from A RETROSPECT
There has been so much scribbling about a new fashion in poetry, that I may perhaps be pardoned this brief recapitulation and restrospect.
In the spring or early summer of 1912, "H.D.," Richard Aldington and myself decided that we were agreed upon the three principles following:
1. Direct treatment of the "thing" whether subjective or objective.
2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.
A FEW DON’TS
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" instantaneously which 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 the beginning to write verses. I can not put all of them into Mosaic negative.
To begin with, consider the three propositions (demanding direct treatment, economy of words, and the sequence of the musical phrase), not as dogma—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.
Use no superfluous word, no adjective which does not reveal something.
Don’t use such an expression as "dim lands of peace." It dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. It comes from the writer’s not realizing that the natural object is always the adequate symbol.
Go in fear of abstractions. Do not retell in mediocre verse what has already been done in good prose. Do’t think any intelligent person is going to be decieved when you try to shirk all the difficulties of the unspeakably difficult art of good prose by chopping your composition into line lengths.
What the expert is tired of today the public will be tired of tomorrow.
Don’t imagine that the art of poetry is any simpler than the art of music, or that you can please the expert before you have spent at least as much effort on the art of verse as an average piano teacher spends on the art of music.
Be influenced by as many great artists as you can, but have the decency either to acknowledge the debt outright, or to try to conceal it.
Don’t allow “influence” to mean merely that you mop up the particular decorative vocabulary of some one or two poets whom you happen to admire. A Turkish war correspondent was recently caught red-handed babbling in his despatches of “dove-grey” hills, or else it was “pearl-pale,” I can not remember.
Use either no ornament or good ornament.
Don’t imagine that a thing will "go" in verse just because it’s too dull to go in prose.
When Shakespeare talks of the "Dawn in russet mantle clad" he presents something which the painter does not present. There is in this line of his nothing that one can call description; he presents.
Consider the way of the scientists rather than the way of an advertising agent for a new soap.
Rhythm.—I believe in an "absolute rhythm," a rhythm, that is, in poetry which corresponds exactly to the emotion or shade of, emotion to be expressed. A man’s rhythm must be interpretative, it will be, therefore, in the end, his own, uncounterfeiting, uncounterfeitable.
Symbols.—I believe that the proper and perfect symbol is the.natural object, that if a man use "symbols" he must so use them that their symbolic function does not obtrude; so that a sense, andthe poetic quality of the passage, is not lost to those who do not p understand the symbol as such, to whom, for instance, a hawk is a hawk.
Technique.—I believe in technique as the test of a man’s sincerity; in law when it is ascertainable; in the trampling down of every convention that impedes or obscures the determination of the law, or the precise rendering of the impulse.
Form.—I think there is a "fluid" as well as a "solid" content, that some poems may have form as a tree has form, some as water poured into a vase. That most symmetrical forms have certain uses. That a vast number of subjects cannot be precisely, and therefore not properly rendered in symmetrical forms.
[Ezra Pound. "A Retrospect." In Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. New Directions, 1918, 1920, 1935.]