Pallinode, Book 1, Section 7

By H. D.
     Helen achieves the difficult task of translating a symbol in time, into timeless-time or hieroglyph or ancient Egyptian time. She knows the script, she says, but we judge that this is intuitive or emotional knowledge, rather than intellectual. In any case, a night-bird swooped toward them, in their first encounter on the beach. To Achilles, lately arrived from Troy and the carnage of battle, this is a "carrion creature," but Helen would banish these memories. She says she is "instructed," she is enchanted, rather. For from the depth of her racial inheritance, she invokes (as the perceptive visitor to Egypt must always do) the symbol or the "letter" that represents or recalls the protective mother-goddess. This is no death-symbol but a life-symbol, it is Isis or her Greek counterpart, Thetis, the mother of Achilles.

                 We huddled over the fire,
                 was there ever such a brazier?
                 a night-bird hooted past,

                 he started, "a curious flight,
                 a carrion creature — what—"
                 (dear God, let him forget);

                 I said, "there is mystery in this place,
                 I am instructed, I know the script,
                 the shape of this bird is a letter,

                 they call it the hieroglyph;
                 strive not, it is dedicate
                 to the goddess here, she is Isis";

                 "Isis," he said, "or Thetis," I said,
                 recalling, remembering, invoking
                 his sea-mother;

                 flame, I prayed, flame forget,
                 forgive and forget the other,
                 let my heart be filled with peace,

                 let me love him, as Thetis, his mother,
                 for I knew him, I saw in his eyes
                 the sea-enchantment, but he

                 knew not yet, Helen of Sparta,
                 knew not Helen of Troy,
                 knew not Helena, hated of Greece.
Hilda Doolittle, "Pallinode, Book 1, Section 7" from Helen in Egypt. Copyright © 1961 by Hilda Doolittle.  Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.
Source: Helen in Egypt (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1961)
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