An International Student of Literature in England.
‘Imaginisme’ by Ezra Pound, from Modernism: An Anthology (Rainey)
Pound’s essay ‘Imaginisme’ is an attempt to define and understand one of the modernist styles that emerged at the start of the twentieth century. As Pound explains in his introduction, he was “unable to find anything definite about it in print” and therefore had to investigate and gather clues about what Imaginisme was and what characterised it. Imaginisme, like many other trends such as literary impressionism or futurism that emerged at the time, were obscure. If writers did not release manifestos explaining their intentions and the rules, the public – and thus, other authors – could not be educated and learn about these styles. This aspect of his essay was particularly interesting since it resonates the issues associated with modernism in literary criticism: what is modernism? Is it a style, a movement or a period?
First, Pound explains that imaginistes were contemporaries of Post Impressionists but that they styles were completely different, “they had nothing in common with these schools”. One can therefore suspect the desire for imaginistes to break the rules and to create something completely different that would defy established conventions. Since they never published a manifesto, it was hard for Pound to learn about them and but he “gleaned” some facts and looked for an imaginiste who could enlighten him. The first fact he found out is that imaginistes were strongly inspired by Ancient Greek poets such as Sappho and Cattalus which shows a certain fascination and desire to go back to ancient traditions and literary or poetic conventions: they wanted to “write in accordance with the best tradition”. They thus had the ambition to be associated with the writings of Ancient Greek master, who they considered to be the “best tradition”. They even rejected “all poetry that was not written in such endeavour”. This aspect of imaginiste writing is interesting because it shows how conflicting and diverse the trends and styles of the modernist period were. Indeed, some modernist writers were against a return to traditions and wrote as a reaction to both conventions and modernity.
Pound identifies three main imaginiste rules. These characteristics insist on the necessity of precision and on the use of clear language. Moreover, they gave a lot of importance to the musicality of the words used rather than on the meter. Pound discovered their “Doctrine of the Image” which was never published because imaginistes did not want to “provoke useless discussion” which shows a certain desire to remain mysterious, unclear and perhaps even misunderstood by their audience. To demonstrate their literary doctrine and their principles, imaginistes would rewrite poems in a more concise way to highlight the benefits of clear expression. This point is particularly interesting since it might remind readers of William Carlos Williams’s poems in Spring and All. This essay leaves the readers with questions about modernity: why were some writers so strongly inspired by conventions and Ancient Greek writers while other rejected the past literary and embraced modernity? ‘Imaginisme’ reflects the diversity of the literary innovations and the literature produced at the start of the twentieth century.
This text is an extract from a piece of writing I wrote and submitted for my Modernism formative assessment. Remember that plagiarism – including self-plagiarism – is absolutely unacceptable.