H.D.’s imagist poem The Garden : Doing away with the mere lassitude of rhetoric

“This poem is an apt example of how H.D. had the quality to transform the mild into the brittle. How do you break roses?” asks Tuhin Bhowal.

“I did a few poems that I don’t think Ezra liked, but later he was beautiful about my first authentic verses and sent my poems in for me to Miss Monroe. He signed them for me, “H.D., Imagiste.” The name seems to have stuck somehow.”

—Hilda Doolittle on Ezra Pound sending her imagist poems to Harriet Monroe,
editor of Poetry magazine for publication.

The Garden

I

You are clear
O rose, cut in rock,
hard as the descent of hail.

I could scrape the colour
from the petals
like spilt dye from a rock.

If I could break you
I could break a tree.

If I could stir
I could break a tree—
I could break you.

II

O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air—
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

Introduction

Originating in the summer of 1912, represented by Ezra Pound, along with Richard Aldington, H.D. introduced Imagism and its manifestos. The vision of the Movement was able to write dry, harsh, sharp verse form which presents a visual image succinctly and eventually turns the work into poetry. Imagism can easily be said to be the successor to French Symbolism but unlike Symbolism which drew an affinity with music and rhythm, Imagism shared a close analogy with structure and sculpture. In conjunction with Pound and Aldington, Hilda Doolittle who wrote under several pseudonyms: H.D. being the most prominent amongst them, was one of the ‘three original Imagists’. Most of her early work, at least up to the 1930s was composed in the ‘Imagist’ mode, craftily utilizing spare use of language with an austere, classical purity.

What is Imagism?

In the same summer of 1912, when Pound had already begun to meet other poets at the Eiffel Tower restaurant in Soho, he was immensely impressed by the vicinity of H.D.’s poems and ideas to the principles of the Movement he had been discussing with Aldington. Below listed are the notions of the Imagist manifesto:

  1. To use the language of common speech, but to employ the exact word, not the nearly- exact, nor the merely decorative word.
  2. 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. Absolute freedom in the choice of subject.
  4. To present an image. 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 a 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.

Theme : Essence of Imagism

You are clear
O rose, cut in rock,
hard as the descent of hail.

If I could break you
I could break a tree.

O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters…

This poem starts with an address to the rose: a prayer like, to the traditional mark of romantic beauty which could easily be compared to say, Yeats’ early poems. But here the image is transformed. H.D. emphasizes not on the rose’s softness or sweetness or sensual richness of colour and touch but on its sharpness, how it was ‘clear’ and ‘hard’, ‘cut in rock’. One can draw a likeness to the rose in ‘Sea Garden’. She is interested in an expression that is harsh, astringent, only to be smoothened by elemental forces in nature; the wind. This poem is also an apt example of how H.D. had the quality to transform the mild into the brittle. How do you break roses? Certainly, the image of dried rose petals on a hot day is so visually intense.

… Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air—
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

All the verbs and nouns used in this verse present a strictly clear and precise image of the action in the scene: drop, presses, blunts, points, rounds. The description of the shapes of fruits especially strikes a vivid cord of sharpness and bluntness simultaneously.

Analysis : Form and Devices

The poem is divided into two parts. Both of them are comprised of only a single sentence. None of the lines exceed seven syllables, most of them being shorter. Repetition is being used extensively to enhance the effect and add more drama into the visual scene. The line, ‘I could break you’ appears twice. Soft language is carefully avoided. In the last six lines, alliteration is significant of the ‘p’ sound: presses, points, pears, and grapes. There is an abundance of single syllable words. The entirety of the free verse structure creates a rough, rugged sense when read. Three line verses are employed multiple times. No rhyming pattern exists. In totality, this poem is a classic example of a good Imagist poem.

Summary

From many other poets, H.D. has received praises of the highest degree. Poets and writers including Pound, Marianne Moore, Amy Lowell, Williams, Conrad Aiken, Aldington, Flint, Merrill Moore, Muriel Rukeyser, May Sarton, Ford, Sinclair, Richardson, and Horace Gregory always considered her poetry supreme. Fragmenting to essential parts, doing away with the mere lassitude of rhetoric, cutting down to what’s necessary to draw the visual imagery as vividly and starkly as possible, the act of presenting over representing constituted the core of H.D.’s poetry, and also the inspiration behind the Imagist principles.

Source : Pinterest

Tuhin Bhowal is a Bengaluru-based poet.

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