Bethlehem Moment 7
March 5, 2019
Ed Gallagher 49 W. Greenwich
A Bethlehem Moment: January 17, 1943
On January 17, 1943, Hilda Doolittle (1886-1961), known as H.D., Bethlehem native, whose family home, in fact, was on this very spot, world-famous writer, the Lehigh Valley’s most important literary figure, was living in London when the German Luftwaffe resumed bombing raids after months of inactivity. H.D. had previously endured nearly one hundred straight days of night bombing we now know as The Blitz – a sustained systematic attempt to break the fighting will of England by inflicting abject terror on its civilians. H.D. was then a middle-aged woman “shattered by fear” as the “tidal-wave of terror” swept over her again, ironically, through bombs possibly made before the war by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. You can imagine what she was thinking. What sense did this brutal war make? Why did she have to go through this bombing again? Hadn’t she endured enough? What madness had gripped her entire world? “I could not visualize civilization other than a Christmas tree that had caught fire,” she felt as the bombs dropped. In this agonized state, H.D. has a vision of a ceremony during the 1740s on Wunden Eiland, the Isle of the Wound, an island in the Monocacy Creek, now gone, down behind the Brethren’s House on Church St.. A ceremony of cultural exchange in which the Moravian Anna von Pahlen is initiated into the Native American culture and the Native American Morning Star is baptized Moravian. A ceremony embracing a wisdom that could make “a united brotherhood, a Unitas Fratrum of the whole world” but which the later more conventional Moravians condemned as a scandal and erased from Moravian cultural memory. In H.D.’s vision, though, Anna’s voice is still “pure and silver and clear like a silver trumpet.” The original Moravian possibility of Unitas Fratrum is still there. And H.D.’s subsequent work is marked by the energetic urge to engage and transform world events with a vision of power and peace.
H.D., The Gift, New York: New Directions Press, 1982.