In 1944, the poet named Hilda Doolittle who is better known simply by her initials H.D. announced with a vengeance her return to poetry after a turn toward fiction and film starting in the early 1930’s. That period was also marked by seeking help with her fragile emotion state and mental well-being through psychoanalysis. Her analyst for these sessions was a doctor who had also experience some success as a writer: some Viennese guy named Freud!
The occasion for this return to poetry was not the result of discharge by Freud as being completely cured of her anxieties, (although she wrote that the sessions had left her feeling ready to become productive again and helping her come to terms with some deeply buried issues from her past), but rather deepening of existing anxieties on top of which was added layer of brand new things to worry about. The return of H.D. to not just poetry, but poetic works that are routinely considered among her best and very often placed alongside such landmark 20th century verse as Eliot’s The Waste Land and Ezra Pound’s Cantos was the defining historical event of the 20th century; an event that would become arguably the single greatest influence on the course of literature since the colonizing the Americas: the unthinkable and almost unspeakable horrors of World War II.
The Walls do Not Fall is a work of epic length and scope that was not published until the war was slowly but inexorably driving toward its inevitable conclusion despite having actually been written during the height of the conflict. The work was written specifically with the intent of its inclusion as a trilogy by the author and that trilogy represents the final artistic high water mark of a long and varied career.
Composed of a series of 43 cantos that sometimes rhyme and just as often don’t, the poem is narrative of a speaker relating the surroundings of a London devastated by bombs dropped from the air. Although presented in the form of narrative odyssey, the subject matter is not reportorial, but a more oblique form of journalistic discourse heavily dependent upon imagery and interpretation of the parts within the larger context of the whole. An earlier visit to Egypt and the ruins of ancient civilizations time left behind invests the description of a post-apocalyptic mid-20th century London with a mythic quality. The descriptions of the effects of the Blitz by Nazi bombers carry the palpable tension of someone who actually been there and live through it. Which is exactly what H.D. was doing during the first two years of the 1940’s in what must have seemed the most interminable 24 months in history as the people of England waited and waited for America to finally take sides.
Doolittle followed The Walls do Not Fall in 1945 with Tribute to the Angels and completed the final section of her trilogy one year later with the publication of The Flowering of the Rod.