Richard Aldington Poetry: British Analysis

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1019

Richard Aldington’s reputation as poet has been unduly shaped by the circumstances under which he published his early works. As one of the three original Imagists (along with Ezra Pound and H. D.), he at twenty was several years younger than his literary partners. Pound, already rather famous and something...

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Richard Aldington’s reputation as poet has been unduly shaped by the circumstances under which he published his early works. As one of the three original Imagists (along with Ezra Pound and H. D.), he at twenty was several years younger than his literary partners. Pound, already rather famous and something of a swashbuckler, aggressively cultivated the reputation of a trendsetter, and H. D.’s lyric gifts must have been enhanced in Aldington’s eyes by her beauty. Pound and H. D. had already been friends for years, so the young Aldington must have felt privileged to have been admitted to their circle and to have his work appreciated by them.

Imagism

It is clear that the famous principles of Imagism—directness, economy, and musical phrasing—are as frequently absent from Imagist poetry as they are present, and one must suspect the dogmatic hand of Pound in their formulation. Aldington’s very early “Choricos” already suggests divergence from the movement’s program:

Brushing the fields with red-shod feet,With purple robeSearing the grass as with a sudden flame,Death,Thou hast come upon us.

Here there are colors (“red,” “purple”), powerful verbs (“Brushing,” “Searing”), alliteration, and assonance, but there is conspicuously no concrete image, and the absence of such an image works effectively to represent the mystery of death, whose certainty is more evident in inevitability than in visibility. However, some conscious efforts were made by Aldington to focus on clear, arresting images. In “Round-Pond,” he wrote:

Water ruffled and speckled by galloping windWhich puffs and spurts it into tiny pashing breakersDashed with lemon-yellow afternoon sunlight.The shining of the sun upon the waterIs like a scattering of gold crocus petalsIn a long wavering irregular flight.

As pleasant and as exuberant as these lines are, they prepare no modernist jolt, for some lines later the poem concludes, “Even the cold wind is seeking a new mistress.” This conclusion deflates the gentle pretensions of the preceding lines and seemingly defies the rigid seriousness of the announced program of Imagism.

Although Aldington’s youthful work betrays influences that do not appear to have been fully integrated in his vision, his erudition and his sensitive ear for the music of language often helped him create his own voice. The Imagists’ passion for classical poetry, tempered as it was by their experiments with English versions of Japanese poetry, combined in Aldington’s case with his reading of Walt Whitman and Algernon Charles Swinburne to produce insights that were first to be subjected to the psychological stress of front-line combat and later to the implications of Aldington’s long recuperation from his wartime experiences. In 1915, Aldington was able to express emotional simplicity with his understated lines from “Epigrams”: “She has new leaves/ After her dead flowers,/ Like the little almond tree/ Which the frost hurt.” In the same collection, however, his rage about the pain of his childhood is elaborated at Whitmanesque length in a performance in which outrage consistently outdistances art:

The bitterness, the misery, the wretchedness of childhoodPut me out of love with God,I can’t believe in God’s goodness;I can believeIn many avenging gods.

Though the doors to poetic recognition had been opened by his own talent as well as by the encouragement of his friends, Aldington was still developing a personal technique when the war came. World War I was a devastating experience for him, however. He wrote poems during and after the war in which some of his Imagist techniques are manifest, but it is in his collection Exile, and Other Poems that the effects of the trauma of war are revealed. Recalling his grim life in combat in the poem "Eumenides," Aldington mused about

That boot I kicked(It had a mouldy foot in it)The night K’s head was smashedLike a rotten pear by a mortar.

The title of the poem, of course, refers to the monstrous Furies of Greek mythology, and Aldington was not to conquer his personal Furies until, at the end of the decade, he put his war experiences into prose with Death of a Hero and Roads to Glory, a sequence of short stories. Exile, and Other Poems, in fact, marks the end of Aldington’s effort to express himself artistically in short poems.

The long poems

Aldington’s first long poem, A Fool i’ the Forest, was published in 1924. Subtitled A Phantasmagoria, the work combines a variety of poetic forms with narrative free verse to represent the psychomachia of the modern individual in crisis, evoking echoes of the past (William Shakespeare) and responding to contemporary poetry, notably that of T. S. Eliot. The shifting setting of the poem takes its protagonist from Greece to the trenches of France and finally back to London, where, his hopes defeated, he subsides into a conventional existence.

A Dream in the Luxembourg was written in 1928 but not immediately published. It was inspired by a love affair commenced at the time by Aldington, though it is notably devoid of the techniques generally considered poetic. Aldington published another of his long poems, The Eaten Heart, in 1929, and this poem also shows its author’s rejection of conventional poetics. It focuses, as had A Fool i’ the Forest, upon the fragmentation of modern existence, the dehumanization resulting from the rise of technology, and human isolation.

Life Quest, like Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), evokes Homer’s Odyssey (c. 725 b.c.e.; English translation, 1614), but the journey here also partakes of the religious qualities of the medieval quest. Aldington’s hero makes his way at the end of the poem to Gibraltar, perhaps suggesting the poet’s own decision to go to the United States.

Aldington’s last long poem and last published poem, The Crystal World, appeared in 1937. Divided into two main sections, each with subsections, this poem marks both a return to lyricism and Aldington’s own farewell to the composition of poetry. The poem explores the mystery and the promise of love, its frustrations and consummations. Aldington, now a middle-aged man and a veteran of more than war, ended his poetic career writing of love.

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