Hilda Doolittle is known widely by her initials, H.D. “Sea Rose” is one of the poems belonging to Sea Garden (1916), a book of poems in which H.D. examines the themes of gender, sexuality, conformity, and value by using natural scenery as metaphors and symbols. This series of poems was her first published collection.
“Sea Rose” was on the artistic and cultural cutting edge at the time, turning the feminization of flowers into a socio-political manifesto—also gesturing to gender issues around fertility, sexuality, and body image. The sea flowers in H.D.'s work are usually placed in opposition to the garden variety, as imagery and context reveal how the sea version of the flower fails to live up to the gender expectations symbolized by the classic version. This failure of the sea flowers is not a critique of their shortcomings, but a critique of the patriarchal and misogynistic culture that perpetuates harmful, sexist, and restrictive norms. Further, H.D. uses this group of flower poems to celebrate the character and value of women who deviate from societal expectations.
Among other titles included in the collection are “Sea Violet,” “Sea Poppies,” and “Sea Lily,” along with other poems that use natural imagery, such as “The Helmsman,” “Evening,” and “Storm.” From this collection, “Sea Rose” has become one of the poet’s most anthologized works. Overall, the feminization of the rose, violets, and other flowers included in the collection trace a line connecting the Imagist symbolism of H.D.’ s poetry to other famous explorations of floral life, like the eroticized paintings of southwestern flowers by Georgia O’Keefe, or the enigmatic garden poems of Emily Dickinson.