Skip to content

The history of Imagism.

By F.S. FLINT.

. . . itaque, quae priores, nondum comperta, eloquentia
percoluere, rerum fide tradentur.—TACITUS.

     ”Chi compra Manfredi?”

SOMEWHERE IN THE gloom of the year 1908, Mr.T. E. Hulme, now in the trenches of Ypres, but excited then by the propinquity, at a half-a-crown dance, of the other sex (if, as Remy de Gourmont avers, the passage from the aesthetic to the sexual emotion, n’est qu’un pas, the reverse is surely also true), proposed to a companion that they should found a Poets’ Club. The thing was done, there and then. The Club began to dine; and its members to read their verses. At the end of the year they published a small plaquette of them, called “For Christmas MDCCCCVIII”. In this plaquette was printed one of the first “Imagist” poems, by T. E. Hulme :

     AUTUMN

A touch of cold in the autumn night
I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge,
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to talk, but nodded ;
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.

In November of the same year, Edward Storer, author already of “Inclinations,” much of which is in the “Imagist” manner, published his “Mirrors of Illusion,” the first book of “Imagist ” poems, with an essay at the end attacking poetic conventions. The first poem in the book was called “Image,” here it is :

Forsaken lovers,
Burning to a chaste white moon,
Upon strange pyres of loneliness and drought.

Mr. Storer, who has recanted much since, was in favour then of a poetry which I described, in reference to his book, as ” a form of expression, like the Japanese, in which an image is the resonant heart of an exquisit moment.” A fair example of his practice is this from “Clarice-Henley”:

Clarice! Clarice! The oasis of lunch,
We laid Arabian-Night-wise in the green
And pleasant desert of the field
For our most welcome selves,
And that rememberable canopy of white
And holy linen, that denied your face
Unto a hundred daisies’ peeping glance,
We placed to bear the bread, the wine—the flowers
Of your dear hand.

I have always wished that Storer, in his after work, had brought more art to the exploitation of the temperament he displayed in the ” Mirrors,” which, for me, is a book of poetry. But he changed his manner completely.

In all this Hulme was ringleader. He insisted too on absolutely accurate presentation and no verbiage…

At that time, I had been advocating in the course of a series of articles on recent books of verse a poetry in vers libre, akin in spirit to the Japanese. An attack on the Poets’ Club brought me into correspondence and acquaintance with T. E. Hulme; and, later on, after Hulme had violently disagreed with the Poets’ Club and had left it, he proposed that he should get together a few congenial spirits, and that we should have weekly meetings in a Soho restaurant. The first of these meetings, which were really the successors of certain Wednesday evening meetings, took place on Thursday, March 25, 1909. There were present, so far as I recall, T. E. Hulme, Edward Storer, F. W. Tancred, Joseph Campbell, Miss Florence Farr, one or two other men, mere vaguements in my memory, and myself. I think that what brought the real nucleus of this group together was a dissatisfaction with English poetry as it was then (and is still, alas!) being written. We proposed at various times to replace it by pure vers libre; by the Japanese tanka and haikai; we all wrote dozens of the latter as an amusement; by poems in a sacred Hebrew form, of which “This is the House that Jack Built” is a perfect model ; Joseph Campbell produced two good specimens of this, one of which, “The Dark,” is printed in “The Mountainy Singer”; by rhymeless poems like Hulme’s “Autumn,” and so on. In all this Hulme was ringleader. He insisted too on absolutely accurate presentation and no verbiage; and he and F. W. Tancred, a poet too little known, perhaps because his production is precious and small, used to spend hours each day in the search for the right phrase. Tancred does it still; while Hulme reads German philosophy in the trenches, waiting for the general advance. There was also a lot of talk and practice among us, Storer leading it chiefly, of what we called the Image. We were very much influenced by modern French symbolist poetry.

On April 22, 1909, Ezra Pound, whose book, Personae, had been published on the previous Friday, joined the group, introduced, I believe, by Miss Farr and my friend T. D. FitzGerald. Ezra Pound used to boast in those days that he was

Nil pr‎œter “Villon ” et doctus cantare Catullum,

and he could not be made to believe that there was any French poetry after Ronsard. He was very full of his troubadours ; but I do not remember that he did more than attempt to illustrate (or refute) our theories occasionally with their example. The group died a lingering death at the end of its second winter. But its discussions had a sequel. In 1912 Mr. Pound published, at the end of his book ” Ripostes,” the complete poetical works of T. E. Hulme, five poems, thirty-three lines, with a preface in which these words occur : “As for the future, Les Imagistes, the descendants of the forgotten school of 1909 (previously referred to as the “School of Images”) have that in their keeping.” In that year, Pound had become interested in modern French poetry; he had broken away from his old manner; and he invented the term “Imagisme ” to designate the aesthetic of “Les Imagistes.”1  In March 1913, an ” interview,” over my signature, of an “imagiste ” appeared in the American review Poetry, followed by “A Few Dont’s by an Imagiste ” by Ezra Pound. The four cardinal principles of “Imagisme” were set forth as:

(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 the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

(4) The ” doctrine of the Image “—not for publication.

Towards the end of the year Pound collected together a number of poems different writers, Richard Aldington, H.D., F. S. Flint, Skipwith Cannell, Amy Lowell, William Carlos Williams, James Joyce, John Cournos, Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Heuffer and Allan Upward, and in February-March 1914 they were published in America and England as Des Imagistes: an Anthology, which, though it did not set the Thames, seems to have set America, on fire. Since then Mr. Ezra Pound has become a “Vorticist,” with a contradiction, for, when addressing the readers of The New Age he has made Imagism to mean pictures as Wyndham Lewis understands them; writing later for T. P.’s Weekly, he made it pictures as William Morris understood them. There is no difference, except that which springs from difference of temperament and talent, between an imagist poem of to-day and those written by Edward Storer and T. E. Hulme.


F.S. Flint was a poet and translator and a champion of Imagism. This essay first appeared as a notice in The Egoist, May 1, 1915 , p. 71. It is republished in the New Series to accompany May Sinclair’s appreciation of the poetry of ‘H.D.’

  1. See Pound’s essay on Vorticism in the Fortnightly. See also May Sinclair’s Fortnightly essay on “The Poetry of H.D.” —Ed.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *
*
*

You can add images to your comment by clicking here.