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Fresh come, to a new world indeed, yet long prepared,
I see the genius of the modern, child of the real and ideal,
Clearing the ground for broad humanity, the true America,
heir of the past so grand,
To build a grander future.
--Walt Whitman, Song of the Redwood-Tree, 1881


On Imagist Trees


by Louise Bialik


for susan mccabe

Imagist poetry is a spin off of Modernism that generated around World War I with American poets, Ezra Pound, Hilda Doolittle in London, and Marianne Moore with William Carlos Williams in New York. Often Modernism is associated with English-ness, however, it is neither American nor British born, but a second daughter owing her birthright to Franco-Italian Futurist art. BUT, Futurism owes credit to Walt Whitman and the age of machinery-- Whitman for inspiring young fascist poets to adopt free verse, and the industrial era for bringing typewriters home. With free verse, new technology, and accessible distribution, poetry no longer belonged to privileged kids punting around the backs of Cambridge but survived a bloody war to cross the Atlantic and take root in Manhattan.

While it is often the norm to develop a cultural identity by copycatting, America looked up to England, and England to the Classics until Whitman came around and said, "in my soul I plainly heard the future." This "in me" insight awakened poets to look within for creative direction rather than emulate others. Whitman learned from the Transcedentalists that what elements are in man are also in nature, and the way to cultivate a self is by caring for nature in poetry.

At the time of writing, Song of the Redwood-Tree, Whitman had been contemplating on the commercial felling of the West when illustrating Nature as a cyclic chemistry whirling in the wind of industry. Italian Futurists and French Surrealists caught on to the image of machinery deconstructing nature and soon Vorticism arrived, branching into the schools of Dada and Imagism. As Vorticism forked from Europe to America, Pound got a head start on the 1913 Armory Show by taking D.H. Lawrence's fascination for Marinettto's, Futurist Manifesto (1909) and appropriating several precepts into three tenets to make the Imagist Manifesto (1909). Of the three tenets, the Imagistes decreed that poems ought to a) show direct treatment of the "thing," b) practice condesare (eliminate words that do not contribute), and c) be rhythmic in phrase rather than in meter. Quite predictably, Pound, in 1934, later returned to the tree trope when writing his ABC of Reading, a work he intended to help navigate student poets toward effective writing. This tutorial was much in the same vein Pound had engaged (no pun), H.D., back in 1905 with his poem, "The Tree."

A tree for Pound represents a good beginning, an emblem to focus upon, and he regarded good poems to be those pruned by careful editing (ABC, 66). Traditionally, most English language poems prior to Modernism aspired for hendecasyllabic lines that obscured meaning under verbal shrubbery. Rather, Pound preferred cadence enhanced by archaic words if any ornamentation was to be considered. This way he could sustain the shelf life of dying words to educate a reader since humanity could not afford to lose its literacy. In the ABC of Reading, Pound wrote that "we live in an age of science and of abundance -- no book was duplicated until someone took the pains to copy it by hand, [and this too] is not suited to the needs of society." Pound concludes that a cultivated poet shows skill by approaching poetry in the way a gardener tends a garden:

"The weeder is supremely needed if the Garden of the Muse is to persist as a garden (ABC, 17)."

The story with poetry and gardening is the oldest story in the world, for in the beginning there was Adam and Eve in the Garden, and to make his life meaningful, Adam took up the hobby of naming things. Then in 1905, Ezra and Hilda in Bethlehem picked up on Adam's hobby by shaping their love into poetry, which went something like this:

"I stood still and was a tree amid the wood,
Knowing the truth of things unseen before;
Of Daphne and the laurel bough
And that god-feasting couple old
That grew elm-oak amid the wold.
'Twas not until the gods had been
Kindly entreated, and been brought within
Unto the hearth of their hearts' home
That they might do this wonder thing;
Nathless I have been a tree amid the wood
And many a new thing understood
That was rank folly to my head before." (The Tree, EP)


In "The Tree," young Ezra drew upon the tree image to woo Hilda with the idea of their maturing into a "god-feasting couple (4-5)." The poem is difficult to read because it pretends to be a sonnet while warbling into free verse. The mythological trope with the gods deifies the teenager's intellect and conceals pimply-faced eroticism. Off the mark, one would not suspect any active lusting in between the lines when the tone is sweet and images, gentle. However, Pound, like Apollo, invokes chaste Daphne (neither honey nor bee for me) to affirm his sexual charm. He even confesses to having done something "rank" in thought and inserts a mute virgin into the picture. The allusion of Daphne to Hilda is a snitch on Ezra's libido and inability to get some "wonder thing." The snitch also hints on Hilda's true sexuality years before she'll ever figure things out, herself. After all, Daphne once was human but became a tree in order to avoid sex with men, and Ezra called Hilda, "my Dryad." Such a pet name suggests the insight that Ezra knew that Hilda preferred females, but this is only evident after the tete-a-tete with the garden poems between the pair and Hilda's former husband, Richard Aldington.

Why Hilda left behind the safe woods of her Moravian home for a dingy London flat to follow Ezra is a matter of falling in love with the image of a tree. A tree is genderless, and Hilda was most attracted to androgens because she herself was one. When Ezra's said to Hilda, "I am a tree," he was more satanic than pagan, for in identifying himself with treeliness, he fooled Hilda on two counts. In professing himself to be a tree, the boy poet became like the Tree of Knowledge, transforming Hilda into a subordinate Eve whom he could manipulate into a lifelong role of pupilship. And in saying, "I am a tree," to the one he called, "Dryad," he motivated Hilda to love him in the way nymphs love trees (every girl adores a fascist). Come 1916, her tree obsession would cease, as seen in the first section of her poem, Garden, before it is shaved down to just the second section, later retitled as Heat:

If I could break you
I could break a tree.

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

In felling a tree, several messages are inferred with Garden, which more or less identifies the voice to not be entirely powerless or paralyzed. "If I could," is listed twice and could be exchanged for, "had I the chance," "had I the strength," "had I the will." While the voice speaks of an inability to break a tree or stir, what exists is the desire to move, and this desire gains that freedom by "forgetting" in Sheltered Garden ["to blot out this garden/ to forget, to find a new beauty/ in some terrible/ wind-tortured place"] .

To place Ezra's Tree next to Hilda's Garden, is to experience an underlying message-- if I could get out of my depression, I'd come and whoop your ass for all the crap you've put me through . However, because H.D. was midway between sanity and losing it, and dependent upon others to survive, the story behind the "could" is probably more, "I wish I were stronger so that I wouldn't need you."

To keep sane during crazy times, H.D. kept a journal, which was posthumously published as Notes on Thought and Vision (1919). In this journal, she states that a tree is like a body, but is freer than man to not suffer mentally:

"The body?limbs of a tree, branches of a fruit tree? [is] just the m a tree a man planted by the rivers, [--] But a man has an intellect, a brain?a mind in fact capable of three states of being, [--] ordinary, sub-conscious, [--] or [--] madness ( NTV, 42)."

From this entry, there is evidence of slippery sanity wavering between incoherency and lucidity, and is in keeping with H.D.'s oneiric writing style. Such a style evolves from her rambling logopoeia to mythologized narratives once she becomes an analysand under Sigmund Freud, and is truly helped by Eric Heydt's psychotherapy.

Upon the Bid Me To Live era, Hilda stood tall with many failures for a foundation-- a broken engagement to Pound, a rocky marriage with Aldington, a miscarriage, an unplanned pregnancy, a divorce and then birth of Perdita whom she adopted out to Bryher. Thus the pink moth in her early thirties came to realize that she was probably not nuts but unable to fit into a rigid, heterosexual world. Any assumption that she was clinically insane fails to process the factors of her uprooting and abandonment by people she trusted in an anti-gay world.

Complicating H.D.'s mental health was the fact that she was emotionally charged and not "anaemic" as Pound spewed, and in being so "wound up," she needed some kind of outlet but stumbled across a clan of male censors who methodically cut her down. With head above water, Pound the Gadfly just had to make one last jab at H.D. in The Garden as if to sink the Lusitania:

. . .. . . . . En robe de parade. Samain

Like a skein of silk blowing against a wall
She walks by the railing of a path in Kensington Gardens,
And she is dying piece-meal
Of a sort of emotional anaemia.

And round about there is a rabble
Of the filthy, sturdy, unkillable infants of the very poor.
They shall inherit the earth.

In her is the end of breeding.
Her boredom is exquisite and excessive.
She would like someone to speak to her,
And is almost afraid that I
will commit that indiscretion."


In response to The Garden's psychological blow against Hilda, Aldington satirized Pound in, AU JARDIN:

O YOU away high there,
you that lean
From amber lattices upon the colbalt night,
I am below amid the pine trees,
Amid the little pine trees, hear me!

"The jester walked in the garden."
. . . . . Did he so?

Well, there's no use your loving me
That way, Lady;
For I've nothing but songs to give you.

I am set wide upon the world's ways
To say that life is, some way, a gay thing,
But you never string two days upon one wire
But there'll come some sorrow of it.
And I loved a love once,
Over beyond the moon there,
I loved a love once,
And may be, more times,

But she danced like a pink moth in the shrubbery.

Oh, I know you women from the "other folk,"
And it'll all come right,
O'Sundays.

"The jester walked in the garden."
. . . . . Did he so?

Aldington's poem is funny and shows that even though things didn't work out with Hilda, he's chivalrously cool enough to defend her by turning the mirror of madness back on to Pound's vanity. The great Pound might have seen himself as some spermatic wonder desired by a bored Hilda, but Aldington set the record straight, implying, "Looky here, you flybynight clown, you twirp too tiny to see beyond your ego, don't say you know what's going on because you haven't been around. If anything, you turned my lovely nymph into a moth, and I couldda loved her in a way that wouldda made her feel something other than slutty, but you conditioned her to want only a brute and flames for wings to fly into..."

Later on, much, much later on in End to Torment, Hilda delves into her screwy past with Ezra and reveals the truth about why he taunted her with the line "an end to breeding"?:

"I did not see him at the time of my first confinement, 1915. I lost that child. The second was four years later, 1919. He [Ezra] hurtles himself into the decorous St. Faith's Nursing Home, in Ealing, near London. Beard, black soft hat, ebony stick. [-] Then with the stick against the wall, he banged. This was a grave crisis in my life. It was happening here. "But," he said, "my only criticism is that this is not my child." (ETT, 8)

The true motivation behind Ezra's insult against Hilda's "breeding" was that she was capable of reproducing children without him and he regretted that he was not part of the process or heir to her children. Aldington's poem attempts to restore Hilda's virtue by transforming Ezra's silk image into a pink moth where she may dance in the shrubbery and not waste against a wall. While words can cut and writers can use words like bullets flying out of guns, bullets are only effective if there is order in the triggering. To make a bullet trigger well, there must be rules, and here are more from Pound's ABCs:

"-- phanopoeia, melopoeia, logopoeia. You use a word to throw a visual image on to the reader's imagination, or you charge it by sound, or you use groups of words to do this. [--] Take the greater risk of using the word in some special relation to usage, that is, to the kind of context in which the reader expects, or is accustomed, to find it. (ABC, 37)

While Hilda's poetry is often reliably logopeiac, jumping from a rose to a rock to a feeling to fire, the Garden poem is melopoeiac, like a wild lyric charged by a choppy two feet measure that is nearly impossible to scan. With eleven lines in the first section, broken down into 2 tercets, one couplet, followed by another tercet, the poem opens with molossic starts and crashes with an epitritic ending, in "If I could break you. I could break a tree." The combustibility of Garden generates an alchemical invocation in the way Oread, another H.D. poem, begs the sea to "whirl up" and transform still space into a vortisistic blur.

The Garden's highspeed introduction of a rose, a rock, petals and a tree creates a centrifugal habitat where its elements coagulate into the "You" of this poem. This "You" is unlike Whitman's Redwood-Tree in that the "You" is not about the reader, but about an unstable rose (Hilda?) shifting from a clear state to some opaque firmness:



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

I could scrape the colour
From the petals
Like split 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.


You are clear
O rose, / cut in rock
Hard (as the) de-scent / of hail.

I could scrape / the co-lour
From the / pet-als
Like split 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.
feet ___scan___favors

1 = o ' ' ' - - - - molossos
2 = o ' ' ' / - - - - molossos
2 = o ' - - - / ' - . 1st paeon

2 = o - - ' / - ' - -anapest
2 = o - - / ' - - - trochee
2 = o ' ' ' / - - - - molossos

2 = o ' ' ' / - - - - molossos
2 = o - - ' / - - - anapest

1 = o ' ' ' - - - - 4th epitrite
2 = o ' ' ' / - ' - -molossos
1 = o ' ' ' - - - - 4th epitrite

In Garden, the rock signifies a psychological transition for a "thing," most likely a woman, coming to the realization of her ability to reason and behave unaffected by emotion. The rock is sturdy and transports the "thing" out of stormy times. This "thing" becomes a rose and represents feminine reason matured by the experience of past failure. Thus the poem is about an awakening.

At the time of H.D.'s writing Garden, she was probably given to write without inhibition, letting her words fall like hail, to make this a feeling type of poem. The thundering tone takes the speaker from paralysis -- "If I could, I would"-- to warn the recipient of this message that with such an ability to break a tree, there is the same potential to destroy things beyond the material, like "You" for instance. "You," is an interesting subject in this piece. There are two "You"s: The first is the "Rose-You," and the second is undeclared. If the second "You" is Ezra Pound (Mr. Tree), then this poem is a declaration of independence from his controlling ways. If the "You" is more internal, say about a character flaw, then the speaker is identifying a desire to understand what makes that flaw tick so that her tree problem can be resolved. Either way, this is not a poem about helplessness but about self-empowerment.

The tree needs the rose for a foundation to exist. Break apart that rose by "turning it over," as in the second section, called Heat, and all obscurity dissolves, allowing for the unseen to be revealed. Imagist technique strives to break apart an object, and strip down its exterior to magnify internal mechanics otherwise unnoticeable. Notice too the symphonic booming in the 4th epitritic lines of "If I could stir" and "I could break you" -- this can be sung along to Beethoven's 5th Symphony, and incidentally, that bah-bah-bah ba is also the same tone and rhythm for the Morse Coded letter "V" which was used during the war for "Victory." It's important to pay attention to sound, the melopoeia.

Where a Vorticist might strive to capture an object in a static state during motion, the Imagist will concentrate on a branch or segment of that movement by freeze-framing an object into a still picture, as an animator might export a piece of celluloid for enhancement. One example of poetry in motion set to a standstill is William Carlos Williams' phanopoeia The Locust Tree In Flower, presented in first and second versions, illustrating the art of dicthen = condensare in full flower.

(first version)

Among
the leaves
bright

green
of wrist-thick
tree

and old
stiff broken
branch

ferncool
swaying
loosely strung?

come May
again
white blossom

clusters
hide
to spill

their sweets almost
unnoticed

down
and quickly
fall


(second version)

Among
of
green

stiff
old
bright

broken
branch come

white
sweet
May

again


















This poem is flavored with Taoist intent in that each tercet behaves haiku-like but is not of the 5/7/5 syllabic formula although appreciative of natural elements such as leaves, blossoms, branch. More importantly, when Williams cuts down the first version from twenty-four lines to thirteen, and speeds up the reanimation of springtime, he becomes non-attached and personality-free. There is no voice in this poem other than nature being what it is. And, the poem itself even looks like a tree. The poem's tree-ish image is achieved by the narrowing of lines into single words, which when stacked one on top the other, builds a staff.

In looking at the first and second versions of The Locust Tree In Flower, there is a compelling calling card for a third version [NOTE: 3rd version is my own experiment and not a poem by wm cls wms]:

(first version)

Among
the leaves
bright

green
of wrist-thick
tree

and old
stiff broken
branch

ferncool
swaying
loosely strung?

come May
again
white blossom

clusters
hide
to spill

their sweets almost
unnoticed

down
and quickly
fall


(second version)

Among
of
green

stiff
old
bright

broken
branch come

white
sweet
May

again


















(third version)

Among
old
stiff

green
branch:

May


























One might even try to compose a fourth version, which might look like: branch.

An isolated word is powerful. Words combined create habitats. Sentences needn't convey meaning if the exterior presents a visual clue. For example:

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.


Williams' The Red Wheelbarrow, also looks and behaves like a wheelbarrow, or really, four still images of little wheelbarrows. In each couplet/stanza, the top portion is a barrow and the bottom portion is a wheel. The top portion depends upon the bottom to carry it to the next destination, and so the wheels (upon, barrow, water, chickens) deliver the antecedent lines (so much depends, a red wheel, glazed with rain, beside the white) to their destinations.

Another poem that looks like a tree but behaves like a wheelbarrow by being transportational, is Marianne Moore's Avec Ardeur, an Imagist satire for Ezra Pound's eyes to either enjoy or be cogitated by.


Avec Ardeur

Dear Ezra, who knows what cadence is.

I've been thinking?mean, cogitating:

Make a fuss
and be tedious.

I'm annoyed?
Yes; am. I avoid.

"adore"
and "bore";

am, I
say, by

the word
(bore) bored.

I refuse
to use

"divine"
to mean

something
pleasing:

"terrific color"
for some horror.

Though flat
myself, I'd say that

"Atlas"
(pressed glass)

looks best
embossed.



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I refuse
to use

"enchant,"
"dement";

even "fright-
ful plight"
(however justified)

or "frivol-
ous fool"
(however suitable).

I've escaped?
am still trapped

by these
word diseases.

Without pauses,
the phrases

lack lyric
force, unlike

Attic
Alcaic,

or freak
calico-Greek.

This is not verse
of course.

I'm sure of this;

Nothing mundane is divine;
Nothing divine is mundane.

Like the Williams' Wheelbarrow poem, Moore's Ardeur breaks time down into syllables and draws attention to the mundane-non-mundane events that happen in life. A word like "chickens" in Wheelbarrow functions in the same way that "Alcaic" does in Moore's piece. Both "chickens" and "Alcaic" are unexpected. The arrival to an unexpected destination is the not exactly the preferred method for an Imagist's poem. Remember, Pound said, "Take the greater risk of using the word in some special relation to usage in which the reader expects or is accustomed to find it (ABC, 37)." But doesn't this principle go against the intent of a logopoeia poem?

Why would Marianne Moore write a poem like Avec Ardeur? This is a poem written around the time when Pound was imprisoned at the madhouse of St. Elizabeth's after being captured by the American government for being a spy or traitor or some kind of blown-out-of-proportion fear having to do with his research on Italian fascism. He was beginning to pick up correspondence with H.D. and Aldington, visited by Elizabeth Bishop and a tired, old man when Moore wrote this poem, to what purpose?

The monosyllabic style of Avec Ardeur is unlike any other poem Moore ever wrote, with the exception of Poetry (I too dislike it). Avec Ardeur is something of a letter to a friend in trouble where Moore confesses a few things about her writing preferences, which do not pursue Imagist rules but truthful philosophic tautologies. In sharing with Pound her firm beliefs on her relationship with words and how she has grown to cultivate a poem, Moore avoids cliches and shows that even "boring" American speech can sound "something pleasing." The most important point in this poem is that there is no failure in the mundane, but something wrong with imagination if it fails to find some thing unembossably worthy in the ordinary, and this insight is a medicinal antcedote for a friend damaged by "word disease."

Trees and flowers can suffer from fungal disease, grow white powdery fluff on stems, leaves, even the seeds themselves, and such disease can occur in poetry if a poet gardener fails to see beyond his microbic vision and not engage in the "real shit" or "mundanity" of reality. The garden collection of poetry presented here is a fine example on one poet relating with another, and a love story with words. While a tree may be ordinary, a poet can take a word, cut a word, even resuscitate by using "Alcaic" in a poem. Yet the purpose of poetry is to recreate reality by detailing a fact and transporting another toward an extreme example of Truth. All a rule does is offer a direction for the map of a poem to form, and poets write to discover truths, even truths about their relationships with one another. Moore's point is that with so many rules around, why not lighten up and have a little fun with our world? Atlas, looks best embossed.

Links:
- Imagist Manifesto, Pound, Lawrence, H.D.
- Manifesto of Futurism, Marinetto
- Song of the Redwood-Tree, Whitman
- Sheltered Garden, H.D .
- Ice & Light - original poems on H.D by bialik.
- Heddy's H.D. page - (still my favourite)
- Notes on gertrude stein - what is a slice

http://hergart.tripod.com/~didogart/atlas.html



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