Ariadne by H.D.

Ariadne in Naxos – Evelyn De Morgan

by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle)

(From a lost play)


You have beaten me with swords
but not with words,
and I, my lord, am thankful:

you have flayed me with an ox-thong,
not a kiss,
and I, my lord, am grateful:

you really were a panther, a wild-cat,
who tore me limb from limb;
my thanks for that.

Heaven shod, heaven sandalled and heaven found,
the long waves break,
the under-tone
comes back again,
furthering the message—
you were never dead—
I am still living—
listen to the sea,
break on the pebbles,
listen to the pine,
wait for the chant of sea-gulls
on the line
of swaying kestrels,
they will write my words,
heaven sandalled, heaven found, heaven shod:

you were no man, being God,
yet you were men,
the manifold armies and the shattered host;
you were the ghost
rising at night-fall
and the silver dawn
found you, my lover,
heaven-sandalled, and heaven-bound
waiting to leave the cities
where the ground
ran mingled blood of armies
you were those seas
of blood that ran, that ran across the sand,
O pitiful shattered land—
O land of beauty and of memory
O land of hosts
and hosts of singing voices;
land of the sated ghosts
that left being tired of blood-shed,
O bright coast
O lofting pinnacle,
Hymmetus, Lycabettus like a shell
through which the sun shines
crimson or pale opal,
O beautiful white land,
olives and wild anemone and violet
mingled among the shale,
and purple wings
of little winter-butterflies
say, here Psyche, the soul, lies.

Here is the intricate offering of my loom,
to hang from pillars
in the room,
dedicate to your altar;
here is bloom
of wide white roses
showing where Love trod,
and here is God,
set round about with stars,
and here is Mars,
lordly to save the Hero
bred of war;
here, near the floor,
is pattern of wild pansies
and a child;

bend near;
your sweet cold hands have banished
heinous fear,
your cloak was wide,
your helmet and your spear
ready to save,
ready to extirpate
a woman
banished by an island monster;
the child and she were set afloat to drift
but there was light about the little boat,
a chest
flung on the water;
these are the Dioscuri
hovering near;

There was no god
in all the circling host
who had forsaken
the outcast and lost;
your infinite loveliness,
O violet-crowned,
comes first;
but see,
the others found
old portents and old worship
drew them near;
Mars with his spear,
weary of battle
said, I will protect;
Hermes said,
magic never shall be dead;
the exquisite holiness of the sea-born
white lilies
lilies that were red;
Eros spread wings
about a child’s small bed;

I am weaving here;
the colours glow
with blue, sea-blue and violet;
I have dipped deep my thread
it will not fade,
I have long practiced stitch and counter-stitch;
the frame is firm;
the pattern clear but spaced
with subtlety
and symbol
those will know,
who have faced at the last
the ultimate,
ultimate fear;

You stand beyond me
at the temple gate,
and know not fear nor hate,
for there, emblazoned on your aegis rim,
is image of all evil,
no cruel whim
can strike beyond your cruelty
when you care to strike,
and none may dare
to counter you who know
when to withold and when to deal the blow;
and you will strike
those whom you will and where
you will
who have defamed your holiest inner shrine;
that is your care,
this mine—

only to weave
to make the pattern clear,
the woven tale
to lay upon your altar,
to hang from pillar
to exquisite
wrought pillar,
so that men stop,
at its colour,
its gods
outlined with delicate woven contour,
men stop—men speak—men stare—
there must be real gods
see, the painted gods—
how fair!


H.D. aka Hilda Doolittle (September 10, 1886 – September 27, 1961)

On this day, in 1886, the poet Hilda Doolittle (aka H.D.), was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Of all the writers/poet-heroes I love and praise and revere, I can say without hesitation that H.D. is my favorite poet and visionary. I am utterly enthralled by her entire body of work, from the earliest Imagist poems to her final masterpiece, the book-length epic, Helen in Egypt. Along the way, she wrote novels (HERmione and Asphodel are the two closest to my heart), translated Euripides (Ion and Hippolytus), compiled memoirs/tributes to Sigmund Freud (she was one of his patients) and Ezra Pound (one of her closest friends, the pair were even briefly engaged), and set forth a mystical philosophy in Notes on Thought and Vision. Even her correspondence is fascinating.

Her most famous poem, below, was regarded as the perfect example of Imagism:

by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle)

Whirl up, sea –
Whirl your pointed pines,
Splash your great pines
On our rocks,
Hurl your green over us,
Cover us with your pools of fir.


Here’s Another brief poem in the same Imagist style:

The Pool
by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle)

Are you alive?
I touch you.
You quiver like a sea-fish.
I cover you with my net.
What are you – banded one?


One of my favorite poems, the piece that instigated my H.D. obsession, is entitled “Eros.”

by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle)

Where is he taking us
now that he has turned back?

Where will this take us,
this fever,
spreading into light?

Nothing we have ever felt,
nothing we have dreamt,
or conjured in the night
or fashioned in loneliness,
can equal this.

Where is he taking us,
now that he has turned back?

My mouth is wet with your life,
my eyes blinded with your face,
a heart itself which feels
the intimate music.

My mind is caught,
dimmed with it,
(where is love taking us?)
my lips are wet with your life.

In my body were pearls cast,
shot with Ionian tints, purple,
vivid through the white.

Keep love and he wings
with his bow,
up, mocking us,
keep love and he taunts us
and escapes.

Keep love and he sways apart
in another world,
outdistancing us.

Keep love and he mocks,
ah, bitter and sweet,
your sweetness is more cruel
than your hurt.

Honey and salt,
fire burst from the rocks
to meet fire
spilt from Hesperus.

Fire darted aloft and met fire,
and in that moment
love entered us.

Could Eros be kept,
he was prisoned long since
and sick with imprisonment,
could Eros be kept,
others would have taken him
and crushed out his life.

Could Eros be kept,
we had sinned against the great god,
we too might have prisoned him outright.

Could Eros be kept,
nay, thank him and the bright goddess
that he left us.

Ah love is bitter and sweet,
but which is more sweet
the bitterness or the sweetness,
none has spoken it.

Love is bitter,
but can salt taint sea-flowers,
grief, happiness?

Is it bitter to give back
love to your lover if he crave it?

Is it bitter to give back
love to your lover if he wish it
for a new favourite,
who can say,
or is it sweet?

Is it sweet to possess utterly,
or is it bitter,
bitter as ash?

I had thought myself frail,
a petal
with light equal
on leaf and under-leaf.

I had thought myself frail;
a lamp,
shell, ivory or crust of pearl,
about to fall shattered,
with flame spent.

I cried:

“I must perish,
I am deserted in this darkness,
an outcast, desperate,”
such fire rent me with Hesperus,

Then the day broke.

What need of a lamp
when day lightens us,
what need to bind love
when love stands
with such radiant wings over us?

What need–
yet to sing love,
love must first shatter us.


The following lines have been a great source of comfort in times of despair:

Excerpt from “The Tribute” (Section 10)
by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle)

And this we will say for remembrance,
speak this with their names:

Could beauty be done to death,
they had struck her dead
in ages and ages past,
could beauty be withered from earth,
they had cast her forth,
root and stalk
scattered and flailed—

They had trod her to death with sneers,
they had bartered her
for a piece of thin money tossed up
to fall half alloy,
they had stripped her and sent her forth.

Could beauty be caught and hurt,
could beauty be rent with a thought,
for a thrust of a sword,
for a piece of thin money tossed up
then beauty were dead.

Long, long before we came to earth,
long, long before we rent our hearts
with this worship, this fear
and this dread.


H.D.’s ability to express her depth of emotions (which includes achingly beautiful love poems written to men and to women), her crystalline clarity (her “hard, gem-like flame”), her musical rhythms, her passion for ancient Greece, her immersion in all things esoteric, and her entangled web of connections to other modernist writers/artists are just a few of the reasons I adore her work. Her words are a continuing source of inspiration, and I can honestly say she’s kept me going me through some dark periods in my life. I’ve long felt like our souls are connected in some way. And after being ignored and marginalized for decades, she’s finally becoming more widely recognized as a writer of canonical stature.  Her work should be of especial interest to pagans, especially those interested in Hellenic, Kemetic, and Greco-Egyptian paganism/polytheism.

The primary page for more information on H.D. can be found here, and there’s a nice introduction to her life and work (including the texts of several poems and and part of an audio recording of H.D. reading from Helen in Egypt) here.


A Few Quotes by H.D.

“Actually, they are both occupied with the thought of reconstruction, he ‘to re-claim the coast of Pharos, the light-house,’ she to establish or re-establish the ancient Mysteries.”
– H.D., from Helen in Egypt, Pallinode IV.8

“Today, again at a turning-point in the history of the world, the mind stands, to plead, to condone, to explain, to clarify, to illuminate; and, in the name of our magnificent heritage of that Hellenic past, each one of us is responsible to that abstract reality; silver and unattainable yet always present, that spirit again stands holding the balance between the past and the future. What now will we make of it?”
– H.D., from Ion, part XIX

“The Delphic charioteer has, I have said, an almost hypnotic effect on me: the bend of his arm, the knife-cut of his chin; his feet, rather flat, slightly separated, a firm pedestal for himself; the fall of his drapery, in geometrical precision; and the angles of the ingatherings of the drapery of the waist.

All this was no ‘inspiration,’ it was sheer, hard brain work.

This figure has been created by a formula arrived at consciously or unconsciously.

If we had the right sort of brains, we would receive a definite message from that figure, like dots and lines ticked off by one receiving station, received and translated into definite thought by another telegraphic centre.

There is no trouble about art. There is already enough beauty in the world of art, enough in the fragments and almost perfectly preserved charioteer at Delphi alone to remake the world.

There is no trouble about the art, it is the appreciators we want. We want young men and women to communicate with the charioteer and his like.

We want receiving centres for dots and dashes.”

– H.D., from Notes on Thought and Vision

peril, strangely encountered, strangely endured,
marks us;

we know each other
by secret symbols,

though, remote, speechless,
we pass each other on the pavement,

at the turn of the stair;
though no word pass between us,

there is subtle appraisement;
even if we snarl a brief greeting

or do not speak at all,
we know our Name,

we nameless initiates,
born of one mother,

of the flame.

– H.D., from “The Walls Do Not Fall”

We are voyagers, discoverers
of the not-known,
the unrecorded;
we have no map;
possibly we will reach haven,
― H.D., from “The Walls Do Not Fall”

An Eighteenth Century Hymn/Prayer to the Gods by Mark Akenside (plus some Neoclassical Sculptures by Bertel Thorvaldsen)

Yes, there were even gay pagan poets in the 18th century. One of my obscure favorites is Mark Akenside (1721-1770), whose collected poems are available here via Project Gutenberg. According to the biographical introduction to his poems:
“Indeed, he [Akenside] never appears to have had much religion, except that of the Pagan philosophy, Plato being his Paul, and Socrates his Christ; and most cordially would he have joined in Thorwaldsen’s famous toast (announced at an evening party in Rome, while the planet Jupiter was shining in great glory), ‘Here’s in honour of the ancient gods.’” [More on Thorwaldsen below.]

Akenside was a lifelong bachelor (we all know what that often means), and was closely associated with his best friend (and sometimes patron), a lawyer by the name of Jeremiah Dyson. According to the 1911 Encylopedia Britannica: “His friendship with Dyson puts his character in the most amiable light. Writing to his friend so early as 1744, Akenside said that the intimacy had ‘the force of an additional conscience, of a new principle of religion’, and there seems to have been no break in their affection. He left all his effects and his literary remains to Dyson, who issued an edition of his poems in 1772.” This was the 1911 way of saying, “By the way, he happened to be gay and had a life partner.” An article on clarifies, saying that there was a circle of 18th-century gay men who joined together in ” a ‘little club’ formed in Leiden, Holland, that included the pre-Romantic English poet Mark Akenside and his lawyer-lover Jeremiah Dyson, and the group of European university students they fell in with.”

Biographical details aside, Mark Akenside wrote some beautiful neoclassical poetry. His (rather long) “Hymn to the Naiads” is justly praised as a remarkably early example of Pagan Romanticism, but the following hymn/prayer is especially lovely:

VIII. (From Inscriptions)
by Mark Akenside

Ye powers unseen, to whom, the bards of Greece
Erected altars; ye who to the mind
More lofty views unfold, and prompt the heart
With more divine emotions; if erewhile
Not quite unpleasing have my votive rites
Of you been deem’d, when oft this lonely seat
To you I consecrated; then vouchsafe
Here with your instant energy to crown
My happy solitude. It is the hour
When most I love to invoke you, and have felt
Most frequent your glad ministry divine.
The air is calm: the sun’s unveiled orb
Shines in the middle heaven. The harvest round
Stands quiet, and among the golden sheaves
The reapers lie reclined. The neighbouring groves
Are mute, nor even a linnet’s random strain
Echoeth amid the silence. Let me feel
Your influence, ye kind powers. Aloft in heaven,
Abide ye? or on those transparent clouds
Pass ye from hill to hill? or on the shades
Which yonder elms cast o’er the lake below
Do you converse retired? From what loved haunt
Shall I expect you? Let me once more feel
Your influence, O ye kind inspiring powers:
And I will guard it well; nor shall a thought
Rise in my mind, nor shall a passion move
Across my bosom unobserved, unstored
By faithful memory. And then at some
More active moment, will I call them forth
Anew; and join them in majestic forms,
And give them utterance in harmonious strains;
That all mankind shall wonder at your sway.


And speaking of Neoclassicism . . . the Thorwaldsen making a toast to the ancient gods in the above quote is the great Danish-Icelandic sculptor, Bertel Thorwaldsen [aka Bertel Thorvaldsen], who created some incredibly beautiful (and often homoerotic) Neoclassical statues. Below are some of my favorite examples (as always, all photos were found on the web and none were taken by me):

Ganymede Waters Zeus as an Eagle by Bertel Thorvaldsen. Located in the Thorvaldsen Museum, Copenhagen.

Bertel Thorvaldsen. Mercury. Marble Thorvaldsen Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark

Bertel Thorvaldsen: Adonis, 1808. The Thorvaldsen Museum, Copenhagen [photo by Bjørn Smestad]

Bertel Thorvaldsen: Cupid Triumphant. The Thorvaldsen Museum, Copenhagen

Bertel Thorvaldsen – Apollo [photo by Bjørn Smestad]

Bertel Thorvaldsen – Bacchus [photo by Bjørn Smestad]

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