Imagism was a short-lived school of poetry that emphasized clarity and precision and rejected verbiage and sentiment. At the center of the movement was Ezra Pound, who was influenced in his thinking by a group of London poets and philosophers, among them T.E. Hulme, whose essay, “Romanticism and Classicism,” was seminal to the movement.
In his essay, Hulme foretells a classical revival in poetry. Rejecting Romanticism—which he argues is based upon the mistaken idea that a human is “an infinite reservoir of possibilities” hindered by modern society—he calls for a new classicism in the form of poetry that is “dry and hard” and that aims for “accurate, precise and definite description.”
Imagism was introduced to the world in the January 1913 issue of Poetry magazine, which contained poems by ”H.D, ‘Imagiste.’” Two months later, Poetry offered two essays on Imagism by F.S. Flint and Pound. The Flint essay set three criteria for an Imagist poem:
- It must treat objects directly.
- It must have no unnecessary words.
- Its rhythm must be natural to human speech, rather than conventional.
Imagism as a proper movement didn’t last long, but all of these criteria are still accepted as gospel by many current poets.
The movement peaked in 1914 with the release of the anthology Des Imagistes, containing poems by Pound, H.D., Amy Lowell, William Carlos Williams, Richard Aldington, Flint, James Joyce, and others. By 1917, the movement had run its course.