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Beyond the Image This study of Hilda Doolittle was prompted by my curiosity about a poet called H.D., who is well anthologized as an Imagist poet. Reading further, I discovered that H.D. s work was far more extensive than first anticipated. Her part in the Imagist movement was only the beginning of a long career that ended with her death in 1961. It does not seem rational for a poet s personae to be frozen in the initial success of a specific genre of poems; indeed, excellent pieces written at the beginning of a prolific career. To understand why H.D. is remembered largely as an Imagist, the question, What is Imagism? should be answered first. In answering this question we must explore the world of an Imagist poet. Most credit Ezra Pound with the Imagist movement of the early 1900 s. This is correct to a certain extent. Although Pound claimed that he had invented the Imagism that launched H.D. s career, the evolution is far more complicated. It began with the Poet s Club of 1908 and T. E. Hulme. A truer account has been given by the poet F.S. Flint, who wrote in the May 1, 1915, issue of the magazine The Egoist:Somewhere in the gloom of the year 1908, Mr. T.E. Hulme proposed to a companion that they should form a poets club. The thing was done there and then. The Club began to dine and members read their verses. At the end of the year they published a small plaquette on the verses, called For Christmas, MDCCCCVIII. On this plaquette was printed one of the first Imagist poems by T.E. Hulme: Autumn. I think that what brought the real nucleus of this group together was a dissatisfaction with English poetry . . . In all this Hulme was ringleader. He insisted too absolutely accurate presentation and no verbiage. There was a lot of talk and practice among us with what we called the Image. (Guest 41) Although not founded by Pound, the Image was introduced with greater celebration, propaganda and expertise than any other movement before it. As publicist to the Imagist movement, Pound chose the word, imagisme to describe this new form of poetry. For Pound, the fourth issue of Poetry (January, 1913) was a great victory. He helped place three poems by H.D.–she called them my first authentic verses, –which Pound persuaded her to sign simply H.D. Imagiste (Hughes 111). With this, Hilda Doolittle s career as an Imagist was launched under the newly adopted pseudonym H.D. The culmination of Pound s efforts was the publication in 1914 of Des Imagistes: An Anthology. It contained six poems by H.D. as well as other Imagists. An important feature of this anthology was the prefatory statement listing the essential of all great poetry as understood by the contributors. Known as the Imagist Credo, it is specific enough to indicate the distinguishing spirit of the group and yet sufficiently general to transcend minor differences and to elicit the widest support:1. To use the language of common speech, but to employ always the exact word, not nearly-exact, nor merely decorative word.2. To create new rhythms–as the expression of new moods–and not to copy old rhythms, which merely echo old moods. We do insist upon free verse as the only method of writing poetry. We fight for it as for a principle of liberty. We believe that the individuality of a poet may often be better expressed in free verse than in conventional forms. In poetry, a new cadence means a new idea.3. To allow absolute freedom in the choice of subject. It is not good art to write badly about aeroplanes and automobiles; nor is it necessarily bad art to write well about the past. We believe passionately in the artistic value of modern life, but we wish to point out that there is nothing so uninspiring nor so old-fashioned as an aeroplane of the year 1911.4. To present an image (hence the name, imagist). We are not a school of painters, but we believe that poetry should render particulars exactly and not deal in vague generalities, however magnificent and sonorous. It is for this reason that we oppose the cosmic poet, who seems to us to shirk the real difficulties of his art.5. To produce poetry that is hard and clear, never blurred nor indefinite.6. Finally, most of us believe that concentration is of the very essence of poetry. (Pound vi-vii) The principles of their organization and aims were of course, more complicated. Pound s objective was to manipulate French Symbolism and turn it into Imagism, if he could; if not, he would eliminate symbolism altogether (Guest 36). With this anthology, Pound believed that he had succeeded in making it possible for a few poets who were not over-producing, to reach an audience (Monroe 367). Amy Lowell traveled to England when she saw the similarity between her poetry and H.D. s own verse. She researched the Imagist movement and brought back volumes of poetry to introduce Imagist work to the United States. Pound felt that Amy Lowell s influence was becoming excessive. He complained that she would turn Imagism into a democratic beer-garden…by making it mean any writing of vers libre (Monroe 367). Pound threatened to sue Lowell before he finally removed himself from the movement entirely labeling it Amygisme (Pound 269). Pound s anthology marked the end of his interest in the movement. In fact, his involvement in Imagism did not last long; it was too narrow a frame for Pound. Amy Lowell prevailed, and Pound, who predicted the collapse of the movement into prolixity, went on to other struggles. But while he was a part of the movement, he used his considerable powers to promote it and the poets who wrote in the Imagist style. In 1916, H.D. s career entered a new phase of activity. She published Sea Garden which contained twenty seven poems, and she assumed the role as editor of the Egoist, a monthly journal of opinion, a position formerly held by her husband Richard Aldington. The issue of June, 1916, listed both Richard Aldington and H.D. as assistant editors but gave notice that Mr. Aldington will shortly be called up for military service and during his absences the assistant-editorship of The Egoist will be taken over by H.D. (Mrs. Richard Aldington) (Egoist). From 1917 until Armistice, Richard Aldington shuffled between active duty and brief furloughs at home. H.D. found this increase in activity to be exhausting. In March, 1917, D.H. Lawrence wrote to Amy Lowell that Hilda Aldington seems very sad and suppressed, everything is wrong (Damon 405). Three months later, H.D. s place as editor of The Egoist was assumed by T.S. Eliot. The year of 1917 also brought about the final edition of Some Imagist Poets. H.D. reassured Amy Lowell that her decision to end the series was correct:I think we all feel the same about the Anthology. It was splendid for three years–but its work, as you say, is finished–its collective work that is. Each of us gained by the brother-ship but we are all developing along different lines–all of us who are developing. (Coffman 31) The three annual anthologies had attracted considerable attention and the six contributors were then in a position, as H.D. said, to follow their own line independently. With the end of this series came the official end to the Imagist movement. Things continued to become more difficult in H.D. s personal life. Towards the end of the war, H.D. s brother was killed in action and her flat was bombed, although no one was hurt (Quinn 27). Aldington returned home healthy and in good spirits but H.D. remained unhappy and in poor health. The impending arrival of their new baby prompted H.D. s melancholy to worsen. The cause of her depression was rooted in her fear that the pregnancy would only aggravate an already doomed marriage. Aldington later explained in his autobiography that, through my own folly or worse, I had got my personal life into a tragical mess, which added to my difficulties and resulted in a separation from H.D. (Aldington 206-7). The trouble seems to have been caused by Aldington s attachment to Dorothy Arabella Yorke. H.D. and Aldington separated in 1919, but were not divorced until 1938. H.D. s one saving grace occurred in 1918 with the chance meeting between her and Bryher. Bryher, was the wealthy daughter of a well to-do English businessman, who had become enamored with H.D. s writing. Although given the name Winifred at birth, Bryher later renamed herself after one of the Scilly Isles in order to assert her independence from her family (Quinn 28). Their friendship quickly grew into a memorable relationship. Bryher proved to be quite magnanimous in H.D. s time of need. H.D. was pregnant, recently separated from her husband, and suffering from double pneumonia. H.D. later acknowledged: The material and spiritual burden of pulling us [H.D. and her newborn , Perdita] out of danger fell upon a young woman whom I had only recently met–anyone who knows me knows who this person is. Her pseudonym is Bryher and we all call her Bryher. If I got well, she would herself see that the baby was protected and cherished and she would take me to a new world, a new life, to the land, spiritually of my predilection, geographically of my dreams. We would go to Greece, it could be arranged. (Tribute to Freud 59-60)

When H.D. recovered, Bryher kept her promises. In the spring of 1920 the two women traveled to Greece, visiting America the following year. Though their relationship remained notoriously tumultuous, they traveled much of the world together throughout the 1920 s. They spent a great deal of time in Greece, and it is H.D. s interest in Greece and Grecian literature that is worth taking a closer look at and will be addressed later. In 1925, Collected Poems of H.D. appeared, containing her three previously published volumes–Sea Garden (1916), Hymen (1921), and Heliodora and Other Poems (1924)–and several translations from the Greek. The publication of Collected Poems brought the first phase of H.D. s career to a close (Quinn 29). Collected Poems is often the focus and emphasis of H.D. s critics. The title has done H.D. only one disservice; it suggests the end rather than the beginning of a career. It marks a clear change from her Imagist poetry and a maturing of her overall nature, and signals the beginning of her long and widely varied literary career. Because Imagism was defunct by 1925, H.D. s work was considered finished as well. Anthologists have maintained this false impression by only including H.D. as an Imagist. It appears that her friend, Norman Holmes Pearson, in his Selected Poems (1957) is alone in offering a fair sampling of H.D. s entire literary spectrum. In her travels, H.D. encountered many literary giants, and other high-profile celebrities of the time. While in Vienna, she met the infamous Sigmund Freud who was more than willing to accept her as both friend and patient. In truth, while in Vienna in 1933 and 1934, H.D. was seeing Freud six times a week, and finding the analysis helpful in rebuilding her life. Freud diagnosed her as the perfect example of the bisexual. She had, Got stuck at the earliest pre-oedipal stage, and back to the womb seems to be the only solution. Hence islands, sea, Greek primitives and so on…My triangle is mother-brother-self. Freud told her that she not only wanted to be a boy, but a hero as well. He explained that deep within her unconscious she wanted to be an actress, which led to the personal dissatisfaction that she felt in regard to her own writing career. This inner struggle was occurring at a time when Nazism was beginning to assert terroristic and totalitarian force in Germany. In Collected Poems of H.D., as well as in her general works, the common theme of Ancient Greece and Classicism is easily detected. Several critics have noted H.D. s ability to use Greco-Roman legends to create characters for highly activated feelings of militant power, sexual resistance, personal austerity, sexual desire… (DuPlessis 13) and other such themes that H.D. was dealing with in her personal life. Even before she began her psychoanalysis with Freud, she was obviously struggling with gender roles in her Hellenistic literature. The lyric debate climaxes in Hippolytus Temporizes , a long narrative poem or play, in which those two forces [Artemis and Aphrodite] struggle and have, in myth, various chiastic and ironic successes (DuPlessis 13). The work centers around the struggle of these two goddesses and their intimate relationship. H.D. must have identified strongly with Euripides play because she had already translated portions of it. Four lyrics in her Collected Poems are associated with Hippolytus: Hippolytus Temporizes, Phaedra, She Contrasts Herself with Hippolyta and She Rebukes Hippolyta. In She Rebukes Hippolyta, the question is repeated: Was she so chaste? The mother of Hippolyta, who is a worshiper of the virgin goddess Artemis, would have collected, discriminating and nonsexual–the legendary virtues of H.D. However, Hippolyta of H.D. s poem is highly sexual:She was mad–as no priest, no lover s cultcould grant madness;the wine that entered her throat with the touch of the mountain rockswas white, intoxicant:she, the chaste,was betrayed by the glintof the light on the stonewhere heat meltstoward the shadow-side of the rocks.Here H.D. betrays that cult of herself, a bodiless, virginal ice maiden. These poems, written from her study of Euripides Hippolytus, are sensuous, as are most of the poems in the volume they appeared–Hymen. H.D., whether aware or not, was dealing with the tragedies which occurred during the first World War. Along with this struggle, though only recently described in criticisms and biographies, was the inner conflict that surrounded her sexual identity. It was the underlying currents of recalling World War I and anticipating World War II, as well as the now conscious struggle with sexuality that drove a great deal of H.D. s writing beyond her Imagist period. Unlike the turmoil of the first World War, with her consuming encounters with Freud and the rise of Nazism into the second World War, H.D. s writing only increased. Before World War II began, H.D. and Bryher were able to escape to London; Bryher barely escaped Switzerland before helping over a hundred refugees to safety in other countries. The years during World War II were very productive for H.D., in contrast to her experience of World War I. Her next volume, Trilogy, was a collection of three war poems– The Walls Do Not Fall Tribute to the Angels and The Flowering of the Rod — all pointing to the years she struggled to survive, for she lived in London during World War II. She wrote these knowing the hardships as well as the joy of victory that the English citizens felt. World War II s five year ordeal had cleansed her soul and she began to write again. After the war, though, H.D. suffered a mental breakdown, and returned to Switzerland. She lived at Kunacht, a clinic, and various hotels. She was now 60, yet experiencing the most prolific writing years of her life. The greatest awards of her career came in the fifties and sixties, during which time Bryher took care of the legal and literary details of her life, leaving her free to write. Helen of Egypt, published in 1961, is H.D. s most ambitious work. It is a book length poem divided into three sections and written in three-line stanzas of free verse. The poem is a dramatic monologue by Helen of Troy. That year she suffered a stroke in July and remained semi-conscious while her writings continued to be published until her death in September. She had written to Pearson, I think I did get what I was looking for from life and art. By the time of her death in 1961, H.D. had published a wide range of volumes. In retrospect, H.D. emerges as a more interesting writer than generally realized. Her work illustrates a lifelong effort at self realization and artistic growth. Her practice of the stream-of-consciousness novel, her translation of Greek classics, her meditation on ancient myth, and her struggle to accept idealistic philosophy in the face of violence and skepticism all illustrate her amazing range of talent. The question that prompted this study–what has H.D. written besides a few Imagist poems found in anthologies?–has been answered. Her career spans forty-five years and fifteen volumes in a variety of literary forms, from the publication of Sea Garden in 1916 to Helen in Egypt in 1961, the year of her death. Though her career far outdistances Imagism, her best known work lies within its realm. The timing of the end of the Imagist movement and the publication of the unfortunately titled Collected Poems of H.D. were huge contributors to H.D. s literary disappearance. Most assumed that her work as poet was coming to a close, with her Imagist poems being the pinnacle of her career. Her efforts to expand her range in other directions demands recognition. Yet, largely due to the Greco-Roman settings and story lines, these works have remained largely inaccessible by the greater public; the simplicity of an Imagism poem being nearly universal, leaving the reader with a connection to Imagism. Her later volumes, although interesting experiments in themselves, are more importantly used as gauges by which the superiority of her early poems may be measured.


Aldington, Richard. Life for Life s Sake: A Book of Reminiscences. New York: The Viking Press, 1941.Coffman, Jr., Stanley K. Imagism: A Chapter in the history of Modern Poetry. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1951.Damon, S. Foster. Amy Lowell. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1935.DuPlessis, Rachel Blau. H.D. The Career of That Struggle. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1986.The Egoist: An Individual Review. From June, 1916, to June, 1917.Guest, Barbara. Herself Defined: The Poet H.D. and Her World. New York: Quill, 1984.H.D., Hymen. London: The Egoist Press, 1921. —. Tribute to Freud. New York: Pantheon Books, 1956.Hughes, Glenn. Imagism and the Imagist. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1931.Monroe, Harriet. Poets and their Art. New York: Macmillan, 1932.Pound, Ezra, (ed.) Des Imagistes: An Anthology. New York: Albert and Charles Boni, 1914.

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