Archive for the 'Modernist' Category

Marianne Moore

November 30, 2006

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(1887-1972)

Spent early years in Kirkwood, Missouri in the home of her grandfather, Reverend John R. Warner
Never saw her father, and inventor and manufacturer who suffered a nervous breakdown before her birth
Graduated from Bryn Mawr College and taught in Carlisle Indian School
Corresponded with William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot, H.D. and Ezra Pound
Moved to Greenwhich Village and lived in Manhattan or Brooklyn for the rest of her life
Never married and shared her home with her mother until her mother’s death
Edited ‘The Dial’
Poems at first appear eccentrically arranged but the intricacy yields its pattern and meaning to the attentive reader
Interested in varied habits of natural species and man-made objects
Became a popular icon and often threw out the first pitch at Dodger and Yankee baseball games
Told the New York Herald

“I like country fairs, roller-coasters, merry-go-rounds, dog shows, museums, avenues of trees, old elms, vehicles, experiments in timing like our ex-Museum of Science and Invention’s two roller-bearings in a gravity chute, synchronized with a ring-brearing revolving vertically. I am fond of animals and take inordinate interest in mongooses, squirrels, crows, elephants. I read few magazines but would be lost without the newspaper.”

Quotations:

Visible, invisible, / a fluctuating charm / an amber-tinctured amethyst / inhabits it, your arm / approaches and it opens / and it closes; you had meant / to catch it and it quivers; / you abandon your intent.

-A Jelly-Fish (in whole)

wade / through black jade. / Of the crow-blue mussel-shells, one keeps / adjusting the ash-heaps; / opening and shutting itself like
an / injured fan. / The barnacles which encrust the side / of the wave, cannot hide / there for the submerged shafts of the
sun, / split like spun / glass, move themselves with spotlight swiftness / into the crevices- / in and out, illuminating
the / turquoise sea / of bodies. The water drives a wedge / of iron through the iron edge / of the cliff; whereupon the stars,
pink / rice-grains, ink- / bespattered jelly-fish, crabs like green / lilies, and submarine / toadstools, slide each on the other.
All / external / marks of abuse are present on this / defiant edifice- / all the physical features of / ac- / cident – lack / of cornice, dynamite grooves, burns, and / hatchet strokes, these things stand / out on it; the chasm-side is
dead / Repeated / evidence has proved that it can live / on what can not revive / its youth. The sea grows old in it.

-The Fish (in whole)

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William Carlos Williams

November 29, 2006

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(1883-1963)

Born in Rutherford, New Jersey
Mother was a Puerto Rican immigrant of mixed Jewish, Basque, and Spanish ancestry
Grew up in a household of three spoken languages: Spanish, English, and French
Attended medical school at the University of Pennsylvania where he befriended Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, and H.D.
Set up a family practice in a home office in Rutherford and married Florence Herman in 1912: the couple had two sons
Wrote poetry after work before joining his family for dinner
Initially imitated John Keats and Walt Whitman in poetry
Later found his own distinctive style by combining meticulous observation with inventive word choices and stanza forms
Viewed poetry as an immersion in material existence: gives a single thing next to other things without comparing them
Williams’ motto was

“no ideas but in things”

Powerful psychological poet: achieved insight by confronting darkness and disorder, and explores the challenges of aging and ill health
Great social poet: evoking material conditions and cultural practices of people around him
Translated poems from Spanish, French, and Chinese
During his retirement he spent his days at the Paterson Public Library researching the history of the city and composed ‘Paterson’
Never received the attention and praise given to other modernists: was rejected the title of Poetry Consultant to the Library of Contress (Poet Laureate) because of liberal politics

Quotations:

At ten A.M. the young housewife / moves about in negligee behind / the wooden walls of her husband’s house. / I pass solitary in my car.
Then again she comes to the curb / to call the ice-man, fish-man, and stands / shy, uncorseted, tucking in / stray ends of hair, and I compare her / to a fallen leaf.
The noiseless wheels of my car / rush with a crackling shound over / dried leaves as I bow and pass smiling.

-The Young Housewife (in whole)

Is the speaker reporting or creating the situation in his mind
The poem sets up a number of paradoxes that create unreliability in the speaker
The young housewife is defined and controled by masculinity

so much depends / upon
a red wheel / barrow
glazed with rain / water
beside the white / chickens

-The Red Wheelbarrow (in whole)

By the road to the contagious hospital / under the surge of the blue / mottled clouds driven from the / northeast – a cold wind. Beyond, the / waste of broad, muddy fields / brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen
patches of standing water / the scattering of tall trees
All along the road the reddish / purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy / stuff of bushes and small trees / with dead, brown leaves under them / leafless vines –
Lifeless in appearance, sluggish / dazed spring approaches –
They enter the new world naked, / cold, uncertain of all / save that they enter. All about them / the cold, familiar wind –
Now the grass, tomorrow / the stiff curl of wild carrot leaf
One by one objects are defined – / It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf
But now the stark dignity of / entrance – Still, the profound change / has come upon them: rooted, they grip down and begin to awaken

-Spring and All (in whole)

The pure products of America / go crazy – / mountain folk from Kentucky
or the ribbed north end of / Jersey / with its isolate lakes and
valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves / old names / and promiscuity between
devil-may-care men who have taken / to railroading / out of sheer lust of adventure –
and young slatterns, bathed / in filth / from Monday to Sunday
to be tricked out that night / with gauds / from imaginations which have no
peasant traditions to give them / character / but flutter and flaunt
sheer rags – succumbing without / emotion / save numbed terror
under some hedge of choke-cherry / or viburnum – / which they cannot express –
Unless it be that marriage / perhaps / with a dash of Indian blood
will throw up a girl so desolate / so hemmed round / with disease or murder
that she’ll be rescued by an / agent – / reared by the state and
sent out at fifteen to work in / some hard-pressed / house in the suburbs –
some doctor’s family, some Elsie – / voluptuous water / expressing with broken
brain the truth about us – / her great / ungainly hips and flopping breasts
addressed to cheap / jewelry / and rich young men with fine eyes
as if the earth under our feet / were / an excrement of some sky
and we degraded prisoners / destined / to hunger until we eat filth
while the imagination strains / after deer / going by fields of goldenrod in
the stifling heat of September / Somehow / it seems to destroy us
It is only in isolate flecks that / something / is given off
No one / to witness / and adjust, no one to drive the car

-To Elsie (in whole)

The character of ‘Elsie’ is based on a mentally challenged domestic worker hired by the Williams family from the state orphanage

Mina Loy

November 28, 2006

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(1882-1966)

Praised for sharp satirical intelligence, talent for the engagingly brash gesture, film-star good looks, and highly original poetic eye
Born in London
As a young girl she showed, according to Roger L. Conover

“remarkable physical beauty and resistance to conventional codes of femininity”

Married English artist and photographer Stephen Haweis
Had a passionate affair with the leading figure of Italian futurism, Filippo Marinetti and another affair with Giovanni Papini
Remained painfully shy and felt socially isolated and tied down by domestic responsibilities
Authorized a “Feminist Manifesto” in response to Marinetti’s masculinist assumptions of Italian futurism
Became involved with dadaist poet and boxer Arthur Cravan, a nephew of Oscar Wilde, and the couple lived in poverty until he died
Uses unsettling beauty in imagery, startling imaginative leaps, and complex wordplay which pose difficulties in understanding

Quotations:

Curie / of the laboratory / of vocabulary / she crushed / the tonnage / of consciousness / congealed to phrases / to extract / a radium of the word

-Gertrude Stein (in whole)

Loy equates Stein’s clinical isolation of the active meaning of words with Madame Curie’s discovery of the highly radioactive element radium

The toy / become the aesthetic archetype
As if / some patient peasant God / had rubbed and rubbed / the Alpha and Omega / of Form / into a lump of metal
A naked orientation / unwinged   unplumed / the ultimate rhythm / has lopped the extremities / of crest and claw / from / the nucleus of flight
The absolute act / of art / conformed / to continent sculpture / -bare and the brow of Osiris- / this breast of revelation
an incandescent curve / licked by chromatic flames / in labyrinths of reflections
This gong / of polished hyperaesthesia / shrills with brass / as the aggressive light / strikes / its significance
The immaculate / conception / of the inaudible bird / occurs / in gorgeous reticence

-Brancusi’s Golden Bird (in whole)

Jean Toomer

October 31, 2006

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(1894-1967)

Born to racially mixed parents: his father left soon after his birth and his mother died when he was 15, after which he lived with his grandparents
Grew up in Washington, D.C. and New Rochelle, New York
His light-skinned appearance allowed him to live alternately as a black and a white person
Attended five different colleges after high school and never received a degree
Wrote experimental poetry that was indebted to imagism, urbanism, and East Asian poetic forms
Protested against fallacious racial stereotypes
Wrote one of the classic books of American literature with “Cane”: alternates lyric poems with prose pieces and combines features of the Harlem Renaissance and the modernist movement
Many of his poems’ speakers bear witness to the difficult and often heroic struggles of an oppressed people sustained by their culture and community
After “Cane”, Toomer abandoned his racial subject matter and commenced a spiritual quest that would occupy him for the rest of his life
Became a follower of the European mysic George Gurdjieff who advocated a personal transofmation into heightened awareness
In the mid-1930’s Toomer and his wife and daughter turn from Gurdjieff to the Quaker Society of Friends
For 15 years he wrote religious treatises, autobiographies and unpublished poems

Quotations:

A cow-hoof imprint / pressed against the under-asphalt of / Fifth Avenue, sustains it
The osseous teat of an inverted cow / spurts s k y s c r a p e r s / against a cloud / racing to / dusk, / and / it / sprays / in / num / er / ab / le / blunk peaks against / the milky-way.

-Skyline (in whole)

Hair – braided chestnut, / Coiled like a lyncher’s rope / Eyes – fagots, / Lips – old scars, or the first red blisters, / Breath – the last weet scent of cane, / And her slim body, white as the ash / Of black flesh after flame.

-Portrait in Georgia (in whole)

H.D.

October 30, 2006

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(1886-1961)

Hilda Doolittle
First poet to publish a poem that was identified as “imagist”
Born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to an upper-middle class family: father was a professor of astronomy and mother was an artist who taught painting and music
Belonged to the Moravian faith, a Protestant denomination that seeks to recapture the original vitality of Christianity by strictly adhering to the word of the Bible: H.D. did not practice as an adult, but its mysticism effected her poetic career
Attended Bryn Mawr for three terms but left without a degree: became friends with William Carlos Williams and dated Ezra Pound
Became briefly engaged to Pound, who remained a lifelong friend
Left for Europe in 1911 with her then lover, Frances Gregg, and remained in Europe for the rest of her life
Published three poems in “Poetry” that simultaneously established her literary identity as “H.D.” and founded the imagist movement: Pound created the title “Imagiste” to attract attention to Doolittle’s work and unintentionally began the poetry movement
Married Richard Aldington, a British poet and imagist: separated from him and had an affair with Cecil Gray which produced her only child; Perdita: met Bryher who became her companion for 28 years
Poetry takes an interest in the world of antiquity and myths: wrote narrative poems that revised Greek, Egyptian, and biblical stories in a mystical, feminist way
Strove to find a new beauty
Following her separation from Bryher, Doolittle broke down and was hospitalized in a Swiss clinic
Remained in Switzerland and Italy until the end of her life: spent her last years in hotel rooms
Her gravestone lies flat in Nisky Hill Cemetary, Bethlehem, Penn., and usually has sea shells on it, left in tribute: it bears lines from her poem “Epitaph:”

“So you may say, / Greek flower; Greek ecstasy / reclaims forever / one who died / following intricate song’s / lost measure.”

Quotations:

Rose, harsh rose, / marred and with stint of petals, / meagre flower, thin, / sparse of leaf,
more precious / than a wet rose, / single on a stem- / you are caught in the drift.
Stunted, with small leaf, / you are flung on the sand, / you are lifted / in the crisp sand / that drives in the wind.
Can the spice-rose / drip such acrid fragrance / hardened in a leaf?

-Sea Rose (in whole)

All Greece hates / the still eyes in the white face, / the lustre as of olives / where she stands, / and the white hands.
All Greece reviles / the wan face when she smiles, / hating it deeper still / when it grows wan and white, / remembering past enchantments / and past ills.
Greece sees unmoved, / God’s daughter, born of love, / the beauty of cool feet / and slenderest knees, / could love indeed he maid, / only if she were laid, / white as amid funereal cypresses.

-Helen (in whole)

Helen was the daughter of Zeus who appeared in the guise of a swan to the mortal woman Leda and impregnated her

I have had enough. / I gasp for breath.
Every way ends, / every road, every foot-path leads at last / to the hill-crest- / then you retrace your steps, / or find the same slope on the other side, / precipitate.
I have had enough- / border-pinks, clove-pinks, wax-lilies, / herbs, sweet-cress.
O for some sharp swish of a branch – / there is no scent of resin / in this place, / no taste of bark, of coarse weeds, / aromatic, astringent – / only border on border of scented pinks.
Have you seen fruit under cover / that wanted light – / pears wadded in cloth, / protected from the frost, / melons, almost ripe, / smothered in straw?
Why not let the pears cling / to the empty branch? / All your coaxing will only make / a bitter fruit – / let them cling, ripen of themselves, / test their own worth, / nipped, shrivelled by the frost, / to fall at last but fair / with a russet coat.
Or the melon – / let it bleach yellow / in the winter light, / even tart to the taste – / it is better to taste of frost – / the exquisite frost – / than of wadding and of dead grass.
For this beauty, / beauty without strength, / chokes out life. / I want wind to break, / scatter these pink-stalks, / snap off their spiced heads, / fling them about with dead leaves – / spread the paths with twigs, / limbs broken off, / trail great pine branches, / hurled from some far wood / right across the melon-patch, / break pear and quince – / leave half-trees, torn, twisted / but showing the fight was valiant.
O to blot out this garden / to forget, to find a new beauty / in some terrible wind-tortured place.

-Sheltered Garden (in whole)

I know not what to do, / my mind is reft: / is song’s gift best? / is love’s gift loveliest? / I know not what to do, / now sleep has pressed / weight on your eyelids.
Shall I break your rest, / devouring, eager? / is love’s gift best? / nay, song’s the loveliest: / yet were you lost, / what rapture / could I take from song? / what song were left?

-Fragment Thirty-six

Edna St. Vincent Millay

October 10, 2006

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(1892-1950)

Major poetic voice of the rebellious Jazz Age
Hailed as the greatest female poet since Sappho of ancient Greece
Wrote for the American mass-media culture of newspapers, magazines, radio, live stage, and the national lecture circuit
Served as the personification of “The New Woman” of European-American bourgeois society
Flaunted Victorian conventions of femininity while serving as a flapper heroine and political rebel icon
Became the first woman poet to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry
Robert Frost viewed her as his most serious competitor: feared she would be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters ahead of him
Raised in Maine by a single mother
Educated at Vassar College
Not only a gifted poet but also a talented playwright and actress
Gained fame for public poetry readings
Master of traditional forms, sonic effects, and memorable images and phrases
Frankly expressed her sexual independence: conducted many love affairs with both men and women
Married Eugen Bossevain, widower of the great suffragist Inex Milholland
Valued for strong and accomplished voice in the traditionally male-dominated genre of sonnet, sometimes painful inward probings, and for her eloquent and outspoken assertion of her political and social beliefs

Quotations:

I shall forget you presently, my dear, / So make the most of this, your little day, / Your little month, your little half a year, / Ere I forget, or die, or move away, / And we are done forever; by and by / I shall forget you, as I said, but now, / If you entreat me with your loveliest lie / I will protest you with my favourite vow. / I would indeed that love were longer-lived, / And oaths were not so brittle as they are, / But so it is, and nature has contrived / To struggle on without a break thus far, – / Whether or not we find what we are seeking / Is idle, biologically speaking.

-I shall forget you presently, my dear (in whole)

Only until this cigarette is ended, / A little moment at the end of all, / While on the floor the quiet ashes fall, / And in the firelight to a lance extended, / Bizarrely with the jazzing music blended, / The broken shadow dances on the wall, / I will permit my memory to recall / The vision of you, by all my dreams attended. / And then adieu, -farewell!-the dream is done. / Yours is a face of which I can forget / The colour and the features, every one, / The words not ever, and the smiles not yet; / But in your day this moment is the sun / Upon a hill, after the sun has set.

-Only until this cigarette is ended (in whole)

We were very tired, we were very merry- / We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry. / Itwas bare and bright, and smelled like a stable- / But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table, / We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon; / And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.
We were very tired, we were very merry- / We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry; / And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear, / From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere; / And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold, / And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.
We were very tired, we were very merry, / We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry. / We hailed, ‘Good morrow, mother!’ to a shawl-covered head, / And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read; / And she wept, ‘God bless you!’ for the apples and pears, / And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

-Recuerdo (in whole)

Based on her late-night perambulations through New York City with her fellow poet Salomon de la Selva
Recuerdo means remembrance, recollection, or souvenir in Spanish
My reflect the native language of de la Selva
Makes a point of the liberated, cosmopolitan lifestyle of Jazz Age New York and the joys of heterosexual romance
Also suggests the quiet suffering of those left behind by the economic boom

I, being born a woman and distressed / By all the needs and notions of my kind, / Am urged by your propinquity to find / Your person fair, and feel certain zest / To bear your body’s weight upon my breast: / So subtly is the fume of life designed, / To clarify the pulse and cloud the mind, / And leave me once again undone, possessed. / Think not for this, however, the poor treason / Of my stout blood against my staggering brain, / I shall remember you with love, or seas / My scorn with pity, -let me make it plain: / I find this frenzy insufficient reason / For conversation when we meet again.

-I, being born a woman and distressed (in whole)

Struggle between bodily impulses and rationality of the mind
Biological and social implications of being a woman

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why, / I have forgotten, and what arms have lain / Under my head till morning; but the rain / Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh / Upon the glass and listen for reply, / And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain / For unremembered lads that not again / Will turn to me at midnight with a cry. / Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree, / Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one, / Yet knows its boughs more silent than before: / I only know that summer sang in me / A little while, that in me sings no more.

-What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why (in whole)

My candle burns at both ends; / It will not last the night; / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends- / It gives a lovely light!

-First Fig (in whole)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand: / Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

-Second Fig (in whole)

Was it for this I uttered prayers, / And sobbed and cursed and kicked the stairs, / That now, domestic as a plate, / I should retire at half-past eight?

-Grown-up (in whole)

 

Amy Lowell

October 3, 2006

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(1874-1925)

Amy Lawrence Lowell
Born into a wealthy and prestigious family
Quarreled with Ezra Pound over who should lead the imagist movement: Unlike Pound, Lowell did not think that imagist poetry needed to be obscure: Pound declared her type of poetry “Amygism”
Advocated a clean poetic line, devoid of sentimentality and conventional meter
Composed volumes of translation and creative writing in Orientalism
Received a Pulitzer Prize in 1926, a year after her death
Promoted Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman for their infusion of Asian aesthetics into their poetry
Presented poetry in theatrical readings: created a cult following traveling the country
Open homosexual: wrote many love poems to her partner Ada Dwyer Russell
Wrote the longest sequence of lesbian love poetry in the U.S. before Adrienne Rich: wrote pioneering texts in the lesbian-feminist tradition

Quotations:

Across the newly-plastered wall, / The darting red dragonflies / Is like the shooting / Of blood-tipped arrows.

-In Time of War (in whole)

Translation of a Japanese poem
Completed during major Allied offensives in WWI

This afternoon was the colour of water falling through sunlight; / The trees glittered with the tumbling of leaves; / The sidewalks shone like alleys of dropped maple leaves, / And the houses ran along them laughing out of square, open windows. / Under a tree in the park, / Two little boys, lying flat on their faces, / Were carefully gathering red berries / To put in a pasteboard box. / Some day there will be no war, / Then I shall take out this afternoon / And turn it in my fingers, / And remark the sweet taste of it upon my palate, / And note the crisp variety of its flights of leaves. / To-day I can only gather it / And put it into my lunch box, / For I have time for nothing / But the endeavour to balance myself / Upon a broken world.

-September, 1918 (in whole)

September 1918 was an important period for the Allied offensive in WWI
Speaker sees the beauty in the afternoon, but won’t take pleasure in it until the war is over: questions what a poem should be like in a time of war; what is poetry’s role during war

The day is fresh-washed and fair, and there is a smell of tulips and narcissus in the air. / The sunshine pours in at the bath-room window and bores through the water in the bath-tub in lathes and planes of greenish-white. It cleaves the water into flaws like a jewel, and cracks it to bright light. / Little spots of sunshine lie on the surface of the water and dance, dance, and their relfections wobble deliciously over the ceiling; a stir of my fingers sets them whirring, reeling. I move a foot and the planes of light in the water jar. I lie back and laugh, and let the green-white water, the sun-flawed beryl water, flow over me. The day is almost too bright to bear, the green water covers me from the too bright day. I will lie here awhile and play with the water and the sun spots. The sky is blue and high. A crow flaps by the window, and there is a whiff of tulips and narcissus in the air.

– Bath (in whole)

An example of what Lowell called ‘polyphonic prose’: described as a form that makes use of all the voices of poetry (free verse, meter, assonance, conosance, alliteration, rhyme, and circular return)

I put your leaves aside, / One by one: / The stiff, broad outer leaves; / The smaller ones, / Pleasant to touch, veined with purple; / The glazed inner leaves. / One by one. / I parted you from your leaves, / Until you stood up like a white flower / Swaying slightly in the evening wind.
White flower, / Flower of wax, of jade, of unstreaked agate; / Flower with surfaces of ice, / With shadows faintly crimson. / Where in all the garden is there such a flower? / The stars crowd through the lilac leaves / To look at you. / The low moon brightens you with silver. / The bud is more than calyx. / There is nothing to equal a white bud, / Of no colour, and of all; / Burnished by moonlight, / Thrust upon by a softly-swinging wind.

-The Weathervane Points South (in whole)

An example of Lowell’s term ‘cadenced verse’: which encompassed Asian and French poetic forms
First published in Vanity Fair
Comparable to Georgia O’Keeffe’s representation of the white flower in her artwork: both women were influenced by the “Boston Orientalists” of the late 19th century

“The poets in this volume do not represent a clique. Several of them are personally unknown to the others, but they are united by certain common principles arrived at independently. These principles are not new; they have fallen into desuetude. They are the essentials of all great poetry, indeed of all great literature, and they are simple these:-
1.  To use the language of common speech, but to employ always the exact word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word.
2.  To create new rhythms- as the expression of new moods- and not to copy old rhythms, which merely echo old moods. We do not insist upon ‘free-verse’ as the only method of writing poetry. We fight for it as for a principle of liberty. We believe that the individuality of a poet may often be better expressed in free-verse than in conventional forms. In poetry, a new cadence means a new idea.
3.  To allow absolute freedom in the choice of subject. It is not good art to write badly about aeroplanes and automobiles; nor is it necessarily bad art to write well about the past. We believe passionately in the artistic value of modern life, but we wish to point out that there is nothing so uninspiring nor so old-fashioned as an aeroplane of the year 1911.
4.  To present an image (hence the name: ‘Imagist’). We are not a school of painters, but we believe that poetry should render particulars exactly and not deal in vague generalities, however magnificent and sonorous. It is for this reason that we oppose the cosmic poet, who seems to us to shirk the real difficulties of his art.
5.  To produce poetry that is hard and clear, never blurred nor indefinite.
6.  Finally, most of us believe that concentration is of the very essence of poetry.”

-Some Imagist Poets, Preface

Wallace Stevens

June 16, 2006

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(1879-1955)

American Modernist poet
Held a successful career in law
Main output came at a fairly advanced age
Concerned with interplay between imagination and reality and the relation between consciousness and the world; believes god is a human creation; uses musical free verse and sensuous, significant imagery recalls Symbolism
Gave few readings, associated with few poets; Strong dislike for T.S. Eliot’s poetry
A Lucretian poet, celebrating a cosmos centered upon inevitable entropy and death

“After one has abandoned a belief in God, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life’s redemption”

Quotations:

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late / Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair, / And the green freedom of a cockatoo / Upon a rug mingle to dissipate / The holy hush of ancient sacrifice. 

Shall our blood fail? Or shall it come to be / The blood of paradise?  And shall the earth / Seem all of paradise that we shall know? / The sky will be much friendlier then than now, / A part of labor and a part of pain, / And next in glory to enduring love, / Not this dividing and indifferent blue.

Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her, / Alone, shall come fulfilment to our dreams / And our desires. Although she strews the leaves / Of sure obliteration on our paths, / The path sick sorrow took, the many paths / Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love / Whispered a little out of tenderness…

-Sunday Morning

Beauty is momentary in the mind- / The fitful tracing of a portal; / But in the flesh it is immortal. / The body dies; the body’s beauty lives. / So evenings die, in their green going, / A wave, interminably flowing.

-Peter Quince at the Clavier

Call the roller of big cigars, / The muscular one, and bid him whip / In kitchen cups concupiscent curds. / Let the wenches dawdle in such dress / As they are used to wear, and let the boys / Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers. / Let be be finale of seem. / The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
Take from the dresser of deal, / Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet / On which she embroidered fantails once / And spread it so as to cover her face. / If her horny feet protrude, they come / To show how cold she is, and dumb. / Let the lamp affix its beam. / The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

-The Emperor of Ice-Cream (in whole)

It was her voice that made / The sky acutest at its vanishing. / She measured to the hour its solitude. / She was the single artificer of the world / In which she sang.  And when she sang, the sea, / Whatever self it had, became the self / That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we, / As we beheld her striding there alone, / Knew that there never was a world for her / Except the one she sang and, singing, made.

-The Idea of Order at Key West
See Poetry Speaks

Between the thing as idea and / The idea as thing. She is half who made her. / This is the final Projection, C.
The arrangement contains the desire of / The artist. But one confides in what has no / Concealed creator. One walks easily
The Unpainted shore, accepts the world / As anything but sculpture. Good-bye / Mrs. Pappadopoulos, and thanks.

-So-And-So Reclining on Her Couch
See Poetry Speaks

Tell X that speech is not dirty silence / Clarified. It is silence made still dirtier. / It is more than an imitation for the ear.
He lacks this venerable complication. / His poems are not of the second part of life. / They do not make the visible a little hard.
To see…

-The Creation of Sound

Throw away the lights, the definitions, / And say of what you see in the dark
That it is this or that it is that, / But do not use the rotted names.
How should you walk in that space and know  / Nothing of the madness of space,
Nothing of its jocular procreations? / Throw the lights away. Nothing must stand
Between you and the shapes you take / When the crust of shape has been destroyed.
You as you are? You are yourself. / The blue guitar surprises you.

-The Man with the Blue Guitar (in whole)

T. S. Eliot

June 16, 2006

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(1888-1965)

Thomas Stearns Eliot
American-born British poet, dramatist, and literary critic
One of the most influential Modernist poets of the 20th century
In 1948 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature
Converted to Anglicanism
Poetry derives its power from the capacity to embody and reconcile contradictory characteristics : Deeply conservative and traditional, but emerged as a trailblazer of experimental modernism
Youngest of 7 children: born in St. Louis
Mother was an aspirating poet frustrated by her limited educational opportunities
Shy, witty, self-ironic, and reserved in manner
Brilliant student : Earned a Ph.D. in philosophy at Harvard by the age of 23
Abandoned expected career path as a philosophy professor in the U.S. when he met Pound in England on a traveling fellowship
Married vivacious and sensitive but emotionally unstable Englishwoman Vivien Haigh-Wood, but failed to offer a living wage: took a post in the colonial and foreign department of Lloyeds Bank
Suffered a mental and physical collapse in 1921: sought treatment at a sanatorium in Lausanne, Switzerland and completed the initial draft of “The Waste Land” which he later revised with Pound
Left Llolyds Bank for an editorial position at the London publishing firm of Faber and Gwyer
Joined the Church of England and became a British citizen in 1927
Returned to harvard to give a series of lectures published as “The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism”
Vivien was permanently institutionalized in 1938 and died 9 years later
Turned to drama in later years to win a larger audience
Married again after 1957 and fell virtually silent as a poet
Died in 1965 and is buried in East Coker, the English village from which his Eliot ancestors had originated

Quotations:

Stand on the highest pavement of the stair- / Lean on a garden urn- / Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair- / Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise- / Fling them to the ground and turn / With a fugitive resentment in your eyes: / But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair

She turned away, but with the autumn weather / Compelled my imagination many days, / Many days and many hours: / Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers. / And I wonder how they should have been together!

-La Figlia Che Piange

All this was a long time ago, I remember, / And I would do it again, but set down / This set down / This: were we led all that way for / Birth or Death?  There was a Birth, certainly, / We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death, / But had thought they were different; this Birth was / Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death. / We returned to our places, these Kingdoms, / But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, / With an alien people clutching their gods. / I should be glad of another death.

-Journey of the Magi

You tossed a blanket from the bed, / You lay upon your back, and waited; / You dozed, and watched the night revealing / The thousand sordid images / Of which your soul was constituted; / They flickered against the ceiling. / And when all the world came back / And the light crept up between the shutters / And you heard the sparrows in the gutters, / You had such a vision of the street / As the street hardly understands; / Sitting along the bed’s edge, where / You curled the papers from your hair, / Or clasped the yellow soles of feet / In the palms of both soiled hands.

-Preludes

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915)

Follows the conscious experience of a man, Prufrock lamenting his physical and intellectual inertia, the lost opportunities in his life and lack of spiritual progress, with the recurrent theme of carnal love unattained
Although Prufrock seems to be middle-aged, Eliot wrote most of the poem when he was only 22
Relayed in the “stream of consciousness” form indicative of the Modernists

Quotations:

Let us go then, you and I, / When the evening is spread out against the sky / Like a patient etherised upon a table;

Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’ / Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be times / To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’ / Time to turn back and descend the stair, / With a bald spot in the middle of my hair- / [They will say: ‘How his hair is growing thin!’] / My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin, / My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a / simple pin- / [They will say: ‘But how his arms and legs are thin!’] / Do I dare / Disturb the universe? / In a minute there is time / For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

And I have known the eyes already, known them all- / The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase, / And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin, / When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall, / Then how should I being / To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways? / And how should I presume?

I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

I grow old… I grow old… / I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? / I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. / I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea / By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown / Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Tradition and the Individual Talent (1919/1920)

Quotations:

“In English writing we seldom speak of tradition, though we occasionally apply its name in deploring its absence. We cannot refer to ‘the tradition’ or to ‘a tradition’; at most, we employ the adjective in saying that the poetry of So-and-so is ‘traditional’ or even ‘too traditional.’ Seldom, perhaps, does the word appear except in a phrase of censure. If otherwise, it is vaguely approbative, with the implication, as to the work approved, of some pleasing archaeological reconstruction. You can hardly make the word agreeable to English ears without this comfortable reference to the reassuring science of archaeology.”

“…we might remind ourselves that criticism is as inevitable as breathing, and that we should be none the worse for articulating what passes in our minds when we read a book and feel an emotion about it, for criticising our own minds in their work of criticism. One of the facts that might come to light in this process is our tendency to insist, when we praise a poet, upon those aspects of his work in which he least resembles anyone else. In these aspects or parts of his work we pretend to find what is individual, what is the peculiar essence of the man. We dwell with satisfaction upon the poet’s difference from his predecessors, especially his immediate predecessors; we endeavour to find something that can be isolated in order to be enjoyed. Whereas if we approach a poet without this prejudice we shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of his work may =be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously.”

“Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to any one who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feelig that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his own contemporaneity.
No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead.”

“He must be quite aware of the obvious fact that art never improves, but that the material of art is never quite the same. He must be aware that the mind of Europe – the mind of his own country – a mind which he learns in time to be much more important than his own private mind – is a mind which changes, and that this change is a development which abandons nothing en route, which does not superannuate either Shakespeare, or Homer, or the rock drawing of the Magdalenian draftsmen. That this development, refinement perhaps, complication certainly, is not, from the point of view of the artist, any improvement.”

“But the difference between the present and the past is that the conscious present is an awareness of the past in a way and to an extent which the past’s awareness of itself cannot show.”

“The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.”

“I have tried to point out the importance of the relation of the poem to other poems by other authors, and suggested the conception of poetry as a living whole of all the poetry that has ever been written. The other aspects of this Impersonal theory of poetry is the relation of the poem to its author. And I hinted, by analogy, that the mind of the mature poet differs from that of the immature one not precisely in any valuation of ‘personality,’ not being necessarily more interesting, or having ‘more to say,’ but rather by being a more finely perfected medium in which special, or very varied, feelings are at liberty to enter into new combinations.
The analogy was that of the catalyst. When the two gases previously mentioned are mixed in the presence of a filament of platinum, they form sulphurous acid. This combination takes place only if the platinum is present; nevertheless the newly formed acid contains no trace of platinum, and the platinum itself is apparently unaffected; has remained inert, neutral, and unchanged. The mind of the poet is the shred of platinum. It may partly or exclusively operate upon the experience of the man himself; but, the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates; the more perfectly will the mind digest and transmit the passions which are its material.”

“The poet’s mind is in face a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.”

‘It is not in his personal emotions, the emotions provoked by particular events in his life, that the poet is in any way remarkable or interesting. His particular emotions may be simple, or crude, or flat. The emotion in his poetry will be a very complex thing, but not with the complexity of the emotions of people who have very complex or unusual emotions in life. One error, in fact, of eccentricity in poetry is to seek for new human emotions to express; and in this search for novelty in the wrong place it discovers the perverse. The business of the poet is not to find new emotions, but to use the ordinary ones and, in working them up into poetry, to express feelings which are not in actual emotions at all.”

“Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an excape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an excape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to excape form these things.”

“The emotion of art is impersonal. And the poet cannot reach this impersonality without surrendering himself wholly to the work to be done. And he is not likely to know what is to be done unless he lives in what is not merely the present, but the present moment of the past, unless he is conscious, not of what is dead, but of what is already living.”

The Waste Land (1922)

Read as a representation of the disillusionment of the post-war generation
Dedicated to Ezra Pound, who suggested cuts and changes for the manuscript
Includes quotations from and allusions to Shakespeare, Dante, Charles Baudelaire, Richard Wagner, Ovid, St. Augustine, Buddhist sermons, folk songs, and the anthropologists Jessie Weston and James Frazer
Deliberate use of fragmentation and discontinuity
Deals with the decline of civilization and the impossibility of recovering meaning in life, shifts between satire and prophecy, abrupt and unannounced changes of speaker, location and time, elegiac but intimidating summoning up of a vast and dissonant range of cultures and literatures
According to Time magazine:

“There is a new kind of literature abroad in the land, whose only obvious fault is that no one can understand it.”

Eliot reading The Waste Land

Quotations:

April is the cruellest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing / Dull roots with spring rain.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow / Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, / You cannot say, or guess, for you know only / A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, / And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, / And the dry stone no sound of water. Only / There is a shadow under this red rock, / (Come in under the shadow of this red rock), And I will show you something different from either / Your shadow at morning striding behind you / Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; / I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

‘You gave me hyacinths first a year ago; / ‘They called me the hyacinth girl.’ / -Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden, / Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not / Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither / Living nor dead, and I knew nothing, / Looking into the heart of light, the silence.

Unreal City, / Under the brown fog of a winter dawn, A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many, I had not thought death had undone so many.  Sighs, short and infrequent , were exhaled, / And each man fixed his eyes before his feet. 

There I saw one I knew, and stopped him, crying: ‘Stetson! / ‘You who were with me in the ships at Mylae! / ‘That corpse you planted last year in your garden, / ‘Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year? / ‘Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed? / ‘Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men, / ‘Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again! / ‘You! Hypocrite lecteur! -mon semblable, -mon frere!’

‘What is that noise?’
The wind under the door.
‘What is that noise now? What is the wind doing?’
Nothing again nothing.
‘Do / ‘You know nothing? Do you see nothing? Do you remember / ‘Nothing?’
I remember
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
‘Are you alive, or not? Is there nothing in your head?’

I too awaited the expected guest. / He, the young man carbuncular, arrives, / A small house agen’s clerk, with one bold stare, / One of the low on whom assurance sits / As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire. / The time is now propitious, as he guesses, / The meal is ended, she is bored and tired, / Endeavours to engage her in caresses / Which still are unreproved, if undesired. / Flushed and decided, he assaults at once; / Exploring hands encounter no defence; / His vanity requires no response, / And makes a welcome of indifference. / (And I Tiresias have foresuffered all / Enacted on this same divan or bed; / I who have sat by Thebes below the wall / And walked among the lowest of the dead.) / Bestows one final patronising kiss, / And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit…
She turns and looks a moment in the glass, / Hardly aware of her departed lover; / Her brain allows one half-formed thought to pass: / ‘Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over.’ / When lovely woman stoops to folly and / Paces about her room again, alone, / She smoothes her hair with automatic hand, / And puts a record on the gramophone.
 

These fragments I have shored against my ruins

Ezra Pound

June 16, 2006

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(1885-1972)

American expatriate, poet, musician, critic, and economist
Major figure of the modernist movement in early 20th century poetry
Driving force behind several modernist movements, notably Imagism and Vorticism
Quarreled with Amy Lowell on what Imagism poetry should be
W. B. Yeats’ secretary
Largely responsible for the appearance of Imagism and Vorticism during WWI
One of the first poets to successfully employ free verse
Motto was ‘Make It New’
Introduced Provencal and Chinese poetry to English speaking audiences
Important figure for the poets of the Beat generation
Born in Hailey, Idaho but his family soon moved east, settling in a Philadelphia suburb
Father worked as an assistant assayer of the U.S. Mint: Pound’s confident individuality may have stemmed from his father’s strong support
At 15 years old, Pound entered the University of Pennsylvania where he met William Carlos Williams
Briefly courted Hilda Doolittle
Early poetry tended toward the ornate: influenced by his studies in medieval Provencal and Spanish verse
Soon rejected this early mode (later referred to his first book as ‘stale cream-puffs’)
WWI shattered Pound’s belief in modern western civilization 
Supporter of Mussolini and anti-Semitism: revisited America and lobbied U.S. congressmen in an attempt to avert the oncoming WWII, began regular shortwave radio broadcasts to America criticizing President Roosevelt and the Allied ware effort and expressing anti-Semitic views
Was indicted for treason and arrested by American authorities following the defeat of Germany and placed in the U.S. Army Disciplinary Training Center near Pisa where he was confined to a solitary steel pen exposed to the elements and suffered a physical breakdown
Was again indicted for treason but was found medically unfit to stand trial: was committed to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for the Criminally Insane where he would stay utnil 1958: was visited by many leading American poets
The efforts of Frost, Hemingway, Eliot and others led to Pound’s release and return to Italy
In later years Pound suffered frequently from depression and had long bouts of extensive silence
He once said,

“I did not enter into silence. Silence captured me.”

Was stimulated into speech by a visit from Allen Ginsbergand at that time apologized for his earlier anti-Semitism as ‘that stupid, suburban prejudice’
Died in Venice at the age of eighty-seven
Quotations:

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead / I played about the front gate, pulling flowers. / You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse, / You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums. / And we went on living in the village of Chokan: / Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.
At fourteen I married My Lord you. / I never laughed, being bashful. / Lowering my head, I looked at the wall. / Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.
At fifteen I stopped scowling, / I desired my dust to be mingled with yours / Forever and forever and forever. / Why should I climb the lookout?
At sixteen you departed, / You went into far Ku-to-en, by the river of swirling eddies, / And you have been gone five months. / The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.
You dragged your feet when you went out. / By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses, / Too deep to clear them away! / The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind. / The paired butterflies are already yellow with August / Over the grass in the West garden; / They hurt me. I grow older. / If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang, / Please let me know beforehand, / And I will come out to meet you
As far as Cho-fo-Sa.
-Rihaku (Li T’ai Po), eighth century A.D.

-The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter (in whole)

The tree has entered my hands, / The sap has ascended my arms, / The tree has grown in my breast- / Downward, / The branches grow out of me, like arms.
Tree you are, / Moss you are, / You are violets with wind above them. / A child – so high – you are, / And all this is folly to the world.

-A Girl (in whole)

No, no! Go from me. I have left her lately. I will not spoil my sheath with lesser brightness, / For my surrounding air hath a new lightness; / Slight are her arms, yet they have bound me straightly / And left me cloaked as with a gauze of aether; / As with sweet leaves; as with subtle clearness. / Oh, I have picked up magic in her nearness / To sheathe me half in half the things that sheathe her. / No, no! Go from me. I have still the flavour, / Soft as spring wind that’s come from birchen bowers. / Green come the shoots, aye April in the branches, / As winter’s wound with her sleight hand she staunches, / Hath of the trees a likeness of the savour: / As white as their bark, so white this lady’s hours.

-A Virginal (in whole)

Title refers to the plucked keyboard instrument on which such a song as this might have been accompanied

I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman- / I have detested you long enough. / I come to you as a grown child / Who has had a pig-headed father; / I am old enough now to make friends. / It was you that broke the new wood, / Now is a time for carving. / We have one sap and one root- / Let there be commerce between us.

-A Pact (in whole)

Initially resisted Whitman’s influence until 1909 when he wrote from Europe that “I am for the first time able to read Whitman… I see him as America’s poet. He is America.”

“An ‘Image’ is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time. I use the term ‘complex’ rather in the technical sense employed by the newer psychologists, such as Hart, though we might not agree absolutely in our application.
It is the presentation of such a ‘complex’ instantaneiously wich gives that sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits; that sense of sudden growth, which we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art.
It is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works.
All this, however, some may consider open to debate. The immediate necessity is to tabulate A LIST OF DON’TS for those beginning to write verses. But I can not put all of them into Mosaic negative.
To begin with, consider the tree rules recorded by Mr. Flint, not as dogma 0 never consider anything as dogma- but as the result of long contemplation, which, even if it is some one else’s contemplation, may be worth consideration.
Pay no attention to the criticism of men who have never themselves written a notable work. Consider the discrepancies between the actual writing of the Greek poets and dramatists, and the theories of the Graeco-Roman grammarians, concocted to explain their metres.

-A Few Dos and Don’ts

The vortex is the point of maximum energy.
It represents, in mechanics, the greatest efficience.
We use the words ‘greatest efficiency’ in the precise sense- as they would be used in a text book of MECHANICS.
You may think of a man as that toward which perception moves. You may think of him as the TOY of circumstance, as the plastic substance RECEIVING impressions.
OR you may think of him as DIRECTING  a certain fluid force against circumstance, as CONCEIVING instead of merely observing and reflecting.

-Vortex

The Cantos (1922)

Incomplete poem in 120 sections
Themes of economics, governance, and culture
Includes Chinese characters as well as quotations in European languages

In a Station of the Metro (1926)

“A poem of this sort one is trying to record the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective.”

“Three years ago in Paris I got out of a “metro” train at La Concorde, and saw suddenly a beautiful face, and then another and another, and then a beautiful child’s face, and then another beautiful woman, and I tried all that day to find words for what this had meant to me, and I could not find any words that seemed to me worthy, or as lovely as that sudden emotion. And that evening I found, suddenly, the expression. I do not mean that I found words, but there came an equation… not in speech, but in little splotches of colour…”

Quotations:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals, on a wet, black bough.