H.D. was one of The Literary Women of the twentieth century. She rubbed elbows with the artists and writers who shaped modernism. Ezra Pound, D.H. Lawrence, Sigmund Freud, and Marianne Moore all played important roles in her life, for better or for worse. (Ezra Pound may have said some not-so-nice things about her work. But, then again, he'd always been a pretty big jerk.) Like many modernist writers, H.D. was born in the United States but spent most of her life in Europe, part of an avant-garde expatriate community.
H.D. was front and center in the Imagist poetry movement. See, before modernist poetry came around, poems were just shorter versions of stories. Think about it: when you read nineteenth-century poetry, you're probably going for a walk in the woods or looking at pictures of other folks' dead wives. (Check out "My Last Duchess." You'll see what we mean.)
The modernist poets changed all of that. H.D.'s work refashions the traditional subjects of poetry. "Sea Rose," the first poem in her first book, is just the tip of the iceberg. Like other modernists, she was deeply interested in mythological structures – she even translated several Greek works. And her later works weave myth, psychoanalysis, and feminism into dense Imagist works.
If you've ever had to read poetry before, chances are you've come across some kind of poem about a rose. After all, pretty much all the big hitters have their own version of it. Rose poems are "The Aristocrats" of the poetry world.
Why pay attention to yet another poem about roses? Well, for one thing, this rose is not your typical rose. It's not pretty or sweet or nicely arranged on a dining room table. Nope, this rose is tossed about on the wind, halfway between the sea and the sand. Come to think of it, that's probably not the most comfortable spot to grow in.
…which is precisely why this poem is interesting. After all, it's easy to say nice things about pretty, sunny, well-cared-for objects. It's harder to pay attention to those objects that don't get all the lovin' they might need. H.D. allows us to spend some time with one of the roses we might otherwise ignore completely – and in doing so, she encourages us to value items we would tend to pass by without a second glance.