
Finally, the awakened Dea appears at the center of H. D.'s Tribute to the Angels as a fully developed archetypal presence. When she is seen, she is recognized by the apostle-poet as the beatific Queen of Heaven, as the Redeemer of the Angels, or as Sanctus Spiritus. Her "drift of veils" is a nimbus or starlit galaxy, and her book contains the testaments of new life and of future glory:
she carries over the cult
of the Bona Dea,
she carries a book but it is not
the tome of the ancient wisdom,
the pages, I imagine, are the blank pages
of the unwritten volume of the new. (TA 38)
Her book, which is "our book," says the poet, is still being written; it is "the same," yet "different"—"different yet the same as before." The Angels of Revelation whom H. D. evokes pay tribute to, or celebrate with, the Dea as H. D. pays tribute to them:
So we hail them together,
One to contrast the other,…
And the point in the spectrum
where all lights become one,
is white and white is not no-colour,…
where the flames mingle
and the wings meet, when we gain
the arc of perfection,
we are satisfied,
we are happy, we begin again. (TA 43)
As a Goddess of new beginnings, of Alpha and Omega, the awakening Dea is associated with Spring, "a season more bountiful … more beautiful, richer in leaf and colour;…the may flowering mulberry and rose-purple." (TA 17) But, perhaps most importantly, H. D.'s Dea is symbolized in the flowering of the rood. This is her gift to the poet as the poem is the poet's gift to her:
… my eyes saw
it was not a dream
yet it was vision,
it was a sign,
it was the Angel which redeemed me,
it was the Holy Ghost—
a half-burnt-out apple-tree
this is the flowering of the rood,
this is the flowering of the wood. (TA 23)
When the "jewel / melts in the crucible / we find not ashes, not ash-of-rose,…not vas spirituale, not vas mystica even, but a cluster of garden pinks / or a face like a Christmas-rose." (TA 43) In H. D.'s Trilogy, as in W. B. Yeats' "The Rose of the World" or the Anglo-Saxon "Dream of the Rood," Eternal Beauty, or Holy Wisdom, suffers with humanity and redeems passion through pervading love. The stricken rood becomes the tree of life and glory.
The annointed Dea of H. D.'s Trilogy also is associated with epiphany or consummation. Much as the "great leaves" of Yeats' "inviolate Rose" "enfold / the ancient beards, the helms of ruby and gold / Of the crown Magi;" so does H. D.'s Dea reveal her "shining loveliness" to the scribe-poets of the Trilogy, in or through the symbol of the flowering rood or Christmas rose. The Epiphany becomes the theme of the third part of the poem, The Flowering of the Rod. Pearson sees the gift of the Magi in this work linked with the scribe's gift or offering of the poem: "We recognize the Magi not as Kings of the Orient but as the intellectually elite in the worship of Zoroaster and Mithra, possessing, as Gilbert Vezin puts it in his L'Adoration et Le Cycle des Mages (1950), the sum knowledge of their age: astrology, astronomy, medicine, mathematics and occult science. The Magi were Wise Men; they were Scribes. Their offering was 'like the offering of a poem.'"7
If the symbol of H. D.'s Dea of beatitude is the flowering rood, her part, or action, is redemption: "… she brings the Book of Life, obviously." The Dea is a Goddess of new life, or resurrection; and resurrection is discovered beyond the "geometry of perfection," or "the smouldering cities," beyond even "duty or pity:"
now having given all, let us leave all;
above all, let us leave pity
and mount higher
In resurrection, there is confusion
if we start to argue; if we stand and stare,…
in resurrection, there is simple affirmation,…
seeking what we once knew,
we know ultimately we will find
happiness … in Paradise. (FR [The Flowering of the Rod ] 1)
However, H. D.'s Goddess in Glory is human and visible as well as divine. Her colors are still red and white as well as gold:
what I wanted to indicate was a new phase,
a new distinction of colour;
she was not impalpable like a ghost,
she was not awe-inspiring like a Spirit,
she was not even over-whelming
like an Angel. (TA 40)
The poet's archetypal figure is not arrogant; nor is she discovered apart and alien, although she has dignity; "she wasn't hieratic, she wasn't frozen, she wasn't very tall." (TA 38) She is us, with us, or "one of us": "She carried a book, either to imply / she was one of us, with us / or to suggest she was satisfied / with our purpose." Yet neither is she a simple symbol of dead pieties:
she is the counter-coin-side
of primitive terror;
she is not-fear, she is not-war
but she is no symbolic figure
of peace, charity, chastity, goodness,
faith, hope, reward;
she is not Justice with eyes
blindfolded like Love's;
I grant you the dove's symbolic purity
I grant you her face was innocent.…
her attention is undivided …
her book is our book. (TA 38)
In a letter dated December, 1944, H. D. links her figure with Santa Sophia, Holy Wisdom, and with "the SS of Sanctus Spiritus;" but the poet's Dea also signals resurrection, new life, and new beginnings: "we were there or not-there / we saw the tree flowering; then it was an ordinary tree in an old garden square." (TA 20) She is a bringer of light and life. The apostrophe concludes Tribute to the Angels. "This is the flowering of the rod," says Pearson, [which] "was to re-blossom in the presence of … Christ,—that is, in Life." Here "Golgotha gives way to love and resurrection.8" H. D. places her Dea of resurrection before us and asks that we see, that we "behold" Her. "We see her visible and actual." Her pages reveal "a tale of a Fisherman," and she is associated with "purple as with purple spread upon an altar." The annointed Dea is visible, tangible, and communal New Life:
We are part of it;
we admit the transubstantiation,
not God merely in bread
But God in the other-half of the tree …
this is the flowering of the rood,
this is the flowering of the wood
where … we pause to give
thanks that we rise again from death and live. (TA 23)
The Trilogy and Helen in Egypt areH.D.'s poetic masterpieces; as such, they are her discovery of an authentic, heroic, and sacred destiny for the woman poet, artist, creator. If H. D.'s poetry receives the attention it deserves, she may yet take her rightful place alongside Ezra Pound, Richard Aldington, D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, and other friends, companions, and fellow writers. Hilda Doolittle Aldington should be recognized as a poet who contributed not only "distinct images" but a total, coherent, spiritual vision and a perception of religious experience and holiness meaningful, relevant, and authentic for twentieth-century women and men.
- Susan Gubar, "The Echoing Spell of H. D.'s Trilogy," Contemporary Literature, 19, No. 2 (Spring 1978), 196-218. The essay is reprinted in Shakespeare's Sisters: Feminist Essays on Women Poets, ed. Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1979), pp. 200-218.
- Norman Holmes Pearson, "Foreword" to the Trilogy (New York: New Directions, 1973), p. v.
- H. D., Tribute to the Angels in Trilogy (New York: New Directions, 1973), 19, p. 82. Copyright 1945 by Oxford University Press. Subsequent references will be from the Pearson edition and will be noted in the text by the capitalized initials of The Walls Do Not Fall (WDNF), Tribute to the Angels (TA), or The Flowering of the Rod (FR) and the number of the poem.
- Pearson, p. viii.
- John Peck, "Passio Perpetuae H. D.," Parnassus: Poetry in Review, 3, No. 2 (Spring-Summer, 1975), p. 45.
- Rachel Blau DuPlessis, "Romantic Thralldom in H. D.," Contemporary Literature, 20, No. 2 (Spring 1979), 186-187.
- Pearson, pp. viii-ix.
- Pearson, p. xi.
ALBERT GELPI (ESSAY DATE APRIL 1982)
SOURCE: Gelpi, Albert. "Hilda in Egypt." Southern Review 18, no. 2 (April 1982): 233-50.
In the following essay, Gelpi describes H. D.'s Helen in Egypt as "a final and climactic efflorescence of creative energy."
H. D. always wrote her own personal and psychological dilemma against and within the political turmoil of the twentieth century, the toils of love enmeshed in the convulsions of war. Her marriage to and separation from Richard Aldington turn on World War I, and that concatenation of private and public trauma stands behind the poems of Sea Garden, which sum up the Imagist concision of her first phase. The sequences of Trilogy, written through the London blitzes of World War II, usher in the longer, multivalent and more associative poems of her later years. The travail of aging and illness in her last years did not issue in the stoic silence which made Pound leave incomplete his life's work in the Cantos, but instead, as with William Carlos Williams, made for a final and climactic efflorescence of creative energy. The results were Helen in Egypt, published in 1961 almost concurrently with her death, and Hermetic Definition, published posthumously in 1972.
Even the reviewers who shied away from dealing with Helen in Egypt as a poem by detaching particular lyrics from the whole for dutiful praise (as though they were still Imagist pieces) recognized dimly that Helen was the culmination of a life in poetry. But it is an event even more culturally signal than that: it is the most ambitious and successful long poem ever written by a woman poet, certainly in English. It is so often observed as to take on a kind of fatality that no woman has ever written an epic, that women poets seem constrained to the minor note and the confabulations of the heart. H. D. confounds that complacent dictum by assuming and redefining the grounds of the epic. Early on the poem asks:
Is Fate inexorable?
does Zeus decree that, forever,
Love should be born of War?
The Iliad showed War born of Love, but H. D. repossessed the Trojan materials that have inspired the Western epic from Homer to Pound and converted them into an anti-epic centered not on heroes like Achilles and Hector but on a heroine, none other than the woman who, male poets have told us, roused men to Love, and so to War.
Many of the masterworks of American writing—Walden and Moby-Dick and Absalom, Absalom!, Leaves of Grass and The Cantos, Four Quartets and Paterson—are sui generis. They make their idiosyncratic statement in their own unique form. So Helen in Egypt draws Greek and Egyptian myths, epic and psychoanalysis and occult gnosticism into an "odyssey" of consciousness enacted as a series of lyrics written in irregular free-verse tercets of varying length and linked by prose commentaries sometimes longer than the lyrics. The poem is divided into books, eight lyrics to a sequence, and there are seven books to Part I, "Pallinode," and Part II, "Leuké," and six to the concluding part, "Eidolon." "Pallinode" was written at Lugano in the summer of 1952; "Leuké," the next year at the Klinik Brunner in Küsnacht near Zurich, H. D.'s home after 1953; and "Eidolon," again at Lugano during the summer of 1954. The speakers in "Pallinode," which takes place in an Egyptian temple near the coast after the War, are Helen, who was rumored to have spent the War there rather than at Troy, and Achilles, the Trojan nemesis now apparently dead and shipwrecked in Egypt; the speakers in Part II are Helen and her old lover Paris on Leuké, l'îsle blanche, and then Helen and Theseus, her old benefactor and counselor in Athens; the speakers in "Eidolon" are Helen and Paris and Achilles. Helen's is, of course, not only the point of view but the subsuming consciousness. The action transpires in no time and no place, and so in any time and place: in Helen's psyche, where the dead are quick and where the past is present, pregnant with fatality.
And Helen is, of course, H. D.'s persona as she writes her epic of consciousness. If this strategy seems more archly literary and aesthetically distanced than Whitman's stance in "Song of Myself," we need only remember that the "I" who spoke in Leaves of Grass as "Walt Whitman, a kosmos," is a fiction in some ways more deceptive than "Helen" because it pretends not to be a fiction. Moreover, in Helen in Egypt the configuration of the three male figures around Helen's central consciousness presents H. D. re-creating mythicized and fantasized versions of Richard Aldington in Achilles, of Freud in Theseus, and, in the figure of Paris, a recapitulation of her romantic passions from Ezra Pound to Dr. Erich Heydt, the analyst and doctor at the Klinik Brunner.
A notebook entry from an unpublished journal entitled Compassionate Friendship in 1955 observed: "I had found myself, I had found my alter-ego or my double—and that my mother's name was Helen has no doubt something to do with it." As for Achilles, he begins the poem in the aggressive male posture adopted by Aldington during World War I and dramatized by H. D. as Rafe in Bid Me to Live : the swaggeringly blunt warrior used to using his women. Like Freud, who served H. D. during the thirties as wise old man, surrounded in his office by ancient Greek figurines, and applying his reason to help her sort out the confusion of her life and feelings, Theseus is for Helen the wise man and paternal authority who offers his couch to her for rest and an analytic rehearsal of her amatory embroilments.
The associations with Paris are more complicated and more inclusive; they span all H. D.'s adult life up to the time of her writing of the poem. In a notebook she confessed that her involvement with Dr. Heydt, which almost immediately passed into the personal and romantic despite the fact that she was decades older than he, gave rise to the second part of the poem and specifically to the introduction of Paris. But behind Heydt stood Pound, who wrote his famous poem "A Tree" to and about the young Hilda at the peak of their passionate affair, just as Paris calls Helen his "Dendritis,…Helena of the trees." In the same notebook H. D. rehearsed "the sequence of my initiators" throughout her life: Pound; Aldington; from the London days of World War I John Cournos and D. H. Lawrence and Cecil Gray ("Lawrence in the middle"); Bryher's second husband Kenneth MacPherson "as a later double, as it were of Gray"; Walter Schmideberg, her analyst as well as close friend during the years of the final divorce decree from Aldington in 1938; and now Eric Heydt as the "inheritor" of the male line.
Paris, then, summed up all the men in her life, from Pound to Heydt, including Aldington, but Heydt was specifically connected with Pound in her mind from the first. When Heydt gave her an injection at perhaps their initial encounter at the Klinik, he transfixed her with the question "You know Ezra Pound, don't you?" "This was a shock coming from a stranger," she told her journal. "Perhaps he injected me or re-injected me with Ezra."1 The sexual image is appropriate enough; Heydt persisted in pressing her about her relationship with her first lover, and once even asked her—to her distaste—whether the relationship had been sexual. The Pound memoir, End to Torment, H. D. wrote in 1958 only after repeated urging from Heydt that she recover her memories of the young man whom she almost married and who confirmed her a poet. Testimony that Pound was a living presence in her mind extends beyond End to Torment to the separate Helen sequence "Winter Love," written in 1959 and published in Hermetic Definition, in which Helen/Hilda relives her early love for "Odysseus." So too she incorporated into the Paris of her Helen an imaginative presence or medium who stood behind Heydt and was associated with "the history of poor Ezra and my connection with him."
The point of these autobiographical connections is not that the characters portray real people accurately, as Bid Me to Live intended, but rather that they are psychological fantasies or fictions which represent areas of psychological experience of the masculine on which H. D.'s selfhood turned. Where in her previous poetry she had sought to project her autobiography into myth, here at the end she sought to assimilate and validate myth within herself. "Is Fate inexorable? / does Zeus decree that, forever, / Love should be born of War?" The poem finally answers yes: divine decree requires that we submit ourselves to Life, for all the war wounds and deathblows, so that, providentially, in comprehending the train of temporal events, we can accept and transcend them in an earned identity through participation in the design ordained for time. Helen in Egypt is, then, H. D.'s death song which is at once a capitulation to and a reconstitution of life.
If the warrior Achilles suggests the Aldington H. D. lost in life, the Achilles who comes to Helen in death presents another possibility. In fact, Helen's union with Achilles is posited from the start. She tells his lost companions:
God for his own purpose
wills it so, that I
stricken, forsaken draw to me,
through magic greater than the trial of arms,
your own invincible, unchallenged Sire.…
Paris and Theseus will play their parts; but everything contributes, however unwittingly, to the foreordained syzygy of Helen and Achilles, and God's emissary and instigator is the mother-goddess of the sea Thetis. It was Thetis who had unintentionally precipitated the war; she failed to invite Eris (Strife) along with the other gods to the banquet celebrating her marriage to Peleus. In retaliation Eris sowed the discord which ended in the Trojan conflict, which in turn would kill Achilles, son of Thetis and Peleus. Eris was devious in her revenge; she tossed a golden apple marked "for the fairest" into the banquet hall and when Hera, Athene, and Aphrodite began to wrangle for it, Zeus ordered that the quarrel be settled by the judgment of Paris, the youthful shepherd-son of the Trojan King. Aphrodite won the apple by promising Paris the most beautiful woman in the world, who turned out to be Helen, Menelaus' Queen. Thetis had counter-schemes to thwart Eris' vengeance and save her son from the war that was to follow the elopement of the Trojan prince and the Greek queen: she sought immortality for her son by dipping him into the river Styx, she charged Chiron with tutoring him in peaceful pursuits, she settled him into a safe, remote marriage with the daughter of the King of Scyros. But all in vain: Achilles left that haven with Patroclus to fight before the walls of Troy and to take various women as his sexual prize—until with Greek victory at hand under Achilles, Paris avenged Hector's death and the sack of Troy by slaying Achilles with Apollo's arrow shot into the heel Thetis had held when the waters of the Styx rendered him otherwise invulnerable.
All this background is sketched in early as flashbacks and memories, but the poem begins with the dramatic encounter between Helen and Achilles, which, we can now see as Homer could not, was the upshot and outcome of the war. Stesichorus' "Pallinode," uniting Helen and Achilles, provides the point of departure for H. D.'s archetypal fantasy. Dead and past the "fire of battle" and the "fire of desire," he is ferried to Egypt, an alien shore where he does not recognize as the dread Helen the woman brooding on the hieroglyphs in the temple of Amen. From the time when Helen's glance from the Trojan ramparts had locked with his below on the plains, they had moved—fated but unknowing—to this meeting, and Thetis is the link and catalyst: "How did we know each other? / was it the sea-enchantment in his eyes of Thetis his sea-mother?" When Achilles grieves with a boy's petulant outrage at suffering the mortal fate of a mere man, Helen prays to comfort him like a mother:
let me love him, as Thetis, his mother,
for I knew him, I saw in his eyes
the sea-enchantment, but he
knew not yet, Helen of Sparta,
knew not Helen of Troy,
knew not Helen, hated of Greece.
When he does recognize her, he "clutched my throat / with his fingers' remorseless steel," but Helen's plea to Thetis relaxed his grip. The last book of "Pallinode" presents Thetis speaking now "in complete harmony with Helen." For Thetis becomes Helen's mother too—her surrogate mother, adopted by the mutually consenting love of "mother" and "daughter," and so the transformation and apotheosis of Hilda's mother Helen, whose presence Hilda had always felt as an absence. From that Helen, Hilda felt that she drew her poetic and religious capabilities, her affinity with the power of the word and the Word, but from that Helen, Hilda received no word of instruction or blessing; she seemed—understandably, Hilda admitted painfully—to prefer her brother. But in the poem Hilda assumes her mother's name and speaks, and the word she is given to speak to Achilles by Thetis is her own name, the mother-name. In this decisive meeting between Helen and Achilles, therefore, Thetis folds Helen into her care along with her son, in fact yokes the two in a single destiny.
So complete is the mother's harmony with the filial Helen at the climax of "Pallinode" that she acts as psychopomp revealing Helen's self-hood, to be achieved under her aegis. Thetis' runic lyric inaugurates Helen's imitation into arcane female mysteries drawn from the deeps of nature and of the psyche:
A woman's wiles are a net;
they would take the stars
or a grasshopper in its mesh;
they would sweep the sea
for a bubble's iridescence
or a flying-fish;
they would plunge beneath the surface,
without fear of the treacherous deep
or a monstrous octopus;
what unexpected treasure,
what talisman or magic ring
may the net find?
frailer than spider spins,
or a worm for its bier,
deep as a lion or a fox
or a panther's lair,
leaf upon leaf, hair upon hair
as a bird's nest,
that ancient enemy, Sphinx.
Thetis' unriddling of the temple hieroglyphs reveals Helen's name rising from the rubble of war:
The Lords have passed a decree,
the Lords of the Hierarchy,
that Helen be worshipped,
be offered incense
upon the altars of Greece,
with her brothers, the Dioscuri;
from Argos, from distant Scythia,
from Delos, from Arcady,
the harp-strings will answer
the chant, the rhythm, the metre,
the syllables H-E-L-E-N-A;
Helena, reads the decree,
shall be shrined forever;
in Melos, in Thessaly,
they shall honour the name of Love,
begot of the Ships and of War;
one indestructible name,
to inspire the Scribe and refute
the doubts of the dissolute;
this is the Law,
this, the Mandate:
let no man strive against Fate,
Helena has withstood
the rancour of time and of hate.
Thetis goes on to distinguish Helen's fate from that of her twin sister Clytemnestra. For Clytemnestra's relation to the masculine has been destructive and self-destructive. As Helen's "shadow" she has obscured her sister's quest for identity, but now Thetis directs Helen to self-discovery through a creative connection with the masculine. Helen shall be immortalized with her twin brothers the Dioscuri. The decree of Amen-Thoth, "Namelessof-many-Names," is
that Helena shall remain
one name, inseparable
from the names of the Dioscuri,
who are not two but many,
as you read the writing, the script,
the thousand-petalled lily.
And the union with the brothers is concurrent with, or consequent to, the divine decree that "Helena / be joined to Achilles." The hieroglyphs have sealed Helen's name with dim intuitions of providential fate, but the periplum to Achilles is a circle-round: a journey first to Paris on the white isle of Leuké and then to Theseus in Athens to find the future by sorting out the past. The journey of Part II draws unconscious mystery and transconscious wisdom further into conscious verbal denomination.
Why Leuké, l'îsle blanche? "Because," the prose commentary says, "here, Achilles is said to have married Helen who bore him a son, Euphorion." The import of this remark will come later, but at the present it seems misleading since the first three books of "Leuké" narrate the re-encounter between Paris and his "Dendritis, … Helena of the trees." Paris calls them "Adonis and Cytheraea," associating Helen with his goddess Aphrodite, and seeks to rouse her from Egyptian secrets and Greek intellection to rekindled sexual passion: "O Helena, tangled in thought, / be Rhodes' Helena, Dendritis, / why remember Achilles?"; "I say he never loved you." Paris harkens back to a life of passion on the old terms, now to Helen past feeling and past recall. End to Torment recounts an ecstatic moment of passion shared by Pound and his "Dryad" in a tree in the Doolittles' back yard; in 1958 H. D. still feels, but with poignancy, that emotion: "Why had I ever come down out of that tree?" Out of that paradisal garden-love into a world torn by Love and War, Eros and Thanatos. The love poems of "Hilda's Book," inscribed and bound for her by Pound and only recently reprinted with End to Torment, celebrate her as Hilda of the trees: "My Lady is tall and fair to see / She swayeth as a poplar tree …"; "Thou that art sweeter than all orchard's breath"; "She hath some tree-born spirit of the wood / About her …"; and, most glowingly, "The Tree," which survived the juvenilia of "Hilda's Book" into A Lume Spento and Personae ": I stood still and was a tree amid the wood / Knowing the truth of things unseen before / Of Daphne and the laurel bow.…"Nowinthe late years of their lives Pound was again in touch with his Dryad.
But after Thetis, Helen knows that she cannot go back to old loves and old lovers. She flees Paris' importuning for the sage counsel of the aged Theseus, who wraps her in the security of warm blankets on his couch, like a swaddled baby or cocooned butterfly. Theseus counters her recoil from "Paris as Eros-Adonis" with Athenian reasonableness, urging happiness with Paris and denouncing Achilles as a choice of death over life: "even a Spirit loves laughter, / did you laugh with Achilles? No"; "you found life here with Paris.…" Why should she choose to "flame out, incandescent" in death with Achilles, who has exploited women all his life? But Helen is no longer Dendritis, and Achilles may not be his old self either. In any case, Paris seems too fevered and puerile to be the one she seeks.
Theseus comes to see that she longs for a new and perfect Lover "beyond Trojan and Greek"; she is the Phoenix ready to rise from the ashes, the butterfly cracking the chrysalis and "wavering / like a Psyche / with half-dried wings." Nonetheless, for all that he comprehends, Theseus does his own importuning. Even his touching and tender suggestion that for the nonce he might serve as someone "half-way" to that Lover is beside the point. As with Freud and H. D., Theseus becomes Helen's "god-father" by bringing her to a wisdom which essentially differs from his own. He has prepared her to leave him as well as Paris behind to seek out Achilles, more aware now of her goal.
As for old transgressions, Achilles and she are "past caring"; the future need not be blocked by the past, life can only lead us to afterlife.
Part II reaches a sustained climax in the final exchange between Theseus and the departing Helen, suddenly displaying a new maturity. Paris' compulsive eroticism makes him seem her adolescent child, perhaps Achilles' son—in fact, "incarnate / Helen-Achilles," so that, in an inversion of chronological time, "he, my first lover, was created by my last.…"Onone level this line may recall again the special connection between Pound and Heydt in the sequence of male initiators, and the reappearance of Pound as a potent psychological presence during these late years largely through the agency of Heydt. But a more relevant reading of the line would see Helen as setting aside as outdated and outgrown all the lovers and initiators of her previous life for a new kind of love to be found with Achilles. When the prose commentary informed us at the beginning of Part II that on Leuké "Achilles is said to have married Helen who bore him a son," the statement seemed erroneous or misleading, for Helen met not Achilles but Paris. But, as it turns out, her refusal to turn back the life-cycle makes Paris seem, regressively, a child to her. Her past becomes hers in her reclaiming it; she reconstitutes herself a new person by possessing it as mother. And so by a kind of backwards illogic the recognition of Paris as child confirms Achilles as husband-father in her new dimension of consciousness.
For in this poem Achilles and Paris matter only in relation to and in definition of Helen. The central insight which opens the resolution of the poem is the realization that she is the Phoenix, the Psyche self-born. Though Theseus favored Paris, he also recognizes:
beyond all other,
the Child, the child in the father,
the child in the mother,
the child-mother, yourself.…
ON THE SUBJECT OF…
H. D.'S HELEN OF TROY
Although the Trilogy, Tribute to Freud, Winter Love and Hermetic Definition are all crucial to understanding H. D.'s canon within the context of her total contribution to the female poetic tradition, Helen in Egypt brings into sharp focus her place within that tradition. Her choice of a mythological persona through which to explore contemporary realities is the first clue to H. D.'s understanding of the conditions of quest for the woman hero. H. D.'s hero is the Greek Helen, symbol throughout centuries of mythology and literature of the twin images of woman—beauty and evil. Helen in the patriarchal tale is a Greek Eve. Tempted by the delights of the flesh, she leaves her husband Menelaus, King of Sparta, and goes to Troy with Paris. Because of her (and the goddess of sexual love, Aphrodite, who directs her), Troy and Greece are doomed, victors as well as victims. To write an epic of genuinely female quest, H. D. goes directly to the heart of the patriarchal mythology of woman's nature—woman as representative of the flesh who tempts mankind to evil and death though her sexuality. This woman becomes the center of consciousness in an epic aimed at revising both mythology and the concept of woman's selfhood.
Friedman, Susan. An excerpt from "Creating a Women's Mythology: H. D.'s Helen in Egypt." Women's Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 5, no. 1 (1977): p. 166.
Helen enwombs the entire process; the "child-mother" bears herself. When Helen asks, in the next lyric, how the masculine dualities—her twin brothers Castor and Pollux, Achilles and Theseus—can be reconciled, the wise old man answers that the polarities meet in herself. Theseus' reply is hallucinative, the sound-echoes and rhythms of the words rocking the lines to a resolution beyond words. The incantation is direct in statement and indirect in signification; the language is at once limpid and opaque, veiling the revelation in the act of revealing the veiled secret.
Thus, thus, thus,
as day, night,
as wrong, right,
as dark, light,
as water, fire,
as earth, air,
as storm, calm,
as fruit, flower,
as life, death,
as death, life;
the rose deflowered,
the rose re-born;
Helen in Egypt,
Helen at home,
Helen in Hellas forever.
The prose commentary informs us that "Helen understands, though we do not know exactly what it is that she understands," but the interplay of opposites in a transcendent pattern (which Emerson called the cosmic law of Compensation) is now to her "very simple." Reconciled "to Hellas forever," she sets out to return to Achilles in Egypt for the long-appointed union; Theseus has no choice but to bless her voyage to "Dis, Hades, Achilles." Her fate is not her dead life with Paris, but renewal with the dead Achilles; her myth is not Venus and Adonis, as Paris urged, but Persephone and Hades. And the hierogamy will be personal and psychological: "I will encompass the infinite / in time, in the crystal, / in my thought here."
Early in Part III, "Eidolon," Paris abandons his recriminations against Pluto-Achilles ("his is a death-cult") and accepts him as father with Helen replacing Hecuba as mother. Now the poem circles back with deeper comprehension to the meeting with which it began, when Achilles, raging against his mortality, attacks Helen, until his mother's—Helen's god-mother's—intervention relaxes his death-grip into an embrace. Achilles had forsaken his mother when he went to war; only after ten years on the Trojan plains did he promise to return to her if she helped him seize victory. But with victory in his grasp, he suffered his human destiny. Paris' arrow found Achilles' heel, and he returned to his mother in a strange land, finding her in the eyes and person of Helen. And, with Paris reclaimed as son, Helen reaches her apotheosis as mother. The single word "Thetis" which she gasped to Achilles in his strangle-grasp metamorphoses her in his eyes into a sea-goddess. For that mother-name
would weld him to her
who spoke it, who thought it,
who stared through the fire,
who stood as if to withstand
the onslaught of fury and battle,
who stood unwavering but made
as if to dive down, unbroken,
undefeated in the tempest roar
and thunder, inviting mountains
of snow-clad foam-tipped
green walls of sea-water
to rise like ramparts about her,
walls to protect yet walls to
dive under, dive through and dive over;…
The two "will always" for that "eternal moment" comprise a syzygy of L'Amour, La Mort: "this is Love, this is Death, / this is my last Lover." The offspring of that syzygy is not just Paris, nor the mysterious Euphorion, but themselves restored: Achilles "the child in Chiron's care," Helen the maiden at Theseus' knee. In their end is their beginning, and in their beginning is their end. But the mythic psychological status which Helen attains in the poem is not merely that of daughter-maiden; she becomes mother before daughter, encompassing the whole feminine archetype: Demeter-Persephone-Kore in one. In writing her own Helen-text, H. D. arrived at a reading of identity which resumed and surpassed the past. That moment—between time and eternity and participating in both—is the "final illumination" of the poem, and it is the moment of death. Through the mother-goddess she has conceived and come full term, dying and rising to herself. That metamorphosis, spelled out in the poem, has sealed her life cycle in the eternal pattern. "Sealed" in several senses: it brings her life to fulfillment and conclusion, it impresses on that life its distinctive signet (or sign or hieroglyph, as H. D. would say), and it affirms that life with irrevocable authority. Helen had said: "to me, the wheel is a seal … / the wheel is still." Under the name of Helen, H. D. spelled out her hermetic definition. Though Helen in Egypt is a death-hymn, H. D. told her journal: "I am alive in the Helen sequence" because "there I had found myself"; those poems "gave me everything."
Early in the poem Helen asks: "is it only the true immortals / who partake of mortality?" The poem's response inverts the proposition: true partakers of mortality achieve immortality. The moment of death is the moment of gnosis, in which life and consciousness conclude and transcend themselves; Helen becomes, with Achilles, a "New Mortal"—L'Amour/La Mort in a higher configuration. This is what the last lyric of the poem postulates in lines whose declarative simplicity does not designate the mystery they bespeak:
Paris before Egypt, Paris after,
is Eros, even as Thetis,
the sea-mother, is Paphos;
so the dart of Love
is the dart of Death,
and the secret is no secret;
the simple path
refutes at last
the threat of the Labyrinth,
the Sphinx is seen,
the Beast is slain
and the Phoenix-nest
reveals the innermost
key or the clue to the rest
of the mystery;
there is no before and no after,
there is one finite moment
that no infinite joy can disperse
or thought of past happiness
tempt from or dissipate;
now I know the best and the worst;
the seasons revolve around
a pause in the infinite rhythm
of the heart and of heaven.
To many readers the "final illumination" to which Helen in Egypt builds is at best impenetrably gnomic and at worst hypnotic nonsense, and this explication of the poem admittedly leaves many matters unaddressed and many questions unanswered. But the vision of the eternal moment, with time concentered individually and cosmically in eternity, is H. D.'s occult version of Eliot's Christian "still point of the turning world." In fact, the conclusion of Helen in Egypt deserves to be set beside such exalted moments in poems of old age as Eliot's in the Quartets, when "the fire and the rose are one."2 Or Frost's arrival in "Directive" back at the spring-source which is his watering place ("Drink and be whole again").3 Or Williams' declaration through his dead "Sparrow": "This was I, / a sparrow. I did my best; / farewell."4 Or Pound's conclusion to The Cantos: "Do not move. / Let the wind speak. / That is Paradise"; or his version of Herakles' expiring words:5
IT ALL COHERES.
Different in tone and perspective as these moments are, the reader either is or is not already there with the poet. By this point, in the particular poem and in the evolution of the poet's life's work, evocation has become invocation; image and symbol, bare statement. Further demonstration is out of the question.
Where Frost's final sense of life remained skeptical and Williams' naturalistic, H. D.'s was like Eliot's religious, and like Pound's heterodoxly so. No resumé or excerpting of passages can indicate how subtly the images and leitmotifs of Helen in Egypt are woven into the design. Some reviewers found the prose passages distracting intrusions among the lyrics, but H. D. wanted, like the other poets I have cited, a counterpoint of lyric expression and reflective commentary. In identification with the mother-goddess, assimilating Greek and Egyptian, Christian and gnostic wisdom, H. D. came to read the scribble of her life as hieroglyph. Nothing need be forgotten; nothing could be denied; everything was caught up in the resolution.
The summons of Thetis the sea-mother which closes Part I, "Helen—come home," and initiates a refrain that echoes throughout the poem, receives a gloss in her notebook entry: "We say (old-fashioned people used to say) when someone dies, he or she has gone home. I was looking for home, I think. But a sort of heaven-is-my-home.…"The recovery of the human mother as goddess, the discovery of the mother in herself and herself in the mother constituted "heaven-is-my-home." The coda which succeeds the final lyric concludes the poem with a return to the mother-sea:
But what could Paris know of the sea,
its beat and long reverberation,
its booming and delicate echo,
its ripple that spells a charm
on the sand, the rock-lichen,
the sea-moss, the sand,
and again and again, the sand;
what does Paris know of the hill and hollow
of billows, the sea-road?
what could he know of the ships
from his Idaean home,
the crash and spray of the foam,
the wind, the shoal,
the broken shale, the infinite loneliness
when one is never alone?
only Achilles could break his heart
and the world for a token,
a memory forgotten.
The poem links Helen's recovery of the mother with a shift in her relation to the masculine, dramatized by the progression from Paris as sexual lover to Achilles as filial-fraternal partner, and the shift signals a re-imagining of woman's unhappy lot, which has been the theme of H. D.'s fiction and verse. As we know, Richard Aldington's succeeding Pound as "initiator" and lover ended in marriage in 1913, and the rupture of the marriage in the years during and immediately after the war set the course of her life, and of her relations with men.
But all along she sought the reconciliation that would heal the psychic wounds. Despite the pain she was introduced with Aldington from time to time during the twenties. Her correspondence with John Cournos, a member of their London circle, shows her intense concern about Aldington before, during, and after the separation. As late as February, 1929, she wanted to scotch any rumor Cournos had heard of a "final quarrel" with Aldington, and in July she sent Cournos this excited word:
… without any intervention R. wrote me and I have been in close touch with him ever since.… We saw one another much in Paris and write constantly. We are very, very close to one another intellectually and spiritually. There may be some definite separation later, but if there is, it will be because of FRIENDLINESS and nothing else. There is no question of R. and self ever becoming in any way 'intimate' again and that is why this other relationship is so exquisite and sustaining.6
In fact, as she might well have known, she was never to reach "this other relationship"—intellectual and spiritual without the compulsions and vulnerabilities of the physical—with Aldington, but even their divorce in 1938 did not break off communications between them. They went their separate, and often stormy, ways; but during the years at Klinik Brunner they were still corresponding, and Dr. Heydt was as curious about Aldington as he was about Pound. But it is clear that after she fell from the innocence of that first love with Pound in the tree into the betrayals and counter-betrayals of sexual relationships, she often asked herself "Why had I ever come down out of that tree?" and sought the sort of "exquisite and sustaining" relationship she could never establish in life.
And so by the time that Achilles succeeds Paris at the end of Helen, those male characters have assimilated their initial biographical associations with Aldington and Pound into higher archetypal functions within the design of female consciousness which the poem formulates. H. D. saw the whole succession of initiators, including Dr. Heydt, behind Pound, and she also saw Achilles, as she told her notebook, as the "héros fatale" who had failed her repeatedly—from Pound and Aldington down to the "Lord Howell" of the unpublished World War II novels and now Heydt at the Klinik. And yet since the "héros fatale" held the key to her self-fulfillment, she must dream of Helen marrying Achilles. But an Achilles who had undergone a sea-change: the Aldington she lost early in her marriage, imagined and possessed once and for all in the "exquisite and sustaining" consanguinity of the mother. The mother gave her the word, and the word was her own name—and Helen's poem. Helen the daughter becomes Helen the mother. Achilles is her "Achilles" now, within the psyche and the poem, and together they consign themselves to the mother-sea in the last words of the poem.
The union of Helen and Achilles, attainable psychologically and imaginatively in the poem as it is not in external circumstance, is therefore a death marriage, as in the "marriage" poems of Emily Dickinson. But, also as with Dickinson, a mythic and mystic marriage within the psyche. And if Dickinson's "love" poetry seems to remain more indirect and inhibited than Helen in Egypt, the cause may lie in part in Dickinson's attachment to her stern father: a bonding so strong that it kept her from experience of the mother and allowed her to experience the masculine only as the virgin-daughter—Kore and not Demeter, Diana and not Thetis. H. D.'s Helen would not be daughter to Theseus nor hetaera to Paris; through Thetis she made Achilles her own. Helen Doolittle was the source of Hilda's visionary power over the word, and in her Helen-poem Hilda formulated her hermetic definition.
The scope of that vision also made for another notable difference between Helen in Egypt and Dickinson's love poems. Wrenching and exhilarating as they are, Dickinson's love poems remain a collection of individual pieces at cross purposes, recording ambivalences that kept her, almost all the time, the father's virgin-daughter. In the long, tortuous, fragmented history of women writing about their womanhood, the supreme distinction of Helen in Egypt, with all its idiosyncracies, is that it transforms the male epic into the woman's lyric sustained at a peak of intensity for an epic's length, and the woman's myth it evolves posits the supremacy of the mother: Helen self-born in Thetis, Hilda self-born in Helen.
- End to Torment: A Memoir of Ezra Pound, with the Poems from "Hilda's Book" by Ezra Pound (New York: New Directions, 1979), p. 11.
- Collected Poems 1909-1962 (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1963), pp. 177, 209.
- The Poetry of Robert Frost, ed. Edward Connery Latham (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1969), p. 379.
- Pictures from Breughel and Other Poems (New York: New Directions, 1962), p. 132.
- The Cantos (New York: New Directions, 1972), p. 803; Women of Trachis (New York: New Directions, 1957), pp. 49-50.
- H. D.'s letters to Cournos are at the Houghton Library, Harvard; the journal quotations, cited earlier, come from Compassionate Friendship in the Beinecke Library, Yale.