Cassandra Laity: On H.D.'s Imagist Poems and Ancient Greece

I hope to demonstrate that H.D.’s Imagism undermines masculinist theories of impersonality by way of the metaphoric landscape/bodies and language for transgressive desire she gleaned from the sexually diverse "Greece" of Victorian Hellenists such as [Walter] Pater, [Oscar] Wilde, and [A. C.] Swinburne. Sea Garden’s white, chiseled, or brazenly colored and marred sea flowers, its decadent overflowered Venusbergs, and evasive (Swinburnian) linguistic practices thus forma narrative of competing sexualities and "unnatural" desires that deliberately implicate the authorial "I" behind the volume. Indeed, much later, Douglas Bush’s Mythology and the Romantic Tradition lambasted H.D.’s Imagism for its Decadent Aestheticism. . . . Bush concludes that H.D. was more "escapist" than the Pre-Raphaelites, "who testify their consciousness . . . of a world outside themselves," and relegates H.D.’s "paradise" to the Greece of "Pater and Wilde."

The "Greece" constructed by the Victorian Hellenists as a haven for male-male desire and associated with the image complex of "light," "whiteness," and sculpture . . . resembles the "crystalline" Imagism for which H.D. gained early fame. H.D. herself would make casual comparisons between her early style and the play of light on marble statuary at the Louvre (where she first saw the statue of the Hermaphrodite): "My idea of Paris," she wrote in 1936, "is a sort of holy, holy pilgrimage to the Louvre to see the lights and shadows on the marbles and wings of marble. All very early H.D." And Louis Untermeyer is among those critics who praised H.D. for her possession of "the sculptor’s power" to both animate and fix the image. Unintentionally evoking the Aesthete’s sculptured emblem for male transgressive desire . . . Untermeyer remarked H.D.’s fusion of "warm blood and chill stone." "Her marble palpitates," he comments. Others, perhaps reacting subliminally to H.D.’s use of Aesthetes’ "unnatural" imagery, attacked H.D.’s Imagism for its cold artificiality and perversion–some describing Sea Garden as the work of a "frozen Lesbian."

From H.D. and the Victorian Fin de Siècle: Gender, Modernism, Decadence. Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 1996. 42-43. © Cambridge University Press 1996


Title Cassandra Laity: On H.D.'s Imagist Poems and Ancient Greece Type of Content General Poet Criticism
Criticism Author Cassandra Laity Criticism Target H(ilda) D(oolittle)
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 13 Jul 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication H.D. and the Victorian Fin de Siècle: Gender, Modernism, Decadence
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