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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.64, No.2, 171 ~ 186, 2018
From Imagism to Vorticism: Understanding the Early Work of Ezra Pound
Matthew Hofer
Students and other new readers of modernist poetry often experience difficulty with the influential early work of Ezra Pound. Although these typically brief poems may appear (deceptively) simple, an understanding of the relationship between Imagism and Vorticism is crucial to reading―or teaching―them effectively, which in turn requires significant familiarity with relevant poetics theories as well as representative poems. This essay clarifies the complex relations Imagism and Vorticism as two distinct styles that are too often conflated to the detriment of an accurate understanding of either one (and, in consequence, of the later modernist poetry that builds on their discoveries). In order to elucidate the modernists’ justification of free verse over traditional metrical composition, I begin with an elaboration of T. E. Hulme’s 1911 theory of the “cheerful, dry, and sophisticated” modern classicism on which both Imagism and Vorticism were largely predicated, developing Hulme’s important distinction between the version of classicism that is “static” (and gives rise to Imagism) and the one that is “dynamic” (and leads to Vorticism and beyond it). In the following two sections, I draw upon and synthesize a broad range of Pound’s own poetics statements to reveal the evolution of first sound (“melopoeia”) and then the image (“phanopoeia”) throughout his early work. Although the body of this article is analytical and historical in nature, it concludes with a practical template prompt for a creative response assignment, appropriate to undergraduate and graduate students, designed to help new readers recognize for themselves how Vorticist art works and why it matters.
Key Words
Ezra Pound, T. E. Hulme, Imagism, Vorticism, Teaching
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