Dorothea Goodrich on HD [Hilda Doolittle] 1886-1961
ENGLISH 384, Virginia Commonwealth University

H.D. is considered one of the imagist poets and is known as the 'most perfect" of the imagists for her innovative rhythms, crystalline lines and stark images.

In London, in the early part of this century, a group of poets which included Ezra Pound, championed the use of clear, concise images and free verse to revive a classicists spirit and to combat what they felt were the excesses of the romantic poetry of the late 19th century. It was Erza Pound who first refered to them as "Les Imagistes". Pound defined the image as "that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time". He added that "the presentation of such a 'complex' instananeously" gives a "sense of sudden liberation", and "a sense of freedom from time limits and space limits" [found both on the web site on Imagist Women and Benet's Readers Encyclopedia of American Literature, p. 510].

"In Pound's formulation, the 3 principles of imagism are: "direct treatment of 'the thing', whether subjective of objective; "to use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation", and "to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase not in the sequence of a metronome" [Benet's, p. 510]. Imagist poetry has a flow to it, often from one line to the next without hestitation.

      Saffron from the fringe of the earth,
      wild saffron that has bent
      over the sharp edges of earth,
      all the flowers that cut through the earth,
      all, all the flowers are lost
"In her later works she attempts to bring meaning to a world torn apart by two world wars and to find her feminine and artistic identity in a masculine culture. She accomplishes this by intertwining layers of historical and personal experience with myths and legends of war from Trojan times to the present to create a timeless spiritual structure that is more manageable and more meaningful to her than the chaotic present" [Handbook of American Woman's History].

I think that in the poem "Eurydice" H.D. intertwines the myth of Orpheus with her experience as a woman to offer another perspective on this classic myth. Here for the first time --that I have ever seen-- we are offered the "other side" of the story, the untold story. According to the sources that I found [Cyclopedia of Literary Characters and Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable] there are a few other aspects to the story that are left out of both H.D.'s poem and Edith Hamilton's version of the classic myth which I found interesting: Eurydice was fleeing from a shepard who desired her when she was bitten by a snake and dies; Orpheus still had one foot in the underworld when he turned round. But perhaps my favorite omission was the cause of his death by the band of Maenads, simply because I wondered why they would have happened upon him and tore him to pieces. The Thracian Maenads were enraged (jealous?) by Orpheus' prolonged grief at this second loss of Eurydice because he before this he used to celebrate the rites of Bacchus with them. Another omission was that he then joined Eurydice in the underworld.

While the sources that I consulted did not treat "Eurydice" specifically, I think that what they had to say about her other works pertains to this piece as well. What I have done is to take material from 3 writers: Denise Levertov, Susan Gubar, Rachel Blau DuPlessis to use as an introduction to elements of H.D.'s writing and then specifically how they pertain to "Eurydice". [my comments appear in brackets; with the sources sited at the end.]

Denise Levertonv: The interpenetration of past and present, of mundane reality and intangible reality, is typical of H.D.. She showed a way to pentrate mystery; which means not to flood darkness with light so that darkness is destroyed, but to enter into darkness, mystery so that it is experienced. . . .darkness. . .not evil but the other side. . . .

[By presenting the reader with a woman's perspective, H.D. is offering the chance for the reader to 'walk a mile in someone else's shoes'. For the first time we look at Orpheus's great love for Eurydice that would compel him to undertake a journey into the underworld as something different. For perhaps the first time we see within this tale a man who wants to possess and to control, to confirm who he is by her presence. What at one time may have seemed a classic love story is no more. Will any of us look at classic myths in quite the same way after having read H.D.?]

Susan Gubar: [Gubar was actually writing on "Trilogy"] H.D. presents herself as an outsider who must express her views from a consciously female perspective. . . . Inheriting uncomfortable male-defined images of women and of history, H.D. responds with palimpsestic of encoded revisions of male myths.. . . she discovers behind the recalcitrant and treatening signs of her times a hidden meaning that sustains her quest by furnishing stories of female strength and survival.

[Before I read this I had not thought about the poet -herself- being on a "quest" to "furnish stories of female strength and survival". A very interesting concept to think of the poet as seeking to provide women with a source of stength through the retelling of male myths, to provide the reader with an image of woman as more than a prop and a victim. For while Eurydice sounds bitter in the begining of the poem, in the end she has found HERSELF as a source of strength: "At least I have the flowers of myself, and my thoughts, no god can take that; I have the fervour of myself for a presence and my own spirit for light". It is not the man who provides her with strength, but from within herself that she finds it. H.D. provides us with a female-defined image of woman.]

Rachel Blau DuPlessis: In her life's work H.D. returned constantly to a pattern of personal relationships that she found perplexing and felt to be damaging to herself and other women; thralldom to males in romantic and spiritual love. Romantic thralldom is an all-encompassing, totally defining love between unequals. . . .Viewed from a critical, feminist perspective, the sense of completion or transformation that often accompanies thralldom in love has the higher price of obliteration and paralysis, for the entranced self is entirelyl defined by another.

[I do not think that this is the case in "Eurydice", or at least it is not a case of a woman being defined by the male, after all it is Orpheus who goes down into Hades to try and bring Eurydice back to earth. One gets the sense --both in H.D. and in the classic myth--that this is done to make his life/ himself complete.]

H.D. was trying to construct some perspective that avoided the constant subordination of the woman to the man in normal and cultural life. In her view, men and women are equals in the spiritual realm, not seeking the distinctions of fixed sex roles, but rather a mutual suffusion of insight and wisdom.

[Eurydice does play a subordinate role to Orpheus in the beginning; no one ever asked her if she wanted to journey back up to earth. But, in the end it is she who is empowered with a sense of self; for it is Orpheus who cannot bear HIS loss of her, never considering her loss: "So for your arrogance and your ruthlessness I have lost the earth. . .yet for your arrogance and your glance, I tell you this:such loss is no loss. . .hell is no worse than your earth. . .my hell is no worse than yours. . .against the blackness and the stark grey I have more light"]


Handbook of American Women's History [ref HQ1410.H36 1990]
Benet's Readers Encyclopedia of American Literature" edited by George Perkins, Barbara Perkins and Philip Leininger. Harper Collins Publishers. 1991. (p.269 & 510)
Cyclopedia of Literary Characters"edited by Frank N. Magil. Vol. 2, mic-z. Salem Press, New Jersey. 1963. (p.824)
Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable 15th ed. revised by Adrian Room. Harpers-Collins Press, London. 1995. (p.782)
Contemporary Literary Critics"Vol 14. Dedria Bryfonski, Laurie Lanzen Harris editors. Gale Research Co., Michigan. 1980. (Levertov p. 223-224; Gubar p. 225-229; DuPlessis p. 229-230.)
The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Vol 2. D.C. Heath and Co., Toronto. 1990. (p. 1278)