Academic journal article Women and Language

The Muse's Dance: H.D.'S 'The Dancer' as Spiritual Metaphor

Academic journal article Women and Language

The Muse's Dance: H.D.'S 'The Dancer' as Spiritual Metaphor

Article excerpt

My own spiritual quest began when I left the Catholic Church disgruntled and disillusioned by the silencing of my voice as a woman. The pain I felt without a spiritual center in my life, however, was every bit as acute as that I experienced when participating in a system which devalued if not ignored my very presence. Unable to achieve a sense of personal fulfillment, my creative energy waned with my sense of purpose. I realized that my spirituality is that part of me that nurtures and feeds my creative self. Resurrection of my voice as a writer, then, depended upon a revival of that spirituality but within a new context.

I began the search for a new spiritual definition from within my own Celtic-Irish ethnic roots, hoping to hear some lingering echo of the ancient song of my ancestors that had been muted by the choirs of Anglo-Saxon Christianity. What I discovered was a system of thought which not only respected my feminine presence, but viewed the male and female as essential complementary energies. I also found myself within a community of women who had traveled similar paths to find a place of authority for their spiritual and creative voices. Inspired by feminist theologians Carol P. Christ, Mary Daly and Judith Plaskow and driven by my own intellectual curiosity, I integrated my personal quest with my academic studies. That was when I met Hilda Dollittle, the American poet and novelist known to readers as H.D.

As I read Trilogy, H.D.'s three-volume tribute to spiritual victory over the apocalyptic destruction of World War II, for the first time, I recognized within those pages the words of another woman who, nearly fifty years before, had sought to rediscover herself by redefining the nature of her spiritual being. By the time H.D. wrote The Walls Do Not Fall, the first book of Trilogy, in 1943, she had developed an approach to spiritual symbolism in which Christian and pagan, matriarchal and patriarchal iconography were blended into one androgynous mystical system. That wisdom, however, was born from much emotional pain.

H.D., too, had found her artistic voice hidden and eventually silenced by the public and private personae she had worn. During the late 1920s and 1930s, she was suffering from physical illness, personal tragedies, and a writing block that threatened to destroy her once promising career as a poet. The quest to recover her feminine artistic voice eventually became, as it has for me and so many other women, the quest for affirmation of her spiritual self. The poetry H.D. wrote during the 1930s provides the opportunity to view this transformational process in her ouevre as well as revealing insights into the relationship between feminine spirituality and creativity.

H.D.'s so-called "lost works" of the 1930s remained largely unpublished until Louis L. Martz's edition of her Collected Poems was published in 1983--twenty-two years after the poet's death. In addition to a completed volume of verse titled A Dead Priestess Speaks, these works include several individual poems and a setting H.D. designated merely as Three Poems. Collectively, the poetry of this period traces H.D.'s investigation of feminine-oriented primal religions in addition to her initial attempts to integrate the symbolism of those systems with Christian iconography. With the exception of the second work of the Three Poems sequence, "The Master," scholars unfortunately have overlooked these poems.

It is in the first work of the Three Poems setting, however, that H.D.'s spiritual identity first asserts itself with the strength that would later be present throughout Trilogy. Here, she finds the ultimate metaphor for her personal concept of women's spirituality--"The Dancer." The dancer becomes H.D.'s embodiment of woman's recovery of language and the authority to name, therefore representing her concept of the essence of feminine creative energy.

This poem represents a major deviation from H. …

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