H.D.

October 30, 2006

hd.jpg
(1886-1961)

Hilda Doolittle
First poet to publish a poem that was identified as “imagist”
Born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to an upper-middle class family: father was a professor of astronomy and mother was an artist who taught painting and music
Belonged to the Moravian faith, a Protestant denomination that seeks to recapture the original vitality of Christianity by strictly adhering to the word of the Bible: H.D. did not practice as an adult, but its mysticism effected her poetic career
Attended Bryn Mawr for three terms but left without a degree: became friends with William Carlos Williams and dated Ezra Pound
Became briefly engaged to Pound, who remained a lifelong friend
Left for Europe in 1911 with her then lover, Frances Gregg, and remained in Europe for the rest of her life
Published three poems in “Poetry” that simultaneously established her literary identity as “H.D.” and founded the imagist movement: Pound created the title “Imagiste” to attract attention to Doolittle’s work and unintentionally began the poetry movement
Married Richard Aldington, a British poet and imagist: separated from him and had an affair with Cecil Gray which produced her only child; Perdita: met Bryher who became her companion for 28 years
Poetry takes an interest in the world of antiquity and myths: wrote narrative poems that revised Greek, Egyptian, and biblical stories in a mystical, feminist way
Strove to find a new beauty
Following her separation from Bryher, Doolittle broke down and was hospitalized in a Swiss clinic
Remained in Switzerland and Italy until the end of her life: spent her last years in hotel rooms
Her gravestone lies flat in Nisky Hill Cemetary, Bethlehem, Penn., and usually has sea shells on it, left in tribute: it bears lines from her poem “Epitaph:”

“So you may say, / Greek flower; Greek ecstasy / reclaims forever / one who died / following intricate song’s / lost measure.”

Quotations:

Rose, harsh rose, / marred and with stint of petals, / meagre flower, thin, / sparse of leaf,
more precious / than a wet rose, / single on a stem- / you are caught in the drift.
Stunted, with small leaf, / you are flung on the sand, / you are lifted / in the crisp sand / that drives in the wind.
Can the spice-rose / drip such acrid fragrance / hardened in a leaf?

-Sea Rose (in whole)

All Greece hates / the still eyes in the white face, / the lustre as of olives / where she stands, / and the white hands.
All Greece reviles / the wan face when she smiles, / hating it deeper still / when it grows wan and white, / remembering past enchantments / and past ills.
Greece sees unmoved, / God’s daughter, born of love, / the beauty of cool feet / and slenderest knees, / could love indeed he maid, / only if she were laid, / white as amid funereal cypresses.

-Helen (in whole)

Helen was the daughter of Zeus who appeared in the guise of a swan to the mortal woman Leda and impregnated her

I have had enough. / I gasp for breath.
Every way ends, / every road, every foot-path leads at last / to the hill-crest- / then you retrace your steps, / or find the same slope on the other side, / precipitate.
I have had enough- / border-pinks, clove-pinks, wax-lilies, / herbs, sweet-cress.
O for some sharp swish of a branch – / there is no scent of resin / in this place, / no taste of bark, of coarse weeds, / aromatic, astringent – / only border on border of scented pinks.
Have you seen fruit under cover / that wanted light – / pears wadded in cloth, / protected from the frost, / melons, almost ripe, / smothered in straw?
Why not let the pears cling / to the empty branch? / All your coaxing will only make / a bitter fruit – / let them cling, ripen of themselves, / test their own worth, / nipped, shrivelled by the frost, / to fall at last but fair / with a russet coat.
Or the melon – / let it bleach yellow / in the winter light, / even tart to the taste – / it is better to taste of frost – / the exquisite frost – / than of wadding and of dead grass.
For this beauty, / beauty without strength, / chokes out life. / I want wind to break, / scatter these pink-stalks, / snap off their spiced heads, / fling them about with dead leaves – / spread the paths with twigs, / limbs broken off, / trail great pine branches, / hurled from some far wood / right across the melon-patch, / break pear and quince – / leave half-trees, torn, twisted / but showing the fight was valiant.
O to blot out this garden / to forget, to find a new beauty / in some terrible wind-tortured place.

-Sheltered Garden (in whole)

I know not what to do, / my mind is reft: / is song’s gift best? / is love’s gift loveliest? / I know not what to do, / now sleep has pressed / weight on your eyelids.
Shall I break your rest, / devouring, eager? / is love’s gift best? / nay, song’s the loveliest: / yet were you lost, / what rapture / could I take from song? / what song were left?

-Fragment Thirty-six

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