Imagism: An Introduction

in-a-station-of-the-metro-jpg.jpgInfluenced by the poetic theory of TE Hulme and by the style of Japanese Haiku, Imagism emerged as a movement spearheaded by Ezra Pound, Hilda Doolittle, Amy Lowell and others, revolting against the looseness of texture of the Georgian poetry, and endorsing a concept of condensed poetry that 1) abandons conventional materials and versification,
2) is free to choose any subject to create its own rhythm, 3) uses common speech, and
4) presents an image or the writer’s impression of a visual object or scene, using a metaphor or by juxtaposing two diverse objects without indication.

modernism-15-638.jpgThese ideas were forward by Amy Lowell in her preface to Some Imagist Poets. Pound  defined an image as an intellectual and an emotional complex in an instan of time. The typical Imagist poem presents such an image using verse libre rendering precisely and tersely, with utmost concentration, as be exemplified in Pound’s In a Station of the Metro.

William Carlos WilliamsRichard Aldington, DH Lawrence were other practitioners, while imagism also evident to have influenced TS Eliot, WB Yeats, Wallace Stevens, Wyndham Lewis and poets of the 1930s. Though the movement criticised for its obscurity, licence and its restrictiveness, it definitely inaugurated a distinctive feature of modernist poetry. Given its significance, the Imagism movement was surprisingly small and short-lived. The movement officially launched in 1912 and ended in 1917, involving only a handful of English and American poets. Ezra Pound is regarded as the intellectual leader of the movement (although Amy Lowell took over soon afterwards, not without some drama).
microtalk.003.jpgAlthough there is speculation about Pound’s personal motives for launching the movement, Imagism is often construed as a reaction against Georgian and Victorian styles, which are characterized by abstract and sentimental language. The Imagists articulated their aesthetic ideals in an anthology published in 1915, titled Some Imagist Poets (Lowell, 1915).

Here is the list of six tenets they proposed, modified for brevity:

1. To use the language of common speech, but to employ always the exact word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word.

2. To create new rhythms—as the expression of new moods—and not to copy old rhythms, which merely echo old moods.

3. To allow absolute freedom in the choice of subject.

4. To present an image. We believe that poetry should render particulars exactly and not deal in vague generalities.

5. To produce poetry that is hard and clear, never blurred nor indefinite.

6. Finally, concentration is of the very essence of poetry.

Pound’s poem titled In a Station of the Metro, published in Poetry magazine in 1913, embodies the central tenets of the Imagism movement. In fourteen words, the poem constructs a clear and compelling image that conveys an abstract emotional experience without explicitly describing it. The poem does not follow a strict meter or rhyme scheme; instead, the relationship between the two lines is one of imagery rather than one of sound.
The image of faces in the crowd is equated with an image of petals on a bough, remnants of flowers that had just been separated from the tree after rain. A sense of ephemerality is evoked by the precise and concrete image of these delicate petals, which lingers in the reader’s mind for much longer than an abstract statement about the transience of life.
According to Imagists, the work of a great poet is to select the right image that causes the reader to experience a particular emotion or infer a particular reality (Hamilton, 2004).

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