In deceptively simple phrases, Doolittle builds an ever-more complex structure of themes, symbols and stories.
Helen is on Leuke, or in Egypt, or perhaps Troy. Or is she anywhere at all? Perhaps she is dead (she died, or seemed to die). As an entirety it made the most sense to me if interpreted as a liminal experience at the point of death, or in a transitional state from life to death. All the places, times, people compressed into one timeless instance of experience, change, knowledge, unknowing. So many contradictions and retractions, conflations and reinterpretations...
But if this is the experience of death, must it not be Helen's death? And who is Helen? As in mythology, she remains a cipher, the catalyst and pivot of so many events, actions, stories, feelings yet somehow herself unreal, blank. For this reason I was never able to care much about Helen, or Achilles either, and that made it more difficult for me to care about this poem. And I intensely disliked the way Doolittle speaks of other female characters, as if their rape, enslavement, pain meant nothing. Only Helen matters. I do not think I was intended to feel greater sympathy for Paris, especially when he urges,Pluto-Achilles -- his is a death-cult
to drag you further and further underground,
underneath vault and tomb;
to rise in long corridors,
to re-read your old script?
Obsession with self to the degree that it becomes spiritual death, self-removal from the world. Metaphysical solipsism.
But perhaps I'm missing the point -- I frequently felt that I was missing something, reading this at the wrong time or in the wrong frame of mind. Probably I would get more out of it if I read it again but, as is so often the case with texts of which that is true, I did not enjoy it enough that I'm likely to do that.
I'll probably read something else of hers instead. I did think the writing was skilled, and at times lovely. Despite her continuous grammar some sections could almost stand as poems on their own:and multiplied to infinity,
the million personal things,
things remembered, forgotten,
the sun and the seasons changed,
and as the flower-leaves that drift
from a tree were numberless
tender kisses, the soft caresses,
given and received; none of these
came into the story,
it was epic, heroic and it was far
from a basket a child upset
and the spools that rolled to the floor.
Also, someone should invent a prize for most frequent use of the question mark just so H.D. could win it.