H.D.'s 'HERmione'

The poet's novel


“A person should think before they call a place Slyvannia” [1]

This sentence from H.D.’s HERrmione stays with me.  Her prose can twirl, as Her Gart, her “heroine” is lost in a landscape she desperately tries to discern. Her “Oread”  is here before considering the sea. Her Gart twirls in search of herself.  So what makes this a “poet’s novel” beyond the fact that it has been written by a poet?  In this case, I’d say the quality of the prose, in terms of movement and image as well as her reasons for writing it.  This is H.D. before she calls herself anything beyond “Her.”  She writes, “I am Hermione Gart, a failure.”(4).  She had failed from Bryn Mawr and returned  to a home which no longer fit.  She writes about  her relationships with George Lowndes (Ezra Pound) and Fayne Rabb (Frances Gregg).  Essentially it is a book about unknowing, written in a style which seems clearly in conversation with her verse forms.  The book was written in 1927.  Her  daughter Perdidta Schaffner, who writes an introduction to the work, was old enough to recall the time her mother was writing it.  H.D. is writing about a time in her life perfectly unformed, which became stunningly formative.

Though the place this text transports one to in reading is particularly different than the place the poems suggest, one is amply housed within her spare and glittering sentences.  Does a novel provide a more immediate abode than a poem?  If so what does this abode look like?  This is a question I’d like to ask poets writing novels.  I have the sense that if I were to ask H.D., she would say that she was not particularly interested in whether or not the reader could locate immediate accommodations in her words. 

I have always found myself soundly at home within “the sentence.”  Being at home seems to be the opposite objective in Hermione, whose heroine’s most cherished wish is to somehow escape, abandon, and dash from the solid material comforts which bind her. Trees, also keep her from seeing beyond.  They hem her in just as “a hedge back home in the suburbs, over which I never could see.” If a sentence could speak back, I believe hers would say very clearly, “go.”

I associate this state of unknowing as a common mode in poet’s novels.  Perhaps the writer does not know his or her reasons for writing the text, or what to label oneself: novelist, poet, writer, citizen-documentarian of the inner realms of existence, one who poses questions, relates the narrative in what is often lack or failure of narrative, offers form and intent with the sentence as mode of ambulation.  How to walk within a text?  What to call it?


1. H.D. HERmione (New York City, New Directions, 1981), 5.