Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)

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.]

Poetry Pamphlets 5-8

In March of 2013 we launched a new series of Poetry Pamphlets, a reincarnated version of the “Poet of the Month” and “Poets of the Year” series James Laughlin published in the 1940s, which brought out such eclectic hits as William Carlos Williams’s The Broken Span, Delmore Schwartz’s poetic play Shenandoah, John Donne’s Some Poems and a Devotion, and Yvor Winters’s Giant Weapon, among many others. The New Directions Poetry Pamphlets will highlight original work by writers from around the world, as well as forgotten treasures lost in the cracks of literary history.…
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Vale Ave

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…
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Tribute to Freud

Fiction 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.…
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Analyzing Freud

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.…
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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.…
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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.…
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Trilogy

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.…
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Kora And Ka

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.…
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The Hedgehog

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.…
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Selected Poems of 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.…
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Nights

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.…
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Collected Poems of 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.…
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Tribute To Freud

Fiction by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)

With a contribution by Adam Phillips

Bringing together “Writing on the Wall,” composed some ten years after H.D.’s stay in Vienna, and “Advent,” a journal she kept at the time of her analysis there, Tribute to Freud offers a rare glimpse into the consulting room of the father of psychoanalysis. It may also be the most intimate of H.D.’s works. Compelled by historical as well as personal crises, the poet worked with Freud during 1933-34. The streets of Vienna were littered with tokens dropped like confetti on the city, stating “Hitler gives work,” “Hitler gives bread.…
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The Gift

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.…
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HERmione

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.…
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End To Torment

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.…
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Helen In Egypt

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.…
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Hermetic Definition

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.…
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The most enchanting ornament of all the Freudian biographical literature.

—Ernest Jones

… she is still regarded as the most complete Imagist.

—*The New York Times *

H.D.’s work is informed by a powerful and startling vision of regenerative, female force that holds out hope at a moment in history where other modernists found only despair.

Newsday

With the War Trilogy and Helen of Egypt, these three poems of H. D.’s late phase bring into print the great works of a poet who is of the same order for me as Ezra Pound or William Carlos Williams: the work of an imagination that incorporates boldly the modern consciousness and aesthetic and the traditional, psychoanalytic realism and hermetic visionary experience.

—Robert Duncan

…this ecstasy, ecstasy in language, in beautiful language, is what carries me through the entire trilogy, not only content with her trick…not only content with these high-handed fictions but enchanted with her whole poem, not to say enraptured.

—Hayden Carruth, Hudson Review
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