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A Brief Guide to Imagism In a Station of the Metro The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet, black

bough. --Ezra Pound The Imagist movement included English and American poets in the early twentieth century who wrote free verse and were devoted to "clarity of expression through the use of precise visual images." A strand of modernism, Imagism was officially launched in 1912 when Ezra Pound read and marked up a poem by Hilda Doolittle, signed it "H.D. Imagiste," and sent it to Harriet Monroe at Poetry. The movement sprang from ideas developed by T.E. Hulme, who as early as 1908 was proposing to the Poets' Club in London a poetry based on absolutely accurate presentation of its subject with no excess verbiage. The first tenet of the Imagist manifesto was "To use the language of common speech, but to employ always the exact word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word." Imagism was a reaction against the flabby abstract language and "careless thinking" of Georgian Romanticism. Imagist poetry aimed to replace muddy abstractions with exactness of observed detail, apt metaphors, and economy of language. For example, Pound's "In a Station of the Metro" started from a glimpse of beautiful faces in a dark subway and elevated that perception into a crisp vision by finding an intensified equivalent image. The metaphor provokes a sharp, intuitive discovery in order to get at the essence of life. Pound's definition of the image was "that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time." Pound defined the tenets of Imagist poetry as: I. Direct treatment of the "thing," whether subjective or objective. II. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation. III. As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of the metronome. An Imagist anthology was published in 1914 that collected work by William Carlos Williams, Richard Aldington, and James Joyce, as well as H.D. and Pound. Other imagists included F. S. Flint, D. H. Lawrence, and John Gould Fletcher. By the time the anthology appeared, Amy Lowell had effectively appropriated Imagism and was seen as the movement's leader. Three years later, even Amy Lowell thought the movement had run its course. Pound by then was claiming that he invented Imagism to launch H.D.'s career. Though Imagism as a movement was over by 1917, the ideas about poetry embedded in the Imagist doctrine profoundly influenced free verse poets throughout the twentieth century.

Before Imagism: "Genteel" Poetry


In America in 1912, the most common and popular poetry was called genteel because it was very well-behaved. Since they were "genteel," these poems avoided controversial and realistic subject matter like sex or industrialization. Instead, genteel poetry tended to consist of short, inoffensive, traditional verse about inward feelings, written in a deliberately purified, rather vague, "poetic" language. Take for example, Richard Watson Gilder's The Woods that Bring the Sunset Near The wind from out of the west is blowing The homeward-wandering cows are lowing, Dark grow the pine woods, dark and drear, The woods that bring the sunset near. When o'er wide seas the sun declines, Far off its fading glory shines,

Far off, sublime, and full of fear The pine woods bring the sunset near. This house that looks to east, to west, This dear one, is our home, our rest; Yonder the stormy sea, and here The woods that bring the sunset near. The speaker depicts his home as a rather hazy, comfortable haven from the natural world outside, which, although he says it is "sublime, and full of fear," seems quite peaceful and non-threatening. The images presented are generic and comforting (lowing cows, pine woods, "our home") rather than specific, but not too substantial. Like the house in the poem, this kind of poetry is safe, restful, sentimental, and removed from the difficulties of life and the outside world. It's also pretty darn dull. Such poetry represents a kind of regression from the plain language of Romanticism back to the polished diction and noble sentiments of a poet like Thomas Gray.

Imagism
Around 1912 in London, some British and American poets led by Ezra Pound started a poetic movement called imagism. These poets reacted against genteel poetry, which they saw as sentimental, soft-edged, and emotionally dishonest. Instead, they advised, in Ezra Pound's formulation, "1. Direct treatment of the thing, whether subjective or objective. 2. To use absolutely no word that did not contribute to the presentation. 3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of the metronome" (Pound 3). In 1913, Pound published the following advice for aspiring imagist poets: An 'Image' is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time. . . . It is the presentation of such a 'complex' instantaneously which gives the sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits; that sense of sudden growth, which we experience in the greatest works of art. It is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works. . . . Use no superfluous word, no adjective which does not reveal something. Don't use such an expression as 'dim lands of peace.' It dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. It comes from the writer's not realizing that the natural object is always the adequate symbol. Go in fear of abstractions. Do not retell in mediocre verse what has already been done in good prose. (Pound 4-5) But imagism for Pound did not necessarily mean description: Don't be descriptive; remember that the painter can describe a landscape much better than you can, and that he has to know a good deal more about it. When Shakespeare talks of the 'Dawn in russet mantle clad' he presents something which the painter does not present. There is in the line nothing which can be called description; he presents. (Pound 5) Finally, imagist poems were influenced by Japanese haiku, poems of 17 syllables which usually present only two juxtaposed images. This poetry strives to suggests more than its literal meaning, yet avoids overt figurative devices like allegory and even metaphor. Here is perhaps the most famous imagist poem, one clearly influenced by haiku, Ezra Pound's "In a Station of the Metro." Pound said of the composition of this work: "I wrote a thirty-line poem, and destroyed it because it was what we call work 'of second intensity.' Six months later I made a poem half that length; a year later I made the following hokku-like sentence:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet, black bough. ("Vorticism" 89) As one can tell by Pound's use of the word hokku, he clearly had haiku in mind when writing the poem. However, according to the modernist principle of "making it new," Pound does not simply copy haiku, but adapts it to the modern world of subway stations and anonymous faces in the crowd. The form of Pound's poem differs also from classical haiku: it has only two lines and more than 17 syllables. However, like many haiku, it does juxtapose two different images. Other ancient short forms were "made new" by the imagists, most notably the four-line Chinese lyric and the short poems and fragments from ancient Greece collected in the Greek Anthology. Perhaps because Pound began to see imagism as a "stylistic movement, a movement of criticism rather than creation"("Vorticism" 82), he soon moved beyond imagism to a new poetic movement he called vorticism. While the rules and "don'ts" of imagism were designed to improve poetic writing but not necessarily to produce complete poems, vorticism was designed as a movement whose principles would apply to all the arts and be capable of producing complete works of art. Pound also wanted to add to the image further movement, dynamism, and intensity: Vorticism is an intensive art. I mean by this, that one is concerned with the relative intensity, or relative significance, of different sorts of expression. One desires the most intense, for certain forms of expression are "more intense" than others. They are more dynamic. I do not mean that they are more emphatic or yelled louder. ("Vorticism" 90) To the single image, "an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time," Pound adds rushing dynamism of form and emotion: The image is not an idea. It is a radiant node or cluster; it is what I can, and must perforce, call a VORTEX, from which, and through which, and into which, ideas are constantly rushing. ("Vorticism" 92) If this seems quite vague, perhaps it is because Pound had yet to figure out what a vorticist poem would look like. This definition does not even say whose ideas, the poet's or the reader's, are rushing from, through, and into this "cluster." How these ideas rush is also not clear. The strange collision of images and ideas that are The Cantos may be Pound's answer to what a vorticist poem might look like, but scholars are quite divided when it comes to assessing the success of the juxtaposition procedures of this long poem. Works Cited Jones, Peter, ed. Imagist Poetry. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972. Pound, Ezra. "A Retrospect" Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. Ed. T. S. Eliot. New York: New Directions, 1935. 3-14. ---. "Vorticism." Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir. New York: New Directions, 1970. 81-94.

Imagism Questions 1. In what ways can mere images suggest more in these poems? What do you think might be the point(s) of such a poetry? 2. Remember Pound's definition of an image as "that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time." Try to figure out in what ways the images presented by these poems are "a complex" (in the psychological sense) of emotion and intellect. What complex emotions and thoughts does the image present? Links: Al Filreis' William Carlos Williams links Al Filreis on Imagism Al Filreis' "the rise of imagism" Amy Lowell's Notes "On Imagism" Some Imagist Poets: An Anthology (1915) American Modernist Writers and the Orient

Ezra Pound: "A Retrospect" (Pound's imagist theories) MAPS Pound page Cyber-version of Canto LXXXI SUNY Buffalo Pound page Academy of American Poets Pound page Pound's Collected Poetry Recordings (Penn Sound) Back to: ENG 382 Nature Writing Syllabus ENG 383 Literary Modernism Syllabus ENG 320 links

Imagist Poetry
Imagism was a short-lived poetic movement centered in London at the dawn of the 20th century. It signaled the birth of Modernism and its effects are felt in all British and American poetry since that time.

The Poets Club


Imagism began as a reaction to the sentimental poetry of versifiers such as William Watson and the Laureate Alfred Austin. Tennyson, Longfellow, and the pre-Raphaelites were imitated. In the United States, Whitmans influence was not yet felt and the most popular poet was Edmund Clarence Stedman who offered sentimental sonnets such as "A Mothers Picture". Into this maelstrom of overworked versifying stepped the brash young Ezra Pound. Pound had a firm grasp of what was happening in the arts everywhere, particularly Symbolist experiments in French literature and the writings of Mallarme. The stuff of Anglo-American poetry, when compared, must have seemed pallid indeed. T.E. Hulme and a few of his contemporaries had formed a group called The Poets Club, which met in a London Soho restaurant in 1908-1909. The club came under the influence of F.S. Flint and Pound joined the group in April 1909. The talk, according to Flint, was about poetic technique and a variety of foreign verse forms such as vers libre, tanka, haiku, and Provencal songs (which Pound greatly admired and which seems to have been his main contributions to the discussions). Flint also recalled that Hulme was the one who insisted on "absolutely accurate presentation - and no verbiage": again, according to Flint, " there was a lot of talk and practise among us of what we called the Image - ", and it was Hulme who would "spend hours each day in search of the right phrase." Flint later wrote that Edward Storer was the first man to publish a book of Imagist poems. The claim seems doubtful now and no copies of the volume are extant and the only example offered doesn't show much in the way of the precision demanded of this kind of poetry.

The Birth Of Imagism


The Poets Club soon dissolved and there is no mention of the term "Imagist" until November 1912 when Pound published a collection titled Ripostes, to which he attached an appendix consisting of five short poems, "The Complete Poetical Works of T.E. Hulme". In an explanatory note, Pound mentions " The school of images, which may or may not have existed," and he uses the word "Imagiste" for the first time. He was soon promoting the work of his friend Hilda Doolittle (H.D.), along with Richard Aldington and Flint, in the pages of Poetry Magazine published in America. He went on to draft his much-quoted manifesto:

Direct treatment of the "thing" whether subjective or objective.

To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

He added: "An Image is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time." A simpler way of putting this is found in the introduction to The Imagist Poem (William Pratt, Dutton, 1963): "Essentially, it is a moment of revealed truth, rather than a structure of consecutive events or thoughts". A verbal picture. Narrative development was out and the analogical was in, juxtaposing ideas and images across the page. The new poetry was welcomed immediately. In the United States, young poets such as William Carlos Williams - who had long chafed under the restrictions of traditional poetic forms, quickly took their cue from the Imagists. In London, the Egoist, devoted solely to Imagism, began publication in January 1914. Soon, the first Imagist Anthology was published. The poems themselves offered a variety of types and influences everything from vers libre to rhyming and prose poetry, but all were short and bore the stamp of three main influences: classical Greek lyric, Japanese haiku, and recent French Symbolist poetry. Imagism, in a matter of a short time, had forced a sea-change in attitudes towards poetry in America and Britain. What was most important, "Vers Libre" free verse was here to stay. The death knell had sounded for the mighty iambic pentameter. By 1915-16 the revolution the Imagists fostered was complete. But friction occurred between Pound and other members of the group. Flint, in particular, saw little room for new forms of expression within the confines of the Imagist doctrine and new forms of expression was what the revolution was all about. What was being written was very good minor poetry. But there was no way to make a major work of it. Imagist Anthologies continued to be issued until 1917 and one collection even as late as 1930. But the arrival of Amy Lowell in London - who brought what Pound called "Amygism" signaled an end to his connection with the movement. When she assumed leadership sometime in 1915, bringing in such a different writer as D.H. Lawrence, the cohesion of the group quickly disappeared.

Imagism's Lasting Influence


It is impossible to overstate the importance of the Imagists to the poetry of the 20th century. After all, they championed free verse and freed poetics from the tyranny of the pentameter. Perhaps no single document is as important as Pounds Manifesto in understanding the poetics of Modernism. Every important poet who followed from T.S. Eliot, a Symbolist who was never associated with the group absorbed the lessons and acknowledged a debt to Pound, as did younger poets, the likes of E.E. cummings and Allen Ginsberg. By the latter half of the century, a counter-movement had developed. It was felt that free verse had gone too far. The New Formalism called for a return to recognized poetics. But even these traditionalist poets have been touched by the Imagists. They are, after all, free to write what they would and in a free manner - their poems seldom ruined by the maudlin sentiment that haunted the works of Stedman and his contemporaries. In the end, that is the legacy of Imagism: freedom in subject matter and manner coupled with presentational clarity. Vers Libre is still a hallmark of contemporary poetry and The Poets Club along with Imagism have left a lasting mark as well.

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