Hilda Doolittle Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Hilda Doolittle was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the first Moravian community in America, on September 10, 1886. Her mother, Helen Wolle Doolittle, was artistic and musical; her father, Charles Leander Doolittle, was professor of mathematics and astronomy at Lehigh, later director of the Flower Observatory at the University of Pennsylvania. Hilda had a rich childhood in a setting of mystical Moravianism that exerted a lasting influence on her poetry.

At the age of fifteen, she met Pound, the first of several extraordinary figures who profoundly influenced her life. Pound, then a precocious graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, encouraged her to become broadly read, and together they studied Latin, Greek, the classics, yogic texts, and a great diversity of authors. Pound, according to their fellow student William Carlos Williams, “was wonderfully in love with her,” but their relationship was somewhat stormy. In 1908, he proposed that they elope to Europe, but her family ties and her suspicions of his other romantic liaisons deterred her. This estrangement was equivocal, however, and in 1911, Hilda joined Pound and his literary circle in London, never again to live in the United States. Her first Imagist poems were published in Poetry (January, 1913), under the signature that Pound suggested, “H. D., Imagiste.” Active in the Imagist movement, she published her first collection, Sea Garden, in 1916.


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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

H. D. was perhaps the best known of the Imagist poets. Her creative life spanned half a century, from 1905 to 1961. Her mother’s family, the Wolles, were Moravians, and her father, Charles Doolittle, was a distinguished astronomer, a somewhat distant figure whom Hilda Doolittle adored. H. D. grew to be a tall woman (5 feet, 11 inches), awkward but very handsome. Her looks remained striking, elegant, and memorable into her old age. She spent one year, 1905, at Bryn Mawr College as a day student but did not do well academically and dropped out—though not before meeting both William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound.{$S[A]Doolittle, Hilda;H. D.}

Pound was her discoverer, the first reader and admirer of her poetry, and he indoctrinated her with his ideas of culture from Europe and his knowledge of classical Greece. When H. D. heard Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis performed by the Bryn Mawr senior class that year, her love of Hellenism was awakened, and it remained with her for the rest of her life.

In 1909 she met Frances Gregg, her first “girl-love,” as she called her. This relationship was enormously influential for H. D., and long after the relationship was concluded she named her daughter Frances. H. D.’s life was marked by many intimate relationships with both men and women. Pound and Gregg were the first. Throughout her tangled personal life and her many attachments, however, she always retained a certain distance, a privacy that allowed her to work; she was a very disciplined and prolific writer. She worked in many genres, including poetry, prose, translations, memoirs, and fiction, but it is as a poet that she will always be known. Recognition for her poetry came early, largely as a result of Pound’s great respect for her work.

In 1910 H. D. went to New York and from there, in 1911, to Paris and London on what was to be a four-month tour. It lasted all her life. In London she made an immediate impression: Her height, her “Greekness,” her spare and open poems, were all of the moment there. Her first published poems—“Hermes of the Ways,” “Orchard,” and “Epigram”—were, with Pound’s endorsement, published by Harriet Monroe in Poetry. Her first book, Sea Garden, followed soon after, in 1916. Pound soon left the Imagist label behind him, stirring up the Vorticist movement with Wyndham Lewis and others in 1913, but H. D. remained true to the Imagist style for years. She did not change her poetic style in a major way until her Trilogy poems, written during World War II.

H. D. married Richard Aldington in 1913. Although Aldington was in the Army during the war years, from 1914 to 1918, he continued, as before, to read and critique all of her work. The couple’s close friend, John Cournos, fell in love with H. D., but as a result of apparently ambiguous communications on her part he gradually acquired an enmity for her. (H. D.’s life was marked by triangles of various kinds.) She went to live in Cornwall, England, with the musician Cecil Gray, and while there she translated Euripides’ Hippolytos and discovered that she was pregnant by Gray. She had the child, whom...

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