Following in the footsteps of Henry James and Mary Cassatt and paralleling the paths of Pound, Eliot, and Stein, H.D. lived as an expatriate in England and Europe from 1911 until her death in 1961. Her roots, however, were fully American and provided a heritage that permeated her later life and art. It is well worth knowing about her early life and the meanings she discovered in it because these clusters of associations appear repeatedly not only in memoirs such as The Gift (1982), Tribute to Freud (1956), and End to Torment (1979), but also in much of her poetry and fiction.
H.D.’s childhood began on Church Street in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in the close-knit Moravian community in which her mother’s family had been influential since its founding in the eighteenth century by a small band of people persecuted for their membership in the Unitas Fratrum, a mystical Protestant sect. Her grandfather, a noted biologist, was the director of the Moravian Seminary; her mother’s brother was a musician, the founder of the well-known Bethlehem Bach Festivals. Also an artist, her mother taught music and painting to the seminary children. Something of an outsider, H.D.’s father was a professor of astronomy at Lehigh University. To H.D. he was always the calm, detached scientist whom she characterized as “pure New England,” descendant in spirit as well as fact from the Puritan fathers who “burned witches and fought the Indians.” When she was nine, her father became professor of astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Flower Observatory in Upper Darby, near Philadelphia. Into this different world dominated by the upper-middle-class conventions of university life and Main Line society, H.D. brought her rich Bethlehem memories, which blended the warmth of her large extended family, the omnipresent art of her mother’s family, the vivid imagery and melodies of Moravian hymns, and the familiar but mysterious rituals of the Unitas Fratrum—the love feasts, the kiss of peace, and candlelight processions on Christmas Eve.
Hilda was the sixth child and the only daughter to survive in the professor’s large family. From his first marriage, there were Alice (who died in infancy), Alfred, and Eric (H.D.’s favorite half brother and her father’s assistant). With Helen Wolle there were five more children: Gilbert, Edith (who died as a baby), Hilda, Harold, and Melvin. Always feeling “different” as the only girl among five brothers, H.D. remembered asking, “Why was it always a girl who had died?” She later decided that her survival was linked to her “gift,” the combined capacity for artistic and religious inspiration that came from her mother’s family.
Hilda was her austere father’s favorite child. Only she was allowed to play quietly in his study and cut the pages of his new books. As a child, she associated the fables and myths she loved to read with her father’s stars and the astrological symbols filling the pages of his work. Influenced by feminism’s advocacy of the “new woman,” the Professor was ambitious for his daughter. He wanted her to be a second Marie Curie, but his efforts to tutor her in math led to the now familiar syndrome of math anxiety. “The more he explained,” H.D. recalled, “the less I understood.” Eric, to whom she was very close, was more successful, helping Hilda with math and providing her with books by writers such as Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, and the Brontës. William Carlos Williams remembered the Professor as a very distant man whose eyes did not focus on anything nearer than the moon, and Sigmund Freud told H.D. that he was “cold.”
Hilda was drawn to her more spontaneous, artistic mother but was repeatedly hurt by her mother’s open favoritism of Gilbert. Trying to get close to her mother, Hilda identified with Gilbert, the prototype of the many brother figures who people her later novels and poems. It was to her mother that she expressed excitement at a performance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin which prompted her to ask, “‘Can ladies write books?’ ‘Why, yes,’ her mother replied, ‘lots of ladies write very good books,’“ Hilda wanted to be an artist like her mother. But her father forbade art school, and her mother’s self-effacement and conventional devotion to the Professor’s work provided a problematic model for her aspiring daughter. H.D. recalled that as a child her mother had loved to sing, but she never once sang after her father complained of the “noise.” “I wanted to paint like my mother,” H.D. wrote in her Freud journals, “though she laughed at her pictures that we admired so.... My mother was morbidly self-effacing.” As a wife in the world of Upper Darby, Helen Doolittle was known for silencing all talk when her husband signaled his desire to speak. Williams remembered her as a bustling, warm-hearted matron always busy with children or her beautiful garden and well-known for her midnight missions to the Flower Observatory with hot water to thaw out the Professor’s frozen whiskers, stuck to the telescope. As Hilda became a young woman, her mother increasingly represented the confines of feminine conventionality from which she had to escape in order to become an artist. But this belief in her artistic destiny did not come easily. The difficulty H.D. experienced in creating an identity that incorporated the various forms of her art and her womanhood is evident in her lifelong fascination with names as “signs” of an underlying self-creation. Not only H.D. but also Edith Gray, J. Beran, Rhoda Peter, Helga Dart, Helga Dorn, John Helforth, D. A. Hill, and Delia Alton were to appear as “signatures” on her published and unpublished work.
The years from 1905 to 1911 were critical for H.D.’s later artistic development, not only because she experienced her first real intellectual and poetic awakenings, but also because as a woman she faced questions of identity revolving around the conflicting demands of sexuality, gender, and vocation. College did not provide the hoped-for environment for rebellion and growth. In 1905 she enrolled at Bryn Mawr College, well-known among women’s colleges for its difficult “men’s curriculum.” In the following year she withdrew from college at mid-year, having done poorly in both math and English. “My essays were held up, as samples of the very worst description,” she recalled years later. In her roman à clef HERmione (1981), written in 1927 and based on her life from 1905 to 1911. H.D. vividly described the crisis of identity she felt at age twenty: “I am Hermione Gart, a failure,” which “meant fresh barriers, fresh chains.” Cut off from earning a teaching salary and being an “O.M., Old Maid precisely,” she felt she was only “a disappointment to her father, an odd duckling to her mother, an importunate over-grown, unincarnated entity that had no place here.”
H.D. found the stimulation that led to an artistic identity in her personal relationships, outside the family and classroom. Most important among her friends were Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Frances Josepha Gregg. She met Pound when she was fifteen. By 1903, Pound and Williams, both students at the University of Pennsylvania, visited the observatory on Sunday afternoons. What comes through Williams’s ambivalent descriptions of Hilda in his Autobiography (1951) is the image of an intense young woman seeking to step outside the confinement of Victorian conventions. Williams found her angular beauty “bizarre,” but was fascinated by her “provocative indifference to rule and order.” She started to write poems, she told him, by splashing ink from her pen all over her clothes “to give her a feeling of freedom and indifference.” Careless about her clothes, she wandered in the woods and fields, climbed fences, and once startled Williams by the ecstatic abandon with which she embraced a summer storm.
Pound, however, was H.D.’s first love and the one she returned to in memory and letters during the last years of her life, as recorded in her memoir End to Torment and her long poem Winter Love (1972). Together they shared their early poems and read William Morris, Algernon Swinburne, Henrik Ibsen, George Bernard Shaw, Yogi books, and Honoré de Balzac’s Seraphita (1835). Pound named her Dryad, the wood spirit muse of his earliest poems, especially those in the handmade volume now published as Hilda’s Book (1979). In 1906 and 1907 Pound was a dashingly disreputable poet, but the professor’s disapproval did not halt their developing “understanding” and final engagement. This engagement survived the Professor’s disgust at finding them embracing, the scandal that followed Pound’s resignation from his teaching position at Wabash College in 1907, the consequent need to meet secretly, and the rumors of Pound’s “engagements” to other women. But their plans to marry gradually faded with the continued opposition of her family, the aftereffects of Pound’s sudden trip to Europe in 1908, and Hilda’s increasing discomfort with the idea of marriage. She had dreamed of a bohemian life with Pound, but the more their courtship progressed, the more conventional the romance became. In HERmione, H.D. wrote about feeling “smothered,” “smudged out” by Pound, whose kisses presaged a suffocation of the spirit in which she feared that she would become the object of his poem rather than the poet. “You are a poem, though your poem’s bought,” Pound apparently told her. In End to Torment, H.D. wrote that “Ezra would have destroyed me and the center they call ‘Air and Crystal’ of my poetry.”
H.D.’s love for Pound, but disenchantment with her role as his muse, paralleled a deepening involvement with Frances Josepha Gregg, an intense young woman she met through her college friend Mary Herr, probably in 1910. Gregg wrote poetry and was something of a mystic, whose psychologically difficult childhood led to psychic abilities that entranced H.D. She found in Gregg the lost sister, the “twin soul” whom she described in HERmione as an “alter ego” who could “run, would leap, would be concealed under autumn sumac or lie shaken with hail and wind, lost on some Lacedaemonian foot-hill.” The refrain from Swinburne’s “Itylus,” “O sister, my sister, O fleet sweet swallow,” which refers to the forbidden love between women, is the line that echoes through much of H.D.’s writings about Gregg—especially in the unpublished novels “Paint It Today” (written in 1921) and “Asphodel” (written in 1921-1922), and in HERmione. Both Pound and Helen Doolittle regarded their intimacy as “unwholesome,” but with Gregg, H.D. felt freed from being the “decorative” object inspiring Pound’s poems. In her unpublished “Autobiographical Notes” (written in 1949) H.D. described 1910 as the “Frances Gregg period” and noted that her first published work appeared in New York syndicated newspapers during that year. However, the first poems which fully pleased her were the lyrics she wrote for Gregg. She modeled these love poems on the pastorals of Theocritus that Pound had brought her. As Barbara Guest has shown, however, her relationship with Gregg was not without its problems. Gregg was not only possessive, but she engaged in a secret liaison with Pound which left H.D. feeling doubly betrayed when she found out. This erotic triangle complicated the poetic one. Pound hurt H.D. again by favoring Gregg’s conventional lyrics over her own poems in the fall of 1911. Breaking the traditional patterns of both creativity and love proved to be a difficult task.
Whatever the stresses in the threesome, H.D.’s relationships with Pound and Gregg succeeded in loosening the control of her family and initiating her life as an artist. Loving both, H.D. was torn in two directions, between heterosexual love and lesbian love, each of which presented its own dynamic fusion of the visionary, the erotic, and the aesthetic. This bisexual pull remained one of the central patterns of H.D.’s later life, one which she discussed extensively with Freud and encoded in much of her writing.
In the summer of 1911, Hilda set off for a short visit to Europe in the company of Frances and Mrs. Gregg. In Paris she saw the musician Walter Rummel frequently, but London and Pound’s literary circle offered the artistic stimulation she had sought for years. With some difficulty she convinced her parents to let her stay, and she returned to the United States for visits only four or five times until her death. Through Pound, H.D. met many of the writers who became her community of friends and fellow artists until 1919—especially people such as Richard Aldington, Yeats, Eliot, F. S. Flint, John Gould Fletcher, Ford Madox Hueffer (later Ford Madox Ford), Violet Hunt, May Sinclair, John Cournos, Wyndham Lewis, Brigit Patmore, Arthur Waley, George Plank, and Olivia and Dorothy Shakespear. H.D. was upset when she failed to convince Frances to stay with her in London (1911) and later devastated by Frances’s sudden letter from the United States announcing her marriage to Louis Wilkinson (1912). In “Asphodel,” part one of which deals with H.D.’s early London years, H.D. described the letter as “vitriolic blue acid” and recalled their earlier pact to be “modern women,” never to marry. Gregg planned for H.D. to join her on her honeymoon trip to Europe, but Pound intervened and convinced H.D. to remain in London. The two women were never again so intimate, although Gregg published poems and fiction in the same journals as H.D., and they met and corresponded sporadically until 1939.
Pound’s own engagement to Dorothy Shakespear also came as a shock to H.D., but increasingly the persistent attention of Aldington began to fill the emotional gap left by Pound and Gregg. They studied Greek together at the British Museum, wrote poetry, and read widely in French and English poetry. From the first, Aldington greatly admired H.D.’s talent and dedication, both of which he believed would lead to important achievements. Aldington, Pound, and H.D. frequently met for tea to discuss life and art, chiefly, Aldington later wrote, to establish “a camaraderie of minds” and to laugh until their sides ached. They spent the spring of 1912 in Paris together, and after the arrival of her parents, Aldington and the Doolittles toured Italy, occasionally joined by Pound. Florence and Venice in particular always carried associations of this early companionship with Aldington, the idyllic quality of which H.D. celebrated in Bid Me to Live (A Madrigal) (1960), her roman à clef drafted in 1939 about the years 1912-1919. In October of 1913, Aldington and H.D. were married in the presence of her parents and Pound. H.D. had high hopes that their intimate companionship, based on mutual respect and love for poetry, would lead to a new kind of marriage, one which would foster the creative work of both partners.
By the time she married Aldington, H.D.’s literary career was already underway, her reputation as the best of the imagists well-established, thanks to the efforts of Pound and her own hard work. Imagism, the short-lived but influential movement officially in existence from 1913 until 1917, was launched in the tea shop of the British Museum in September of 1912. H.D. had given Pound three new poems, “Epigram,” “Hermes of the Ways,” and “Priapus” (later titled “Orchard”), and he was impressed with their hardness, clarity, and intensity—the very qualities he associated with the best of poetic tradition and advocated for modern poetry. In End to Torment H.D. recalled the scene: “‘But Dryad,’ (in the Museum tea room), ‘this is poetry.’ He slashed with a pencil. ‘Cut this out, shorten this line. “Hermes of the Ways” is a good title. I’ll send this to Harriet Monroe of Poetry. Have you a copy? Yes? Then we can send this, or I’ll type it when I get back. Will this do?’ And he scrawled ‘H.D. Imagiste’ at the bottom of the page.” H.D.’s recollection almost fifty years later captures the contradictory but crucial role Pound played in the construction of modern poetry. Ever the impresario, Pound was domineering, but generous; blunt, but fair; free with his editing pen, but unerringly sharp in his advice, as he later was in drastically cutting Eliot’s draft of The Waste Land (1922). No longer her fiancé entangling poetry with the demands of a lover, Pound was her greatest promoter. “The strangest thing,” H.D. later wrote, “is that Ezra was so inexpressibly kind to anyone who he felt had the faintest spark of submerged talent.” She was delighted to abandon her surname, which seemed, she later reflected, to mock her aspirations; “Do-little” was hardly an encouraging name for an ambitious young woman. However, the violence of his slashing pen in her description of his naming “H.D. Imagiste” suggests an ominous undertone in his support, as Sandra Gilbert, Susan Gubar, and Janice Robinson have suggested. His power to name, upon which her new identity depended, carried with it a threat to her autonomy as a creative artist, as she was later to explore in HERmione .
Pound believed that she had more than a faint spark of talent, and he wrote to Monroe in October of 1912: “am sending you some modern stuff by an American, I say modern, for it is in the laconic speech of the Imagistes.... Objective—no slither; direct—no excessive use of adjectives, no metaphors that won’t permit examination. It’s straight talk, straight as the Greek!” The opening lines of “Hermes of the Ways” bear out Pound’s praise of a poetic language cleansed of Victorian and Georgian excesses:
The hard sand breaks,
and the grains of it
are clear as wine.
Far off over, the leagues of it,
playing on the wide shore,
piles little ridges,
and the great waves
break over it.
Monroe published “Epigram,” “Hermes of the Ways,” and “Priapus” in the January 1913 issue of Poetry under the signature of H.D., Imagiste. More poems by H.D. and others rapidly appeared in subsequent issues of Poetry with the imagist label. Although Pound and Aldington had used the term imagist before the publication of H.D.’s poems, H.D.’s three poems were the first fully imagist poems, according to Cyrena Pondrom, who argued that Pound’s poetry changed dramatically after he saw “Hermes of the Ways” and “Priapus.”
Many writers and literary historians have speculated that Pound created the imagist movement to describe and promote the poems that H.D. was writing. While her innovative and influential role in the history of modern poetry should be recognized, imagism was not synonymous with H.D. It was a genuine movement, held together by personal ties and a loose consensus of principles, magnetically drawing many diverse poets who later constituted the modernist poetic mainstream. Its roots went back to the Poet’s Club of 1908 whose members (including Pound and T. E. Hulme) developed a theory of “the image,” but wrote little poetry that embodied its doctrine. Pound edited the first imagist anthology, Des Imagistes (1914), having selected poems from eleven poets (including the four charter imagists, H.D., Aldington, Flint, and himself, as well as Amy Lowell, Joyce, Williams, Hueffer, and Cournos). With publication arranged by Lowell, three more imagist anthologies followed. Some Imagist Poets (1915, 1916, 1917) drew in a wider circle of poets, including D. H. Lawrence, whom H.D. met through Lowell in August 1914. The story of Pound’s break from the imagists has been frequently told: the poets advocated a democratic selection process and a more inclusive definition of imagist principles while Pound wanted to maintain his exclusive editorial power and a narrow doctrine. Avoiding an open fight with Pound, H.D. and Aldington nonetheless supported Lowell and the idea of democratic decision making for the anthology. The poets published in nonestablishment journals like Poetry, the Little Review, and the New Freewoman (a feminist journal controlled by Dora Marsden and Rebecca West, for which Pound and Aldington served as literary editors; in 1914 the journal’s name changed to the Egoist, but it continued to publish feminist articles). Although the imagists were frequently attacked, imitators sprang up everywhere, and their anthologies sold extremely well (Aldington’s later estimate was 20,000 copies). The devastating impact of World War I and a growing diversity of the imagist poets led to the official abandonment of the annual anthologies by 1918. In 1930 Aldington organized a final imagist anthology, but the group had effectively disbanded by the end of the war.
The imagist principles which H.D.’s poems epitomize had their roots in the prewar intellectual crosscurrents that mingled the ideas of Henri Bergson and T. E. Hulme, the art of the Postimpressionists and cubists, the new Freudian psychoanalysis filtered through the work of Bernard Hart, and the poetic forms of the Japanese haiku, Greek lyrics, French symbolism, vers libre, and troubadour poetry of medieval Provence. In the March 1913 issue of Poetry Pound and Flint published two articles on imagist “rules” for the production of poems “in accordance with the best tradition ... in Sappho, Catullus, Villon.” Flint specified the three rules: “1. Direct treatment of the ‘thing,’ whether subjective or objective. 2. To use absolutely no word that did not contribute to the presentation. 3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.” Pound expanded by defining the “Doctrine of the Image” to which Flint had enigmatically alluded: “An ‘Image’ is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time. I use the term “complex” rather in the technical sense employed by the newer psychologists, such as Hart.... It is the presentation of such a “complex” instantaneously which gives that sense of sudden liberation. The poets of the 1915 imagist anthology expanded the “rules” to six principles in their preface, stressing that the language of poetry should be the language of “common speech,” that poems should avoid “vague generalities,” and that “concentration is the essence of poetry.” “We oppose the cosmic poet,” they wrote. Free verse was not an absolute prescription, but the influence of French vers libre on the individualized music of the imagist poets was apparent to critics and proponents alike. “Oread,” H.D.’s most frequently anthologized poem, which was first published in 1914, demonstrates why poets regarded her as the quintessential imagist and a master craftsman:
Whirl up, sea—
Whirl your pointed pines,
splash your great pines
on our rocks,
hurl your green over us,
Cover us with your pools of fir.
H.D.’s ability to concentrate language, construct a musical line, and project intensity through the crystalline image gave poetic flesh to imagist doctrine. But she did not write poetry to fit the theory, nor did she contribute in print to the doctrinal debates about imagism. Rather, she was “true to” her personal daemon, as she described her muse to Cournos and Lawrence. It is probably more accurate to say that imagist doctrine was developed to describe the poetry she wrote. Her importance to the development of modern free verse is evident in the awards she won from Poetry magazine in 1915 and the Little Review in 1917. According to the reviewers and scholars who wrote about her work in the 1910s and 1920s (such as Flint, Lowell, Sinclair, Eliot, Pound, Monroe, Williams, H. P. Collins, Alfred Kreymborg, and Marianne Moore), her work was very influential in the legitimization of the “modern” style of poetry.
H.D.’s very perfection as an imagist poet, however, has tended to obscure what was unique in her early poetry, qualities that reflected her American background, encoded her gender-related attempts to escape from the confines of Victorian femininity, and prefigured the prophetic voice of her work in the 1940s and 1950s. Pound was no doubt correct in writing to Monroe that H.D.’s poems were as concrete and direct as those of the Greeks. Sea Garden, her first volume, published in 1916, evokes a generalized Greek landscape, with its naming of various gods and shrines. However, this landscape of rocky shore, forest, and flowers came not from Greece, as her readers often assumed, but from her American childhood, as she later told Norman Holmes Pearson, the Yale professor who became her close friend, adviser, and literary executor in the 1940s and 1950s. While the urban world of London gave H.D. the freedom to write, the natural world of Sea Garden was rooted in her mother’s garden, the fields and woods of Upper Darby, and the shorelines of Maine, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Her rhythmic lines, with their unconventional patterns of resonant and dissonant sound, were her mother’s musical gift transposed to language.
The natural world of Sea Garden is not itself the subject of any given poem, as objects often are in Williams’s imagist poems such as “Poem“ or “The Red Wheelbarrow.” Rather, nature serves as the vehicle that objectifies consciousness in H.D.’s early work. Creating a modernist version of American transcendentalism, for which “nature is a symbol of spirit,” H.D. uses the natural world to explore the subjectivities of consciousness. The wind, the sand, the sea iris become what Eliot was to call the “objective correlative” for the poet’s emotion in his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919). Some poems, such as the well-known “Heat“ or “Pear Tree,” convey the poet’s sensations in experiencing heavy summer heat or bursting pear blossoms. Others rely on objects from nature to incarnate human subjectivity, as in “Mid-Day”: “a split leaf crackles on the paved floor.” Still others, such as the often-anthologized “Storm,” are influenced by the Japanese haiku and use nature to suggest fleeting human perception of life’s evanescence, as in “The Pool“:
Are you alive?
I touch you.
You quiver like a sea-fish.
I cover you with my net.
What are you—banded one?
H.D.’s construction of the image, based in nature, to explore subjectivity accounts for the paradoxical tension in her imagist lyrics between what some of her critics called “fire“ and “ice”—that is, between a cold objectivity and a fiery passion. The poet Robert Duncan, who regards H.D. and Pound as his poetic mother and father, identifies this quality in H.D.’s early lyrics as her “animism” or “sense of the sacred,” which prefigures the hermeticism of her later work. The ecstatic intensity that underlies these poems evokes both Sappho and Euripides, the two Greek poets to whom she most often turned. As Susan Gubar has argued, H.D. identified deeply with Sappho, the woman who was both mother and lover of women, the woman poet who shone so brilliantly out of a largely male poetic tradition. Like Sappho’s passionate lyric, Euripides’ exploration of Dionysian and Eleusinian mysteries attracted H.D. Their controlled and concrete images for disruptive and forbidden desire served as a linguistic model for her poems of ecstatic abandon. Williams’s memory of her youthful passion in the fields and shores removed from the proper drawing rooms of her home found chiseled expression in her imagist lyric, poems such as “Acon,” “Sea Gods,” “Pursuit,” “Wind Sleepers,” “Orchard,” “The Gift,” and “Huntress.” The crashing waves of “Oread,” for example, match Williams’s memory of Hilda’s walking straight into dangerous breakers and appearing “entranced” as the waves knocked her flat and finally unconscious. In the words of Adalaide Morris, H.D.’s imagist poems are “bridges to the sacred.”
The objectification of human passion in H.D.’s imagist poems highlights another quality that distinguishes them from other imagist poems. Taken as a whole, Sea Garden is a volume that indirectly explores the unnamed, impersonal identity of the poet. The poet appears before the reader enigmatically hidden behind initials. Anticipating Eliot’s ideal of the “impersonal poet” in “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” the early imagist “H.D.” was a disembodied figure, taken out of time, out of history, out of gender. The anguish of a poem like “Mid-Day,” the loss of “Loss,” the prostration of “Orchard,” the ecstasy of “Hermes of the Ways” were all undoubtedly emotions anchored in historical self, in events with a place, time, and circumstance. But H.D.’s presentations of these emotions deliberately removed them from any historical reference, unlike, for example, Lawrence’s intensely autobiographical lyrics in Look! We Have Come Through! (1918), some of which also appeared in imagist anthologies. When Amy Lowell published a photo of H.D. without her permission in Tendencies in Modern American Poetry (1917), H.D. was furious: “It’s not that picture, but any picture! The initials, ‘H.D.,’ had no identity attached; they could have been pure spirit. But with this I’m embodied.”
As disembodied as the Sea Garden poems appear, they are nonetheless poems about identity. Removed from the confines of respectability, the natural world of Sea Garden is a kind of pastoral realm imaginatively existing outside culture, what Louis Martz aptly called “borderline.” “Sheltered Garden“ serves as a kind of touchstone for the volume, highlighting the poet’s desire to escape from the suffocating “border-pinks” of the domestic garden into the “coarse weeds” of “some terrible/windtortured place.” Read as a coded poem about the female self, “Sea Rose“ opens Sea Garden with an expression of the poet’s simultaneous vulnerability as a woman, rejection of conventional femininity, and defiant celebration of her difference. She is unlike the beautiful domestic rose, but nonetheless more precious for her wildness:
Rose, harsh rose,
marred and with stint of petals,
meagre flower, thin,
sparse of leaf,
than a wet rose
single on a stem—
you are caught in the drift.
Many of the moderns condemned Victorian sentiment and clichéd beauty, but H.D.’s celebration of the wild and the harsh carries overtones of her denial of traditional femininity. Many of her imagist poems implicitly question culturally prescribed gender and advocate an androgynous identity, as in “Oread,” with the fusion of land and sea, masculine and feminine; or in “The Huntress” and “The Shrine,” with their worship of Artemis and approving portraits of strong women; or in “The Contest,” which presents three different modes of masculinity. These patterns reflect H.D.’s emergence from a Victorian past and anticipate the revision of conventional gender that characterizes her great epics.
Permeating H.D.’s early revisionary exploration of female identity is an austere sensuality, an erotic dimension of repressed yet explosive sexuality that is nonreferential in nature. Like the potent flowers in Lawrence’s early novels and Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings, H.D.’s flowers indirectly suggest an intense eroticism, whose power comes precisely from its elusive, nonhuman expression. Related to her animistic sense of the sacred, H.D.’s objective correlatives for the self often radiate erotic energy and rhythms. In particular, the five flower poems of Sea Garden (“Sea Rose,” “Sea Lily,” “Sea Poppies,” “Sea Violet,” and “Sea Iris“) structure that volume and underline its revisionary treatment of the sentimental Victorian language of flowers. They also contrast sharply with the sexuality of Moore’s poems (which H.D. nonetheless greatly admired) and the direct “wantonness” of Aldington, who wrote for example: “The moon/with a rag of gauze about her loins/Poses among them [chimneys], an awkward Venus—/ And here am I looking wantonly at her/Over the kitchen sink.”
To explore the nature of her difference in her imagist lyrics, H.D. repeatedly established dualisms that paralleled the fundamental polarity of male and female, masculine and feminine, another aspect of her imagist poems that is both unique to her work and continuous with her later development. Her imagist poems are often linguistically and thematically structured on polarities such as land and sea, hard and soft, ripe and unripe, wild and sheltered, swift and slow, stunted and lush, torn and whole, pointed and round, positive and negative, salt and sweet, and so forth. Prefiguring the philosophic dualisms and dialectics of her Trilogy (The Walls Do Not Fall, 1944; Tribute to the Angels, 1945; and The Flowering of the Rod, 1946) and Helen in Egypt (1961), these oppositions reflect the divisions H.D. always felt, what she called the “two’s and two’s and two’s in my life,” ultimately “this unsatisfied duality,” “this mother-father” that “tears at our entrails,” Reflecting in part her pride in her difference, and her separation from the conventional or sentimental, H.D. always rejected the ripe for the unripe, the lovely for the harsh, the soft for the hard. At the same time, however, her representation of polarity became the first step in a dialectical process moving toward synthesis.
As poems deliberately removed from the historical moment, few of H.D.’s imagist lyrics deal directly with World War I, which was gradually engulfing the personal moment of her success as well as a whole historical era, but “Loss” (Sea Garden),”Prisoners“ (Sea Garden), and “The Tribute” ( Egoist, November 1916), highly ritualized and distanced poems, are indirectly about the war that was destroying a generation. The four and a half war years left H.D.’s life and relationships shattered, permanently scarred by the intersecting catastrophes of public and private worlds. Against a backdrop of mindless patriotism and omnipresent death in a trench war for blasted territory, a series of events fragmented the poetic identity forged in imagist successes and the balance of woman-poet she had achieved with Aldington. The first trauma was the stillbirth of her child in 1915, a loss she believed was brought on by the news of the Lusitania’s sinking. With Britain reeling under the shocking army casualties, H.D. suppressed her private grief and found that her new friend D. H. Lawrence was the only one who seemed to understand her loss. Her friendship with Lawrence grew rapidly, and by 1916 they were regularly exchanging drafts of poems by mail, a fact that made Aldington jealous because of the intensity of their bond.
The second event that ultimately resulted in the dissolution of her marriage was Aldington’s entrance into the army in 1916. He enlisted to avoid conscription into a war he despised, and his experiences at the front understandably produced a profound change in his outlook. For all his cynicism about the war, H.D. found him transformed into a soldier, insensitive and mocking about their prewar dedication to poetry. She took over his post as literary editor for the Egoist and worked hard to keep the flame of poetry alive, her way of countering the nihilism of the war years; he continued to be involved in literary plans but was unable to write much poetry. Paralyzed by the smell of gas on his breath, by her fear for his death, and by her doctor’s orders not to get pregnant, H.D. began to associate his frequent sexual demands during his leaves with death; as she later wrote, “the War was my husband.” By mid-1917 his leaves had become nightmares. Aldington’s brief affairs with other women (most hurtfully with H.D.’s close friend Brigit Patmore) may well have begun during her pregnancy in 1915. But by 1917, he began an extended affair with Dorothy Yorke, an American H.D. was sheltering at the request of Cournos. Aldington wrote H.D. from the front in 1918, “I love you, but desire l’autre.” Both agreed that she should leave London, enjoy an affair with music historian Cecil Gray in Cornwall, and return to Aldington at the end of the war. Her resulting pregnancy upset Aldington, as the affair did not; but H.D. refused to abort the child or to marry Gray, and Aldington’s promises to care for her and the child were reassuring.
The third distressing event was the “loss of the friendship with Lawrence.” In the fall of 1917 H.D. sheltered the Lawrences at 44 Mecklenburgh Square after they had been expelled from Cornwall because of Frieda Lawrence’s German citizenship. There had been some tensions in their relationship—H.D. had not liked his manuscript of Women in Love (1920). She rejected his “blood-stream, his sex-fixations, his man-is-man, woman-is-woman” and was angry when he told her that she should stick to the “woman-consciousness” and not try to write about men. But in Bid Me to Live she wrote about Lawrence as her twin, her equal in “cerebral” intensity. Frieda Lawrence may well have set them up for an affair, but according to H.D., Lawrence rejected her and then later abruptly brought their relationship to an end when he learned of her affair with Gray. H.D.’s portrait of their intense artistic communion, but aborted affair, is consistent with references to Lawrence in her letters. In 1935 she wrote after reading Frieda Lawrence’s Not I, But the Wind ... (1934), “how grateful I am ... that I never slept with D. H. L.: it makes my hair stand on end—his talk of men being ‘morphia’ to her.” The importance of the relationship between H.D. and Lawrence is evident in the number of allusions each made to the other in such works as Lawrence’s Aaron’s Rod (1922), Kangaroo (1923), and The Man Who Died (1929) and H.D.’s Bid Me to Live, Tribute to Freud (1956), the unpublished novel “Pilate’s Wife” (written in 1924, 1934), and the unpublished memoir “Compassionate Friendship” (written in 1955).
The fourth trauma H.D. suffered during World War I was a series of blows initiated by the death of her brother Gilbert in France and the subsequent death of her father from shock early in 1919. When she first got the news of her father’s death, she was nearly ready to deliver. Suddenly she caught the deadly influenza of 1919 and was not expected to survive. Pound visited the nursing home to say, “My only real criticism is that this is not my child.” The landlady demanded burial money from H.D.’s new friend Bryher (Winifred Ellerman), daughter of shipping magnate Sir John Ellerman. But H.D. and her daughter Perdita, born 31 March 1919, miraculously survived, and she decided to return to Aldington, as he had requested. When she arrived at his hotel, however, he told her he could not give up Yorke and threatened that if she registered Perdita in his name, he would have her thrown in jail and subjected to penal servitude. Defiantly, H.D. registered the child as Frances Perdita Aldington, but remained frightened for years that Aldington would carry out his threat. In her divorce papers (1937) and a number of memoirs, H.D. referred to March of 1919 as a “psychic death” from which she really did not recover until World War II. As a friend told her, an “asbestos curtain” dropped between H.D. and her pre-March self. She survived to begin a new life with Bryher and Perdita by repressing the interlocking events of love and betrayal, pregnancy and war, poetry and the loss of her male lover-poet companions. The result was what she called her personal “War Phobia,” whereby the threat or reality of war triggered the associations of personal and historical catastrophe and the resultant breakdown.
Bryher’s love and promise of a trip to Greece saved H.D.’s life. They had met in July of 1918, when Bryher’s request for a meeting with the mysterious “H.D.,” whose poems she had memorized, resulted in an invitation to tea and a lifelong relationship. H.D. later wrote that Bryher took “the place of Frances.” Fiery yet sturdy, deeply troubled yet steadily loyal and practical, Bryher was nothing like the “fey,” psychic Frances. Herself a writer, she changed her name to Bryher (after one of the Scilly Isles), her declaration of independence from the demands of her wealthy family and the constrictions of a feminine destiny. The poem to Bryher which opens Palimpsest (1926) describes the role she played in H.D.’s life: “when all the others, blighted, reel and fall,/your star, steelset, keeps lone and frigid trist/to freighted ships baffled in wind and blast.” During this period, however, Bryher was herself suicidal, confused about her sexual identity, angry at the patriarchal system, and yearning to be a boy. The two women sustained each other, with Perdita providing a compelling reason to survive. As Bryher later wrote, “H.D. had a great gift for friendship.” During the spring and summer of 1919 they saw a great deal of Havelock Ellis, whose progressive ideas seemed to validate both their anger and love.
A series of journeys from 1919 to 1923 brought both H.D. and Bryher back to a productive, creative life and gave H.D. many of the fundamental motifs and symbols of her later work. They also set the scene for a number of H.D.’s visionary experiences, moments of altered consciousness that she regarded as a kind of personal oracle whose enigmatic messages she must learn to translate. In July 1919 they spent an idyllic month in the Scilly Isles off Cornwall, where H.D. had what she later termed her “jelly-fish” and “bell-jar” experiences. Anticipating Sylvia Plath‘s metaphor in The Bell Jar (1963), H.D. at one point felt enclosed in a “double globe” from which she safely regarded the world as if she were seeing through water. She wrote about the experience in Notes on Thought and Vision (1982), an experimental prose meditation about the interconnections between the conscious and unconscious, creativity and procreativity, gender and the imagination. No description of her “jelly-fish” vision has survived, although she wrote and rewrote about this and other psychic phenomena she had felt chosen to witness. But the word “Fish“ hereafter served as her overall code word signifying the messages that come from the unconscious or the supernatural as hieroglyphs of hermetic wisdom.
The most important trip, however, was the journey to Greece that Bryher had promised H.D. In the spring of 1920 they set off with Ellis on the Borodino on a still-dangerous tour through the mine-infested seas to Greece and Crete. On board ship H.D. experienced a strange alteration of space and time that seemed to transform the choppy sea into a timeless Botticelli painting of dancing dolphins and the handsome Peter Rodeck at her side into an ideal lover. Rather than destroy that ideal by having a real affair with Rodeck, as she had been about to do, she let him remain in the realm of the imagination as an archetypal lover who informed the figure of the male lover in later works such as “Pilate’s Wife,” Palimpsest, and Helen in Egypt (1961). On the island of Corfu H.D. saw what she called the “writing-on-the-wall,” a series of flickering light pictures mysteriously projected onto her wall, whether from her subconscious mind or some other source, she did not know. Each picture was like a Tarot card whose translation might reveal future pathways for healing and renewed creativity: first, a soldier’s head; then a mystic chalice; next a spirit lamp like the sacred tripod at Delphi; then tiny people at the base of the tripod; then a ladder of light leading to her own special sign, the image of Niké (Victory) flying free; and finally a sun disk from which a man beckoned to draw the Niké into the circle of light. Waiting patiently at her side, Bryher saw nothing until H.D. dropped her face in her hands as the image of Niké’s flight faded. It was Bryher who “read” the final picture script. “Perhaps,” H.D. later wrote, “we were ‘seeing’ it together, for without her, admittedly, I could not have gone on.”
The trip to Greece was for H.D.; Bryher herself yearned for the imagined freedom of the “New World,” from which H.D. herself had had to flee. Hoping to immigrate to America in 1921, Bryher took H.D. to New York in the fall of 1920. After meeting Marianne Moore, with whom H.D. had corresponded since 1916, H.D. and Bryher headed out to Hollywood and the California coast. They were disappointed with commercialized cinema but delighted with the wild shores of the Pacific, where they experimented with their cameras by taking nude photos of each other on the isolated coast, as Diana Collecott has discovered. After returning to New York, Bryher abruptly proposed marriage to the writer Robert McAlmon, a liaison which she hoped would provide her with freedom from her family and him with money to promote the arts. All three returned to Europe, where their residences, both separate and together, shifted rapidly between London, Paris, and Switzerland. One of their first activities was to publish a volume of Moore’s poetry without her permission (Poems, 1921). H.D.’s and Bryher’s friendship with Moore remained an important source of creative and emotional support for all three women. H.D. and Moore, in particular, remained enthusiastic admirers of each others’ work. After H.D.’s mother joined them in 1922, H.D. went to Greece with her mother, stopping briefly on the island of Lesbos, where H.D. felt empowered by the spirit of Sappho. Finally, in 1923, H.D., Bryher, and Mrs. Doolittle went to Egypt, where they chanced to be present at the opening of King Tut’s tomb. The hieroglyphs and treasures of a world more ancient than Greece fascinated H.D., who turned repeatedly to Egypt as a symbol for the sacred, in works such as Palimpsest, “Pilate’s Wife,” Trilogy, and Helen in Egypt.
These journeys with Bryher were indicative of the direction of H.D.’s life and art for the next two decades. The years between the two world wars were for H.D. decades of search, quests for selfhood and direction that led to extensive experimentation in her writing, voracious reading in wide areas of research, involvement in cinema, the creation of a new community of artists, and immersion in both psychoanalysis and the occult. Imagism as a poetic prescription was inadequate to deal with the events of history, with the violence of war, and with the fragmentation of belief that affected a whole generation. The dissolution of symbolic systems unveiled as grand illusions impelled a literature centered on quest, art whose epic forms and cosmic themes were consistent with the search for new patterns of meaning. Imagism began as a philosophy of art but evolved into a craft that served the larger explorations of the modernist poets. In the postwar years, H.D.’s former writing companions abandoned the short lyric to engage in the cosmic quests that underlay works such as The Cantos, Paterson, and The Waste Land. The development of H.D.’s poetry from imagist to epic art follows this modernist path, but while Pound and Williams had their life works well underway in the 1920s, she took a more indirect route to find what she called her “true direction.” She often imaged the period between the wars in terms of the life cycle of the butterfly. She was Psyche, the soul wrapped in the chrysalis, the shroud spun by the disasters of the war. The result of this gestation was an explosion of creativity in the midst of World War II and the major modernist achievements of her mature poetic voice in the 1940s and 1950s.
In the decade following World War I H.D. wrote constantly, publishing a few volumes and piling up stacks of manuscripts that she left unpublished for a variety of reasons. As she wrote her American friend Viola Jordan, “I sit at my typewriter until I drop. I have in some way, to justify my existence, and then it is also a pure ‘trade’ with me now. It is my ‘job.’“ Perdita, later remembering the precious but rationed hours with her mother, recalled H.D. telling her that her steady disciplined writing was “like working on a sampler. So many stitches and just so many rows, day after day. If I miss even one day, I drop a stitch and lose the pattern and I feel I’m never going to find it again.”
H.D. felt trapped by the imagist label, by the expectations of her critics who held up to her what they thought “H.D. ought to be like.... I say WHO is H.D.? They all think they know more about what and why she should or should not be or do than I.” She later said that the imagist term could not be used to describe her work since World War I, but actually her growth beyond imagist constraints began to be evident in the 1917 imagist anthology. Between 1921 and 1931 H.D. published four full-length volumes of poetry and one verse drama, all of which demonstrate the difficult transition for H.D. between imagism as aesthetic into imagism as craft: Hymen (1921), Heliodora and Other Poems (1924), Hippolytus Temporizes (1927), and Red Roses for Bronze (1931). Her Collected Poems appeared in 1925 and received generally good reviews, especially from her fellow poets Moore and Williams, who agreed on the importance of her body of work for modern poetry. Although these volumes were quite widely and positively reviewed in the literary journals of England and America and although a number of the poems such as “Helen“ (Nation and Athenaeum, 27 January 1923), have been frequently anthologized, they have yet to receive sustained criticism in the scholarly literature, perhaps since no one volume stands out with the innovative sharpness of Sea Garden or the comprehensive vision of her later work.
Many of the poems in these volumes, however, are brilliant, both revealing central conflicts in her identity as a woman poet and anticipating the revisionary direction of Trilogy and Helen in Egypt. Poems such as “Eurydice“ (Collected Poems), “Helen“ (Heliodora ), “Leda“ (Hymen), “At Ithaca” (Heliodora), “Heliodora” (Heliodora), and “Pygmalion” (Collected Poems) demonstrate how H.D. began to move in simultaneously opposite but reinforcing directions after her success with Sea Garden the revisionary re-creations of myth and the autobiographical use of mythic masks. She increasingly used the lyric form to explore various classical myths as the texts of culture, as the largely masculine words that have told women’s stories and constructed the meaning of woman’s nature. Eliot, Pound, Yeats, and Williams were also engaged in this period with mythology, whose stories they hoped might contain shards of meaning which could help heal the fragmented modern world. Like them, H.D. read widely in the current anthropological and classical research, books such as James Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1907-1915), Jane Harrison’s Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1903), Jessie Weston’s The Quest of the Holy Grail (1913), and Louis Farnell’s Cults of the Greek States (1896-1909). But unlike her fellow poets, H.D.’s transformation of myth involved a critique of classical tradition from a woman’s perspective.
Most brilliantly in “Eurydice“ (Egoist, May 1917) and “Helen,” H.D.’s myth poems in general give speech to the silent women of mythology, whose stories have been overwhelmingly told by a male literary and religious tradition. As Rachel Blau DuPlessis pointed out, H.D.’s “Eurydice,” for example, reverses the traditional lament of Orpheus for his lost love by presenting a defiant Eurydice who angrily condemns her husband: “So for your arrogance/and your ruthlessness/I have lost the earth/and the flowers of the earth.” Eurydice then transforms her bondage in hell into a celebration of autonomy: “At least I have the flowers of myself,/and my thoughts, no god/can take that;/ I have the fervor of myself for a presence/and my own spirit for light.” As an answer to the representations of Helen in Homer, Poe, and Yeats, H.D.’s “Helen“ is an ominous poem about the paralyzing misogyny at the heart of male worship of woman’s beauty: “All Greece hates/the still eyes in the white face/ ... /could love indeed the maid,/ only if she were laid,/white ash amid funeral cypresses.” “Cassandra“ (Rhythms, June-July 1923) is a poem about gynophobia, particularly male fear of woman’s potent speech, which in this poem makes a woman unmarriageable. The highly encoded “Demeter” (Collected Poems) carries lesbian overtones in its suggestion that Demeter’s passionate kiss of Koré is greater in love than her rough rape by Hades. H.D.’s brilliantly erotic “Leda“ (Monthly Chapbooks, July 1919) reverses centuries of literary and artistic tradition, which usually features Zeus in the shape of a swan raping Leda. There is no rape or violence in H.D.’s poem, in which the red swan and the gold lily commingle in the gold-red sunset, “Where tide and river meet.” An objective correlative for Leda, the lily is an image whose traditional associations with female genitalia demonstrate how H.D.’s imagist craft was becoming inseparable from her revisionary stance toward mythology. These poems anticipate the feminist revisionary nature of “Callypso Speaks” (written in the 1930s, partially published in Poetry, June 1938) and the poems of the 1940s and 1950s. They are also important precursors for the reinterpretations of classical mythology common in the work of later women poets such as Muriel Rukeyser (who knew and admired H.D.), May Sarton (who also knew H.D.), Louise Bogan, Mona Van Duyn, Denise Levertov, Margaret Atwood, Anne Sexton, Adrienne Rich, and Judy Grahn.
H.D.’s poems of the late war years and the 1920s not only reinterpret myth, but they also sometimes use myth as a distancing mask for her own life. Generally more autobiographical than the “impersonal” poems of Sea Garden, specific situations and relationships can be identified in some of these poems with the help of biographical clues. Louis Martz, for example, has discovered that H.D. masked three important poems about her disintegrating relationship with Aldington (“Amaranth,” “Eros,” and “Envy,” not published in their original form until Collected Poems, 1912-1944, 1983) as expansions of fragments of Sappho. “Fragment Forty” (Heliodora) and “Fragment Forty-one” (Heliodora) include slightly altered and disguised portions of these poems about herself and Aldington. The deserted women of “Circe” (Egoist, December 1916) and “Toward the Piraeus” (Heliodora) are disguised versions of H.D., addressing Aldington about his affairs and desertion. “At Baia” (Poetry, 1921), “They said” (Hymen), “We Two” (Poetry, 1921), “Stars Wheel in Purple” (Palimpsest), and “I Said” (written in 1919, first published in Collected Poems, 1912-1944) are about Bryher. In her verse play Hippolytus Temporizes (1927) and the Phaedra poems (“Phaedra,” Dial, November 1920; “She Contrasts Herself with Hippolyta,” Hymen; “She Rebukes Hippolyta,” Dial, November 1920), H.D. explored her own bisexuality as well as the myth of the Amazon Hippolyta. Standing behind the personal and mythic dimensions of these poems is the lyric voice of Sappho, whose influence on H.D. in the 1920s is evident in H.D.’s translations of Sappho, her re-creations of full-length poems from extant fragments, and her essay on Sappho, written about 1920 and first published as “The Wise Sappho” in Notes on Thought and Vision (1982). Influenced as well by her reading of Colette and Emily Dickinson in the 1920s, H.D.’s poetry weaves the personal and mythic into a tapestry that recreates from a woman’s perspective the connections between identity, love, and poetry.
Red Roses for Bronze (1931), a volume with which H.D. herself was dissatisfied, demonstrates that the vein she mined in the earlier volumes was petering out. However, the title poem, “Red Roses for Bronze,” is an important, highly coded poem about her relationship with the famous Afro-American singer and actor Paul Robeson. Like her earlier myth poems and the prose of the 1920s, it examines the connection between passion and poetry. “Halcyon” (first published in Poetry, June 1927), a lovely poem about her relationship with Bryher, has the interestingly different conversational tone of an intimate, realistic portrait. “Triplex” is an important poem about the conflict of identities women face in a culture which divides the feminine into the images of Artemis, Athene, and Aphrodite: “Let them not war in me,” the poet prays. The volume also contains the beautiful “Epitaph“ that was later placed on H.D.’s headstone in Bethlehem. But taken as a whole, the volume has little drive and direction. During the 1930s H.D. wrote little poetry compared to her previous production. A collection of nine poems significantly entitled “The Dead Priestess Speaks” was never published in her lifetime, and only occasional poems (including “The Poet,” “Sigil,” “Callypso Speaks”) came out in journals.
H.D.’s vigorous experimentation in the 1920s went into her fiction. Interested greatly in the work of Joyce, Stein, Woolf, William Faulkner, and Dorothy Richardson, H.D. developed her own techniques of altering conventional narrative and rendering consciousness in modernist transformations of marginal prose genres: the roman a clef—”Paint It Today,” “Asphodel,” HERmione, “Narthex” (in The Second American Caravan, 1928), Nights (1935), Kora and Ka (1934)—and the historical novel—”Pilate’s Wife” (written in 1924 and 1934), Palimpsest (1926), and Hedylus (1928). All texts represent her attempt to retell, reorder, and thereby re-create her own “legend.” This work represents the reconstitution of the self in the modern world, based on but not equivalent to her life from 1905 to the present. H.D.’s achievement in prose needs assessment separate from her poetry, but such a systematic study has yet to be made, particularly since she left so many of these texts unpublished (some because they were genuinely unfinished, others because of their openly lesbian content or their revelation of Perdita’s parentage). HERmione is generally recognized as the most important of these texts. Adopting imagist technique and cinematic montage to the needs of narrative and interior monologue, H.D. broke down syntax and words much like Stein and used images in a way that anticipated Woolf’s The Waves (1931).
Like her poetry, H.D.’s efforts in prose began to displease her by the early 1930s. She particularly liked Nights and Kora and Ka, but she described them as “born from the detached intellect,” even as “‘hallucinated writing.’ “ She completed The Hedgehog (1936), a fascinating fable begun in 1924 as a pacifist tract in the guise of a children’s tale, but wrote no more prose. During the 1930s she experienced a writing block that made her writing labored, painful, often obscure, and relatively scant compared to her productivity in subsequent decades. Given the return of creative energy in the 1940s, however, it is evident that the late 1920s and 1930s were a period of regenerative latency in which her involvement in areas seemingly extraneous to her own poetry laid the foundation of what was to come. First of all, H.D. gained greatly from the circle of avant-garde artists she and Bryher attracted to their residences in London, Paris, Berlin, and Switzerland. During the early 1920s her close friendship with McAlmon (renewed during the 1950s) introduced her to the artists of his circle and press, Contact Editions, especially Stein, Toklas, Hemingway, Joyce, Nancy Cunard, Man Ray, Berenice Abbott, and Mary Butts. Marianne Moore, Sylvia Beach, Adrienne Monnier, and Dorothy Richardson were intimate friends, each providing important emotional and aesthetic support for the others. Bryher not only gave McAlmon large sums of money for his press, but she also set up trust funds which yielded £250 a year for both H.D. and Richardson (these funds were renegotiated in 1933 after the death of Sir John Ellerman, but they provided the same annuity to both; H.D. used the money to supplement her inheritance from her father in 1919 and from her mother, who died in 1928).
In 1926 Frances Gregg sent a young artist, Kenneth Macpherson, to meet H.D. Again H.D. felt she had met a soul mate, a twin in psychic intensity and vision much as Gregg and Lawrence had been. They were lovers for a time, living in a highly charged household along with Bryher and Perdita. After her divorce from McAlmon in 1927, Bryher married Macpherson to help screen H.D.’s affair, according to her report to Pearson. When Aldington told H.D. that he wanted to marry Brigit Patmore, H.D. feared once again that he would charge her with false registration of Perdita, and she arranged for the Macphersons to adopt Perdita officially in 1928. Also in 1928, at the age of forty two, H.D. had an abortion in Berlin. The three adults and a child, whom Bryher refused to send to school (except for one brief period in the 1930s) continued living and working together mainly in Switzerland (with brief stays in London and Berlin) until Macpherson’s involvement with other men in the early 1930s gradually dissolved this unusual family. H.D.’s “Narthex,” Nights, and Kora and Ka are representations of this household.
Cinema, psychoanalysis, and literature dominated the intellectual life of Fido (Bryher), Rover (Macpherson), Cat (H.D.), and Pup (Perdita), as they called one another. Cinema was the special focus of their joint work. They started the film journal Close Up, widely known as the first journal to take cinema seriously as an art form. During its publication from 1927 to 1933, H.D., Bryher, Macpherson, Richardson, and many others reviewed films from all over the world, including especially Germany, France, Russia, Japan, Mexico, and the United States. Sergei Eisenstein’s theory of montage as a dialectic first appeared in English in Close Up (1930) and may well have influenced H.D.’s own dialectical vision and narrative technique. In addition, Macpherson directed three films for which H.D. acted and participated in the editing: Wing Beat (1927), Foothills (1928), and Borderline (1930). Testifying to the influence of the Harlem Renaissance on H.D., Borderline is a full-length feature film about interracial sex and violence.
- Guarntors Prize (Poetry magazine) for "The Wind Sleepers," "Storm," "Pool," "The Garden," and "Moonrise," 1915; Vers Libre Prize (Little Review) for "Sea Poppies," 1917; Levinson Prize (Poetry magazine) for "Sigel XV," and "Callypso Speaks," 1938; Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize for "In Time of Gold," "Nails for Petals," and "Sometimes and After," 1958; Brandeis University Creative Arts Award for Poetry, 1959; Citation for Distinguished Service, Bryn Mawr College, 1960; Award of Merit Medal for Poetry, American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1960.
- Sea Garden (London: Constable, 1916; Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1916).
- The Tribute and Circe: Two Poems (Cleveland: Clerk's Private Press, 1917).
- Hymen (London: Egoist Press, 1921; New York: Holt, 1921).
- Heliodora and Other Poems (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1924; London: Cape, 1924).
- Collected Poems of H.D. (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1925).
- H.D., edited by Hughes Mearns (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1926).
- Palimpsest (Paris: Contact Editions, 1926; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1926).
- Hippolytus Temporizes (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1927; revised edition, Redding Ridge, Conn.: Black Swan Books, 1985).
- Hedylus (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1928; Oxford: Blackwell, 1928; revised edition, Redding Ridge, Conn.: Black Swan Books, 1980).
- Borderline--A Pool Film with Paul Robeson (London: Mercury, 1930).
- Red Roses for Bronze (London: Chatto & Windus, 1931; Boston & New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1931).
- Kora and Ka (Dijon: Darantière, 1934; Berkeley: Bios, 1978).
- The Usual Star (Dijon: Darantère, 1934).
- Nights, as John Helforth (Dijon: Darantière, 1935).
- The Hedgehog (London: Brendin, 1936).
- The Walls Do Not Fall (London & New York: Oxford University Press, 1944).
- What Do I Love? (London: Brendin, 1944).
- Tribute to the Angels (London & New York: Oxford University Press, 1945).
- The Flowering of the Rod (London & New York: Oxford University Press, 1946).
- By Avon River (New York, London & Toronto: Macmillan, 1949; revised edition, Redding Ridge, Conn.: Black Swan Books, 1986).
- Tribute to Freud (New York: Pantheon, 1956; enlarged edition, Boston: Godine, 1974).
- Selected Poems of H.D. (New York: Grove, 1957).
- Bid Me to Live (A Madrigal) (New York: Grove, 1960; enlarged edition, Redding, Conn.: Black Swan Books, 1983).
- Helen in Egypt (New York: Grove, 1961).
- Hermetic Definition (unauthorized edition, West Newberry, Mass.: Frontier Press, 1971; authorized edition, New York: New Directions, 1972; Oxford: Carcanet, 1972).
- Temple of the Sun (Berkeley: ARIF Press, 1972).
- Trilogy: The Walls Do Not Fall, Tribute to Angels, The Flowering of the Rod (New York: New Directions, 1973; Cheadle: Carcanet, 1973).
- The Poet & the Dancer (San Francisco: Five Trees Press, 1975).
- End to Torment: A Memoir of Ezra Pound, edited by Norman Holmes Pearson and Michael King (New York: New Directions, 1979).
- HERmione (New York: New Directions, 1981); republished as Her (London: Virago, 1984).
- The Gift (New York: New Directions, 1982).
- Notes on Thought and Vision & the Wise Sappho (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1982).
- Collected Poems, 1912-1944, edited by Louis L. Martz (New York: New Directions, 1983).
- Priest and A Dead Priesless Speaks (Port Townsend, Wash.: Copper Canyon, 1983).
- Reading from Helen in Egypt, Watershed Tapes, 1982.
- "Sitalkas," "Hermes of the Ways," "Priapus,"Acon," "Hermonax," and "Epigram," in Des Imagistes: An Anthology, edited by Ezra Pound (New York: A. & C. Boni, 1914; London: Poetry Bookshop, 1914), pp. 20-30.
- "The Pool," "The Garden," "Sea Lily," "Sea Iris," "Sea Rose," "Oread," and "Incantation," in Some Imagist Poets: An Anthology, edited by Amy Lowell (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1915; London: Constable, 1915), pp. 21-30.
- "Sea Gods," "The Shrine," "Huntress," and "Mid-Day," in Some Imagist Poets: An Anthology, edited by Lowell (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1916; London: Constable, 1916), pp. 17-31.
- "The God," "Adonis,"Pygmalion," and "Eurydice," in Some Imagist Poets: An Anthology, edited by Lowell (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1917), pp. 19-34.
- Charuses from the Iphigenia in Aulis and the Hippolytus of Eurpides, translated by Doolittle (London: Egoist, 1919).
- "Narthex," in The Second American Caravan, edited by Alfred Kreymborg, Lewis Mumford, and Paul Rosenfeld (New York: Macauley, 1928), pp. 225-284.
- "In the Rain," "If You Will Let Me Sing," and "Chance Meeting," in Imagist Anthology 1930, edited by Richard Aldington (New York: Covici, Friede, 1930; London: Chatto & Windus, 1930), pp. 85-105.
- Euripides' Ion, translated by H.D. (London: Chatto & Windus, 1937; Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1937; revised edition, Redding Ridge, Conn.: Black Swan Books, 1985).
- Vale Ave, in New Directions in Poetry and Prose, no. 44 (New York: New Directions, 1982), pp. 18-167.
- "Selected Letters from H.D. to F.S. Flint: A Commentary on the Imagist Period," edited by Cyrena N. Pondrom, Contemporary Literature, 10 (Autumn 1969): 557-586.
- "H.D.: A Friendship Traced: Letters to Silvia Dobson and a Poem," edited by Carol Tinker, Conjunctions, 2 (Spring-Summer 1982): 115-157.
- Jackson R. Bryer and Pamela Roblyer, "H.D.: A Preliminary Checklist," Contemporary Literature 10 (Autumn 1969): 632-675.
- Janice S. Robinson H.D.: The Life and Work of an American Poet (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982).
- Barbara Guest, Herself Defined: The Poet H.D. and Her World (Garden City: Doubleday, 1984).
- Marilyn Arthur "Psycho-Mythology: The Case of H.D.," Bucknell Review, 28 (1983): 65-79.
- Louise Berkinow, Among Women (New York: Harmony Books, 1980), pp. 155-192.
- Winifred Bryher, The Heart to Artemis--A Writer's Memoirs (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1962).
- Claire Buck, "Freud and H.D.--bisexuality and a feminine discourse," M/F, 8 (1983): 53-65.
- Douglas Bush, Mythology and the Romantic Tradition in English Poetry (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1937), pp. 497-506.
- Hayden Carruth, "Poetry Chronicle," Hudson Review, 27 (Summer 1974): 52-65.
- Stanley K. Coffman, Jr., Imagism--A Chapter for the History of Modern Poetry (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1951).
- Diana Collecott, Introduction to The Gift (London: Virago, 1984), pp. vii-xix.
- Collecott, "Remembering oneself: the reputation and later poetry of H.D.," Critical Quarterly, 27 (Spring 1985): 7-22.
- L.S. Dembo, Conceptions of Reality in Modern American Poetry (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966), pp. 20-47.
- Dembo, ed., H.D.: A Reconsideration, Contemporary Literature, 10 (Autumn 1969).
- Robert Duncan, The H.D. Book: "From the Day Book," Origin, 10 (July 1963): 1-47; "Beginnings: Chapter 1 of the H.D. Book, Part 1," Coyote's Journal, 5/6 (1966): 8-31; "The H.D. Book, Part I: Chapter 2," Coyote's Journal, 8 (1967): 27-35; "Rites of Participation," Caterpillar, 1 (October 1967): 6-34; "Rites of Participation, II," Caterpillar, 2 (January 1968): 125-154; "Two Chapters from H.D.," Tri-Quarterly, 12 (Spring 1968): 67-98; "From the H.D. Book: Part 1: Beginnings, Chapter 5: Occult Matters," Stony Brook Review, 1/2 (Fall 1968): 4-19: "Nights and Days," Sumac, 1 (Fall 1968): 101-146; "The H.D. Book, Part 2, Nights and Days: Chapter 2," Caterpillar, 6 (January 1969): 16-38; "The H.D. Book, Part 2, Nights and Days: Chapter 4," Caterpillar, 7 (April 1969): 27-60; "The H.D. Book, Part 2, Nights and Days: Chapter 9," Io, 6 (Summer 1969): 117-140; "From the H.D. Book, Part II, Chapter 5," Stony Brook Review, 3/4 (Fall 1969): 336-347; "Glimpses of the Last Day: from Chapter 2 of the H.D. Book," Io, 10 (1971): 212-215; "From the H.D. Book: Part 2, Chapter 5," Credences, 2 (August 1975): 50-95; "The H.D. Book: Part 2: Nights and Days, Chapter 9," Chicago Review, 30 (Winter 1979): 37-88; "From the H.D. Book," Montemora, 8 (1981): 79-116; "The H.D. Book: book II, Chapter 10," Ironwood, 22 (Fall 1983): 47-64; "H.D. Book: Book II, Chapter 6," Southern Review, new series 21 (January 1985): 26-48.
- Rachel Blau DuPlessis, "Family, Sexes, Psyche: An Essay on H.D. and the Muse of the Woman Writer," Montemora, 6 (1979): 137-156.
- DuPlessis, H.D.: The Struggle of That Career (Brighton: Harvester, 1986).
- DuPlessis, "Romantic Thralldom in H.D.," Contemporary Literature, 20 (Summer 1979): 178-203:
- DuPlessis, Writing Beyond the Ending: Narrative Strategies of Twentieth-Century Women Writers (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985), pp. 66-83, 116-121.
- DuPlessis and Susan Stanford Friedman, "Woman Is Perfect': H.D.'s Debate with Freud," Feminist Studies, 7 (Fall 1981): 417-430.
- Kenneth Fields, Introduction to Tribute to Freud (Boston: Godine, 1974), pp. xvii-xliv.
- Peter E. Firchow, "Rico and Julia: The Hilda Doolittle-D. H. Lawrence Affair Reconsidered," Journal of Modern Literature, 8 (1980): 51-76:
- Lucy Freeman and Herbert Stream, Freud and Women (New York: Ungar, 1981), pp. 117-120.
- Lucy Freibert, "Conflict and Creativity in the World of H.D.," Journal of Women's Studies in Literature, 1 (Summer 1979): 258-271.
- Freibert, "From Semblance to Selfhood: The Evolution of Woman in H.D.'s Neo-Epic Helen in Egypt," Arizona Quarterly, 36 (Summer 1980): 165-175.
- Anne Friedberg, "Approaching Borderline," Millenium Film Journal, no. 7/8/9 (Fall-Winter 1980-1981): 130-139.
- Susan Stanford Friedman, "Creating a Woman's Mythology: H.D.'s Helen in Egypt," Women's Studies, 5 (1977): 163-198.
- Friedman, "Ghost Stories: H.D.'s Hedylus," Sagetrieb, 5 (Spring 1986).
- Friedman, "'I go where I love: An Intertextual Study of H.D. and Adrienne Rich," Signs, 9 (Winter 1983): 228-246.
- Friedman, "A Most Luscious Vers Libre Relationship: H.D. and Freud," in The Annual of Psychoanalysis, 14 (New York: International Universities Press, 1986).
- Friedman, Psyche Reborn: The Emergence of H.D. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981).
- Friedman, "Psyche Reborn: Tradition, Re-Vision, and the Goddess as Mother-Symbol in H.D.'s Epic Poetry," Women's Studies, 6 (1979): 147-160.
- Friedman, "Remembering Shakespeare always, but remembering him differently': H.D.'s By Avon River," Sagetrieb, 2 (Summer-Fall 1983): 45-70.
- Friedman, "Who Buried H.D.? A Poet, Her Critics and Her Place in 'The Literary Tradition,'" College English, 36 (March 1975): 801-814.
- Friedman and DuPlessis, "'I had two loves separate': The Sexualities of H.D.'s Her," Montemora, 8 (1981): 3-30.
- Friedman and Duplessis, eds., H.D.: Centenary Issue, Contemporary Literature, 27 (Winter 1986).
- John T. Gage, In the Arresting Eye: The Rhetoric of Imagism (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981).
- Albert Gelpi, "Hilda in Egypt," Southern Review, 18 (Spring 1982): 233-250.
- Gelpi, "The Thistle and the Serpent," in Notes on Thought and Vision (San Francisco: City Lights, 1983).
- Kathryn Gibbons, "The Art of H.D.," Mississippi Quarterly, 15 (Fall 1962): 152-160.
- Sandra M. Gilbert, "H.D.? Who Was She?," Contemporary Literature, 24 (Winter 1983): 496-511.
- Jean Gould, American Women Poets: Pioneers of Modern Poetry (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1980), pp. 151-176.
- Judy Grahn, The Highest Apple: Sappho and The Lesbian Poetic Tradition (San Francisco: Spinsters, Ink, 1985).
- E.B. Greenwood, "H.D. and the Problem of Escapism," Essays in Criticism, 21 (October 1971): 365-376.
- Horace Gregory, Introduction to Helen in Egypt (New York: New Directions, 1974), pp. vii-xi.
- Susan Gubar, "The Echoing Spell of H.D.'s Trilogy," Contemporary Literature, 19 (Spring 1978): 196-218.
- Gubar, "Sapphistries," Signs, 10 (Autumn 1984): 43-62.
- J.B. Harmer, Victory in Limbo: Imagism, 1908-1917 (London: Secker & Warburg, 1975).
- Norman Holland, Poems in Persons (New York: Norton, 1973), pp. 4-163.
- Glenn Hughes, Imagism & The Imagists (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1931).
- Thomas H. Jackson, ed., Marianne Moore and H.D., Poesis, 6 (Fall 1985).
- Nora Crow Jaffe, "'She herself is the writing': Language and Sexual Identity in H.D.," Literature and Medicine, 4 (Fall 1985).
- Peter Jones, Imagist Poetry (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972).
- Jeanne Kerblat-Houghton, "'The Rose Loved of Lover' or the Heroines in the Poems of the Twenties," GRENA (1982): 45-64.
- Michael King, Foreword to End to Torment (New York: New Directions, 1979), pp. vii-xii.
- King, ed., H.D.: Woman and Poet (Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 1986).
- Deborah Kelly Kloepfer, "Flesh Made Word: Maternal Inscription in H.D.," Sagetrieb, 3 (Spring 1984): 27-48.
- Peggy A. Knapp, "Women's Freud(e): H.D.'s Tribute to Freud and Gladys Schmitt's Sonnets for an Analyst," Massachusetts Review, 24 (Summer 1983): 338-352.
- Denise Levertov, "H.D.: An Appreciation," Poetry, 100 (June 1962): 182-186.
- Amy Lowell, Tendencies in Modern American Poetry (New York: Macmillan, 1917), pp. 235-243.
- Beverly Lynch, "Love, Beyond Men and Women: H.D.," in Lesbian Lives: Biographies of Women from The Ladder, edited by Barbara Grier and Colletta Reid (Baltimore: Diana Press, 1976), pp. 259-272.
- Charlotte Mandel, "Garbo/Helen: The Self-Projection of Beauty by H.D.," Women's Studies, 7 (1980): 127-135.
- Robert McAlmon, "Forewarned as Regards H.D.'s Prose," in Palimpsest (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1968).
- Adalaide Morris, "The Concept of Projection: H.D.'s Visionary Powers," Contemporary Literature, 25 (Winter 1984): 411-436.
- Morris, "Reading H.D.'s 'Helios and Athene,'" Iowa Review, 12 (Spring-Summer 1981): 155-163.
- Morris, ed., Special Issue on H.D., Iowa Review (Winter 1986).
- Margaret Newlin, "'Unhelpful Hymen': Marianne Moore and Hilda Doolittle," Essays in Criticism, 27 (July 1977): 216-230.
- Alicia Ostriker, "The Thieves of Language: Women Poets and Revisionist Mythmaking," Signs, 8 (Autumn 1982): 68-90.
- Ostriker, Writing Like a Woman (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1983), pp. 7-41.
- Norman Holmes Pearson, Foreword to Hermetic Definition (New York: New Directions, 1972), pp. v-viii.
- Pearson, Foreword to Trilogy (New York: New Directions, 1973), pp. v-xii.
- John Peck, "Passio Perpetuae H.D.," Parnassus, 3 (Spring-Summer 1975): 42-74.
- Cyrena N. Pondrom "H.D. and the Origins of Modernism," Sagetrieb, 4 (Spring 1985): 73-100.
- William Pratt, ed., The Imagist Poem (New York: Dutton, 1963), pp. 11-39.
- Vincent Quinn, Hilda Doolittle (New York: Twayne, 1967).
- Quinn, "H.D.'s 'Hermetic Definition': The Poet as Archetypal Mother," Contemporary Literature, 18 (Winter 1977): 51-61.
- Peter Revell, Quest in Modern American Poetry (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1981), pp. 171-198.
- Joseph N. Riddel, "H.D.'s Scene of Writing--Poetry as (AND) Analysis," Studies in the Literary Imagination, 12 (Spring 1979): 41-59.
- Alfred Satterthwaite, "John Cournos and 'H.D.,'" Twentieth-Century Literature, 22 (December 1976): 394-410.
- Perdita Schaffner, "Merano, 1962," Paideuma, 4 (Fall/Winter 1975): 513-518.
- Schaffner, "Pandora's Box," in HERmione (New York: New Directions, 1981), pp. vii-xi.
- Schaffner, "A Profound Animal," in Bid Me to Live (A Madrigal) (Redding Ridge, Conn.: Black Swan Books, 1980), pp. 185-194.
- Schaffner, "Unless a Bomb Falls ...." in The Gift (New York: New Directions, 1984), pp. ix-xv.
- Heather Rosario Sievert, "H.D.: A Symbolist Perspective," Comparative Literature Studies, 16 (March 1979): 48-57.
- Paul Smith, Pound Revised (London: Croom Helm, 1983), pp. 110-133.
- Thomas Burnett Swann, The Classical World of H.D. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1962).
- John Walsh, Afterword to Bid Me to Live (A Madrigal) (Redding Ridge, Conn.: Black Swan Books, 1983), pp. 195-203.
- Walsh, Afterword to Hedylus (Redding Ridge, Conn.: Black Swan Books, 1980), pp. 147-156.
- Walsh, Afterword to Hippolytus Temporizes (Redding Ridge, Conn.: Black Swan Books, 1985).
- Walsh, Afterword to Ion (Redding Ridge, Conn.: Black Swan Books, 1985).
- Emily Stipes Watts, The Poetry of American Women from 1632-1945 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1977), pp. 152-158.
- Harold H. Watts, Hound and Quarry (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1953), pp. 209-222.
- Eric Walter White, Images of H.D./From The Mystery (London: Enitharmon Press, 1976).
- Francis Wolle, A Moravian Heritage (Boulder, Colo.: Empire Reproduction & Printing Co., 1972), pp. 5-60.
Poems By H. D.
More poems by H. D. (48 poems)
- Elegy and Choros, from Electra-Orestes
- Fragment XXXVI ("I know not what...")
- From Episode I
- Hermes of the Ways
- His Ecstasy
- His Presence
- His Song
- In Time of Gold
- Last Winter
- Leucadian Artemis
- Nails for Petals
- Regents of the Night
- Sea Iris
- Sea Poppies
- Sea Rose
- Sheltered Garden
- Sigel XV
- Sometimes and After
- Song ("You are as gold...")
- The Pool
- The Wind Sleepers
- Verses, Translations, and Reflections from "The Anthology"
- Wash of Cold River
Audio & PodcastsPoem of the Day Poetry Off the Shelf
Three Ways of Looking at a Rose
H.D., Jean Valentine, and Galway Kinnell on the queen of all poetic clichés.
Writing through Imagism: A Discussion of H.D.'s "Sea Poppies" and Jennifer Scappettone's "Vase Poppies.”
Hosted by Al Filreis and featuring Don Share, Judith Goldman, and David Pavelich.
POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic
SCHOOL / PERIOD Imagist
LIFE SPAN 1886–1961