End to Torment Critical Essays

Hilda Doolittle


(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

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...

(The entire section is 886 words.)