Essays and Criticism
Influence of Haiku on Imagist Poetry
The Imagism movement, although short-lived and complicated by some basic contradictions and controversies, definitely left its mark on the literature of its time as well as on many works that would follow. Included in the contradictions was the dictate from the movement’s founders to break the chains of tradition, while two of its most loyal poets wrote their imagist poems with allusions to classical Latin and Greek poetry. Another contradiction was the call for freedom in writing, and yet the leaders of the movement sat down and wrote an imagist manifesto, delineating rules for anyone who would write imagist poems. Added to the contradictions was the confusion that many readers (and critics) experienced as they tried to understand free verse, which to them read more like prose than poetry. And, finally, even though the basic tenet of this group of poets was that the image was the poem, no one was able to offer a definitive explanation of what the word image meant to them, despite the fact that, quite obviously, the most influential element of this movement was just that—the concept of the focused image. However, despite this latter problem, the imagists did discover a model upon which they could build their images, and that was the Japanese poetic form referred to as haiku.
It was in the form of the haiku, or, if not the exact form, at least in the general concept of it, that many of the tenets of the imagist manifesto were best...
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Lexicon of beautiful is elastic, but
walla-walla not yet poetically possible.
—T. E. Hulme, “Notes onLanguage and Style”
For a long time, supported both by Eliot’s remark that the Imagists were the point de repère of modern poetry and by anthologists of Imagist verse, literary historians took the “modernism” of that English school as given. William Pratt, anthologizing Imagist poems in 1963, adopted Eliot’s line: they wrote, he said, “the first ‘modern’ poems in English.” Peter Jones, presenting them anew for Penguin ten years later, said that their ideas “still lie at the centre of our poetic practice.” The Imagists themselves, of course, made “modernism” a key element in their platform, and they defined it largely as reaction. T. E. Hulme dismissed virtually the whole of the last century when he named Henley as the single English poet who was “perhaps” a worthwhile model for what he wanted to do, and Richard Aldington voiced a common view with uncommon frankness when he said that “the majority of the poetry of the last century had nothing to do with life and very little to do with poetry . . . except for Browning and a little of Swinburne there was no energy which was not bombast, no rendering of life without an Anglican moral, no aesthetic without aesthetic cant” and when he acknowledged that he was “out to destroy . . . to a certain extent” the...
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The Imagist Doctrine
The first public statement of Imagist principles was that printed by Poetry in March 1913. Written by Pound, the statement was signed by Flint, who said he had obtained the three-fold program by interviewing an Imagiste:
1. Direct treatment of the “thing,” whether subjective or objective.
2. To use absolutely no word that did not contribute to the presentation.
3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.
The list illustrates that so far as doctrine was concerned, Imagisme, as Pound conceived it, was not so much a special type of poetry as a name for whatever he had learned (from Hulme, Hueffer, Yeats, and others; see Chapter 20) about “HOW TO WRITE” since coming to London in 1908. He was in the habit of scribbling such recipes. In 1916, for example, “the whole art” of poetry was divided (with no reference to Imagisme) into:
a. concision, or style, or saying what you mean in the fewest and clearest words.
b. the actual necessity for creating or constructing something; of presenting an image, or enough images of concrete things arranged to stir the reader.
The historical importance of Imagism, in other words, does not lie in the formulation of a poetic doctrine, for Pound had developed his ideas with no reference to Imagism and continued to hold them after he disowned the...
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