Pound And Imagism

Although Pound later claimed Hulme's importance for imagism had been overstated, his first public announcement of the new movement nevertheless accorded Hulme a paternal role. Pound's sixth collection of poetry, Ripostes (1912), contained an appendix of five poems entitled 'The Complete Poetical Works of T.E. Hulme', which Pound introduced with a jocular note. Though not entirely complimentary, it described the imagists as 'the descendents' of Hulme's 'Secession Club' (1990: 251). In his 'History of Imagism' (1915), F.S. Flint reiterated the connection to Hulme (1915: 71).

'Imagism' was coined by Pound as a marketing ploy for poetry by himself and his friends H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) (1886-1961) and Richard Aldington (1892-1962). Early announcements used French forms, 'Les Imagistes' and 'Imagisme', to underline a comparison with contemporary French post-symbolist movements, such as unanimisme and impulsionnisme. The ploy was successful: the imagists were published to considerable controversy in the United States by Poetry and in England by The New Freewoman (later The Egoist), and four anthologies of their poetry appeared between 1914 and 1917. Pound, however, only appeared in the first anthology, Des Imagistes, arguing that the movement's original ideas were being diluted by some of its new associates. The subsequent anthologies were edited by the American poet, Amy Lowell (1874—1925), and a fifth and final anthology appeared in 1930, edited by Aldington.

The original imagist ideas upon which Pound insisted were summarized in three 'principles' published in Poetry in March 1913:

1. Direct treatment of the 'thing' whether subjective or objective.

2.To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.

3.As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

The correspondence with Hulme's earlier prescriptions for modern poetry is striking. For Pound, as for Hulme in 'A Lecture on Modern Poetry', good poetry is 'direct'. Both poets also emphasize economy and lack of ornamentation. And Pound's third point suggests that the imagist is more likely to write in free verse than a traditional metre: the imagist poem must not be constrained, at least, by the metre used.

It is more difficult to ascertain how far the specifically Bergsonian aspect of Hulme's image is carried over to Pound's. Pound was never an enthusiastic Bergsonian himself, but there is a Bergsonian residue in his main definition of the Image (unlike Hulme and Bergson, he referred to it using a capital 'I'). In the same March 1913 issue of Poetry he wrote, 'An "Image" is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time', and elaborated, 'it is the presentation of such a "complex" instantaneously which gives that sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits' (1960: 4). This comes very close to Bergson's idea that images can create a moment of intuition that apprehends reality directly, though Pound attributes his use of the term 'complex' to a contemporary psychologist, Bernard Hart (never mentioned again in Pound's writings). Pound also follows both Hulme and Bergson in describing images as 'concrete' rather than 'abstract'. At the same time, there is an important, if subtle, difference here. When Hulme and Bergson refer to the image they use the term conventionally, describing a visual image like the child's balloon Hulme conjures up in 'Above the Dock'. For Pound, however, the Image is not a visual description, it is 'an intellectual and emotional complex': the Image is that which the visual description produces. It is what Hulme and Bergson refer to as the intuition.

This can be explained most clearly by looking at Pound's 'In a Station of the Metro' (1913), originally published with the following typography:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd :

Petals on a wet, black bough .

Like Hulme's 'Autumn' and 'Above the Dock', the poem's success is dependent on a central metaphor: here, faces seen as petals. The poem has its effect when the reader brings the two images together and sees one in terms of the other. But where does this happen? The reader pictures the first scenario, faces appearing out of a crowd; then pictures the second, the petals stuck to a black tree branch. Only then can the effect take place: at the end of the poem the reader superimposes faces on petals, petals on faces. Unlike most poems, the effect of 'In a Station of the Metro' is not cumulative, but sudden, and it occurs outside the words themselves. This is underlined by the text's innovative typography (unusual in Pound's imagist poems, but a feature of The Cantos), which breaks the poem into discrete visual elements.

The point I want to stress here is that, although the poem is made up of visual images (faces, petals, the bough), what Pound designated the 'Image' is the effect that happens after the poem. He made this explicit in a famous account of the poem's composition, where he describes how he came out of a Paris metro station and encountered a crowd of beautiful faces. When it came to expressing the experience, however, he could imagine no verbal equivalent, only 'little splotches of colour'. But, just as Hulme felt able to express the experience of the Canadian steppes only when he encountered the free verse form of the French symbolists, Pound's breakthrough occurred when he turned from his usual poetic models to Japanese haiku. It was the example of this form, Pound wrote, that helped him to create this archetypal imagist poem, a poem which records 'the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective' (1970a: 89).

Haiku, Japanese poetic form that consists of seventeen syllables arranged in three lines of five, seven, and five syllables, The traditional, pre-nineteenth-century form ('hokku') often juxtaposes two distinct elements to create a single impression, a practice carried over into many modern haiku, too,

So far I have emphasized imagism's symbolist ancestry, but as 'In a Station of the Metro' demonstrates, the imagists were not only influenced by recent French poetry. A number of Pound's poems draw more or less loosely on Japanese and Chinese poetry. 'Liu Ch'e' and 'Fan-Piece, for Her Imperial Lord', for example, rework English translations of Chinese poems by Liu Che and Pan Chieh-yu respectively, and 'Gentildonna' and 'The Encounter' are a more general response to the lingeringfin-de-siecle fashion for japonisme and chinoiserie. H.D.'s and Aldington's verse reflects a close engagement with the poetry of ancient Greece (and late romantic interpretations of it); Pound also draws on the classics: Latin models were especially important for his more satirical imagist poems.

Though detractors read imagism's imitations of literary models as evidence of their lack of originality, they should be read more positively. They signify the importance the imagists attached to their self-training in poetic technique. Pound's infamous 'A Few Don'ts' (1913) for the aspiring imagist stressed that an imagist poem was not only the product of intuition; it required formidable erudition and hard work. Under the heading 'Rhythm and Rhyme', Pound instructed his reader to:

fill his mind with the finest cadences he can discover, preferably in a foreign language, [,, ,] e,g, Saxon charms, Hebridean Folk Songs, the verse of Dante, and the lyrics of Shakespeare - if he can dissociate the vocabulary from the cadence, Let him dissect the lyrics of Goethe coldly into their component sound values, syllables long and short, stressed and unstressed, into vowels and consonants,

As the vocabulary of that last sentence suggests, Pound frequently compared the poet to the scientist, who is expected to have a rigorous knowledge of the subject before being allowed to practice science.

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  • melba
    What is imagism ezra pound?
    2 years ago

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