Skip to content

The most enchanting ornament of all the Freudian biographical literature.

—Ernest Jones

Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)

20th century American poet

An innovative modernist writer, Hilda Doolittle (1886–1961) wrote under her initials in a career that stretched from 1909 to 1961. Although she is most well known for her poetry—lyric and epic—H.D. also wrote novels, memoirs, short stories, essays, reviews, a children’s book, and translations. An American woman who lived her adult life abroad, H.D. was engaged in the formalist experimentation that preoccupied much of her generation. A range of thematic concerns resonates through her writing: the role of the poet, the civilian representation of war, material and mythologized ancient cultures, the role of national and colonial identity, lesbian and queer sexuality, and religion and spirituality.

H.D. grew up in Pennsylvania, first in Bethlehem and then in Philadelphia when her father became the Director of the Flower Observatory at the University of Pennsylvania. The only girl with five brothers, H.D. struggled to find her way as an artist, surrounded as she was by astronomers and scientists. As she progressed through academically demanding institutions, H.D., tall and graceful, succeeded socially, excelling at basketball, student politics, and writing. As a teenager, she began making friends with other young writers who would also become the most important literary figures of their time like Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. At Bryn Mawr College, she met Marianne Moore, with whom she later reconnected while serving as the assistant editor of the little magazine the Egoist. In Moore, H.D. found her equal in writing ability, and the two women corresponded for the rest of their lives, offering each other writing advice, publishing outlets, and professional allies.

In 1911 H.D. traveled to Europe and decided to stay, despite her family’s protests. She married Richard Aldington in 1913, a marriage later ravaged by the exigencies of World War I. On July 17, 1918, H.D. invited Bryher (“Annie Winnifred Ellerman”) to tea, a meeting that led to the most significant relationship of H.D.’s life. Bryher used her substantial financial resources—she was the daughter of the shipping magnate Sir John Ellerman—to rescue H.D., when she fell prey to the influenza epidemic of 1918 while pregnant. Together, H.D. and Bryher raised Perdita in a household that included other family members like filmmaker Kenneth Macpherson and Yale professor Norman Holmes Pearson. They were well connected to the writing networks in Paris and London, to writers like Gertrude Stein in Paris, Edith and Osbert Sitwell in England, and Sylvia Beach, who coordinated much of the expatriate scene through her bookstore Shakespeare and Company.  They traveled extensively, visiting destinations like the U.S., Egypt, and Greece, all of which provided inspiration for H.D.’s poetry, and established homes in London and Switzerland, shifting often.

Pearson had interviewed H.D. in New York in 1937, and H.D. became close friends with him during World War II while he was in London working for the Office of Strategic Services. When Pearson returned to Yale, he anchored H.D. to the American literary tradition by offering her a “shelf” at Yale, now a treasure trove of her manuscripts, letters, and family papers. Because of Pearson’s influence, H.D. became connected to agents and critics, she wrote memoirs, she documented her influences and inspirations, and she repatriated in 1958. She also met and came herself to influence the next generation, younger poets like Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov.

H.D.’s final years were a triumph. Her major works were being published—Helen in Egypt was placed in her hands shortly before her death—and the awards kept coming. Most significantly, in 1960 the American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded H.D. the Award of Merit Medal for poetry. H.D. was the first woman to receive this award, and the ceremony celebrated her lifelong dedication to her craft.

In 1961, H.D. suffered a serious stroke, and the complications led to her death. She was buried in her hometown of Bethlehem, which quietly celebrated her return with pride. Her simple Moravian tombstone is often adorned by seashells, a remembrance of her first book of poetry, Sea Garden.

[New Directions would like to thank Professor Annette Debo for contributing this biography.]


Vale Ave

Poetry by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)


Vale Ave — Latin for “Farewell, Hail” — is a hymn to Eros that unfolds as a gorgeous palimpsest of eternal recurrence and reincarnation, charting the course of two lovers who each seek the other across cultures, myths, and centuries. Vale Ave is alchemical — “mystery and portent, yes, but at the same time,” as H. D. writes, “there is Resurrection and the hope of Paradise.”

Ave and vale but the parting came
before the greeting, it was vale, ave,
keep the wine till the last,
I hold this cup, I need not taste this sleep



Tribute to Freud

by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)

with a contribution by Adam Phillips

"My bat-like thought-wings would beat painfully in that sudden searchlight," H.D. writes in Tribute to Freud, her moving memoir. Compelled by historical as well as personal crises, H.D. underwent therapy with Freud during 1933-34, as the streets of Vienna were littered with tokens dropped like confetti on the city stating "Hitler gives work," "Hitler gives bread." Having endured World War I, she was now gathering her resources to face the cataclysm she knew was approaching. The first part of the book, "Writing on the Wall," was composed some ten years after H.D.’s stay in Vienna; the second part, "Advent," is a journal she kept during her analysis. Revealed here in the poet’s crystal shard-like words and in Freud’s own letters (which comprise an appendix) is a remarkably tender and human portrait of the legendary Doctor in the twilight of his life. Time doubles back on itself, mingling past, present, and future in a visionary weave of dream, memory, and reflections.



Analyzing Freud

Nonfiction by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)


Breezy, informal, irreverent, vibrant in detail, H.D.’s letters to her companion, Bryher, revolve around her 1933-1934 therapy sessions with Sigmund Freud, from which she emerged reborn. "A correspondence that tells us more about Freud as a clinician than any other source" (PsyArt), this volume includes H.D.’s and Bryher’s letters, as well as letters by Freud to H.D. and Bryher, most of them published here for the first time. In addition, the book includes H.D.’s and Bryher’s letters to and from Havelock Ellis, Kenneth MacPherson, Conrad Aiken, Ezra Pound, and Anna Freud, among others. Taken together, the 307 letters in Analyzing Freud, introduced and fully annotated by Susan Stanford Friedman, comprise a fresh, compelling portrait of H.D., and her analyst, Freud.



Hippolytus Temporizes & Ion

Fiction by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)

with a contribution by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)

H.D.’s 1927 adaptation of Euripides’ Hippolytus Temporizes and her 1937 translation of Ion appeared midpoint in her career. These two verse dramas can both be considered as “freely adapted” from plays by Euripides; they constitute a commentary in action, and in this regard resemble W. B.Yeats’s Oedipus plays and Ezra Pound’s Women of Trachis. In the first play, the young man Hippolytus is obsessed with the virgin goddess Artemis and discovers the depth of his passion with the sensual Phaedra, his disguised stepmother: this experience brings self-knowledge and death. The heroine Kreousa in Ion attempts to poison Ion when she fails to recognize him as her son by Apollo but sees in him instead the outsider and possible usurper of her throne. H.D.’s translations of the Greek were greatly admired by T. S. Eliot. In her re-workings, she creates modern versions of classic plays, enabling her to explore her favorite poetic themes. Sigmund Freud (with whom H.D. was undergoing analysis just before she embarked on Ion) commended her translations; and after writing them, H.D. was able to go on to write Helen in Egypt, “a sweeping epic of healing and integration.” These marvelous versions attest to H.D.’s claim that “the lines of this Greek poet (and all Greek poets if we have but the clue) are today as vivid and as fresh as they ever were.”



Pilate’s Wife

Fiction by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)

translated by Joan Burke
with a contribution by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)

Veronica, Pontius Pilate’s wife, is beautiful, brilliant, and weary of her worldly life. One day she disguises herself as a servant in order to visit a fortune-teller, and when the seer, Mnevis, tells her of a Jew, a "love-god," Veronica suddenly feels alive, experiencing "sudden pre-visions of inner splendor." Jesus arouses the artist, the dreamer in her––this prophet who believes women have an important place in the spiritual hierarchy. What follows is a chain of events in which Veronica commits the one genuine act of her life, daringly offering Jesus a "way out" of his crucifixion. This revision of biblical history––in the tradition of D.H. Lawrence’s The Man Who Died and Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ––is not just a novel; it is part of the ongoing dialogue about the feminine and divine. Pilate’s Wife was written by H.D. in 1929 and revised in 1934, and is now finally in print, edited with an introduction by H.D. scholar Joan A. Burke. It is without question a testament to Alicia Ostriker’s claim that, among the women writers of this century, "H.D. is the most profoundly religious, the most seriously engaged in spiritual quest."


Available: July 01 2000


Trilogy

Poetry by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)


This reissue of the classic Trilogy, by H. D. (Hilda Doolittle, 1886-1961), now includes a new introduction and a large section of referential notes for readers and students, compiled by Professor Aliki Barnstone. As civilian war poetry (written under the shattering impact of World War II), Trilogy’s three long poems rank with T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets and Ezra Pound’s Pisan Cantos. The first book of the Trilogy, published in the midst of the "fifty thousand incidents" of the London blitz, maintains the hope that though "we have no map;/ possibly we will reach haven,/heaven." Tribute to the Angels describes new life springing from the ruins, and finally, in The Flowering of the Rod––with its epigram, "…pause to give/thanks that we rise again from death and live"––faith in love and resurrection is realized in lyric and strongly Biblical imagery. About Trilogy, Denise Levertov wrote: ". . . H. D. spoke of essentials. It is a simplicity not of reduction but of having gone further out of the circle of known light, further toward an unknown center."


Available: September 01 1998


Kora And Ka

Fiction by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)


Written by H.D. in 1930 and only published in a 100-copy edition for friends in 1934, Kora and Ka marked a new level of intensity in the poet’s experiments with prose fiction. The two long stories contained in this volume, "Kora and Ka" and "Mira-Mare," are at once profoundly autobiographical yet, through H.D.’s unusual brand of modernist story-telling, pushed beyond personality. The men and women who haunt these tales are wraiths in spiritual exile, wanderers in a Europe still recovering from the devastations of World War I. Her descriptions of the beaches at Monte Carlo are triumphs of vivid detail––bright watercolors set against brooding psychological portraits. In its exploration of the "broken dualities" of self and civilization, Kora and Ka looks forward to H. D.’s masterpieces, Tribute to Freud and Trilogy.


Available: April 01 1996


The Hedgehog

Fiction by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)


A story to delight the most discerning child, The Hedgehog will also charm and impress adult readers. H.D. enthusiasts in particular will find much to think about in this neglected small classic. With its belated reappearance—only three hundred copies were originally printed in England some fifty years ago—comes the joy of a book true to the real shape and feel of things in childhood. The tale concerns a fatherless Anglo-American child, Madge, living with her mother in Switzerland, safe from the approach of WWII but not from growing up. From her first concerns—desires to walk barefoot, to climb the sheerest goat paths up mountainsides, and to learn (without letting on to her ignorance) about mysterious herissons (hedgehogs)—Madge moves to the edge of more adult woes. The great pleasure of The Hedgehog stems from H.D.’s quicksilver creation of a child’s world.


Available: September 01 1988


Selected Poems of H.D.

Poetry by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)


It is only now, more than a hundred years after her birth and more than twenty-five years after her death, that H.D. is frequently called a "major artist." The new Selected Poems, the first selection to encompass the rich diversity of H.D.’s poetry, is both confirmation and celebration of her long-overdue inclusion in the modernist canon. With both the general reader and the student in mind, editor Louis L. Martz of Yale University (who also edited H.D.’s Collected Poems 1912-1944) has provided generous examples of H.D.’s work. From her early "Imagist" period, through the "lost" poems of the thirties where H.D. discovered her unique creative voice, to the great prophetic poems of the war years combined in Trilogy, the selection triumphantly concludes with portions of the late sequences Helen in Egypt and Hermetic Definition which focus on rebirth, reconciliation, and the reunion of the divided self.


Available: September 01 1988


Nights

Fiction by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)


H.D.’s Nights is about one woman’s attempt to get to the essence of her bisexuality and failed marriage through an illicit heterosexual affair––an attempt that eventually ends in suicide. Much like a mystery novel, we are given the clues to the writer Natalia Saunderson’s death: a muff and watch left beside a frozen pond and two parallel skating lines that meet. Following her drowning, Natalia’s manuscripts, a kind of experimental diary, are delivered to a publisher friend, and they provide the details which lay bare the often painful story.


Available: May 01 1986


Collected Poems of H.D.

Poetry by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)


The Collected Poems 1912-1944 of H. D. brings together all the shorter poems and poetical sequences of Hilda Doolittle (1886-1961) written before 1945. Divided into four parts, this landmark volume, now available as a New Directions Paperbook, includes the complete Collected Poems of 1925 and Red Roses for Bronze (1931). Of special significance are the "Uncollected and Unpublished Poems (1912-1944)," the third section of the book, written mainly in the 1930s, during H. D.’s supposed "fallow" period. As these pages reveal, she was in fact writing a great deal of important poetry at the time, although publishing only a small part of it. The later, wartime poems in this section form an essential prologue to her magnificent Trilogy (1944), the fourth and culminating part of this book. Born in Pennsylvania in 1886, Hilda Doolittle moved to London in 1911 in the footsteps of her friend and one-time fiancé Ezra Pound. Indeed it was Pound, acting as the London scout for Poetry magazine, who helped her begin her extraordinary career, penning the words "H. D., Imagiste" to a group of six poems and sending them on to editor Harriet Monroe in Chicago. The Collected Poems 1912-1944 traces the continual expansion of H. D.’s work from her early imagistic mode to the prophetic style of her "hidden" years in the 1930s, climaxing in the broader, mature accomplishment of Trilogy. The book is edited by Professor Louis L. Martz of Yale, who supplies valuable textual notes and an introductory essay that relates the significance of H. D.’s life to her equally remarkable literary achievement.


Available: February 01 1986


The Gift

Fiction by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)


The connections and interconnections of past and present––the realization that life is a whole continuously echoing back to the past and unfolding toward the future––were sources of the strength, renewal, and joy celebrated in H.D.’s Trilogy and, in a differing, but no less real way, in The Gift––her novelistic memoir of childhood. In recapturing her memories of being a very little girl in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and later on a country place outside Philadelphia, H.D. "let the story tell itself or the child tell it." It is this voice or child’s-eye view that lends The Gift its special charm as H.D. recreates the ordinary and extraordinary occasions of her early youth, the nightmares and delights. A road-company presentation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Christmas Eve with its particular family ritual, a family outing, a disturbing accident––the happenings and incidents, perceptions and misconceptions with which a child’s life is crowded are the substance of this most winning book. As she did for the H.D. novel HERmione, H.D.’s daughter, Perdita Schaffner, provides a fine introduction.


Available: November 01 1982


HERmione

Fiction by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)


This autobiographical novel, an interior self-portrait of the poet H. D. (1886-1961) is what can best be described as a "find,’ a posthumous treasure. In writing HERmione, H.D. returned to a year in her life that was "peculiarly blighted." She was in her early twenties––"a disappointment to her father, an odd duckling to her mother, an importunate, overgrown, unincarnated entity that had no place… Waves to fight against, to fight against alone…’I am Hermione Gart, a failure’––she cried in her dementia, ’l am Her, Her, Her."’ She had failed at Bryn Mawr, she felt hemmed in by her family, she did not yet know what she was going to do with her life. The return from Europe of the wild-haired George Lowndes (Ezra Pound) expanded her horizons but threatened her sense of self. An intense new friendship with Fayne Rabb (Frances Josepha Gregg), an odd girl who was, if not lesbian, then certainly of bisexual bent, brought an atmosphere that made her hold on everyday reality more tenuous. This stormy course led to mental breakdown, then to a turning point and a new beginning as her own true self, as "Her”––the poet H.D. Perdita Schaffner, H.D.’s daughter, who can remember back to the time in 1927 when her mother was barricaded with her typewriter behind a locked door, working on this very novel, has provided a charming and telling introduction.


Available: November 01 1981


End To Torment

Nonfiction by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)


End to Torment: A Memoir of Ezra Pound is the deeply personal journal kept by the poet H. D. (Hilda Doolittle. 1886-1961) in 1958, the year Ezra Pound was released from St. Elizabeth’s in Washington, D.C., and returned to Italy. H. D., hospitalized in Switzerland from a fall, was urged to put down on paper, once and for all, her memories of Pound, which reached back to 1905, when she was a freshman at Bryn Mawr and he a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. They had been engaged for a period, and what began as a brief romance developed into a lifetime’s friendship and collaboration in poetry. Throughout the reminiscence runs H. D’s conviction that her life and Pound’s had been irrevocably entwined since those early days when they had walked together in the Pennsylvania woods and he wrote for her verse after William Morris, Rossetti, Swinburne, and Chaucer. Twenty-five of these poems, handbound in vellum by Pound and called "Hilda’s Book," are published here for the first time as an epilogue to this important and moving document.


Available: June 01 1979


Helen In Egypt

Fiction by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)


The fabulous beauty of Helen of Troy is legendary. But some say that Helen was never in Troy, that she had been conveyed by Zeus to Egypt, and that Greeks and Trojans alike fought for an illusion. A fifty-line fragment by the poet Stesichorus of Sicily (c. 640-555 B.C.), what survives of his Pallinode, tells us almost all we know of this other Helen, and from it H. D. wove her book-length poem. Yet Helen in Egypt is not a simple retelling of the Egyptian legend but a recreation of the many myths surrounding Helen, Paris, Achilles, Theseus, and other figures of Greek tradition, fused with the mysteries of Egyptian hermeticism.


Available: November 01 1974


Hermetic Definition

Poetry by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)


H. D.’s (Hilda Doolittle, 1884-1961) late poems of search and longing represent the mature achievement of a poet who has come increasingly to be recognized as one of the most important of her generation. The title poem and other long pieces in this collection ("Sagesse" and "Winter Love") were written between 1957 and her death four years later, and are heretofore unpublished, except in fragments. We can see now in proper context her fine ear for the free line, and understand why other poets, such as Denise Levertov, Robert Creeley, and Robert Duncan, find so much to admire in H. D.’s work. As in her earlier books, one level of H.D.’s significant poetic statement derives from her intimate knowledge of and identification with classical Greek and arcane cultures; taken together, these elements make up the poet’s own personal myth. Norman Holmes Pearson, H. D’s friend and literary executor, has contributed an illuminating foreword to this impressive collection.


Available: November 01 1972


Hippolytus Temporizes & Ion

Fiction by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)

with a contribution by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)

H.D.’s 1927 adaptation of Euripides’ Hippolytus Temporizes and her 1937 translation of Ion appeared midpoint in her career. These two verse dramas can both be considered as “freely adapted” from plays by Euripides; they constitute a commentary in action, and in this regard resemble W. B.Yeats’s Oedipus plays and Ezra Pound’s Women of Trachis. In the first play, the young man Hippolytus is obsessed with the virgin goddess Artemis and discovers the depth of his passion with the sensual Phaedra, his disguised stepmother: this experience brings self-knowledge and death. The heroine Kreousa in Ion attempts to poison Ion when she fails to recognize him as her son by Apollo but sees in him instead the outsider and possible usurper of her throne. H.D.’s translations of the Greek were greatly admired by T. S. Eliot. In her re-workings, she creates modern versions of classic plays, enabling her to explore her favorite poetic themes. Sigmund Freud (with whom H.D. was undergoing analysis just before she embarked on Ion) commended her translations; and after writing them, H.D. was able to go on to write Helen in Egypt, “a sweeping epic of healing and integration.” These marvelous versions attest to H.D.’s claim that “the lines of this Greek poet (and all Greek poets if we have but the clue) are today as vivid and as fresh as they ever were.”



Pilate’s Wife

Fiction by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)

translated by Joan Burke
with a contribution by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)

Veronica, Pontius Pilate’s wife, is beautiful, brilliant, and weary of her worldly life. One day she disguises herself as a servant in order to visit a fortune-teller, and when the seer, Mnevis, tells her of a Jew, a "love-god," Veronica suddenly feels alive, experiencing "sudden pre-visions of inner splendor." Jesus arouses the artist, the dreamer in her––this prophet who believes women have an important place in the spiritual hierarchy. What follows is a chain of events in which Veronica commits the one genuine act of her life, daringly offering Jesus a "way out" of his crucifixion. This revision of biblical history––in the tradition of D.H. Lawrence’s The Man Who Died and Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ––is not just a novel; it is part of the ongoing dialogue about the feminine and divine. Pilate’s Wife was written by H.D. in 1929 and revised in 1934, and is now finally in print, edited with an introduction by H.D. scholar Joan A. Burke. It is without question a testament to Alicia Ostriker’s claim that, among the women writers of this century, "H.D. is the most profoundly religious, the most seriously engaged in spiritual quest."


Available: July 01 2000