This ended up more an academic essay than a verse exploration post – not that I haven't posted essays here before. Despite it not turning out as planned, it fits in the mission statement, so I'll post it here as well as to the home site [link to page].
demonstrating the difference between the prosaic and poetic modes
Obviously, as one would guess from the title, Robert Duncan's The H.D. Book is an engagement with the works of H.D. (particularly her Trilogy). It is also an extended meditation upon the idea of Poetry: that is, capital-P Poetry; not "poetry" in the broad, populist, use of the word but in the sense of that literature that is the rarity in any and every period, that is that rarefied experience that separates Poetry from mundane verse. The primal scene of the book, the opening scene, is his first experience of what Duncan calls that "second order" of literature, in a high school classroom, in his having read to him by his teacher H.D.'s "Heat." It is a scene of revelation, in the context of the book a first initiation into the possibilities of that higher realm of literary (and artistic) experience. I will permit myself one extended quotation from The H.D. Book, one that speaks to that "second order" of literature:
|More than sensation, then, more than impression, gave force to the image. It was not only a vivid representation of sensory data but an evocation of depth. Image in Amy Lowell's poem ["Patterns"] had meant that words could illustrate and give mood. But in this poem "Heat," image conveyed not only the appearance of things or the sensual feel of things and moods, but experience, the reciprocity between inner and outer realities. There was another working of the image, more than Amy Lowell proposed, back of sense and mood, partly conscious and partly unconscious. I was aware that sensual intensity in this poem of H.D.'s, like the sensual intensity in Lawrence's work, demanded some new beginning in life from my own intensity. Such images were more immediate and real than likenesses of seeing, hearing or smelling were. (42-43)[FN]|
Duncan sets up Amy Lowell, specifically as regards the verse "Patterns" as counterpoint to H.D. and "Heat": both verses involve gardens, and both H.D. and Lowell were considered (or called) Imagists, though Pound did not consider Lowell all that much of an Imagist and H.D. was and remains the foremost Imagist. (As Duncan points out, Pound would later say he created Imagism primarily to promote H.D.'s work.) For Duncan, Lowell is of that "order of poems and stories that we must know all about if we were to be accomplished students" (38). Though, Duncan, there, is speaking both of texts that are of the same modality as "Patterns" and of the reading of texts in the manner that texts like "Pattens" can only be read. That is, I believe he includes the act of forcing second order texts to be read as though of the first order, turning them into those culturally requisite – which is also to say culturally safe – texts. (While Duncan does not explicitly make that statement, I believe it is inherent in his wording. The H.D. Book would not be written as it were if Duncan was not quite aware that there is no small body of literary criticism that strives to treat literature universally in just that way.)