Collected Poems, 1912-1944 Critical Essays

Hilda Doolittle


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The whole of H. D.’s work can be seen as the solving of a great cryptogram, her life. It is a life that includes relationships and betrayals, dreams and visions, travels and readings, and memories. It encompasses ancient Greece and Egypt, Philadelphia and London, Pound and Lawrence, lovers male and female, war and the varieties of peace.

H. D.’s personal version of Greece is the first locus of her attempt at self-definition, as it had been of her relationship with Pound, “satyr” to her “dryad.” Her early Imagist poems can be read as essays after the pithy style of the Greek Anthology. “Come, blunt your spear with us,/ our pace is hot/ and our bare heels/ in the heel-prints—” recalls not only Pound’s own “The Return” but also the decorations on amphorae, visual icons of the Greek myths.

With the passage of time, H. D.’s poems shift from exemplary Imagism toward something perhaps closer to the “pansies” of D. H. Lawrence. There are utterances of a high or deep truth in a language so simple that it is hardly poetry at all, if one expects of poetry a worked musical surface of the sort exemplified by John Donne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Dylan Thomas. Lawrence used the word “pansies” to describe his own works in this vein because he believed that they had much in common with the Pensées (1670) of Blaise Pascal—themselves prose meditations of a high poetic order. H. D.’s close association with Lawrence no doubt included some influence in each direction. Yet H. D. is after something more than pansies: she hopes to be remembered (“Epitaph”) as “one who died/ following/ intricate songs’ lost measure.”

Freud, H. D.’s poem “The Master” tells us, understood and was able “to explain// the impossible”: that is, H. D.’s duple sexuality. Freud called her a perfect example of the bisexual and declared she had “two things to hide, one that you were a girl, the other that you were a boy.” H. D. was not satisfied, however, with the standard Freudian reduction of her visions to diagnostic insights, and at Freud’s own behest, she proceeded to re-vision them.

It is with the great sequence of poems in...

(The entire section is 901 words.)