Born September 10, 1886, in Bethlehem, PA; died of a heart attack September 27, 1961, in Zurich, Switzerland; daughter of Charles Leander (a professor of mathematics and astronomy) and Helen Eugeneia (Woole) Doolittle; married Richard Aldington (a writer), October, 1913 (separated, 1919; divorced, 1938); children: Perdita (Mrs. John Schaffner). Education: Attended Bryn Mawr College, 1900-06.
Poet, playwright, novelist, and translator. Literary editor of Egoist, 1916-17; contributing editor of Close-Up (cinema journal), 1927-31. Actress with Paul Robeson in film "Borderline," c. 1930.
Guarantor's Prize, Poetry, 1915; Levinson Prize, 1938, and Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize, 1958, both for verse published in Poetry; Brandeis University Creative Arts Medal, 1959, for lifetime of distinguished achievement; Award of Merit Medal for poetry, National Institute and American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1960.
UNDER PSEUDONYM H. D.
Sea Garden (poems), Constable (London, England), 1916, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1975.
(Translator) Euripides, Choruses from the "Iphigenia in Aulis," Clerk's Private Press (Cleveland, OH), 1916.
The Tribute and Circe: Two Poems, Clerk's Private Press (Cleveland, OH), 1917.
Hymen (poems), Holt (New York, NY), 1921.
Heliodora and Other Poems, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1924.
Collected Poems of H. D., Boni & Liveright (New York, NY), 1925.
H. D. (poems), edited by Hugh Mearns, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1926.
Palimpsest (novel), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1926, revised edition, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 1968.
Hippolytus Temporizes: A Play in Three Acts, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1927, revised edition, Black Swan Books (Redding Ridge, CT), 1985.
Hedylus (novel), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1928, revised edition, Black Swan Books (Redding Ridge, CT), 1980.
Red Roses for Bronze (poems), Random House (New York, NY), 1929, reprinted, AMS Press, 1970.
Borderlinem—A Pool Film with Paul Robeson, Mercury (London, England), 1930.
Kora and Ka (novel), Darantiere (Dijon, France), 1934, Bios (Berkeley CA), 1978.
The Usual Star (poems), Darantiere (Dijon, France), 1934.
The Hedgehog (children's fiction), Brendin (London, England), 1936.
(Translator) Euripides, Ion (play), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1937, revised edition, 1985.
What Do I Love? (poems), Brendin (London, England), 1944.
The Walls Do Not Fall (poems; also see below), Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1944.
Tribute to the Angels (poems; also see below), Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1945.
The Flowering of the Rod (poems; also see below), Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1946.
By Avon River (poetry and prose), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1949, revised edition, Black Swan Books (Redding Ridge, CT), 1986.
Tribute to Freud, with Unpublished Letters to Freud by the Author, Pantheon (New York, NY), 1956, enlarged edition, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1975, 2nd edition published as Tribute to Freud: Writing on the Wall, New Directions (New York, NY), 1984.
Selected Poems, Grove (New York, NY), 1957.
Bid Me to Live: A Madrigal (novel), Grove (New York, NY), 1960, revised edition, 1983.
Helen in Egypt (poem), Grove (New York, NY), 1961.
Two Poems (originally published in Life and Letters Today, 1937), Arif (San Francisco, CA), 1971.
Temple of the Sun, Arif (San Francisco, CA), 1972.
Hermetic Definition, New Directions (New York, NY), 1972.
Trilogy: The Walls Do Not Fall, Tribute to the Angels, The Flowering of the Rod, New Directions (New York, NY), 1973.
The Poet and the Dancer (originally published in Life and Letters Today, December, 1935), Five Trees Press (San Francisco, CA), 1975.
End to Torment: A Memoir of Ezra Pound, edited by Norman Holmes Pearson and Michael King, New Directions (New York, NY), 1979.
HERmione, New Directions (New York, NY), 1981, published as Her, Virago (London, England), 1984.
The Gift (memoir), New Directions (New York, NY), 1982, revised edition, edited by Jane Augustine, University of Florida Press (Gainesville, FL), 1998.
Collected Poems, 1912-1944, edited by Louis L. Martz, New Directions (New York, NY), 1983.
Notes on Thought and Vision and The Wise Sappho, City Lights Books (San Francisco, CA), 1983.
Priest [and] A Dead Priestess Speaks (poems), Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 1983.
Selected Poems, edited by Louis L. Martz, Carcanet Press (Manchester, England), 1989.
Asphodel, edited with an introduction by Robert Spoo, Duke University Press (Durham, NC), 1992.
Richard Aldington and H. D.: The Later Years in Letters, Manchester University Press (Manchester, England), 1995, revised as Richard Aldington and H. D.: Their Lives in Letters, 1918-1961, edited and with an introduction by Caroline Zilboorg, 2003.
Between History and Poetry: The Letters of H. D. and Norman Holmes Pearson, edited by Donna Krolik Hollenberg, University of Iowa Press (Iowa City, IA), 1997.
Pilate's Wife, edited and with an introduction by Joan A. Burke, New Directions (New York, NY), 2000.
Analyzing Freud: Letters of H. D., Bryher, and Their Circle, edited by Susan Stanford Friedman, New Directions (New York, NY), 2002.
Hippolytus Temporizes [and] Ion: Adaptations of Two by Euripides, introduction by Carol Camper, New Directions (New York, NY), 2003.
(Under pseudonym John Helforth) Nights, Darantiere (Dijon, France), 1935.
Work represented in anthologies, including Des Imagistes: An Anthology, edited by Ezra Pound, A. & C. Boni, 1914; Some Imagist Poets: An Anthology, edited by Amy Lowell, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1915-17; and Contact Collection of Contemporary Writers, edited by Robert McAlmon, Contact Editions, 1925. Contributor to Poetry and other periodicals.
Collections of H. D.'s papers are housed at the Beinecke Library, Yale University.
Hilda Doolittle was commonly known by her pseudonym of H. D. She joined fellow poet Ezra Pound as a leading figure in the Imagist movement of the early twentieth century. Never one to conform to tradition, even those she helped establish, H. D. eventually moved from that school, her stark verse setting a path toward the concrete poetry of later decades. Crises within her personal life greatly influenced H. D.'s work as well, as did the poet's psychoanalytical work with Sigmund Freud and her growing spirituality. In her later years she lived a quiet life, making a new home in Switzerland and experimenting with the novel form. Following her death in 1961 H. D.'s work was embraced by feminist scholars; as Lucy Morrinson noted in Feminist Writers, "For H. D., autonomy as a woman author could only be achieved through her creative attempts to redefine literary traditions with a woman's voice. . . ., striving not only to enter a man's world, but also to reinvent it with a woman's perspectives and insights."
H. D. was born on September 10, 1886, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to an academic family with ties to the Moravian and Puritan faiths. Her mother, an artist, taught music and painting at the Moravian Seminary; her father was a professor of astronomy, first at Lehigh University and later at the University of Pennsylvania and also served as director of the Flower Observatory near Philadelphia. The sixth child born to her parents, she was the only daughter to survive past infancy. According to Dictionary of Literary Biography essayist Susan Stanford Friedman, H. D. "was her austere father's favorite child. Only she was allowed to play quietly in his study and cut the pages of his new books. As a child, she associated the fables and myths she loved to read with her father's stars and the astrological symbols filling the pages of his work." Professor Doolittle had great plans for his daughter, and he tutored her in math in the hope that she would become a noted scientist. Though these efforts failed, the girl developed a love of reading, and was introduced by her half-brother Eric to the works of Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, and the Brontë sisters.
A Defiance of Barriers
Like many young women, H. D. had a complex relationship with her mother while growing up. Although she admired her mother's artistic gifts, her own attempts to express herself creatively were stifled. According to Friedman, H. D.'s "father forbade art school, and her mother's self-effacement and conventional devotion to the Professor's work provided a problematic model for her aspiring daughter." H. D. once recalled that her mother, who loved to sing to her young children, stopped singing completely after the professor complained of the excessive noise. For H. D., her father's patriarchal oppression of her mother's creativity served as a motivating factor throughout her later years, as she refused to bend to convention of gender or society in her determination to define herself as an "artist." "The difficulty H. D. experienced in creating an identity that incorporated the various forms of her art and her womanhood is evident in her lifelong fascination with names as 'signs' of an underlying self-creation," Friedman commented. "Not only H. D. but also Edith Gray, J. Beran, Rhoda Peter, Helga Dart, Helga Dorn, John Helforth, D. A. Hill, and Delia Alton were to appear as 'signatures' on her published and unpublished work."
When H. D. was fifteen years old she met and fell in love with a young man one year her senior. Ezra Pound returned her affections and the two became engaged, but H. D.'s father ultimately derailed their love affair. Despite the broken engagement, Pound was highly influential in both her art and her personal life for the rest of H. D.'s life, as the two shared a love of literature. Pound also introduced H. D. to William Carlos Williams, who like Pound, would also loom large in American poetry in future years.
While attending Bryn Mawr College between 1904 and 1906, H. D. became friends with fellow classmate Marianne Moore, who would later become well known as a poet. According to Friedman, these college years and beyond "were critical for H. D.'s later artistic development, not only because she experienced her first real intellectual and poetic awakenings, but also because as a woman she faced questions of identity revolving around the conflicting demands of sexuality, gender, and vocation." During her first two years of college, H. D., Williams, Moore, and Pound discussed and developed the literary theories that would lead each of them to play a distinct role in changing the course of American poetry.
In 1906, poor health forced H. D. to leave Bryn Mawr, although she continued to study on her own. She also began to write seriously for the first time. While Pound left the United States for Europe in 1908, and was soon publishing poetry in Venice and becoming increasingly well known within London's literary circles, H. D. remained in the United States and had poems, stories, and articles published in newspapers and small journals.
The Birth of Imagism
Three years later she traveled to Europe for a summer vacation and met Pound in London. There H. D. met Pound's literary friends, such as Ford Maddox Ford, William Butler Yeats, F. S. Flint, and Richard Aldington. H. D., Pound, Flint, and Aldington soon formed the core of what became known as the Imagist movement. Living in Europe and publishing in the United States through Poetry, the group shaped the course of modern poetry. They abandoned the formal structures of the poetry of the time in favor of Imagist tenets, and called for an economical verse in the language of common speech, composed "in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome." While many saw the imagists as innovators of poetic form, to others the new poetry was scandalous. In fact, the imagists made poetry newsworthy and Poetry magazine was even the subject of newspaper editorials and indignant letters to the editor.
Though H. D. wrote in the imagist mode throughout much of her career, the movement itself was short-lived. Pound, who by some accounts invented the school solely to bring attention to H. D.'s work, drifted away from the movement's center and was replaced by Amy Lowell. (Disgusted with Lowell's influence in the group, Pound then dubbed the school "Amygism.") When the last of the group's collections, Some Imagist Poets, was published in 1917, it was accompanied with an essay explaining that its contributors could, from that point onward, better establish their individual directions as writers independent of the "imagist" label. H. D. herself later viewed somewhat derogatorily the movement that had provided her a place in the literary limelight.
During the imagist years, H. D. began a romantic relationship with fellow poet Richard Aldington, and the two were married in 1913, bonded by what Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Melody Zajdel called a "mutual interest in classical literature, a mutual contempt of middle-class hypocrisy, and a mutual dedication to careers in poetry." While their relationship appeared by all accounts to be a happy one, their life together was disrupted by World War I. In 1916 Aldington entered the military, and H. D. assumed her husband's post as literary editor of the Egoist. Upon Aldington's return, the marriage deteriorated, and H. D. soon found herself emotionally isolated and confronting a series of additional personal setbacks. The year 1918 saw the death of her brother on a French battlefield, as well as a second miscarriage, which resulted in her separation from her husband. While a daughter, Perdita, was born the following year, that joy was countered by the death of H. D.'s father. The poet fell into a deep depression, her mood elevated ultimately through the efforts of her friend, novelist Winifred Ellerman, a woman who would eventually become better known under her pseudonym, Bryher.
The two had met after Bryher had sent H. D. a letter praising Sea Garden, and Bryher continued to compliment H. D.'s work. In her book The Heart to Artemis: A Writer's Memoirs, Bryher called H. D.'s collection Hymen "a beacon to those who, in a destructive age, believe in life." H. D., in turn, encouraged Bryher to pursue her own writing, and cherished her new friend as the "single bright spot" of the time, according to Zajdel. Between 1919 and 1923 the two also traveled extensively, to Greece, Egypt, and America, spending most of their time in London between travels. H. D. finally settled in Switzerland in 1924.
The 1921 publication of Hymen, followed by Heliodora three years later, gave H. D.'s poetry a significant platform from which to be judged. Readers praised her work for its economy of language and precision but also noted that it broke with imagism due to its emotional element. Whether she chose as her subjects symbols from the Hellenic world or objects taken from nature, she fused her abilities to create and to control.
Collected Poems is considered a watershed in H. D.'s career. The 1925 work helped establish her reputation by bringing into one volume all of her poems and translations. While some, such as William Carlos Williams, praised the volume, as Vincent Quinn suggested in Hilda Doolittle (H. D.), the book did H. D. one particular disservice: "The title suggests the end rather than the beginning of her career."
Aside from the publication of Collected Poems, the mid-1920s was marked by several other shifts in H. D.'s career. During this time she abandoned the active literary life of the expatriate circles and moved to her Switzerland home. Also during the 1920s, H. D. changed the focus of her writing, experimenting with new forms of poetry as well as with drama and fiction.
Prose Receives Mixed Reviews
Her three-story collection Palimpsest serves as what Zajdel called "a repository for the themes H. D. would explore throughout the rest of her career."
Specifically, the writer focuses on the artist's search for identity and the role of the artist in society. In Hedylus she explores a mother-son relationship. While praise for these novels centered around H. D.'s "exquisite" prose and the beauty of her presentation, some critics pointed to their difficult and exclusive nature. Writing in the New York Times, Babette Deutsch called Palimpsest a book "for poets and patient intellectuals." However, to "dismiss it as caviar would be to emphasize its delicacy at the expense of its indubitable strength," the critic added.
During the 1930s H. D. stepped back from the literary spotlight and led a quiet life in Switzerland. During this time she also submitted to psychoanalysis under the guidance of Sigmund Freud. The writer first sought Freud's help in 1933 and visited him again a year later. She published her recollections of the experience in her 1956 book, Tribute to Freud, with Unpublished Letters to Freud by the Author.
"Essentially," explained Quinn, "the work is a self-portrait brought into focus by her confrontation with Freud." Freud helped H. D. to understand her dreams, Quinn reported, but the two differed in their beliefs regarding immortality. As H. D. herself wrote, Freud's argument was that a "belief in the soul's survival, in a life after death . . . was the last and greatest phantasy." H. D., in contrast, longed "for the Absolute," said Quinn. "She clung to the faith that the shortcomings of time would be overcome in eternity."
In the 1940s, with the three volumes that would become known as her "War" trilogy, H. D. once again drew the admiration of critics. While the trilogy did not bring her immediate fame, it was evidence of a renewed creative vigor. The Walls Do Not Fall reflects the poet's spiritual idealismm—her belief in man's union with Godm—in the face of war, while Tribute to the Angels focuses on the conflict between faith and war. In Flowering of the Rod H. D. seeks to achieve a mystical vision, "a transcendental union with God" that some critics have criticized as being too mystical. However, as Donald Barlow noted in A Short History of American Poetry, "There are in these poems the same qualities found in the verse written more than a decade earlier, precision of image and word, directness of statement, but with a sureness and evenness of tone that show how firmly she was in control of the world she had chosen to re-create."
Fictionalizes Life before the War
Following World War II, H. D. returned to Switzerland and wrote her third major work of fiction, Bid Me to Live, which recalls her life in London during the 1920s. Although all the characters are fictionalized, the novel recounts the author's experiences with D. H. Lawrence, Lawrence's wife, Freida, and Aldington. In the novel, H. D.'s alter ego, Julia, watches as her marriage dissolves and she becomes involved in a platonic relationship with another man. When that man withdraws from the relationship, Julia's solution, according to Zajdel, "is a dedication to her life as an artist and an affirmation of her identity as a creator and poet. As a result, the theme of artist as hero who will prevail if the artist remains dedicated to his or her art is prevalent throughout H. D.'s work."
Helen in Egypt, H. D.'s last major work, combines poetry and prose, and relates, in three parts, the mythic story of Helen and Achilles in a manner that Quinn dubbed "stark and transcendental." The work is significant in that it displays the themes and techniques H. D. employed throughout her career, and has been considered, as Emily Stipes Watts noted in The Poetry of American Women from 1632 to 1945, "the climax of H. D.'s career both intellectually and poetically."
A Poet's Poet
Interestingly, due to the resurgence of interest in H. D. and her work in the late-twentieth century, a novel the author wrote around 1930 but never published was finally released for publication in 2000. Pilate's Wife tells the story of Pontius Pilate from the viewpoint of his wife, Claudia, whom H. D. calls "Veronica" in the novel. Bored with her life in the Roman court, Veronica involves herself with various lovers and intrigues. When she finally seeks the help of a seer, her life is changed to the point that she is inspired to help the condemned Jesus escape execution. Library Journal contributor Melanie C. Duncan noted, "Although the story would have been shocking had it been published in its time, today it will interest only H. D. scholars at best."
While few would argue about H. D.'s importance as an influence on modern poetry, debate has continued regarding the lasting merits of her work. Readers have been deterred from much of H. D.'s writing because of the preciousness of her language, the abundance of mythology, and the limited world of her focus. While she did broaden her subject range after World War II, she did so at the expense of the clarity and conciseness that had been her trademark. Still, her technical achievements, her poignant portrayals of her personal struggles, and the beauty of her work have continued to earn her poetry and fiction critical praise.
To many, H. D. will be remembered as "a poets' poet." "To be 'a poets' poet' has few tangible rewards," wrote Gregory, "for this means that the poet who holds that title must often wait upon the future for true recognition." Almost a half century after her death, H. D.'s achievement continued to be measured in comparison with the "major poets of the twentieth century," asserted Hyatt H. Waggoner in American Poets from the Puritans to the Present, "or at least with those in some sort of second category, like [Conrad] Aiken or [Archibald] MacLeish or [John Crowe] Ransom." In the process of gaining literary stature, the critic added, "the notes she made in her journey, in her poems, compose one of the really distinguished bodies of work of this century."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Aldington, Richard, Life for Life's Sake: A Book of Reminiscences, Viking (New York, NY), 1941.
Bryher, The Heart to Artemis: A Writer's Memoirs, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1962.
Coffman, Stanley K., Imagism: A Chapter for the History of Modern Poetry, University of Oklahoma Press (Norman, OK), 1950.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 3, 1975, Volume 8, 1978, Volume 14, 1980, Volume 31, 1985, Volume 34, 1985.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 4: American Writers in Paris, 1920-39, 1980, Volume 45: American Poets, 1880-1945, 1986.
DiPace Fritz, Angela, Thought and Vision: A Critical Reading of H. D.'s Poetry, Catholic University of America Press (Washington, DC), 1988.
DuPlessis, Rachel Blau, H. D.: The Career of That Struggle, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1986.
Ellmann, Richard, and Robert O'Clair, editors, The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, Norton (New York, NY), 1973.
Foster, Damon S., Amy Lowell, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1935.
Friedman, Susan Stanford, Psyche Reborn: The Emergence of H. D., Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1981.
Friedman, Susan Stanford, Penelope's Web: Gender, Modernity, H. D.'s Fiction, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1990.
Friedman, Susan Stanford, and Rachel Blau DuPlessis, editors, Signets: Reading H. D., University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 1990.
Gregory, Eileen, H. D. and Hellenism: Classic Lines, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Gregory, Horace, and Marya Zaturenska, A History of American Poetry: 1900-1940, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1942.
Guest, Barbara, Herself Defined: The Poet H. D. and Her World, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1984.
H. D., Helen in Egypt, introduction by Horace Gregory, New Directions (New York, NY), 1974.
Holland, Norman N., Poems in Persons: An Introduction to the Psychoanalysis of Literature, Norton (New York, NY), 1973.
Hollenberg, Donna Krolik, H. D.: The Poetics of Childbirth and Creativity, Northeastern University Press (Boston, MA), 1991.
Hughes, Glenn, Imagism and the Imagists, Humanities Press (Atlantic Highlands, NJ), 1931.
Kester-Shelton, Pamela, editor, Feminist Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996, pp. 224-226.
King, Michael, editor, H. D.: Woman and Poet, National Poetry Foundation (Orono, ME), 1986.
If you enjoy the works of Hilda Doolittle
If you enjoy the works of Hilda Doolittle, you may also want to check out the following:
William Carlos Williams, Selected Poems, 1985.
Marianne Moore, Complete Poems, 1994.
Ezra Pound, Ezra Pound: Poems and Translations, 2003.
Laity, Cassandra, H. D. and the Victorian Fin de Siécle: Gender, Modernism, Decadence, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Lawrence, D. H., A Composite Biography, three volumes, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 1957-59.
Perkins, David, A History of Modern Poetry: From the 1890s to the High Modernist Mode, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1976.
Quinn, Vincent, Hilda Doolittle (H. D.), Twayne (New York, NY), 1967.
Robinson, Janice S., H. D.: The Life and Work of an American Poet, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1982.
Stauffer, Donald Barlow, A Short History of American Poetry, Dutton (New York, NY), 1974.
Swann, Thomas Burnett, The Classical World of H. D., University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1962.
Waggoner, Hyatt H., American Poets from the Puritans to the Present, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1968.
Watts, Emily Stipes, The Poetry of American Women from 1632 to 1945, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1977.
White, Eric Walter, Images of H. D., Enitharmon (London, England), 1976.
Agenda, autumn, 1974.
Best Sellers, February 15, 1974; June, 1975.
Books, February 14, 1932.
Christian Science Monitor, October 26, 1961.
College English, March, 1975.
Commonweal, April 18, 1958.
Contemporary Literature, autumn, 1969; spring, 1978.
Essays in Criticism, July, 1977.
Library Journal, June 1, 2000, Melanie C. Duncan, review of Pilate's Wife, p. 106.
Literary Review, May 23, 1925; November 27, 1926.
Mississippi Quarterly, fall, 1962.
Nation, April 26, 1922, November 12, 1924; August 19, 1925; October 8, 1973.
New Republic, January 2, 1929; February 16, 1974.
Newsweek, May 2, 1960.
New York Herald Tribune Book Review, November 28, 1926; June 12, 1960.
New York Times, August 31, 1924; November 21, 1926; November 18, 1928; January 31, 1932; July 31, 1949; September 22, 1957.
New York Times Book Review, May 1, 1960; December 24, 1961; December 22, 2002, Robert Gottlieb, "Analyze That," pp. 13-14.
Poetry, March, 1922; November, 1932; April, 1947; January, 1958; June, 1962; June, 1974.
Poetry Nation, number 4, 1975.
Saturday Review, May 28, 1960.
Saturday Review of Literature, January 1, 1927; December 22, 1928; December 29, 1945; February 22, 1947; August 20, 1949.
Sewanee Review, spring, 1948.
Spectator, February 25, 1922; December 31, 1931.
Times Literary Supplement, July 3, 1924; July 27, 1946; March 23, 1973; March 15, 1974.
Triquarterly, spring, 1968.
Weekly Book Review, October 1, 1944.
Newsweek, October 9, 1961.
New York Times, September 29, 1961.
Publishers Weekly, October 23, 1961.
Time, October 6, 1961.*
The American poet, translator, and novelist Hilda Doolittle (1886-1961), generally called H. D., was an imagist whose lyric art conveys intense feelings through sharp images and "free" forms.
Hilda Doolittle was born on Sept. 10, 1886, in Bethlehem, Pa.; her father was a professor. She entered Bryn Mawr College in 1904. She had met Ezra Pound in 1901, and in 1905, while he was studying at the University of Pennsylvania, he introduced her to William Carlos Williams, then a medical school student at the university. She quit school in 1906 because of ill health. During the next 5 years she studied Greek and Latin literature, tried Latin translation, and wrote a few poems. By 1911 the apprenticeship of this tall young woman, attractive in a long-faced, large-eyed way, was nearly over.
Doolittle toured Europe and stayed on in London, where Pound took her under his wing. She and Richard Aldington found a common interest in carrying over into English the spare beauty of Greek art and literature. Pound called them Imagistes, thus creating a new literary movement based on common speech, the exact word, new rhythms, absolute freedom in choosing subjects, clarity, and concentration. Pound helped both poets get published, persuading Doolittle in 1913 to sign herself "H. D., Imagiste." (H. D. remained perhaps the only faithful imagist, less out of decision than because her natural way of writing simply coincided with Pound's program.)
H. D. married Aldington in 1913. In 1916 he left for World War I front lines, and she issued her first volume, SeaGarden, also succeeding him as literary editor of the Egoist. A year later she resigned because of poor health and was replaced by T. S. Eliot. The anxieties of the war, a miscarriage, and her husband's infidelity overwhelmed her. In 1919, pregnant, ill with pneumonia, and saddened by the death of her father, she separated from Aldington and later had a daughter, Perdita.
Winifred Ellerman, a wealthy novelist-to-be known as "Bryher," became H. D.'s friend and benefactor. They settled in neighboring houses in a Swiss village in 1923. Thereafter H. D. lived either in Switzerland or in London. Meanwhile she issued Hymen (1921) and Heliodora (1924). Collected Poems (1925) established her place in modern poetry. "Helen" and the more sustained lament "Islands" are representative selections.
H. D.'s first novel, Palimpsest (1926), deals with the trials of sensitive women and artists in a harsh world. Her second novel was Hedylus (1928). In 1927 she published a verse play, Hippolytus Temporizes. A new volume of poems, Red Roses from Bronze (1931), and The Hedgehog (1936), prose fiction, like her early volumes contained choruses translated from Greek plays. Her most ambitious translation was Euripides' Ion (1937). The following year she divorced Aldington.
H. D. was in London during World War II. By Avon River (1949) deals with Shakespeare and Elizabethan and Jacobean writers. Tribute to Freud (1956) records her gratitude for her psychoanalysis. Her novel Bid Me to Live (1960) is an account of a situation that approximates her marital breakup. Her most ambitious work, Helen in Egypt (1961), concludes that perfect love can be found only in death. She died that year in Switzerland.
In all of H. D.'s poetry, discrete colors and forms, frugal rhythms, focused emotions, and clarity of thought suggest a Greek miniaturist or, in longer works, a Japanese scroll painter.
There are two full-length studies of Hilda Doolittle: Thomas B. Swann, The Classical World of H. D. (1962), and Vincent Quinn, H. D. (1968). Biographical material is also available in the autobiographies of Richard Aldington, Life for Life's Sake (1941), and Bryher (pseudonym of Winifred Ellerman), The Heart to Artemis: A Writer's Memoirs (1962). Stanley K. Coffman, Imagism: A Chapter for the History of Modern Poetry (1951), discusses the movement of which H. D. seems the best representative. □