Imagism flourished in Britain and in the United States for a brief period that is generally considered to be somewhere between 1909 and 1917. As part of the modernist movement, away from the sentimentality and moralizing tone of nineteenth-century Victorian poetry, imagist poets looked to many sources to help them create a new poetic expression.
For contemporary influences, the imagists studied the French symbolists, who were experimenting with free verse (vers libre), a verse form that used a cadence that mimicked natural speech rather than the accustomed rhythm of metrical feet, or lines. Rules of rhyming were also considered nonessential. The ancient form of Japanese haiku poetry influenced the imagists to focus on one simple image. Greek and Roman classical poetry inspired some of the imagists to strive for a high quality of writing that would endure.
T. E. Hulme is credited with creating the philosophy that would give birth to the Imagism movement. Although he wrote very little, his ideas inspired Ezra Pound to organize the new movement. Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” is often given as one of the purest of his imagist poems. Amy Lowell took over the leadership role of the imagists when Pound moved on to other modernist modes. Her most anthologized poems include “Lilacs” and “Patterns.”
Other important imagist poets include Hilda Doolittle, whose poem “Sea Poppies” reflects the Japanese influence on her writing, and her “Oread” is often referred to as the most perfect imagist poem; Richard Aldington, who was one of the first poets to be recognized as an imagist, and whose collection Images of War is considered to contain some of the most intense depictions of World War I; F. S. Flint, who dedicated his last collection of imagist poems, Otherworld: Cadences to Aldington; and John Gould Fletcher, whose collection Goblins and Pagodas is his most representative work under the influence of Imagism.
Richard Aldington (1892–1962)
Richard Aldington was born on July 8, 1892, in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England, to Jesse May and Albert Edward Aldington. He attended University College in London but did not complete his degree, due to the loss of family funds.
In 1912, Aldington met Ezra Pound and Hilda Doolittle, and from this meeting, the Imagism movement began. In the same year, Aldington published his first imagist poems in Poetry.
The following year, Aldington traveled to Paris and Italy with Doolittle and on October 18, 1913, they were married. Shortly after, Aldington became the editor of the imagist publication Egoist, a position he would hold until 1917. His poems appeared in Des Imagistes (1914) as well as the second imagist anthology, Some Imagist Poets (1915). He completed his first book, Images (1910–1915), also in 1915.
Aldington enlisted in the army in 1916. His most reflective responses to this experience are included in his collection of poems Images of War (1919) and his novel, Death of a Hero (1929). During the remainder of his writing career, Aldington would publish a wide variety of books, which included biographies, translations, novels, and short stories. In 1941, he published his memoirs, Life for Life’s Sake.
Aldington was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his The Duke (1943). He also received the Prix de Gratitude Mistralienne for his Introduction to Mistral (1956). He died on July 27, 1962, in Lere, France.
Hilda Doolittle (1886–1961)
Hilda Doolittle (she published under the monogram H. D.) was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on September 10, 1886, to Helen (Wolle) and Charles Doolittle. She attended Bryn Mawr College for one year.
When she was twenty-five years old, Doolittle went abroad, during which time she renewed her relationship with Ezra Pound, through whom she met Aldington. Pound encouraged Doolittle’s writing and sent her poems to the magazine Poetry, identifying them with the monogram “H. D.,” a signature that Doolittle would embrace.
After the dissolution of her marriage to Aldington, Doolittle became pregnant from a brief love affair with another man and gave birth to a daughter in 1919. She named her Perdita. After her daughter’s birth, Doolittle became seriously ill and was nursed back to health by Annie Winifred Ellerman, a writer who went by the name Bryher and who would become Doolittle’s companion throughout the remaining years of her life. It was Bryher who arranged for Doolittle to be psychoanalyzed by Sigmund Freud during 1933 and 1934. Doolittle’s “Tribute to Freud” refers to this period.
Doolittle’s first collections of poems include, Sea Garden (1916), Hymen (1921), and Heliodora and Other Poems (1924). In 1927, she published a complete play in verse, Hippolytus Temporizes, her attempt to approximate her favorite Greek dramatist/poets. One of her most often quoted imagist poems is “Oread.”
In 1960, Doolittle was the first woman to receive the Award of Merit Medal for poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. On September 27, 1961, Doolittle died of a heart attack in Zurich, Switzerland. Her body was buried in her family’s cemetery plot in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
John Gould Fletcher (1886–1950)
John Gould Fletcher was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, on January 3, 1886. He was the son of John Gould (a banker and broker) and Adolphine (Kraus) Fletcher. He attended Harvard University, but he left without obtaining a degree.
Having inherited his father’s estate early in life, Fletcher did not have to worry about finding employment. Instead, he...
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