Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1055
Several of the imagist poets used war as a theme of their poems and sometimes of their entire collections. One of the most dominant uses of this theme is Aldington’s Images of War, in which the poet relates his personal experiences in the trenches of World War I. This collection also includes poems that he wrote after the war, poems in which he uses a cynical tone to mark his disgust of societies that allow war to occur in the first place. The poem “The Lover,” which appeared in this volume, is one of the most prominent poems in this collection. It brings together an interesting mix of his fears as well as the sexual desires that he experienced during the war.
Pound’s Cathay is also based on the theme of war. Although Pound wrote these poems from translations of Li Po, an eighth-century poet from China, the original poems focused on war, a timely concern of Pound’s, as the effects of World War I were influencing his thoughts.
Male poets were not the only ones who were affected by the war. Many of Doolittle’s poems in her collection Sea Garden engage images of pain, suffering, and desolation. Some critics relate these images to the ravages of war felt by the entire population, including those who were left at home. Doolittle was married to Aldington at the time he served on the front lines and thus felt the full impact not only of her personal fears and sense of loss but also of Aldington’s suffering. Many of the poems in Flint’s Otherworld: Cadences also portray the devastation of World War I. In fact, he dedicated this work to his fellow poet Aldington because he was well aware of the effect that the war was having on his friend.
Sense of Place
Flint, who lived all of his life in or near London, has many times been referred to as the poet of London. He grew up in the streets of this city and knew the sounds and smells and colors so well that they permeated his poetry. His love of the city was not always an easy one, however, as espoused in some of his writings, such as his poem “Courage,” in which he awakens every day and hopes for the strength to face the city one more time without whining. On a lighter note is his “To a Young Lady Who Moved Shyly among Men of Reputed Worth,” written quickly at a dinner party in London. The original version of this poem did not meet the tenets of Imagism, so Flint rewrote it and titled it “London.” In this form, it has become one of Flint’s most admired poems.
John Gould Fletcher returned to his childhood home in Little Rock, Arkansas, and there he wrote poems that would be collected in the book Ghosts and Pagodas. He would eventually return to Europe and then come back to the United States again. During his second return, he would travel across the continent and look at his homeland with refreshed eyes. The result would be his Breakers and Granite (1921), a sort of salutation to America. This collection demonstrates Fletcher’s experiments with free verse and polyphonic prose, demonstrating the imagist influence on his work. The poems describe such diverse images as the Grand Canyon, the farmlands in New England, the small towns along the Mississippi River, southern culture, and life on Indian reservations.
Doolittle’s Sea Garden is filled with images of nature: flowers, bushes, oceans, beaches, and more. Doolittle used nature in this collection to reflect on a variety of emotions, her sense of isolation, and suffering. Fletcher also employed nature in his poetry, beginning with his first collection Irradiations, in which he often refers to gardens, forests, and rain. Under the influence of Japanese haiku, which often portrays scenes from nature, Fletcher’s poem “Blue Symphony” intertwines colors and images of trees in mists of blue to suggest seasonal changes.
Lowell also reflected on nature in her experiments with polyphonic prose, such as in her “Patterns,” in which she envisions herself walking through a garden, as well as in “The Overgrown Pasture.” In her poem “November,” she describes many different types of bushes and trees as they are affected by the cold of the approaching winter.
One of Flint’s earliest poems, “The Swan,” has been referred to as a poem that carefully follows the imagist practice of conciseness and suggestiveness. The poem consists of several short lines, written in very concrete terms as it describes the movements of a swan through dark waters. The poem is filled with the colors found in nature, painting a very precise image in words. The image of the swan gives way at the end to a symbol of the poet’s sorrow.
Both Aldington and Doolittle were passionate in their studies of Greek literature and mythology. They both looked to the classical poets to find a model of excellence for their writing. Doolittle was perhaps most inspired by Greek poets, often alluding to Sappho in her works. Her poetry in which this theme is most prominent has readily been referred to as her most original.
There is only one poem of Sappho’s that has been retained throughout history in its completed state. The rest of Sappho’s poetry exists only in fragment. It is upon these fragments that Doolittle built some of her more fascinating poetry. Doolittle has been credited, by Greek scholars such as Henry Rushton Fairclough (as quoted in Hughes’s book), for becoming so completely “suffused with the Greek spirit that only the use of the vernacular will often remind the cultivated reader that he is not reading a Greek poet.” Fairclough particularly refers to Doolittle’s poem “Hymen” as exemplifying her ability to write under the influence of Greek poetry.
The theme of lesbianism is portrayed in many of Lowell’s poems. She does not name them as such, but her poems depict the love she felt for women, in particular, one woman. In her poem “Decade,” she celebrates the tenth anniversary of her relationship with her live-in companion, Ada Dwyer Russell. In her poems “A Lady” and “The Blue Scarf,” she alludes to her love of an unnamed woman.