Hermetic Definition

Hermetic Definition

Hermetic Definition

Hermetic Definition


H. D.’s (Hilda Doolittle, 1884-1961) late poems of search and longing represent the mature achievement of a poet who has come increasingly to be recognized as one of the most important of her generation. The title poem and other long pieces in this collection (“Sagesse” and “Winter Love”) were written between 1957 and her death four years later, and are heretofore unpublished, except in fragments. We can see now in proper context her fine ear for the free line, and understand why other poets, such as Denise Levertov, Robert Creeley, and Robert Duncan, find so much to admire in H. D.’s work. As in her earlier books, one level of H.D.’s significant poetic statement derives from her intimate knowledge of and identification with classical Greek and arcane cultures; taken together, these elements make up the poet’s own personal myth. Norman Holmes Pearson, H. D’s friend and literary executor, has contributed an illuminating foreword to this impressive collection.


Remembering, H.D. wrote of September 1912: "In London in fall, mist and fog. E.P. in B.M. tea-shop says, Hermes, Orchard, Acon will 'do.' " They did -- for many years in the public mind and for some critics still. But for H.D., the early manner of her Imagist poems was inadequate. Poems like her war trilogy -- The Walls Do Not Fall , Tribute to the Angels , and The Flowering of the Rod -- and the hitherto unpublished poems in Hermetic Definition go beyond what her early admirers referred to as crystalline. They retain the energy that goes into the essence of gems, but in a deeper, more probing daemonic drive that carried her through old mysteries into new life.

What had been chiefly Greek metaphor became increasingly myth, joined by Egyptian parallels and memories of the Moravian background of her childhood. "The spirit caught back into the old mysteries of Egypt and Greece," she wrote. When I took her home to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, she stood in the aisle of the Central Church, remembering love feasts and the Unitas Fratrum. She was fascinated by Zinzendorf and his re-establishment of "a branch of the dispersed or 'lost' Church of Provence, the Church of Love that we touch on in By Avon River ." It was not casual when, as we left the church, she signed the Register and added "Baptized Moravian."

She had learned to tell the stories of the stars and constellations when she showed visiting schoolchildren the heavens through the telescope of the Flower Observatory, near Philadelphia, where her father was astronomer. Visits to Greece and to Egypt deepened her knowledge. A sense of fuller significance came later.

Freud was a significant tutor. As E. B. Butler, a friend, wrote in answer to a letter from her, "I entirely agree about him: a great mythologist to whom we all owe an incalculable debt on the poetic side." As H.D. herself wrote elsewhere, "Without the analysis and the illuminating doctrine or philosophy of Sigmund Freud, I would hardly have found the clue or the bridge between the child-life, the memories of peaceful Bethlehem and the orgy of destruction, later to be witnessed and lived through in London. That outer threat and constant reminder of death drove me inward. . . ." The war was both tutor and goad; with it she began a new period of creativity.

What Freud gave her was a sense of how to link the tribal myths with the personal dream, and to help her understand . . .

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