March 11th, 2011
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.
January 14th, 2011
A couple of thoughts and observations on the handout.
On page 208, the paragraph that is continuing from the previous page seems to imply that the gun doesn’t live a meaningful existence because it isn’t a “self-actualizing animate being.” However, from the poem, it seemed to me that the gun itself was drawing this conclusion precisely because it “[has] but the power to kill, / Without — the power to die –.” Thus the gun draws the conclusion that it cannot really live, not because it is contingent on the “Owner,” but rather because it cannot die, for the only things that “live” must die. This to me would provide a much more interesting gloss on what was, for me, the most interesting interpretation the writer gave of this poem–that of the word and the poet. The word never literally lives because it cannot “die” per say. However, while this author is saying that that grants the word or the poem a kind of eternality “that is not anything terrible” (210) the author of this piece is still questioning the role that the actual poet, Dickinson, plays in this. The writer claims that it has to do with satire, but I thought it was simpler than that.
While the word-poem maybe be the speaker, the writer-poet is still the creator and imbuing the word with whatever she wants. For me, this explains the despair that this writer is observing well. The poet is in some sense, in my reading, despairing over the very fact that only her word will survive–something that has never really lived and never will is what her own life will be remembered through. Talk about injustice.
I don’t know if I’m making this clear at all or not and I haven’t thought through the other suggestion that this writer did not get into, but which I do not doubt is very interesting–that of “consider[ing] the speaker as the poet and the owner as the muse in terms of an inspiriting idea” (210). That sounds just fascinating to me.
And, while I think both of these interpretations are valuable and enlightening to ponder, I’m still trying to work out all of the possibilities that are open just from taking the gun and owner literally. The dashes leave so much open for interpretation even on the most literal level that it’s overwhelming for me sometimes. Looking forward to hearing more about what people make of the dashes.
And one afterthought: this writer interprets “Yellow Eye” as a kind of malarial reference, but I don’t know if that makes sense in conjunction with the “emphatic Thumb” that seems to me to be some kind of aggressive behavior. Are people with malaria really that aggressive? I looked up “yellow” and “eye” on the Dickinson lexicon and the possible combinations was sometimes intriguing, sometimes nonsensical, sometimes ambiguous–but I saw the “Yellow” as a harsh color, in the way that laying an eye on the sun would be harsh in some sense. I dunno. Couldn’t really make sense of that bit. What do you all think?