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Poet on the Couch : H.D. with Freud

Catherine Aldington

In 1933, at Bryher’s suggestion, H.D. went to Bergasse 19, Wien IX.

My hours, or sessions, had been arranged for me, four days a week from five to six; one day from twelve to one.1
She began in March 1933. Freud no longer took patients but students. A subtle way of indicating he could not take on long cures. H.D. had come to England with Ezra Pound. Together they met many young poets and writers, famous today, such as T.S. Eliott , D.H.Lawrence,William Carlos Williams, S.Flint, W.B. Yeats, etc... and Richard Aldington whom H.D. was to marry. The poetical movement 'Imagisme' was to come from this encounter.

Poet, writer, young Aldington was sent to the trenches on the Somme, the horror of which he never overcame. As for his young wife, her life was in complete upheaval for the same reason. Later, Freud was to encourage her to write her version which was to be Bid me to Live. It is interesting to be able to compare the experiences of the two through a parallel reading with Death of a Hero, Aldington’s account of the war.

Their child, a girl, was stillborn. Forever a loss. To each another daughter was born, but not together. Each daughter bore the weight of the lost child throughout their lives.

H.D. had taken Perdita to the country where Bryher was to find them not only barely heated and nourished, but with Hilda alarmingly ill. As Bryher was to tell me on one of my visits to Vevey, she had called on the poet whose poetry she admired, therefore, she politely took tea, exchanged propos on poetry, then, in her chauffeur-driven limousine went back to London. Then the generosity she was to show throughout her life, drove her back the next day when she took them to comfort and much needed care, undoubtedly saving them from further hardships. The relationship was to last throughout their lives.

From the trenches at Verdun, clearly the soldier was in no position to be informed of what was going on. He is under shellfire. His soul is crushed. Although he writes to his wife he believes neither she nor the 'civil' world can understand. Indeed the nightmare disaster could not be measured at the time. Throughout his life the wounds never healed.

During his brief leaves Aldington is haunted by images of the front. Hilda, whose health is fragile, has the doctor's warning not to get pregnant. She is reserved, there is no contraception. Richard turns to other women.

Is it bitter to give back
love to your lover if he wish it
for a new favourite,
who can say,
or is it sweet?2

Separated—they were only divorced in 1937 when Richard wanted to marry Netta Patmore—Hilda lived with Bryher who took her on a much longed for trip to Greece. It was during this trip that the episode of the writing on the wall took place, an experience Freud singled out as 'dangerous.'

The series of shadow- or of light-pictures I saw projected on the wall of a hotel bedroom in the Ionian island of Corfu, at the end of April 1920, belong in the sense of quality and intensity, to the same psychic category as the dream of the Princess, the Pharaoh’s daughter, coming down the stairs. . . .3

. . . So far the pictures, the transfers or 'calcomanias,' have run level on the wall space between the foot of the bed and the wash-stand. Now they take an upward course or seem about to do so. . . .4

. . . Then there was the conventional outline of a goblet or cup, actually suggesting the mystic chalice, but it was the familiar goblet shape we all know, with round base and glass-stem. The chalice is as large as the head of the soldier, or rather it simply takes up the same amount of space, as if they were both formal patterns stamped on picture cards, or even (now that I come to think of it) on playing cards. I have said, with the Professor, that I would lay my cards on the table. These were those cards; so far, two of them. The third follows at once or now I perceive it. . . .5

She could be describing the origin of films! She also brings to Freud a stone for his theory: the importance of myths in the unconscious. Which of the two was the poet and which the discoverer of the mysteries of the mind?

This is more or less the theme I had been following while rereading my copy of Tribute to Freud 6 which had been with me since 1956, when out of the cover fell two old letters. They were signed by H.D. and had been sent to my father during the last of their correspondance.

Strive not to wake the dead.
the Incomparable host
with Helen and Achilles

are not dead, not lost.
the isles are fair (nor far)
Paphos and the Cyclades; . . . 7
I was to meet H.D. once again, a few days before her death. My father only survived her by a year. "Strive not to wake the dead . . . "

Catherine Aldington
Stes Maries de la Mer
March 5, 1999


1. H.D., Tribute to Freud.  New York: New Directions, 1974. p. 4.  (Return)

2. H.D. "Eros." Part V, stanza 4. In H.D. Collected Poems 1912-1944, ed. Louis L. Martz, 318. New York: New Directions, 1983.  (Return)

3. Tribute to Freud. p. 41.  (Return)

4. Tribute to Freud. p. 52.  (Return)

5. Tribute to Freud. p. 45.  (Return)

6. New York: Pantheon Books, 1956.  (Return)

Link to leaf 2Link to leaf 1 7. Editor's note: This passage is taken from the second of the two typescript letters mentioned above. The two leaves contain passages from H.D.'s Helen in Egypt. (New York: Grove Press, 1961). Images of the two leaves are reproduced here. Ms. Aldington identifies the letter which accompanied these typescripts as that dated December 30, 1959. It is no. 113 in Carolyn Zilboorg's Richard Aldington & H.D.: the later years in letters.  (New York: Manchester Univ. Press, 1995). The passage on the first leaf is from "Pallinode," Book Seven, part 1. That on the second leaf is from "Pallinode," Book Eight, part 1. (Return)

The Richard Aldington web site, revised February 9, 2002. Address comments to Paul Hernandez, paul@imagists.org