The poetry of H.D., as Hilda Doolittle chose to call herself, represents the most Imagistic poems of the school of Imagism. This school of “new” poetry, flourishing during the first two decades of the twentieth century, was finally triumphed over and controlled by Amy Lowell. The proponents had as their credo of poetry (1) the use of common speech; (2) the creation of new rhythms; (3) absolute freedom in subject matter; (4) the use of image; (5) the writing of hard, definite, and clear verse; and (6) the concentration of poetry in its very essence. Although most poets associated with this group later wandered from its narrow statement of beliefs or accomplished little, Hilda Doolittle adhered faithfully to the tenets and produced poetry that is very effective.
The first poem in her first collection called SEA GARDEN reveals her art and accomplishment. In “Sea Rose” with unemotional words, sharp and hard in their clarity, she describes the desiccated sea roe, stunted and blown with the sand in the wind, and yet, despised and abandoned, it has more real fragrance than another flower, the conventional lovely rose, supposedly more fragrant. The poet’s room for maneuver and accomplishment is narrow. She uses sixteen lines and only sixty-four words. But the poem is a fine and delicate cameo chiseled in marble.
Another such poem is “Sea Lily.” In this work the poet addresses the reed that has been broken and torn by the wind. The myrtle is speckled from this reed, the scales are torn from its stem, and it is cut by sand that is sharp as flint, yet through it all the reed stands lifted up despite all the efforts of enemy elements to cover it.
Such poems are triumphant successes. Many, however, are poignant cries which, because of the author’s technique, her assiduous use of the credo of the Imagists, somehow fail to come through to full development. They suggest and hint, but they are underdeveloped and therefore are generally unsuccessful.
A poem of this kind is “Mid-Day.” The poet says that the light and heat are beating her down into nothingness. The wind rattles the seed-pods, and her thoughts are scattered like the seeds. But in the midst of this dryness she looks up and sees the deep-rooted poplar spreading among the other trees on the hill, and she addressed the poplar, pointing out how much more vital and alive it is on the hill than the writer is, perishing as she is on the rocks.
Another such work is “Pursuit.” In it the speaker is following a man whose footsteps are half hidden, interrupted here and there, but distinct enough to be followed. She follows him past the wild hyacinth stalk that he has snapped in passing, through the grass he has brushed, past the forest ledge slopes and the roots that his hand snapped with its weight, on up the hill, then down where he fell, bruising his thigh and thereafter limping. Then the trail is lost and the writer can no longer find any trace of him in the underbrush and the fallen larch cones.
H.D.’s knowledge of Greek was extensive. More than half her work consists of poems on classical subjects and, to a smaller extent, translations of such writers as Euripides. One poem based on a Greek theme is the poignant “Eurydice,” which tells how Orpheus descended to Hades, charmed Pluto with his music, and was allowed to lead Eurydice back to earth on the condition that he would not look back until he reached the upper air....
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