Alison’s Critical Summary 1: H.D.

In “Embracing the Liminal Space: H.D.’s Androgynous Language in Trilogy,” Jenn Wolford Watson draws attention to the importance of the mingling of femininity and masculinity, both in H.D.’s manipulation of language and in her referencing of gods and goddesses. Watson asserts, that by combining both male and female characteristics in her work, H.D. was trying to establish a sense of harmony and regeneration. Watson believes that H.D. created that harmony using different techniques within her writing.

Since H.D. associated war with hegemonic masculinity, she would “invoke the goddess figure as a symbol of rebirth to offset the discord” (248-249). However, H.D. believed that male deities could also play a role in regeneration, and therefore, created a fluid gap between the two sexes. This fluidity is shown through the multiplicity of H.D.’s language. She includes both feminist and masculinist writing in her work. Luce Irigaray, another writer Watson referenced, says that the masculine way of writing revolves around “the fixity of words with a single reading,” (249) while the feminine style is where authors, and readers, practice the weaving of words in order to avoid that fixity. This is something we have discussed in class, in that we’ve already found a few examples where readers can find multiple ways to read one phrase by changing the meaning of a word.

Watson illustrates this point first by looking towards another article written by Lisa Rado. Rado states that H.D. “represents the over-mind, or transcendental imagination, in terms of a confrontation between ratified male and female elements” (249). Watson agrees, and states that because of this union, H.D. is able to achieve a fluidity of language between masculine and feminine. Watson further illustrates the point of manipulating language when she draws attention to the fact that in The Walls Do Not Fall, H.D. references anagrams and cryptograms. He asserts that this shows H.D.’s willingness to allow words to take on singular and plural meanings. By referencing cryptograms, Watson believes H.D. was referring to the power words can have to unlock even deeper meaning than what is on the surface. Watson also references one of H.D.’s other works, Tribute to Freud, in which H.D. says that the language she uses can “break bounds,” which Watson takes as a reference to the binaries constructed around ideas of masculinity and femininity.

H.D. plays with this fluidity within Trilogy as she draws attention to, and connections between, various gods and goddesses. Watson first draws attention to the pairing of Osiris and Sirius. Osiris was the Egyptian lord of creation and fertility. These are traits that link him to birth, and therefore also link him to femininity. He was also resurrected by Isis, giving an introduction to the idea of resurrection, while also tying together the importance of both genders to the preservation of life. Sirius is connected to Osiris in that the Sirius star was the one aligned with the resurrection of Osiris. These multiple branches and connections create a fluidity between gods and goddesses.

The other pairing Watson draws attention to is that between the Virgin Mary and Hermes. Of course the first connection readers would make to Mary is mother of God, but she is also tied to the concept of rebirth. Her name is also connected to Hermes Trismegitus, because he connects his powers of alchemy to her name. H.D. also connects Mary with Venus, who is also used to invoke images of new life. Watson notes, that Hermes was also linked to fertility and rebirth. Furthermore, in Tribute to the Angels, in the sequence starting with “mer” and ending with “Mary,” there is another link made between Hermes and Mary. Within this section, Hermes is connected to bitterness, which is then connected to the sea. Therefore, through this chain, both Hermes and Mary get tied to the sea. The word “mother” is also of great importance in this section. Watson writes that this “demonstration of how words are linked and may expand and contract in their connections reflects the liminal space between the masculine and feminine bond” (252).

In addition to the importance of fluidity, Watson also notes the importance of combining masculine and feminine language in order to promote harmony in the days of World War II. H.D.’s “elastic language” is used to expand and contract in order to  “connect all humanity in a state of tranquility” (253). Watson draws attention to this idea of masculine and feminine language in reference to the section of The Walls Do Not Fall where H.D. discusses the power of word and poetry compared to the sword and war. Watson states, “H.D.’s fluid poetics gives life as it demonstrates the unity she seeks in its androgynous characteristics” (253). Watson also suggests that H.D.’s use of language is a way to “embrace all things” and provide “a sense of closeness and intimacy”(253). H.D’s dismantling of gander binaries is her way of showing she wishes to do the same between countries at war. She wants all to find that connection to rebirth and resurrection. Similarly, as we’ve discussed in class, Trilogy seems to be an evolution of H.D. embracing her world and welcoming peace.

I initially chose this article because the abstract mentioned the importance of the different deities within this work, which was a topic that had interested me in class. I think this article was a good introduction to re-examining the grouping of these figures to see what deeper meaning there could have been in H.D.’s choices of whom to include in Trilogy. I also thought the examining of masculine and feminine information was an interesting new take on subjects we’ve already spent some time discussing in class, such as homonyms.


“H. D. (1886-1961).” Poetry Criticism. Ed. Michelle Lee. Vol. 127. Detroit: Gale, Cengage Learning, 2012. 93-265. Literature Criticism Online. Gale. University of Mary Washington. 25 February 2013


If you’d like to find the original article/source, here’s the original:

Watson, Jenn Wolford. “Embracing the Liminal Space: H.D.’s Androgynous Language in Trilogy.” EAPSU Online: A Journal of Critical and Creative Work. 4(Fall 2007): 119-134

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