H. D. has often been conveniently packaged as a lyrical poet and her influence limited to her contributions during the Imagist movement early in the century. Yet just as her early friends and associates did, H. D. went well beyond the lyric, experimenting with other forms, exploring universal themes within the classical tradition of epic verse and developing an idiosyncratic style that would influence the next generation of poets.
Throughout H. D.’s work, from early to late, runs a strong independent temperament and high seriousness. The driving force in her work is the intent to bring together the best of what culture and civilization have created and from it to create anew. In this quest, nothing is excluded except the unsatisfactory.
The first poems published by Hilda Doolittle—whose pen name was H. D.—were what she and her contemporaries called Imagist. Imagist poems emphasize one powerful image, natural rhythm, and a careful economy of words. Imagism dominates the poems of her first book, Sea Garden, and traces of it continue throughout her work. The titles of her next major volumes—Hymen and Heliodora and Other Poems—reveal her lifelong interest in Greek literature and in particular female figures from mythology, with whom she often identified herself.
Nearly all H. D.’s poetry is about woman’s identity. In some poems, she reconstructs myths of women who are trying to understand their own experiences. In other poems, the subject of womanhood is less obvious. Particularly in the early poems, H. D. endows objects from nature with subtle feminine qualities. Most of H. D.’s writer friends were male, but she described her beliefs about her writing as a specifically womanly activity. In her 1919 notebooks, she describes her inspiration as a “vision of the womb and vision of the brain.”
From about 1925 until World War II, H. D. published only one volume of poetry, Red Roses for Bronze , which contains many of her usual subjects but written in a new style dominated by the repetition of words and phrases. With...
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