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Imagism

July 15, 2022

born in England and America in the early twentieth century. Imagism is a 20th century movement in poetry advocating free verse and the expression of ideas and emotions through clear precise images. Imagism emphasized simplicity, clarity of expression, and precision through the use of exacting visual images.

The Imagists featured a number of women writers amongst their major figure.

– The Dryad- Ezra Pound’s Pet Name for Hilda Doolittle, was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to Charles Leander Doolittle, who came from New England ancestry, and Helen (Wolle) Doolittle. Hilda Doolittle was an American poet, known initially as an Imagist. She was also a translator, novelist-playwright, and self-proclaimed “pagan mystic.”

She was the only surviving girl in her family, with three brothers and two older half-brothers.

Charles valued education and wanted Hilda to become a scientist or mathematician. Hilda wanted to be an artist like her mother, but her father ruled out art school. Charles was cool, detached, and uncommunicative. – Jone Johnson Lewis

When Doolittle was 15, she met Ezra Pound, a 16-year-old freshman at the University of Pennsylvania where her father was teaching. In London, Doolittle moved in the same literary circle as Pound. This group included such luminaries as W. B. Yeats and May Sinclair. She met Richard Aldington there, an Englishman and poet. They married in 1913.

At one meeting, Pound declared Doolittle to be an imagist and wanted her to sign her poems “H.D. Imagist.” She agreed and after that was known professionally as H.D. Under the new name, she contributed to the 1914 publication, “Des Imagistes,” the first anthology of imagist poetry. 

In July of 1918, H.D. met Winifred Ellerman, a wealthy woman who became her benefactor and her lover. Ellerman renamed herself Bryher. They went to Greece in 1920 and to America in 1920 and 1921. While in the U.S., Bryher married Robert McAlmon, a marriage of convenience, which freed Bryher from parental control. Both Bryher and H.D. slept with McAlmon during this time. The couple divorced in 1927.

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”. Bryher and Macpherson adopted H.D.’s daughter, Perdita. They moved to Lake Geneva to live in a Bauhaus villa. She became pregnant for the third time in 1928, but chose to illegally abort the pregnancy in Berlin that November.

H.D. published her second book of poems in 1921, called “Hymen.” The poems featured many female figures from mythology as narrators, including Hymen, Demeter, and Circe.

H.D.’s mother joined Bryher and H.D. on a trip to Greece in 1922, including a visit to the island of Lesbos, known as the home of the poet Sappho. The next year they went to Egypt, where they were present at the opening of King Tut’s tomb.

In Switzerland H.D. found more peace for her writing. She kept her apartment in London for many years, splitting her time between homes. -Jone Johnson Lewis

H.D. published her first novel, “Palimpsest,” in 1926, featuring women expatriates with careers, searching for their identity and love.

Between 1923 and 1928 her lover, Bryher, was rescuing refugees. She rescued close to 100 people from the claws of the Nazis. By then H.D. also took an antifascist stand and broke all ties with Ezra Pound who was promoting investment in Mussolini’s Italy.

When H.D. began to dabble in the occult, a rift developed between her and Bryher which eventually caused them to split up.

In 1945 H.D. retreated to Switzerland. She and Bryher lived apart but they remained in regular communication.

The Walls do not Fall (excerpt)
by H. D

H. D.’s writings are certainly some of the most interesting for both the formal student and the arm chair amature . One of her appealing poems from her imagist movement is from Sea Garden, her first collection of poems.

Sea Poppies
by H. D.

Much of her work using imagist theories was influenced by Japanese verse, and she was a frequent visitor to the archival holdings of the British Museum where she studied various Japanese manuscripts.

A stark contrast to earlier American Poets such as Walt Whitman, who used subtle figurative language to explore emotions and internal feelings. In contrast, H.D.’s poems are often filled with concrete, realistic images, as this stanza from her poem “Mid-day” illustrates:

“The light beats upon me.

I am startled—

a split leaf crackles on the paved floor—

I am anguished—defeated.”

Following a reappraisal by feminist critics in the 1970s and 1980s, she is today considered one of the foremost 20th-century modernist poets.

5 Comments
  1. You post such marvelous gems of poets I never heard of. Thank you for this sharing of what sounds like a rich and spectacular woman living life with passion. I enjoy the pieces of her poetry you posted as well.
    Blessings.

    • Happy you enjoyed the read Poet. I was also pleasantly surprised after following a lead through another poet I was reading.
      There is so much information about her life, I can assure you that I haven’t done her justice. Just so interesting to discover the lives that such spectacular women lived and the works they produced. Mind-blowing when one consider the era.
      Blessings

      • Yes indeed a courageous life lived in those times/era to be sure. Thanks again for the inspirational sharing.

  2. This is TOTALLY new to me – thank you, Abi ❤

    • Thank you for reading David ♥
      Fascinating how the creatives established and support each other.
      And name themselves, thereby creating movements.

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