Hilda Doolittle

Oread by Hilda Doolittle

‘Oread’ is one of H.D.’s, (Hilda Doolittle’s) most famous poems. It contains all the attributes of a good “Imagist” work, exemplifying the movement. The word used in the title, “Oread” refers to a wood nymph from Greek mythology. It is only through understanding this fact that a reader can fully appreciate the content of the poem. The nymph is the speaker of the poem, addressing the sea within these six lines. 

Oread by Helen Doolittle


Summary of Oread 

‘Oread’ by H.D. is a short but powerful poem that is told from the perspective of a wood nymph who tries to command the sea to “whirl”.

The poem is short, only six lines long, but it packed full of interesting imagery. This is the most important technique at work in the twenty-six words that make up the text. The poet depicts the sea through the mind of a wood nymph who sees everything in the context of the forest and pine trees. 

You can read the full poem here.


Structure of Oread

Oread’ by H.D. is a six-line poem that makes use of many of the attributes of imagist verse. Imagism was a literary movement of the early 20th century. The proponents and participants were interested in the use of precise imagery and clear language. For example, Imagist poets did not use rhyme schemes of metrical patterns in their poems. Rather, images were the most important aspect. 

The basic principles of the movement were developed by T.E. Hulme, an English philosopher, and poet. He was interested, for years before the movement was recognized, in poetic language that was completely accurate in its depiction of a subject. He rejected the use of flowery and extraneous lines or details. It was not until 1912 that the man who is considered the founder of the movement, Ezra Pound, took Hulme’s ideas and merged them with his own. Pound, along with H.D. and several other poets are at the heart of the small movement. 

Aside from using language that was more to the point, imagists rejected the sentimental themes and traditional styles of Romantic and Georgian poets. Instead, they made use of free verse. This is a kind of poetic writing that does not utilize a pattern of rhyme or rhythm. But, that doesn’t mean the poems are without the use of figurative language or literary devices.


Literary Devices in Oread

H.D. makes use of several literary devices in ‘Oread’. These include but are not limited to metaphor, alliteration, apostrophe, and anaphora. The latter, anaphora, is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. For example, “whirl” at the beginning of the first two lines of the poem. 

Apostrophe is an arrangement of words addressing someone, something, or creature, that does not exist, or is not present, in the poem’s immediate setting. The exclamation, “Oh,” is often used at the beginning of the phrase. The person is spoken to as though they can hear and understand the speaker’s words. In this case, the nymph is speaking to the sea, something that clearly cannot understand her. But, this does not discourage her. In fact, in the larger mythology of the poem perhaps it can hear and obey her commands if it chooses. That is up to the reader to determine.

A metaphor is a comparison between two, unlike things that do not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. The speaker refers to the sea throughout the poem in language that would make much more sense in relation to a forest. She refers to the waves as “pointed pines” and “great pines”. 


Analysis of H.D. 

Lines 1-3

Whirl up, sea—
splash your great pines

In the first three lines of ‘Oread’ the speaker, a wood nymph, directs the sea to “Whirl up”. This is a technique known as apostrophe and it is maintained throughout the poem. She directs it to move, to “whirl” as it might in a large and powerful storm. There is an interesting juxtaposition in the next lines as the wood nymph brings in some of the imagery that she is more familiar with. The sea is not her realm, so when she describes the waves as “great pines,” it is unsurprising. She is transmuting the world she knows onto that which she is in discussion with in the poem. 

There are several techniques at work in these short lines including alliteration and anaphora. The former seen through the use of words beginning with the letter “p”. The words “whirl” and “pines” are repeated, something that is quite obvious and draws attention to itself due to the brevity of the lines. She is urging the sea to release its energy and to consume everything around it. A reader might consider how this image of the sea might work as a metaphor for something else. There is a change at work, one that requires enormous upheaval. This could have social relevance at the time that it was written. 


Lines 4-6

on our rocks,
cover us with your pools of fir.

Enjambment is used between the third line and the fourth of ‘Oread’. She asks that the sea splashes its “great pines / on our rocks”. This is the first time that the speaker uses a plural pronoun. There is more than one person present or, alternatively, she is referring to the rocks as belonging to her and to the ocean. It feels likely that she is experiencing the world as a whole, each element belongs to all living things. 

The wood nymph’s very particular frame of reference is seen again in the last lines of the poem. She speaks about the “pools of fir,” asking the sea to cover “us” with them. It is interesting also to consider what the nymph is trying to accomplish through these commands. Perhaps she is seeking to bring together two worlds or use one to transform or erase another. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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