Monday, June 1, 2009

The Pineapple and the Blitz

Memoirs are often more interesting than accounts written by historians. I've been reading Bryher's "Days of Mars," a memoir of her years in London during the Blitz, when she shared a flat at 49 Lowndes Square with the American poet, H.D. (Hilda Doolittle).  (The rent was two hundred and fifty pounds a year.)  The chapter, "1944," begins with a story: 

"Norman Pearson returned towards the end of January, after an absence in Spain and Portugal, bearing two bananas, two oranges and a pineapple.  The bananas and oranges were simple, Hilda and I had one each.  Apart from a few green apples and some berries in Cornwall, it was the first fruit that we had tasted for two years.  It seemed so unreal that we hardly liked to touch it.  The pineapple was different.  Even Hilda, the recluse, agreed that we could not eat it alone and that, wartime or not, it called for a party." 

"By the time that I had telephoned, written notes or gone round in person with the invitations, we managed to collect about twenty people and how we all got into our little sitting room at Lowndes remains a mystery.  First we looked respectfully at the pineapple, then with infinite solemnity it was sliced into tiny mouthfuls."

Bryher writes; "It was the Puritan element, a matter of conscience and principle, that had now kept Hilda in London.  'It was here that people first read my poetry,' she said.  'I am staying with them.'"

Here is a poem by HD:

 Sea Poppies

Amber husk 
fluted with gold, 
fruit on the sand 
marked with a rich grain, 

spilled near the shrub-pines 
to bleach on the boulders: 

your stalk has caught root 
among wet pebbles 
and drift flung by the sea 
and grated shells 
and split conch-shells. 

Beautiful, wide-spread, 
fire upon leaf, 
what meadow yields 
so fragrant a leaf 
as your bright leaf? 


  1. There is a pineapple carved in the woodwork above the doorway of my home. And, my uncle told me that the pineapple is featured in the coat of arms supposedly associated with our family. Why? It signals hospitality as it clearly did in Miriam's post.

  2. I love the twenty people and the tiny mouthfuls. Such a good selection to post..

  3. Thanks, Melissa and Bluedog. I'm not sure I would have shared the pineapple. Elsewhere in her memoir, Bryher writes about how dear her friends were to her during that time; they all pulled together. The least she could give each one was a tiny piece of the precious pineapple.

  4. P.S. Lest Miriam's readers think I am "descended from kings", I should add that when my grandmother left Ireland she left a hovel with a dirt floor. On reading my earlier comment, I smiled at how that family mythology got concocted.