Imagism in Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore

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Q) What philosophy do Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore share?

A) Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore were all modernist poets. Modernist poetry deals with experiment and innovation. All three were imagists, though at a later stage, William Carlos Williams started disagreeing with Ezra Pound.

Ezra Pound

Ezra Pound was the most aggressive of the modernist poets, who made “Make it new!” his battle cry. He turned to classical Chinese poetry as his source for inspiration. He was the most influential figures of the modernist period, and influenced contemporaries like W. B. Yeats, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, H. D, James Joyce, Ernest Hemmingway, and most importantly, T. S. Eliot. He promulgated a movement in poetry called Imagism, a movement which derived its technique from classical Chinese and Japanese poetry, and which stressed clarity, precision, and economy of language, forgoing traditional rhyme and metre in order to, in Pound’s words, “compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in the sequence of metronome.”

Pound evolved Imagism as a reaction against abstraction and Victorian generalities in favour of the precision and clarity found in Japanese haiku and ancient Greek lyrics. His promulgation of Imagism was aided largely by his encounter with Noh theatre of Japan, and the Chinese written character in the work of the scholar Ernest Fenollosa whose papers were entrusted to him by Fenollosa’s widow.

An example of his imagist poetry is given below:

Green arsenic smeared on an egg-white cloth,

Crushed strawberries! Come, let us feast our eyes.

- “L’art 1910”

The above poem is perhaps the shortest dramatic monologue on record. This poem presents the poet/speaker and his interlocutor before a painting (assumption from the clashing colours on the white cloth). That bright green and red stand in contrast to the canvas. The language registers shock value of the paining (“smeared”, “crushed”) but it is evident that the speaker enjoys the shock and outrageousness and calls upon the interlocutor to do as well.

Now let us take another example:

The jewelled steps are already quite white with dew

It is so late that the dew soaks my gauze stockings

And I let down the crystal curtain

And watch the moon through the clear autumn.

-“The Jewel Stairs’ Grievance”

Here, were find strong images that creates a beautiful visual effect. “Jewel Stairs” may be taken as a “palace”, therefore “jewelled steps” as the steps of the palace; “grievance” as something to complain of; “gauze stockings”, therefore it is a court lady complaining and not a servant; “Clear autumn”, which means that whoever the court lady is waiting for has not arrived and since its clear autumn he has no excuse of the weather. Yet she has come early as the “dew” has not merely whitened but “soaked” her stockings. This poem is prized as a beautiful example of Imagist poetry, with its visuals making impact upon the reader.

In 1914 Pound started another movement called Vorticist movement, which had a lasting influence of English culture. The style was derived from Cubism (an avant-garde European movement that revolutionized painting and sculpture). Like Cubist artworks, Vorticism were poems in a whirlpool of histories, voices and luminous details.

If we take a look at the dominant themes in Pound’s poetry, we find a sense of alienation, the nature of poetry and of himself as a poet, as well as religious affiliations. Ripostes is a collection of 25 poems by Pound published in 1912, dedicated to William Carlos Williams. It is the first collection in which Pound moves towards the economy of language and clarity of imagery of the Imagism movement, and was the first time he used the word “Imagiste”.

Some of Pound’s best poems are those in which he speaks of the nature of poetry...
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