“A poem is good if it contains a new analogy and startles the reader out of the habit of treating words as counters.”
T. E. Hulme
By Ezra Pound
The light became her grace and dwelt among
Blind eyes and shadows that are formed as men;
Lo, how the light doth melt us into song:
The broken sunlight for a healm she beareth
Who hath my heart in jurisdiction.
In wild-wood never fawn nor fallow fareth
So silent light; no gossamer is spun
So delicate as she is, when the sun
Drives the clear emeralds from the bended grasses
Lest they should parch too swiftly, where she passes.
“Who hath my heart in jurisdiction. In wild-wood never fawn nor fallow fareth.” A wonderful line, yet its an example that Pound had yet to completely break free of the ties to classical poetry. In Balatetta he was starting to bend them. I have no idea how this poem came to be, but as someone who is fascinated by writing sonnets, I have a theory that this started out as a sonnet or he was consciously or unconsciously influenced by the sonnet structure. It’s lines are constructed mostly of ten syllables. The rhyming scheme further supports the theory, but what to make of the fact it has ten lines not fourteen? Sometimes when I write I find I have said all I really want to say in fewer lines than fourteen or I edit out the fluff and lines get cut. It would be fun to know what the real story behind the creative process on this poem.
One of the criticisms of Pound was that he was an “imitator”. He borrowed liberally from the genius of others and found a broader audience for that creativity. I do not find that a fault, as I think Pound furthered the discussion and built on the ideas. Pound was a net-worker, a mentor, a connector of people, who inserted himself into the discussion among modernist thinkers and artists because he had something interesting to contribute. Where he can be faulted is trying to take more credit than he deserves for his “originality.”
One of the proof points those critics point to is that Pound’s ideas around image and his concepts of poetry were first formulated by T. E. Hulme, who died young in 1917 during WWI. I admire Pound for building on Hulme’s work and insuring that it continued to influence his own and other’s writing after Hulme’s death. Pound included five poems of Hulme’s in his book Ripostes and all five are striking examples of a poetic form that the Imagists would expand upon in years to come. Hulme wrote very little poetry that survives, but he was instrumental in the Imagist movement. Hulme defined image as the constant bombardment of sensory information before analysis. Image is the base of human experience. Intellectualizing raw images, he argued, was constrained because language over-simplifies the nuanced complexity of what our eyes, ears, touch and taste experience and is therefore inadequate of our unfiltered reality.
I find it fascinating that Hulme’s ideas on poetry and image were profoundly impacted by his interactions with the philosopher Henri Bergson. Hulme sought out Bergson in France in the 1890’s to talk about Bergson’s writing. Bergson believed there are two forms of awareness: one based on intellect, the other based intuition. Bergson declared that intellect serves knowledge, whereas intuition serves to increase the enjoyment of life’s experience through the senses. The idea of intuitive writing fueled the concepts that Hulme and Pound furthered in their poetry.
The decade before the start of the 20th Century was a time when science, physics, philosophy and art were still connected in creative thought. Knowledge had yet to be partitioned into intense specialization that the great walls of minutiae had not yet been built. Bergson’s philosophy emphasizes the unexpected in novel thinking, the creative process and freedom. Bergson won the Nobel Peace prize for Literature in 1927 for his contributions on his theories around time, identity, free will, perception, change, memory, consciousness, language, and the limits of reason.
The concept that the totality of experience can not be put into words, spurred Hulme to reject the flowery, stilted language of classical poetry and experiment with a more visceral approach to verse. He advocated for a poetic form stripped of unnecessary adjectives to allow the reader’s mind to free associate in creating their own image. Hulme felt that poetry could be a vessel for a wider array of the experiences of life if it were freed from convention.
“The artist tries to see what there is to be interested in… He has not created something, he has seen something.”
For a longer more complete overview of Hulme’s contributions to poetry check out the biography of Hulme in Poetry Foundation.