Heat by H.D.


This morning was one of those heavy, humid mornings, hotter and sunnier than a morning has any right to be before 9 o’clock. It put me in mind of a poem I stumbled across five years ago–evidently on another blazing July day, according to the note I posted on my old blog. I was walking home from work and ducked into a used bookstore for relief. Idly browsing my usual shelves, I literally knocked down a slim novel titled Paint It Today by the early 20th century poet H.D. I have a secret back-burner project about woman Modernist poets, so I bought it and another little-known novel by the same author.

Inside on the half-title page, someone had copied down a poem by H.D. called “Heat”:

O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air
that pushes up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

Cut the heat-
plow through it
turning it on either side
of your path.

I wonder what caused the book’s owner to inscribe that particular poem on that particular book. I love these images: atmosphere so hot and heavy that it needs to be cut like wheat with a scythe; pears and grapes ripening so forcefully into the thick air that they grow distorted; a devastating summer still somehow teeming with life. It’s sort of a sexy poem, despite its plaintive demands; it reminds me both of Jean Toomer’s poems of sultry Southern evenings and of Sappho’s complaints about being too sick with love to do her weaving. The latter would be an appropriate connection for the book, as H.D. translated many of Sappho’s poems and Paint It Today is a yearning and impressionistic story of the women H.D. loved, from her adolescent crush and muse to her later life-long partner. 

Or perhaps the book’s owner was thinking of this poem on a crushingly hot summer day like this one, and sympathized with the poet’s frustration. Beneath the poem, the same hand had added:

(oh well)

as if to say there was no hope of wind turning the heat aside. And perhaps this morning I would have felt the same. But a big thunderstorm blew in this afternoon, cutting the temperature by twenty degrees. The summer blaze was indeed rent to tatters. Fruit could drop easily through the softer air, were it so inclined. And I went back to my copy of Paint It Today to remind myself that summer comes and goes, no matter how inexorable it feels while it’s here.


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