H.D. (September 10, 1886 – September 27, 1961), born Hilda Doolittle, was an American poet, novelist and memoirist. She is best known for her association with the key early 20th century avant-garde Imagist group of poets. However her later writing represents a move away from the Imagist model, towards a distinctly female-centric version of modernist poetry and prose.
That year, Doolittle attended Bryn Mawr College to study Greek literature, but she left after three terms because of bad grades and poor health. While at the college, she met the poets Marianne Moore and William Carlos Williams. Her first published writings, some stories for children, were published in a local church paper between 1909 and 1913, mostly under the name Edith Gray. In 1907, she became engaged to Pound. Her father disapproved of Pound, and by the time her father left for Europe in 1908, the engagement had been called off. Around this time, Doolittle started a relationship with a young art student named Frances Josepha Gregg. After spending part of 1910 living in Greenwich Village, she sailed to Europe with Gregg and Gregg's mother in 1911.
Pound had already moved to London, where he had started meeting with other poets at the Eiffel Tower restaurant in Soho to discuss plans to reform contemporary poetry through free verse, the tanka and haiku, and the removal of all unnecessary verbiage. Soon after H.D. arrived in England, she showed Pound some poems she had written. He was impressed by their closeness to the ideas he had been discussing with another poet, Richard Aldington.
During a meeting with H.D. in the British Museum tea room in 1912, Pound appended the signature H.D. Imagiste to her poetry, creating a label that was to stick to the poet for most of her writing life. That same year, Harriet Monroe started her Poetry magazine and asked Pound to act as foreign editor. In October, he submitted three poems each by H.D. and Aldington under the rubric Imagiste. Aldington's poems were in the November issue of Poetry and H.D.'s poems, "Hermes of the Ways," "Orchard," and "Epigram", in the January 1913 issue. Imagism as a movement was launched with H.D. as its prime exponent.
Although the early models for the imagist group were Japanese, H.D. derived her way of making poems from her reading of Classical Greek literature and especially the recently rediscovered works of Sappho, an interest she shared with Aldington and Pound, each of whom produced versions of the Greek poet's work. In 1915, H.D. and Aldington launched the Poets' Translation Series, pamphlets of translations from Greek and Latin classics. H.D. worked on the plays by Euripides, publishing Choruses from the Iphigeneia in Aulis (1916), a translation of choruses from Iphigeneia at Aulis, Choruses from the Iphigenia in Aulis and the Hippolytus of Euripides (1919), a translation of choruses from Iphigeneia at Aulis and Hippolytus, Euripides' Ion (1937) a loose translation of Ion, an adaptation of Hippolytus called Hippolytus Temporizes (1927), and a translation of choruses from The Bacchae and Hecuba (1931).
She continued her association with the group until the final issue of the Some Imagist Poets anthology in 1917. She and Aldington did most of the editorial work on the 1915 anthology. Her work also appeared in Aldington's Imagist Anthology 1930. All of her poetry up to the end of the 1930s was written in an Imagist mode, with a spare use of language, a rhetorical structure based on analogy rather than simile, metaphor or symbolism and a classical purity of surface that can often mask an underlying dramatic energy. This style of writing was not without its critics. In a special Imagist issue of The Egoist magazine in May 1915, the poet and critic Harold Monro called H.D.'s early work "petty poetry", denoting "either poverty of imagination or needlessly excessive restraint".
Oread, one of her earliest and best-known poems, which was first published in the 1915 anthology, illustrates this early style:
Whirl up, sea—
Whirl your pointed pines.
Splash your great pines
On our rocks.
Hurl your green over us—
Cover us with your pools of fir.
H.D. married Aldington in 1913. Their first and only child, a daughter, died at birth in 1915. Aldington and she became estranged after he reportedly took a mistress. Shortly after this, Aldington answered the national call to serve in the army, and H.D. became involved in a close but from all reports platonic relationship with D. H. Lawrence. In 1916, her first book, Sea Garden, appeared and she became assistant editor of The Egoist, taking over from her husband. In 1918, her brother Gilbert, a soldier, was killed in action. H.D. moved in with a friend of Lawrence's named Cecil Gray, and became pregnant with his child. When Aldington returned from active service he was not the same man, changed by war, and he and H.D. separated.
By end of the war, H.D. had met British writer Bryher (Annie Winifred Ellerman), who was to become and remain her lover for the rest of her life. They lived together until 1946, although both took numerous other partners during that time, often sharing their male lovers. In 1919, H.D.'s daughter Frances Perdita Aldington—although the father was not Aldington, but Gray—was born, after H.D. had survived a serious bout of influenza. Her father, who had never recovered from Gilbert's death, died himself. At this time, H.D. wrote one of her very few known statements on poetics, Notes on Thought and Vision (published in 1982). In this, she speaks of poets (herself included) as belonging to a kind of elite group of visionaries with the power to 'turn the whole tide of human thought'.
H.D. and Aldington attempted to salvage their relationship during this time, but he was suffering from the effects of his participation in the war, possibly posttraumatic stress disorder, and they became estranged, living completely separate lives, but not divorcing until 1938. From 1920 on, her lesbian relationship with Bryher became closer and the pair travelled in Egypt, Greece and the United States before eventually settling in Switzerland. In 1921, Bryher had a marriage of convenience with Robert McAlmon, enabling him to fund his publishing ventures in Paris by using some of her personal wealth for his Contact Press. Both Bryher and H. D. slept with McAlmon during this time. Bryher and McAlmon divorced in 1927.
In 1933, H.D. travelled to Vienna in order to undergo analysis with Sigmund Freud. She had long been interested in his ideas, which is evident from the pamphlet on Borderline as well as some of her earlier works. She was referred to him by Bryher's psychoanalyst due to her increasing paranoia about the approach of World War II—and the first Great War (World War I) had left her feeling shattered. She had lost her brother in action, while her husband suffered effects of combat experiences, and she believed that the onslaught of the war indirectly caused the death of her child with Aldington: she also believed it was her shock at hearing the news about the RMS Lusitania that directly caused her miscarriage.
The rise of Adolf Hitler indicated another world war, an idea that H.D. found intolerable. Writing on the Wall, her memoir about this analysis, was written concurrently with Trilogy and published in 1944; in 1956 it was republished with Advent, a journal of the analysis, under the title Tribute to Freud.
After the war, H.D. and Bryher no longer lived together, but remained in contact. H.D. moved to Switzerland where, in the spring of 1946, she suffered a severe mental breakdown which resulted in her staying in a clinic until the autumn of that year. Apart from a number of trips to the States, H.D. spent the rest of her life in Switzerland. In the late 1950s, she underwent more treatment, this time with the psychoanalyst Erich Heydt. At Heydt's prompting, she wrote End to Torment, a memoir of her relationship with Pound, who allowed the poems of Hilda's Book to be included when the book was published. Doolittle was one of the leading figures in the bohemian culture of London in the early decades of the century. Her work is noted for its use of classical models and its exploration of the conflict between lesbian and heterosexual attraction and love, with these struggles closely resembling her own life.
Her later poetry explores traditional epic themes, such as violence and war, from a feminist perspective. H.D. was the first woman to be granted the American Academy of Arts and Letters medal.
In 1960, H.D. was in the United States to collect the American Academy of Arts and Letters medal. Returning to Switzerland, she suffered a stroke in July 1961 and died a couple of months later in the Klinik Hirslanden in Zürich. Her ashes were returned to Bethlehem, and were buried in the family plot in the Nisky Hill Cemetery on October 28, 1961. Her epitaph consists of the following lines from an early poem:
So you may say,
Greek flower; Greek ecstasy
one who died
following intricate song's