by Debritto, Abel
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Imagism was anything but a cohesive movement. It resembles a Gerhard Richter painting, a fuzzy work of art undertaken by several artists with different styles over a long period of time, or perhaps a William Burroughs-like cut-up composition aimlessly meandering in search of the “image.” This school of visual poet-painters was a melting pot of the Arts, shrewdly –perhaps even perversely– orchestrated by Ezra Pound, the master painter who wound up smudging the painting for the umpteenth time. Pound passed from Classicism to Imagism and then on to Vorticism like a whimsical, unpredictable child tirelessly switching toys. At times Imagism even seemed a hoax, as if Pound unabashedly acknowledged that poetry was a giant con game, and that trying to reach Home against all odds in a Hopscotch game was all that mattered to him. Pound’s playfulness notwithstanding, some of the Imagists’ strokes were remarkable and had a long-lasting influence on contemporary poetry.
True to its heterogeneous, evolving nature, Imagism underwent several changes over the years. It first came to life in 1908 at the Cafe Tour d’Eiffel in London under the leadership of T. E. Hulme. Hulme met there with F. S. Flint, Edward Storer and Joseph Campbell, among others. The group was known as the Poets’ Club, and in 1912 Pound referred to it as the “forgotten School of 1909” (Ripostes 59). Despite its initial activity –which was more theoretical than empirical– the Poets’ Club “died a lingering death” at the end of 1909 (Flint, “History” 71). Pound, seen as an outcast in the United States and as an American expatriate in England, arrived in London in 1908, and by 1909 his name already carried a certain cachet; in April 1909 he attended the Poets’ Club meetings for the first time. After a one-year visit to his homeland, Pound returned to London and the Imagist group reemerged under his forceful guidance. In December 1912, Pound announced that “the youngest school here that has the nerve to call itself a school is that of the Imagistes” (“Status” 126). The main members of the new group were Hilda Doolittle and Richard Aldington, who set up the Imagist triumvirate with Pound. However, shortly after Pound put together the Des Imagistes anthology in 1914, H. D. and Aldington, discontented with his authoritative ways, joined forces with yet another American, Amy Lowell, and brought out the Some Imagists Poets anthologies in 1915, 1916, and 1917. Imagism died its final death in 1917, after a three year period known as Amygism –to Pound and many critics, a diluted version of Imagism.
Although Imagism was not a revolutionary movement by any standards –and the Imagists made it abundantly clear in their credos and essays– its principles were remarkable in the literary context of 1912, which was deeply entrenched in traditional forms. Imagism tried to free poetry from what they saw as the didactic, deadening yoke of Victorian and Georgian archaic poetry. Charles Swinburne’s florid iambic pentameters became the arch enemy par excellence:
My life is bitter with thy love; thine eyes
Blind me, thy tresses burn me, thy sharp sighs
Divide my flesh and spirit with soft sound,
And my blood strengthens, and my veins abound.
I pray thee sigh not, speak not, draw not breath;
Let life burn down, and dream it is not death.
I would the sea had hidden us, the fire
(Wilt thou fear that, and fear not my desire?)
Severed the bones that bleach, the flesh that cleaves,
And let our sifted ashes drop like leaves.(Poems 57)
Imagists attempted to keep stilted lines like these from their poetry by making concrete statements in free verse. They wanted their poems to become clear, unbiased snapshots in time.
Indeed, poetry, as envisioned by the Imagists, was to be devoid of ornamentation and sentimentality. It had to be as spare and straightforward as possible. Imagists resorted to the “exact word” to achieve this, resulting in “a hardness, as of cut stone” (Aldington, “Modern” 202). Incorporating direct speech into poetry, or “straight talk” as Pound called it (Paige 45), was also one of their main goals. By turning poetry into a spoken art, common speech became their new unit of rhythm. Trivial, commonplace topics were as valid as precious Greek urns or elusive nightingales. Abstraction was to be avoided at all costs. These principles contributed to a more objective vision of reality. Poets were to be recorders of that reality: “Consider the way of the scientists rather than the way of an advertising agent for a new soap,” Pound suggested in his now classic “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste” (203), an essay where he first tried to make public the main principles of the Imagists. Not surprisingly, given Pound’s extensive research into Chinese and Japanese art, many poems were haiku-like: a common situation, usually involving images of nature, was presented without explanation to better convey emotions. The poet-scientist-painter sidestepped moralizing, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions.
The definition of “image” was fuzzy at best. All Imagists had different notions of what “image” and “Imagism” meant. Pound coined the term, although it was based on Hulme’s principles. Pound’s own definitions over the years were “cryptic” (Harmer 181), rendering matters even more confusing. Peter Jones suggested that Pound was probably “the only one of the group to understand fully” what Imagism meant (21). F. S. Flint claimed that the term “was adopted as a joke rather than the challenge it finally became. . . . We had a doctrine of the image, which none of us knew nothing about” (Harmer 17, 168). Indeed, most Imagists acknowledged they could not tell Imagism from Impressionism and Symbolism. In the foreword to the Imagist Anthology published in 1930, Ford Madox Hueffer maintained that in 1913 the distinction between Vorticism, Imagism and post-Impressionism was far from clear to them. A critic went so far as to claim that “God help the man who thinks he can explain to another its meaning” (Aldis 26). The oft-quoted definition published in Poetrydid not help much: “An 'Image' is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time . . . which gives that sense of sudden liberation” (Pound, “A Few” 200). Similar to Vorticism, Imagist poetry reflected an immediate feeling or mood for the reader to recreate. It was an epiphany, “a sudden striking visual image” (Pratt, Imagist 38). Interestingly, critics complained that Imagist poetry lacked precisely that “emotional force” that the Imagists sought to promote (Aiken, “The Place” 75).
Some critics consider Hulme the “father of Imagism” (Hughes 9). Hulme intended to step away from Romanticism and embrace impersonal, hard poetry. In his “History of Imagism,” published in The Egoist in 1915, which Pound called “bullshit” (Copp 59), Flint suggested that Pound was a mere follower of Hulme rather than the true leader of the emerging movement. Indeed, Hulme could be seen as the only genuine Imagist. He wanted a “classical revival” to take place in poetry with “accurate. . . . and definite precision” (113, 131). In the early days of Imagism, he was the main driving force trying to establish changes in poetry. However, Pound doggedly refused to acknowledge Hulme’s influence in terms of Imagist theoretical principles.
Pound finished Ripostes in February 1912, where the term “Imagiste” was used for the very first time in print (59). The book also featured “The Complete Poetical Works of T. E. Hulme,” previously published in The New Age in early 1912. Some of Hulme’s poems dated back to 1909, “Autumn” having first appeared in the Poets’ Club’s For Christmas MDCCCCVIII –a publication with poems by Selwyn Image, Lady Margaret Sackville, and Henry Simpson, among others. “Autumn” and “A City Sunset” were the first Imagist poems ever to be printed; Hulme penned them to illustrate his own principles, although the term Imagist was not yet in use. Hulme was not too enthusiastic about his poetry –critics agree that a large number of Imagist poems do not live up to their theoretical foundations– but “Autumn” stands as a rather accomplished Imagist poem:
A touch of cold in the Autumn night—
I walked abroad,
And I saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded;
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.
Hulme may be the father of Imagism, but the movement soon came to reflect the heterogeneous nature of the main members of the group. Pound, who never got around to finishing his Ph.D. on Lope de Vega, was rooted in classicism up to 1912. It seems that Flint, H. D. and other poets helped him improve his poetry noticeably. He was known to be belligerent by nature and his me-against-the-world attitude was clearly perceived by his fellow poets. As Aldington put it, in 1912 Pound “was great fun, a small but persistent volcano in the dim levels of London literary society . . . Keeping one half of London perpetually irritated” (“Des Imagistes” 3). Pound was seen as a propagandist, passionately championing several short-lived movements only to forget them once he moved on to his next literary project. Aldington was rebellious, learned, witty, and extremely prolific; he admired Pound and French poetry. H. D., the most Hellenistic of the group, was “the perfect Imagist” (Hughes 114; Collecott 135); her poems were –in true Imagist tradition– concise, laconic, and objective. Flint abandoned Romanticism in favor of Imagism and, especially, free verse; his poems appear in all four of the Imagist anthologies. D. H. Lawrence was not an Imagist, although Lowell thought he was. An Amygist by accident –he did not like any of the poems in the first Some Imagist Poets anthology, save H. D.’s– he firmly believed that Imagism was “all an illusion of Ezra Pound’s” (Hughes 170). He was possibly included in Lowell's Imagist anthologies because of his burgeoning fame. Although John Gould Fletcher wrote some accomplished Imagist poems, such as “Blue Symphony,” he was more of an Amygist and a symbolist. Hueffer was not a genuine Imagist, not even formally; Harmer thinks he represented “an interesting oddity” (89). To many, Lowell’s poetry was too prose-like to be considered Imagist.
The only common factor to all Imagists was free verse or vers libre.Vers libre was not form-free since it was strongly based on cadence or musical patterns, and some poets called it “unrhymed cadence.” It was so similar to prose that critics said that vers libre was prose in disguise, illustrating their point with Aldington’s “Childhood” and Lowell’s “The Bombardment,” both poetic prose artifacts, especially the latter, to which Lowell replied that, “whether a thing is written as prose or verse is immaterial” (qtd. in Kilmer, “How Does” SM8). However, many critics did like Imagists’ free verse poems: Aldington’s “Choricos” was considered “one of the finest of this century” (Monroe, “Free-Verse” 695) and Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” –his last purely Imagist poem– remains one of the most quoted poems of the movement:
The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough. (12)
H. D.’s “Oread” is often cited as the paradigmatic Imagist poem –curiously enough, Pound printed it in the first issue of Blast to illustrate his points about Vorticism (“Vortex” 154):
Whirl up, sea—
Whirl your pointed pines,
Splash your great pines
On our rocks,
Hurl your green over us—
Cover us with your pools of fir. (35)
This so-called “perfect” Imagist poem was seen as an evocative piece devoid of symbols, explanations, moralizing, and rhyme. To some poets, such as Fletcher, it was merely descriptive, lacking feeling, and some critics agreed with him: “Precise or vivid description for its own sake becomes a sterile achievement” (Geiger 147).
Imagists tried to break loose from English tradition but borrowed heavily from French culture: Théophile Gautier, Arthur Rimbaud, Stéphane Mallarmé, Tristan Corbière, Paul Lafargue, Rémy de Gourmont, and novelists such as Gustave Flaubert, Stendhal, and Guy de Maupassant had a strong influence on the movement, especially because Imagists maintained that “poetry must be as well written as prose” (Paige 48). Indeed, Pound claimed in December 1912 that “the important work of the last twenty-five years has been done in Paris” (“Status” 123). The father of Imagism, Hulme, was also strongly influenced by Henri Bergson’s theories. Hulme championed the bon mot for capturing concrete realities; vague romanticisms and traditional metrical patterns were no longer necessary.
Imagists encouraged and supported French symbolist poetry in the periodicals –French Symbolist poetry came to America through periodicals such as M’lle New York. Although Imagism was similar to Symbolism in the use of free verse and vivid images, the metaphysical content was discarded, showing a markedly anti-romantic sentiment. Symbolism was actually a point of departure for Imagism, not a model to be followed. Allegories and ornamentation were replaced by precision and clarity.
Japanese and Chinese art was key in the development of Imagism, too. Pound, after having extensively worked on Ernest Francisco Fenollosa’s papers in 1913, as literary executor of Fenollosa’s estate, became unmistakably influenced by eastern culture. Pound’s Cathay introduced the poetry of Li Po –Rihaku in Japanese– and other authors in translation to English readers. Pound’s translations were imaginative because his knowledge of Chinese was mainly based on Fenollosa’s rough transcriptions. Pound’s misconception of the originals, then, became part of Imagism. The French and Japanese influence was sometimes merely regurgitated; in Pound’s case, it was assimilated and re-interpreted.
The Greek influence was more evident on Aldington and H. D., who saw Imagism as an outgrowth of Hellenism –some authors believed that Imagism was the new Hellenism. Aldington, H. D. and Pound were classicists in the early days, and they repeatedly acknowledged their indebtedness to Sappho and Catullus. Pound even claimed that “there is Imagism in all the best poetry of the past” (Nadel 4). Although early Imagists were “ardent Hellenists” (“Notes” 65) influenced by French symbolists writing in vers libre, later Imagists were less keen on French poetry and free verse, becoming “fogged by their own technique” (Harmer 160).
Periodicals and anthologies
Imagism was launched in literary magazines and anthologies. One of the main outlets was Poetry, an American journal where Pound acted as foreign correspondent. It was Pound who talked editor Harriet Monroe into publishing the first Imagist poems by Aldington and H. D. in Poetry in November 1912 and January 1913, respectively. Pound infamously scrawled “H. D., Imagiste” at the end of her last poem in the magazine; H. D. objected to the signature, finding the label too restrictive, not representative of her actual poetic output. In the March 1913 issue the Imagist credo appeared for the first time in print, including Pound’s “A Few Don’ts” and Flint’s “Imagisme,” largely based on an interview with Pound. In the April 1913 issue, Poetry published Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” and other Imagist poems.
In June 1913 editors Dora Marsden and Rebecca West started The New Freewoman, which was more literary-oriented than its predecessor, Marsden’s The Freewoman. Pound and Aldington became seriously involved in this periodical, using it as an outlet for the Imagist movement. In August 1913, Pound claimed that The New Freewoman was the “official organ of Imagism” (Nadel 50). Pound’s “Contemporania” appeared in the August 15, 1913, issue, and several poems by H. D., Aldington, Lowell and Flint were published in the next issue under the banner of “The Newer School.”The New Freewoman folded in December 1913 but it was immediately continued by The Egoist, edited by Harriet Weaver and Marsden, which was also supportive of the movement. According to Glenn Hughes, the magazine actually was the “English propagandist organ for Imagism” (228). Aldington became assistant editor in January 1914 and he was responsible for the special Imagist issue published on May 1, 1915. Interestingly, “The Egoist” published several articles on Imagism and Imagist poets as well as many poems by Imagists, but not a single piece by Pound, who had by then abandoned the movement to embrace Vorticism.
Although Poetry, The New Freewoman, and The Egoist were crucial in the development of Imagism, there were other literary magazines that supported the movement. The list includes Harold Monro’s Poetry and Drama and Poetry Review –the February 12, 1912, issue published Pound’s “Credo,” which laid out “much of the groundwork for Imagism” (Wihlhelm 87)– A. R. Orage’s New Age, and Margaret Anderson’s The Little Review, where Pound acted as Foreign Editor. Important as they were, however, these periodicals pale in significance beside the Imagist anthologies.
All told, five anthologies were published. The first anthology, edited by Pound and titled Des Imagistes, came out as the fifth issue of The Glebe magazine in February 1914. Des Imagistes was then reprinted in book form and published in New York in March 1914 and in London the following month. The three subsequent anthologies, largely put together by Lowell, Aldington, and H. D., came out yearly in 1915, 1916, and 1917 under the same name, Some Imagist Poets. A final anthology, Imagist Anthology, appeared in 1930; it was a tribute to Imagism, with no intention to revive the long gone movement. Unsurprisingly, Pound refused to contribute.
Pound learned about The Glebe from John Cournos. In the summer of 1913, he sent the manuscript of Des Imagistes to The Glebe editor, Alfred Kreymborg, telling him in unmistakable Poundian fashion that “unless you're another American ass, you'll set this up just as it stands!” (Kreymborg 157). Pound, who was not listed as editor, put together Des Imagistes –which probably meant “Quelques Imagistes”– as an answer to the Georgian Poetry volume edited by Rupert Brooke and Edward Marsh in September 1912. He also thought it would help launch H. D. and Aldington’s careers. There was no preface explaining the Imagist credo because Pound felt the body of work published to date was not large enough to support a set of guidelines.
The main poets in the anthology were Aldington, H. D., Flint, and Pound himself, but he printed other poets whose connection to Imagism was largely accidental. Aldington said that Skipwith Cannell, Cournos, Hueffer, James Joyce, and Allen Upward –all included in the anthology– were not genuine Imagists. Despite Aldington’s view, some critics believed Joyce’s poem fit with the “then nascent Imagist group” (Read 269). Pound had asked W. B. Yeats for Irish poets who could contribute to Des Imagistes. At Yeats’ suggestion, Pound corresponded with Joyce, who sent him “I Hear an Army Charging,” previously published in Chamber Music in 1907. The poem was a last-minute inclusion in December 1913, signaling the beginning of one of the most important literary associations of the period. Lowell’s contribution, “In a Garden,” which had first appeared in The New Freewoman in September 1913, was her very first attempt at vers libre, later to be ridiculed by Pound and other Imagists –at a party Lowell held on July 17, 1914, Pound pretended poets were “nagistes” (“swimmers”) and infamously invited Lowell to bathe in a tub he had brought along. Pound then announced that Imagism was dead, to be superseded by Les Nagistes, a joke aimed at the last line of “In a Garden,” which reads: “Night and the water, and you in your whiteness, bathing!” It was Pound’s witty, cruel way of acknowledging that Lowell had seized the reins of the movement.
Indeed, after having published the anthology, Pound lost his interest in Imagism as a movement, and by mid-1914 he had already embarked on yet another literary venture with Percy Wyndham Lewis and sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. When Vorticism –another term coined by Pound– came to life, Pound had already dissociated himself from Imagism, even though the new movement was similar to Imagism as a fully energized “intellectual and emotional complex.” Shortly after, Lowell, supported by Aldington and H. D., assumed Pound’s place as the moving force behind Imagism and decided to publish a new Imagist anthology. In October 1914, in an advertisement announcing Lowell’s Sword Blades and Poppy Seed, she was called the “foremost member of the ‘Imagists’” (Coffman 26), an accolade which infuriated Pound so much that he suggested he could sue her for libel. Pound was so upset that he did not allow Lowell to use the term “Imagistes” for the new anthology, although he came up with Vers Libre as an alternate title for Lowell to use. She did not like it, eventually settling on the anglicized Some Imagist Poets instead.
Whereas Des Imagistes was seen as a dictatorial undertaking –Flint even called Pound “generalissimo” (Copp 61)– Some Imagist Poets was a more democratic project. Lowell was the driving force behind the three anthologies, but she was not the sole editor. The preface to the 1915 anthology, unsigned, was actually written by Aldington, and he and H. D. were responsible for most of the editing. Lowell wrote the preface to the 1916 anthology, and H. D. largely put together the last anthology. Fletcher and D. H. Lawrence were new additions –T. S. Eliot and Marianne Moore were both considered for the second anthology, but they were finally left out. To some critics, the democratic nature of Amygism represented “a dilution” of Imagism (Harmer 181), with Pound concluding that Imagism was turned into “a democratic beer-garden” (Paige 48). Pound even edited the Catholic Anthology in 1915 as an answer to the first Some Imagist Poets anthology. Even though the Catholic Anthology did not sell well, it did feature some classic pieces, such as Pound’s “Contemporania” and Eliot’s “Prufrock.” Several other American authors who published in Poetry also graced the volume, but the Amygists were deliberately excluded.
According to Pound, Des Imagistes was “doing very nicely” by May 1914 (Nadel 80). A flattering review came out in Poetry in October 1914, and Aldington claimed that “columnists parodied the poems or reproduced them with derisive remarks. . . . Evidently we were a succès de scandale. The edition sold out” (“Des Imagistes” 4). According to Wilhelm, however, the anthology actually lost money in England (88), and it did not make a dent in the literary world at the time. Some Imagist Poets sold reasonably well in America, but not in England, where it was met with “a conspiracy of silent scorn” (Hughes 44). Aldington maintained that “twenty thousand copies of the first two [anthologies]” were sold (“Des Imagistes” 17). Nevertheless, Edward Fletcher, using figures provided by the Houghton Mifflin Company, provided a more plausible breakdown: the first anthology sold 2,099 copies, the second one 1,612 copies, and the third one 1,028 copies (190–91).
Disagreements over the actual sales aside, the anthologies were warmly received at best. Most reviews contended that H. D.’s poems were perfect instances of Imagism, although Fletcher thought they were limited in content, and thus less appealing than Aldington’s poems (“Three” 34). Indeed, Harold Monro called H. D.’s poems “impressionists” in the review of the first Some Imagist Poets anthology, saying that “Oread” denoted “either poverty of imagination or needlessly excessive restraint” (79). Conrad Aiken believed Imagist poetry was actually poetic prose and found it predictable and sterile: “They are not doing anything new nor anything great. . . . Their work is a gentle preciosity of sound and color which may please the jaded connoisseur” (“The Place” 75). Interestingly enough, those pieces written in “polyphonic prose,” which was the antithesis of the original principles set out by Hulme and Pound, received more praise than the more purely Imagist poems (J. Fletcher “The Poetry” 82; Lane 34). Similarly, D. H. Lawrence’s “A Woman and Her Dead Husband,” which was not a genuine Imagist piece, was repeatedly lauded by critics such as Harriett Monroe (“Some Imagist” 151).
Some reviewers were more extreme in their assessment of the anthologies: “The bulk of their work is pure affectation, much of it nonsensical, some of it idiotic” (Young III 21). Other critics compared Imagists to anarchists, even giving the impression they were consummate Surrealists or Avant-Garde artists: “The imagist is no common poet, he is really a sort of mental anarchist. He doesn’t care what he says. He plants a bomb under rhythm and blows it up. Conventions, taste, literary manners … are nothing to the imagist” (T. L. M. 746). Not surprisingly, some reviews were openly derisive and sarcastic regarding Imagists’ rapture over nature: “The imagist business is simply fascinating. The call to go into the vegetable business and become a poet is almost irresistible” (“Imagist Imageries” SM4).
As Aldington remarked, parodies were common. In May 1915, Aiken published a satire on Imagist poetry titled “Ballade of Worshippers of the Image,” name-checking the main poets of the movement and mocking their literary principles:
Ezra Pound, Dick Aldington,
Fletcher and Flint and sweet H. D.,
Whether you chirp in Kensington,
Or Hampstead Heath, or Bloomsbury;
Birds of protean pedigree,
Vorticist, Cubist, or Imagist,
Where in a score years will you be,
And the delicate succubae you kissed?
You, of the trivial straining fun,
Who ape your betters in mirthless glee;
You, whose meticulous clear lines run
In hideous insipidity;
And you, forsooth, who shinned a tree
To keep with the gaping moon your tryst,
Where in a score years will you be,
And the delicate succubae you kissed?
Idols and images, every one,
Crash down like ancient theory;
Where is the Vortex under the sun
That spins not always emptily?
Cease these jeers at minstrelsy,
You, who perish and are not missed,
For where in a score years will you be,
And the delicate succubae you kissed? (“Ballade” 3.11)
Aldington himself ridiculed Pound’s Imagist poems in “Penultimate Poetry,” printed in The Egoist in January 1914, shortly before Pound published Des Imagistes. Pound took it well, finding the parodies “excellent” (“A Rejoinder” 158):
Come my songs,
Let us whizz up to the eighteenth floor,
Let us present our most undignified exterior
To this mass of indolent superstition,
To this perverted somnambulistic age;
Let us soar up higher than the eighteenth floor
And consider the delicate delectable monocles
Of the musical virgins of Parnassus:
Pale slaughter beneath purple skies.
The apparition of these poems in a crowd:
White faces in a black dead faint. (“Penultimate” 36)
Curiously enough, four years after the publication of the last Some Imagists Poets anthology in 1917, editor Harold Monro published in the May 1921 issue of The Chapbook an anonymous section devoted to parodies of Imagism cunningly titled “Pathology des Dommagistes,” including pieces such as “Selected Bulbs from a Javan Pot,” “Tutti Frutti,” and “Epigram,” a humorous reworking of H. D.’s “Epigram,” first published in Poetry in January 1913:
(After the Greek)
The golden one is gone from the banquets;
She, beloved of Atimetus,
The swallow, the bright Homonoea:
Gone the dear chatterer;
Death succeeds Atimetus. (H. D., “Epigram” 122)
(After the Cretan)
Has tied one golden sandal
Around her pink ankle
Heu! The discomfort,
The varicose veins . . .
Silver dust falls
Over the tepidarium . . . (“Pathology” 22)
Most critics agree that Imagism was one of the most influential movements in English poetry in the 20th century, perhaps even the starting point of modernist verse: “Its principles were carried forward in the mature poetry of nearly every one of the major Modernist Poets” (Pratt, Imagism 43). In 1953, T. S. Eliot claimed that “imagistic ideas still lie at the centre of our poetic practice” (qtd. in P. Jones 14). Indeed, the influence of Imagism was apparent in W. C. Williams’ oft-quoted “The Red Wheelbarrow”but also in his longer pieces, such as Paterson, which, according to Pratt, could be seen as a series of short Imagist poems strung together. Likewise, the attempt to recover common speech in poetry, Pound’s “straight talk,” had a tremendous influence on countless poets. Although Imagism was not revolutionary by any means, its precision and unadorned poetry, or what D. H. Lawrence called “stark directness” (Zytaruk 503), was easy to digest and imitate.
The legacy of Imagism is also evident in a large number of literary movements and world-renowned authors. Pound’s “A Few Don’ts” became a foundation stone of contemporary American writing –poet-performer Allen Ginsberg used to quote verbatim those Imagist principles in interviews. Similarly, Imagism and Pound’s guidelines had a strong impact on Louis Zukofsky’s Objectivism. As Martin pointed out, Objectivism was a “logical culmination of ideas originating in Imagism” (204), especially because Objectivists such as Jack Spicer wanted to create poems “out of real objects” (P. Jones 37). Pound had made it clear that “the image is not an idea” (“Vorticism” 469), and that struck a chord with Wallace Stevens, who said that “poetry has to be something more than a conception of the mind” (P. Jones 37). As W.C. Williams famously put it, “no ideas but in things” (Paterson 163).
Besides Stevens and Williams, Imagism also influenced Carl Sandburg, Archibald MacLeish, Marianne Moore, Robinson Jeffers, e. e. cummings, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kenneth Rexroth, John Wieners, Edward Dorn, Charles Bukowski, George Oppen, Frank O’Hara, Charles Wright, Ted Hughes, Confessional poets such as Robert Lowell, and Black Mountaineers, among many others. The Black Mountain Review, Charles Olson’s Projective Verse, as well as Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley’s poetry were all clearly following in the footsteps of Imagism. They frequently expressed their indebtedness to the movement and, especially, to Pound’s notion of poetry before he embraced the convolutedness of the Cantos. The painting-like poetry of the Imagists remains, to this day, a mesmerizing work of art which continues to captivate those who try to capture reality as is.
—Abel Debritto, Brown University
- Aiken, Conrad. “Ballade of Worshippers of the Image.” The Sun 9 May 1915: 3.11.
- —. “Limits to Imagism.” The New Republic 3.34 (June 1915): 204-05.
- —. “The Place of Imagism.” The New Republic 3.29 (May 1915): 76-77.
- Aldington, Richard. “Anti-Hellenism.” The Egoist 1.2 (Jan. 1914): 35-56.
- —. “Choricos.” Poetry 1.2 (Nov. 1912): 39-41.
- —. “Des Imagistes.” The Saturday Review of Literature 21.21 (Mar. 1940): 3-4, 17-18.
- —. “Modern Poetry and the Imagists.” The Egoist 2.1 (June 1914): 201-03.
- —. “Penultimate Poetry.” The Egoist 1.2 (Jan. 1914): 36.
- —. “To a Greek Marble.” Poetry 1.2 (Nov. 1912): 42.
- Aldis, Mary. “Review of Some Imagist Poets .” The Little Review 3.4 (June 1916): 26-31.
- Ashleigh, Charles. “Des Imagistes.” The Little Review 1.5 (July 1914): 15-17.
- “The Battle Between Rhyme and Imagism.” Rev. of Some Imagist Poets . New York Times 4 Feb. 1917: BR3.
- Carter, Huntly. “Poetry Versus Imagism.” The Little Review 2.6 (Sept. 1915): 27-37.
- Colum, Padraic. “Egoism in Poetry.” The New Republic 5.55 (Nov. 1915): 6-7.
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