Pound, Imagism and Sentiment: A Poetic Snare, Part I.

“When its [the mind’s] object is something which is lit up by truth and reality, then it [the mind] has– and obviously has– intelligent awareness and knowledge” -Plato

“It is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works.”  -Ezra Pound

“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 musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.”

                                                                                                -Ezra Pound

My last post, The Richest People & Me,  has reignited my obsession and investigation of modern literature.  To further indulge, I have been working on an essay regarding the fervent life of emotion in the seemingly emotionless poems of Ezra Pound.

Imagism as a poetic movement is stereotyped as an eliminator, a minimalist, a simplifier. Indeed, visually, Imagist poetry would appear to be appropriately modified as a branch of minimalism, in comparison to the poetics before it.  On behalf of Ezra Pound, a poet and director of the Imagist movement: “. . . the Imagists leaned heavily upon the leadership of Ezra Pound and Amy Lowell. . .” (Coffman, 120), the poetic practice of Imagism ought to be described as an acute, multifaceted, and lyrical pursuit.  The architecture of Imagism involves a diversity of components.  It fights the reputation of existing to create an image or to represent a vista through the use of poetry.  Imagism functions as a whirlpool of words, reality, instant and emotion.  Pound elaborated in his piece, A Few Don’ts which has been depicted as a manifesto: “An ‘Image’ is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time. . .It is the presentation of such a ‘complex’ instantaneously which gives that sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits; that sudden growth, which we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art” (Coffman 9).

Pound suggests it is through minimal use of rhetoric and flowery tongue that an even clearer representation of reality can emanate.  Pound argues in his work, How to Read, that the small range of idiom used throughout medieval poetry enables precision and accuracy, unlike the works of the renaissance: “What the renaissance gained in its direct examination of natural phenomena, it in part lost in losing the feel and desire for exact descriptive terms.  I mean that the medieval mind had little but words to deal with, and it was more careful in its definitions and verbiage” (Schneidau 22-23).  In Pound’s appeal to clean poetry of frivolousness, his appeal to eject “embroidery from language” (Schneidau 23), a precision unveils.  Amidst this precision, a contrasting outcome is born: an intricate illustration of erratic reality.  Reality does not entail disguise or decoration.  An Imagist work functions as reality: sans the disguise of appealing, expected language or the decoration of exquisite, traditional form.  It is through the practice of language directness that a most pungent depiction of a moment can be generated (this includes the emotion of the moment).

The emotion involved in an Imagist poetic moment cannot be named or pointed out.  Words typically used to evoke emotion, Pound argues are too generic, expected and simple.  It is through the image of a poem that an emotion can be not only depicted but also felt by the reader. In his letter to fellow poet and doctor Williams Carlos Williams, Pound lists the generic subjects discussed in poetry by himself and fellow poets: “Here are a list of facts on which I and 9,000,000, other poets have spieled endlessly” (Witemeyer 10).  Pound lists typical, expected poetic subjects such as “1 Spring is a pleasant season. . .2. young mans fancy. . .3. love, a delightful tickling. . .6 men love women. . .7. men fight battles” (Witemeyer 11).  Pound explains further in the letter: “Beyond this, men think & feel certain things.  & see certain things not with the bodily vision” (Witemeyer 11).  These incoherent “things” are evoked in Pound’s poetry.  He previews this achievement later on in the same letter while describing his ambition.  He offers a feeble list to Williams Carlos Williams that nearly touches the accomplishments seen in Pound’s works.  This list is in response to Williams Carlos Williams’ request for his “ultimate attainments in poetry” (Witemeyer 10).  Pound explicates, “I don’t know that I can make much of a list.  1.  To paint the thing as I see it.  2.  Beauty.  3.  Freedom from didactisism [sic].  4.  It is only good manners if you repeat a few other men to at least do it better or more briefly. ― utter originality is of course out of the question” (Witemeyer 11).  This brief list calls Pound’s Imagist manifesto to mind (see Epigraph).  Aside from the published list of requirements (see Epigraph), the list in his personal letter appeals to visual arts (“to paint the thing”) and untangles morality and ethics from poetry (“freedom from didactisism”).  While he attempts to free himself from the stereotypes associated with poetry in the initial list which describes the clichés persistently induced in poetry, he admits in the second list, number four (“utter originality is out of the question”) that the human experience is in itself a cliché, a cliché that can be depicted in a much more exact representation.  Number four can also be interpreted as a sarcasm (I am inclined to interpret it as such).  If it is, then number four becomes a plea for originality, a plea which is heard amidst the canvas of Pound’s verse.

Despite the unrelenting attachment of simplicity to Imagism, perhaps because of the smallness of many Imagist poems, Pound proves that the emotional strings sewn through even the shortest works contrive a complex web. Emotion and ideals can be construed from many of Pound’s shortest poems without the explicit classic words and phraseologies.  Even the shortest of poems invisibly emits emotion and consciousness like smell from an item.  Pound explains in his work, Spirit of Romance, “Poetry is a sort of inspired mathematics, which gives us equations, not for abstract figures, triangles, spheres and the like, but equations for the human emotions”(Kenner 61).

Investigation of Pound’s collection of poems, Personae, unveils sentiment in the form of frank, detailed poetic depictions of realistic instances.  The poems which appear simple and short unnoticeably secrete a plethora of attitude and emotion.  An image depicted with particular words, like a photograph, can enable feeling.  Connotations derived from personal, real experiences creep up on the reader like illness.

To be continued…

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2 thoughts on “Pound, Imagism and Sentiment: A Poetic Snare, Part I.

  1. Pingback: Pound, Imagism & Senitment: a Poetic Snare, Part 2 | productiveprofessor

  2. Pingback: Pound, Imagism & Sentiment: A Poetic Snare, Part III | productiveprofessor

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