Can anybody help me understand the poem "Heat" by Hilda Doolittle?

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clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

First of all, there are several ways to analyze poetry in order to understand meaning.  I think if you bainstorm answers to a few preliminary questions, you might be able to come up with an explanation of your own that not only makes sense, but is entirely plausible.

This poem is short, it seems to lack an obvious external scene, the speaker's exact identity does not seem to be entirely important, and it it written in free verse.  All of these poetic qualities force this poem (and you the reader) to rely on images in order to ascertain meaning.  Therefore, a few questions you should answer include:

  1. What main images are used in the poem? Hint: heat and fruit; what else do you see?
  2. On face value (or on first reading) what might these images represent?  Give obvious answers here, often poetry plays off of actual things occuring in the real world.
  3. What symbolic meaning could these images represent?  Hints: consider emotional connections to heat: anger, passion, energy.  Consider standard literary symbolism of fruit: it often represents new life, rebirth, and fertility.  It seems in this poem, the heat is preventing the land from being fertile.  What deeper meaning could this have?  What might exist as heat, preventing newness?  Then, what might "wind" represent (as the hero who rids the scene of the heat)?

This poem is ambiguous, it is true, which means you are allowed to bring your personal experience into your interpretation and analysis (the beauty of poetry!).  I might also encourage you to read a little about H.D., who lived during both WW1 and WW2, and was reported to be a bi-sexual.  Perhaps you could include such information in your analysis.  However you decide to approach it, don't over-think it, and spread the work out over a few days.  I imagine you'll get a little more out of the poem each time you read it.  It is a great one.

jk180's profile pic

James Kelley | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

I really like the previous poster's comments, but I stumbled over the statement that H.D. "was reported to be a bi-sexual." There's not a lot to report there that might or might not be true: H.D. was clearly bisexual, if not predominantly lesbian, and had a well-documented lifelong, romantic relatonship with another woman, Bryher (Annie Winifred Ellerman). H.D. wasn't completely "out" in her published works, includng the poem "Heat," but she did write openly about same-sex desires in a short, interesting novella published after her death, Paint it Today.

clairewait is right on the money in pointing out the passionate language in the poem.

Another possible way to approach this poem is through its connecton to two early 20th-century movements in poetry called "vorticism" and "imagism." H.D. was Ezra Pound's poster child for "imagism," and her poem "Heat" seems to me very much to capture the spirit of that movement.

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