Monday, September 22, 2014

MOOC ModPo Poem of the Day: "Sea Rose" by H. D.

The Songs of Eretz MOOC ModPo Poem of the Day for September 22, 2014 is "Sea Rose" (1916)* by Hilda Doolittle (aka H. D.) (1886 - 1961) (below pictured).  An extensive biography and references may be found here:  The poem is in the public domain and therefore legally reprinted here.

Sea Rose
H. D.

Rose, harsh rose,
marred and with stint of petals,
meagre flower, thin,
sparse of leaf,

more precious
than a wet rose
single on a stem—
you are caught in the drift.

Stunted, with small leaf,
you are flung on the sand,
you are lifted
in the crisp sand
that drives in the wind.

Can the spice-rose
drip such acrid fragrance
hardened in a leaf?

A rose is never just a rose in modernist poetry, never the Victorian symbol of purity, beauty, and love.  This Victorian sentimentality is exactly that against which the modern poets of the early twentieth century were rebelling.

A "sea rose" is, therefore, no ordinary Victorian rose.  A sea rose is to an ordinary rose as driftwood is to ordinary wood.  A sea rose is hardened, cleansed, scarred, stripped of the natural rose's delicacy, skeletal, with a scent that is salty not sweet.  

This special rose may be a metaphor for H. D. herself--a feminist individualist who, much like Sylvia Plath, found herself trapped, restricted, and stifled in a world where Western women were not allowed full freedom of expression.  Through poetry, H. D. was able to compensate in part for this reality.  However, she, like the sea rose, tough and rugged though it may be, was still subject to the mightier powers of the world in which she lived--still an object to be tossed by the waves onto the sand.

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