Modernism is a period in literary history which started around the early 1900s and continued until the early 1940s. Modernist writers in general rebelled against clear-cut storytelling and formulaic verse from the 19th century. Instead, many of them told fragmented stories which reflected the fragmented state of society during and after World War I.
Many Modernists wrote in free verse and they included many countries and cultures in their poems. Some wrote using numerous points-of-view or even used a “stream-of-consciousness” style. These writing styles further demonstrate the way the scattered state of society affected the work of writes at that time.
Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman are thought to be the mother and father of the movement because they had the most direct influence on early Modernists. Some time after their deaths, the Imagist poets began to gain importance. The University of Toledo’s Canaday Center has a rich collection of poetry and critical work from that era.
Imagist poets generally wrote shorter poems and they chose their words carefully so that their work would be rich and direct. The movement started in London, where a group of poets met and discussed changes that were happening in poetry. Ezra Pound soon met these individuals, and he eventually introduced them to H.D. and Richard Aldington in 1911. In 1912, Pound submitted their work to Poetry magazine. After H.D.’s name, he signed the word “Imagiste” and that was when Imagism was publicly launched. Two months later, Poetry published an essay which discusses three points that the London group agreed upon. They felt that the following rules should apply when writing poetry:
1. Direct treatment of the “thing,” whether subjective or objective.
2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.
In the following month’s issue, Pound’s two-line poem “In a Station at the Metro” was published. In addition to the previously published works of Aldington and H.D., it exemplifies the tenets of Imagism in that it is direct, written with precise words, and has a musical tone which does not depend on a specific rhythm: