Skip to main content

"Eurydice," written during H.D.'s stay at Corfe Castle during World War I, has recently drawn more attention than many of her other persona poems; it is a prime example of how she embedded herself in characters from mythology. The speaker, Eurydice, addresses Orpheus from the underworld; she is filled with anger and resentment at her lover's bumbling of his famous failed rescue. The first numbered section reveals the intensity of her recriminations:

So you have swept me back, I who could have walked with the live souls above the earth, I who could have slept among the live flowers at last;

so for your arrogance and your ruthlessness I am swept back where dead lichens drip dead cinders upon moss of ash;

so for your arrogance I am broken at last, I who had lived unconscious, who was almost forgot;

if you had let me wait I had grown from listlessness into peace, if you had let me rest with the dead, I had forgot you and the past.

Elsewhere, she continues to confront him with his own superciliousness, asking what he saw in her, "the light of your own face, / the fire of your own presence?" She laments what she has lost: not, notably, him, but the very presence of the living earth, listed in imagery of flowers and colors. And her blame is again directed solely at him in the fifth numbered section, where she declares everything she has lost is due to his "arrogance" and "ruthlessness."

Full of the indictment she levels against Orpheus, she declares her own personhood, remote and safe from any--even well-meaning--meddling.

At least I have the flowers of myself, and my thoughts, no god can take that;

As recent critics have often noted, H.D.'s speaker presents a feminist twist to the familiar myth, telling the woman's story through her own voice. The sympathy aroused is not for poor Orpheus, who lost his lover twice, but rather for Eurydice, who twice lost life upon the earth; moreover, Orpheus appears, through Eurydice's accusations, to be a self-important, unthinking fool rather than a great artist.

Here is a point that has not been fully recognized in most discussions of this poem: Eurydice makes no mention of Orpheus's great gift of song. In H.D.'s revisionist mythmaking, the plight of the female speaker at the hands of the egocentric male eclipses the traditional emphasis on the power of the poet. Indeed, a more traditional understanding of the myth includes a sense of tragic inevitability; the sensitive poet's song is the product of a love so strong that it empowers his own splendid talent, but it also compels him to look back to his beloved. How can such a sensitive lover not took back? H. D. subverts this interpretation both when Eurydice accuses Orpheus of looking back to see his own reflection and in her omission altogether of poetry's role.

Clearly, this is a persona poem and not a confessional poem adorned with ornamental allusion like Plath's "Lady Lazarus," nor is it a modern feminine lament of disappointed love like those written by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Yet within the persona, H. D. has merged her own sense of outrage and betrayal with that of her mythic speaker. H. D. probably wrote the poem before the events at Mecklenburgh Square and thus before her disappointing relationship with Lawrence and the escalation of Aldington's affair with Yorke, although he had pursued an affair with Flo Fallas. Yet already she could empathize with her speaker's nearly powerless resentment toward a poet-lover's arrogance and actual abandonment.