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imagism

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 Link back to Encyclopedia of Modern American Literature

 

 

 

 

Imagism                                   

created by Sarah Rinko

 

I. Introduction
II. Tenets of Imagism
III. Forerunners of Imagism
IV. Imagism as a Movement
V. Lasting Influence in Modernism
VI. Links for More Info
VII. Works Cited           
                                                                                               

 

 

 

 

 Introduction

 

    As a movement, Imagism flourished briefly between the years 1912 and 1917, and only a handful of writers called themselves Imagists (in his study of the movement, Glenn Hughes identifies seven writers). The poets officially called imagists were H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), Richard Aldington, Amy Lowell, John Gould Fletcher, F.S. Flint, and D.H. Lawrence. However, Ezra Pound, instrumental to the movement's start must be mentioned also.

Despite being short-lived, the technique and idea behind Imagism was far-reaching. It embodied central aspects of modernism such as fragmentation, impersonality, discontinuity, and concreteness. Therefore, the writing of many modernists reflects imagist aesthetics even though many would never dream of calling themselves imagists.

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Ezra Pound
Tenets of Imagism 

    “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” (“A Brief Guide to Imagism”).

 

  Ezra Pound  defined the images as "‘that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time’" (Materer). This captures the very essence of imagism’s goal: to concentrate poetry into something concrete and complex with as few words as possible. In a sense, it is to leave us with a colorful snapshot.

In short, imagism requires all flowery description and emotional explication to be stripped from the poetry. Clear and direct images should be left to stand alone, themselves evoking (rather than telling) emotional richness. It is not uncommon for images to be juxtaposed or strung together with little connection between them.

 

    Amy Lowell also outlined her opinions for what good Imagist poetry consisted of. It should use common speach, but shun cliches, and create new rhythms, but could address any subject the poet wanted as long as it depicted the subject precisely and clearly ("Imagism" 213).

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Forerunners of Imagism

 

   Imagism, as a movement, is often credited to have started with T.E. Hulme, who created the Poet's Club in 1908.  While none of its members would ever officially become imagists, they were among the first to discuss and read experiments imagist poetry (Hughes 11). Hulme was killed in France during World War I, never to see his ideas put into practice. Yet his call for "dry, hard, classical verse" would be taken up by close friend Ezra Pound, who would spread the idea amongst other modernist writers (Hulme 101). In fact, a few of the original imagists were Hulme’s acquaintances. Hughes calls Hulmes “their common stimulus and, in that sense, the starting point of modern imagism” (22)

        More contemporary literary movements also influenced Imagism. First it is important to note that it was a direct rebellion against Romanticism, which was considered too abstract and sentimental. Hulme’s chief aim was to reduce the wordiness in such  poetry, the “excess verbiage” (“A Brief Guide to Imagism”). Pound claimed that twentieth century poetry “would be ‘harder and saner’ and ‘as much as granite as it can be,’ adding ‘At least for myself, I want it to be so, austere, direct, free from emotional slither’”(Draper 60).  Imagism also sought inspiration from both ancient and modern literature. In his study, Hughes identifies a variety of ancient influence drawn from Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Chinese, and Japanese (3). H.D. and Richard Aldington relied greatly on the classical literature from Latin and Greek. The mythological Helen of Troy figured in greatly to much of H.D.’s poetry including a poem bearing her name: "Helen".

            On the other hand, Pound studied East Asian style. The Japanese haiku, short and succinct, captures a nature scene vividly in only 17 syllables. This form in particular interested Pound. Concreteness, brevity, and imagery from nature are all present in his famous two-line poem “In a Station of the Metro”. This suggests the range and variety of imagism and how it can become manifest in form, be it in few lines or longer verse.

 

            The writers proudly claimed French symbolism, and in paents “offered to alert English and American writers every conceivable poetic ideal, old and new, and the imagists were the first to take advantage of the offer” (Hughes 7). Symbolism aimed to break away from conrticular the writer Remy de Gourmont, as its direct forerunner. However, other French “isms” may also be considered forerunners from the movement: the cubists, the fantasists, and the unanimists. They made images symbolic by imbuing a spiritual element. They detested superfluous description—it must all have meaning! In addition, they replaced the literal with inference and indirectness. (Hughes 6). Imagism draws directly from this, never wasting a word.

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 Imagism as a Movement

Amy Lowell

 

    Ezra Pound may not have been Imagism's founder, but he soon became its most dedicated campaigner. The movement owes much of its success (and existence) to Pound. In fact, he is the one to first coin the term "imagiste." In 1912, he introduced the term along with the poetry of his friends Aldington and H.D., calling them "les imagistes" while helping to start their careers in print. Through propaganda and determined campaigning, Pound drove the Imagist movement by publishing imagist works in little magazines, including his own The Egoist, and promoting it across the continent. Hughes calls Imagism "the best-organized and most influential movement in English poetry since the Pre-Rapaelites" (vii).

  Though Pound was so integral, his role in the movement hardly lasted. He was "intensely afraid of belonging to a dead movement" and lost interest in the movement as he saw it headed toward stagnation (Hughes 34). He turned to a new and more extreme movement called "vorticism."

    What also contributed to Pound's split was the force known as Amy Lowell. The two poets, though they collaborated, did not get along and could not agree on the Imagism's direction. Ironically, it had been Pound who'd originally introduced Lowell to Imagism. In the summer of 1913, Ezra Pound introduced Amy Lowell to other members of the Imagist movement in London during her first trip there. Pound helped her get published in prominent little magazines, as he had the other Imagists. Soon, she too was recognized as a member of the movement and campaigned with fervor (Healey 134). Since her introduction to the Imagists, “she gave totally of her time, energy, and convictions; in her self-appointed role of spokesman for the Imagists, she was as dauntless and inexhaustible as Pound had been before her” (Healey 138).  When she returned to America, she took Imagism with her. To Pound's dismay, Americans actually believed that Lowell was the founder of Imagism (Healey 137). Lowell is the one who established the group of six official imagists. She required much from them. For instance, she contended that "the group must stick together for a period of at least three years-- must not desert the camp until the battle had been won" (Hughes 37).

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The Lasting Influence of Imagism in Modernism

 

 

As noted before, Imagism shared many qualities with modernism. But it also influenced other writers who were not imagists. Among these are Carl Sandburg, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams. Williams has been particularly linked to imagism through his famous statement "no ideas but in things." However, He would never label himself as a follower of the imagist movement, William Carlos Williams provides a distinctly colorful snapshopt in his poem "The Red Wheelbarrow." This imagist poem is a sort of still life that creates a profound work of art out of a not-so-profound subject. The concrete image is all that matters in the poem, the immediacy of the thing and of the world around the poet. His poem "This is Just to Say" is another example of imagist verse.

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  Links for More Information

 

 

Imagists.org

 

Poets.org

 

Wikipedia's Imagism entry

 

Ezra Pound

 

Amy Lowell

 

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Works Cited

 

 

“A Brief Guide to Imagism.” Poets.org. The Academy of American Poets. 22 Feb. 2007 <http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5658

 

"Allusion." The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. 2nd ed. 2003.

 

Draper, R.P. An Introduction to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

 

Hernandez, Paul. Imagists.org. 22 Feb. 2007 < www.imagists.org

 

Hughes, Glenn. Imagism and the Imagists: A Study of Modern Poety. New York: The Humanities Press, 1960.

 

Hulme, T.E. "Romanticism and Classicism." 20th Century Literary Criticism. Ed. David Lodge. New York: Longman, 1972. 92-104

 

Materer, Timothy. “On Lowell, Pound, and Imagism.” Modern American Poetry. 22 Feb. 2007 < http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/g_l/amylowell/imagism.htm>

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Comments (2)

Anonymous said

at 11:12 am on Mar 14, 2007

Good start, Sarah. You obviously have some opportunity to connect to specific writers who produce different kinds of imagist poetry. You might go a bit more in to detail about Pound and Lowell's antagonism/collaboration. They didn't get along too well even though they both were thought of as imagists.

Anonymous said

at 7:39 am on Apr 25, 2007

Good page in terms of text, Sarah. I would think about using more links within your text. Also, might be able to spice up the look just a bit with a couple of images related to imagism.

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