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"The minimal unit of poetic language is at least double, not in the sense of the signifier/signified dyad, but rather, in terms of one and another." This, from Julia Kristeva [Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art], confronts us with the I/you relationship, resonant for H.D.’s work throughout, but peculiarly isolated in her intense, ritualistic early poems. Where to "put" erotic energy, how to negotiate "one and another" changes during the early works. Sea Garden (1916) as a title is already oxymoronic for vast/containment or uncontained cultivation, one suggestive of the "scrutiny of dualisms" which [Margaret] Homans postulates as necessary to establish the female poetic voice [see Women Writers and Poetic Identity]. In the flower poems repeated through the manuscript, H.D. implies an argument with conventions of depiction. These flowers of the sea gardens are of a harsh surprising beauty, slashed, torn, dashed yet still triumphant and powerful, despite being wounded, hardened, tested by exposure. These flowers propose an almost contemptuous defiance of ease, of simple fashions of ripening. H.D. constructs flowers admired in ways and for motives far different from the view of lush ripeness in carpe diem roses.

In Sea Garden, however, an erotic plot is essayed, in which "I" occurs in awed breathless yearning for an elusive "you." The "you" might be a god or a person, spiritual traces or erotic pressures: significantly H.D. catches these forces just at the cusp of their disappearance, when they leave a sense of their energy and her yearning, their immanence and her half-answered desire, their power and her tribute, their spirit and her supplicating yet powerful ardour. . . . Whatever else might be said, this tactic prevents speaking or narrating being a form of possession of the "you": it is precisely the opposite.


From H.D.: The Career of That Struggle. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986. 12-13. Copyright © 1986 by Rachel Blau DuPlessis.