I. Direct treatment of the “thing,” whether subjective or objective. II. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation. III. As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of the metronome. An Imagist anthology was published in 1914 that collected work by William Carlos Williams, Richard Aldington, and James Joyce, as well as H.D. and Pound. Other imagists included F. S. Flint, D. H. Lawrence, and John Gould Fletcher. By the time the anthology appeared, Amy Lowell had effectively appropriated Imagism and was seen as the movement’s leader. Three years later, even Amy Lowell thought the movement had run its course. Pound by then was claiming that he invented Imagism to launch H.D.’s career. Though Imagism as a movement was over by 1917, the ideas about poetry embedded in the Imagist doctrine profoundly influenced free verse poets throughout the twentieth century.
A Brief Guide to Modernism
“That’s not it at all, that’s not what I meant at all” –from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” by T.S. Eliot
The English novelist Virginia Woolf declared that human nature underwent a fundamental change “on or about December 1910.” The statement testifies to the modern writer’s fervent desire to break with the past, rejecting literary traditions that seemed outmoded and diction that seemed too genteel to suit an era of technological breakthroughs and global violence.
“On or about 1910,” just as the automobile and airplane were beginning to accelerate the pace of human life, and Einstein’s ideas were transforming our perception of the universe, there was an explosion of innovation and creative energy that shook every field of artistic endeavor. Artists from all over the world converged on London, Paris, and other great cities of Europe to join in the ferment of new ideas and movements: Cubism, Constructivism, Futurism, Acmeism, and Imagism were among the most influential banners under which the new artists grouped themselves. It was an era when major artists were fundamentally questioning and reinventing their art forms: Matisse and Picasso in painting, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein in literature, Isadora Duncan in dance, Igor Stravinsky in music, and Frank Lloyd Wright in architecture.
The excitement, however, came to a terrible climax in 1914 with the start of the First World War, which wiped out a generation of young men in Europe, catapulted Russia into a catastrophic revolution, and sowed the seeds for even worse conflagrations in the decades to follow. By the war’s end in 1918, the centuries-old European domination of the world had ended and the “American Century” had begun. For artists and many others in Europe, it was a time of profound disillusion with the values on which a whole civilization had been founded. But it was also a time when the avante-garde experiments that had preceded the war would, like the technological wonders of the airplane and the atom, inexorably establish a new dispensation, which we call modernism. Among the most instrumental of all artists in effecting this change were a handful of American poets.
Ezra Pound, the most aggressively modern of these poets, made “Make it new!” his battle cry. In London Pound encountered and encouraged his fellow expatriate T. S. Eliot, who wrote what is arguably the most famous poem of the twentieth century–The Waste Land–using revolutionary techniques of composition, such as the collage. Both poets turned to untraditional sources for inspiration, Pound to classical Chinese poetry and Eliot to the ironic poems of the 19th century French symbolist poet Jules Laforgue. H. D. (Hilda Doolittle) followed Pound to Europe and wrote poems that, in their extreme concision and precise visualization, most purely embodied his famous doctrine of imagism.