In our group discussion of “Heliodora” we focused on the importance of identity and naming. Initially the repetitive use of flower imagery and the quotation, “ …Myrrh- curled.” led our group to believe that the speaker and the “he” of the poem were attempting to name a child that has died. Yet we quickly began to pick up on a vein of competition that runs throughout the poem. H.D. writes, “So I saw the fire in his eyes,/it was almost my fire…”(60-61). This quotation seems to capture a sense of closeness with the “he” of the poem, there seems to be an almost confusion of their different fires, as though they are almost the same. Yet this similarity between their “fires” gives rise to lines like these, “(the phrase was just and good,/but not as good as mine,)”(7-8). This quotation seems to suggest that there is a competition between the speaker and the “he”, it is as though the action of the poem, the naming, is an artistic exercise and the two individuals are attempting to, “….vie with the nine…”(78). against one another.
In our discussion we quickly began to see the “he” of the poem as one of H.D.’s lovers. I am of the opinion that we do not need to know who the “he” is, but rather that the important aspect of their relationship that is isolated in the poem is H.D.’s own insecurities about her artistry. In the poem “the nine” (as in the nine muses) are frequently referenced H.D. writes, “…surprise the muses ,/ take them by surprise…”(66-67). Yet at the end of the poem H.D. seems to be struggling with her own abilities in the face of another’s poetry, she writes, “….There will never be a poet,/ in all the centuries after this,/ who will dare write,/ after my friend’s verse…”(122/125). This quotation seems to suggest a certain insecurity, it is as though H.D. is not secure in her talents, or at least feels the need to impress her “friend”. In talking with Dr. Scanlon we discussed how H.D. was frequently referred t as a muse, but not a poet and perhaps that is the source of H.D’s insecurities and the source of the artistic competition between the two individuals in the poem.
To return to the idea of naming and identity, perhaps H.D’s insecurities arose because she feared that she was only a muse and not an artist herself. In that case her name “H.D.” gains great significance because it transforms her into an artist rather than a muse. Our group pointed out that it seems that there is connection between the title of the poem “Heliodora” and “H.D.” and Dr. Scanlon confirmed that H.D was indeed obsessed with punning her own name. When viewed in this light our initial reaction to the poem as being about death is in some ways still partially true. It would seem that in gaining the name H.D. and her identity as an artist another part of her identity had to be suppressed, that of Hilda Doolittle.