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H. D.

1886–1961

On September 10, 1886, Hilda Doolittle was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She attended Bryn Mawr, as a classmate of Marianne Moore, and later the University of Pennsylvania where she befriended Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams.

She travelled to Europe in 1911, intending to spend only a summer, but remained abroad for the rest of her life. Through Pound, H. D. grew interested in and quickly became a leader of the Imagist movement, along with T. E. HulmeF. S. FlintRichard Aldington, and others. Some of her earliest poems gained recognition when they were published by Harriet Monroe in Poetry in 1913.

In 1913 H. D. married Aldington, and in 1915 they had a daughter who died in childbirth. Soon after, Aldington joined the British Amy and left to serve in World War I. H. D. took over his role as the assistant editor of The Egoist, and in 1916, she published Sea Garden, her first poetry collection. Her brother was killed in action in 1918, and that same year, H. D. began a relationship with Annie Winifred Ellerman, a novelist who wrote under the name Bryher; the two lived together for almost forty years.

H. D. published numerous books of poetry, including Flowering of the Rod (Oxford University Press, 1946), Red Roses From Bronze (Random House, 1932), Collected Poems of H. D. (Boni and Liveright, 1925), Hymen (H. Holt and Company, 1921), and the posthumously published Helen in Egypt (Grove Press, 1961). She was also the author of several works of prose, including Tribute to Freud (Pantheon, 1956).

Her work is characterized by the intense strength of her images, economy of language, and use of classical mythology. Her poems did not receive widespread appreciation and acclaim during her lifetime, in part because her name was associated with the Imagist movement even as her voice had outgrown the movement's boundaries, as evidenced by her book-length works, Trilogy and Helen in Egypt. Neglect of H. D. can also be attributed to her times, as many of her poems spoke to an audience which was unready to respond to the strong feminist principles articulated in her work.

As Alicia Ostriker said in American Poetry Review, "H.D. by the end of her career became not only the most gifted woman poet of our century, but one of the most original poets—the more I read her the more I think this—in our language."

H.D. died in Zurich, Switzerland, on September 27, 1961.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Collected Poems, 1912–1944 (New Directions, 1983)
Trilogy (New Directions, 1973)
Hermetic Definition (New Directions, 1972)
Helen in Egypt (Grove Press, 1961)
Selected Poems (Grove Press, 1957)
By Avon River (Macmillan, 1949)
Flowering of the Rod (Oxford University Press, 1946)
Tribute to the Angels (Oxford University Press, 1945)
The Walls Do Not Fall (Oxford University Press, 1944)
Red Roses From Bronze (Random House, 1932)
Hippolytus Temporizes (Houghton Mifflin, 1927)
Collected Poems of H. D. (Boni and Liveright, 1925)
Heliodora and Other Poems (Houghton Mifflin, 1924)
Hymen (H. Holt and Company, 1921)
Sea Garden (Constable and Company, 1916)

Prose

The Gift (New Directions, 1982)
HERmione (New Directions, 1981)
End to Torment: A Memoir of Ezra Pound (New Directions, 1979)
Bid Me to Live, a Madrigal (Grove Press, 1960)
Tribute to Freud (Pantheon, 1956)
The Hedgehog (Brendin Publishing, 1936)
Kora and Ka (Imprimerie Darantiere, 1930)
Palimpsest (Houghton Mifflin, 1926)

H. D.
Photo credit: Perdita Schaffner/New Directions

By This Poet

46

Stars Wheel in Purple

Stars wheel in purple, yours is not so rare
as Hesperus, nor yet so great a star
as bright Aldeboran or Sirius,
nor yet the stained and brilliant one of War;

stars turn in purple, glorious to the sight;
yours is not gracious as the Pleiads are
nor as Orion's sapphires, luminous;

yet disenchanted, cold, imperious face,
when all the others blighted, reel and fall,
your star, steel-set, keeps lone and frigid tryst
to freighted ships, baffled in wind and blast.

At Baia

I should have thought
in a dream you would have brought
some lovely, perilous thing,
orchids piled in a great sheath,
as who would say (in a dream),
"I send you this,
who left the blue veins
of your throat unkissed."

Why was it that your hands
(that never took mine),
your hands that I could see
drift over the orchid-heads
so carefully,
your hands, so fragile, sure to lift
so gently, the fragile flower-stuff--
ah, ah, how was it

You never sent (in a dream)
the very form, the very scent,
not heavy, not sensuous,
but perilous--perilous--
of orchids, piled in a great sheath,
and folded underneath on a bright scroll,
some word:

"Flower sent to flower;
for white hands, the lesser white,
less lovely of flower-leaf,"

or

"Lover to lover, no kiss,
no touch, but forever and ever this."

Helen in Egypt, Eidolon, Book III: 4

Helen herself seems almost ready for this sacrifice--at least, for the immolation of herself before this greatest love of Achilles, his dedication to "his own ship" and the figurehead, "an idol or eidolon . . . a mermaid, Thetis upon the prow."

Did her eyes slant in the old way?
was she Greek or Egyptian?
had some Phoenician sailor wrought her?

was she oak-wood or cedar?
had she been cut from an awkward block
of ship-wood at the ship-builders,

and afterwards riveted there,
or had the prow itself been shaped
to her mermaid body,

curved to her mermaid hair?
was there a dash of paint
in the beginning, in the garment-fold,

did the blue afterwards wear away?
did they re-touch her arms, her shoulders?
did anyone touch her ever?

Had she other zealot and lover,
or did he alone worship her?
did she wear a girdle of sea-weed

or a painted crown?  how often
did her high breasts meet the spray,
how often dive down?

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