Hilda Doolittle was born on September 10, 1886, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She attended Bryn Mawr, where she was a classmate of Marianne Moore. She later enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, where she befriended Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams.
H.D. travelled to Europe in 1911, intending to spend only a summer there, 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. Hulme, F. S. Flint, Richard Aldington, and others. Some of her earliest poems gained recognition when they were published by Harriet Monroe in Poetry magazine in 1913. In the same year, H.D. married Aldington and, in 1915, they had a daughter who died during 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. In 1916, she published Sea Garden (Constable), 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).
H.D.’s 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 time, 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.