‘The Walls Do Not Fall’: H. D.’s Trilogy, Modernism, and War

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads a wide-ranging poem about the Second World War

When H. D. (Hilda Doolittle) and her then-husband Richard Aldington walked into a bomb-damaged house during the First World War, Aldington found an abandoned volume of Robert Browning’s poetry and kicked it across the room. What use was poetry in the face of such destruction? But poetry tends to endure in wartime: T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets would largely be written during the next world war, while H. D.’s own poetry would have a curious and poignant afterlife: sections of her poem ‘The Walls Do Not Fall’ (from her long poem Trilogy) were inscribed by an anonymous graffitist among the ruins of the World Trade Center after 9/11.

As Norman Holmes Pearson notes in his introduction to the Carcanet edition of Trilogy which I own, with this long poem – or trilogy of long poems – H. D. was trying to connect the communal experience of the Second World War with her own history and with history in general.

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The Best Poems by H. D. (Hilda Doolittle)

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

Hilda Doolittle, or H. D. as she chose to publish, was labelled ‘the perfect imagist’ by various critics and reviewers. The following five poems show why H. D. was the leading light of the short-lived imagist movement, as her poetry offers concise and vivid images behind which lurk whole storms of restrained emotion. Here’s a selection of H. D.’s finest poems, both from her imagist period and from her later work.

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