Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 886
One key to End to Torment is the author’s memory of Ezra Pound’s courting her in a tree. Pound’s name for her was “Dryad,” in Greek mythology a nature sprite presiding over forests. He apparently wrote the poem “The Tree” in tribute to her, including it in “Hilda’s Book” as...
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One key to End to Torment is the author’s memory of Ezra Pound’s courting her in a tree. Pound’s name for her was “Dryad,” in Greek mythology a nature sprite presiding over forests. He apparently wrote the poem “The Tree” in tribute to her, including it in “Hilda’s Book” as well as placing it first in Personae (1926), his collection of all his early poetry outside the Cantos. The mythological transformation of one thing or spirit into another is characteristic of the poetry of both Pound and H. D. It is also characteristic of her memoir of him. This mythopoeic method is also, to some extent, the method of psychoanalysis: a probing of the past to search for figures on whom a patient remains fixated emotionally and whom she (or he) continually seeks to replace with current figures in her life.
Thus Pound is—by stages, repeatedly, and circularly—her father, a devil, a god, a lion, a doctor, a lynx, a pounder, a gadfly, Odysseus, her child. By a similar process, Ezra is replaced by Frances (Gregg), Frances by Richard (Aldington), and Richard by Pearson, Heydt, and ultimately Undine. Hilda herself is also mythologized as “Is-hilda” or “Ysolt,” in allusion to the legend of Tristan and Iseult, a favorite of Pound and H. D. And, to some extent, Ezra’s situation is H. D.’s. She feels imprisoned by her illness, and often spends time in institutions (the local clinic). H. D.’s clinic is intended, among other purposes, for those with mental illnesses, just as is St. Elizabeths in Washington.
The Greek myth of the Dryad, the transformations of Pound, find an echo in Undine, H. D.’s mythic designation of Sheri Martinelli. Undine is a water nymph who can become fully human by being married to a mortal and having his child. Both Martinelli and H. D. seek artistic and human confirmation in Pound; both want to be fully alive, fully human; both, in H. D.’s vision, are frustrated emotionally and sexually. H. D. admires Pound, but she also fears and is frustrated by him. She refers to herself during their earlier romance as a demi-vierge, a virgin who plays with sexuality but never has intercourse. Pound’s emotional, intellectual, and physical advances toward her stopped short of full intercourse, and in the memoir she continues to present herself as still partially searching for that fulfillment. Thus when she first encounters Dr. Heydt, he “reinjects” her with Pound— an image both medical and sexual.
The condensation implicit in this mythic method is also a characteristic shared by H. D. and Pound: the emphasis on images. Pound wished to create a new kind of poetry that avoided editorial comment or analysis and simply presented evocative sense impressions: He called this “Imagism.” In End to Torment, H. D. remembers the moment Pound began her poetic career and recreated her identity by taking a few of her poems and sending them to Harriet Monroe, the editor of Poetry, then signing them “H. D., Imagiste”—yet H. D. was not French and, until that moment, there was no clear doctrine of Imagism.
In addition, the Greek sources of the Dryad are keys to the leanness of much of H. D.’s verse (some of it translations of ancient Greek poetry) and to the obscurity of some of her journal entries. H. D. seeks in Greece a myth both to avoid and to explain her present dilemmas. Thus, as she composes this memoir, she is also in the midst of composing her long poem Helen in Egypt (1961).
In the journal, H. D. is constantly seeking a metaphor to explain/define her life, an image to contain Ezra Pound. A key early experience is his presence at Perdita’s birth. There is the sense that Pound is her mythic lover, perhaps even her creator, who wants to shape and dominate her life. Even though he was married at the time and had long since discontinued any intimate relationship with H. D., he wanted to be father to her child. H. D. writes of Ezra “pounding, pounding (Pounding)” with his stick in anger. The pun turns Pound into myth more than man, and the pun is repeated when he tells H. D. that she cannot join Frances Gregg on Frances’ honeymoon. Romance, love, sexuality—all take on the mythic quality of spirituality and transcendence.
At times H. D. searches for a key, a clue, the idea of a perfect union, some intellectual or spiritual transcendence that will reunite her with Pound. She refers several times to a text brought to her by Pound: “The Being, he-her, disappears or dies in the snow. Seraphitus. . . . The perfection of the fiery moment can not be sustained—or can it?” The passage refers to a mystical novel by Honore de Balzac, Seraphita (1835; the little angel); the central figure in this novel is hermaphroditic, and the gender of his/her name keeps changing. H. D., in the memoir, wonders if there is some way of solving this man/woman dilemma, of transcending her need for/opposition to Pound. She also wants to reach back to the “fiery moment”—the memory of the past, the image of sexual union, the moment of birth—to see if she can preserve and reinvoke it.