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The Discrepant Strain: H. D. and the American Epic Poetic Tradition

Timothy James Cook, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


H. D. (1886-1961) and her poetic oeuvre hold a singular position within the modernist literary canon. In this dissertation, I argue that H. D.’s mature epic poems, Trilogy (1944-46) and Helen in Egypt (1961), should be reconsidered as major contributions to modernist poetry. While the publication of Sea Garden (1916) established H. D.’s reputation as the foremost “Imagist” poet of her generation, Imagism turned out to be a short-lived poetic experiment. As a result, it is important to trace the way H. D.’s Imagist poetics transformed, first, into a feminist mythopoetic, then, into a new kind of long-form epic poetry after the onset of World War II. I also argue that the significance of long-form epic poetry for modernist poetics in general needs to be revisited. Consequently, while the epic poems of Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and William Carlos Williams have been recognized as fundamental contributions to the development of modernist poetry, the impact of H. D.’s late poems remains underappreciated. Furthermore, what sets H. D. apart from her male contemporaries is that she used hermetic and palimpsest methodologies, thereby rewriting mythic tales within the framework and aftermath of a modern apocalypse. In this dissertation, I re-read H. D.’s oeuvre—from Sea Garden through Trilogy and Helen in Egypt—in order to establish the notion that H. D. serves as the essential link connecting authors like Robert Duncan and Nathaniel Mackey to an alternative modernist epic tradition running counter to the more celebrated one embodied by Pound, Eliot, Williams, and Charles Olson.

Subject Area

American literature|Modern literature|Gender studies

Recommended Citation

Cook, Timothy James, "The Discrepant Strain: H. D. and the American Epic Poetic Tradition" (2021). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI28652750.