Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Oread” is a poem through which H. D. calls into question traditional constructs that she sees as being inherently bipolar and unequal. The poet accomplishes this questioning by establishing several dualities and then blurring the basis by which those dualities are established. By the end of the poem, the reader is in a world where traditional ways of seeing and thinking have begun to break down.

Clearly, one duality is that of trees and ocean—or, perhaps, land and water. Yet as already seen, that duality, which was distinct at the beginning of the poem, is much less distinct by the poem’s end. Another duality is between passive and active; this distinction also becomes rather murky. The oread can be seen as passive and the sea as active, for the sea is crashing onto the oread. The oread can also be seen as active, for she is the one invoking the sea to do that crashing. Yet is she really? Is the sea crashing because the oread has invoked it to do so, or is the sea crashing because that is what it does, and the oread is merely attempting somehow to personify an action that would happen anyway? It becomes difficult to tell which party is being active and which is being passive.

A third duality established is between violence and nonviolence. Although much of what the oread is addressing to the sea is fairly violent both in its declarative form and in the specific actions invoked (“whirl,” “splash,” or “hurl”), the poem ends...

(The entire section is 468 words.)