What are the characteristics of imagism?

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mdelmuro's profile pic

mdelmuro | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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Imagism is an early 20th Century poetry movement started by Ezra Pound and a few other contemporaries in Europe.

The poets involved actually met and wrote papers about this movement and came up with three primary characteristics:

  1. The poet must "simply present" an image
  2. The poet "does not comment"
  3. The poet should use the words necessary to paint the image, not to fit some type of rhythmic pattern (free verse)

Perhaps the best way to think of Imagism is to this of a photograph. The photographer captures a single, still moment in life. Is the photo saying something? Maybe. But it says something according to how the viewer looks at it and the meaning he or she puts behind it, not because there is a secret message in there from the photographer.

The best way to discuss these characteristics is to look at Pound's quintessential imagist poem "In a Station on the Metro":

The apparition of the wet faces in the crowd;

Petals on a wet, black bough

This poem does not instruct. It does not force the reader to conjure up some moral lesson. It sounds just like ordinary language. This is Imagism.

However, before anyone thinks Imagist poetry is simple, a deeper look into "In a Station on the Metro" is warranted. This 15-word poem creates a perfect snapshot of this moment while calling to mind certain themes, including, possibly, the temporariness of human life. The word "apparition" conjures up many ideas about ghosts and temporariness. Then he compares the "faces in the crowd" to "Petals on a wet, black bough," again suggesting death at its most dramatic and temporariness at the minimum. Where do petals from a tree usual end up after a rain storm? On the ground.

Pound, although one of the movement's founders, left the Imagist movement after it became too sentimental. Still, Imagism is considered highly influential as it provides the foundation for much Modernist poetry.

litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Some of the main characteristics of imagist poems are free verse and lack of rhyming pattern.  It was a modern movement, so there was an attempt to move away from traditional poem forms and conventions.  The idea was also to transform poetry from the sickly sentimental poetry that came before.

shake99's profile pic

shake99 | Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The imagists also focused on the "image," hence the name, by using very carefully chosen and revealing language. Look at the William Carlos Williams' poem, "The Red Wheelbarrow":

so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
So few words, but such sharp images.


kandi125's profile pic

kandi125 | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

As defined by Wikipedia,

"imagism was a movement in early 20th-century Anglo-American poetry that favored precision of imagery and clear, sharp language."

This means that imagism is exemplified by a poem which does not beat around the bush by describing its subject in flowery words with heavy use of literary devices which need analysis in order to grasp the true, deep meaning of the poem. For example, it avoids meter and rhyming patterns associated with Shakespearean literature and the work of other well-known traditional poets. Imagistic works simply address their subject with the least number of words possible.

Thus, the characteristics of imagism are:

1. Normally short and to the point. Unnecessary gloating words about the subject are shunned, so generally few words are used to talk about the subject.

2. Strict discussion of the subject. The poem talks specifically about a subject's features without drifting to compare aspects of these features to other objects. Thus, it does not commonly utilize figurative devices which require comparisons such as simile, metaphor or personification.

3. Has a modern vibe. Imagistic works are not composed using the traditional rhythm of the metronome, but have moved on to musical rhythm composure.

arghyapikai's profile pic

arghyapikai | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) Honors

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Free verse Imagery Common speech and language Everyday occurrences important in the lives of common people. Metaphors and other literary devices Describes a single moment in time

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