Pound Announces the Birth of the Imagist Movement Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Imagist movement attempted to simplify the language and structure of poetry by ridding it of excess verbiage and by calling for “direct treatment of the thing.”

Summary of Event

The Imagist movement was not created by the consensus of a group of poets during a specific period or out of a variation in style or form. It was, instead, created by fiat one day in the spring of 1912 by Ezra Pound. On that day, after reading the poems of two of his protégés, Richard Aldington and Hilda Doolittle (better known as H. D.), Pound announced that they were “Imagistes.” The birth of Imagism was followed a few months later by a more formal presentation to the public. Pound sent five poems by H. D. and a few of Aldington’s poems to Harriet Monroe, Monroe, Harriet the editor of Poetry magazine, with instructions to publish them as quickly as possible. Literature;Imagist movement Imagist movement Poetry;Imagist movement [kw]Pound Announces the Birth of the Imagist Movement (Spring, 1912) [kw]Imagist Movement, Pound Announces the Birth of the (Spring, 1912) Literature;Imagist movement Imagist movement Poetry;Imagist movement [g]England;Spring, 1912: Pound Announces the Birth of the Imagist Movement[03060] [g]United States;Spring, 1912: Pound Announces the Birth of the Imagist Movement[03060] [c]Literature;Spring, 1912: Pound Announces the Birth of the Imagist Movement[03060] Pound, Ezra Aldington, Richard H. D. Lowell, Amy Hulme, T. E.

The poems were published in Poetry in January of 1913 with a note by Pound on the new “school” of poetry. Later, in March of that year, he published “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste” in Poetry. Among Pound’s pronouncements were a few important ones for the development of the Imagist movement, including “Use no superfluous word, no adjective, that does not reveal something” and “Either use no ornament or good ornament.” F. S. Flint Flint, F. S. added a more precise list of rules in an accompanying article, which called on Imagist poets to undertake direct treatment of the “thing,” whether subjective or objective; to use absolutely no word that did not contribute to a poem’s presentation; and “to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of the metronome.”

The Imagist movement had been officially born, although the definitions of an Imagist poem remained incomplete. For example, neither Pound nor Flint mentioned the use or presence of images in Imagist poetry; their prescriptions were stylistic and not structural.

Although the movement seems to have sprung from the brain of Ezra Pound, it had some important predecessors, especially the theories of T. E. Hulme. From 1910 to 1912, Hulme gathered a group of writers and poets to discuss some of his theories and to examine some poems. Hulme’s theories stressed the necessity for the artist both to provide a true perception of the nature of things and to do it in a fresh language that would break through conventional expressions. Hulme also set up a dichotomy between the romantic and the classical. The romantic was sentimental and vague, whereas the classical was precise and recognized the poet’s limited ability to perceive the universe. Hulme’s stress on the perception and presentation of an object or event and his insistence on clarity of style did contain the seeds of Imagism, but it was Pound who attached such precepts to a specific group of poets and turned theory into practice. Hulme published only five poems in his lifetime; in contrast, Pound was a genius who created new movements and helped poets get support and a publishing outlet for their work while he continued to create new poems.

The Imagist movement developed in 1913 and 1914 by finding further outlets for its poems and doctrine. Poetry continued to be an outlet for Imagist works, and The New Freewoman New Freewoman, The (magazine) (later The Egoist) Egoist, The (magazine) began publishing Imagist productions. A 1914 anthology of Imagist poetry included poems by Aldington, H. D., Pound, Flint, William Carlos Williams, James Joyce, and Amy Lowell. Lowell had been taught the doctrine of Imagism by H. D. and Aldington, and she changed her earlier, more formal style and began to be both a practitioner of and advocate for the new school and the new poetry. However, she soon became a disruptive force.

In 1914, Pound began to become interested in vorticism, Vorticism and he soon lost his interest in and commitment to the Imagist movement, although he did see the image as central to vorticism. Amy Lowell appeared once more in London and began to gather together some of the early Imagists, including H. D. and Aldington. She resisted Pound’s demands that she contribute five thousand dollars to the publication of a new anthology that he would edit. Matters finally came to a showdown in which H. D., Aldington, Flint, and Ford Madox Ford sided with Lowell against Pound; there was to be a new anthology of Imagist poems backed by Lowell and an editorial board to edit and select the poems. Imagism became, in Pound’s phrase, “Amygism.”

After Lowell became the patron of the Imagist movement, a few anthologies of Imagist poetry were published, and the movement seemed to be flourishing. Lowell, however, seemed to have trouble in defining Imagism and in limiting her own poetry to any set of Imagist doctrines. She relied on Aldington to provide a theoretical basis for the movement, but he could not improve on the earlier statements by Pound and Flint. Lowell’s own attempts to define Imagism became so general and inclusive that it became difficult to differentiate between Imagist poems and Symbolist or Impressionist poems. In addition, Lowell tended to see the images as static elements within poems, whereas Pound always insisted on the presentation of active and moving images. Finally, as the practitioners of Imagism became aware of its restrictions, the absence of Pound’s guidance or example caused the movement to dissolve into other, more forceful movements such as Symbolism and Futurism. The poets involved in Imagism would continue to use the image in their later poems, but they could not or would not rely exclusively on it.

Significance

Imagism was a short-lived movement that produced a few excellent modern poems, but it could not provide many poets with guiding principles for a body of poetry. The reduction of the poem to an image placed serious limitations on poets; no one could write a long poem using the principles of Imagism. The most prominent Imagist poems were short, striking lyrics that conveyed an impression and an emotion. These poems were impressive, but nearly all the poets involved in the movement felt a need to go beyond its boundaries. Imagism was by its nature unable to deal with ideas or do much more than present fleeting impressions. William Carlos Williams, Williams, William Carlos for example, later modified and expanded the Imagist doctrine by demanding that there be “no ideas but in things.”

Some examples of the best Imagist poems will help point out the strengths and weaknesses of Imagism. Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” "In a Station of the Metro" (Pound)[In a Station of the Metro] is perhaps the best-known and most celebrated Imagist poem:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet, black bough.

The first line sets the scene for the observer, who perceives the fleeting impression, or ghostlike “apparition,” and the second line provides the defining image. The faces within the urban and mechanical subway car are transformed suddenly by the natural image of petals on a bough. Furthermore, beauty and value is found in the least likely place, the urban landscape. It is a brilliant poem, but it is not one that can be expanded or repeated very often; it is a tour de force rather than a sustainable form. Another example of Imagism is H. D.’s “Oread”: "Oread" (H. D.[Oread])

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.

The poem connects two images, as the waves of the sea are metaphorically connected to the pines of the shore. The pictured impact of the sea is quite interesting; the sea is ordered to “cover us,” to overcome the land and its inhabitants with the green of the “firs.” The poem is similar to the one by Pound in that one image overcomes another. The mechanical subway is displaced by the beautiful natural image in Pound, and H. D.’s pinelike sea overcomes the land.

The Imagist movement was a part of the modernist attempt to supplant the outworn language of late Romantic and Victorian poetry. The demand that poetic language be more concrete and use more precise words in Imagism was repeated by other movements and became part of the poetics of modernism. For example, T. S. Eliot Eliot, T. S. demanded that modern poetry “recover the accents of direct speech.” The “direct speech” and concentration on an object that so many modern poets urged was an essential part of Imagism. In addition, the Imagist movement was strongly associated with free verse, another important technique of modernist poetry. Nearly all the important Imagist poems used free verse and rejected rhyme. As Flint demanded and Pound suggested, the Imagist poet should not use the traditional meters but should compose in the style of the musical phrase. Imagism thus contributed to the modernist assault on sentimental and sloppy language in poetry. The stress on seeing an object distinctly is very similar to Pound’s famous dictum “make it new” and may even have led Eliot to formulate the principle of the objective correlative. The image of the poem was to be, as Eliot said, the equivalent of the emotion it evoked.

Some critics have seen the Imagist movement as the beginning of modernism and the source of a number of movements that followed. Graham G. Hough, for example, blamed the Imagist movement for departing from the old tradition and failing to provide a new one. In the movement’s wake, poets were left without the guidelines that only tradition could provide; they were faced with the necessity of making it new every time they created a work. There was then, according to Hough, no continuity, and there were no examples that could be followed. Others saw the Imagist movement as having helped to destroy outdated forms and styles that could no longer touch a reader.

Imagism died of its limitations, but it survived as parts of larger structures within a number of major modernist poems. Some of the most important modernist poems show traces of Imagism’s influence. For example, Eliot’s“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The" (Eliot)[Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock] contains a number of startling images, such as the simile comparing the evening sky to “a patient etherised upon a table.” The poem is, in effect, a stitching together of associated images. Examples of Imagism also abound in Pound’s later poems and in William Carlos Williams’s Paterson (1946-1958).

The Imagist movement is, in many ways, hard to define. There was never any agreement on exactly what an Imagist poem was or what the rules of its production were. In the midst of such confusion, it became harder for those involved in the movement to limit their poems to any doctrine of Imagism, and so the brief but significant Imagist movement had died by 1917 for lack of practitioners. Remnants of Imagism, however, can be found in Pound’s group of Chinese poems called Cathay (1915). Cathay (Pound) The setting is different, and the type of image may be different, but there is an obvious connection between these poems and Imagism. For example, “Fan-Piece, for Her Imperial Lord” is a perfect Imagist poem written in a different idiom. The poem’s beginning, “O fan of white silk,/ clear as frost on the grass-blade,” relates two very unlike elements, a silk fan and frost; the connections are expanded and resolved in the last line, “You also are laid aside.” A brief revival of Imagism took place in 1930 in an anthology edited by Glenn Hughes that contained recent work by some of the important Imagist poets, including Aldington, Flint, D. H. Lawrence, and William Carlos Williams. The anthology gave evidence that their work of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s was still indebted to Imagism. Literature;Imagist movement Imagist movement Poetry;Imagist movement

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Aldington, Richard, et al. Imagist Anthology, 1930: New Poetry. Edited by Glenn Hughes. Reprint. New York: Kraus, 1970. Originally published in 1930. A fascinating attempt to redo the earlier Imagist movement. The poems are longer and more sustained, but they do use the image as a central device. Includes an essay by Ford Madox Ford on some of the controversies within the Imagist movement and a brief foreword by Glenn Hughes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Beach, Christopher. The Cambridge Introduction to Twentieth-Century American Poetry. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Briefly discusses movements in American poetry during the twentieth century. Introduces readers to the work of many of the same poets whose work first appeared in Poetry magazine. Includes glossary and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Coffman, Stanley K. Imagism: A Chapter for the History of Modern Poetry. New York: Octagon Books, 1972. An indispensable source for Imagist theory and practice. Coffman is especially good on the many theories underlying Imagism. In contrast to most critics, Coffman is sympathetic to Amy Lowell in her controversy with Ezra Pound. Coffman, however, includes no examples of Imagist poetry to illustrate the principles he establishes; there is also no bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hough, Graham G. Reflections on a Literary Revolution. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1960. Contains two long essays on the Imagist movement and its consequences. Hough sees Imagism as a necessary but destructive movement that purified the language of poetry but destroyed the tradition and “rational order” that any true work of literature needs.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kenner, Hugh. The Poetry of Ezra Pound. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985. Includes two excellent chapters on Pound’s theories and practice of Imagist poetry. Kenner is especially good at linking the theories of Imagism to Pound’s overall criticism. He blames the failure of Imagism on the “diluters” of Pound’s guidelines. Kenner sees Pound as always demanding praxis rather than decoration.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Pratt, William, ed. The Imagist Poem. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1963. Contains a brief and useful introduction to the Imagist movement and an anthology of Imagist poems. The poems are excellent examples of the various aspects of the movement; H. D.’s Greek Imagist poems, John Fletcher’s urban poems, and a fine selection of the early poems of Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams are included. There is an excellent bibliography of both primary and secondary sources. The best available introduction to the Imagist movement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Quinn, Vincent G. Hilda Doolittle (H. D.). New York: Twayne, 1967. Study of the life and works of one of the most important Imagist poets. Emphasizes biographical information on H. D. rather than critical aspects of her work.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Tytell, John. Ezra Pound: The Solitary Volcano. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2004. Critical biography stresses Pound’s life more than his work. Contains an excellent section on Pound’s involvement with the Imagist movement; suggests that what Pound was aiming for in Imagism was a revival of the presentation he found in such poets as Catullus and François Villon. Extensive sources cited, but no bibliography.

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