Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Monday, October 29, 2007

H.D. and the Mysteries

Hilda Doolittle (1886-1961), who preferred to publish as H.D., was a part of the Imagist movement in poetry in the early 20th century. Indeed, her poems are filled with arresting imagery, but I believe her poetry is also complex rhetorically. Her not-so-well-known war poem, "R.A.F.," is splendid. Here is another poem by her:

The Mysteries Remain

The mysteries remain,
I keep the same
cycle of seed-time
and of sun and rain;
Demeter in the grass,
I multiply,
renew and bless
Bacchus in the vine;
I hold the law,
I keep the mysteries true,
the first of these
to name the living, dead;
I am the wine and bread.
I keep the law,
I hold the mysteries true,
I am the vine,
the branches, you
and you.

by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle)

The images are plain but strong here. The voice captivates. It is clear and coherent, as if indeed one person were speaking to us, but it also represents a collective persona who can be Demeter (mother of Persephone and goddess of . . . agriculture, for lack of a better term), Bacchus, Adam (the naming), and any keeper of the law. The persona can also be us: "you and you." Is the persona The Life Force, God, Christ, the artistic impulse, or what or who? Yes--and no. H.D. wouldn't and didn't lie to us: "the mysteries remain."

It's hard not to like this poem.
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