The Imagist Movement: Poems, Examples & Key Poets
- 0:07 What Is Imagism?
- 1:20 The Rules of Imagism
- 1:59 H.D. And 'Oread'
- 3:42 Amy Lowell's 'Autumn'
- 5:06 Summary
The Imagist movement in modern poetry focused on describing objects as opposed to the long philosophical discussions of traditional poetry. Read on to find out more about Imagism and read poems by two of its founders, H.D. and Amy Lowell.
What is Imagism?
Imagism is a type of poetry that describes images with simple language and great focus. It came out of the Modernist movement in poetry. In the early 1900s, poets abandoned the old ways of writing poems and created a new movement in poetry called Modernism. Modernist poets changed the style and content of poetry by abandoning rhyme and meter, among other things.
Some Modernist poets began to focus on imagery in poetry. In traditional poetry, images are described in great detail with many words, and then they are linked to a philosophical idea or theme. But some of the Modernist poets decided that the best way to write poetry was to describe things with simple and few words. In addition, many of them did not explicitly discuss the ideas and themes of the poem.
Imagism is a subset of Modernism that focuses on simply described images and little more. In Imagist poetry, the writer does not talk about the themes behind the image; they let the image itself be the focus of the poem. There were many famous American Imagist poets, including Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, H.D., and Amy Lowell.
The Rules of Imagism
Ezra Pound, one of the founders of Imagism, said that there were three tenets, or rules, to writing Imagist poetry.
- Direct treatment of the subject. That is, the poem should deal directly with what's being talked about, not try to use fancy words and phrases to talk about it.
- Use no word that does not contribute to the presentation. Use as few words as possible.
- Compose in the rhythm of the musical phrase, not in the rhythm of the metronome. In other words, create new rhythms instead of relying on the old, boring ones.
H.D. and 'Oread'
Hilda Doolittle, who wrote under her initials, was one of the founding members of Imagism. She was once engaged to Ezra Pound, but they didn't end up getting married. Even so, he helped launch her career and often saw her as one of the best Imagist poets.
Perhaps her most famous poem is called 'Oread.' The title is the name of a mountain nymph, and the poem is the nymph ordering the sea around. Let's look at the poem and then talk about what makes it unique.
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.
Did you notice how short and simple the poem is? Just like Pound commanded, there are no extra words here. And just like other Imagist poems, this one focuses only on the image (the sea crashing into the earth) and doesn't talk about anything else.
One interesting thing about this poem is that the speaker tells the sea to fuse with the earth, and H.D. blends the images of the earth and sea with her language. For example, she tells the sea to 'Splash your great pines/On our rocks.' Well, the sea doesn't actually have pine trees, does it? So by talking about the sea as if it was just like the earth, H.D. is breaking down the barriers between land and sea, which is exactly what the speaker of the poem tells the sea to do.
Another thing you might have noticed about this poem is that it doesn't have a traditional rhyme and meter, or rhythm. Like other Modernist poets, H.D. uses free verse, which is when poetry is written without a set rhyme or meter.
Amy Lowell's 'Autumn'
Though H.D. and her friends started Imagism, Amy Lowell was an American poet who quickly became its leader. Lowell was a smart businesswoman and talented poet. She was born in Massachusetts and supported other poets as well as herself. Let's look at Amy Lowell's poem 'Autumn' to see how it compares with 'Oread' as an Imagist poem.
All day I have watched the purple vine leaves
Fall into the water.
And now in the moonlight they still fall,
But each leaf is fringed with silver.
You probably already noticed that, like 'Oread,' 'Autumn' is written in free verse. They also both deal with nature. Lowell, like H.D., follows the Imagist rules by keeping the language simple and the poem focused on the image she's describing - no more and no less.
It's a simple poem that describes the colors of the falling leaves. The switch from daytime to moonlight changes the color of the leaves from a vibrant purple to a silvery color. This represents the change a person goes through as they age: the fringe of silver that the leaves have in the moonlight is similar to the silver hair of older people.
But 'Autumn' doesn't have the sophisticated use of language that makes 'Oread' interesting. While H.D. plays with images to make them unique and strange, Lowell describes things as they actually are in the world.
Imagist poetry is a subset of Modernism in which the poet focuses on using simple language to describe objects. Many Imagist poems use free verse, and they all avoid excess words. One important American Imagist writer was H.D., whose poem 'Oread' blends images of land and sea together. Another influential American Imagist was Amy Lowell, whose poem 'Autumn' is a good example of the simplicity of an Imagist poem.
Chapters in English 102: American Literature
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