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Definition: Doolittle, Hilda from Philip's Encyclopedia

(H.D.) US poet associated with Ezra Pound and imagism. Her published verse includes Sea Garden (1916) and The Flowering of the Rod (1946). Her Collected Poems 1914-44 were published in 1983. She also wrote prose, such as Hermione (1927 but unpublished until 1981), a novel of lesbian love.


Summary Article: Doolittle, Hilda from Continuum Encyclopedia of American Literature

Ezra POUND gave D. her pen name in 1912, when he read her poems, wrote “H. D. Imagiste” on the page, and cited her as one of the first and best of the imagist poets. Pound recognized that D.'s work exemplified the qualities which he proposed for IMAGISM: that the poem should strive for direct treatment of the subject or the emotion, that there should be no superfluous words, and that poetic rhythms should be based on the phrase rather than the metronome.

Until the 1970s, D. was regarded principally as an Imagist poet and represented in anthologies by her early works, such as “Hermes of the Ways” and “Orchard,” both published originally in 1913 in Poetry magazine. Since then, however, there has been renewed interest and reevaluation of D.'s voluminous literary output: her Imagist poetry, her later epic and mystical poetry, her novels, translations, and memoirs. Important biographies and critical studies of D. have been published, as have her previously unpublished or uncollected works, and many out-of-print works have been reissued. D.'s reputation is now secure among the pantheon of early modernist writers, including Pound, T. S. ELIOT, and Marianne MOORE.

D.'s early poetry, collected in Sea Garden (1916), reveals the influence of Pound and of the classical Greek poet Sappho, whose lean and lyrical poetry provided a model to the Imagist poets. Many of the poems in D.'s early volume play upon the contrast between a protected inland place and another place of danger and beauty, excitement and wind. Suggested in the imagery of such poems as “The Sheltered Garden” is D.'s move from her Moravian household in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to London during the exciting early years of MODERNISM.

D.'s poetry written in the late teens and the twenties and gathered in Collected Poems (1925) shows her moving away from the imagist mode. Much of this work was influenced by her immersion in classical Greek literature, especially that of Euripides, as well as by her hardships in England during World War I, and by her literary and personal relationships. Although she writes through the masks of classical Greek heroes, she chronicles such personal experiences as her marriage and separation from Richard Aldington and her stormy alliances with Pound and D. H. Lawrence. The poem “Eurydice,” for example, depicts the Greek heroine's loss when she was swept into hell by Orpheus's backward glance, but it also reveals D.'s bitterness over the loss of her friendship with Lawrence.

D.'s poetry of the 1930s and 1940s includes Red Roses for Bronze (1931), which continues the reliance on Greek masks, but also additional poems written in a more personal voice, most of which remained unpublished until Louis Martz's edition of D.'s Collected Poems, 1912–1944 (1983). These poems were strongly influenced by D.'s psychoanalysis in the thirties by Sigmund Freud and by his urgings that she find connections between her personal past and the wider cultural past. The poems thus begin D.'s search for forebears, particularly female forebears, in Christian as well as in Egyptian and classical Greek mythologies.

D.'s most ambitious poems, her epic Helen in Egypt (1961) and her Christian, mythical Trilogy (1973), attempt to find the pattern and the meaning of human life, and to express the layerings of human experience. In Helen in Egypt D. herself can be recognized as one version of the heroine, repeating the longings expressed by Helen of Troy, by the goddesses Isis and Aphrodite, by Thetis the mother of Achilles and by Mary the mother of Christ.

In addition to poetry, D. wrote many prose works, both fiction and essays. Her novels, all fictionalized accounts of her own life and relationships, are Palimpsest (1926), Bid Me to Live (1960), and Asphodel (1992) all based on D.'s travel to Europe and her London years; HERmione (1981), focusing on a young American woman's love for a man and for another woman; The Gift (1982), about the Moravian community of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; and Nights (1935), written under the pseudonym John Helforth and exploring the theme of bisexuality.

D.'s nonfiction prose includes Notes on Thought and Vision and The Wise Sappho (1982), two essays which treat her esoteric mystical interests and her search for a female spiritual ancestor; Tribute to Freud (1956), a fascinating account of Freud, of psychoanalysis in the 1930s, and of D.'s discoveries about her personal and sexual identity; End to Torment: A Memoir of Ezra Pound (1979), her recollections of her long friendship with Pound.

D. also wrote several translations of the classics, especially of the dramas and choruses of Euripides. These tended to be transformations of the original, as in her version of Euripides's Ion (1937); D. rendered the Greek play into syncopated English free verse and made it essentially a new work.


Bibliography Broughn, M., H. D.: A Bibliography (1993) Friedman, S. S., Penelope's Web: Gender, Modernity, H. D.'s Fiction (1990) Friedman, S. S., Psyche Reborn: The Emergence of H. D. (1981) Fritz, A. D., Thought and Vision: A Critical Reading of H. D.'s Poetry (1988) Guest, B., Herself Defined: The Poet H. D. and Her World (1984) King, M., ed., H. D.: Woman and Poet (1986) Robinson, J., H. D.: The Life of an American Poet (1982)

Laura Jehn Menides

© 2005 The Continuum International Publishing Group, Ltd

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