Adalaide Morris: On Trilogy, part 1 (The Walls Do Not Fall)

The "fifty thousand incidents" of the Blitz placed all alike--soldiers and civilians, men and women, young and old--indiscriminately on duty and at risk. The flat H.D. and Bryher shared was only blocks from the anti-aircraft batteries in Hyde Park and thus constantly in priority range for incoming bombers. As H.D. sat at her desk, the rhythms of her writing--its "endless silence," in her daughter's description, "followed by a barrage of typing"--replicated the bursts of nearby artillery fire. Knowing at any moment the building would collapse beneath her, H.D. stayed at her post throughout the war, stubbornly earning the right to call herself one of London's "old front-liners," a defender of "the fortress."

Just as war gives women new access to authority, it constructs a crucial role for artists, a role that draws them from the peripheries toward the center. H.D. understood this shift as a return from notions of art as ornament, recreation, or investment to earlier conceptions of art as cultural work. In the Moravian community where she grew up and in the Native American, Egyptian, and Greek cultures she studied, "work" included activities we shunt to nights or weekends and call play, art, or worship. In these cultures myths and rituals were, like hunts or harvests, expenditures of energy, tasks to be undertaken, things to be done for the benefit of all. Whether those who undertook these tasks were initiates in momentary seclusion or permanently designated seers or sayers, their work exposed them to great peril and entitled them, in return, to the support of the tribe. [...]

Each of TRILOGY's three parts is doubly marked; by a date that places the poem inside the chronology of World War II and by a vision that lifts it up out of that chronology. Like her patrons, the messenger-gods Thoth, Hermes, Mercury, and St. Michael, the poet plies between the realms H.D. called "in time" and "out-of-time," inscribing in this oscillation the poem's many intuitions and ironies. Part I, written in 1942, a year of unremitting worldwide aggression, offers a vision of a slender and beardless "world-father"; Part II, composed in "a wonderful pause just before D-Day," offers the dream of a Lady carrying "the blank pages / of the unwritten volume of the new"; and Part III, composed in 1944 during the crosscut between Hitler's Ardenne campaign and the ceremonies of Christmas, offers Kaspar's vision of "the whole scope and plan // of our and his civilization on this, / his and our earth." Like the nineteenth-century African-American women mystics who preceded her, H.D. uses the visions that lifted her out of history to claim a public power and presence within it. Their mystical force guaranteed her stature as a cultural spokesperson and authorized her transition from lyric to epic poetry.

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Title Adalaide Morris: On Trilogy, part 1 (The Walls Do Not Fall) Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Adalaide Morris Criticism Target H(ilda) D(oolittle)
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 22 Feb 2022
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Signaling: Feminism, Politics, and Mysticism in H.D.'s War Trilogy
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