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 the advent of World War II and because of her traumatic experiences then in London, she found her voice and wrote what many believe are her best works—The Walls Do Not Fall, Tribute to the Angels, and The Flowering of the Rod. At the beginning of these poems, published later as Trilogy (1973), H. D. directly addresses the woman poet’s struggle to find a voice in the modern age. She creates that voice, in part, by resurrecting lost pagan myths of women, which she believes have been overshadowed by the male-oriented stories of Christianity.
H. D.’s last major works of poetry include Helen in Egypt, which, like many of her earlier, shorter poems, is a retelling of a classic myth from a woman’s perspective. As in Trilogy, themes of historical and religious continuity compose a part of a female speaker’s quest for identity. H. D.’s interest in Freudian psychology is especially clear in this work. Her Collected Poems: 1912-1944 contains all her poems up to those in Trilogy, including many pre-World War II poems not published during her lifetime.