Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In March, 1958, H. D. (Hilda Doolittle) was in Kusnacht, Switzerland, recovering from an injury that she had suffered as the result of a fall. Her doctor, Erich Heydt, a psychoanalyst, encouraged her to keep a journal in which she recorded and explored her feelings for Ezra Pound. She was seventy-two years old when she began the journal; she had first met Pound in 1901 in Philadelphia and later had fallen in love with him and had become engaged to him. Fifty-seven years later, on March 7, when she began the journal, Ezra Pound was in his twelfth year of confinement in St. Elizabeths hospital in Washington, D.C., having in 1946 been judged mentally incompetent to stand trial for treason. Though an American citizen, Pound had, during World War II, broadcast a series of cultural diatribes over Rome Radio. The broadcasts revealed many of Pound’s literary and intellectual obsessions, and they were often anti-Semitic and pro-Fascist. Given the war, these broadcasts so antagonized American authorities that, at the end of the war, they imprisoned him in Pisa (Italy) and had him brought to the United States for trial.

In this memoir, H. D. recalls her first meetings with Pound, the romance they shared, the crossing of their paths in London (1908-1919) and, later, in Paris, and the metaphorical and artistic links between them. At the time that H. D. was writing, Pound was still hardly a popular figure, but the postwar vindictiveness against him had faded, and there was a growing movement—initiated by Archibald MacLeish, supported by Ernest Hemingway, and featuring Robert Frost as its spokesman—to free Pound from the mental asylum and from trial for treason. H. D. is sympathetic to her old friend and former romantic fixation, and in her journal she follows the various published comments and analyses that were part of the process of Pound’s achieving freedom. The journal ends (July 13, 1958) with Pound’s freedom, as H. D. received a letter from Norman Pearson informing her that Pound had left for Italy on the cruise ship Cristoforo Colombo.

Presumably this release was the end of Pound’s torment, and of H. D.’s, in sympathy for and reminiscence of him. She sent the manuscript of her journal to his retreat at Brunnenburg, Italy; though he liked the title End to Torment, he commented that it was “optimistic.” H.D. died two years later; Norman Pearson died in 1975, while working on her manuscript. The editing task was finally completed by Michael King, and the manuscript was published in 1979.

The memoir’s form is that of a journal. Each section is preceded by a date, sometimes including the day of the week (or, at Eastertime, noting “Good Friday,” “Easter Saturday,” “Easter Monday”). This journal is the book’s center and raison d’etre, yet it consists of only fifty-nine pages. The journal is preceded by a six-page foreword by Michael King, explaining the circumstances of the journal as well as some of the background of the...

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End to Torment

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 16)

End to Torment takes its title from a letter which Norman Holmes Pearson wrote to H. D. in April, 1958; the indictment against Ezra Pound for high treason had just been dropped, and Pound’s release from St. Elizabeth’s—the asylum in Washington, D. C., where he had been confined since 1945—was imminent. The indictment was dropped because Pound was judged to be permanently, incurably insane. Pearson wrote to H. D.: “And now another canyon has been bridged by Ezra’s end to torment. . . .” Later, when H. D. sent the manuscript of this book to Pound in Italy, he found “a great deal of beauty” in it, but added this postscript: “Torment title excellent, but optimistic.” He lived another fifteen years, withdrawing into the anguished silence which so many visitors described. In addition to H. D.’s memoir, New Directions has included in this volume the early poems by Pound collected in “Hilda’s Book,” which he wrote for Hilda Doolittle before she became “H. D. Imagiste.”

Not a memoir composed in tranquillity, but a journal of piercing memories all related to Ezra Pound, End to Torment jumps back and forth between the distant past, the present, and the recent past. There is beauty in it, as Pound said, but there is also much anguish in reading End to Torment: H. D.’s own as she probes her memory; the reader’s pity—not condescension—at the sad spectacle she sometimes makes, sorting through lives and events as if through a Tarot deck, desperately seeking patterns, occult affinities. There is the tragedy of Ezra Pound; so much has been written about that, but H. D.’s imagistic discontinuous glimpses deepen our understanding, as many volumes have failed to do.

The publication of End to Torment follows by five years the reissue (with considerable additions) of H. D.’s Tribute to Freud. Earlier, New Directions reissued her Trilogy written during World War II (The Walls Do Not Fall, Tribute to the Angels, The Flowering of the Rod), which some readers regard as her finest work. Other works have also been published by New Directions, and there are a number of manuscripts still awaiting publication, including several novels. Eventually the body of this work should correct the notion that her art flared and died with Imagism.

H. D. began writing End to Torment in March, 1958, in Kusnacht, Switzerland, where she was recovering from a serious fall. (She remained a semi-invalid until her death in 1961.) She finished in July, and the last entry records, via Pearson’s report to her, Pound’s departure for Italy. She keeps to the journal form throughout, darting from image to image, experience to experience, as she did in the “Advent” section of the Tribute to Freud. Transitions are abrupt or nonexistent, and part of the pleasure of reading the book is in making the associative leaps with her, yet she can also exasperate with hermetic or merely precious musings (as she does more often in the latter stages of the memoir). Although the memoir is not a record of psychoanalysis, H. D. was spurred to pursue her recollections of Pound by her physician, Dr. Erich Heydt, the chief doctor of a nearby clinic. Her “tea sessions” with him—he called on her three or four times a week—during which she would often show him what she had just written, and he would question her further about her memories, give many of the entries a connecting thread.

The memoir begins with characteristic abruptness, with chiseled beauty: “Snow on his beard. But he had no beard, then. Snow blows down from pine branches, dry powder on the red...

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(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

DuPlessis, Rachel Blau. H.D.: The Career of That Struggle, 1986.

Friedman, Susan Stanford. Psyche Reborn: The Emergence of H. D., 1981.

Guest, Barbara. Herself Defined: The Poet H. D. and Her World, 1984.

Kerblat-Houghton, Jeanne. “‘But Am I Wrong?’ A Study of Interrogation in End to Torment,” in H. D.: Woman and Poet, 1986. Edited by Michael King.

Robinson, Janice S. H. D.: The Life and Work of an American Poet, 1982.