Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Although H. D. is known chiefly for her poetry, she did produce works in other genres, including novels, a verse drama, a screenplay, and a children’s novel. The nonfiction trilogy Tribute to Freud, Writing on the Wall, Advent (1974) presents an account of her psychoanalysis with Sigmund Freud in the 1930’s. In End to Torment: A Memoir of Ezra Pound by H. D. (1979), she profiles her mentor.

Other posthumous publications have included HERmione (1981), an autobiographical novel that was written in 1927, and The Gift (1982), a memoir about her childhood that was written in London during the Blitz of World War II. HERmione contains fictionalized depictions of young Pound and others, and it lyrically describes young H. D.’s acceptance of herself as a woman and an artist. The Gift, as it shifts between recollections of childhood and descriptions of the destruction and fear in London wrought by the bombing during World War II, presents revealing looks at H. D.’s view of life.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

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.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In what ways did H. D.’s rigorous education based on study of the Greek and Roman classics shape her subsequent poetry?

What was the basis of the attraction of the palimpsest to H. D.? In what ways does it symbolize for her the writing process itself?

What part does H. D.’s unusual linguistic alertness play in her poetry?

What is Imagist verse? Characterize H. D.’s contribution to it.

What effects did the fact of H. D.’s having experienced World War I as a young woman and World War II in late middle age have on her poetry?

Was H. D. a visionary or only a would-be visionary?


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Hilda Doolittle (H. D.). Broomhall, Pa.: Chelsea House, 2002. A collection of essays examining the poet and her works.

Burnett, Gary Dean. H. D. Between Image and Epic: The Mysteries of Her Poetics. Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1990. This study deals with H. D.’s poetry between the wars (1916-1944). Burnett refers to this period as her middle period between the Imagist years and the later epics. Her concerns about her life, her response to the war, her research on ancient mystery cults, and her interest in the work of her contemporaries are traced and shown as a context for reading these poems. Includes bibliography and index.

Camboni, Marina, ed. H. D.’s Poetry: “The Meanings That Words Hide: Essays.” Brooklyn, N.Y.: AMS, 2003. This collection examines topics such as the gender issues in H. D.’s trilogy, H. D.’s uses of language, and the poet’s influence on other poets.

Collecott, Diana. H. D. and Sapphic Modernism, 1910-1950. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. This critical study argues for recognition of H. D. as a key figure in the shaping of Anglo-American modernism. The development of a homoerotic strand within H. D.’s distinctively modernist poetics comes together in Collecott’s central concept of sapphic modernism.


(The entire section is 546 words.)