Cheryl Walker: On H.D.'s Imagist Poems and Ancient Greece

Though H.D. was not consistent in her commitment to the Greek persona, sometimes relinquishing it in favor of others and at no time limiting it absolutely to a certain set of qualities, we can, with reasonable accuracy, pinpoint the aspects of the Greek persona which typically appealed to H.D. From the early days in London, when the poet thought of herself as a Greek statue come to life, to her epitaph–"Greek flower; Greek ecstasy"–the Greek persona represented qualities she desired: aloofness, inner strength, mental superiority, physical boyishness, courage, freedom, and wildness; a psychological landscape comparable to the physical landscape of the New England coastline which she . . . would forever remember and admire.

Roughly, the figure of Artemis emerges as her preferred version of the Greek persona. . . . Hippolyta, whom H.D. would use as a mask for her own struggles, is a follower of Artemis. At the end of her life, the poet would once again imagine herself as Artemis in her writing of Tribute to Freud, Artemis who is strong enough to take on the Professor. . . .

It is easy to see the particular attraction of the Greek persona for a woman like H.D. . . . Like Amy Lowell’s androgynous persona, it blended "male" and "female" characteristics, helping to free the poet from derogatory assumptions about sentimental women poets. Like Sara Teasdale’s passionate virgin, which also had connections to Greek culture, H.D.’s Artemis persona was associated with chastity and personal autonomy as well as passion. In fact, according to Barbara Guest [Herself Defined: The Poet H.D. and Her World], John Gould Fletcher remarked "that Teasdale’s fragile appearance and her tendency to seclude herself from society reminded him of H.D." (43). Like Elinor Wylie, who also dressed in Greek fashions and identified herself with Artemis, H.D.’s Greek self was a woman warrior of sorts, both vulnerable and aggressive, the kind of woman who never forgot a slight.

From Masks Outrageous and Austere: Culture, Psyche, and Persona in Modern Women Poets. Bloomington: Indiana U.P., 1991. 111-12. © 1991 by Cheryl Walker


Title Cheryl Walker: On H.D.'s Imagist Poems and Ancient Greece Type of Content General Poet Criticism
Criticism Author Cheryl Walker Criticism Target H(ilda) D(oolittle)
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 13 Jul 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Masks Outrageous and Austere: Culture, Psyche, and Persona in Modern Women Poets
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