Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 435

In Tribute to Freud, H.D. brings alive a figure that has dominated much of twentieth century thinking. The book is an indispensable record, too, as it captures Sigmund Freud, seventy-seven years old when H.D. meets him, at the end of his long, prestigious, and controversial life. He is still active, perceptive, crafty, affectionate. While clearly not an academic study of psychoanalysis, Tribute to Freud is a valuable overlay providing a range of illuminating details, from descriptions of Freud’s famous study and horsehair sofa to personal anecdotes about Freud at work.

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As a product of H.D.’s eclectic mind, interests, and experience, Tribute to Freud also highlights other central events and important figures of the century. H.D. records the oppressive feeling accompanying the rise of Nazi political power and Jewish persecution in Vienna of the early 1930’s. Among other signs she witnesses, swastikas are chalked outside Freud’s home. Freud is forced to exile himself in 1938 to England, where he died in 1939.

Tribute to Freud reveals valuable information about its author, who, by the time she met Freud, had herself shaped literary history. She lent her signature, “H.D., Imagiste,” and exemplary poems to the Imagist movement of poetry, which flourished early in the second decade of the twentieth century. Those persons whom she reveals in her memoir as inseparable from her psyche are also inseparable from a study of twentieth century letters: Ezra Pound, to whom she was once engaged; Richard Aldington, to whom she was married and divorced; and D.H. Lawrence, with whom she had a psychological, literary, and perhaps sexual affair.

Tribute to Freud is another instance of H.D.’s keeping alive through her writing those inseparable from her imagination. By Avon River (1949) is a poetic tribute to William Shakespeare and a prose tribute to the Elizabethans. Two intensely personal works are End to Torment (1979), her memoir of Ezra Pound, and Bid Me to Live (1960), her novel that reconstructs her relationships with Richard Aldington and D.H. Lawrence.

H.D. wrote Tribute to Freud at a pivotal time in her life, a time when she was searching for support for her personal and artistic beliefs. The work is a testament to the creative power of the mind and memory, to imagination and art, and to the ability of all of these to survive personal and cultural tragedies. Tribute to Freud’s themes, language, and imagery are at the center of Trilogy (1946), the long poem H.D. was writing through the war years, and in the poetry she would yet write, Helen in Egypt (1961) and Hermetic Definition (1972).

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