University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The Literature Collection

Page View

Adler, Philip A. (ed.) / Wisconsin literary magazine
Volume XVII, Number 4 (January 1918)

Leonard, William Ellery
The new poetry: a critique,   pp. 96-100

Page 96

The New Poetry: A Critique
Without citing authorities, Aristotle, Quintilian, or
Julius Caesar Scaliger, without citing past practices in
any art, without citing art at all, I may hold these
truths to be self-evident (in this my Declaration of In-
dependence): that all effective and worthy communi-
cation from man to man, all speech that really gets
across and does anything for the listener, depends on
the speaker's ability to see straight, to feel straight, to
think straight, and to talk straight. That the Imagists
qua Imagists neither see, feel, think, nor talk straight
is the four-fold proposition to be expounded in this sec-
tion of the present treatise.
(1) The Imagists can't see straight. (a) Their
physical eye is abnormal. They are often myopic: lit-
tle minutiae of life, the shadow on a half-leaf caused
by the upcurling of the other half, the white lines be-
tween the bricks of a chimney, the fly-speck on the
window-frame between you and the blue sky (I take
my illustrations from what is before me as I look up
from my desk), details, which a De Maupassant or a
Tennyson would perhaps weave harmoniously into a
larger picture or situation, become for the Imagists the
whole horizon.  But worse, they are oftener cross-
eyed, squint-eyed, jaundiced-eyed, astigmatic; the ar-
rangement and color and focus of objects in natura re-
rum is for them curiously eccentric and subjective-
curiously, because their creed calls loudly for loyalty
to the object. The same holds for the operation of the
other senses: Imagists doubtless hear things more won-
derful than Beethoven's Symphonies in the buzz of the
mosquito on the flats back of Chicago, and they whiff
more than all the perfumes of Arabia in the summer-
steam of a Jersey dung-hill. The flavor of vinegar is
to them sweeter than honey from the honeycomb of
Sharon. This, however, need not alarm us unduly.
There is no occasion to call the doctor. They are ail-
ing as Imagists merely. As human beings they still
find mosquitoes pestiferous, dung-hills malodorous, vin-
egar astringent. But there must be new sense-impres-
sions for the New Poetry.
(b) Their mind's eye, Horatio, is still more af-
fected. What they see in imagination, as reported to
us in tortured metaphor and simile, defies diagnosis.
Of all writers Imagists might be expected not to vio-
late the two simplest maxims of making images,-that
the given image should be capable of actual visualiza-
tion, and that its parts should hang together. Not in
the pinchbeck ingenuities of Young's inflated Night
Thoughts, will one find more essential bombast.
Young's big drum is lacking; but the Imagist accom-
plishes the same thing with a squeak.
"The sky was green wine held up in the sun,
The moon was a golden petal between,"
says one. Says another (and I purposely name no
"My thoughts
Chink against my ribs
And roll about like silver hail-stones,
I should like to spill them out"   . . .
Dear lady I wish you might; you would feel easier.
But a member of Parliament (I think it was Lord
Castlereagh) unwittingly extemporized long ago what
is in some respects the best Imagist poem:
"My lords,
I smell a rat,
I see him floating in the air,
But mark you,
In a trice
I will nip him
In the bud."
The Imagists are, on their own say-so, the one new
thing under the sun. Their imagery, however, in so
far as it is a confused collocation of words-
"Vox et praetera nihil"-
as in the first example, is as old as the oldest muddle-
head, and may be paralleled by the examples listed
from all second rate literature in the old-fashioned
"Principles of Rhetoric"-useful books still, it would
seem. In so far as it is consistant, as in the second ex-
ample, consistent in its elaboration of an initial false
note and crochet of thought, it may be paralleled in
the worst "Elizabethan Conceits" of Joshua Sylvester,
Dr. Donne, and Abraham Cowley. John Dryden,
when still under the influence of this historic fad of
the fantastic, writing an elegy on a young nobleman
dead of smallpox, achieved this Imagism:
"Each little pimple had a tear in it
To wail the fault its rising did commit."
This, as the Imagist ought to say, is perfect work;
nor should the form, good old heroic couplets, blind
us to its perfection-as a sample of Imagism. This
was when Dryden was a lad; when he grew up, he
wrote "Absalom   and Achitophel".  Such things,
whether in the boy Dryden or in his modern peers,
have nothing to do with the imagination, though Imag-
January, 1918

Go up to Top of Page