Hilda Doolittle, or H. D. as she signed her pseudonym, was at the center of the pre-World War I literary movement known as Imagism. It had a profound influence on twentieth century poetry, insisting on direct treatment through concrete imagery, freshness of language, economy of expression, and flexible versification. H. D. was a protégée of Pound, and the images in her poems best demonstrated Pound’s definition of the image as “that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.” “Priapus” and “Hermes of the Ways,” H. D.’s first Imagist poems, published in 1913, were hailed as innovative breakthroughs; with the publication of Collected Poems of H. D. in 1925, she came to be regarded as the finest of the Imagists. A number of these early poems, such as “Orchard,” “Oread,” “Heat,” and “Sea Gods,” have been repeatedly anthologized. (Unless otherwise noted, all poems cited are from Collected Poems of H. D.).
H. D.’s productive literary career spanned some fifty years. Her later poetry, somewhat neglected, included Red Roses for Bronze; the World War II trilogy, The Walls Do Not Fall, Tribute to the Angels, and The Flowering of the Rod; her long “epic” poem, Helen in Egypt; and Hermetic Definition.
H. D. has received less critical attention than others of her generation. Although her early Imagist poetry was highly acclaimed, critical response to her later work has been mixed. Some critics have argued that this later work is marred by patches of triteness and sentimentality and a too-narrow focus; others have praised its spiritual richness and the undeniable beauty of many of its passages, and later critics have called attention to its feminist aspects. Although she was awarded Poetry’s Levinson Prize in 1938, she was near the end of her life before there were signs of renewed interest in her work: She received the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize in 1958, the Brandeis Award in 1959, and the prestigious Award of Merit Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1960—a prize given only once every five years. Several books appraising H. D. appeared in the 1960’s, and since the mid-1970’s, numerous articles and the first full-length biography have been published. Her Collected Poems, 1912-1944 was published in 1983.