An analysis of the use of chapter breaks in
H.D.ís Tribute to Freud
(c) Maurice G. London


According to psychoanalytic dogma, the journey within the self leads one to the past and a discovery of its impact on present psychology. That we are products of a past filled with mistakes and successes can only lead to the further conclusion that each life choice we make lays the foundation for our future happiness and unhappiness. In response to a traumatic past and an uncertain future, the poet H.D. sought help to change how she viewed herself and her world. H.D. saw both as fragmented and chaotic, and she felt trapped by her fear of the uncertainty she saw within herself and without.

The Kantian concept of the nature of an object being entirely reliant on the perception of the subject is another facet of the foundation of psychoanalysis, and changing these perceptions by uncovering the past is a part of psychotherapy. H.D.ís need for healing led her to seek psychological therapy, and eventually she came in contact with the wisdom of the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud.

Prior to visiting Freud in Vienna, H.D. wrote, "I begin intensive reading of psychoanalytic journals, books and study Sigmund Freud" (Tribute to Freud, vii). Having read any amount of psychoanalytic literature, H.D. would no doubt have learned how psychoanalysts relate our past, present, and future. World War I had left H.D. with indelible impressions of death, and her fear of a war she thought was imminent left her helplessly trapped between a painful past and an uncertain future.

In Tribute to Freud, H.D. concerns herself not only with the interrelationship of the past, present and future, but also with the idea of transcending the linear conception of time. As noted by most recent critics, H.D. uses a free associative style as a way to pay tribute to Freud, and this style affects all aspects of the text. For H.D., time and space are connected as concepts that imply proximity or distance, and so the literal spaces in the text of this free-associative utterance become figuratively connected with time. The space between chapters actually begins in the concluding sentence of one chapter and concludes in the first sentence of the succeeding chapter. I use the word space not only in terms of the physical distance which the eyes must travel to get from one chapter to another, but also in terms of the span of time which this journey takes. This second conception of the space as time is, actually far more important to me as I consider H.D.ís method of dealing with these chapter transitions. As the reader must cross that space in order to move from one time frame in the text to another they are made to join H.D. as she explores the transcendence of time, and the spaces in the text which correspond to the chapter breaks are also made into examples of the writerís artistic and philosophical concern

H.D. and the Fourth Dimension: The Centrality of Time in the Memoir

At one point in the text of Tribute to Freud, Freud says: "I keep an eye on the time - I will tell you when the session is over. You need not keep looking at the time as if you were in a hurry to get away" (Tribute 17) - Freud says this just after H.D. has surreptitiously looked at her wristwatch, and it is precisely this idea that Freud keeps an eye on the time, that he in a sense controls time, which H.D., in the plainest sense, has a problem with.

The basis of H.D.ís conception of time is her belief that the past, present, and the future are only three of the four dimensions relating to time, and in considering the fourth dimension she does not find the scientific interpretations of the three dimensions applicable to her philosophy. H.D. begins her discussion of the fourth dimension by stating:

"The actuality of the present, its bearing on the past, their bearing on the future. Past present, future, these three - but there is another time-element, popularly called the fourth-dimensional"(Tribute, 23).


The scientific, dictionary definition of the fourth dimension is:


"Time regarded as a coordinate dimension and required by relativity theory, along with three spatial dimensions, to specify completely the location of any event" (American Heritage Dictionary, 718)


H.D. does not view the fourth dimension in this way. She considers the past, present, and future to be the first three dimensions instead of the X (longitudinal), Y (latitudinal), and Z (depth) dimensions. H.D. shows her displacement from the scientific definition in the language she uses:


"The fourth-dimension, though it appears variously disguised and under different subtitles, described and elaborately tabulated in the Professorís volumes - and still more elaborately detailed in the compilations of his followers, disciples and imitators - is yet very simple. It is as simple and inevitable in the building of time-sequence as the fourth wall to a room" (Tribute, 23)


And later, she continues this thought when she says:


"Here in this room, we had our exits and our entrances. I have noted too, the four sides of the room, and touched on the problem of the fourth dimensional: the additional dimension attributed to space by a hypothetical speculation is the somewhat comic dictionary definition" (Tribute, 100)


H.D. says that the fourth dimension is popularly" called the fourth dimension, it is "disguised" by the elaborate details of compilations of scientists, and its dictionary definition is comical" to her. H.D. shows that she has her own beliefs regarding the fourth dimension and how it relates to the conception of time.


The Method out of Madness: The Chapter Break as Transition

Before I begin to discuss the spaces created by the chapter breaks, let me first restate my conceptualization. There is a physical space on the page and a printed number which implies a chronological order based on both the physical succession of the two chapters as well as the numerical pattern of increasing numbers. H.D. crosses that space, which could be said to correspond to a space of time, and skips from the past to the present or to the future, etc. If you think about this in a general way, this may seem to be what all writers do. But H.D. doesn't always "advance the text" in what may be considered the standard fashion.

One way H.D. bridges that space is to link the succeeding chapters through the use of repetition. The first and simplest type of repetition is to repeat the same word or words in each sentence. The more complicated type of repetition is repetition of a semantic category. succeeding chapters. The members within a specific semantic category share certain characteristics which arise from either the literal or figurative meaning. The literal meaning of each word in a semantic category will be related in some definitive sense (e.g. - gender, case, defining characteristics, etc.). On the figurative level, the noun can either represent a concept, an image, or an impression. H.D. then uses free association to carry forward either the literal or figurative level of a word in a sentence into the next chapter

Another way H.D.ís style manipulates the space is by shifting of the time frame, either through shifting the tense of words from one chapter to the next of by changing the narrative scene, or frame of reference. There are many time frames explored in the memoir:

  1. the moment of the textís composition
  2. the moment of a particular session with Freud
  3. her childhood
  4. the mythic past
  5. other moments in her past related to visions and dreams
H.D. addresses this concern for manipulating the readerís sense of time as well as her own when she writes: "But there I am seated on the old-fashioned Victorian sofa in the Greek island hotel bedroom, and here I am reclining on the couch in the Professors room telling him this, and here again am I, ten years later, seated at my desk in my own room in London. But there is no clock-time, though we are fastidiously concerned with time and with a formal handling of a subject which has no racial and no time barriers" (Tribute, 47).
H.D. joins the past to the present instead of separating them as a more conventional writing style would force her to. In the chapter breaks, she avoids the separation that barriers and boundaries imply.

Finally these two methods are often used simultaneously, and what generally arises from an examination of all of these forms is an indication of one of the following thematic concerns of the memoir:

    1. The difference between Freudís scientific theories and H.D.ís intuitive nature.
    2. H.D.ís change from a passive woman who had a great fear of death and loss to a woman aware of her strengths and the validity of her own belief system.
    3. The connection between one moment of the past to another moment in the past, present, or future.
By linking the succeeding chapters in these ways, H.D. is forcing these comparison and contrasts to take place either consciously or unconsciously. As a result, the difference between now and then is minimized, the connection between the people in her life is strengthened, and the tension between herself and Freud becomes the impetus for her to assert herself and her own way of thinking.

Let the impressions come in their own way:" The Classification of Chapter Breaks in the Memoir

In the following section I describe through the use of examples the two major categories of chapter transitions H.D. utilizes in her memoir, the second of which has two subcategories. I do not seek to account for all of her chapter transitions in this paper, for to do so would prove, perhaps, a waste of the readerís "time." However, this classification system can be used as a model with which to examine the text to see what arises, and in a few cases, to see what does not arise.

I. Carrying forth members of an established semantic category

    1) Chapter 1 à Chapter 2

Here you have the two words HE and HIM which are connected to the previously established semantic category of J.J. van der Leeuw. In the first sentence that HE is dead, having crashed while flying a plane. In the succeeding sentence, again separated by the space and a chapter marker, we have the HIM still alive and H.D. not always passing him on the stairs leading to Freudís study. He has, in a sense, been resurrected in the space. This relates, of course to H.D.ís fear of loss and her desire to feel that all things have an eternal dimension

    2) Chapter 7 à 8

This contrast between her initial passiveness (seen in her use of the less direct HAD GONE) and her eventual assertion (use of the more descriptive WAS DEAD) demonstrates her development not only across that space between chapters but also her development over time from a woman struggling to come to grips with her fears to one who is aware of her strengths and the way in which they can be used to heal and to protect. This change in H.D. is emphasized as well by the use of the word "deliberately."

    3) Chapter 10 à 11

In this example, the connections between the two sentences forces a contrast to arise between Freudís words "you do not think" and H.D.ís "I simply felt nothing at all." This contrast is between a intellectual function (thinking) and an emotional one (feeling). Thus, H.D. is showing that her intuitive self is not the same as the scientific nature of the Professor.

    4) Chapter 54 à 55:

In this case she concludes one chapter by referencing CERBERUS, and in the following she uses the words HE and HIMSELF. As the guardian of the gates of Hell is the most proximal personal noun, these can be said to relate to CERBERUS. However, they are more logically connected with Freud, the HE of the end of chapter 54. Yet H.D. links Freud to not only CERBERUS, but also the CENSOR which is the repressive agent in early Freudian theory. The space is what allows her to do this, because pronouns can attach themselves to either a subject or an object, and as CERBERUS is the last noun object to be mentioned before the space, it is CERBERUS which is carried across the space and forms the semantic category to which the HE and HIMSELF attach themselves in the absence of an antecedent noun subject. Once the conscious mind makes the logical "leap" to instead attach the HE and the HIMSELF to Freud, the notion of Freud as CERBERUS, and as the CENSOR ARISES. As in this example, when H.D. repeats words from an established semantic category across the space, she very often reveals something about the way in which she perceives Freud or the argument which she perceives to lie between them.

II.A) Specific words or word forms appear in both sentences

    1) Chapter 11 à 12

In this example we see an initial situation in which H.D. declares that THE PROFESSOR was not always right. As THE PROFESSOR denotes a figure who existed in the past, H.D.ís use of the word "was" can either place the narrative frame of reference at the point of the textís composition or at an earlier point in which she was reflecting back. The moment of the memoirís composition makes the most sense given the fact that she is positing something that was generally true across the time Freud was alive ("not always"). Therefore, when she returns to THE PROFESSOR in the succeeding sentence it is not clear that she is speaking generally (she never at any time argued) or of a specific session with the professor (when he says to her, "you do not think it worth your while to love me" (Tribute, 16)), although it may make the most sense that she is describing the particular session.  She continues: "In fact, as I say, I did not have the answer" (Tribute, 18). The words "the answer" is specific, and therefore the reader makes a transition to the specific past. But in the vagueness of the time referential of the second sentence, the reader is forced to generalize as in the preceding sentence. Therefore, once the specificity is established afterwards, the "I did not argue" exists both in the general past (throughout her time with Freud) that specific moment from the past in which.  Once again, time has been mingled together through the use of the chapter break.

2) Chapter 16 à 17

In this example, the phrases "ON his TABLE" and "ON my fatherís TABLE" are made parallel. Across the space on the page, H.D. has drifted from the specific past, a moment of the Professorís inviting her to look at the things ON his TABLE to a general reflection of the past invloving her fatherís TABLE. Only after the similarity between the two phrases is established do the differences emerge, these being between the two different people referred to.  The word "his" of the first sentence refers to Freud and the "my fatherís" refers, of course, to her father.  Thus she has drawn yet another significant parallel in her memoir, this time between Freud and her father. As these two men are separated by space and time in H.D.ís life, they are also separated by the space on this page. However, H.D. has linked the two, perhaps to display the similarity between her feelings for each man or perhaps to echo the psychoanalytic phenomenon of transference, in which the analysand transfers feelings and anxieties about the mother or the father to the analyst. Both possibilities seem likely.

II.B) Verb tense shift and repetition of specific words.

    1) Chapter 13 à 14

Between these chapters H.D. repeats the description CONSIDERABLY TALLER, yet connects it to two different people: "the analysand who preceded me" and "My brother," thus drawing a connection between  and the Flying Dutchman and her brother. Also, H.D. has placed the first figure in the past by saying "was considerably taller" and the second in the present by saying "is considerably taller." Her brother and the Flying Dutchman both died prior to the composition of the memoir, so by placing her brother in the present she has, in a sense resurrected him, as she did earlier with the Flying Dutchman.  This is a product of her concern for seeing the eternal nature of all things.

2) Chapter 71 à 72

Here the word THERE is attached to two different words, "were" and "are," the past and present forms of the verb Ďto be.í The word THERE implies distance, a term related to the concept of far as the contrasting word Ďhereí is to near. Therefore, H.D. first places the classic, or mythic past in the past, by saying "THERE WERE those Gods," but subsequently places the classical past in the present by saying "THERE ARE the wise and the foolish virgins," possibly a reference to the rites at the Oracle of Delphi (I am unsure on this point, yet the talk of virgins, regardless, conjures up religious impressions, which connote and denote a classical past). H.D. has therefore moved the text from one time frame to another across the space, first presenting the ordinary idea that "gods" exist in the past, then moving this concept which was once THERE and in the past to a THERE that still exists.

"I must be born again or break utterly:" A Closing Reflection

H.D.ís need for the help of Sigmund Freud was due to an inability to move beyond the pain of the past as well as her fear of a future she saw as inevitable. H.D.ís concept of the world was one in which time was linear, and as such it became a trap for her because she had not overcome her pain of what had come before, nor could she avoid the prophetic fears she had about the future. With the laws of psychoanalysis in her mind she came to the professor not completely open to what she expected him to do in order to help heal her psyche. H.D.ís own philosophy was in many ways at odds with the strictly scientific conception of a linear relationship between her past, her present and her future. In Tribute to Freud, H.D. explores the issues of time as she views them, both in the content and the form of her writing.

By presenting her exploration of this transcendence and using a stream of consciousness style to express her discoveries, H.D. liberates herself, and the reader, from a strictly historical view of events. In this paper I have argued that the chapter spaces are themselves a part of H.D.ís exploration, or display, of the ability to transcend time barriers. Whether H.D. actually intended consciously to do this, I will never know, but certainly in her poetry, as in all poetry, we see evidence of the poetís awareness of the effects of separation and space. For myself at least, and perhaps now for others as well, the meaning that results from the form of H.D.ís chapter breaks is both a literal and figurative exploration of the transcendence of time barriers.

  1. H.D. Tribute to Freud. New York: New Directions Books, 1974.
  2. American Heritage Dictionary. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1992