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MLA 2017

 

 

 

“‘YOU KNOW EZRA POUND, DON’T YOU?’:
EZRA POUND’S RETURN IN H.D.’S LATE WORK”

Matte Robinson, St. Thomas University

 

Ezra Pound’s return in H.D.’s late work does not happen in isolation: it is part of a broader effort to return to the formational events of her early years and trace their development. The progress of this effort can be followed using H.D.’s late poetry, fiction, memoir, correspondence, and marginalia. Her mapping of the patterns of her psyche combines classical psychoanalytic techniques, occult meditation, and ritual: H.D. sought to integrate disparate elements of her work and life, resulting in the twin urges to return to trouble spots in her past (such as Pound) and coalesce her late work into an integrated cycle. Beginning with her analyst Erich Heydt’s “re-injection” of Pound, he begins to merge with Heydt. She begins to see Pound as her first “initiator,” a concept she draws from the occult, and Heydt as a symbol of all the initiators she has had.

Though her literary executor, Norman Holmes Pearson, was a real spy and had an equal interest in Pound, it was with Heydt that H.D. imagined a dark and sinister conspiracy involving a ring of secretive analysts led by a powerful occultist’s seer, the medium. The circumstances of her meeting Heydt are unusual:

I thought I had seen everybody, but a new creature in a white coat appears next morning. I really cannot look at him. “Why do you not look at me?” “The light hurts my eyes.” And with no preliminaries, he instructs Sister to prop my arm on a pillow and as he jabs in the hypodermic needle, he says, “You know Ezra Pound, don’t you?” (Compassionate Friendship 96)

This event, punctuated by the needle’s prick, is significant because of Ezra Pound’s role as what she calls an initiator, the first of a series. The Star Tarot trump, symbol of initiation, was her visual guide: her version depicts seven smaller stars around a large star “Etoile Sacerdotale,” in the centre. Her “large star” was Hugh Dowding, at first, and the seven others she called minor initiators. Heydt seems to represent the constellation itself, perhaps because his role bleeds into all the others, including Pound. In End to Torment, she sets up her “tea sessions” with Heydt as parallel to both her visits with Pound and Pound’s night with the women who got him fired from Wabash College (16-17). In each of those cases, a “metamporphosis” is begun, but not completed (17).

Pound had introduced H.D. to “Yogi Philosophy” written by one Yogi Ramacharaka, whose work she much later associated with the psychic Arthur Bhaduri, with whom she conducted séances in the 1940s. Her 1946 break with Hugh Dowding and spiritualism in general corresponded in her mind to the news that Pound was to be tried for treason (Hirslanden Notebooks 26). This news led to a softening of her position on Pound, with whom she’d had little contact since his 1933 “bully letters” to Bryher which had caused her to “completely [go] off him in any way whatever” (Analyzing Freud 492). Two years later, in 1948, their correspondence was renewed; H.D. was gearing up for a final, very prolific phase of writing that would include integrating Pound, and which would also produce her memoir on Pound. End to Torment is in some sense ripped from the Hirslanden Notebooks: An absence of dated entries in the latter, in 1958, corresponds to the timeline of the composition of the former, which follows a similar format to the Notebooks. The name “Ezra” is written in the margins of some of the passages in HN that precede the lacuna.

The last phase of H.D.’s writing really begins with her meeting with Heydt and the subsequent analysis, and Ezra Pound’s name had been uttered during their first meeting. At Heydt’s mention of Pound’s name, H.D. asks “Is this White Magic, Black Magic, psychiatry, psycho-analysis, psycho-therapy, thought-reading – or what?” (CF 96). In the 1940s H.D. had superimposed the medium Arthur Bhaduri on the figure of Yogi Ramacharaka, the author of Pound’s Yogi Books. Now out of this meeting a new medium emerges as a figure in her writing, but the new medium represents the possibility of black magic, as, perhaps, does the mention of the man she now called “poor Ezra” (CF 145). There really is a medium, whom Heydt briefly mentions to H.D. as someone he met at a party (CF 143), but in her imagination, he becomes the head of a shadowy cabal under whose influence Heydt has fallen. Mediums, once a force for good in the figures of Bhaduri and Ramacharaka, are now instead associated with black magic and “spy work.” It is Heydt himself who makes the unfortunate decision to link this mysterious medium with Arthur Bhaduri in her mind (CF 145).

“There is something going on,” she writes, “I do not think that I have been involved but evidently, I am looked upon as interesting, due partly to my early romance and my broken engagement with Ezra” (CF 143). The paranoia H.D. develops about the sinister medium is in part appropriated from the last of her seven so-called minor initiators, Walter Schmideberg or the Bear. Himself a psychoanalyst, Bear had been the one to plant the idea in her head about Heydt, and H.D.’s eventual adoption of his idea had to do with relations between Bryher, the Bear, and herself. Once she learned, in 1954, that Bryher’s “psychic distance” with her had corresponded with a love affair with the Bear, which Bryher had concealed from H.D. lest it upset her, H.D. had some reason to adopt ideas that she might share with the now-deceased Bear, and she kept those ideas going at least until 1957 when she discussed them with Melitta Schmideberg, his widow. “Walter always said that he was connected with spy work,” Melitta replies (Thorn Thicket 198), as if to confirm H.D.’s suspicions about her analyst.

The imagined spy-medium is a kind of shadow-initiator, not one of the seven but with similar powers, just as Heydt is not precisely a new initiator—Bear had been the last—but rather an emblem of initiatorship. The medium darkly reflects, behind Pound and Heydt, the new phase in her researches: “It was not Erich alone who re-kindled the torch or the brazier. It was as well, this someone in the background who must have known the history of poor Ezra and my connection with him” (CF 145); the figure is the new medium, whom she dubbed “Tiresias.” For a while she supposes that “Tiresias” might even be Heydt’s higher self or super-ego because of a series of coincidences she reports involving Heydt and Pound (a further suggestion that at the super-ego level the two begin to merge); the most dramatic coincidence involves his rushing across her room to pick up a pamphlet of Pound’s, though he could not have known it was there, to declare that his father is interested in the economic theories propounded therein. This event is sufficient to lead her to conclude “Perhaps Heydt’s super-ego, if we may call it that, is the mysterious Tiresias or X. He is like Krishna, Dionysus or Christ even” (CF 154). In End to Torment she associates Pound with Zagreus and a panther, Dionysian images.

H.D. does not explain why she chooses the name “Tiresias,” a figure who appears quite rarely in her work when compared to that of other high modernists, including Pound, for whom he is an important mythological figure. She calls the mythical Tiresias a “soothsayer” (CF 145), which is like a medium. He is also the figure being sought in Pound’s Canto I and, according to the myth, surpasses even the gods in his knowledge of sexual experience, having lived as both man and woman. This quality, blending initiation with sexual knowledge, helps connect him specifically with Pound, who introduced both sexual experience and Yogi philosophy into H.D.’s life. It is also possible that the idea was put into her head from her correspondence with Pearson, who explicitly links Tiresias with Pound in his description of a 1952 visit to St Elizabeths (Between History and Poetry 133). Either way, the figure of Tiresias suggests both initiation and sexual knowledge, which are tied together, albeit in contrasting ways, in the works of both H.D. and Pound. It is also worth noting that H.D. suggests that rumours of Pound’s bisexuality ended their engagement (ET 15). It was also Pound who in those early days brought her Balzac’s Seraphita about “the Being, he-her” . . . “Ezra brought me the story,” she writes. (ET 11)

“There is a vibration, intoxication in the air, induced, you may say, for me at any rate, by the companionship of this latest Hermes” (CF 96) she writes of Heydt, who she adds is not an eighth initiator but “inheritor of the Bear and hence of the whole group” (102). The spy-group led by the medium is the chthonic counterpart to these stars.

While H.D.’s initiators simultaneously evoke the erotic and the esoteric, likely the anxiety underwriting the issue in the late writing is the lingering fear of what H.D. called “The Butts Group.” As reported by Susan Stanford Friedman, a great deal of H.D.’s analysis with Freud centered on her fear of the influence the so-called black magician Aleister Crowley had on Mary Butts, with whom H.D. felt a psychic affinity. Crowley appeared to admire Butts enough to credit her as co-author of his magnum opus, Magick, and yet after a brief stay at his Abbey of Thelema in Cefalú, Sicily, Butts ended up disillusioned and addicted to opioids. Nevertheless, her journals report that she pursued a serious course of occult study at Cefalú, I suspect despite Crowley’s influence, as the notorious incident with the goat would indicate. Butts’s journals detail, for instance, a meticulous investigation of the astral plane (187-88), a pursuit which was only beginning to interest H.D. in the 1950s. H.D.’s intense reading and journaling on occult matters while “confined” at Hirslanden mirror Butts’s earlier time at Cefalú, and Crowley’s aggressive experimenting in sex magic, which so affected H.D. during her time in analysis, must have lingered in the back of her mind as she worried about “Tiresias.”

As Friedman reports, “The dreams and thoughts she brought to Freud about Butts, Crowley, and Heseltine involved a fear of blackmail. This in turn may have triggered memories of the threats that a shell-shocked Aldington made to have H.D. imprisoned for perjury if she registered Perdita as his daughter. In 1929, Aldington used Pound as his agent to explore the possibility of divorce” (466). This passage, which evokes the associative subtleties of H.D.’s thought in a way only Friedman can, demonstrates that the figure of Pound is only a few steps away from Crowley. In the late work H.D. frequently associates people in her life to find the archetypal roles they fall into. The initiators are thus flattened, stripped of individual identity, as they are seen to play roles larger than their individual selves. H.D. performs a similar stripping back of layers of her own self when she meditates on the medium and its message in Magic Mirror:  In the following passage, edited for brevity, first the Heydt double speaks, and then the H.D. double replies:

“There is magic . . . maybe, black magic.” And while he re-arranged the white cups with their dark blue border, she said, “you know that medium, you once told me about . . .” [the mention of the medium inspires her to think of her own masks:] It was not so much that Erica, the Rica of the first chapters, was superimposed on Delia; it was not so much that Delia of the Magic Ring and the Sword and Rose series, was superimposed on the earlier Julia of Madrigal; it was not so much that all these had followed on from her earlier Greek research and poetry; it was not so much Phoenix on Phoenix, rising from the discarded ashes of the burnt nest though it was that. It was the alchemist’s word, in her thumbed and shabby copy of Jean Chaboseau, “dépouillé.” (MM 65)

Jean Chaboseau’s Le Tarot provides several images or symbols that H.D. will use in her late work. H.D. will not admit an eighth initiator, for example, because the seven correspond to the seven small stars around the “large star.” “Dépouillé” is used in a discussion of the minor arcana. It means stripped or skinned or undressed, describing the successive stripping away of layers of the self that the initiate must undergo to achieve perfect enlightenment. It is akin to traveling upwards through the astral plane; Chaboseau suggests movement through Buddhist bardos as an example; one might also think of Ishtar stripping off layers of her identity in order to enter the underworld. In context, Chaboseau writes “Dépouillé de tout ce qui constituait ce qu’il croyait êtrè « Lui », transformé radicalement, seule demeure en lui la connaissance en compréhension” (88). Here, then, is a glimpse of what H.D. might have sought to do in finding the pattern from her early childhood to the present: as each layer is solved, each connection made, it can be discarded like a snake’s skin.

It was not only her prose, but her poetry that helped her solve the puzzle of the psyche. Helen in Egypt, portions of which she had sent to Pound and which Pearson called her “Cantos” (ET 32) was integrated into the new cycle she was writing, even though it had been begun earlier. The addition of the prose captions, which are contemporary with Compassionate Friendship and which integrate her newly disciplined readings of her occult sources, brought the work in line with what could be considered a cycle of poems of the late period. The final instalment, Hermetic Definition, uses a line from Pound’s Canto 106, “So slow is the rose to open,” as one of its motifs. 

Demetres Tryphonopoulos and I once wrote of the jarring effect a line from one of Pound’s letters had on the hypnotic prose in HER, H.D.’s novel about her early years. The line “I’m coming back to Gawd’s own god-damned country” repeats throughout the text, jarring the reader out of the stream of consciousness. We wrote: “Until she has left the land of her birth and found a new vocabulary with which she can understand and articulate her own experiences, Pound’s influence is in danger of naming her, and so she repeats her names to herself” (132). In an excised section of Hermetic Definition, H.D. works to tie off the entire cycle that began with Pound, the esoteric, and the erotic:

So the circle closed,
The first + last,
With no dramatic tension,
The intimate of my youth,
And the last desperate non-escape,
The reddest rose,
The unalterable law
                     (Hermetic Definition Notebook Oct 2)

Though I am not convinced that H.D. works out all the knots such that the layers of identity that have mystified her since her adolescenthood are completely dépouillé, the contrast between the Pound line in the early work and the late work is remarkable. In HER, Pound’s voice is strong and jarring, while in Hermetic Definition, not only is his line well-integrated into the poem, but also it takes on new, esoteric connotations in its new context, lining up with Chaboseau’s and Robert Ambelain’s esoteric theories about stages of initiation and the alchemical red rose. When she writes

The poet of so slow is the rose to open
writes, “what have I done with my life?”
what have I done with mine?

her words and Pound’s meld so seamlessly that, though she clearly means Pound, she has also become “the poet of so slow is the rose to open,” and this particular rose is also the reddest rose, which finally unfolds.

           Ezra Pound, like Aleister Crowley, saw sex at the core of the Western esoteric tradition, and having initiated H.D. into her own esoteric journey, he was in a sense the last obstacle on that journey. The man who gave her a name and initiation was named at the initiation of her last phase of analysis. Though he named her, he never owned the name he gave her, just as nobody owns the name they are given. Pound’s father was Homer and H.D.’s mother was Helen, and the associated epic haunted both writers’ compelling, esoteric work. But H.D. made even more of the name Pound gave her, multiplying H.D.s like Indra’s proverbial net of pearls, each reflecting all the others. H.D.’s late analysis of Pound and the waves of influence brought on by time and coincidence allowed her to push ahead on her project of integrating her psyche, and the work meant to illuminate it, into something closer to a whole.

 

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WORKS CITED

Butts, Mary. The Journals of Mary Butts. Ed. Nathalie Blondel. New Haven: Yale UP, 2002.

Chaboseau, Jean. Le Tarot: Essai D’Interpretation Selon Les Principes de L’Hermetisme. Paris: Editions Niclaus, 1946.

Friedman, Susan Stanford, ed. Analyzing Freud: Letters of H.D., Bryher, and Their Circle. New York: New Directions, 2002.

H.D.. End to Torment: A Memoir of Ezra Pound. Ed. Norman Holmes Pearson and Michael King. New York: New Directions, 1979.

—. Hermetic Definition. Fwd. by Norman Holmes Pearson. 1958. New York: New Directions, 1972.

—. “Hermetic Definition Notebooks.” H.D. Papers. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Box 34, folder 883.

—. Hirslanden Notebooks: An Annotated Scholarly Edition. Ed. Matte Robinson and Demetres Tryphonopoulos. Victoria, BC: ELS, 2015.

—-. Magic Mirror, Compassionate Friendship, Thorn Thicket: A Tribute to Erich Heydt. Ed. by Nephie J. Christodoulides. Pref. by Demetres Tryphonopoulos and Matte Robinson. Victoria, BC: ELS Editions, 2012.

Hollenberg, Donna Krolik, ed. Between History & Poetry: The Letters of H.D. and Norman Holmes Pearson. Iowa City: Iowa UP, 1997.

Robinson, Matte and Demetres Tryphonopoulos. HERmione and Other Prose.” The Cambridge Companion to H.D. Eds. Nephie J. Christodoulides and Polina Mackay. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2012: 127141.

 

Response to Matte Robinson’s Paper

Jason Coats

Alicia Ostriker used the term “open poetics” with respect to H.D.’s attempt to incorporate every religious, spiritual, or cultural discourse she came across into a greater understanding of apocryphal history to help inform both her poetry and her sense of belonging within an otherwise exclusionary patriarchal system. Freud, Heydt, and Schmideberg certainly ascribe to one such system, and Pound proved equally comfortable conflating phallic confidence with aesthetic taste and/or intellectual prowess. Matte Robinson’s sensitive treatment re-ennobles HD’s later work by positing an active hospitality at the center of her poetics rather than the lulled passivity normally associated with mediumship. If Heydt and Pound seemed to merge psychically in her mind, that was not because she was helpless to stop one powerful male figure from blending into another, nor do the seven “initiators” H.D. treasured indicate that her art required a penetrative impetus that was more or less interchangeable among those seven figures. Robinson clarifies the dense thicket of associations that had sprung up in HD’s mind by the time she wrote Hermetic Definition, which H.D. welcomed as part of her aesthetic mission to locate and repopulate the divine into the everyday. By complicating the sexual identities of both Pound and Bryher, Robinson also points out how tenuously psychoanalytic transference explained her alleged weaknesses. Within a milieu of experimental artists who took a fairly catholic approach to sexual as well as aesthetic experimentation, perhaps what should be most surprising is how conventional Pound’s sexism appeared to H.D. in their few pre-war meetings; how easily she found herself calling him “poor Ezra” after his imprisonment at Pisa; and how (in retrospect) the reminiscent prick of Heydt’s hypodermic needle is simultaneously threatening and obviously overdetermined. Both of them sought to exclude whatever was incoherent to, or lay outside of their ideological approaches to culture. H.D. welcomed it all, and while this proved perhaps overwhelming and physically unsustainable, there is much to admire in her resolute hospitality toward new ideas, perspectives, and explanatory systems.

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WORK CITED

Ostriker, Alicia. “The Open Poetics of H.D.’s Trilogy.” Agenda 25.3/4 (Autumn/Winter 1987): 145-54.