In a journal entry from 1957, H.D. writes that Adorno’s description of the aging of modernist music might easily apply to the fate of her own work in the post-war period: “Among other fascinating things, he [Adorno] says that Bartók ‘could not quite live up to his own avant-guardism’ [sic] […]. I felt the phrase applied, in a way, to myself and my Helen sequence” (H.D. 2015, p. 40). H.D.’s remark refers to her long poem, Helen in Egypt
(1960), which, with its engagement with classical sources and epic themes, seemed to some to be a throwback to an earlier modernist period in which Pound, Joyce, Eliot and H.D. herself had looked to ancient models as a means of reinvigorating modern literature. What did it mean for H.D. to feel that her work had outlived its time, to be a first-generation modernist still writing in that mode after many of her peers and their achievements had passed into history? This article explores H.D.’s sense that her practice was at odds with contemporary demands for poetry to answer to immediate historical concerns. It also considers her case against the critics in letters, notes and in Helen in Egypt
which contains its own defense of the relevance of classical modernism to the post-war present day.
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