H. D.: “beauty without strength, chokes out life” (14)

(14th in a series of posts on H.D.)

Finding H.D.: A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle

The next event in this year-long series is a panel discussion on “H.D. and the Natural World,” Tuesday, April 16, 6:30-8:00pm at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

Sheltered Garden

I have had enough.
I gasp for breath.

Every way ends, every road,
every foot-path leads at last
to the hill-crest—
then you retrace your steps,
or find the same slope on the other side,
precipitate.

 I have had enough—
border-pinks, clove-pinks, wax-lilies,
herbs, sweet-cress.

O for some sharp swish of a branch—
there is no scent of resin
in this place,
no taste of bark, of coarse weeds,
aromatic, astringent—
only border on border of scented pinks.

 Have you seen fruit under cover
that wanted light—
pears wadded in cloth,
protected from the frost,
melons, almost ripe,
smothered in straw?

 Why not let the pears cling
to the empty branch?
All your coaxing will only make
a bitter fruit—
let them cling, ripen of themselves,
test their own worth,
nipped, shrivelled by the frost,
to fall at last but fair
with a russet coat.

Or the melon—
let it bleach yellow
in the winter light,
even tart to the taste—
it is better to taste of frost—
the exquisite frost—
than of wadding and of dead grass.

For this beauty,
beauty without strength,
chokes out life.
I want wind to break,
scatter these pink-stalks,
snap off their spiced heads,
fling them about with dead leaves—
spread the paths with twigs,
limbs broken off,
trail great pine branches,
hurled from some far wood
right across the melon-patch,
break pear and quince—
leave half-trees, torn, twisted
but showing the fight was valiant.

O to blot out this garden
to forget, to find a new beauty
in some terrible
wind-tortured place.

A revolt against the traditional image of femininity.” Sirma Soran Gumpert

“H. D.’s polemic against the wadding that, in the name of protecting (particularly) women from life, chokes life out of them.” Adalaide Kirby Morris

“The need for fearlessness. . . . a courage that fears stagnation and suffocation more than failure itself.”  Maria Stadter Fox

“The poem promotes a renewal of the concept of beauty; beauty ‘without
strength’, she writes, ‘chokes out life’.” Elizabeth O’Connor

The next event in this year-long series is a panel discussion on “H.D. and the Natural World,” Tuesday, April 16, 6:30-8:00pm at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

Be there!

Bethlehem’s H.D.: an artistic vision that counters the dismissal of women as spiritual leaders (13)

Take the “Connecting Bethlehem” survey

(13th in a series of posts on H.D.)

We continue to learn about this Bethlehem-born writer (1886-1961), the “Lehigh Valley’s most important literary figure,” as the plaque at the entrance announces to our library patrons.

Finding H.D.: A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle

The next event in this year-long series is a panel discussion on “H.D. and the Natural World,” Tuesday, April 16, 6:30-8:00pm at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

We’ve done three posts on Prof. Mary Foltz’s lecture on “Challenging Limited Understandings of Gender and Sexuality” on March 6, and now we’re ready to look at a fourth slice. Here’s the full audio of this fourth section and below are selected sound bites from Mary’s prepared text.

Listening to Mary undeniably best; you know that Gadfly always says go to the primary source.

Remember that in the previous post, Mary focused on the formative awareness the young H.D. had in Nisky Hill cemetery as described in The Gift: “when the young Hilda seemingly only finds the names of women preserved on gravestones, she is gesturing to the absence of familial, cultural, and national recognition of women’s value.”

Now think along with Mary and the audience after you read the following passages and ask yourself: 1) How is women’s labor described in these two passages? 2) How is the father’s labor described? 3) How do you understand the separate spheres for men and women in the family and larger community?

H.D. 7
“Women’s labor in Hilda’s home is child-rearing, creating activities for the children (art projects, etc.), sweeping and other forms of cleaning, and caring for the larger family. Mary 1Working class white women here belong to a house, they are tied in servitude to pleasing affluent white men, women and children. Her father belongs to the world and his work matters to the world as journalists, students, and other researchers value his contributions. The young Hilda here, despite her youthful ambition to be an artist, does not have in The Gift examples of women from her family who have succeeded in the outside world or whose work has been valued beyond their labor to support husbands and children. Of course, Hilda, this young queer child, has ambition in The Gift beyond becoming a wife alone and in particular is invested in becoming an artist.”

But women artists are mocked too, not only in society at large but within her own family. Look at the devastating effect her father’s perhaps unwitting denigration of her mother’s singing has on the mother as well as the young H.D., for whom her mother is model. This incident cuts Gadfly deeply.

Min. 5:25 ff.

H.D. 11

Min. 7:55

“Toward the end of The Gift, H.D. commits herself to offering an artistic vision that counters the dismissal of women as artists and thinkers, but also as spiritual leaders, Mary 2providing insight into how communities might fight against sexism, racism, and violence in the world. The closing of the text allows her to recall a message from her Mamalie when she was a child and Mamalie began to lose her grasp on the present in her old age. Mamalie drifts back to a time when she learned about “papers” or deerskin document that told of rituals on wound island in Monocacy creek, during the time in which women were valued as spiritual leaders, when Christ was seen as feminine and masculine, when the holy spirit is understood as feminine. H.D. gives us these memories of Mamalie’s story and glimpses of what occurred on wound island before the sifting time in fits and starts and it never becomes fully clear to the reader what the exact rituals on Wound Island might be.”

H.D. 9

“What is clear is that the rituals involve women in leadership roles, a sharing of indigenous religious belief and Moravian religious belief, and the understanding of sacred femininity as part of the divine. Here, H.D. reminds readers of the massacre of Mary 3Lenni Lenape indigenous people who share pacifist religious beliefs with Moravian missionaries that they encountered. Nearly 100 Lenape were murdered by a white militia led by Lt. Colonel David Williamson in retaliation for raids in PA, in which the group of Lenni Lenape had not participated. Mamalie and H.D. here contrast this horrendous massacre with the ritual at Wound Island where indigenous and white people honor their religious traditions together, where domination of one group of men over another is not sought, but challenged, where domination of women by men is not seen as natural but challenged by divine spirit. As white masculinity in her childhood community is believed to be superior and is supported by exploiting women’s labor and by the removal and domination of indigenous populations, H.D. takes readers back to a time in Bethlehem when religious ritual actively fought against such forms of domination.”

Min. 14:45

H.D. 10

“Sexism, racism, and homophobia are part of this problem of violence as specific groups of men write their superiority across the sky with powerful bombs, pounding their Mary 4power and strength into the ground, onto the bodies, of those that they see as disposable, as waste. But at Wound Island, where men can let go of a masculinity that erects itself in its divine difference from simple woman, where European immigrant men can let go of their need to dismiss their spiritual insights of groups different from them, where men can contemplate exploring their own femininity, their own vulnerability, their love for other men, H.D. places her hope. In Bethlehem’s past, there was a place on an island where the fantasy of superiority was seen as sin, and the divine feminine and masculine merged, when women were valued as equal as men, when indigenous and European came together to share their beliefs and to delight in the sacred value of each body.”

Now pause for a moment. Tug at the edges of your hat with both hands. Tighten your belt. Hike your socks. Mary ends in a breath-taking rhetorical gallop.

“It will be the work of lesbian, gender non-conforming, and bisexual women at the end of The Gift to reach into the historical archive to show the value of sacred foremothers. It Mary 5will be the work of lesbian, gender non-conforming, bisexual and feminist women to create works of art that provide beehives of words that readers can visit, in which we can live as we build communities in which diverse women can thrive. It will be the work of all of us in all our many genders, sexualities, to engage with the language that devalues others and celebrates the few, structures that benefit the few while exploiting the many. We, too, are asked to create new narratives and structures that might challenge violence in the world, as we attempt to address  sexism, racism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, in our communities.”

Trumpet flourish!

Remember: the next event in this year-long series is a panel discussion on “H.D. and the Natural World,” Tuesday, April 16, 6:30-8:00pm at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

Take the “Connecting Bethlehem” survey

 

H.D.: her life’s work begins at Nisky Hill (12)

(12th in a series of posts on H.D.)

We continue to learn about this Bethlehem-born writer (1886-1961), the “Lehigh Valley’s most important literary figure,” as the plaque at the entrance announces to our library patrons.

Finding H.D.: A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle

The next event in this year-long series is a panel discussion on “H.D. and the Natural World,” Tuesday, April 16, 6:30-8:00pm at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

We’ve done two posts on Prof. Mary Foltz’s lecture on “Challenging Limited Understandings of Gender and Sexuality” on March 6, and now we’re ready to look at a third slice as Mary moves into H.D.’s autobiographical narrative The Gift, which “opens with a discussion of H.D.’s childhood in Bethlehem.”

So, “autobiography,” and you’re thinking and expecting (yawn) to see some form of “I was born . . . .” No, The Gift begins in Nisky Hill Cemetery with a childhood incident involving H.D.’s mother, grandmother (Mamalie) and four dead females: Edith (her sister), Martha (her father’s first wife), Alice (daughter of her father with Martha), and Fanny (sister of Martha). Read on and/or listen to an audience member reading this passage on the link above.

H.D. 6

What lines jump out at you? How about H.D.’s questions “But why is it funny? [that Fanny died],” and “Why was it always a girl who had died?”

Hmm, H.D. begins an autobiography with dead girls and women. At graves we can literally easily visit.

And with questions that haunt.

So — and here’s a good example of her own “Wow!” questions — Mary asks, “Why does [H.D.] open an autobiographical text with dead women? What is the significance of this artistic choice?”

The answer is powerful:

  • “The loss of a girl is of no great consequence to the world for she only might matter to the family. In other words, the kind of labor that a girl, the kind of gifts that she might give to the world, is of no consequence as women’s labor is devalued and their ‘gifts’—intellectual, artistic, scientific, etc.—are assumed to be nonexistent.”
  • “Hilda is forced to encounter in the Nisky graveyard the names of women that will not be in the histories of Bethlehem, that few grieve, and that others avoid so as not to confront how institutionalized sexism devalues women.”
  • “The lives of white men will be celebrated as they work at the Steel, as they work at the University, as they contribute to the world with the labor, but the lives of women will be recorded on gravestones.”
  • “In a whimsical way, Hilda is pointing out here through a girl child’s view of the world that the primary place where women are marked in public spaces is in their deaths, on their gravestones.”
  • “She seems to say we celebrate men’s lives and just mark women’s deaths.”
  • “Her gift . . . is to feel sorrow for the lost women and girls, to grieve their deaths, and to grieve for the ways that they are not valued fully in their communities both during the lives and in their resting places.”

Mary reminds us that “H.D. was born into a world where women were understood as naturally inferior.” For the first thirty years of her life women could not vote and rarely held leadership positions. She was also “born into a [Moravian] religious community that despite its history of valuing women in leadership roles and viewing equality among all people succumbed to dominant forms of sexism after the death of Zinzendorf in 1760.”

“Part of the gift that [H.D.] gets from her mother is her ability to grieve for girls.”

“She can mourn for those that others are laughing at.”  H.D. young 1

“She’s connected to the dead; she has a responsibility to the dead.”

“She’s crying inside for a culture that says women are not valuable.”

So, what does beginning with memory of an incident involving a dead girl that was a laughing matter mean to H.D. as she begins to think about the significance of her life?

“Her life’s work is this quest . . . to create narratives that might help us think differently about the sacredness . . . of gender non-conforming people.”

“When the young Hilda seemingly only finds the names of women preserved on gravestones, she is gesturing to the absence of familial, cultural, and national recognition of women’s value.”

There ought to be a Wow! in you somewhere for the young H.D.’s germinating moment in Nisky Hill.

Remember: the next event in this year-long series is a panel discussion on “H.D. and the Natural World,” Tuesday, April 16, 6:30-8:00pm at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

H.D.: “If she went away [from Pennsylvania] her spirit would break; if she stayed, she would be suffocated” (11)

(11th in a series of posts on H.D.)

Finding H.D.: A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle

The next event in this year-long series is a panel discussion on “H.D. and the Natural World,” Tuesday, April 16, 6:30-8:00pm at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

Gadfly is following this wonderful program on Bethlehem-born world-renown author H.D. (1866-1961), the Lehigh Valley’s most important literary figure – who most of us, Gadfly included, know very little about.

Here again is the full recording of Prof. Mary Foltz’s lecture on “Challenging Limited Understandings of Gender and Sexuality” on March 6.

After the intro by Jennie Gilrain, Mary introduces the overarching questions we should think about during her talk (min. 2:30), introduces H.D.’s The Gift (min. 5:01), discusses and interacts with the audience about two poems by Rosa Lane for context (min. 8:04 and min. 20:54), and concludes this context by showing how the Lane poems set up four themes that characterize H.D.’s work (min. 30:25). Mary turns to The Gift for the main focus of her talk (min. 32.18) and the Q ‘n A follows (min. 1:14:50).

So now let’s think about the second slice of Mary’s lecture.

Gadfly is straight.

How can he know what’s it’s like to be . . . not straight?

How can he know what it feels like to be lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer?

Literature is a way of knowing.

Mary tells us that H.D., the Lehigh Valley’s most important literary figure, is a bisexual feminist poet.

How can Gadfly understand H.D. and her criticism of the damages of sexism and patriarchy?

Mary fosters that understanding of people like me who “will not know the pain of encountering others’ hatred as you express femininity or masculinity because you’ve been assigned a sex at birth that does not match your gender” through a discussion of two short poems by lesbian poet Rosa Lane.

Poetry must be heard.

Gadfly encourages you to read the Lane poems printed below along with listening to them read by members of Mary’s audience — people just like you.

H.D. 3

Read them. And think about them for a couple minutes. Then listen to Mary and her audience talk about them.

Rosa Lane, “Tomboy’s Toggle to Love”

Rosa Lane, “Boats Named Women”

Rosa Lane 2

Mary took the poems individually, got the audience talking about them, and then pulled things together in her words.

Gadfly would love to think you have the time to listen to the segments on each poem – but you must, YOU MUST listen to at least one!

So here are audio clips of the full segments on each poem with some teasers from Mary’s wrap-ups.

1) “Tomboy’s Toggle to Love”

“The child expressing lesbian desire in this poem, the longing to share love for another woman, feels like an alien in her own home. . . . What she is looking for is a community, a tribe, of others that can affirm her desire as beautiful and valuable. She sends a message in a bottle, but hears nothing back from the world, nothing washes ashore, that indicates she is not alone in her difference. . . . the desire for another woman is not something that she feels could be erased, her course is set from childhood to be lost to her community and family because of her difference.”

2) “Boats Named Women”

“This poem addresses how women are the vessels that support men in their journeys through the world in this fishing community. Women’s bodies. . . . are gutted hulls, not subjects in their own right, but bodies devoted to pleasuring men. . . . sexual intimacy here is described as the mother chopping off a part of herself to give to her partner.”

Mary then finishes her introduction to H.D. by setting out four themes that characterize H.D.’s work.

  • institutionalized sexism limits possibilities for white women
  • normative heterosexuality defines women’s sexuality as being objects of desire for men rather than subjects of desire
  • documenting the desire to surpass limited understanding of what women’s bodies are for
  • imagining and enacting alternatives to gender norms for women

H.D. 5H.D., Mary tells us, felt suffocated in Bethlehem and Philadelphia even as she loved her family and community.

“If she went away her spirit would break,” H.D. wrote of herself, “if she stayed, she would be suffocated.”

That tension tears Gadfly up.

Another slice of Mary’s lecture to think about coming in our next post. Moving there into a discussion of H.D.’s work itself.


Remember: the next event in this year-long series is a panel discussion on “H.D. and the Natural World,” Tuesday, April 16, 6:30-8:00pm at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

H.D.: “the challenge to create new narratives” (10)

(10th in a series of posts on H.D.)

Finding H.D.: A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle

The next event in this year-long series is a panel discussion on “H.D. and the Natural World,” Tuesday, April 16, 6:30-8:00pm at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

Gadfly is following this wonderful program on Bethlehem-born world-renown author H.D. (1866-1961), the Lehigh Valley’s most important literary figure – who most of us, Gadfly included, know very little about.

039

Here is the full recording of Prof. Mary Foltz’s lecture on “Challenging Limited Understandings of Gender and Sexuality” last Wednesday.

After the intro by Jennie Gilrain, Mary introduces the overarching questions we should think about during her talk (min. 2:30), introduces H.D.’s The Gift (min. 5:01), discusses and interacts with the audience about two poems by Rosa Lane for context (min. 8:04 and min. 20:54), and concludes this context by showing how the Lane poems set up four themes that characterize H.D.’s work (min. 30:25). Mary turns to H.D.’s autobiographical narrative The Gift for the main focus of her talk (min. 32.18) and the Q ‘n A follows (min. 1:14:50).

As we’ve done with the lectures by Profs Moglen and Atwood, we’ll ration out Mary’s presentation in blog-worthy-size slices between here and the next event in the series — the panel discussion April 16. But you do have the full event on audio above for immediate reference.

In her intro, Jennie Gilrain spoke of her past experience with Mary’s “Whoa!” and “Wow!” questions. And Mary served us up a heap of ‘em with her first breath of introduction.

Listen (above, the first 5 minutes of the lecture on audio) and look (below).

And do your Whoa! and Wow!

“What does it mean for us here tonight and for our city to rethink the history of our community and the central values of our community through engagement with a bisexual feminist poet? How would placing a woman poet at the center of our civic identity change the historical narratives that we share about Bethlehem and our visions for the future as we imagine the city we want to become? How might H.D.’s criticism of the damages of sexism and patriarchy (societies in which men hold positions of power within and outside of the family) challenge us to see our city—our history and our present-day institutions—with fresh eyes, awake to the legacy of devaluing women’s lives, voices, and contributions and the persistence of sexism? How does this poet’s work call us as readers, as her newest ‘kin’ in the city that she once called home and that haunted her throughout her life, to engage with the hopes and promises of Moravian ancestors that imagined egalitarian communities in which multi-ethnic, multi-racial citizens created a shared economy to support the well-being of all members and valued the intellectual, spiritual, and physical contributions of women and men?”

Prepare to think new.

The new and used editions of H.D.’s The Gift on Amazon are kinda pricey unfortunately, though there is an inexpensive Kindle version, looks like, but even if you can’t follow along in the text, you will learn a lot from Mary’s presentation.

We’ll take up another slice next time.

Remember: the next event in this year-long series is a panel discussion on “H.D. and the Natural World,” Tuesday, April 16, 6:30-8:00pm at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

H.D.: Wunden Eiland and “Litany of the Wounds”

 (9th in a series of posts on H.D.)

Finding H.D.: A Community Exploration of the Life and Work of Hilda Doolittle

The next event in this year-long series is “Challenging Limited Understandings of Gender and Sexuality” by Lehigh University’s Mary Foltz, TONIGHT Wednesday, March 6, 6:30-8 at the Bethlehem Area Public Library.

Wunden Eiland, where the ceremony in H.D.’s vision took place and the controversial and ultimately “sifted” “Litany of the Wounds” are two of the most intriguing elements of the H.D. story told by Prof Atwood.

Let’s linger on them for a moment. Gadfly loves this stuff.

Here is H.D.’s vision:

This, I could remember, letting pictures steadily and stealthily flow past and through me. When the terror was at its height, in the other room, I could let images and pictures flow through me, and I could understand Anna von Pahlen who had been the inspirer of the meetings at Wunden Eiland when the unbaptized King of the Shawanese gave his beloved and only wife to the Brotherhood. I saw it all clearly.  (The Gift, 134)

And there was an actual Wunden Eiland (Island of the Wound), in the Monocacy — gone now — but down behind Brethren’s House on Church St. in the 18th century.

You can see it on this 1766 map. Follow the Monocacy heading down the left side of the map toward the Lehigh River. See Wunden Eiland on the left just after the Monocacy turns right toward the bottom of the map. Tip o’ the hat to Scott Gordon for the reference.

004

Now here’s a taste of the graphic “Litany of the Wounds,” an example of the hidden, sifted liturgy at the original core of the Moravian Church that attracted H.D.  (For the whole thing, see at end of Craig Atwood, “Zinzendorf’s ‘Litany of the Wounds’.”)

wounds 1

wounds 2

wounds 3

Now on to Mary Foltz’s lecture. Tonight! Be there!

Bethlehem Moment 7: H.D. and The Ceremony on Monocacy Creek’s Wunden Eiland

Bethlehem Moment 7
City Council
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.