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Trilogy: The Walls Do Not Fall / Tribute to the Angels / the Flowering of the Rod (New Directions Paperbook) Paperback – 10 Aug 1999
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From the Publisher
HOME NEWS TRIBUNE, March 2, 1999
But what doesn't need illumination is the similarity (and difference) of "Trilogy" to Pound's Cantoa," a collection of more than 100 poems begun in 1917 and written over 40 years of that poet's life. In them, classical and Renaissance literary scences and figures are combined with American and European history and Oriental thought that strain the knowledge of even the most well-read person. Yet, where Pound showed the love for a woman to be the cause of man's wars, H.D. elevated the female to the persona of "the Lady," a nurturing combination of early earth goddesses and the many Marys mentioned in the New Testament. The image of this "new Eve" is in sharp, clear and restorative contrast to the negative qualities of Pound's mythological Helen of Troy or the very real rain of German bombs onto London in 1944 when H.D. wrote "Trilogy". In some ways, those two words-"the lady"-are the ultimate triumph over language that has been stripped to its purest, most evocative form by one of poetry's premiere practioners: "H.D., Imagiste
About the Author
H.D. (1886-1961) (the pen name of Hilda Doolittle) was born in the Moravian community of Bethlehem, PA in 1886. A major twentieth century poet with "an ear more subtle than Pound's, Moore's, or Yeats's" as Marie Ponsot writes, she was the author of several volumes of poetry, fiction, essays, and memoirs. She is perhaps one of the best-known and prolific women poets of the Modernist era. Bryher Ellerman was a novelist and H.D.'s wealthy companion. She financed H.D.'s therapy with Freud.
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Also, I should mention, the introduction and notes that accompany the text are excellent and very insightful.
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Trilogy builds a new worldview in which binary concepts (time/eternity, concrete/abstract, male/female) interact positively rather than violently, and as one might expect, poetry is at the center of the project. H. D. is eclectic in her use of images and symbols, drawing from Christian, Greek, and Egyptian sources primarily. (Her use of Christian imagery is bracingly unorthodox, but without being aggressively anti-Christian.) She loves wordplay, and her stanzas are full of evocative images. Despite its being a war poem, Trilogy is remarkably affirmative in its aspirations to goodness, beauty, and meaning.
The style will not appeal to everyone. The whole poem is written in 2-line, unrhymed stanzas of varying length (generally 4-8 syllables), with lots of puns and some internal rhyme. The poem employs many allusions, but most will be understood by anyone familiar with the Bible and Greek mythology. One of the great strengths of this poem is its layered meanings. It may be legitimately read on a number of different levels: as a spiritual/religious work, as a feminist document, as a war poem, as a psychoanalytic project, and as an ars poetica, to name a few. This poem will appeal to anyone who has a taste for Modernist poetry along the lines of Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, although H. D. is not quite so obscure as some of her contemporaries. Like all long poems, Trilogy has its dry passages, but overall the poetry is sound.
This edition is well-edited by Aliki Barnstone, who provides a responsible, accessible introduction to the work as well as illuminating end-notes that explain many of H. D.'s allusions. In her introduction, Barnstone states that she has tried not to be too "interpretive" in her notes, and in that she succeeds. Once or twice I found myself wishing she would be a little more interpretive, but she is to be congratulated for not forcing the reader to see the poem only through the editor's eyes.
It's a shame H.D.'s war-poem/philosopy-poem isn't as well known as Eliot's.
Eliot deals with time and timelessness--or the eternal within time--and while his verse is very seductive and beautifully interweaves the abstract and the concrete, it merely points to sublimity, never really reaches it.
H.D.'s "Trilogy," really reaches it. There are many many epiphanies made concrete, and her very simple but shattering verse actually takes you to them.
This is a marvelously fluent poem. Yes, there are allusions, but they are simple and bonus, rather than essential.
It is one of those poems that is quite clear immediately, yet repays reading after reading.
It's a pity so few current poets write with such depth and breadth--to say nothing of such passion.