imagist poems are also about themselves being made

Date: Tue, 5 Oct 1999 06:20:00 -0400 (EDT)


While H.D. was by no means a cubist, I do think Alberto's observations
below--about repetition in "Sea Rose"--help a lot. H.D.'s poetry gives a
word, then pulls it back, then re-sets it and tries again, and again.
Trying to get it right. Somewhat jumping the gun on answers to questions I
just posed, I'd contend that H.D.'s poems--and Williams's in this
chapter--are in part attempts to "get it right." They are thus pieces of
writing caught in the act of trying to get the poem underway; they witness
the attempts to put the words just right; they show some of the struggle
of meaning happening. Because they strive so hard toward objectivity,
toward the perfect, rock-hard observation, they tend to seem like fully
finished products, but actually there are lots of traces left of the
process by which the rock-hard observation was attempted. 

H.D.'s "Oread," one of our poems (Norton p. 412) does most obviously what
Alberto says:

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.

If I were to extract just the spine of effort--the traces of the process
H.D. undertook to get this observation just right linguistically--I might
present this:

Whirl up
Whirl your         pines
       your        pines
hurl your           us
cover us     your

For such a short poem, it's AMAZING how many words are used twice (and I
count "hurl" as related to "Whirl" because it sounds the same and means
something quite similar).

So--to restate my generalization--imagist poems, while they seem to be
about only the thing they describe, are also "about" the effort to do such
a thing as describe only one thing precisely. They are not finished
products despite their objectivity and finality-like precision. They
retain a sense of the way they were made--of the effort to make them. They
offer a clear sense that they are not natural things, but words. One reads
them and thinks, yes, of a sea rose, a wheelbarrow beside white chickens,
a blackbird, the sea crashing against pines, but one also has a strong
sense of words. 


| I think that what's well-developed in the Hemingway texts quoted in the
| schedule, as well as in Steven's "Blackbirds," is seen in "Sea Rose" in
| maybe a less developed form: the repetition of certain words: "rose" "leaf"
| "sand" in slightly different contexts.  Maybe this is an early attempt to do
| what Stein later did full-out--bringing cubism into poetry.   So, to follow
| the present argument, the language is radically precise at showing images,
| but managing to show more than one facet of a single image, like Picasso did
| pictorially, and like Francesca was detailing.
| alberto

navigate 88v: schedule | key | home | PAPERs | | m a i l the s t a f f