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What Is Imagist Poetry?

G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen

Imagist poetry is a style of poetic writing that arose briefly during the early 20th century which focused on a particular object or image as the primary subject of the poem. This type of poetry was noted particularly for clear and concise language, which remained poetic and could still use devices such as metaphor or simile, while remaining precise and not emulating the flowery poetry often associated with the Romantic poets. Imagist poetry, as a movement, did not last very long, but had a tremendous impact on those poets who followed.

The birth of Imagist poetry is often associated with England, specifically the London area, and is largely attributed to the meeting of poet Hilda Doolittle and writer and editor Ezra Pound. Pound read a poem by Doolittle, provided some critique, and then passed it along for publication with the poet’s name changed to “H.D. Imagiste,” from which the movement takes its name. This occurred in 1912, but by 1917 the Imagist poetry movement had essentially come to an end.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Within this short time, however, works by a number of poets created such a reaction in readers, especially other poets, that its effects have been felt in poetry for many decades since. The essential purpose of Imagist poetry is to focus on a particular subject or scene and to capture that image in language that is plain and precise. Within this framework, however, elaborate images and concepts could be conveyed by the poet, using language that was simple to understand even as it expressed complicated ideas. These works were typically written in free verse, without the complex rhyming structures and devoid of the flowery and excessive language often associated with Romantic poetry and similar works.

Even though the Imagist poetry movement was short-lived, poets have continued to be influenced by the works of the Imagists. This includes the works of Doolittle, as well as poets Amy Lowell and William Carlos Williams. Poets who followed the Imagist poetry movement, such as T.S. Eliot, E.E. Cummings, and Allen Ginsberg, often drew from the works of Imagists as examples of freedom in language that were able to express the complex even as they described the simple or concise. Many poets writing in the Modern era and the Post-Modern era have continued to view these works as prime examples of expressive language that is plain yet evocative.

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Discussion Comments


Legenderous, you can also get an inexpensive and brief one as part of the Dover Thrift Editions series which also has several imagist poetry examples in it.


I'm sure there are probably several anthologies that have been published over the years that provide examples of imagist poems. The publisher W.W. Norton, for example, publishes anthologies on poetry, so they might be one publisher worth looking at.


Is there a poetry anthology available that is specifically about imagism?

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