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Ezra and the Imagistes

Wed Sep 24, 2014, 6:00 AM by anapests-and-ink:iconanapests-and-ink:

Imagism was not created in a classroom, or in a gathering of academics. The Imagist movement was born in a Kensington tea-shop in the spring of 1912, at a meeting between three good friends: Ezra Pound, Hilda Doolittle (better known as H.D.), and Richard Aldington. “Like other American expatriates,” Richard Aldington later wrote, “Ezra and H.D. developed an almost insane relish for tea. Thus it came about that most of our meetings took place in the rather prissy milieu of some infernal bun-shop full of English Spinsters” (Life 134). This particular meeting had been called by Ezra Pound, upon receiving copies of a handful of H.D.'s latest poems. “Ezra was so much worked up by these poems of H.D.'s that he removed his pince-nez and informed us that we were Imagists” (Aldington Life 135).

                                                                                                                                                                     Richard-aldington 2 by anapests-and-ink
Richard Aldington

What exactly is an Imagist? Harold Monroe, in his article 'The Imagists Discussed,' wrote:

"They have not at any time taken much trouble to make themselves clear. Mr. Pound has offered us several illuminating, though not entirely lucid, statements of theory...and the very term Imagist is sufficiently mystifying to alienate the sympathies of the general public, though its exotic sound may attract small, inquisitive, detached groups of the wrong people."

Pound tried many times over to define Imagism, to only moderate degrees of success. Part of the problem lay with their “drastic self-detachment, and...insistence on the necessity of an absolutely fresh start in poetry” (Monro Imagists 77). Pound was the sort of stubborn person who believed that if you didn't understand the concept straight off, you weren't worthy of understanding it at all. Aldington—who, keep in mind, was one of Pound's closest friends and fiercest defenders—described him as “abrupt and barbarous...sensitive, highly strung, and irascible” (Life 105). This led to the rather interesting—and a bit controversial—article published in the March 1913 issue of Poetry: 'Imagisme'.

The article itself seeks to lay out a definition of Imagism. It offers three “rules” which all Imagists would be said to follow:

  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 a metronome.

This seems simple and straight-forward enough, and indeed, it is repeated in one form or another each time the movement is defined afterward. Don't dance around your topic; deal with it directly. Don't add anything that isn't vital to the poem. And use free-verse that is neither rhymed nor metered. Taken together, they are the perfect guidelines for an Imagist poem. The controversy lies in the article itself. Or, to be more exact, its author.

F.S. Flint, one of the first poets to join up with the Imagist movement, is credited in the by-line. The problem is that he claims he had nothing to do with it. In another article, he described it as “an 'interview,' over my signature” (The History of Imagism Egoist, 1 March, 1915). Ezra Pound himself is generally assumed to have been the author of 'Imagisme'.

  Ezra 2 by anapests-and-ink
Ezra Pound

Regardless, the three rules presented in “Imagisme” are vital to understanding both the intent and the content of an Imagist poem. Imagism was meant to be a clear departure from the flowery, convoluted poetry that was most popular in the early 1900's. Ford Maddox Hueffer (better known as Ford Maddox Ford) described the then popular poetry as a “thesaurus of well-worn, obsolescent words, fit for drawing-room employment”, the sort that would lead a poet to “write 1591 lines that were pure digression” (Thus to Revisit). In contrast, as explained in the preface to Some Imagist Poets 1915 was to be “hard and clear, never blurred nor indefinite”, something that would “render particulars exactly and not deal in vague generalities, however magnificent and sonorous”.

H-d 2 by anapests-and-ink
Hilda Doolittle (H.D.)

Take, for example, H.D.'s poem 'Hermes of the Ways'. 'Hermes of the Ways' was one of the poems H.D. first presented to Pound, the one's that made him declare her to be an Imagist and to start off the whole movement itself. Upon reading the first two stanzas, you can see how radically different her writing was.

The hard sand breaks
And the grains of it
Are clear as wine.
Far off over the leagues of it,
The wind,
Playing on the wide shore,
Piles little ridges,
And the great waves break over it.

There is nothing 'magnificent and sonorous' about the language she used; the words are everyday and clear. The image of sand, wind and waves is crisp and exact. There is not a single word more than there needs to be. And while it has a musical rhythm, there is no meter enforced upon it.

In contrast, consider the first stanza of “Helen is Ill,” by Roscoe W. Brink, the poem printed immediately before “Hermes of the Ways” in the January 1913 issue of Poetry:

When she is ill my laughter cowers;
An exile with a broken rhyme,
My head upon the breast of time,
I hear the heart-beat of the hours;
I close my eyes without a sigh;
The vision of her flutters by
As glints the light of Mary's eyes
Upon the lakes in Paradise.

The rhythm is forced, the language unnatural. The closest thing to an actual image is the line “As glints the light of Mary's eyes,” which is immediately muddled by “Upon the lakes in Paradise.” This stanza is seven lines of pretty words, contorted into a heavy-handed rhythm and clichéd rhyme scheme, without clarity or context. It is exactly the type of poem that the Imagists were fighting so strongly against.

In a letter to Harriet Monroe (the Editor in Chief and Founder of Poetry), Pound wrote “every literaryism, every book word, fritters away a scrap of the reader's patience, a scrap of his sense of your sincerity” (Letters 91). The Imagists' desperate scramble away from “literaryism” and “book word[s]” are the foundation of contemporary poetry. What modern reader would prefer “Helen is Ill” to “Hermes of the Ways”? The radical difference between the two is arguably the root of modern free-verse. The world of poetry would be very different indeed, if it were not for the springtime meeting in a Kensington tea-shop between three good friends with a vision of the future.


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CosmoCutie Featured By Owner 6 days ago
Thanks for the llama! :D :llama:
mitoXD Featured By Owner Nov 2, 2014   General Artist
Wow, so much cool stuff around here~ I just have to watch you! <3
anapests-and-ink Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you!  And thank you for the watch!  I shall try not to disappoint.  :)
CDing93 Featured By Owner Oct 22, 2014  Student Writer
Thanks for the fave on "Residenz!" If you've got the time, a comment with some feedback would be much appreciated!
Scarlettletters Featured By Owner Sep 26, 2014  Professional Writer
Thanks very much for faving my work!
CakeUpStudio Featured By Owner Sep 26, 2014
thanks for the llama. haveone back :)
DrippingWords Featured By Owner Sep 2, 2014  Student Writer
Thanks for the fave(s)! :huggle:
FireFriesian Featured By Owner Sep 1, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Thanks for the llama! Can I be so impertinent as to ask for a (harsh) critique? Please!

anapests-and-ink Featured By Owner Sep 1, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Sure! Is there any particular work you would like me to look at?
FireFriesian Featured By Owner Sep 1, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you so much!   Perhaps one of my stories?  

Matchbreakers:…   (chapter 5/6)

Prisoner 37886:…    (4/4)

FeatherGround:…  (1/1)

All of these are currently in progress, and will have more chapters. I understand that I haven't expanded on FeatherGround yet.

I especially want HARSH HARSH HARSH criticisms, if you don't mind.    :D
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