MLA 2017 – THE EZRA POUND SOCIETY PANEL
Panelists shown here, left to right, Sara Dunton, Jason Coats, and Matte Robinson, at the Ezra Pound Society Session,
MLA Convention in Philadelphia, January 6, 2017.
We would like to extend our sincere appreciation to Roxana Preda, who invited us to co-edit this Special Issue of Make-It-New, making it possible for us to share with its readers the four papers presented at the Ezra Pound Society Session held at the MLA Convention this past January. We also want to thank the panelists who kindly consented to contribute their papers to this issue, and who wrote short responses to fellow panelists’ papers. In doing so, they have instigated new discussions prompted by the seldom-considered juxtaposition of three key modernists. Finally, to all those colleagues who attended the session in Philadelphia, to those who raised questions there and who offered feedback afterwards, we are grateful for your enthusiasm and keen observations.
Sara Dunton and Demetres Tryphonopoulos, Co-editors
In the call for the Ezra Pound Society panel session at the 2017 MLA Convention, Society Secretary and session organizer Demetres Tryphonopoulos invited modernist scholars to determine how H.D. and/or Bryher’s lives and works engaged, and disengaged, with Pound’s over the course of their careers. The panel, entitled Pound’s Presence in H.D.’s and Bryher’s Writing, sought essays that would investigate the interfaces between the writers’ aesthetic theories, literary practices, and political activities. Beyond what has been reduced to Pound’s mere “naming” of H.D. in the well-rehearsed story of her signing her poems “Imagiste”—a single act which both propelled and limited her reception—lie subsequent, often unacknowledged acts of intervention and influence (not only from Pound but also from Bryher) that also affected H.D.’s career. By encouraging contributors to cross-examine the works of H.D., Bryher, and Pound, the Society’s call proposed to broaden our understanding of their allied and disparate approaches to modernism.
The four papers ultimately selected for the panel are offered here, in this special issue, for your consideration. Using intertextual readings of memoirs, correspondence, fiction, poetry, and critical prose, in their essays the panelists scrutinize issues crucial to modernist scholarship: intertwined personal and professional relationships underpinned by the dynamics of patronage and politics; indirect approaches to incorporating aesthetic principles in “ahistorical” texts; integration of concepts derived from studies of spiritualism, mysticism, and the occult; evolving attitudes toward curating and representing archival materials, especially through tactics of allusion.
The first essay is written by Susan McCabe, who examines the complex interactions of the three writers in “H.D., Bryher, and Pound: The Primal Scene of Modernist Money.” (Editors’ note: Dr. McCabe was unable to attend the convention, and so her paper is presented here for the first time.) As early “rival” patrons of H.D., the poetic impresario Pound, and Bryher, a British industrialist’s queer daughter, both supported and advanced H.D.’s career, with Bryher taking ascendancy after 1919. McCabe’s emphasis, in her own words, “is to direct the reader to the trio’s interrelated differential psychological relationship to the modern crisis of money.” Her thought-provoking essay leads us into this relationship through interwoven concepts of Freudian theory, fecundity, materialism, and patronage.
In the second paper, “‘True Students of Aesthetics’: H.D. and Pound Define Beauty in ‘concrete terms’,” Sara Dunton considers how reading Walter Pater together in their youth instigated Pound’s and H.D.’s formulations of theories on aesthetics based on their understandings of the “concrete terms” of visual artworks. Addressing their early prose from the 1910s and 1920s, Dunton contrasts Pound’s inclination towards contemporary sculptors with H.D.’s turn to ancient Greek and Renaissance artists. She argues that despite their differing preferences, Pound and H.D. both engage with the ekphrastic process—the verbal representation of visual objects—to facilitate their thinking in their own “new age.” Following Pater’s lead, the two modernists deploy the traditional mode to radicalize notions of the production and reception of visual and literary art.
The third essay, “‘You know Ezra Pound, don’t you?’: Ezra Pound’s Return in H.D.’s Late Work,” is contributed by Matte Robinson, who focuses on H.D.’s prose and correspondence from the 1950s, particularly her memoirs—Compassionate Friendship, Magic Mirror, Thorn Thicket and Hirslanden Notebooks—which have only recently been published. He reflects upon Pound's resurgent presence in H.D.’s psyche, first by tracing the enigmatic echoes of “Ezra” in her late memoirs, and then by deftly tracking her return to occult researches. Robinson cites one of the first meetings with her analyst Erich Heydt, whose intense curiosity about her early romantic relationship with Pound prompted H.D., suspecting that occult forces might be at work, to guardedly revisit her memories of Pound.
The fourth contributor to the panel is Jason Coats, who examines the evolution of H.D.’s and Pound’s attitudes toward curating and representing the archival materials that contextualize the cryptic figures in their poetry. In his paper, “H.D., Pound, and Archival Shibboleths,” Coats observes that many extant studies have analysed each poet’s allusiveness in isolation. Their early-career intimacy and Pound’s patronizing aesthetic appropriation of H.D. might lead many to assume the embedded glyphs in both poets’ work to be markers of autodidactic expansiveness. While the allusive tropes of both H.D. and Pound “rebuff a poetic reconnaissance too easily attained,” Coats suggests, “they may eventually be demonstrated to serve disparate purposes”—which he then ably proceeds to do in his essay.
A short response, written by either a panel participant or the session organizer, follows each of the four papers presented here. These responses offer insights and counterpoints that not only address the theses and diverse subject material of the panelists’ contributions, but also direct us towards what remains to be explored: complex and eclectic networks are continuing to emerge in modernist studies, and promise to intrigue and occupy scholars for some time to come.
H.D., BRYHER AND POUND: THE PRIMAL SCENE OF MODERNIST MONEY
Susan McCabe, University of Southern California
Does your particular interest in coinage start from your father’s work at the mint?
You can go on for a long time on that. The government offices were more informal then, though I don’t know that any other kids got in and visited. Now the visitors are taken through glass tunnels and see things from a distance, but you could then be taken around in the smelting room and see the gold piled up in the safe. You were offered a large bag of gold and told you could have it if you could take it away with you. You couldn’t lift it.
When the Democrats finally came back in, they recounted all the silver dollars, four million dollars in silver. All the bags had rotted in these enormous vaults, and they were heaving it into the counting machines with shovels bigger than coal shovels. This spectacle of coin being shoveled around like it was litter—these fellows naked to the waist shoveling it around in the gas flares—things like that strike your imagination.
Then there’s the whole technique of making metallic money. First, the testing of the silver is much more tricky than testing gold. Gold is simple. It is weighed, then refined and weighed again. You can tell the grade of the ore by the relative weights. But the test for silver is a cloudy solution; the accuracy of the eye in measuring the thickness of the cloud is an aesthetic perception, like the critical sense. I like the idea of the fineness of the metal, and it moves by analogy to the habit of testing verbal manifestations. At that time, you see, gold bricks, and specimens of iron pyrites mistaken for gold, were brought up to Dad’s office. You heard the talk about the last guy who brought a gold brick and it turned out to be fool’s gold.
from “Interview” by Donald Hall, Paris Review 28 (Summer-Fall 1962).
Ezra Pound’s answer to Donald Hall’s interview question about money leads to a response that reveals a “primal scene,” though Pound would recoil at this attempt to apply psychology to him. The scene was entirely male, with men naked to the waist, hefting huge sacks of rotting silver into the fire: coinage was reborn. Pound’s ideas about money turned into trouble, particularly when he confused Jeffersonian ideas with Mussolini’s. To say that the cosmopolitan Pound gained his most ingrained “visions” from his father’s work at the Mint might not be going too far: after all his father’s name was Homer, and he weighed and fathomed silver’s “cloudy solution,” refining it until it became manifest. Alec Marsh’s Money and Modernity unfolds the diametric principles debated during the period of Pound’s appearance on the scene of modernism. Broadly speaking, Pound favored Jeffersonian principles to those of Hamilton: the former he linked with use as value, with the male freeholder who should, by all rights, reap what he sowed. Value rose from the soil, out of labor. But Pound was a poet, who, excepting the troubadour Pound, would be able to judge the “use” or “value” of a poem; he admitted, for starters, very few women into his canon—H.D., Marianne Moore, Mina Loy rose to his expectations in varying degrees; Bryher, as writer, heiress and lover of his old flame H.D., counted as nil. He famously supported and helped his friends, other “great men”: Eliot, Joyce, Aiken, Zukofsky, Cournos, Hemingway, and others.
The space limits of this paper won’t allow for a presentation of the full spectrum of the complex relationship to money among the trio, H.D., Bryher and Pound, after the two women formed in 1919 their own alternate ménage, supplemented by H.D.’s illegitimate infant, Perdita, whom Bryher (born Annie Winifred Ellerman) took under her wing, taking charge of her care and education so H.D. could focus on her poetry. Pound’s presence in the trio was a “negative” one, or rather, a foil to their queer liaison—as well as their joined vision of the artistic process as one of collaboration, exchange, and a more communitarian view of poetry. Necessarily, H.D and Bryher had different, complementary, relationships to money, but both met in their ultimate calling for a “gift economy” that would challenge Pound’s notion that money should not be regulated by the government, that its values should not be tied to a fluctuating Market.
Pound’s Jeffersonian fervor led him, after twists and turns, to anti-Semitism, given the fact that he believed that there was “a clique of financier an usurers” whose only conspiratorial desire was “enslaving the world through perpetual indebtedness” (Marsh 3). Silver was favored over paper, with its less arbitrary feel; it was the fruit of men’s labor, as he witnessed close up in his dad’s workplace. He associated gold with the engorged bankers. Credit and scarcity meant artistic and social debt and death, to Pound. Poetry could be compared to Pound’s own minting, or coinage model for his poetics: “the accuracy of the eye in measuring the thickness of the cloud is an aesthetic perception, like the critical sense. I like the idea of the fineness of the metal, and it moves by analogy to the habit of testing verbal manifestations.” Inheriting the Mint as a psychic trope shaped his Oedipal outstripping of his congenial father: he would render the poet a craftsman who labored in accuracy, measurement, perception to shape a newly “coined” poetics. He wanted his to be the coin of the realm. Pound griped, rightly, that the artist or poet was not valued enough, and he strived to borrow from X to help Y (i.e. his fund to get T.S. Eliot out of Lloyd’s was a generous bit of showmanship), yet what he missed was the interfering presence of his own “ego”; Pound strove to be the arbiter of an art work’s value, to be the one to separate the wheat from the chaff. He thought he possessed the cipher to read for a poet’s excellence.
Each in this trio had influential fathers haunting them, shaping a primal relationship to materiality and money: Homer at his Mint, Sir John Ellerman at his Shipping Industry, Charles Leander Doolittle, a renowned astronomer, at the helm of the Zenith Telescope at the Flower Observatory at Penn. To put the three together is to trigger numerous associations. I’ve touched briefly on Pound’s witnessing up front the workers at the Mint. Pound’s self-appointed role as arbiter of poetic “truth” was one factor in the distance created between H.D. and himself, engaged in their youth, when he called her his “Dryad.” The other factor was the emergence of H.D.’s new love, the illegitimate proto-transgender heiress Bryher, whose relationship to finance went as deep as Pound’s: her father, the shipping magnate, Sir John Ellerman, died the richest man in England in 1933. Ellerman’s will was complex, but he released all debts, and saw that his employees were looked after. Pound complained that Ellerman gave nothing to artists, implicitly negating the artists who were already beneficiaries—analysts, poets, artists, refugees, pensioners (many women to make up for Pound’s touted aid to male modernists)—of Bryher’s wealth. Pound picked up on Ellerman’s erasure of the second “n” in his name, and played up his possible Jewish descent.
Shipping for Bryher signified not just travel but also making “commerce” between multiple individuals, believing in widening the circle to create “lines” of support for those otherwise neglected: a case in point is Bryher’s close relation to Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & CO. in Paris as a locus where Beach with Adrienne Monnier created a literary community Bryher lubricated with her ample gifts and funds. Beach called her “fairy god-mother,” for her funds clearly sustained the bookstore. Attenuated as it sounds, Bryher made up for years of Joyce putting his hands in Beach’s cash-box for advances and royalties and loans never paid back—and can thus be acknowledged as part of the production of Joyce’s work. (Robert McAlmon, Bryher’s first husband of convenience, also wined and dined Joyce, at Bryher’s expense.) Bryher, too, continued to support Beach through her interment during part of World War II, through Monnier’s ailing health and, finally, with a constant outpouring of money, gifts and encouragement. This example suggests how women’s voices and their toil was routinely repressed, and Bryher took upon herself the support of others—like Dorothy Richardson, to whom she gave a washing machine (too large to fit through her window!) and also sponsored most of her seventeen volume Pilgrimage. Yet Bryher distinctively hid her multiple contributions.
For H.D, Ellerman seemed larger-than-life, “not a monster, simply an abstraction,” and consequently shared some affinity with him because she could “understand the magic of numbers.” H.D. herself regarded money more abstractly than either Pound or Bryher through the lens of the abstract mathematics she gleaned from her father’s measurements. In H.D.’s story “Mouse Island,” Eleonor Fitzroy or Fizz (stand-in for Bryher) is depicted in one scene, probably characteristic:2 “Fizz sat on the bed, dressed. She poured useful articles out of a bag and made calculations with a silver pencil” (34). Conscious of endless conversions and their relative worth, “Fizz said, ‘a drachma is a lire, is a franc, isn’t quite a shilling – isnt’ it?’ Madelon (mask for H.D) evaluates: “Money seemed to her to be seen in museum-cases, numismatic, she believed the word was, collections, a red Indian penny carefully mounted and the reverse side. She thought of money in terms of numismatics, for Fizz had relieved her of that counting and re-considering, two-and-six is more than fifty cents, for so long”—this had left her feeling “unweighted” (35). H.D. would continuously acknowledge how Bryher helped her gain artistic buoyancy, shielding her from painful incursions so she could focus on the “nuministic.” Money as object in itself could be potentially spiritually endowed for its pictorial as well as historical significance, a notion reinforced by her Moravian ancestry, embodied through her female lineage passing down the “secret” wisdom of a faith based on love, singing, stitching, and a belief in the dual gender of Christ. Moravians might differently value the “red Indian penny” because of the religion’s historical peace negotiations with the Native Americans in Bethlehem, with its graveyard’s burial of Native Americans beside Whites, including H.D., who wrote towards the ineffable “gift”— a “secret seed” of peace—in The Gift in 1943 while bombs rained down on H.D. and Bryher, living through the Blitz. Ultimately, H.D. regarded the artist as medium (not “ego scriptor”), a stance with more humility than the virile laborer that Pound had envisioned. Further reflecting her collaborative bent, H.D acknowledged Bryher’s psychic contribution to The Gift that allowed her to work up her trance memory and vision.
My emphasis here is to direct the reader to the trio’s interrelated differential psychological relationship to the modern crisis of money. It isn’t, after all, far-fetched to see Pound as deeply shaped by his childhood memory of the smelting metals: his father dealt in making tangibles that came forth through the alchemy of labor and technology. Pound appeared to equate the ability to mint coins to his own poetic inscriptions; he was striving to get beyond industry, lumber, railroads, and American philistine “usefulness.” Moore wrote of Pound’s “disrespect” for America in a telling way: “Defiance being a form of dependence, according to Freud, we perhaps should be honored” (Selected Letters 160).3 Pound railed against the very dependencies and contingencies that made him modern, as well as against Freud and psychoanalysis, calling the latter a “pig stye” and equating analysis with Circe’s hold.
Calling himself her closest relative, Pound always arrived at the “wrong” time, coming to the primal scene of St. Faith’s nursery for H.D’s “labor,” after all the arrangements had already been made by Bryher, saying he wished the child had been his, or that it could have been. (He had stopped H.D. of course, from running off with Frances Gregg on at least two occasions). But the small, quiet, steady, fierce Bryher was a challenge to the flamboyant Pound: he couldn’t woo her! Bryher functioned in this trio’s drama, in opposition to Pound’s ideas about money’s relationship to art—and politics.
There has been a powerful resistance by critics to tender Bryher her rightful major role in H.D’s “chosen family,” or if included, she is often reduced to merely fiduciary, rather than a fecund force. Bryher gave massively and widely, and with special sensitivity to the needs of the beneficiary, so much so that Moore, who probably wouldn’t have survived the Depression without Bryher’s aid, was accurate in describing her psychological motivation as “suicidally generous” (Selected Letters 351).4 Moore detected that Bryher felt she had to make up for some amorphous lack: not being a boy, being stunted, illegitimate. She became “Fido” (one of H.D.’s nicknames for her), but her fidelity was active and productive. Elsewhere, I have written about her melancholia, using Freud’s notion that it functioned in an “economic sense”—the melancholic cannot “substitute” for the lost object and, in short, the melancholic “ego turns against itself with all the ammunition supplied by an identification with the abandoning object” (“Mourning and Melancholia” 242).
Anna Freud pleaded with Bryher not to send money, but made an exception she said, after “in phantasy [she, Anna] put it to many different uses.” By making the Freudian analogy of feces to money, she could joke with Bryher: “20 cartloads of old and well-rotted cow manure, the only sensible thing to spend money on.”5 Anna touched upon the very aspect of money Pound could have learned more about from Freud than he knew. The bold pioneer into the human mind dubbed the bowel movement as a child’s first “gift” to his mother, and elaborated on the long historical relationship between fecal material and gold (“Faeces-symbolism” 2528). Psychoanalysis teaches that in early childhood feces are highly prized. With the repression of this instinct, excrement falls into conscious contempt, becoming a tool of expressing disdain. However, the once esteemed still remains preserved in the unconscious, transferred to another substance, into which the child learns in life to prize above almost all else – gold! Anna’s letter, reflecting that this was an annual gift, enacts a therapeutic gesture: “The funny thing is that you are the only person in the world I would have accepted a money-present from, so my first impulse always was to give it away again. But I am very grateful and last year’s manure was a great success.” Anna Freud immediately converted the money into its most direct equivalence; there could be no ego shadow upon either beneficiary or benefactor. The money offered the means to re-seed her garden and farm, to sustain their circle and, as it were, bypassing the weight of unnecessary debt or gratitude—central in primal emotional attachments.
Pound inspired, injured, infuriated, confused, and annoyed H.D.—their affair before she met Frances Gregg and later Bryher—had the effect of showing him as an “irreverent male youth” whose pummeling impact felt like a degrading of value. This was her first farewell to Pound, composed after meeting Bryher in 1918:
Midget [H.D.] had left school, had left childhood, girlhood: was drifting unsatisfied, hurt and baffled out of a relationship with a hectic, adolescent, blundering, untried, mischievous, and irreverent male youth. When she was nineteen, she had parted with the youth, having gained nothing from him but a feeling that someone had tampered with an oracle, had banged on a temple door, had dragged out small curious, sacred ornaments, had not understood their inner meaning, yet with a slight sense of their outer value, their perfect tint and carving, had not stolen hem, but left them, perhaps worse, exposed by the roadside, left from the shelter and their holy setting. (Paint It Today 7)
In other language, H.D. felt like a “mummy” with her gifts laid bare, unprotected; she embodied herself as a desecrated temple with precious shared “objects” cast to the wayside.
H.D. claimed she did not care about money; rather, she cared about value and connection; but unlike Pound, she tied value to the connective “gift,” the kind that Marcel Mauss describes about North Pacific Tribes with their “potlatches,” feasts that translate as a verb, alternately “to nourish” and “to consume”(Hyde 9).6 (Much like the coffee feasts in Moravian culture, she could indeed “have her cake and eat it too.”) It may be argued that H.D. didn’t have to care about money, except during the war, when she might have missed an allowance sent in the mail from her solidly middle-class family. In fact, before she met Bryher, H.D. joined with Amy Lowell and four other “Imagists,” suggesting they forego the title of “Some Imagists,” substituting “The Six,” given Pound threatened legal action for using his supposedly “patented” Imagism, and it was Lowell H.D. turned to when funds dipped down, encouraging her to set up a fund for artists who, like D.H. Lawrence, were in financial trouble. Certainly, H.D. did find Bryher’s monetary help comforting, but she loved and admired Bryher for her practical, playful and visionary qualities.
Moore recounted to her brother about Bryher’s meeting Ezra at her shared flat (her first) with H.D.: “Bryher said, ‘I let him in; I thought it was the bread or the potatoes and I was very sorry I had. He talked to me an hour about a Saxon king and a Danish chief and how one wanted to carry off the other’s wife and things went on till but one was left. He said afterward I didn’t stand up very well without H.D’” (italics mine) (Selected Letters 143).7 Pound’s anecdote about the exchange of wives signals the paternal control artists like H.D., Moore and Bryher tried to overcome. He preferred duos: Artist and One of several circulating female muses. Yet in a larger picture of Bryher’s self-fashioning as pioneer, her promotion of modernists, like Pound’s, went well beyond her partnership with H.D.—and she fulfilled, with or without melancholia, what H.D. herself called the “secondary function of poet” –the role of “ambassador” (Heart to Artemis 155).
Pound found his own ideas of artistic fecundity amplified in his postscript to his translation (begun in 1913) of Remy de Gourmont’s The Natural Philosophy of Love; describing the brain as a repository of seminal fluid that charged creativity. “[I]f we consider that the power of the spermatozoid is precisely the power of exteriorizing a form,” Pound consigned women to a passive, non-generational function. Pound’s male dandy, at home with his “phallic religions,” found the creative process amounted to “the phallus or spermatozoid charging, head-on, the female chaos; integration of the male in the male organ. Even oneself has felt it, driving any new idea into the great passive vulva of London, a sensation analogous to the male feeling in copulation” (“Postscript” 204). Pound’s strangely related excitement over the Eleusinian Mystery cults of Demeter and Persephone fixated upon the supposed conclusion of the rites: the performance of Zeus and Persephone in a sexual union that led to a burst of light, much like the “burst” Pound experienced plunging through London. He disregarded the search for Persephone, the ingesting of grains and libations, or the cutting of corn in silence.8 Pound interpreted the cult as having a crowning achievement, an ejaculatory burst, rather than the consort, loss, and salvation provided in the performance of these rites. For women, Carl Kerenyi cites Erich Neumann’s notion that woman “experiences herself first and foremost as the source of life,” but in “historical fact,” according to Kerenyi, “both men and women” were “to envisage the feminine source of life” (xxxiii). Gift-giving has significant connection with this “source of life,” this sustenance H.D. ascribed to Bryher, that was both consuming and sustaining. H.D. and Bryher’s psychoanalytic understandings reverberated with the Demeter/Persephone mystery cult that they both internalized. Perdita did feel she had “two mothers,” and the mothers mothered each other—and others through the wars. Writing from Vienna, H.D acknowledged Fido’s significance, after an illuminating visit with “Papa”: “You are evidently in some way, are food, help, support, mother, though of course, it mixes over into father too. It is really reversible.”9
Pound’s “populist” economics was built upon a vision of an independent and “natural” relationship to the land, with “the man/nature relationship as a marriage, often imagined as the male freeholder’s monogamous relationship to his female property.” Mussolini spouted various ideological fantasies about agrarianism as well as the values in the labor of high art, as in the Malatesta Cantos. Pound’s theory of the artist as one who needs to be free of usual domestic responsibilities accords with the freeholder’s relation to land and earth, but not with any real test of how value could be found in money or poetry that was not a subjective one. One might speculate that Pound naively figured the freeholder of land in America to find some equivalence for the artist, unappreciated in America, in Europe, where his “goods” might find appropriate value.
One last primal scene which reveals much about Pound as entitled artist, transcending the world of practicality, devoted to the mother/daughter cult which he usurped for his own purposes: vegetation had to depend upon male insemination. Pound’s letter to Bryher in 1925 opened with a peculiar demand, related to how he saw her—she was a mere vehicle in the “hymenal” scene: “will you now take on our parental functions and look about for some suitable lying-in hospital or maternity home or whatever, in French Switzerland… Also, if possible find out what the registration formalities are,” adding that “Switzerland is supposed to be expensive.”10 (Another taunt, and hint.) A follow-up letter in February asked for complete “secrecy” and for her not to tell Robert McAlmon or H.D., stating that the newborn, envisioned as commodity, would have to be “stalled somewhere” after its “production.”
When Bryher did not help him with his requests, he turned on her with an attack on her “mentor” Amy Lowell (who would die of gastric problems two months later, and Pound knew of her ailment), implicitly comparing her to Hollywood’s fat showman, Arbuckle. He wrote “Dearest Bryher” in March 1925, informing her that she’d be “glad to know” that Mr. Arbuckle, “author of a two vol. work on Keats is coming to England to do a film with Amy Lowell [. . .] Mr Arbuckle’s last film sold 12,000,000 reels” and that “When it comes to sellin the goods, she is right there with the sellumouick (sic?) . . . she will probably receive a honorary degree from the university (sic) of Oxford or Bullsneck into the bargain.” He apparently wrote to thank her for her “researches” into a home where his mistress could have her baby, without prying eyes or gossip; Bryher had begged off. His epistolary turn-about would come as no surprise given the circumstances of their first meeting, and his sense that H.D. had made a very wrong love-choice.
Bryher dreamed one night that Pound had asked her to set up funds for a tribute to honor and remember great men. She was very angry and upset. She would not do this. Well, Bryher might have dreamed this, but it was my dream after weeks and months at the Beinecke archive where H.D. and Bryher’s papers are housed. My dream was actually no dream at all. On June 26, 1970, Bryher received a formal request from Hamilton College to contribute to a fund for a Pound lectureship.11 The writer, an associate professor named Austin Briggs, quotes “Homage to Sextus Propertius”: “It is a custom” . . . “this care for past men.” It is precisely this custom, especially in relationship to Pound, that so reviled Bryher, after hearing his radio broadcasts in light of her work with refugees, and her close personal relationship with Beach, who was herself interned in Paris. The wound cut too deep and too far back.
Pound has hovered over other moderns and modernism, identified himself as one of its prime movers, and still does. H.D is currently the woman poet pressed upon to make the literary world safe for Pound: the twenty-first century is not the age of “great men.” (David Moody’s three-volume biography of Pound, dedicated and thorough as it is, begs to differ.) Pound’s impassioned relationship to H.D., in fact, might have saved Pound from diminution; but with H.D and Bryher as a couple in mind, his prominence begins to lessen within a wider modernist cultural fabric.
Between the poles of the artist as self-promoter and the cultivation of a more communitarian notion of the artistic process as well as one who is “gifted,” who is worthy, decided by affection and an ethics of giving without the need to control the “product,” supporting many who were otherwise marginal—much of Bryher’s wealth went to women, Jews, pensioners, refugees, and gay men—many of whom were struggling. Simply start with “A” in Bryher’s correspondence at the Beinecke to find Louisa Ash, long-time housekeeper for H.D. at the Lowndes Street flat in London. In one of Miss Ash’s last letters she told Bryher about her 88-year-old sister, thanking her profusely for receiving her money from Guardian Insurance Company. Heart-felt gratitude, distinctive and repetitive, runs throughout the archive; here’s Miss Ash: “I think madam you are very kind to everyone as you have been kind to me[.] I don’t know what I would have done if you had not been so kind to me and helped me for which I do thank you so very much.”12 The point here is that Bryher’s generosity spanned the needs of her housekeeper to someone, as distinct as the philosopher Walter Benjamin, who was taken to a “Voluntary Worker’s Camp” in Nevers.
Pound was caught within the very terms of a commodity culture, and couldn’t recognize those not in his ken. Bryher may have underestimated herself; Pound certainly overestimated himself. Yet surely Bryher did understand the principle of passing on the gift (or gifts in her case) as a means to undermine commodity exchange which functions without human contact or affection. Hyde writes: “The gift not only moves, it moves in a circle,” beyond the singular ego, or even the couple and, furthermore, “the gift that is not used will be lost, while the one that is passed along remains abundant” (10).
Barbara Guest told Kevin Killian in an interview that when she first started her biography of H.D., all the papers at the Beinecke were in disarray, but that she stumbled on a pouch with a million dollars in cash, left in the basement, she said, by “a wealthy woman to help with preservation costs.” That woman was evidently Bryher, and sadly Guest’s biography could not fathom Bryher--H.D.’s most significant relationship, but it is revealing that the “cash,” so denigrated, and the woman, both make it possible for resurrections: even to my current mapping of H.D and Bryher’s own relationship. The primal scene of the archive supplies the fodder for a new modernism, with Bryher’s resting place near H.D.’s., until the “great men” pass back the baton. H.D. might have told him: love coins itself.
I imagine a scene with Pound on Freud’s couch . . . Did he have a father-complex-obsession that wouldn’t let him cede his fecal “gift” to his mother (descendent of Longfellow) so that he could instead seed the Modern masculine virile tradition? This analysis could take some time . . .
- From H.D.’s letter to George Plank, May 2, 1935; held in H.D. Papers: Correspondence.
- The story “Pontikinisi (Mouse Island)” was first published under the pseudonym “Rhoda Peters” in the magazine Pagany in July-September issue of 1932.
- From Moore’s letter to Bryher, dated May 9, 1921.
- From Moore’s letter to Bryher, dated August 9, 1935.
- Anna Freud’s comments to Bryher are found in her letter written in 1937; held in Bryher Papers: Correspondence.
- Lewis Hyde cites Mauss’s famous formulation in his work, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property.
- From Moore’s letter to Bryher, dated February 13, 1921.
- See Demetres Tryphonopoulos’ The Celestial Tradition: A Study of Ezra Pound’s The Cantos. The study, with its painstaking understanding of Greek cults, notes Pound’s “conviction of the centrality of the hieros gamos” (i.e. the union of Zeus and Persephone) (31).
- From H.D.’s letter to Bryher, dated November 27, 1934. See Friedman’s Analyzing Freud.
- From Pound’s letter to Bryher, dated (pencilled-in) February 23, 1925; held in Bryher Papers: Correspondence.
- See Bryher Papers, folder 71.
- Letter dated November 16, 1961; Bryher Papers, Box 2, folder 61.
Bryher Ellerman Papers: Correspondence. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Lib., New Haven.
Bryher. The Heart to Artemis: A Writer’s Memoirs. New York: Harcourt, 1962.
Friedman, Susan Stanford, ed. Analzying Freud: Letters of H.D., Bryher and Their Circle. New York: New Directions, 2002.
Freud, Sigmund. “Faeces-symbolism and related dream actions.” Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 11. London: Hogarth, 1955.
—. “Mourning and Melancholia.” Standard Edition. Vol.14. London: Hogarth, 1955.
H.D. Papers: Correspondence. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Lib., New Haven.
H.D. Paint It Today. New York: NYU P, 1992.
—. “Pontikinisi (Mouse Island).” Narthex and Other Stories. Canada: Book Thug, 2011. 34-35.
Hyde, Lewis. The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property. New York: Random House, 1979.
Kerényi, Carl. Eleusis: Archetypal image of Mother and Daughter. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1967.
Marsh, Alec. Money and Modernity: Pound, Williams, and the Spirit of Jefferson. Tuscaloosa, AL: U of Alabama P, 1998.
Moore, Marianne. Selected Letters. Ed. Bonnie Costello, Celeste Goodridge, and Cristanne Miller. New York: Penguin, 1997.
Pound, Ezra. “Postscript to The Natural Philosophy of Love.” Pavannes & Divagations. New York: New Directions, 1958. 203-14.
Tryphonopoulos, Demetres P. The Celestial Tradition: A Study of Ezra Pound’s The Cantos.” Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 1992.
Response to Susan McCabe’s Paper
In retelling the story of Hilda Doolittle’s relationship with Frances Gregg, her Philadelphia friend, A. David Moody reports “a strange incident” that occurred likely in March 1912 and involves Pound’s intervention as H.D. was about to take a taxi to the station where the newly-wed Gregg, along with her husband, “an English University Extension lecturer,” were waiting for H.D. to join them so that all three could travel together to Belgium where Gregg’s husband taught. Forced to watch her plans being spoiled by the “glowering and savage” Pound “Pounding” with his stick the pavement as the train pulls off, H.D. sees Pound in all his patriarchal, tyrannical glory. Moody pronounces that, “As she tells the story there is no room for reflecting on her own behaviour, nor for seeing Pound’s in another light. But it is possible to see him as acting with an unexpected worldly wisdom, and with a sense of common decency” (Ezra Pound Poet. Volume I: The Young Genius 1885-1920, 180-81).
Moody’s response to Pound’s concern for H.D. and his reading of his actions as those of a benevolent, paternal figure looking after H.D. (whom he famously baptised “H.D. Imagiste” in the British Museum tea room around 1912) is the one that has prevailed for a long time. However, there is another way of looking at this and other incidents in Pound’s and H.D.’s lives: In “H.D., Bryher and Pound: The Primal Scene of Modernist Money” but also in other recent work, Susan McCabe delves into the H.D. and Bryher archives at the Beinecke to discover details and instances that offer the possibility for reading not only Pound’s attitude to these women but also his contribution to modernism in quite a new light. In this essay, McCabe goes so far as to question Pound’s identification of himself as one of the prime movers of modernism, suggesting that it was H.D. and Bryher who may have made the literary world safe for Pound—to the point that “Pound’s impassioned relationship to H.D. . . . might have saved Pound [in the 21st century] from diminution” since “with H.D. and Bryher as a couple in mind, his prominence begins to lessen within a wider modernist cultural fabric.”
Poundians and modernists alike may be surprised and offended by such an argument. On the other hand, McCabe’s recent work and her forthcoming dual literary biography of H.D. and Bryher (H.D. and Bryher: The Love Story of Modernism) promises to question the place of a benevolent and wise Pound who, like Odysseus, knew all about and controlled what happened in the wide world of modernism in the first fifty years of the 20th century.
TRUE STUDENTS OF AESTHETICS”:
H.D. AND POUND DEFINE BEAUTY IN “CONCRETE TERMS”
Sara Dunton, University of New Brunswick
While H.D.’s and Pound’s early essays on aesthetics, written in the 1910s, present themselves as modern texts—fragmented and buoyant—they are indebted to the equally unconventional ruminations offered by Walter Pater throughout the eclectic essays that constitute The Renaissance, written between 1868 and 1873. Arranged in chapters named mostly for Renaissance artists—Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli—the essays are bracketed by the now infamous “Preface” and “Conclusion” that—despite being written in language that Pound deemed “florid”—enforce Pater’s thinking about the creation and appropriation of art as a streaming of experience. Stylistically, Pater offers two major innovative techniques to simulate this streaming: the synthesis of unrelated material through juxtaposition, and the sophisticated use of intertextual allusions—both of which influenced the young moderns in their formulations of Imagism, and in their thinking about the material representation of abstracted form in the 1910s and 1920s. When, for example, Pater speculates on the “effect Michelangelo gains by leaving nearly all his sculpture in a puzzling sort of incompleteness, which suggests rather than realizes actual form” (“Luca della Robbia,” The Renaissance 70), he foreshadows the works of avant-garde sculptors that Pound passionately promoted; and, when Pater contends that Michelangelo’s appreciators “wished to fathom the charm of this incompleteness” (71) he anticipates H.D.’s explorations of the fragments of ancient Greek statues and poetic works.
Most importantly for this discussion of Pater’s “schooling” of Pound and H.D. is the manner in which he presents his prescription for his students of aesthetics: the essays of The Renaissance, as Stephen Cheeke explain, are “prose ekphrases” which are central to the development of aesthetic theories and the new way of art writing in the mid-to-late nineteenth century (168). But Pater’s prose is also written in a distinctly indirect manner: Pater refers to visual artworks and their artists throughout the collection, but he forgoes vivid specific descriptions, forsakes formal analyses of the art objects themselves, all the while blurring temporal lines defining periods of art history. Moreover, he presents his content in an unconventional manner and with a proto-modern approach, as evidenced in his rumination on Michelangelo, by confronting the material relationship between an art object and its audience. Pater effectively draws attention to the practice of ekphrasis itself to raise awareness of its power as a literary mode, its potential to radicalize thinking about the production, representation and reception of art in his age.
Ekphrasis, from its earliest iteration in the oral tradition of rhetoric as the “vivid description” of artworks, has upheld its purpose through long service to writers (especially poets), and has evolved into the deceptively pared-down, late-twentieth century incarnation of “verbal representation of visual representation,” as designated by James Heffernan in 1993. As a literary mode, ekphrasis has a long history of accommodating what Heffernan calls the persistent “struggle for dominance between the image and the word” (1). This struggle is a central concern for Pater in the 1870s—and one that Pound and H.D. face in their formulations and manifestations of the 1910s: beyond the creation of art as experience is another experience—the encounter between the “aesthete” (the critic or the poet), the art object itself, and the written representation of that object to the audience. These are the three key participants in what late-twentieth-century word/image theorists come to identify as the “ekphrastic situation” (Loizeaux 5)— a situation that arises from the dynamic of this three-way interaction and is always underscored by the balancing act of subjectivity and objectivity inherent to writing about visual art.
Pater proposes that the experiencing of artworks is best transmitted through those critics who are attuned to the past, but not committed to periodization or historical classification. As James Longenbach argues, Pater’s “belief in the presence of the past—and the more demanding belief that it is only as a living presence that we know the past—lies at the core of Pater’s entire aesthetic” (34). Pater claims not only that the art object holds inherent timeless power, but also that its material presence cannot be ignored. Furthermore, those writers and critics who attempt to describe it must be of a certain ilk—must be attuned to the moment of the object’s creation as well as to its impact. His opening remarks in the “Preface” to The Renaissance suggest a somewhat ambiguous combination of subjective and objective approaches that recall Romanticism but also foreshadow Imagism:
Beauty, like all other qualities presented to human experience, is relative; and the definition of it becomes unmeaning and useless in proportion to its abstractness. To define beauty, not in the most abstract, but in the most concrete terms possible, to find, not a universal formula for it, but the formula which expresses most adequately this or that special manifestation of it, is the aim of the true students of aesthetics. (“Preface” 5)
The “concrete terms” here suggest the “direct treatment of the thing” still to come, and so, fittingly, the “true students of aesthetics” who devised that credo were also blessed with key characteristics set out by Pater in his preface, namely that they possess “a certain kind of temperament, the power of being deeply moved by the presence of beautiful objects” (7), that they be “those who do not live in isolation, but breathe a common air, and catch light and heat from each other’s thoughts,” attuned to “a spirit of general elevation and enlightenment in which all alike communicate”(11).
Pound and H.D., in their early years together in Pennsylvania, from 1905 to 1908, are indeed “true students” and devoted readers of Pater, as well as Algernon Swinburne, William Morris, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, purposefully channelling the same “spirit of general elevation” Pater evokes. They do not base their modern aestheticism solely upon Pater’s thinking any more than Pater based his only upon Leonardo da Vinci’s; but they certainly do aspire to be the “artists and philosophers and those whom the action of the world has elevated” envisioned by Pater. When their writing careers are launched in London in the 1910s, however, H.D.’s and Pound’s approaches bifurcate the Paterian stream of thinking when it comes to their engagement with artworks and their work as “aesthetic critics.” Most interestingly, in these early days, Pound and H.D. turn to sculptural works to allegorize the modern experience; as writers circulating three-dimensional objects and intent on describing both artwork and experience through words, their individual accounts of ekphrastic encounters reveal their differing approaches to concrete art objects. In Pound’s advocacy of a new modernity, he formalizes theories—Imagism and especially Vorticism— about literary techniques in visual terms using sculptors and their artworks as exemplars of new manifestations of beauty. In H.D.’s early fiction and critical prose, she too strives to reconcile the concept of beauty with the potent force of the objective, modern intellect. But while Pound looks to the sculptural works of contemporaries Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Jacob Epstein, H.D. turns her gaze back to ancient Greek sculptures and da Vinci’s paintings.
To better understand how H.D.’s and Pound’s manifestations of the ekphrastic situation reveal their different interpretations of Pater’s thinking, it is helpful to compare two contributions from his “true students’: the first is Pound’s essay “The New Sculpture” which appeared in the February 1914 issue of The Egoist—and the second is H.D.’s far more opaque treatise from 1919, Notes on Thought and Vision. Rebecca Beasley refers to “The New Sculpture” as Pound’s “first article of art criticism…[a]lthough Pound’s published and unpublished writings had long engaged with the visual arts” (94). In it, Pound relates the experience of his recent gallery viewing of Epstein’s semi-abstract/semi-primitive sculpture, Figure in Flenite. Pound distances himself from the sculptor and his artwork in a deceptively emotionally detached manner; notably, his offhand appreciation includes a brief nod to the traditional purpose of artistic production: “It is not to be denied that Mr. Epstein has brought in a new beauty. Art is to be admired rather than explained,” Pound declares; and he then goes on to confess, “The jargon of these sculptors is beyond me. I do not know why I admire a green granite, female, apparently pregnant monster with one eye going around a square corner” (68). Here Pound at once removes himself from the authoritative position of art historian or art critic, and instead makes an indirect statement on the currency of Epstein’s art, a statement that Pound wants to be as important as an art critic’s even though he declines to claim that position or authority.
In her assessment of Pater’s parallel approach, Mary Ellis Gibson notes (in Epic Reinvented) that although “Pater’s aesthetic effect yokes claims to reality (historical recurrence) and to personal interest” it also, like Pound’s, “yokes affect and detachment” (30). In the same vein, Carolyn Williams (in her work Transfigured World) links Pater’s method to Pound’s by citing the latter’s praise in “The New Sculpture” for all artists—particularly sculptors—as those “men who work in an unchanging world. Their work permits no argument” (68). Pater, before Pound, had synthesized Renaissance artists into what Williams calls the “Paterian type [which] expresses concrete historical identity while also expressing something beyond itself” (138). Pound chooses his contemporaries, rather than his historical predecessors to do the same, since he is intent on innovating not emulating. For Pound, it is important that their artworks allow “no argument” because it is their modernity he is interested in promoting to his audience, more than their aesthetic qualities. In “The New Sculpture” Pound is determined to deny “being deeply moved” by the abstracted distorted form of Epstein’s figure, to downplay its beauty, all to emphasize the experience of his encounter. Here Pound is accomplishing what Williams attributes to Pater, namely that he “characterizes’ an age by personalizing it, literally choosing a character whom he invests with representative value” (52), which is what Pound chooses to do with Epstein (and especially Gaudier-Brzeska): they are to the modernist what Michelangelo et al had been to Pater.
For H.D., however, the designation of a type and the urge to characterize an age appears to be far less important than it was to Pound in his writing about art in the 1910s. In her 1919 treatise, Notes on Thought and Vision (referred to hereafter as Notes) she is far more attuned to Pater’s syncretic approach to thinking about aesthetics through the lens of an ahistorical “art history,” than she is in promoting modernity. H.D.’s stance in Notes is read initially as “modern” because of its stream-of-consciousness prose, and its abstract, idiosyncratic metaphors, but close reading reveals how she is strongly aligned with Paterian concepts. For example, she is far more open in her alignment with Pater’s criteria for the ideal critic—criteria that include his call for “the power of being deeply moved by the presence of beautiful objects”—in this exhortation from the “Preface”:
What is important, then, is not that the critic should possess a correct abstract definition of beauty for the intellect, but a certain kind of temperament . . . He will remember always that beauty exists in many forms. To him all periods, types, schools of taste, are in themselves equal. (“Preface” 7)
H.D. puts forward both the notions of artists occupying Pound’s “unchanging world” and possessing Pater’s “certain kind of temperament,” and offers these as principle elements of Notes. In it, she proclaims:
But the world of the great creative artists is never dead. The new schools of destructive art theorists are on the wrong track. Because Leonardo and his kind are never old, never dead. Their world is never explored, hardly even entered. Because it needs an over-mind or a slight glimmering of over-mind intelligence to understand over-mind intelligence. (24)
H.D.’s spare ekphrastic references to artists and artworks throughout Notes distinguish her own temperament from Pound’s. She differs from Pound in two crucial aspects: firstly, in Notes H.D. uses da Vinci, Sappho, Phidias, Lo Fu and Euripides, as examplars—ignoring Gaudier-Brzeska, Epstein, Picasso, Braque—or, for that matter, any of her contemporaries. Secondly, although H.D., like Pound, refrains from classifying any art object, she seeks out far more than he does from an encounter with one. When Pound views Epstein’s Figure, he does so in the purest spirit of new modernity: he elides the history of the sculpted form as a human body and claims to be comfortable with its abstraction, whereas H.D. wants to feel the presence of the history in the art object and be drawn into it. This is perhaps a primary reason for her preference for those artists not-from-her-century. This is best demonstrated when H.D. explains her reaction to the bronze statue, Charioteer of Delphi, a significant work of Classical Greek art, dating from 480 to 450 B.C. She does not profess to have “fallen in love” with the statue of the Charioteer but she does declare that it mesmerizes her; she purposefully detaches herself from a subjective emotional connection to the sculpture but, still, she yokes herself to the experience of viewing it.
Certain words and lines of Attic choruses, [she writes] any scrap of da Vinci’s drawings, the Delphic charioteer, have a definite, hypnotic effect on me. They are straight, clear entrances, to me, to over-world consciousness. But my line of approach, my sign-posts, are not your sign-posts. (Notes 24)
H.D. proceeds to emphasize that “the lines of a statue, worked out like the charioteer, would act on us if we had the right sort of receiving brain” (27). Like Pater, then, she privileges those critics and artists of a certain character—including herself—but, paradoxically, she also separates herself from that company by asserting her individuality.
Interestingly, in 2008, when writing about twentieth-century ekphrastic poetry, Elizabeth Bergmann Loizeaux observes that “for many moderns it’s not so much that painting and sculpture take the poet out of history, but that they take the poet into history. . . . The work of art can function as a portal and as a place of contact” (21). This certainly seems applicable to not only Pater but also to H.D. What is more, for H.D., the sensory experience of being moved by an artwork is potentially epiphanic, it must be restricted to her “line of approach.” She alludes to the continuing passage of time—which retains the beauty and sublimity of the Charioteer, but she refuses to historicize its context. Like Pound, she is fully aware of that context, and she too must modernize the experience itself, but she does so in her own way. H.D. alludes to history, Pound elides history, and Pater does both.
Critical essays from early twenty-first century writers like Loizeaux and Cheeke that deal directly with ekphrasis are remarkably well suited to reading alongside the prose writings of Pater, Pound and H.D.: the former look directly at the mode of ekphrasis as mediator of the tension between word and image, while the latter indirectly use ekphrastic allusions and fragments to dissolve the boundaries between both. Equally useful are the late twentieth-century works of seminal theorists like Heffernan (already mentioned), W.J.T. Mitchell, and Richard Stein. And while all these writers and thinkers often delve into helpful comparative analyses of Romantic, Victorian, and modernist ekphrastic poems, they refer infrequently to prose and to the modernists: Pound’s Imagist and Vorticist treatises and his many contributions to the “little magazines” of the 1910s and 1920s, are seldom addressed, and H.D.’s Notes on Thought and Vision is never mentioned. Given the breadth of literature available to theorists, this omission is understandable, but it is also odd given the intensity of the young writers’ devotion to re-fashioning the idea of the artist/critic as a modern receptor of creative forces. Much of Pound’s and H.D.’s thinking is based on the dissolution of tension between words and images, on the Paterian notion of the literary critic as “one who sees” and the modernist’s idea of the poet as one who presents images without the burden of conventional syntax and descriptive language. Regrettably, some key theorists who write about ekphrasis explore the motive for such a dissolution without ever referring to the modernists’ engagement in their prose works with the dilemma at hand. Cheeke, however, when writing about Pater, and the storied entanglement of ekphrastic writing with aesthetic theory, offers an observation that the modernists might well have appreciated:
Subjectivism is one of those dirty words in literary criticism that it might be worth thinking about again. Are there truths (the truth of beauty for example) that can be experienced only as intensely subjective truths but which nevertheless are valid beyond the consciousness of the individual? Writing for art is stalked by the possibility of this not being the case. (169)
Likely stalked by such a possibility, in The Renaissance, Pater was particularly focused on what Gibson identifies as the “historicist dilemma of attachment and detachment” (28). By writing “for” and about art, he enforces his mission through his methodological approach, his selection of subject matter and style: he attaches himself and his aesthetic theories to concrete Renaissance artists and artworks; but, at the same, Pater detaches himself from the role of expert, as Pound does, to enforce the abstract notion that H.D. upholds, namely that the “true student” is “connected to the past by…a general consciousness” (Longenbach 33). In their early, investigative critical ruminations, the two modernists do not write directly “about” art, but they do indeed grapple with the same dilemmas Pater faced. H.D. and Pound formulate aesthetic theories by adopting Pater’s fluid historicism, by expanding upon his empowerment of the object, and by placing themselves within “ekphrastic situations” to demonstrate their degrees of attachment and their individual temperaments.
Beasley, Rebecca. Ezra Pound and the Visual Culture of Modernism. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007.
Cheeke, Stephen. Writing for Art: The Aesthetics of Ekphrasis. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2008.
Gibson, Mary Ellis. Epic Reinvented: Ezra Pound and the Victorians. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1995.
H.D. End to Torment: A Memoir of Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions, 1979.
—. Notes on Thought and Vision & The Wise Sappho. Introduction by Albert Gelpi. San Francisco: City Lights, 1982.
Heffernan, James A.W. Museum of Words: The Poetics of Ekphrasis from Homer to Ashbery. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1993.
Loizeaux, Elizabeth Bergmann. Twentieth-Century Poetry and the Visual Arts. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008.
Longenbach, James. Modernist Poetics of History: Pound, Eliot, and the Sense of the Past. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987.
Pater, Walter. The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry. 1893. Ed. Donald L. Hill. Berkeley: U of California P, 1980. Print.
—. “Preface.” The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry. Auckland, NZ: Floating Press, 2010. ProQuest Ebrary. Web. 28 November 2016.
Pound, Ezra. “The New Sculpture.” The Egoist 1.4: 16 February 1914. Modernist Journals Project. Web. 1 May 2014.
—. “Vortex. Pound.” BLAST 1: 20 June 1914. Modernist Journals Project. Web. 1 May 2014.
Mitchell, W.J.T. Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1994.
Stein, Richard L. The Ritual of Interpretation: The Fine Arts as Literature in Ruskin, Rossetti, and Pater. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1975.
Williams, Carolyn. Transfigured World: Walter Pater’s Aesthetic Historicism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1989.
Response to Sara Dunton
This formulation wonderfully sums up Dunton’s elegant thesis: “H.D alludes, Pound elides history, Pater does both.” This essay gingerly approaches the art object as an aesthetic crystal of experience in Pater, whose struggle with the relationship between image and object he passed down to Pound and H.D. Dunton’s microscope on the details of the three figures and their reception theories, at varying removes from history, is a necessary step in understanding these complex connections across time—and space. What is most interesting is what she outlines as “— a situation that arises from the dynamic of this three-way interaction and is always underscored by the balancing act of subjectivity and objectivity inherent to writing about visual art.” While this assertion borders on vague with respect to the very vagueness it addresses—“subjectivity and objectivity”—by echoing Pound’s Imagist credo of “direct treatment of an image, whether subjective or objective,” it appears distinctively blurred, perhaps part of the elision of history. This “three-way” scenario includes several possible three-ways: the art-work with its own autonomy, the experience of it and the describing of it, and these three remain within the two-way conduit of object and artist/critic. I would propose thinking more closely on what is lost by eliding another possible three-way, companioning spectator. The Charioteer H.D. falls in love with is an echo of how H.D sees Bryher, and the entire Notes on Thoughts and Vision can be seen as inter-subjective dialogue between artwork, Bryher and H.D.; we may include Pound as imagined interlocutor here as well. I am intrigued by this exploration of Pater’s influence, an ever-expanding one, for modernists.
“‘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.
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: 127—141.
Response to Matte Robinson’s Paper
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.
Ostriker, Alicia. “The Open Poetics of H.D.’s Trilogy.” Agenda 25.3/4 (Autumn/Winter 1987): 145-54.
H.D., POUND, AND ARCHIVAL SHIBBOLETHS
Jason M. Coats, Virginia Commonwealth University
My focus today is to work through some of the theoretical language I’m using for my book project, which studies World War II poetry speaking for, and from, the position of the newly vulnerable, placed into situations of interminable duress, such as the London Blitz, or Pound’s imprisonment at Pisa. But beyond the vulnerable generation of lyrics during terror, I want to concentrate on their shared commitment to poetry consisting of minimalist, concatenated instants that are arranged side-by-side, seemingly paratactically, and their shared choice to employ this assembly strategy in creating longer sequences. The artist “presents [but] he does not comment,” as Pound put it in Gaudier-Brzeska, to avoid discursive interpretation of the intense speaking voices of imagist poems, many of whom push the boundaries of normativity and have no true precursors in English or American literature. However, the artist certainly curates the fragmentary sequence, and by stripping away all but language imbued with its highest energy state, unstable though that might prove, the poem advances from one glyph to another, each representative of some experiential boon, some rich source of knowledge which is somehow both gestured toward and incorporated into the text.
My curiosity today lies in their parallel efforts to encode these rich sources without providing a shibboleth to decode the surplus energy of their signs: such knowledge must be earned rather than simply imparted. Poetry becomes the representative and chief repository for the archive, radiating with significance because metonymically standing in for a much larger body of knowledge, whether that is ancient wisdom for H.D. or the tale of the tribe for Pound. Why, when placed in helpless and imperilled situations, is the archive their shared recourse? I’d like to rehearse how both H.D. and Pound thought about their poetry’s relationship to the archive, then theorize the drive to index it (what Jacques Derrida called “archive fever”) and the potential payoff revisiting such an aesthetic might impart to the poet cum archival curator when faced with impossible terror and precarity. Along the way, I’ll offer a few insights into Canto 74, the first of the Pisan Cantos, and “The Walls Do Not Fall,” the first sequence of H.D.’s Trilogy.
First, Pound. In his 1911 essay series “I Gather the Limbs of Osiris,” Pound explains why the search for historical understanding yields only a series of discontinuities. In “A Rather Dull Introduction,” Pound describes his travails as an amateur historian, confronted with fragment upon fragment of what life had been like in the past. He laboriously pieces together events by trying to get beyond the affective subjectivism of personal accounts, whose statements may contain germs of drama, certain suggestions of human passion or habit, but they are reticent, they tell us nothing we did not know, nothing which enlightens us. They are of any time and any country. By reading them with the blanks filled in, with the names written in, we get no more intimate acquaintance with the temper of any period; but when in Burkhardt we come upon a passage: “In this year the Venetians declined to make war upon the Milanese because they held that any war between buyer and seller must prove profitable to neither,” we come upon a portent, the old order changes, one conception of war and of the State begins to decline. (Selected Prose 22)
It’s an “Ah-ha!” moment, and Pound relishes it in part because, although in appearance it may look like any other moment he has researched, suddenly everything has clicked and he recognizes the economic basis for conflict in Renaissance Italy. The bravado of his excitement has elicited, for Michael North and Marjorie Perloff, suspicions that Pound’s fondness for isolated facts and universal truths belongs to an ahistoricity that undercuts any actual appreciation for historical awareness – the epiphanic trigger could have been any detail, perhaps. The luminosity of the luminous detail, by this argument, is circularly predicated on Pound’s assertion that it’s glowing, and really every moment of The Cantos is a semi fictionalized reconnaissance of Pound by Pound (staged for our benefit).
I think that if we are to take the “tale of the tribe” seriously, we should posit two things about the luminous detail as a structural model for The Cantos. First, Pound expected his readers to glimpse the same things he saw, or perhaps we might instead say that he hoped to train his audience to begin to see the light just as he saw it. This is an important stipulation because, unless the poem acts in good faith, reading The Cantos is tantamount to hearing a series of disembodied “ah-ha!”s in the next room, for which no context is given nor seems likely to be given, and we become irritable. Secondly, the luminous detail, because it arises out of an autodidact’s search for the truth, should set the record straight and cleanse the archive, whether or not the reader acknowledges its cleansing. The light that Pound saw illuminating the detail is embodied within his representation, and the echoes of that luminousness still linger near the sign.
Whether by dint of the intimacy and revelatory significance the speaking voice evokes, or the deference readers give authors to construct meaning from the altercation between the archive and the artistic temperament, I think it’s hard to get through more than a few cantos without stipulating that at least some of these historical corrections are evidence of somebody seeking out the truth. Should we not celebrate the sort of poetry that condenses the long chronology into a succinct insight? If we prefer the succinct insight to the dross which surrounds it, should we not then prefer the poem constructed entirely out of succinct insights? (This is the model of The Cantos as the long imagist poem, after all).
By this model, if (as Pound said) The Waste Land is the longest poem in the English language, The Cantos is the most intellectually taxing, because the live question of why each detail has been set next to the other is always present, and there are simply more questions in The Cantos than Eliot had the heart to ask. The potential energy of the poem’s details and their unexplained concatenation adds to the effect of their cleansing insights (their “constatation” as Pound coined the process in a delightful solecism) rather than detracting from it. What might have seemed like unlinked parataxis is thus hypotaxis: the poem gathers Osiris’s limbs for us, but it’s up to us to put him back together.
There are two rhyming examples in Pound’s prose that are instructive for how the archive has been curated for the reader within The Cantos, and are also (unfortunately) a major difference between the Pound of the 1910s and that of the late 1930s. In “A Beginnning” this curious passage appears:
Let us suppose a man, ignorant of painting, taken into a room containing a picture by Fra Angelico, a picture by Rembrandt, one by Velasquez, Memling, Rafael, Monet, Beardsley, Hokusai, Whistler, and a fine example of the art of some forgotten Egyptian. He is told that this is painting and that every one of these is a masterwork. He is, if a thoughtful man, filled with confusion. These things obey no common apparent law. (SP 24)
The thoughtful man may start off confused, but clearly the expectation is that he will then try to find the connecting thread the museum curator has exposed him to. Even if only conditionally, he accedes to their juxtaposition and pays as much attention to their relationality as to their content. The details are important, but so is the invitation to seek out significant linkages that will shed yet more light on their already-bright luminousness.
By the time Pound writes his Guide to Kulchur (1937), though, the invitation has become more of a command than anything else, and the focus shifts almost exclusively to the assembler at the expense of the assembled details:
May I suggest (not to prove anything, but perhaps to open the reader’s thought) that I have a certain real knowledge which wd. enable me to tell a Goya from a Velasquez from an Ambrogio Praedis, a Praedis from an Ingres or a Moreau
and that this differs from the knowledge you or I wd. have if I went into the room back of the next one, copied a list of names and maxims from good Fiorentino’s History of Philosophy and committed the names, maxims, and possibly dates to my memory. (GK 28)
By 1937, that is, the aesthetic mission has become an attempt to find the luminous detail that will finally win over his audience to an admiration of Mussolini. The juxtapositions are designed to impress and reassure rather than to invite the reader to share in a revelation. The shibboleth to the archive is now “Pound.”
Guide to Kulchur is a running self-imposed dare to write a critique of particularity in favor of totalitarianism, without making recourse to any outside sources. Certainly, Pound’s memory is impressive, but his challenge turned out to be luxuriant in comparison to what transpired after Mussolini’s fall and Pound’s capture. Part of the relief many readers experience about the Pisan Cantos is Pound’s admission that memory has its limits: he makes guesses about dates, adds question marks, hedges on details, makes a virtue of his misspellings. Three weeks after being arrested in Rapallo during the Allied invasion of the Italian peninsula, Pound was granted typewriter, bible, and three Chinese sourcebooks at the DTC in Pisa. The rest of his references arise out of his encounter with bereft despair – a different sort of intimacy altogether. Instead of an imaginary man thrust into a museum and left to his own devices, Pound himself is now the man “on whom the sun has gone down,” who is forced to accept that “The wind is part of the process / The rain is part of the process,” no longer sure of how “humanity stands it,” with or without the fede fascista in a “painted paradise at the end.”
Pound’s physical breakdown coincides with that of his archive. Canto 74 strives to salvage some semblance of the earlier Cantos’ bravado, now recast as pomposity in retrospect. The goal is still to add “whiteness to whiteness,” to report only “candor.” But as Lawrence Rainey has shown, Pound had associated Mussolini with great male figures of history as early as Sigismundo Malatesta in Canto 8 (1923). Perhaps all the connections he had made were predicated on a mistake that rendered every subsequent association in the chain tenuous. Nevertheless, the blurred remnants of earlier historical characters and details still populate this Canto, although the desperation with which the speaking voice attempts to inhabit his past certainty is coupled now with an acknowledgment of his receding memory. He is one with those “who have passed over the river Lethe” and begun to forget. The juxtaposed images, vignettes, details now carry an expressionistic element of incoherence. His references to the archive he has heretofore bombastically curated now ring hollow and narcissistic. His open-air cell has reduced him from his vaunted position as archival curator to yet one more coincidentally-collected animal in an exhibit he would never himself have constructed.
The Kenneth Burke of Attitudes Toward History (also 1937) might have termed the difference between Pound’s and H.D.’s relationships with the archive as, respectively, a rejection frame on the one hand and an acceptance frame on the other. Where Pound read history to ferret out luminous details and argue with historians, H.D. was fascinated by a remarkable variety of religious discourses, many of which were not contemporary to the Blitz. Demetres Tryphonopoulos has termed H.D.’s all-inclusive succor to ancient wisdom “radical syncretism” (Introduction, Majic Ring xxiv): she was ready to believe, or at least to support the legitimacy of belief, in a host of outmoded, declassée, antinormative, and apocryphal traditions. This helps explain the first poem in The Walls Do Not Fall, which proceeds from an opening documentary realism to what the poem self-consciously (and not immodestly) terms “spiritual realism.”
The poem begins with a vague “incident, here and there” (3) of a piece with the sanitizing euphemisms the British press has used to understate the devastation of the Blitz. After such a concrete grounding, the poem then proceeds to compare the destruction to “the Luxor bee, chick and hare / [that] pursue unalterable purpose / in green, rose-red, lapis” (3). These latter are fertility symbols of ancient Egypt, for which translation Trilogy does not offer any assistance. Few observers would equate London’s rubble with a “stone papyrus” at first glance, but this one does. She also then proceeds to conjoin that association with the Greek myth of the Delphic Pythian as well as Yahweh’s thrice-repeated night-time hailing of Samuel in the Old Testament’s 1st Samuel—an audible, though all-too-easily dismissible call to wake up and respond to the miraculous portents hiding in plain sight.
The Walls Do Not Fall doesn’t need its readers to subscribe to any or all of the occult traditions it incorporates, but it does require respect for those who believed in them in the past, to acknowledge that each of them affords etiological and narrative explanations for why events have transpired as they have. Subscription to “spiritual realism” carries with it a responsibility to honor the weight of tradition behind these alternative discourses, and a respect for those who believe religious thought offers a valid lens through which to interpret reality: “walk carefully, speak politely // to those who have done their worm-cycle, / for gods have been smashed before // and idols and their secret is stored / in man’s very speech” (T 14–15).
The “worm-cycle” is the process by which an endangered individual can escape discomfiture by undergoing a strenuous metamorphosis from a vulnerable worm, through a chrysalis’ crucible, to a transcendently beautiful butterfly (which can then fly to safety). It’s a hard-won initiation process that in the end affords access to an idiosyncratic shibboleth to decode the archive Trilogy stands in for. It reveals the coeval energies of Moravian Christianity, Egyptology, psychoanalysis, Greek ritual, astrology, and the occult that permeate and enliven the performative tropes succeeding one another in the sequence.
Alongside the coded evidence of the vulnerability of people, structures, ideas, and images precious to the speaker, H. D. strategically places testimony of their preservation within the performative language of her poetry. She proceeds from the readily acceptable assumption of the ill effects of terror to the less widely known traditions of the inviolability of the scribe, the indelibility of the word, and the ineradicable nature of the palimpsest to proffer some good that can be salvaged from the Blitz, provided we at least tolerate the possibility of the vatic register in the poem’s curation of its disparate components.
Spiritual realism requires a belief that language can be powerful: signifiers that have been potent and mystical, irrespective of human agency and temporality:
we take them with us
beyond death; Mercury, Hermes, Thoth
invented the script, letters, palette;
the indicated flute or lyre-notes
on papyrus or parchment
are magic, indelibly stamped
on the atmosphere somewhere,
forever (T 17)
The permanency of the spoken word relies neither on the speaker, since she attributes her source casually to “Mercury, Hermes, [or] Thoth” as if they were interchangeable deities, nor on the medium (“papyrus or parchment”), for they have been “stamped / on the atmosphere somewhere,” and that is somehow enough to make them “indelible” “forever.” All of this reveals the talismanic power of words, which she believed could provide a more conventional form of protection for those aware of their mysteries. The archive she summons is illegibly protective for those who need its protection, but it’s also decipherable for those whose arcane research would already have qualified them to respect believers.
What fascinates me at this point is the very live question of whether the curation in both The Walls Do Not Fall and the Pisan Cantos assists these talismans in protecting both the reader and speaker, or whether the signs themselves are inherently powerful regardless of our knowledge of their discursive origins. By double analogy, this is the distinction between the skewed angle and particular light one needs to view the anamorphic skull in Holbein’s The Ambassadors on the one hand, and on the other hand a substance like radium, which is deadly radioactive regardless of one’s belief in radioactivity. The truth Pound sought throughout his career is no less true, to his mind, if no one but him still swears by Il Duce. And many of the more obscure references in The Walls Do Not Fall may indeed be powerful whether we know anything about their portents or not; regardless, each one begins more and more to resemble the “wrought, faceted, jeweled / boxes” by which the vatic vision can intersect with the quotidian. In the 15th poem of The Walls Do Not Fall, H.D. advances further: “grape, knife, cup, wheat // are symbols in eternity, / and every concrete object // has abstract value, is timeless / in the dream parallel // whose relative sigil has not changed / since Nineveh and Babel.” Every concrete object may prove the conduit to occult knowledge, every signifier may be a relic of some submerged or ill-understood energy that a poem can bring to new life. Is it necessary for us to know that “grape, knife, cup, wheat” is a listing of the illocutionary props necessary to begin the Eleusinian Mysteries for that list to radiate with the energies H.D. derives from that ritual?
Pound had pioneered the minimalist concision of early imagism in favor or an impoverishment of unnecessary connective tissue, which is a striking similarity the two of them share. As Hugh Kenner has stressed, the elision of most verbs in imagist poetry means, for Pound, a strong preference for the planned over the fortuitous: this is like the practice among many archives of forcing the curious researcher to sign in, wait patiently, be brought precious items, and be told how to handle them properly while a security guard watches. While H.D. shares with Pound the winnowing desire to provide only luminous details, concrete objects, and magic sigils, her curation is less prescribed though perhaps more reverent: this is like the exhibit of Minoan pottery for which the anthropological archivist is not much help -- beyond the frame of “this is Minoan art,” one is reduced to observations like ‘this seems to be a vase,’ ‘they liked statues of women,’ ‘they fished and sometimes caught octopus,’ etc. H.D.’s concision affords each sign and its surroundings a new prominence that can help us understand and benefit from what others in the past had found important, even useful.
The unexpected convergence is their shared attitude toward their own archives, once constructed. At the beginning of Archive Fever, Derrida isolates the etymological roots of the word “archive” as both “commencement” and “commandment.” Two competing drives animate the archivist: the first, the desire to be the sole curator of the vast repository of knowledge that surrounds any event or cultural product—to be the first person to know this knowledge again, before locking it up and keeping it safe from thieves, critics, and blunderers. As head Archon of the excavation one can make final determinations about placement, assemblage, and curation, all while positing the individual importance of each archival constituent. The second desire is the competing desire to act as archival follower—not just the pioneer of the archive, but its ambassador, adherent, chief advocate. Out of these two drives spring both the insistence of Pound and H.D. of the importance of their buried treasure and their reticence to unbury it.
The longer one writes in this vein about a set of subjects, the more closely one’s aesthetic is allied to it, and the harder it can be to walk away from their recognizable approaches to the archive. After a long enough period of time, the difference between obsessive caretaking and actual belief may recede indistinguishably into a horizon where irony and sincerity coalesce. But this does not stop either poet from encoding shibboleths into their representations of the much larger archives their poems gesture toward. Easily-gained knowledge isn’t fit for the unworthy, the enemy, the uninitiated. And after all, leaving the archive mysterious creates the environment by which someone else might create on one’s own the desire to discover its richness for themselves.
Burke, Kenneth. Attitudes Toward History. Berkeley: U of California P, 1984.
Derrida, Jacques. Archive Fever. Trans. Eric Prenowitz. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1998.
H.D. Trilogy. Ed. Aliki Barnstone. New York, New Directions, 1998.
Kenner, Hugh. The Pound Era. Berkeley: U of California P, 1973.
North, Michael. The Political Aesthetic of Yeats, Eliot, and Pound. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991.
Perloff, Marjorie. Poetics of Indeterminacy: Rimbaud to Cage. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1981.
Pound, Ezra. The Cantos of Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions, 1970.
—. Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir. New York: New Directions, 1970.
—. Guide to Kulchur. New York: New Directions, 1970.
—. Selected Prose 1909-1965. Ed. William Cookson. New York: New Directions, 1973
Rainey, Lawrence. “‘All I Want You to Do Is to Follow the Orders’: History, Faith, and Fascism in the Early Cantos.” A Poem Containing History: Textual Studies in The Cantos. Ed. Lawrence Rainey. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1999. 63-114.
Tryphonopoulos, Demetres P., ed. Introduction. Majic Ring. By H.D. Gainesville: UP of Florida, 2009.
Response to Jason Coats’ paper
What a pleasure to encounter a paper that contrasts Pound’s and H.D.’s relations to the archive, positioning the two figures as would-be archons, curators of the accumulated knowledge of what Pound calls “the tribe.” Coats raises the stakes in the game of competing arches by choosing the word “shibboleth” (rather than “key” or “password”) to designate each author’s curatorial fulcrum: shibboleths grant entry by sorting people. Those who make the cut are included in the group; those who do not were never included and must be put to death. The shibboleth reveals what always has been, and it is uniquely performative: unlike a password, which can be any random word (and which must be changed regularly), the shibboleth comes to itself in its own utterance: it is what it is.1
For Pound, “the shibboleth is now ‘Pound’;” the Cantos, the poem containing history, appears in the light of Coats’s analysis as a concatenation of interior “ah-ha” moments, a history of Pound’s discoveries of the key turning points hidden in the volumes of history he consults (and reiterates). In the Pisan Cantos, when access to the archive fails, Coats remarks, the wind and the rain become “part of the process.” For Pound, the abandonment of the arche is an opening to the world around him, as he is writing. Contrastingly, H.D.’s indifference to the authority of the curatorial impulse is grounded in faith in a timeless co-existence of the past, the present, the mythical, and the everyday. For H.D. the rain and wind are always already part of the process, because what is laid bare in the everyday spaces (with their absence of rails) at the opening of Trilogy is another “presence” and another order of presence.
In Coats’ estimation, H.D.’s faith in the “outmoded, declassée, antinormative, and apocryphal” seems to help inoculate her poetry from some of the historical errors and bad judgments of her peers, while placing her work squarely into the context of high modernism: who is the reader who would “equate London’s rubble with a ‘stone papyrus’”? Who would read Mercury, Hermes, and Thoth as “interchangeable deities”? Modernist fragments are curated, but there is an element of randomness based on the “ah-ha” moments. Images, like Tarot cards, are chosen yet plucked out of the unknown, presented in new patterns without a predetermined connection.
1. Its definition in the OED is not a definition but context for its use. The first part is tautology: “shibboleth” is “the Hebrew word [‘shibboleth’]”; the rest of the “definition” merely explains why it remains in the lexicon. The definition itself is not what we are looking for in nearly any context: it means both “stream in flood” and “ear of corn” i.e. “wheat,” one of the four objects Coats names as examples of “relic[s] of some submerged or ill-understood energy that a poem can bring to new life” and identifies as “illocutionary props necessary to begin the Eleusinian Mysteries.”