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The poems of ‘H.D.’

By MAY SINCLAIR.

I.

I AM REMINDED by “H.D.’s” poems of a certain discussion that once started (in the columns of The Egoist1) as to the importance of what is called Imagism. For the one poet who represents that movement at its perfection is “H.D.”

It was in 1915, when Imagism, as a contemporary manifesto, was still young. Mr. Harold Monro, I believe, gave the first provocation when he complained that “the Imagists have not at any time taken the trouble to make themselves clear.” This, I think, was because he was then concerned with their theory rather than their practice; but, even as theorists, the Imagists of 1914-15 were fairly hoarse with trying to make themselves clear.

Mr. Monro’s main contention seems to be that if Imagism is anything at all it is not a new thing.

I am not sure that I know any better than Mr. Monro what Imagism is. But I am pretty certain which of several things it is not. It is not Symbolism. It has nothing to do with image-making. It abhors Imagery. Imagery is one of the old worn-out decorations that Imagists have scrapped.

The Image is not a substitute; it does not stand for anything but itself.

The Image is not a substitute; it does not stand for anything but itself. Presentation, not representation, is the watchword of the school. The Image, I take it, is Form. But it is not pure form. It is form and substance.

It may be either the form of a thing – you will get Imagist poems which are as near as possible to the naked presentation of a thing, with nothing, not so much as a temperament or a mood between you and it (good examples are Miss Amy Lowell’s “The Bath,” Mr. Flint’s “Swan,” and Mr. Richard Aldington’s “Tube”) – or it may be the form of a passion, an emotion or a mood, as in “H.D.’s” “Oread” and “Mid-Day.”

Take “Oread”:

Whirl up, sea –
Whirl your pointed pines,
Splash your great pines
On our rocks,
Hurl your green over us,
Cover us with your pools of fir.

And from “Mid-Day”:

The shrivelled seeds
Are spilt on the path –
The grass bends with dust,
The grape slips
Under its crackled leaf:

Yet far beyond the spent seed-pods,
And the blackened stalks of mint,
The poplar is bright on the hill,
The poplar spreads out
Deep-rooted among the trees.

The point is that the passion, the emotion, or the mood is never given as an abstraction. And in no case is the Image a symbol of reality (the object); it is reality (the object) itself. You cannot distinguish between the thing and its image. You can, I suppose, distinguish between the emotion and its image, but only as you distinguish between substance and its form.

What the Imagists are “out for” is direct, naked contact with reality. You must get closer and closer. Imagery must go. Symbolism must go. There must be nothing between you and your object.

What the Imagists are “out for” is direct, naked contact with reality. You must get closer and closer. Imagery must go. Symbolism must go. There must be nothing between you and your object. For “H.D.” the tossing pines are not the symbol of her “Oread” mood. They are the image of her mood. The “shrivelled seeds,” the “spent seed-pods,” the “blackened stalks of mint” are the image of her drought. But they are not its symbol. The fusion, the identity, is complete.

I am trying to state the Imagist position as far as I understand it. But there are difficulties. Who is to say where the Image ends and Imagery begins? When Dante says he saw the souls of the damned falling like leaves down the banks of Acheron:

Comme d’autonno si levan le foglie
L’una appresso dell’ altra, infin che’l ramo
Rende alla terra tutte le sue spoglie,

it is an image, and it is also imagery. It makes no difference whether he says they are leaves or merely like leaves. The flying leaves are the perfect image of the damned souls. Only the identity is incomplete.

But when Sir John Suckling says his lady’s feet peep in and out like small mice when she walks about (or whatever he did say) he is only using imagery. The mice are not a perfect image of his lady’s feet, only a partial and imperfect image of their appearance.

When Milton sees Satan perched like a cormorant he has got something between imagery and the image.

When Keats sees

     Magic casements opening on the foam
Of perilous seas in fairylands forlorn,

he is in one sense a perfect Imagist, since his Image is the thing he sees. In another he is hardly an Imagist at all. He gets his thrill, not directly through his Images, his casements and his foam and his seas and fairylands, but tortuously and surreptitiously through adjectives which would deny that those two lines are supremely beautiful, but because that sort of thing has become mush in the hands of its imitators. A true Image cannot lend itself to mush.

But – it is difficult.

You cannot draw a hard and fast line except perhaps between Keats and Sir John Suckling. It is all a question of closeness, more or less closeness. And Mr. Monro is right. Imagism is not a new thing. But in aiming at closeness, in discarding imagery, in rejecting every image that is not close enough, the Imagists are doing for the first time, consciously and deliberately and always, what the Victorian poets, at any rate, only did once or twice in a blue moon.

THE IMAGISTS MAY abhor my point of view and repudiate this statement of their case. I am not sure that the strict Imagist formula recognises moods. But Imagist practice knows better. Amy Lowell tries for the direct presentation of the Bath. But she cannot get rid of the poet in the bath-tub. Richard Aldington presents his compartment in the Tube railway carriage with the most brutal directness. But the whole point of the presentation is in the last three lines:

I surprise the same thought
In the brasslike eyes:
‘What right have you to live?’

His mood is hostile to the Tube. And in his bitter poem it is the hostility, the mood, that counts. It is the Tube “à travers un tempérament,” in spite of the formula. Almost anybody else can do the “brown background of fluted dingy tunnel” for him.

But if you ask whether it is not always the emotion, the mood, the temperament, and not the Image that counts, the answer to that is that you cannot have the one without the other.

That is why Imagism and Imitation are incompatible. The Imagists have been depreciated as imitators. This because they are following the formula, obeying the rules of the game. But, properly speaking, the Imagist who is an Imagist cannot imitate. It is fancy, not imagination, that is concerned with symbols and with imagery. You can analyse its processes. You can also imitate them. But Imagination which alone creates Images is an indivisible act. For each imagination its image is ultimate and unique. No other Imagist’s Image will serve its turn. But the novelty of the form makes superficial resemblances striking and obscures the profoundest differences. I know that when I read the first Imagist Anthology I thought “But they’re all doing the same thing. For the life of me I can’t tell the difference between ‘H.D.’ and Richard Aldington.” Only Ezra Pound stood out as an individual. For the simple reason that I knew his poems by heart already.

Well, they are all doing the same thing, but doing it with such a difference that I wonder now at the vastness of the formula that includes Richard Aldington and “H.D.,” to say nothing of the others.

I am tired of these charges and countercharges. For all poets, old and new, the poetic act is a sacramental act with its rubric and its ritual. The Victorian poets are Protestant. For them the bread and wine are symbols of reality, the body and the blood. They are given “in remembrance.” The sacrament is incomplete. The Imagists are Catholic; they believe in Transubstantiation. For them the bread and wine are the body and the blood. They are given. The thing is done. Ite, missa est. The formula may lead to some very ugly ritual, but that is the fault of the Imagist, not of Imagism.

II.

IMAGISM, THEN, IS more than a method, it is a state of soul. To see what may be wrung from it by pure genius, we must turn to the work of “H.D.”

I remember winding up my little scrap with Mr. Monro on what now appears an absurd note of caution; thus: “Sometimes I wish that they (the Imagists) would leave off theorising and practice till they are perfect.”

Well, well, “H.D.” has been doing nothing else. In the face of her achievement the behaviour of some of her critics is instructive. I have little doubt that Mr. Harold Monro, for example, would revise the opinions he expressed in 1915; but even then his attitude was interesting. And as it is typical of much that is still being said, we might do worse than look at it again.

It is always interesting to watch a man on a sharp fence trying to preserve a sane and dignified equilibrium. Mr. Monro excites sympathy. He is so sincerely anxious to appear balanced before he slithers irrevocably down into the field where the Imagists are not; so innocently eager to be supported in his attitude by Ben Jonson, Dryden, Addison. Burke, Samuel Johnson, Coleridge, Wordsworth, and “even Matthew Arnold.” He must trot them all out before he can make up his mind to praise the poetry of “H.D.”; poetry that for sheer emotion, for clean-cut and perfect beauty, stands by itself in its own school.

It is as if he asked himself, “Now I wonder what Samuel Johnson would have said to ‘H.D.’s’ ‘Oread’?” He is just going to be passably polite about it when he pulls himself up – “Yet I remember that sentence of Lowell’s: ‘Imagination,’ et cetera.” You see, he thinks that Lowell would say “H.D.” hadn’t got any.

He quotes Oread”:

Whirl up, sea –
Whirl your pointed pines,
Splash your great pines
On our rocks,
Hurl your green over us,
Cover us with your pools of fir.

“That,” says Mr. Monro, “is all. It can be said in one minute before lunch.”

And he finds fault with “H.D.,” not because she gives him images, but because she has given him “one image.”

Has he never been on a hill, in or under a pine-wood, when it is tossed about by the wind? Doesn’t he see that in this one image there are many things – colour, movement, sound and energy, the whole appearance and the passion of the pine-wood and the wind, that there are at least three passions and three agonists, the pine-wood, the wind, and the “Oread” who desires to be covered with pine-waves, to be splashed, to play with the tumult of the pine-wood and the wind?

THE MIRACLE IS that “H.D.” has got it all into six lines, into twenty-six words. And Mr. Monro, instead of thinking his gods for the miracle, counts the number of lines and the number of words and says there aren’t enough of them: “It is petty poetry; it is minutely small; it seems intended to be. Such images should appear by the dozen in poetry. Such reticence denotes either poverty of imagination or needlessly excessive restraint.” He admits that “H.D.” is “the truest Imagist of the group, but its future work will scarcely develop along the lines of her example. Her poems have a slight flavour of brine; they are fragile as sea-shells. If I came too near them I should be afraid of crushing them into the sand with my clumsy feet.”

His fear is groundless. They are quite unbreakable. And it is precisely “along the lines of her example” that Imagism has developed.

Mr. Monro seems to doubt whether “H.D.” has enough imagination to sustain her through a longer poem than “Oread.” Well, there was, even then, “Hermes of the Ways,” which is longer by a score of lines.

Mr. Flint has said: “The poetry of ‘H.D.’ has been described as a kind of ‘accurate mystery.’ … The more you attempt to reason about it the less will you get out of it. It must work on you as an evocation.”

We shall get no nearer to her secret than that. “Accurate mystery.” It is her earliest poems; it is in her latest. Always her scene (I quote Mr. Flint again) “is one that you can place in no country. The thing seems to have happened in eternity.”

Take (from the collection of 1914) the well-known “Hermes of the Ways”:

The hard sand breaks
and the grains of it
are clear as wine.
Far over the leagues of it,
the wind,
playing on the wide shore,
piles little ridges,
and the great waves
break over it.

But more than the many-foamed ways
of the sea,
I know him
of the triple path-ways,
Hermes,
who awaits.

Dubious,
facing three ways,
welcoming wayfarers,
he whom the sea-orchard
shelters from the west,
from the east
weathers sea-wind;
fronts the great dunes.

Wind rushes
over the dunes,
and the coarse salt-crusted grass
answers.

Heu,
it whips round my ankles!

Small is
this white stream,
flowing below ground,
from the poplar-shaded hill,
but the water is sweet.

(Note the thin minor sound of the vowels and then the closing return to the major.)

. . . .
. . . .
. . . .
Hermes, Hermes,
the great sea foamed,
gnashed its teeth about me;
but you have waited
where sea-grass tangles with
shore-grass.

I can add nothing to Mr. Flint’s praise of this poem. I can only say that if “H.D.” had never written anything else this would be enough to place her among the small, the very small, number of poets who have once in their lives achieved perfection. If you are sworn to admire nothing but Swinburne, or Rossetti, or Mrs. Browning, or Robert Browning and their imitators for ever and ever, you may reject the “Hermes” because there is no “passion” in it.

Haven’t we had enough of passion and of the sentiment that passed for passion all through the nineteenth century? We can’t hope to escape the inevitable reaction.

But why, in Heaven’s name, should there be passion in it? Haven’t we had enough of passion and of the sentiment that passed for passion all through the nineteenth century? We can’t hope to escape the inevitable reaction. And isn’t it almost time to remind ourselves that there is a beauty of restraint and stillness and flawless clarity? The special miracle of those Victorian poets was that they contrived to drag their passion through the conventional machinery of their verse, and the heavy decorations that they hung on it.

I do not know how anybody who does not feel the beauty of “H.D.’s” poem is to be shown it. I do not know by what test you can tell whether any verse is poetry or not. I think it is a question of magic. And if you cannot feel in these verses the sense of enchantment, of grave things not known and about to be, the frisson of immortality impending, then (I am afraid) you are past praying for.

To me “H.D.” remains the most significant of the Imagists, the one for whom Imagism has most triumphantly come off. It is not necessary for poetry to prove anything; but, even to my ignorance, and I first approached the Imagists with a profound ignorance, she has demonstrated the power of the clean, naked, sensuous image to carry the emotion without rhyme – not without rhythm; the best imagist poems have a very subtle and beautiful rhythm – and always without decoration.

“H.D.’s” poems do not lend themselves to convenient classification as Poems of Passion and Emotion, Poems of Reflection, Poems of the Imagination, and Poems Descriptive, and so on. In all of them passion, emotion, reflection and the image, the sharp, vivid image that does the work of description, are fused together in the burning unity of beauty. One or more element (it is hardly ever reflection) may predominate, but it is never alone. You may call “The Tribute,” “Pygmalion,” “Eurydice,” “The Cities,” “The Look-Out,” “The Cliff Temple” poems of reflection if you like. They are few, and in none of them is the concept thinned away to an abstraction. “H.D.” invariably presents her subtlest, most metaphysical idea under some living, sensuous image solid enough to carry the emotion. The air we are given to breathe may be rarefied to the last degree, yet we are moving always in a world of clear colours and clear forms. Like every devout Imagist she is intolerant of thinness. Look where you will you find the same joy in vigorous movement, the same adoration of divine visible beauty. Beauty of the young athlete in “The Contest”:

The ridge of your breast is taut,
and under each the shadow is sharp,
and between the clenched muscles
of your slender hips.

From the circle of your cropped hair
there is light,
and about your male torse
and the foot-arch and the straight ankle.

. . . . .
. . . . .
The narcissus has copied the arch
of your slight breast:
your feet are citron flowers,
your knees, cut from white ash,
your thighs are rock-cistus.

Beauty of flowers from “Sea-Gods”:

But we bring violets,
great masses – single, sweet,
wood violets, stream violets,
violets from a wet marsh.

Violets in clumps from hills,
tufts with earth at the roots,
violets tugged from rocks,
blue violets, moss, cliff, river-violets.

Yellow violets’ gold,
burnt like a rare tint –
violets like red ash
among tufts of grass.

We bring
deep-purple, bird-foot violets.

We bring the hyacinth violet,
sweet, bare, chill to the touch –
and violets whiter than the inrush
of your own white surf.

Beauty of Evening:

The light passes
from ridge to ridge
from flower to flower –
the hepaticas, wide-spread
under the light
grow faint –
the petals reach inward,
the blue tips bend
toward the bluer heart
and the flowers are lost.

The cornel muds are still white,
but shadows dart
from the cornel-roots –
black creeps from root to root,
each leaf cuts another leaf on the grass,
shadow seeks shadow,
then both leaf
and leaf shadows are lost.

Could rhyme do more for this verse than is done, in the one poem by the sheer musical reiteration of one sound, by the sheer visible reiteration of one thing: or in the other poem by the recurrence of the one word “lost” at the close of each strophe?

“H.D.” HAS BEEN reproached for her obscurity. She is certainly not afraid of the dark when darkness serves her purpose, where it is the essence of her subject or her mood. We must distinguish here between obscurity of thought and obscurity of feeling. Whereas unclarified thought means shallow thinking, emotion at a certain depth is obscure. It is only in her maturer work, if anywhere, that we find this quality. Her earlier poems have all the finite Greek perfection. Nothing can be added to or taken away from them. Every stroke is laid on with a hand that never hovers, never hesitates. Now, when a writer achieves formal perfection he is in danger either of standing still, repeating his finest effects till he becomes his own irreproachable plagiarist, or of going back and back in a horrible decline. The test of an enduring talent is its power to survive this moment. Technical perfection exists at the mercy of the unfolding spirit. At any minute a flash of metaphysical vision can destroy it.

“H.D.” has escaped this disaster.

After the lucid, sharp simplicity of “Sea Roses,” “Sitalkas,” and “Hermes of the Ways,” we have the comparative intricacy of “The Tribute,” the comparative obscurity of “Egypt,” the largeness and mystery of “Demeter.” The first-named are poems of transition, and they may well have these transitional defects. Nothing easier than to insist on such blemishes; and nothing more unprofitable, since they are of the kind the casual reader may be trusted to discover for himself. When they begin to appear in the work of a poet distinguished for the opposite qualities, the plain business of the critic is to search for the causes of the change, and decide whether it signals the break-up of a talent or some process of new birth.

Now, not one of “H.D.’s” earlier poems shows any tendency to vagueness and obscurity. She has been, from the first, the perfect imagist. And if the critic will go further and actually take the trouble to find out what she is trying to express in these later forms, the obscurity he complains of will vanish. He will see that, at the worst, under the stress of a profounder vision, she is trying to put into the image more than it can well convey.

But for the most part her medium, plastic and utterly obedient, adapts itself. There is nothing tentative and experimental about these last poems. They may stand for the final, accomplished expression of “H.D.” Comparing them with her earlier work, even admitting that they have lost something of its sharp simplicity, one sees that she has gained immeasurably in depth and range.

Talents have died before now of their own growth for lack of a form that allows expansion. I don’t want to raise again the question whether good verse is, as Mr. Flint and Wordsworth maintain, nothing but good prose. Only whereas with the writer of good prose, however uninspired, language and meaning go evenly together, the purely lyric poet who rhymes and metres is apt to be overtaken by a dark rush of winged words before he is aware of his meaning. For he is at the mercy of rhyme and metre. Not so the vers librist. He is free to follow his thoughts in their own movement. Instead of twisting themselves in unnatural inversions or halting for the cadence and the rhyme, his thoughts are free. Before the dangerous inspiration is upon her, “H.D.” has clarified her thought to its last transparency, and her future work should stand as high or higher than her past.

The period between her earlier and her later poems is fairly represented by “The Gift,” “The Shrine,” “Loss,” “The Cliff Temple,” and “Sea-Gods” (published in 1916 in “Sea-Garden”). Also “The Tribute,” “Eurydice,” and “The Look-Out.”

“Eurydice” is the challenge of the self-delivered, defiant soul sent up out of hell to Orpheus, the arrogant and ruthless, the white, would-be delivered – her challenge to death and hell.

. . . .
. . . .
. . . .
Fringe upon fringe
of blue crocuses,
crocuses, walled against blue of themselves,
blue of that upper earth,
blue of the depth upon depth of flowers –
lost!

Flowers –
if I could have taken once my breath of them,
enough of them –
more than earth,
even than the upper earth
had passed with me
beneath the earth.

. . . .
. . . .
At least I have the flowers to myself
and my thoughts – no god
can take that:
I have the fervour of myself for a presence
and my own spirit for light.

And my spirit with its loss
knows this:
though small against the black,
small against the formless rocks,
hell must break before I am lost.

Before I am lost,
Hell must open like a red rose
for the dead to pass.

If ever we thought of “H.D.” as cultivating, exquisitely, a narrow plot, tied by her imagism, with these and her latest poems before us, we can have no misgivings as to her range. There is the pure imagism of “Evening” and the flower passage out of “Sea-Gods,” which I have already given. And the elegiac pathos of “Loss.” There are no tears in it; no subjective grief; but an agony of physical contemplation:

I am glad the tide swept you out,
O beloved,
you of all this ghastly host
alone untouched,
your white flesh covered with salt
as with myrrh and burnt iris.

. . . .
. . . .
. . . .
I have seen beautiful feet
but never beauty welded with strength.
I marvelled at your height.

You stood almost level
with the lance bearers,
and so slight.

And I wondered as you clasped
your shoulder strap
at the strength of your wrist
and the turn of your young fingers,
and the lift of your shorn locks,
and the bronze
of your sun-burnt neck.

. . . .
. . . .
I wonder if you knew how I watched,
how I crowded before the spearsmen –
but the gods wanted you,
the gods wanted you back.

There is the metaphysical passion of “The Cliff Temple,” persistent, harsh with frustration. It is not presented as metaphysical, but as something sensuous, craving for a god in the flesh, a baffling, secret god, almost evil, cruel in his remorseless flight:

. . . .
. . . .
I said:
for ever and for ever, must I follow you
through the stones?
I catch at you – you lurch:
You are quicker than my hand-grasp.
I wondered at you.
I shouted – dear – mysterious – beautiful –
white myrtle – flesh.

. . . .
. . . .
. . . .
Shall I hurl myself from here,
Shall I leap and be nearer you?
Shall I drop, beloved, beloved,
ankle against ankle?
Would you pity me, O white breast?

. . . .
. . . .

“The Tribute” is “H.D.’s” sole contribution to the mass of War-Poems – tribute to the men who fought and the men who, for admirable reasons, refused to fight:

And this we will say for remembrance,
speak this with their names:
Could beauty be done to death
they had struck her dead
in ages and ages past,
could beauty be withered from earth,
they had cast her forth,
root and stalk
scattered and flailed.

. . . .
Could beauty be caught and hurt
could beauty be rent with a thought,
for a thrust of a sword
for a piece of their money tossed up
then beauty were dead
long, long before we came to earth,
long, long before we rent our hearts
with this worship, this fear
and this dread.

The vers librists have revived the trick of beautiful assonance as a substitute for rhyming. Observe its effect here. Is it not more satisfying than the tight, clipping, recurrent rhyme? It is a hint, a dawn of rhyme that hangs back, letting the rhythm pass on till the one closing rhyme clinches all.

This poem is marred by a certain diffuseness and a tic of ineffective repetition.

But there is her later volume, “Hymen.”2

I DO NOT know which of these poems The Times critic was thinking of when in 1921 he “experienced a difficulty in extracting any meaning from many of them.” He names but two: “Egypt” and “Not Honey.” I do not see that they justify his complaint; but I confess that at a first hasty reading I found certain passages in “Demeter” obscure.

What puzzled me was Demeter’s references to “her”:

She is slender of waist
slight of breast, made of many fashions;
they have set her small feet
on many a plinth;
she they have known,
she they have spoken with
she they have smiled upon,
she they have caught
and flattered with praise and gifts.

You will observe the obscurity was mine. It is clear as daylight that this is Aphrodite, and that Demeter, the Earth Goddess, is proclaiming herself older, more august and mysterious than the graceful Olympians:

Sleep on the stones of Delphi –
dare the ledges of Pallas
but keep me foremost,
keep me before you, after you, with you,
never forget when you start
for the Delphic precipice,
never forget when you seek Pallas
and meet in thought
yourself drawn out from yourself
like the holy serpent,
never forget
in thought or in mystic trance
I am greatest and least.

The baffling, cryptic touch is deliberate, a device for evoking magic, for suggesting the unspeakable mysteries.

This fine poem just misses perfection owing to the abruptness and comparative insignificance of its close.

But in the others there is nowhere any falling-off. I find it hard to choose among so many perfect things. For one you take you might have taken almost any other. I cannot pass over the vigorous “Sea-Heroes” with its sea-sound and sea-swell:

Crash on the crash of the sea
straining to wreck men, sea-boards, continents,
raging against the world, furious,

with its tremendous, resonant chanting of Greek names:

Akroneous, Oknolos, Elatreus,
helm of boat, loosener of helm, dweller by sea,
Nauteus, sea-man. … …

And there is the slender song rhyming on one note, “The Whole White World.” There are “Simaetha” and “Phaedra” and “She Rebukes Hippolyta.” There is this:

AT BAIA.

I should have thought
in a dream, you would have brought
some lovely perilous thing,
orchids piled in a great strength,
as who should say (in a dream)
I send you this
who left the blue veins
of your throat unkissed.

Why was it that your hands
(that never took mine)
your hands that I could see
drift over the orchids’ heads
so carefully,
your hands, so fragile, sure to lift
so gently, the fragile flowerstuff –
ah, ah, how was it?

You never sent (in a dream)
the very form, the very scent,
not heavy, not sensuous,
but perilous – perilous –
of orchids, piled in a great sheath,
and folded underneath in a bright scroll
some word.

Flower sent to flower;
for white hands, the lesser white,
less lovely, of flower leaf.

Lover to lover, no kiss,
no touch, but forever and ever this.

These are the poems that the critic of The Times found meaningless, “deadening and monotoneous,” indistinguishable from “prose sentences capriciously cut into strips.”

Only a slight effort of attention is needed to get at the magic and the significance of such poems as I have quoted.

The creator of strange new beauty has a right to demand so much from anybody who undertakes to pronounce judgment. Is it too much to ask? I don’t imagine, for example, that my own flair for strange new beauty is special and extraordinary, a thing that could not be cultivated by any lover of old familiar beauty who honestly desires to cultivate it. For beauty is ageless, eternal and one, recognisable under all differences of form. Therefore it is inconceivable that any devout lover of it should miss the divine quality of “H.D.’s” poetry. There is certainly nothing in contemporary literature that surpasses these later poems, at first sight so splendidly dim, at last so radiant, so crystalline. An austere ecstasy is in them. They have the quick beat of birds’ wings, the rise and fall of big waves, the slow, magical movement of figures in some festival of Demeter or Dionysos carrying the sacra.

As for her detractors – “Could beauty be done to death” they would have killed her long ago, when first she appeared among the Imagists.


May Sinclair (Mary Amelia St. Clair), who died in 1946, was a poet, critic, novelist and suffragist. This appreciation of H.D. appeared in The Fortnightly Review in March, 1927. It has been manually transcribed from an archival copy for our New Series, and makes its first appearance online with non-textual elements added to track subsequent usage.

For more: The Poetry Foundation has a biographical sketch of ‘H.D.’ and a collection of works. This New Series contains a number of pieces relating to Imagism, Imagists and their circle, including this note by Richard Aldington on Remy de Gourmont and Ezra Pound’s essay on Vorticism. For additional resources relating to May Sinclair, visit the website of the May Sinclair Society.

NOTES

  1. Harold Monro, “The Imagists Discussed,” The Egoist, 2 (1 May 1915)
  2. The Egoist Press, 1921.

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