Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1222
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...
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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 relationship between H. D. and Pound. Following the text, four pages of notes by the editors elucidate a number of the journal’s obscure references. The notes are followed by “Hilda’s Book,” eighteen pages of Pound’s early poems (some published elsewhere in other forms), which he had hand-bound and sewn in vellum, presented to her early in their romance as a gift.
Aside from the accompanying photos of H. D. and Pound on the cover, the text contains a single photo-reproduction, a copy of an early Pound poem with his “gadfly” signature. Based on a novel of the 1890’s which H. D. and Pound had discussed, this “gadfly” persona represented Pound’s antisocial, ironic, revolutionary pose. H. D. remarks on the “gadfly” image presumably because the figure from the novel is seen as mentally unbalanced and is eventually captured, tried, and executed.
End to Torment moves back and forth between past and present, weaving a palimpsest (itself a title of one of H. D.’s earlier works) of times, images, persons and ideas. H. D. often begins in her present of 1958, with a comment by Dr. Heydt or by one of her friends who may be visiting, and then retreats to some memory of her early romantic days with Pound or to her own poetic career. Often H. D.’s journal entry for the day is a response to a critical article, such as one written by David Rattray, “Weekend with Ezra Pound” (The Nation, November 16, 1957), on Pound’s “Ezuversity,” the slightly self-mocking title Pound gave to the dialogues he held with a variety of visitors in an alcove of St. Elizabeths. Thinking about Pound in his current “fallen” state often returns H. D. to earlier images of romance, as well as to critical responses to Pound’s poems, particularly the Pisan Cantos (published in 1948).
Though the journal proceeds in chronological order from March to July, its treatment of the Pound-H. D. romance is episodic and achronological. H. D. returns repeatedly to a critical incident, such as Pound’s arrival at the birth of her child (not his) or the conflict between her father and Pound.
Her father’s opposition was clearly instrumental in breaking the engagement. Pound left, first for Wabash College in Indiana, later for Italy. Pound’s departure from Wabash was abrupt and occasioned by a minor scandal involving his offering his bed to a homeless female entertainer. Pound emerged blameless in the version he offered H. D.—but also as rebellious, sexually adventurous, and a figure of public scorn. H. D. found a substitute relationship with Frances Gregg, but Pound helped to quash that as well. Eventually H. D. herself moved to Europe and was married to another American poet, Richard Aldington; when she was giving birth to her only child (Perdita Aldington Schaffner) in 1919, Pound stormed into the hospital room, commenting, “. . . my only real criticism is that this is not my child.”
H. D.’s and Pound’s lives began to diverge after the birth of her child. Abandoned by men, H. D. formed a lifelong relationship with Bryher, a female friend; H. D. was analyzed by Sigmund Freud in the 1930’s and spent World War II in London while Pound was in Italy.
While H. D. was composing the journal that became End to Torment, Undine (Sheri Martinelli), an artist and female admirer of Pound, began visiting him at the hospital and corresponding with H. D. Like H. D., Undine had to abandon Pound; later she went to Mexico. H. D. felt great sympathy for Undine and saw her as another version of herself, separated from the great man and potential love.
To some extent, much of the format of End to Torment is a psycho-poetic approach to this autobiographical material. H. D. and her doctor (Heydt) continue to search for images, kernels, traumas—each of which will explain a lifetime, perhaps all of human experience. There is the constant refrain, “What are you hiding?” and a consequent search for what may be hidden.
When Pound is freed from St. Elizabeths and leaves for Italy, the torment seems over. After all the suffering Pound has endured (and alluding to the Dantesque structure and theme of Pound’s main work, the Cantos), H. D. sends him a rose; the rose is “for the Paradiso” (his paradise).
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1500
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 gold. ’I make five friends for my hair, for one for myself.’” Let the reader scorn this who has never remembered first kisses. H. D.’s recollection has the content of any dusty romantic novel, but the telling is jagged, and not without irony: she catches young Ezra Pound pleased with himself in one sentence.
The first entry is dated March 7, 1958, more than fifty years after the meeting in the winter woods which she recalls. From our even greater distance, it is difficult to connect this scene with any of the familiar images of H. D. or Ezra Pound: H. D., hermetic, tormented, bisexual; Pound, holding court at St. Elizabeth’s. Yet in 1905 she was Hilda Doolittle, eighteen years old, daughter of a professor of astronomy. Pound was nineteen, “a young, more robust Ignace Paderewski,” already writing poems but chiefly notorious around the University of Pennsylvania for his eccentric behavior: he told a professor that Bernard Shaw was more important than Shakespeare; he wore flashy socks deemed inappropriate for a freshman.
It is a lost world which H. D. evokes, beginning with their first kisses, “the frost of our mingled breath.” Her memories have more evocative power—and more pathos—because they alternate with her awareness of the present. Her attempt to see the Ezra Pound of 1905 and the Pound of 1958 together from one viewpoint is quite explicit. The distance between herself in 1905 and in 1958 is more implicit: her bisexuality is hinted at obliquely, as in her reference to Balzac’s Séraphita.
The story which she begins in the first entry comes out in bits and pieces, with much backtracking, and with prodding from Dr. Heydt. The recollections come in fragments, but with increasing intensity, until the story is complete: Pound and H. D. were engaged. Her parents disapproved. Her father discovered them “curled up together in an armchair” and asked Pound to leave. It would be easy to dismiss the whole business as absurd, particularly the father’s “discovery,” but the young girl did not have the benefit of our liberated perspective. H. D. returns to this scene of “discovery” just after she has told Erich Heydt how she became “H. D.,” styled “Imagist” by the inspired fiat of Pound. She tells him she has been “hiding” the memory of herself and Pound “standing before my father, caught ’in the very act’ you might say. For no ’act’ afterwards, though biologically fulfilled, had had the significance of the first demi-vierge embraces.” This intense recollection brings to an end the first movement of the journal.
On one level, then, the memoir is a poignant evocation of lost love, a sad and beautiful variation on that inexhaustible theme. Moreover, H. D. seems to suggest—however obliquely—that if she and Pound had married, she might have escaped some of the suffering of her later years. A boy with red-gold hair reminds her of the child they might have had. Yet in another passage, after speaking of the “rigor mortis” she felt fifty years earlier when Pound left for Europe (“my poetry was not dead but it was built on or around the crater of an extinct volcano”), she says “Ezra would have destroyed me and the center they call ’Air and Crystal’ of my poetry.”
However, if she is sometimes ambivalent toward Pound, H. D. writes about him with a passion which is both moving and saddening. This passion can be curiously impersonal, when she seems to see Pound as a bearer of light and energy, a chosen one whose gift transcends his all-too-human failings. (He often appears extremely callous in these pages, not malicious but apparently oblivious to the pain he is causing others.) After several friends criticize Pound, denounce his Fascist contacts, his St. Elizabeth’s crowd, H. D. thinks: “There is no argument, pro or con. You catch fire or you don’t catch fire.” Yet she is also able to laugh at an account of the poet with his peanut butter jars. Only when H. D. begins to identify with Sheri Martinelli, a young painter who was close to Pound during his time at St. Elizabeth’s, does the emotion in the memoir seem false, somehow contrived. The editors chose to call Martinelli “Undine,” which is quite confusing: there are several references to her in the later Cantos, and Pound wrote a florid introduction to a small book of her paintings. H. D’s identification with Martinelli peaks when Pound “abandons” her after the indictment is dropped, and prepares to leave for Italy.
H. D. asked Norman Holmes Pearson to give Dorothy Pound a rose for her when Dorothy and Ezra boarded the Cristoforo Colombo in New York. The last entry in the memoir consists mostly of Pearson’s letter describing the send-off on shipboard; he mentions that Pound lectured him on college entrance exams for half an hour and showed him “Canto XCIX.” The rose, Pearson told Pound, was “for the Paradiso.” That is how H. D. chose to conclude her memoir. It is a very strange, moving, private book. It is difficult to say how much of the strangeness lies in H. D.’s restless inward-turning mind, and how much in the conventions of our day, according to which we are expected to probe to the bone of any life which attracts our attention.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 68
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.