In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads a wide-ranging poem about the Second World War
When H. D. (Hilda Doolittle) and her then-husband Richard Aldington walked into a bomb-damaged house during the First World War, Aldington found an abandoned volume of Robert Browning’s poetry and kicked it across the room. What use was poetry in the face of such destruction? But poetry tends to endure in wartime: T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets would largely be written during the next world war, while H. D.’s own poetry would have a curious and poignant afterlife: sections of her poem ‘The Walls Do Not Fall’ (from her long poem Trilogy) were inscribed by an anonymous graffitist among the ruins of the World Trade Center after 9/11.
As Norman Holmes Pearson notes in his introduction to the Carcanet edition of Trilogy which I own, with this long poem – or trilogy of long poems – H. D. was trying to connect the communal experience of the Second World War with her own history and with history in general. Read the rest of this entry
Are these H. D.’s greatest poems?
Hilda Doolittle, or H. D. as she chose to publish, was labelled ‘the perfect imagist’ by various critics and reviewers. The following five poems show why H. D. was the leading light of the short-lived imagist movement, as her poetry offers concise and vivid images behind which lurk whole storms of restrained emotion. Here’s a selection of H. D.’s finest poems, both from her imagist period and from her later work.
‘Oread’. This six-line poem, perhaps H. D.’s best-known poem, was published in the 1915 anthology Some Imagist Poets, which also featured poems by Ezra Pound, Richard Aldington, and F. S. Flint – the main poets who published under the imagist banner. The Oread or mountain-nymph addresses the sea, asking for it to come up to the land and smother it – but the imagery H. D. uses enacts this very desire, by describing the sea using land-based imagery (seeing the green waves as pine trees, for instance). Is this also a poem about sexuality, and perhaps even same-sex desire? It might be read as such, as well as an innovative nature poem. Read the rest of this entry
On one of Mansfield’s finest stories
‘The Daughters of the Late Colonel’: as titles go, it is one of Katherine Mansfield’s more helpfully instructive. This modernist short story from 1922 focuses on Josephine and Constantia, or ‘Jug’ and ‘Con’ as they affectionately know each other, two sisters whose father, the ‘late colonel’ of the story’s title, has recently died, leaving them on their own in the family home. You can read ‘The Daughters of the Late Colonel’ here.
There isn’t a ‘plot’ to ‘The Daughters of the Late Colonel’ as such. Instead, we follow Josephine and Constantia during the weeks following their father’s death: the guests they entertain at home, their memories and recollections from when their father was alive, and the funeral arrangements. They wonder whether to dismiss the maid from their service, as they no longer need her. Nurse Andrews, who looked after their father before he died, eats with them and then leaves. Read the rest of this entry