Hilda Doolittle, or H. D., was born September 10, 1886, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Her upbringing encouraged her fascination with mysteries, especially mysteries of worlds that lie beyond the ken of the naked eye. Her astronomer father, Professor Eric Doolittle, explored the universe, and so would her older half brother, Eric. The Doolittles moved in 1895 to Philadelphia, where, at the University of Pennsylvania, Hilda’s father became the director of the university’s Flower Astronomical Observatory. The American poet William Carlos Williams, who became friends with Hilda when he was a medical student at the university, later described H. D.’s father as “a tall gaunt man who seldom even at table focused upon anything nearer, literally, than the moon.”
Hilda’s mother, Helen Wolle, was teaching music and painting at a Bethlehem seminary when she met Professor Doolittle, a recent widower. H. D. was raised with her mother’s sensitivity to the arts and was introduced to the mysteries of her mother’s spiritual world, the Moravian religion. Bethlehem itself had been christened in 1741 by Count Zinzendorf, who, offering a retreat from religious persecution in Germany, was one of the founders of the Moravian church in the United States. The Moravians encouraged individual interpretation of Scripture as an approach to salvation and truth and stressed a strong faith in the healing power of love, and particularly in redemption through the love of Jesus Christ.
H. D. attended Bryn Mawr College in 1904, withdrawing in 1906 for health reasons. She completed her education at home by studying Greek and Latin and the mysterious worlds of the ancients. She shared this love of the classics and her interests in writing with Ezra Pound, the American poet, who was just starting his literary career and was studying Romance languages at the University of Pennsylvania. She and Pound became engaged to be married. All friends at this time, H. D., Ezra Pound, and William Carlos Williams would later become three main forces in twentieth century literature.
Through Pound’s encouragement, H. D. went to London in 1911. Pound, already in London since 1908, had been active in its literary and artistic circles, befriending young writers, such as Ford Madox Ford, T. E. Hulme, F. S. Flint, and T. S. Eliot, and the already established William Butler Yeats. Joining the activity, H. D. became known for her short, crisp verse; her “Priapus” (1913, later retitled “Orchard”) and “Hermes of the Ways” (1913) were published in Poetry magazine; other poems of hers were published in the Little Review and The Egoist.
It was at that time that Pound gave her the pseudonym and epithet “H. D., Imagiste” from which he promoted the poetic movement of Imagism—poetry that presents...
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