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A compendium of queer people in the 19th and 20th centuries // Drawn and researched by Michele Rosenthal

  H.D.

H.D. 1886to –1961

American modernist poet and writer, and leading figure of the Imagist movement, best known for her poem Oread. She grew up as Hilda Doolittle in a Moravian community in Pennsylvania, where her father taught astronomy and her mother taught music and painting, which shaped her intersecting interests in spirituality, science, and art. As a teenager, she met the writer Ezra Pound, whose friendship would have a profound impact on her life and career. They were even engaged for a time, though it was soon called off, around the same time that H.D. had her first serious relationship with another woman. In 1911, she traveled to London, and there she reconnected with Pound and fellow poet Richard Aldington. The three declared themselves to be Imagists, and defined the movement as being direct, concise, and lyrical, inspired by Classical Greek and Japanese verse. It became an influential moment in modern poetry, with Hilda Doolittle at the forefront—now writing under the abbreviated pen name “H.D.” that Pound had given to her. In 1913, she and Aldington were married, and in 1916 she released her first book, Sea Garden. But World War I soon interrupted their lives. She suffered a series of tragedies including a miscarriage and the deaths of her brother and father, while Aldington, who served in the war, suffered from PTSD. They both had affairs with others, and by the time H.D. had given birth to another man’s child, they had already separated. Toward the end of the war, H.D. met the novelist Bryher, the woman she would live with for the next three decades. They traveled together through Egypt and Greece before settling in Switzerland, and had an open relationship. Bryher eventually married H.D.’s lover Kenneth Macpherson and adopted H.D.’s daughter, and the four of them lived and traveled as a family for some time. Together, they started the influential film magazine Close Up, and even created a few films in which H.D. acted. She was also deeply interested in psychoanalysis at this time, and explored her bisexuality and fear of an impending World War II with Sigmund Freud himself. She wrote prolifically throughout her life, though often struggled to escape the Imagist label. Some of her most lauded work includes HERmione, a semi-autobiographical novel about her early dual relationships with Ezra Pound and another woman, and Helen in Egypt, a personal and female-centric reimagining of ancient epic poetry. With her constant questioning of gender roles and expectations throughout her work, it’s no surprise that her writing found new appreciation during the feminist movement of the 1970s. H.D. has since been repositioned as one of the pivotal figures in modern poetry.

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