H.D., “Oread”

The nymph of the mountains, the Oread, addresses the sea, pleading with it as if it were a power superior. Her dual nature dictates the surface drama. She is erotic, and therefore the sea must cover the mountains completely. She is of the mountains, and so she sees the sea as the landscape she knows (McLane 124-5). Waves are pines, the body of water is a forest, and the water itself is fir. Maureen N. McLane treats “Oread” as a comment on an anthroprmorphization necessary to imagination, to poetry (123). As children, we give inanimate objects life; the most primal poem may speak an elemental magic, as if it could tap into that life and command otherwise physical forces (122):

Oread (from Poetry)
H.D.

Whirl up, sea—
whirl your pointed pines,
splash your great pines
on our rocks,
hurl your green over us,
cover us with your pools of fir.

For me, “Oread” longs for revolution. The mountain nymph calls for the highest ground to be flooded. By implication, all resting upon the lower ground must be uprooted and destroyed, dashed like great pines upon the rocks. Renewal depends upon the totality of the loss—the loss of a barren, decayed civilization invites the reemergence of green. It is only after all this, as the waters recede and leave pools, that “fir” can be felt again.

Oenone, the first wife of Paris, before Helen of Troy, was an Oread.

The mixtures of love and hate, of destruction and rebirth, stand fairly obvious, but there is a third conflation. The Oread asks the sea to splash “on our rocks,” to hurl “over us,” to “cover us.” The individual prays not for herself, but for a whole—not just a people, or a landscape, but a whole range of beings. This is most striking: How can you pray, on behalf of everyone else, for their destruction? What gives you that authority?

Oenone’s abandonment was in a sense total. Troy, city and empire, fought for Paris having Helen.

But perhaps specific injustices alone do not establish authority in this case. “Whirl,” “splash,” “hurl,” “cover”—the sea is seen as violence itself, amassing power, unleashing, and then settling back into a state of rest. “Pointed pines,” “great pines”—the sea is a vector, mass and speed and direction. “Pools of fir”—only “fir,” by rhyming with fur, hints that there is animal life, not just rocks and trees. The Oread, again, fails even to mention water, except indirectly (“whirl,” “splash,” “pool”).

The authority to destroy the world might come from a cosmic eros, where there are rocks which wish to meet the pines, the green, the fir. Rocky lifelessness makes itself open to life, to growth. There are great forces that we are caught up in, and these forces speak for us without our even knowing. Renewal will occur inevitably, as if it were part of a cycle of revenge, indifferent to our voices as there are much stronger longings, wishes, and tears.

References

McLane, Maureen N. My Poets. New York: FSG, 2012.

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