The myths of the river Lethe, Orpheus and Eurydice and Helen of Troy could not possibly be missing from her repertory. They are included in H. D. ‘s Collected Poems (1925) under the names of “Lethe”, “Eurydice” and “Helen”, and will be analyzed in this paper in order to show how she dealt with “revisionist matchmaking”. Starting with the least popular of these three myths, the name “Lethe” comes from the ancient Greek term “Aft””, which literally means “forgetfulness”.
Classical authors refer to Lethe as one of the five rivers of the underworld, the other four being the rivers of hate, sorrow, lamentation and fire. According to Virgin’s Manned, the dead ay only be reincarnated after having their memories erased by drinking from this river: They are the souls who are destined for Reincarnation; and now at Lathe’s stream they are drinking the waters that quench man’s troubles, the deep draught of oblivion They come in crowds to the river Lethe, so that you see, with memory washed out they may revisit the earth above. CTD. In The Tithe Project) Rodriguez 2 In his Metamorphoses, the Roman poet Ovid describes how Lethe flows through the cave of Hypnoses and how its murmuring induces sleep: No wakeful bird, with the notes of his crested features, there calls forth the morn; nor o the watchful dogs, or the geese more sagacious than the dogs, break the silence with their voices. No wild beasts, no cattle, no boughs waving with the breeze, no loud outbursts of the human voice, there make any sound; mute Rest has there her abode.
But from the bottom of the rock runs a stream, the waters of Lethe, through which the rivulet, trickling with a murmuring noise amid the sounding pebbles, invites sleep. (CTD. In The Tithe Project) H. D. Approaches this myth in a totally innovative way, creating the outstanding Images poem “Lethe”, which is reminiscent f both Virgil and Ovid, and makes her mastery of classical culture evident. Essay Hilled Doolittle By Popularization As a good Modernist and Images poet, H. D. Frequently made use of free verse in her poems.
However, her “modernist spirit of experimentation” (Clark) led her to take one step further and innovate within Modernist innovation. We can see this in “Lethe”, which not being written in free verse despite being an Images poem, has an innovative stanza form: it is made up of three stanzas with the same rhythm pattern, which contributes to making the poem “a chant promising the peace of oblivion” (Pontoons). From the title itself to the very last word, the poem is centered on one idea which is expressed repeatedly: a desire to rest or even a death wish. Faithful to the tenets of Images, H.
D. Plays with the idea of objective correlative and evokes these feelings through multiple images which are presented by means of very concrete and physical language, what contributes to evoking a Mediterranean landscape and echoes of Ovoid’s description of nature: Nor sight of whine nor gorse Nor river-yew Rodriguez 3 Nor fragrance of flowering bush, Nor wailing of reed-bird to waken you, Nor of linnet, Nor of thrush. Gods and Mortals 91) In addition, the fact that most of the images presented involve different senses enhances H. D. ‘s evocation of feelings.
Alicia Striker (“Thieves of Language” 68-90) includes H. D. Among those women poets who construct new myths to include their selves. “Lethe” exemplifies this perfectly, since the poet uses this classical myth to reflect her own state of mind without directly talking about herself: she feels exhausted and yearns for oblivion, all she longs for is to be covered by the roll of the tide, which links with Ovid and his idea of reincarnation: Nor word, nor touch nor sight Of lover, you Shall long through the night but for this: The roll of the full tide to cover you Without question, Without kiss. Gods and Mortals 91) As a result of her using the techniques described, H. D. Indeed managed to create a highly powerful poem which does not leave the reader cold. This effect is also applicable to her 1917 poem “Eurydice”, which is based on the love story of Orpheus and Eurydice. According to the classical account, Eurydice was a nymph happily married to the poet Orpheus, son of Gorgeous and Calliope. One day, she was pursued a god who tried to rape her. In her efforts to escape, she stepped n a poisonous snake, which bit her, and died. Within hours, she was transported to the gloomy caverns of Hades.
Orpheus was so disconsolate that he entered the underworld to retrieve her. Whenever he found his Rodriguez 4 way blocked he played his lyre and sang plaintive songs that opened doors to him. After charming all the guardians, he was allowed to walk back to the upper world followed by Eurydice on the condition that he must not look behind him until both had “fully gained the sunny upper reaches” (Bell). Everything went well until Orpheus began to doubt that Eurydice was following him. He looked behind him and the humph immediately vanished. This time nothing could move the hearts of the guardians of the underworld.
Orpheus was banned from entering, and “the implacable infernal spirits were impervious to his lyre” (Bell). The classical myth of Orpheus and Eurydice follows the patriarchal convention of its period and presents Orpheus as a hero and Eurydice as the “passive object of her heroic husband’s quest” (Scott): Her bridegroom, Orpheus, poet of the hour, And pride of Readopt, song loud his loss To everyone on earth. When this was done, His wailing voice, his lyre and himself Came weaving through the tall gates of Teenager Down to the world of Death and flowing Darkness To tell the story of his grief again. (Ovid) In contrast, H.
D. Presents a brilliant Modernist poem that renders her own perspective on tradition and gender, being a “prime example of how H. D. Embedded herself in characters from mythology’ (Dodd). “Written during the painful disintegration of her marriage to Richard Allotting, “Eurydice” can be read on the most obvious biographical level as H. D. ‘s personal cry of rage and despair against an unfaithful husband, also a poet and once a mentor, who has drawn her towards unhappiness only to turn and reject her” (Sword). Indeed, the poet fuses with the protagonist to such an extent that it is difficult to distinguish her own feelings.
Rodriguez 5 Whereas Eurydice is normally presented as a silent female protagonist: Dying again, she did not blame her husband? What could she complain of except she was loved? (Ovid) H. D. Presents a feminist twist to the patriarchal myth, telling the nymph’s story through her own voice. The poet makes Eurydice speak her mind: being full of anger and resentment, she fights Orpheus’ struggle to bring her back and even accuses him of being arrogant and ruthless: So for your arrogance And your ruthlessness I am swept back Where dead lichens drip Dead cinders upon moss of ash; I am broken at last. Gods and Mortals 100) Eurydice asserts her own individuality as a woman and rejects the togetherness offered by Orpheus. Her accusations break with Orpheus’ mythic account, portraying him not as an admirable and ambitious hero but as a villain. As a result, the sympathy is aroused for Eurydice, who becomes a heroine after losing her life twice, and not for her husband. Last but not least, equally brilliant is H. D. ‘s 1924 poem “Helen”, which is a feminist recreation of Helen of Troy, “the literary and mythic humbly of sexual beauty and illicit love in western culture” (Friedman) since ancient times.
Traditionally, Helen has been depicted as “the most beautiful woman in Greek mythology, whose abduction from her husband, [the Spartan King] Menelaus, by the Trojan prince Paris started the Trojan War” (Pratt). This war was the most significant event in all classical mythology, and ended up in the destruction of the city of Troy and in the death of Rodriguez 6 many of the greatest warriors on both sides in the ten years of fighting (Guide to Classical Mythology). As a consequence, “since ancient times, [Helen] has been seen s the type of woman that all women should hate and yet me. And all men should fear and yet desire” (Hamilton). However, Helen was not an active participant in the Trojan War. What is more, “her flight to Troy with Paris was not of her own decision, and was greatly influenced by the will of Aphrodite and Zeus” (Hamilton). In fact, Helen was extremely remorseful for the suffering that she caused, but classical poets, following the patriarchal convention, always identified with the men who desired her, depicting Helen as a mere object of desire as well as blaming her for the war and for its results: …
Helen of Argos, Helen for whom so many Arises lost their lives in Troy, far from native land! (Homer) Alas, Helen, wild heart, for the multitude, for the thousand lives you killed under Troy’s shadow, you alone, to shine in man’s memory as blood flower never to be washed out. (Aeschylus) H. D. ‘s approach to this infamous character merges myth and her personal perception of gender once more. As she did with “Eurydice”, the poet defies patriarchal tradition and the traditional role of women as objects addressed by men, and identifies with the female character, centering on her experience.
Being perhaps H. D. S most characteristic Images poem, “Helen” presents a single, unified image throughout whose details depict Helen as a statue and provoke the contemplation of her situation. Instead of praising Hellene beauty, the poem focuses on her Rodriguez 7 external appearance, obviating her voice and personality, in order to emphasize her lack of action and at the same time to illustrate the lack of female voice in literature (Ism). All Greece hates the still eyes in the white face the luster as of olives where she stands, and the white hands.
Faithful to the tenets of Images, “Helen” makes use of a very concise language, impressed into three short stanzas of five, six and seven lines respectively. The poem conveys emotions indirectly by means of images, avoids abstract language and creates rhythm through meaning rather than relying upon a strict metrical pattern. The very first line of each stanza presents a different interpretation of Helen from the traditional one: she is not an object of desire but the winner of the hatred of the whole Greek nation: “All Greece hates”, “All Greece reviles”, “Greece sees unmoved”.
The only object of desire in this poem is seeing Helen dead: “could love indeed the aid / only if she were laid / white ash amid funereal cypresses”. This beautiful woman hated by history and objectified by men is “suffer[inning] for her beauty and forced to endure the hostile glances of those who blame her for causing the war between the Greek and the Trojan” (Ism). At the same time, Susan Stanford Friedman claims that “Helen” is “a re-vision of the Medusa myth and an implicit attack on the processes of masculine matchmaking with female symbols”.