H(ilda) D(oolittle) 1886–1961
American poet, novelist, dramatist, translator, memoirist, and editor.
H. D. is well known as an Imagist poet and her early free verse poems are credited with being the inspiration for Ezra Pound's formulation of Imagism. H. D.'s later poetry retained its clarity of image and free verse form but transcended the limitations of Imagism to include mythology, occult and religious themes, autobiographical material, psychoanalytic concepts, and symbolism. Her work in other genres also indicates that H. D. should be considered more than an Imagist poet. She is studied today not only because of the originality of her work, but also because much of it reflects her relationships with literary figures in England and America during the early part of the twentieth century.
Doolittle grew up near Philadelphia in an academic family with religious ties to the Moravian and Puritan faiths. She attended Bryn Mawr College and during this time met Marianne Moore and William Carlos Williams. At age nineteen she was briefly engaged to Pound and her intermittent involvement with him drew her to London in 1911. Although the marriage never occurred, Pound did establish her as "H. D. Imagiste" and helped get her poetry published in Harriet Monroe's Poetry magazine. Among the poets H. D. met in London literary circles was Richard Aldington, whom she married in 1913. Together they edited The Egoist, a literary forum for Imagist writers. Among the friends of the Aldingtons were D. H. Lawrence and his wife, Freida, an association which inspired novelizations by Aldington, Lawrence, and H. D. A series of tragic events, including the death of her brother, a miscarriage during her first pregnancy, and her own serious illness, led to the collapse of her marriage in 1919.
After her separation from Aldington, H. D. developed a relationship with the heiress and writer, Winnifred Ellerman, known as Bryher, which lasted until 1946. After travelling through Greece and other countries, H. D. and Bryher settled in Switzerland in 1924. In 1933 and 1934 H. D. underwent psychoanalysis with Sigmund Freud; this experience had an important influence on her work. H. D. returned to England during the Second World War and spent her last years putting her papers together and writing Hermetic Definition (1972). In 1960 she became the first woman to receive the Award of Merit Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Sea Garden (1916), H. D.'s first book of verse, exemplifies her stark, specific use of imagery and the musical rhythm of her early poems. Another characteristic evident here and in H. D.'s other work is the classical Greek influence derived from her lifelong interest in Greek poetry and drama. "Oread" and "Heat" are two of her most celebrated Imagist poems. Two other volumes, Hymen (1921) and Heliodora (1924), were added to Sea Garden and published as Collected Poems (1924), a volume which established a firm foundation for H. D.'s reputation as the "perfect Imagist."
H. D. wrote two books based on her relationship with Pound: End to Torment (1979) and HERmione (1981). The first is a memoir of particular interest to Pound scholars for its inclu-sion of "Hilda's Book," a collection of poems Pound wrote for H. D. HERmione is a novelization of their early courtship which indicates that H. D. may have been bisexual. Bid Me to Live (1960) is a roman à clef about H. D.'s marriage to Aldington, his affair with Dorothy Yorke, and the platonic attachment H. D. formed with Lawrence. One of H. D.'s best prose works is Tribute to Freud (1956), variously termed a "prose love poem," a "psychobiography," and a novel. It describes the impact of the famous analyst on the young feminine protagonist's artistic and emotional development.
H. D.'s poetic work during the interwar period included Red Roses for Bronze (1929). This volume was faulted for its failure to fuse idea and emotion and for its lack of the brilliant images abundant in her early work. Two of the novels she wrote during this time, however, gained attention as experimental narratives. Palimpsest (1926) superimposes cultures and historical periods to present the parallel lives of three intellectual women in Rome, Egypt, and London. Each is seen as a "facet of H. D.'s total personality." The other experimental novel, Hedylus (1928), traces a young male artist's attempt to gain selfhood. Many commentators find the quest for self-identity a common theme throughout H. D.'s writings.
After returning to war-torn England from Switzerland, H. D. produced her major poetic work of the war years: Trilogy, comprising The Walls Do Not Fall (1944), Tribute to Angels (1945), and Flowering of the Rod (1946). Here H. D. combines autobiographical material and Egyptian mythology with the historic particulars of the destruction of London. After the war she wrote her long poem Helen in Egypt (1961). Perhaps because it is an epic quest which centers on a woman, the poem has received much attention, especially from scholars of women's writing. Helen is a persona for H. D. and other mythological figures have been identified as having their counterparts in H. D.'s life. While H. D. may be best remembered as an Imagist poet, such later works as Helen in Egypt have earned her a broader classification.
(See also CLC, Vols. 3, 8, 14; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 97-100; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 4.)