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Hilda Doolittle
H.D. circa 1925, photographed by Man Ray[1]
H.D. circa 1925, photographed by Man Ray[1]
Born(1886-09-10)September 10, 1886
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, US
DiedSeptember 27, 1961(1961-09-27) (aged 75)
Zurich, Switzerland
Pen nameH.D.
  • Poet
  • novelist
  • memoirist
Alma materBryn Mawr College

Hilda Doolittle (September 10, 1886 – September 27, 1961) was an American poet, novelist and memoirist, usually associated with the early 20th-century avant-garde Imagist group of poets, that included the modernist poets Ezra Pound and Richard Aldington. She published under the pen name H.D., and is today regarded as a forerunner of Lesbian Poetry.

Doolittle was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania in 1886, and grew up in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania and attended Bryn Mawr College. In 1911 she moved to London, where she played a central role in the emerging Imagist movement and was championed by Pound. Between 1916 and 1917 she was the literary editor of the Egoist journal, and was published by the English Review and Transatlantic Review.

During World War I, she suffered the death of her brother and the breakup of her marriage to the poet Richard Aldington.[2] These events weighed heavily on her later poetry; according to the writer Glenn Hughes "her loneliness cries out from her poems".[3]

She befriended Sigmund Freud during the 1930s and, seeking to understand her bisexuality, residual war trauma and spiritual experiences, became his patient.[4] She was interested in Ancient Greek literature and her poetry often borrowed from Greek mythology and classical poets, but is also noted for its incorporation of natural scenes and objects, often used to evoke a particular feeling or mood.

She married once, and undertook a number of relationships with both men and women. She was unapologetic about her sexuality, and thus became an icon for both the LGBT rights and feminist movements when her poems, plays, letters and essays were rediscovered during the 1970s and 1980s.


Early life[edit]

Hilda Doolittle was born on September 10, 1886, into the Moravian community in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.[5][6] Her father, Charles, was professor of astronomy at Lehigh University[7] and her mother, Helen (nee Wolle), was a Moravian with a strong interest in music. Hilda was their only surviving daughter in a family of five sons.[8] In 1896, Charles was appointed Flower Professor of Astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania,[9] and they moved to the Highland Park neighborhood of Upper Darby. She attended Philadelphia's Friends' Central High School, at Fifteenth and Race streets, graduating in 1905.

In 1901, she met and befriended Ezra Pound, who played a major role both in her private life and her development as a writer. In 1905, Pound presented her with a sheaf of love poems with the collective title of Hilda's Book.[10]

That year she attended Bryn Mawr College[11] to study Greek literature. There she met poets Marianne Moore and William Carlos Williams, but left after three terms due to poor grades and, she said, poor health.[12]

Her first published writings, stories for children, were published in The Comrade, a Philadelphia Presbyterian Church paper, between 1909 and 1913, mostly under the name Edith Gray. In 1907, she became engaged to Pound. Her father disapproved of her fiancé,[13] and by the time Pound left for Europe in 1908 the engagement had been called off. Around this time, H.D. started a relationship with a young female art student at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Frances Josepha Gregg.[14]

She began to write poetry in 1910 while staying in New York, where she published some children's stories on astronomy in a Presbyterian paper.[9] In 1911, she emigrated to Europe together with Gregg and her mother. There she began a more serious career as a writer. Her relationship with Gregg cooled and she met Brigit Patmore, with whom she became romantically involved, and through her met Richard Aldington.

H.D. Imagiste[edit]

H.D., c. 1921

Soon after arriving in England, H.D. shared some of her poems with Pound, who had already begun to meet with other poets at the Eiffel Tower restaurant in Soho. He was impressed by her closeness to the ideas and principles he had been discussing with Aldington, with whom he had shared plans to reform contemporary poetry through free verse, the tanka, the tightness and conciseness of the haiku, and the removal of unnecessary verbiage. In 1912, Pound, H.D and Aldington, the "three original Imagists" set out their principles as:[15]

  1. Direct treatment of the 'thing' whether subjective or objective.
  2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
  3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in the sequence of a metronome.[16][17]

H.D. would become a pre-eminent figure in the Imagist movement, which was strongly supported by Pound.[15] In 1915, Pound wrote T.E. Hulme, another early imagist poet, that he mainly wanted the Imagist movement to succeed in order to give H.D.'s early poems a breakthrough without her needing to publish a whole book.[15]

During a meeting with H.D. in a tea room near the British Museum in 1912, Pound appended the signature H.D. Imagiste to her poetry, creating an abbreviation that she kept throughout her career.[18] However, she told different versions of this story at various times and published under a variety of pseudonyms.[19]

That year Harriet Monroe launched the magazine Poetry and asked Pound to act as foreign editor. In October, he submitted three poems each by H.D. and Aldington under the rubric Imagiste. Her poems "Hermes of the Ways", "Orchard" and "Epigram" were published in the January 1913 issue.

The early models for the Imagist group were from Japan, and H.D. often visited the exclusive Print Room at the British Museum in the company of Aldington and the curator and poet Laurence Binyon in order to examine Nishiki-e prints that incorporated traditional Japanese verse.[20][21]

Her poems were further informed by her reading of Classical Greek literature, especially of Sappho,[22] 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. She worked on the plays by Euripides, publishing in 1916 a translation of choruses from Iphigeneia at Aulis, in 1919 a translation of choruses from Iphigeneia at Aulis and Hippolytus, an adaptation of Hippolytus called Hippolytus Temporizes (1927), a translation of choruses from The Bacchae and Hecuba (1931), and Euripides' Ion (1937) a loose translation of Ion.[23]

She continued her association with the group until the final issue of the Some Imagist Poets anthology in 1917. 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, utilising spare use of language,[24] and a classical, austere purity.[25]

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".[26]

One of her earliest and best-known poems, "Oread", 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.[27]

World War I and after[edit]

H.D. married Aldington in 1913 with her parents and Ezra Pound as witnesses.[28] Their only child, a daughter, was stillborn in 1915. Aldington enlisted in the army, after which they became estranged, and he reportedly took a mistress in 1917. She became involved in a close but platonic relationship with D. H. Lawrence. Her first book, Sea Garden, was published in 1916, and she was appointed assistant editor of The Egoist, replacing her husband.

In 1918, her brother Gilbert was killed in action and that March she moved to a cottage in Cornwall with the composer Cecil Gray, a friend of Lawrence. She became pregnant with Gray's child;[29] however, by the time she realised she was expecting, the relationship had cooled and Gray had returned to live in London.[30]

On the 17 July 1918, H.D. met the wealthy English novelist Bryher (Annie Winifred Ellerman) in Cornwall.[31] They lived together until 1946 and although both took numerous other partners, Bryher remained her lover for the rest of H.D.'s life.

In 1919, H.D. came close to death when she gave birth to her daughter Frances Perdita Aldington—although the father was not Aldington, but Gray—while suffering from war influenza.[32] During this time, her father, who had never recovered from Gilbert's death, died.[12] In 1919, H.D. wrote one of her few known statements on poetics,[33] Notes on Thought and Vision, which was unpublished until 1982.[34] 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 post-traumatic stress disorder) and they became estranged, living completely separate lives, but not divorcing until 1938. Aldington became one of her main inspirations for Bid me to live.[35]

From 1920, her relationship with Bryher became closer, and in the pair travelled to the island Lesbos in Greece, then in 1923 to Egypt where they attended the opening of Tutankamuns tomb before settling in Switzerland that year.[12] Bryher entered a marriage of convenience in 1921 with Robert McAlmon, which allowed him to fund his publishing ventures in Paris by using some of her personal wealth for his Contact Press.[36] Both Bryher and H.D. slept with McAlmon during this time, and Bryher and McAlmon divorced in 1927.[37]

Novels and psychoanalysis[edit]

H.D. began three cycles of novels in the early 1920s.[38] The first, Magna Graeca, consists of Palimpsest (1921) and Hedylus (1928), and uses classical settings to explore the poetic vocation, particularly as it applies to women in a patriarchal literary culture. The following Madrigal cycle comprises of HERmione, Bid Me to Live, Paint It Today and Asphodel and is largely autobiographical dealing with the development of the female artist and the conflict between heterosexual and lesbian desire. The novellas Kora and Ka and The Usual Star from the Borderline cycle were published in 1933. In this period, she also wrote Pilate's Wife, Mira-Mare and Nights.[38]

During this period her mother died and Bryher divorced her husband to marry H.D.'s male lover, Kenneth Macpherson. H.D., Bryher and Macpherson lived together and traveled through Europe in what the poet and critic Barbara Guest termed as a "menagerie of three".[39] Bryher and Macpherson adopted H.D.'s daughter, Perdita.[5] The four of them moved to the shores of Lake Geneva, where they resided in a Bauhaus villa.[40] H.D. became pregnant in 1928, but chose to abort the pregnancy in November.

Bryher and Macpherson set up the magazine Close Up (to which H.D. regularly contributed)[12] as a medium for intellectual discussion of cinema. In 1927, the small independent film cinema group POOL or Pool Group was established (largely funded with Bryher's inheritance) and was managed by all three.[41] In the POOL film Borderline (1930), the actors were H.D. and Bryher and the couple Paul and Eslanda Robeson, the latter acting as wife and husband.[42] The film explores extreme psychic states, racism and interracial relationship.[43] As well as acting in this film, H.D. wrote an explanatory pamphlet to accompany it, a piece later published in Close Up.[44]

Having begun a psychoanalysis in 1928 with the Freudian Hanns Sachs,[12] she traveled to Vienna in 1933 to undergo analysis with Sigmund Freud.[45] She had an interest in Freud's theories as far back as 1909 when she read some of his works in the original German.[46]

H.D. was referred by Bryher's psychoanalyst due to her apparent paranoia about the rise of Adolf Hitler and her fears of another world war. The First World War had left her feeling shattered. She had lost her brother in action, her husband suffered effects of combat, and she believed that its onslaught indirectly caused the death of her child with Aldington: she believed it was her shock at hearing the news about the RMS Lusitania that directly caused her child to be stillborn.[47]

On Freud's demand she wrote Bid me to Live, in which she treats her experiences during World War I.[48] Writing on the Wall, her memoir about this psychoanalysis, 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.[49]

World War II and after[edit]

H.D. and Bryher spent World War II in London. Her daughter Perdita would become a secretary of the OSS during World War II.[40]

During her time in London H.D. wrote The Gift, a memoir of her childhood and family life in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which reflects on people and events in her background that shaped her as a writer.[50] She also wrote Trilogy, published as The Walls do not Fall (1944), Tribute to the Angels (1945) and The Flowering of the Rod (1946). The opening lines of The Walls do not Fall clearly and immediately signal H.D.'s break with her earlier work:

An incident here and there,
and rails gone (for guns)
from your (and my) old town square.[51]

After the war, H.D. and Bryher decided to no longer live together, but remain in contact. H.D. moved to Switzerland, but suffered a severe mental breakdown in the spring of 1946, and stayed in a clinic until the autumn of that year. Apart from a number of trips to the United States,[citation needed] she spent the rest of her life in Switzerland.[9]

In the late 1950s, she underwent more treatment, this time with the psychoanalyst Erich Heydt.[52] 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.

Later life and death[edit]

H.D.'s 1950s poetry includes Helen in Egypt (1952–1954), an examination of male-centred epic poetry from a feminist point of view. She used Euripides' play Helen as a starting point for a reinterpretation of the basis of the Trojan War and, by extension, of war itself.[53] This work is seen by critics such as Jeffrey Twitchell-Waas as her response to Pound's Cantos, a work she greatly admired.[53] In reference to Pound's Cantos H.D. and the literary professor Norman Holmes Pearson both agreed to calling them her own cantos.[54]

Other poems from this period include Sagesse, Winter Love and Hermetic Definition. These three were published posthumously with the collective title Hermetic Definition (1972). The poem Hermetic Definition takes as its starting points her love for a man 30 years her junior and the line 'so slow is the rose to open' from Pound's Canto 106. Sagesse, written in bed after H.D. had broken her hip in a fall, serves as a kind of coda to Trilogy, being partly written in the voice of a young female Blitz survivor who finds herself living in fear of the atom bomb.

Winter Love was written together with End to Torment and uses as narrator the Homeric figure of Penelope to restate the material of the memoir in poetic form. At one time, H.D. considered appending this poem as a coda to Helen in Egypt.[55]

H.D. visited the United States in 1960 to collect an American Academy of Arts and Letters medal.[56] H.D. was the first woman to be granted the medal.[11]

She suffered a stroke in July 1961 and died a couple of months later in the Klinik Hirslanden in Zürich.[57] 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 her early poem "Epitaph":

So you may say,
Greek flower; Greek ecstasy
reclaims forever
one who died
following intricate song's
lost measure.[58]

After her death, Norman Holmes Pearson, who also held the copyright of several of her works during her lifetime, came into the possession of the copyrights of a vast amount of her works. [59]


The rediscovery of H.D. began in the 1970s, coinciding with the emergence of a feminist criticism that found much to admire in the questioning of gender roles typical of her writings.[60][61] Specifically, those critics who were challenging the standard view of English-language literary modernism based on the work of such male writers as Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and James Joyce, were able[citation needed] to restore H.D. to a more significant position in the history of that movement.

Her writings have served as a model for a number of more recent women poets working in the modernist tradition, including the New York School poet Barbara Guest, the Anglo-American poet Denise Levertov, the Black Mountain poet Hilda Morley and the Language poet Susan Howe.[62] Her influence is not limited to female poets, and many male writers, including Robert Duncan[63] and Robert Creeley,[64] have acknowledged their debt. The Dutch poet H.C. ten Berge adapts parts of 'Winter Love' in his 2008 'Het vertrapte mysterie'.

Among her grandchildren was the author and Beatles biographer Nicholas Schaffner.[65]

Selected works[edit]


  • Sea Garden (1916)
  • The God (1917)
  • Choruses from the Iphigeneia in Aulis and The Hippollytus of Euripides (1919)
  • Translations (1920)
  • Hymen (1921)
  • Heliodora and Other Poems (1924)
  • Hippolytus Temporizes (1927)
  • Red Roses for Bronze (1931)
  • "The Mysteries: Renaissance Choros" (1931)
  • Euripides' Ion (1937)
  • The Walls Do Not Fall (1944)
  • Tribute to the Angels (1945)
  • Trilogy (1946)
  • The Flowering of the Rod (1946)
  • By Avon River (194)
  • Helen in Egypt (1961)
  • Hermetic Definition, New Directions (1972)
  • Vale Ave, New Directions (1957–58)


  • Notes on Thought and Vision (1919)
  • Paint it Today (1921)
  • Asphodel 1921–22)
  • Palimpsest (1926)
  • Kora and Ka (1930)
  • Nights (1935)
  • The Hedgehog (1936)
  • Tribute to Freud (1956)
  • Bid Me to Live (1960)
  • End to Torment: A Memoir of Ezra Pound, New Directions (1979)
  • HERmione, New Directions (1981)
  • The Gift, New Directions (1982); The Gift: The Complete Text, 1998)
  • Majic Ring (1943–44)
  • Pilate's Wife(1929–1934)
  • The Sword Went Out to Sea (1946–47)
  • White Rose and the Red (1948)
  • The Mystery (1948–51)


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  • Bertram, Vicki. "Kicking Daffodils: Twentieth-century Women Poets". Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997.ISBN 0-7486-0782-X
  • Blau DuPlessis, Rachel. H.D. The Career of that Struggle. The Harvester Press, 1986. ISBN 0-7108-0548-9
  • Chisholm, Dianne. H.D.'s Freudian Poetics: Psychoanalysis in Translation. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1992
  • Connor, Rachel. H.D. and the Image. Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-7190-6122-9
  • Duncan, Robert. The H.D. Book. Edited and with an Introduction by Michael Boughn and Victor Coleman. Berkeley: University of California Press. 2011. ISBN 978-0-520-26075-7
  • Evans, Amy. "Accurate Mystery: Robert Duncan's H.D. Bibliography, Critically Annotated", in Journal of Cultural and Religious Theory Vol. 10 no. 2, Spring 2010
  • Friedman, Susan Stanford. Penelope's Web: Gender, Modernity, and H.D.'s Fiction. New York: Cambridge UP, 1990
  • Friedman, Susan Stanford. Psyche Reborn: The Emergence of H.D.. Indiana University Press, 1981
  • Guest, Barbara. Herself Defined: The Poet H.D. and Her World. Collins, 1985. ISBN 0-385-13129-1
  • Jones, Peter (ed.). Imagist Poetry. Penguin, 1972.
  • Korg, Jacob. Winter Love: Ezra Pound and H.D.. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003. ISBN 0-299-18390-4
  • Hughes, Gertrude Reif. "Making it Really New: Hilda Doolittle, Gwendolyn Brooks, and the Feminist Potential of Modern Poetry". American Quarterly, Volume 42, No. 3, September 1990
  • Morris, Adalaide. How to Live / What to Do: H.D.'s Cultural Poetics. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003
  • Robinson, Janice S. H.D., The life and work of an American poet. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1982
  • Taylor, Georgina. H.D. and the public sphere of modernist women writers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001
  • Bovier, François. H.D. et le groupe Pool. Lausanne, L'Âge d'homme, 2009. ISBN 2-8251-3850-9
  • Harrell, Sarah Grace. H.D.'s incantations: Reading "Trilogy" as an occultist's creed. M.A. diss. The University of Alabama at Birmingham, 2010. AAT 1488037.

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