April 28th, 2011
As Barbra Guest repeatedly notes in Herself Defined: H.D. and Her World, H.D. was a woman whose identity is repeatedly tangled with the identities of the people who surrounded her, to name a few Richard Aldington, Bryher, and Ezra Pound. Yet Guest gives the most weight in her discussion of H.D.’s identity to the poet’s relationship with Pound. In Discussing the poet’s withdrawal from Bryn Mawr in 1906 Guest writes, “ the truth was that she was facing duel worlds: an authoritarian institute of learning, and an equally authoritarian poet. It was either Ezra Pound or Bryn Mawr”(5). Guest goes on to note that Pound served as a sort of director of the young H.D. and assisted her in crafting her identity, even naming her. Pound served as an intellectual liaison for the young poet, he brought her into the burgeoning world of what would become known as the Imagist movement (22-30).
In establishing H.D. as a woman who sees her identity as connected with Pound, Guest sets up a precedence for conflating H.D.’s sense of self with others. While I do not agree with the representation of H.D. as a genius that was so fraught with instability that she constantly needed a caretaker there is substantial textual evidence that suggests that H.D’s sense of self was very unstable at times, and one sees the poet retreat into her relationships, perhaps in search of a way to “define herself”. Guest writes that during H.D.’s stay in London that the poet was content to be known as the companion of, “the leading poet in London”(32).
Perhaps one of the most interesting, and most real, crisis of identity that H.D. experienced was after the suicide of Margaret Cravens. In London Ezra Pound was introduced to a woman by the name of Dorothy Shakespear who was well connected with the contemporary literary circles. Shakespear’s mother was in fact the person who first introduced Ezra Pound to Yeats, who in turn began to encourage the relationship between Pound and Shakespear. The two eventually married. H.D. took the news as a sort of abandonment. Pound’s abandonment of Imagism in his writing only furthered H.D.’s sense of loss(64).
Yet H.D. was not the only woman who took the news of Ezra Pound’s marriage to Shakespear, harshly. A young woman by the name of Margaret Cravens was on love with the intellectual poet and committed suicide after hearing the news of Pound’s engagement. This suicide forced H.D. to confront an identity that seemed to mirror her own. Guest writes, “The Margaret Cravens incident assumed all sorts of proportions for Hilda, who almost believed that she herself might have been the one to commit suicide…she had been “dropped by Pound…she identified with Margaret, who had appeared to live the kind of life Hilda would wish for herself (49). This conflation of the self that Guest seems to circulate around in her biography of H.D is evidenced many times in her writing, however the majority of the time the focus is placed on the more unstable representations of self that H.D. crafts, Hermione is a perfect example. Hermione’s sense of self is constantly in state of flux, with the repetition of the word “Her” , H.D. crafts a persona that is partially unrealized. The fact that the preferred abbreviation of her heroine’s identity is easily confused with a pronoun is indicative of this incomplete and unstable sense of self. Yet these “unstable” representations are often favored over more stable and even playful versions of the self that H.D. presents in her poetry. For example H.D. writes in “Heliodora”, “We strove for a name,/while the light of the lamps burnt thin/and the outer dawn came in”(Martz 151). In this quotation the poet and an unnamed other male figure are searching for a name, and together they seek to create an identity for a girl. Yet there is something self assured in Heliodora despite the search for identity. H.D. writes, “and the phrase was just as good,/though not as good as mine”(151). The notion of a self assured speaker is rarely referenced in Guest’s discussion of H.D.’s identity, yet one can see from this quotation that while the instability of self an identity is present, the speaker also is aware of her own talents and abilities. When one considers the title of the poem, “Heliodora” the beginning of the two segments of the name are the initials H.D. One can see a certain playfulness in this poetic identity. H.D. was punning her own name, yet another aspect of the instability of H.D.’s identity that is often ignored in favor of a more “darling lunatic” approach to the author’s biography.
Guest notes that one of H.D.’s major contributions to the Imagist movement is her reinvention and retellings of myth. Yet I would assert that the success of these retellings would not have been as great, had H.D. not possessed such a flexible sense of self. Through her biography one can see that while H.D. struggled with identity, the caveat to this struggle is more fully re-imagined first person re-tellings of myth that reinvent and give voice to characters that did not originally have voices.