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Explore the Craft of Writing

American Poetry


Imagism : Simple, direct and intense might be how one would describe an Imagist poem. Imagism is the term used to describe a school of poetry that emerged in England and America around 1912. Ezra Pound is hailed as the founder of the "movement" and H.D. or Hilda Doolittle, Richard Aldington, F.S. Flint, Amy Lowell, James Joyce and William Carlos Williams wrote in the "imagist" doctrine. Imagism was born as a reaction to the "verbose and abstract language in which much of the poetry of the 19th century had declined". NPEOPP.


Ezra Pound describes the poetic image as " that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time." "The image …is a radiant node or cluster; it is what I can, and must perforce call a VORTEX, from which, and through which, and into which, ideas are constantly rushing. An image is real because we know it directly." The imagist poem should… "devise an abstract equivalent of an image, reduced and intensified." NPEOPP. I understand this to mean, a concrete image examined closely speaks of another more abstract image.


To the Imagists the rhythmic unit is not the foot or the line but the strophe, which could be the whole poem. The strophe becomes a circle, a departure and a return.


"the aims of the imagist movement in poetry provide the archetype of a modern creative procedure." Stephen Spender


The movement somewhat lost its momentum during a rift between Pound and Lowell when Pound left the movement he began and referred to it as Amygism. He viewed the practice as too passive.


Imagist poetry:

  • values clarity, exactness and concreteness in detail. It is "dedicated to writing vivid and precise natural descriptions." Ezra Pound
  • employs direct treatment of the "thing" whether subjective or objective.
  • uses absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation, no adjective which does not reveal something.
  • lyrical, composed more in the manner of a musical phrase than free verse.
  • strives for immediacy of effect and the closest possible association of word and object.
  • is linked with impressionism.
  • insists that a poem "show not tell".
  • attempts to intensify its objective reality.
  • usually written in 26 words or less.
  • does not mix the abstract with the concrete.




    Whirl up, sea --

    whirl your pointed pines,

    splash your great pines

    on our rocks,

    hurl your green over us,

    cover us with your pools of fir.

    ------ H.D. (Hilda Doolittle 1886-1961)


    In a Station of the Metro


    The apparition of these faces in the crowd;

    --------------- Petals on a wet, black bough.

    ------------- ---Ezra Pound (1885-1972)(the second line of Station . . , Pound described as a simile with the "like" suppressed)




    Old houses were scaffolding once

    ----------------------------- and workmen whistling.

    ------------------------- ---T.E Hume (1883-1917)





    A bulging tear

    ------ slides

    --------- across a glossy leaf,

    ---------------------------- clings. . .

    --------- to the scalloped edge,


    --------------------------------- falls

    ---------------- to strike

    ----------- a rain-slicked rock.

    --Judi Van Gorder

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