Gary Burnett: On "Sea Rose"

In the standard Imagist terms of crystalline beauty and hard outlines, a sea garden would be such a collection, with each poem an object, an identifiable and discrete plant in the garden which is the book. The first poem of the book, "Sea Rose," initially appears to reinforce such classically Imagist assumptions in its clear exposition of a single flower from the garden:

Rose, harsh rose, marred and with stint of petals, meagre flower, thin, sparse of leaf,

more precious than a wet rose single on a stem— You are caught in the drift. (5)

The short, carefully measured free verse lines, together with the slightly archaic (though still direct) diction and the insistence on the sparseness of the flower tend to give the poem a simplicity and solidity, a feeling of the visual or sculptural realness of the sea rose—"Sea Rose" could almost be a poem of image and little more. But the initially stable flower is "caught in the drift" of the shoreline which is the sea garden and is thus implicated in the complications which inhere for H.D. in that shoreline. Like "Hermes of the Ways," "Sea Rose" inhabits a land which is distinctively H.D.'s, a land of boundaries and difficult juxtapositions:

Stunted, with small leaf, You are flung on the sand, you are lifted in the crisp sand that drives in the wind.

Can the spice-rose drip such acrid fragrance hardened in a leaf? (5)

The Sea Rose is a flower for Hermes—a creative growth in a perilous landscape—and thus a "Stunted" figure for the effaced "H.D.," a complex image holding its ground against a force which would limit it to a denial of identity as well as to the sculptural and static terms of Imagism. The "you" of the poem—the sparse rose—is implicitly an "I," an "H.D."


Title Gary Burnett: On "Sea Rose" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Gary Burnett Criticism Target H(ilda) D(oolittle)
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 22 Feb 2022
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication The Identity of 'H.': Imagism and H.D.'s Sea Garden
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