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About this poet

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)

The Gift

Instead of pearls—a wrought clasp—
a bracelet—will you accept this?
 
You know the script—
you will start, wonder:
what is left, what phrase
after last night? This:
 
The world is yet unspoiled for you,
you wait, expectant—
you are like the children
who haunt your own steps
for chance bits—a comb
that may have slipped,
a gold tassel, unravelled,
plucked from your scarf,
twirled by your slight fingers
into the street—
a flower dropped.
 
Do not think me unaware,
I who have snatched at you
as the street-child clutched
at the seed-pearls you spilt
that hot day
when your necklace snapped.
 
Do not dream that I speak
as one defrauded of delight,
sick, shaken by each heart-beat
or paralyzed, stretched at length,
who gasps:
these ripe pears
are bitter to the taste,
this spiced wine, poison, corrupt.
I cannot walk—who would walk?
Life is a scavenger's pit—I escape—
I only, rejecting it,
lying here on this couch.
 
Your garden sloped to the beach,
myrtle overran the paths,
honey and amber flecked each leaf,
the citron-lily head—
one among many—
weighed there, over-sweet.
 
The myrrh-hyacinth
spread across low slopes,
violets streaked black ridges
through the grass.
 
The house, too, was like this,
over painted, over lovely—
the world is like this.
 
Sleepless nights,
I remember the initiates,
their gesture, their calm glance.
I have heard how in rapt thought,
in vision, they speak
with another race,
more beautiful, more intense than this.
I could laugh—
more beautiful, more intense?
 
Perhaps that other life
is contrast always to this.
I reason:
I have lived as they
in their inmost rites—
they endure the tense nerves
through the moment of ritual.
I endure from moment to moment—
days pass all alike,
tortured, intense.
This I forgot last night:
you must not be blamed,
it is not your fault;
as a child, a flower—any flower
tore my breast—
meadow-chicory, a common grass-tip,
a leaf shadow, a flower tint
unexpected on a winter-branch.
 
I reason:
another life holds what this lacks,
a sea, unmoving, quiet—
not forcing our strength
to rise to it, beat on beat—
stretch of sand,
no garden beyond, strangling
with its myrrh-lilies—
a hill, not set with black violets
but stones, stones, bare rocks,
dwarf-trees, twisted, no beauty
to distract—to crowd
madness upon madness.
 
Only a still place
and perhaps some outer horror
some hideousness to stamp beauty,
a mark—no changing it now—
on our hearts.
 
I send no string of pearls,
no bracelet—accept this.

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

H. D.

H. D.

Born in 1886, Hilda Doolittle was one of the leaders of the Imagist movement. She published numerous poetry collections, including Sea Garden (Constable and Company, 1916) and Helen in Egypt (Grove Press, 1961). She died in 1961.

by this poet

poem
O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air—
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

Cut the heat—
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.
poem
Silver dust   
lifted from the earth,   
higher than my arms reach,   
you have mounted.   
O silver,
higher than my arms reach   
you front us with great mass;   
   
no flower ever opened   
so staunch a white leaf,   
no flower ever parted silver
from such rare silver;   
   
O white pear,   
your flower-
poem
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,