Pallinode, Book 1, Section 8

By H. D.
     She is afraid, too. So she needs this protection. She has tried to conceal her identity with mockery, "I am a woman of pleasure." She knows what the Greeks think of her, and here is Greece-incarnate, the hero-god; true, he is shipwrecked; nevertheless, though wounded, he carries with him the threat of autocracy. She has lost caste. He is still Achilles. Or who is she? She says that Helen upon the ramparts was a phantom. Then, what is this Helen? Are they both ghosts? And if she is convinced of this, why does she entreat the flame that Achilles kindled, "let me love him, as Thetis, his mother"? Is she afraid of losing even her phantom integrity? And what of it? Thetis — Isis — Aphrodite — it was not her fault.

     O—no—but through eternity, she will be blamed for this and she feels it coming. She will blacken her face like the prophetic femme noire of antiquity. But it does not work. Achilles is here to impeach her. Why? We must blame someone. Hecate—a witch —a vulture, and finally, as if he had run out of common invective, he taunts her — a hieroglyph. This is almost funny, she must stop him, he is after all, the son of the sea-goddess. She has named Isis, the Egyptian Aphrodite, the primal cause of all the madness. But another, born-of-the-sea, is nearer, his own mother. Again, she thinks of her and reminds Achilles of his divine origin, "O child of Thetis." This is quite enough. Can you throttle a phantom? He tries. The end is inevitable.

                 How could I hide my eyes?
                 how could I veil my face?
                 with ash or charcoal from the embers?
                 I drew out a blackened stick,
                 but he snatched it,
                 he flung it back,

                 "what sort of enchantment is this?
                 what art will you wield with a fagot?
                 are you Hecate? are you a witch?

                 a vulture, a hieroglyph,
                 the sign or the name of a goddess?
                 what sort of goddess is this?

                 where are we? who are you?
                 where is this desolate coast?
                 who am I?    am I a ghost?"

                 "you are living, O child of Thetis,
                 as you never lived before,"
                 then he caught at my wrist,

                 "Helena, cursed of Greece,
                 I have seen you upon the ramparts,
                 no art is beneath your power,

                 you stole the chosen,
                 the flower of all-time, of all-history,
                 my children, my legions;

                 for you were the ships burnt,
                 O cursèd, O envious Isis,
                 you — you — a vulture, a hieroglyph";

                 "Zeus be my witness," I said,
                 "it was he, Amen dreamed of all this
                 phantasmagoria of Troy,

                 it was dream and a phantasy";
                 O Thetis, O sea-mother,
                 I prayed, as he clutched my throat

                 with his fingers' remorseless steel,
                 let me go out, let me forget,
                 let me be lost . . . . . . .

                 O Thetis, O sea-mother, I prayed under his cloak,
                 let me remember, let me remember,
                 forever, this Star in the night.
Hilda Doolittle, "Pallinode, Book 1, Section 8" 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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