Skip to main content

H.D.’s initial reaction to the explosion of war is to withdraw into the psyche as protective shell. In a poem early in The Walls Do Not Fall [#4] she becomes a shell-fish . . . a lowly oyster or clam or mollusc, whose cunning contrives survival in the jaws of Leviathan. . . . It was a strategy she first learned in the other war, yet learned that "there is a spell . . . in every sea-shell" which allows "that flabby, amorphous hermit" to quicken and flourish. So the shell-fish becomes an "egg in egg-shell," and the imagery of female gestation in The Walls Do Not Fall goes on to include the cocoon (anticipating Tribute to the Angels) and the myrrh-jar (anticipating The Flowering of the Rod). The enclosure is hermetic in a double sense: sealed and magical. The shell becomes an alchemical crucible within which "you beget, self-out-of-self, / selfless, / that pearl-of-great-price." So in the course of the poem the hermetic crucible splits in birth, as "my heart-shell / breaks open" to deliver the pearl, the precious oils, the bird, the butterfly–all images of the parthenogenetic self.