H.D. and R.A.: Early Love and the Exclusion of Ezra Pound

by Caroline Zilboorg

Copyright Caroline Zilboorg. This article originally appeared in The H.D. Newsletter, vol. 3, no. 1, p. 26-34 and is reproduced here with the kind permission of Caroline Zilboorg.

Please be sure to see Prof. Zilboorg's comments at the end of the article, written since its publication.

H.D., Richard Aldington, and Ezra Pound met often in London in the first months of 1912. H.D. had decided in late 1911 to remain in England and to work on her writing; a small allowance from her parents gave her a measure of security and permitted her to spend long hours reading at the British Museum and relishing a city rich in art and literature. Pound had introduced Aldington to Brigit Patmore early in the year; at a party at her house he met H.D. and was immediately attracted to her. H.D. in turn responded to him as a colleague, an intellectual equal, and a romantic partner.

Pound liked to introduce people; he liked to bring young artists together, to quicken one person with another, to send new work to editors, to electrify the chemistry of a gathering. He was often brilliant in doing all these things; he was more awkward in his reactions to the consequences of what he had done: initially cordial working relations with editors often became after a time impossible, and he alternately perplexed and outraged friends and acquaintances when he no longer controlled their activities. From his perspective, people seemed to have changed, or to be different from the way he had initially perceived them, or to be acting oddly. He never quite grasped that H.D. and Aldington were falling in love with each other.

Aldington was working hard in the spring of 1912 to establish himself as a literary critic and poet and was also regularly writing articles on subjects of more general interest. With a small monthly allowance from his parents, he managed to support himself. When H.D. left for a visit to France in May of 1912, an enamored Aldington soon joined her. Pound was also in Paris that summer and the three sometimes toured the city together, although H.D. and Aldington were clearly at this point close companions and their relationship was deepening. They went regularly together to museums, and their shared experience of visual as well as literary art was an obvious element in their romance. H.D. showed her diary to Aldington, and during these months in Paris, it occasionally even became a joint enterprise: on May 28, 1912, Aldington wrote humorously in the diary about the art they were seeing; on July 4, in response to a painting they had both seen in the Louvre, he composed a sonnet, "Angelico's Coronation," and dedicated it "To H.D." In the octave he remarks on the attraction of the Christian painting for him, its delicacy and calm; in the sestet, he rejects the peace of Fra Angelico for a hellenic life and love:

...the blithe wild earth,
Scurry of satyr-hooves in dewy lands,
Pan-pipes at noon, the lust, the shaggy fur,
White bosoms & swift Dionysiac mirth.(1)
H.D. and Aldington thought of themselves as "Greeks"; on June 15 H.D. noted in her diary that they had spent the morning in the Luxembourg Gardens, "R deep in Greek choruses H-sketching caste of gladiator-" They probably also consummated their love that summer. When Pound joined them for tea on June 10, H.D. recorded in her diary that she said to Pound, "'You see I am taking your advice.' (The advice weeks since in Luxembourg gardens 'You better marry Richard')." On the facing page is a poem by H.D. beginning "I love you. . . . "The diary also reveals the emotionally intense but formally conventional poems both were producing. They are writing on the Greek or the personal subjects that would become characteristic of their mature poetry but in strict meter and rhyme, formal elements that both would soon reject for the vers libre of early modernism.(2)

After their return to London in August, H.D. and Aldington went back to their respective work and probably in late September of 1912 had their now famous encounter in the British Museum tea-room during which H.D. showed her poems to Pound and he, impressed with what he read, signed them "H.D. 'Imagiste' "and sent them off in October to Poetry.

Three of Aldington's early poems, also written before Pound labeled him an "Imagist," appeared as Imagist works in Poetry in November, 1912; H.D.'s poems appeared two months later in January, 1913. The two were by no means established poets from this time forward, but their debut in Poetry was a significant introduction of their verse to serious readers who sensed a new awakening of poetry at the very beginning of the modernist movement. Both H.D. and Aldington had published poems in newspapers, but neither had before received the critical consideration each would receive from now on. The translations on which they would each work--free, poetic and impressionistic renditions of Greek verse, more precise and conventional translations of contemporary French prose--became parallel if not occasionally collaborative efforts from this point, and their reading and writing, their shared discussions of books and their own work became an integral part of an increasingly intimate relationship.

In October of 1912 H.D. left England for another trip to the continent. She spent some time in Paris, where she saw Pound who was also briefly there, before travelling south to Italy to meet her parents and Margaret Snively and her father, who made the trip to Europe with them. The Snivelys were neighbors of the Doolittles in Upper Darby, and Margaret had been a close friend of H.D. since girlhood. The Doolittles missed their only daughter, whom they had not seen for fifteen months, and were curious and probably somewhat concerned about her activities and her future plans. They landed at Genoa on October 14; on October 18 they left for Florence, stopping at Pisa on the way.(3) The Doolittles and Snivelys saw the sights; Mrs. Doolittle bought H.D. a dress; H.D., Professor Doolittle, and Margaret Snively took Italian lessons together until the end of November. On December 2, the Snivelys left Florence for Nice where Dr. Snively, an Episcopalian minister, had an appointment. On December 4, the Doolittles took the train from Florence to Rome. On December 5, they began their sightseeing and Mrs. Doolittle noted without further commentary that there was "--mail for Hilda."

In H.D.'s absence Aldington worked furiously in London, managing before the end of the year to persuade A. R. Orage, editor of The New Age, to accept a proposed series of articles on Italy. With this small measure of security he left London for the continent, arriving in Rome in early December. H.D. and Aldington did not return to London until August of 1913, and their eight months of traveling essentially together, primarily in Italy but also in France, took them as far south as Naples. This period was certainly not the family visit that Pound felt the Doolittles expected.(4) Aldington was clearly in love with H.D. and she increasingly inclined to him, although according to Pound H.D. was influenced by her parents(5) and Aldington finally needed Pound's permission to pursue his courtship seriously.(6) Even as late as May, 1913, Pound observed rather insistently that despite H.D.'s time alone with Aldington, "she doesn't seem much more in love"; with patent obtuseness, Pound declared the next day, "I think they must be in love."(7)

They were in love. Pound is not a particularly reliable source for this period.(8) H.D. in her few surviving letters to others from this time tended to write of the sights and climate she experienced and did not mention Aldington.(9) Aldington was similarly discreet in his many postcards to his father and sister during his travels, never once mentioning the Doolittles or H.D. by name nor even indicating that he was courting someone; his postcards refer to his work, the sights he was seeing, the weather, his changes of address. (10) Both writers are also reticent about this period in their later autobiographical work. H.D. does not discuss this trip in End to Torment, for example, which focuses on her early relationship with Pound. In Life for Life's Sake, Aldington writes that he left London in December because of the fog as well as because of a postcard from "a friend in Genoa" (clearly H.D.) telling him that in Italy the blossoming almond trees "'will be full out in a few weeks."'(11) He does not mention spending most of his trip abroad with H.D., but focuses instead on amusing characters, local sights, and the fine climate in conveying the beauty and delight he discovered during these months in the south. He indicates with only slight ambiguity that it is Italy he is in love with rather than a woman, writing that

... we can never quite regain the first fine careless rapture of discovering Italy. Perhaps the course of true love runs all the truer for not being smooth; and very possibly my enjoyment of these wanderings was made the keener because I had been forced to wait so long, overcome difficulties and take risks. In spite of very high expectations, I was not disappointed.'(12)
While Aldington is writing here of his affection for Italy and his financial constraints, he is also I think equating the experience of Italy with the realization of his love for H.D. He implies that their relationship, despite their insecure finances and the pressure of other people and even of other lovers, was, like the almond trees on the postcard, about to come into full bloom. Further, H.D. had for years identified herself with trees. Pound may well have called her "Dryad" as early as the poem "The Tree" which he wrote for her and gave her bound together with other poems in "Hilda's Book" in 1907; surely Aldington called her "Dryad" in 1913. Thus the "friend's" postcard increases in significance and becomes an erotic invitation to join H.D. in Italy.

On December 12, 1912, Mrs. Doolittle noted that H.D. was spending time with her "English friends"; on December 16, Mrs. Doolittle wrote, "Hilda had tea with her English friends," Aldington presumably by this time among them. Mrs. Doolittle's travel diary for 1912-1913 is an important source for understanding the early love between Aldington and H.D. She was clearly an outsider, but her entries are regular and specific, though brief and generally without reflection or commentary. The details reveal the texture of H.D.'s and Aldington's days and Mrs. Doolittle's affectionate encouragement of their courtship. While Pound's version suggests all sorts of tensions within and without the relationship, Mrs. Doolittle's diary conveys a much happier and smoother friendship. On December 18, she noted that "Hilda was feeling particularly well." On December 20, she mentioned Aldington for the first time: "Hilda out with R.A." H.D. spent much of each day sightseeing with Aldington, occasionally with her mother and father, but generally without them. By Christmas Eve Mrs. Doolittle was calling him "Richard." When the Doolittles left Rome for Naples on February 12,1913, Aldington followed two days later, and he and H.D. resumed their pattern of days out together at museums and local sights, then teas and dinner at which her parents might join them. When Professor and Mrs. Doolittle left Naples for Venice on March 6, she noted that "H. & R.A. came on later train." On March 14, the Doolittles and Aldington took a boat to Capri and Anacapri, where they all stayed.

Mrs. Doolittle throughout their travels seems to have been quite close to her daughter. She evidently accepted and respected H.D.'s intimacy with Aldington, confining her maternal solicitude to buying H.D. nice clothing: she purchased her daughter a dress in Florence (25 October 1912), blue fabric for another dress in Rome (9 December 1912), and material "for Hilda's new nightdress" in Capri (19 March 1913). On March 23, Mrs. Doolittle wrote, "make plans--Hilda remains here [on Capri] while we [the Doolittles] go to Sicily." The Doolittles took the boat to Naples on March 25, then went on to Sicily, returning to Naples on April 11, then taking the train to Rome. On April 14, the Doolittles arrived for a brief stay in Bologne, finally reaching Venice on April 17. H.D. and Aldington remained unchaperoned on Capri for six weeks; Mrs. Doolittle's diary reveals no signs that she was the least upset with her daughter's decision, nor could she have been the least deluded about the intimacy of H.D.'s relationship with Aldington. Mrs. Doolittle regularly noted her correspondence with her daughter, and letters and postcards passed constantly between them throughout March and April of 1913. On May 4, Mrs. Doolittle wrote, "Ezra P.--looked for us--found us here [in Venice ]--we came back to the hotel together--he had dinner with us--stayed until midnight." On May 5, "Ezra called this afternoon & had dinner again with us." The impression conveyed is that Pound was rather lonely. On May 7, H.D. and Aldington arrived in Venice, and during the next week they and Pound and the Doolittles spent time together; on May 8, "Ezra gave a gondola party this evening . . . wonderful! Hilda & Richard in one & E & I in another--back 11:30--" Professor Doolittle left the entourage on a business trip on May 15. On May 21, Mrs. Doolittle was again devoting herself to her daughter's wardrobe: "Bought blue crepe for blouse for Hilda--have nearly finished it."

Aldington seems to have grown quite close to Mrs. Doolittle in late May and June. He and she and H.D. traveled together to attend a Bach festival at Verona on May 30, moving on from there to Lake Garda on June 4. On June 5, Mrs. Doolittle noted that she "Had long row on lake with Richard"; on June 6, she was making and having a dressmaker make clothes for H.D.; on June 7, "Richard took me out boating"; on June 10, "After dinner Richard took us on the lake--moonlight & very beautiful--" On June 22,1913, they left the lake for Verona where Professor Doolittle met them on June 25; Aldington went with them part of the way, then continued on to Paris. On July 6, H.D. left her parents in the Alps to join Aldington; her mother commented, "I know H. will enjoy settling down for a little but we shall miss her."

The Doolittles went on to tour Switzerland, Austria, and Germany; Aldington and H.D. spent the rest of July together in Paris. After their return to London in early August, they moved into separate flats at Churchwalk, Kensington: H.D. lived at Number 6, Aldington two doors up at Number 8; Pound lived at Number 10. The Doolittles arrived in London on September 4 and were greeted by H.D. and Aldington. Professor Doolittle soon became ill, however, and the Doolittles stayed in town only long enough to celebrate H.D.'s twenty-seventh birthday on September 10 before going to Bournemouth where it was thought that Professor Doolittle could best recover. On September 19, Mrs. Doolittle recorded: "Eventful day. Richard and Hilda came for the day to talk about the future--Such a lovely time & I am happy for them both!" She added exuberantly that she felt "happy & peaceful!!"

On September 28, the Doolittles returned to London to "prepare for [H.D.'s] marriage." H.D. and her mother went shopping daily for "towels & c." and "to get Hilda's things together" (30 September 1913). On October 18, 1913, in the presence of Pound and the Doolittles, Aldington and H.D. were married. Shortly after the wedding, her parents returned to the United States and the Aldingtons together moved into a flat of their own at 5 Holland Place Chambers; Pound soon moved, too, into a flat just across the hall.

Pound's intrusive presence during the Aldingtons' courtship and the early months of their marriage was disconcerting and sometimes awkward for them. The direct influence Pound had had on H.D.'s formative work before 1908 was, like their engagement, long since over, and H.D. had grown into a poet in her own right. A significant part of the attraction between Aldington and H.D. was their independently-arrived-at but shared ideas of poetry: its subjects, purposes, techniques, language, emotional effects. The many versions of Pound's initiation of Imagism all suggest that when he read H.D.'s poems over the famous tea, they appeared new to him: he was apparently not familiar with them in earlier drafts, and his enthusiasm arose in part because of his genuine surprise at what he immediately claimed in his naming of H.D. and the movement as his own discovery and invention.

In his desire to direct and to control and sometimes by his mere presence, Pound was an intruder. Aldington recalled in Life for Life's Sake that in the spring of 1912, "Ezra had been butting in on our studies and poetic productions, with alternative encouragements and the reverse, according to his mood." (13) And H.D., too, remembered in End to Torment her disconcerted surprise when she discovered Pound examining the apartment across the narrow hall from the Aldingtons'; he was looking for a place to live with Dorothy Shakespear after their wedding:

I found the door [to the opposite flat] open one day before they were married, and Ezra there. "What--what are you doing?" I asked. He said he was looking for a place where he could fence with Yeats. I was rather taken aback when they actually moved in. It was so near.
She added rather pointedly, "But we went soon after [in January, 1915] to Hampstead. . . . After that we did not see much of Ezra . . . "(End to Torment: A Memoir of Ezra Pound. [New York: New Directions, 1979] 5).

Pound was finally willing to accept even if he could not understand the Aldingtons' partnership. Ironically, it was to Pound that both Aldingtons finally turned in late 1928 and early 1929 in their attempts to begin to create new grounds for their then-shattered relationship. The correspondence from Aldington and H.D. to Pound during this period recalls the emotions of their courtship, revealing not only their abiding love for each other but their continuing relationship with Pound, which worked best when they were able to keep him at a distance.

1. Barbara Guest misrepresents this poem by quoting only the sestet as if it were the whole. She also mistranscribes "crownest" as "crowned" (line 10) and "blithe" as "white" (line 11); see Guest, Barbara. Herself Defined: The Poet H.D. and Her World (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1984) 53. In its entirety, the poem reads:
Angelico's Coronation
[To H.D.]

Almost indeed thou drawest me to thy feet
Frail gentle Christ, almost thy sway
Might take me from the pride of my straight way,
Almost I were content in my defeat;
I am most glad to know thee, where the sweet
Saints hymn thee & the cherubim essay
Their music like the tremor of the day,
Still echoes which the golden hills repeat;
But if I loved thee, & thy fragile hands
Tenderly touched me as thou crownest her
I should grow weary for the blithe wild earth,
Scurry of satyr-hooves in dewy lands,
Pan-pipes at noon, the lust, the shaggy fur,
White bosoms & swift Dionysiac mirth.
It is worth pointing out as well that Guest cites this poem as evidence of the difference between Aldington and H.D. It is rather evidence of their shared conflict: they were both moved by the Christian art they saw and were part of the twentieth-century which was to a large measure Judeo-Christian; they simultaneously felt themselves by sensibility and obligation both Greek and pagan.

I cannot let pass without comment the factual errors Guest records when commenting on this poem. She states that it was composed in Florence in the spring of 1913; it was, however, written in Paris in July of 1912. She notes that Aldington sent a copy of it to H.D. in 1958 and that she kept it in the diary as a memento; in fact, he wrote it in a page of the diary itself.

I would like to thank Alister Kershaw and the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale, for permission to publish this poem.

2. H.D.'s unpublished 1912 diary, from which the quotations in this paragraph are taken, is at the Beinecke Library. The author thanks Perdita Schaffner and the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book Manuscript Library, Yale, for permission to quote from this source.

3. This information and all subsequent details and quotations about this trip, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the unpublished 1912-1913 travel diary of Helen Wolle Doolittle, H.D.'s mother, and are used by permission of Perdita Schaffner and the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale.

4. Pound found the Doolittles "disconsolate on the piazza [In Venice) yesterday afternoon & spent the evening consoling them for the absence of their offspring" (Ezra Pound to Dorothy Shakespear, May 1913, in Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear, Their Letters: 1909-1914, ed. Omar Pound and A. Walton Litz [New York: New Directions, 1984] 220).

5. Pound wrote to Dorothy Shakespear, 8 May 1913, that H.D.'s "family distresses her & seems to drive her more fawn-wards" (Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear 224).

6. Pound wrote to Dorothy Shakespear, 21 April 1913, that he expected to be amused by Aldington and H.D. together in Venice. On 29 April Pound sent Dorothy a first version of "The Faun" (published in revised form in Poetry and Drama, 2 [March 1914]). In this poem he addresses Aldington (nicknamed "Faun" by H.D. and Pound), accusing him of "sniffing and snoozling about among my flowers," but finally the speaker, conceding defeat, states, "But take it, I leave you the garden" (Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear 207, 213).

7. Pound to Dorothy Shakespear, 8 and 9 May 1913, Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear 224, 226.

8. Neither is Barbara Guest a reliable source. I have not attempted to draw attention to numerous errors of fact nor to what appear to me peculiar interpretations in her portrait of the courtship between Aldington and H.D. in Herself Defined (47-56). Guest may mistakenly, however, have based her version in part on Pound's responses (as evidenced in his letters to Dorothy Shakespear), although her taking Pound's view as truth would only account for a few of the problems in her treatment of this period.

9. For example in H.D.'s unpublished letters to Isabel Pound, Pound's mother, 5 and 30 December 1912 at the Beinecke Library.

10. Aldington sent 21 postcards to his father and sisters between 12 December 1912 and 25 June 1913; these unpublished cards are in the Rare Book and Manuscript Collection of the Temple University Library and I am grateful to Robert Spoo for drawing them to my attention.

11. Richard Aldington, Life for Life's Sake: A Book of Reminiscences (New York: Viking, 1941)121.

12. Life for Life's Sake 122.

13. Life for Life's Sake 134.

Prof. Zilboorg's Comments, written since the article's publication
(Last revised, August 30, 1998)

I now think that EP probably introduced HD to RA at a tea at Brigit Patmore's in late 1911. Early 1912 simply seems, from all else I know now, to be too late.

I think the famous Imagism scene must have occurred at a tearoom outside the British Museum itself. Remember at only 20, Aldington couldn't use the library yet; it seems more likely that they would have met, from what Aldington says in his late letters, outside the museum.

I think HD spent a few days at most in Paris in October 1912 on her way to Italy.

I feel now that Helen Doolittle was at least at first unhappy about HD's long stay abroad. RA's advent on the scene in Rome must have relieved her considerably.

Further, anyone interested in tracing HD through this Italian period should look closely at RA's essays on Italy which appeared at the time in Orage's New Age. They reveal him vividly as a young man trying hard to develop the right voice (both skeptical and romantic, aloof at 20 and moved by both nature and art)-- and of course add rich detail to the art and architecture, the hills and cities he and HD saw together during those months of their early love in 1913.

I previewed some fascinating Aldington material about to go up for auction a couple of weeks ago in London. Among the items was a book of essays. The Renaissance, by Pater. Aldington had written his name in it on the front flyleft in ink. Under this, in pencit and in his handwriting, he had written "Dedit H.D.". On the back flyleaf is what I am convinced is the first draft of "Angelico's Coronation", much revised. Under it is a poem to my knowledge never published; both are in his hand in pen and revised in pen. The second poem is dated May 1912 and "Louvre". All this is intriguing stuff for the biographer, but makes me feel now that my initial reading was right-- "Angelico's Coronation" was written for H.D. (as "H.D.", I might add) in May that summer of 1912 and the revised version copied into her diary soon afterwards.

[Anyone wishing to discuss these points with Prof. Zilboorg may send email to me, at hh@imagists.org, and I will see that the mail is forwarded.]

Back to the H.D. Newsletter or to the H.D. Home Page
HD and RA: Early Love and the Exclusion of Ezra Pound, Rev. December 27, 2001 (http://www.imagists.org/hd/hdcz31.html) Please send comments and suggestions to hh@imagists.org