Hilda Doolittle was born in Pennsylvania in 1886 into a large, intellectual family that was part of the Moravian Protestant sect. She attended Bryn Mawr College for a year where she befriended poet Marianne Moore, but dropped out due to poor health. She then attended the University of Pennsylvania where she met William Carlos Williams, and became romantically involved with Ezra Pound. Upon traveling to Europe in 1911, H.D. became heavily involved in the short-lived but important Imagist poetry movement—a style focused on powerful and precise imagery and poetic economy. Her poems were first published in Poetry magazine in 1913, and she published her first collection, Sea Garden, in 1916.
For the remainder of her career, H.D. lived abroad, mainly in Switzerland and Britain. She continued to publish her work consistently in personal collections as well as anthologies, and also wrote autobiographically. Although she maintained an emphasis on sharp, clear language and concise observation of the visual, this style shifted in some of her later work around more long-form explorations of mysticism and Greek mythology. Some of H.D.’s works include Heliodora, and Other Poems (1924), Collected Poems (1925), Red Roses for Bronze (1931), The Usual Star (1934), What Do I Love? (1943), The Walls Do Not Fall (1944), Tribute to the Angels (1945), By Avon River (1949), and Helen in Egypt (1961), for which she was lauded.
On a recommendation, H.D. began analysis with Sigmund Freud in 1933, hoping to heal past traumas and discuss her fear of another world war. She developed a profound belief in the power of psychoanalysis, and felt that this approach to the mind could improve the human race dramatically. It was her hope, according to Freud, that she could found a new religion that incorporated some of the themes and tenants of psychoanalytic thought. A few years before her death she published Tribute to Freud (1956).
H.D. married Richard Aldington—a British poet, novelist, and fellow Imagist—in 1913. Several years later she endured the trauma of a stillbirth, which may have contributed to some of her ideas in her first collection. She and Aldington separated in 1918 after his affair with Dorothy York, and she began a romance with Scot Cecil Gray in 1919 that resulted in the birth of her daughter Perdita. In 1918 she also began a lesbian romance with the poet Winifred Ellerman (pen name Bryher), and H.D. lived with Ellerman and her husband Kenneth Macpherson, who formally adopted Perdita. They lived as polyamorous lovers for quite some time, but when she became pregnant with Macpherson’s child she chose not to carry through the pregnancy. H.D. and Aldington formally divorced in 1938, and H.D. and Ellerman continued their relationship until H.D.’s death in Zurich, Switzerland at age 75.