Columns of Amethyst – Brief poems by T. E. Hulme

Thomas  Ernest Hulme (T. E. Hulme) was born at Gratton Hall, Endon, Staffordshire on the 16th September 1883. He grew up in an affluent household with chauffeurs, gardeners and a big house. He was educated at Newcastle-under-Lyme High School where he was a prominent member, nicknamed “The Whip”, of the school debating society. He studied at St John’s College, Cambridge, where he read mathematics. He founded a group called the Discord Club which indulged in provocative bad behaviour and certain disreputable activities after the Boat Race in 1904 led to him being sent down. After his expulsion a mock funeral was held in his honour, seemingly the longest such funeral ever seen in Cambridge. He later returned to Cambridge to study philosophy, but was again expelled after some explicit love letters to an under aged girl were discovered. He then studied at University College London for a time before travelling through Canada where, as he put it, the first time I ever felt the necessity or inevitableness of verse was in the desire to reproduce the peculiar quality of feeling which is induced by the flat spaces and wide horizons of the virgin prairie of Western Canada. He moved to Brussels where he learned French and German. While there he acquainted himself with the works of the French philosopher, Henri Bergson, which led him to develop the ideas which led to the creation of “Imagism” in poetry.

Hulme was noted for his truculence. Over six feet tall with a ruddy complexion, and what Wyndham Lewis called an “extremely fine head” and “legs like a racing cyclist”, his arguments were often physical as well as philosophical. He once fought Wyndham Lewis over a girl, Kate Lechmere. Although the fight had started indoors, when it moved outside in Soho Square, Hulme hung Lewis upside down on the railings by his trousers. His inclination for physical violence and intemperate arguments was aided by a knuckle-duster made for him by the sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. There are strong suggestions from his  biographers that this knuckle-duster was also used to pleasure his lovers. A non-smoking, teetotalling Tory, he loved sex and boiled sweets, and he preferred suet pudding and treacle to cigarettes and alcohol.

in London, in 1908, he established the Poets’ Club, a group who met once a month to discuss and share poetry and prose, and there he advanced his poetic ideas of image particularly in his celebrated  “Lecture on Modern Poetry”, a manifesto of sorts for the Imagist movement. Eventually he grew tired of the Poets’ Club and established a new group that met at the Cafe Tour d’Eiffel where he attempted to create a new English poetry embracing the attitudes of pre-war England. Ezra Pound was part of this group. There was a fractious relationship between the two men with Pound often claiming credit for Hulme’s contributions to Imagism. His interest in poetry declined by 1910 and this led to the dissolution of the Cafe Tour d’Eiffel group. However, he continued to write literary criticism and journalism.

He became increasingly obsessed with the impending world war and when, on August 4, 1914, it was announced that Great Britain had declared war on Germany, after the German Army invaded Belgium on its way to attack France, Hulme entered military service and joined the Honourable Artillery Company. He was sent to the Western Front. His defence of that war irked Bertrand Russell who called him  ‘an evil man’, following their heated public debate over the War in national newspapers. He wrote of his war experiences in his diary: It’s not the idea of being killed that’s alarming, but the idea of being hit by a jagged piece of steel. You hear the whistle of the shell coming, you crouch down as low as you can and just wait. It doesn’t burst merely with a bang, it has a kind of crash with a snap in it, like the crack of a very large whip. They seem to burst just over your head, you seem to anticipate it killing you in the back, it hits just near you and you get hit on the back with clods of earth and (in my case) spent bits of shell and shrapnel bullets fall all around you. I picked up one bullet almost sizzling in the mud just by my toe… What irritates you is the continuation of the shelling. You seem to feel that 20 minutes is normal, is enough – but when it goes on for over an hour, you get more and more exasperated, feel as if it were ‘unfair’. However, he added a postscript: I’m getting used to this kind of life and as long as I don’t get hurt or it doesn’t rain too much, don’t mind it at all.

He was wounded in April 1915 and sent home. In March 1916 he was commissioned into the Royal Marine Artillery and was sent to the Royal Naval Siege guns on the Belgian coast. Initially he enjoyed a quieter war. However the fighting intensified and, on 28th September 1917, he was killed  while manning a gun near Nieuport in  Flanders when he was blown to bits by a direct hit from a shell. He was thirty-four years old. He is buried in the Koksijde (Coxyde) Military Cemetery, Belgium. His headstone carries the inscription “One of the War Poets”.

 

 

THE POETRY OF T. E. HULME

T. S. Eliot admired Hulme’s small poetic output, about 25 poems totalling some 260 lines. He praised him as the author of two or three of the most beautiful short poems in the language, calling him the forerunner of a new attitude of mind, which should be the twentieth-century mind, if the twentieth century is to have a mind of its own. His poems “Autumn” (see below) and “A City Sunset”, both published in 1909,  have the distinction of being considered the first Imagist poems. His search for a ‘dry, hard, classical verse’ to replace the tired Romanticism of much late Victorian and Georgian poetry, inspired the Imagist movement, supposedly founded by Ezra Pound in 1912. The Complete Poetical Works of T. E. Hulme  first appeared in 1912, at the back of Ezra Pound’s volume Ripostes and contained just five poems, none of them longer than half a page, and the total running to just 33 lines. Yet those five poems ignited the modernist revolution in English poetry, a revolution that embraced brevity, precision of image and language, understatement, free verse and topical everyday experience. 

A philosophical concept of “image” lay at the root of Hulme’s poetic philosophy which incorporated elements of Bergson’s philosophy. Image, he argued, was the untouched material of experience that could be artistically represented in poetry. He was inspired also by Gustave Kahn, a French symbolist poet, who had written about free verse in his book Premiers poemes (1897). Khan’s poems resisted following stringent rules of meter, rhyme, and rhythm; instead, it meandered with the mind of the writer.  Hulme was clear on what he wanted from poetry: I want to speak verse in a plain way as I would of pigs: that is the only honest way. Although Ezra Pound often gets the credit for founding the Imagist movement, (along with English poet Richard Aldington and American poet Hilda Doolittle) and writing the influential ‘A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste’, the ideas had already been formulated by Hulme years earlier. Although Pound and Hulme were associates, Pound later minimised the role Hulme had played in the formation of Imagist practice. However, Pound did acknowledge his significance when he wrote that Hulme set an enviable example to many of his contemporaries who have had less to say. Whatever poetic limitations Hulme’s (and Pound’s) philosophy have, the poetry of T. E. Hulme deserves a modern audience.

 

 

Brief Poems by T. E. Hulme

Autumn

A touch of cold in the Autumn night—
I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded,
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.

***

Above the Dock

Above the quiet dock in mid night,
Tangled in the tall mast’s corded height,
Hangs the moon. What seemed so far away
Is but a child’s balloon, forgotten after play.

***

from Fragments

Old houses were scaffolding once 
and workmen whistling.

***

Three birds flew over the red wall
into the pit of the evening sun.
O daring, dooméd birds that pass from my sight.

***

Raleigh in the dark tower prisoned
Dreamed of the blue sea and beyond
Where in strange tropic paradise
Grew musk…

***

Her skirt lifted as a dark mist
From the columns of amethyst.

***

This to all ladies gay I say.
Away, abhorréd lace, away.

***

The lark crawls on the cloud
Like a flea on a white belly.

***

The mystic sadness of the sight
Of a far town seen in the night.

***

Sounds fluttered, 
like bats in the dusk.

***

The flounced edge of skirt, 
recoiling like waves off a cliff.

***

Down the long desolate street of stars.

***

The bloom of the grape has gone.

***

When she speaks, almost her breasts touch me.
Backward leans her head.

 

 

LINKS

Extracts from T. E. Hulme: Selected Writings.

The Poetry Foundation Page on T. E. Hulme.

Ten short poems by T. E. Hulme.

Five fascinating facts about T. E. Hulme.

T. E. Hulme: The First Modern Poet?

An essay by Alan Jenkins on the TLS blog.

Maple Leaves – Brief Poems by Amy Lowell

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Amy Lowell  ( 1874 – 1925) was an American poet of the Imagist school from Brookline, Massachusetts, who posthumously won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1926. She was the daughter of Augustus Lowell and Katherine Bigelow Lawrence, and a distant relative of the poet, James Russell Lowell, her paternal grandfather’s cousin. Both sides of her family were New England aristocrats, wealthy and prominent members of society. As the daughter of a wealthy family, Lowell was first educated at the family home, “Sevenels” (named by her father as a reference to the seven Lowells living there), by an English governess who left her with a lifelong inability to spell. At school she was, according to one biographer,  the terror of the faculty. and according to another, totally indifferent to classroom decorum. Noisy, opinionated, and spoiled, she terrorized the other students and spoke back to her teachers. She travelled widely, even as a child.

Her first book of poetry was conventional and unsuccessful, but, after involving herself with the Imagist movement in London in 1915 where she edited three volumes of the anthology, Some Imagist Poets,  her work became more experimental and more intriguing, even involving a new innovation called “Polyphonic Prose”,  lush prose poems utilising alliteration, assonance, rhyme and return. She was energetic and prolific in her writing, producing twelve volumes (one of over 360 pages) over thirteen years.  She had a life-long fascination with John Keats and her latter years were  spent on a two-volume biography which she completed before her death from a  cerebral haemorrhage in 1925, at the age of 51.

Throughout her life, and even after her death, she was subject to mockery and derision for,  among other things, her flamboyant wealth, her large figure (due to a glandular problem) which led Ezra Pound to call her a “hippopoetess”, her fondness for cigars which she preferred to cigarettes as they lasted longer, for travelling through London in a mulberry-coloured car with two chauffeurs in matching livery, and for sleeping on sixteen pillows.  Even her lesbian tendencies have been used to condemn her. Put simply, she was bullied. Writing of Keats,  Amy Lowell said that the stigma of oddness is the price a myopic world always exacts of genius. She may not have been a genius but the stigma of oddness should not blind us to her dedication, her application and her craft.

 

 

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THE POETRY OF AMY LOWELL

Amy Lowell’s unpopularity extended to her poetry and her promotion of poetry.  When she arrived in London in 1915 with the aim of advancing the Imagist (or Imagiste) movement she wanted to substitute “pure democracy” for what she saw as Ezra Pound’s “despotism”. A rift developed between her and Pound which led him to mockingly deride the movement he had been instrumental in founding as Amy-gism. She certainly took the movement, often through her own poetry, in a new direction. She was instrumental in promoting the poetry of D. H. Lawrence. He repaid the compliment with a snide remark, in everything she did she was a good amateur. Even relatively recently, Michael Schmidt, in his magisterial Lives of the Poets, refers to her, in a disparaging way, as that busybody Amy Lowell.

Harriet Monroe, founder of Poetry magazine, was more sympathetic, The force which Miss Lowell’s New England ancestors put into founding and running cotton mills, or belike into saving souls, she puts into conquering art and making it express and serve her. So how good are the poems? In my opinion, the briefer the better. Very few poets have proved capable of integrating Japanese influences into English poetry. She has. The poems below, more than many of her longer pieces, repay rereading. Enjoy them.

 

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Brief Poems by Amy Lowell

Circumstance

Upon the maple leaves
The dew shines red,
But on the lotus blossom
It has the pale transparence of tears.

***

Near Kioto

As I crossed over the bridge of Ariwarano Narikira,
I saw that the waters were purple
With the floating leaves of maple.

***

Yoshiwara Lament

Golden peacocks
Under blossoming cherry-trees,
But on all the wide sea
There is no boat.

***

A Year Passes

Beyond the porcelain fence of the pleasure garden,
I hear the frogs in the blue-green rice-fields;
But the sword-shaped moon
Has cut my heart in two.

***

Autumn

All day I have watched the purple vine leaves
Fall into the water.
And now in the moonlight they still fall,
But each leaf is fringed with silver.

***

Nuance

Even the iris bends
When a butterfly lights upon it.

***

Nuit Blanche

The chirping of crickets in the night
Is intermittent,
Like the twinkling of stars.

***

Outside a Gate

On the floor of the empty palanquin
The plum petals constantly increase.

***

Road to the Yoshiwara

Coming to you along the Nihon Embankment
Suddenly the road was darkened
By a flock of wild geese
Crossing the moon.

***

A Daimyo’s Oiran

When I hear your runners shouting:
“Get down! Get down!”
Then I dress my hair
With the little chrysanthemums.

***

Autumn Haze

Is it a dragon fly or maple leaf
That settles softly down upon the water?

***

Meditation

A wise man,
Watching the stars pass across the sky,
Remarked:
In the upper air the fireflies move more slowly.

***

 A Lover

If I could catch the green lantern of the firefly
I could see to write you a letter.

****

Proportion

In the sky there is a moon and stars,
And in my garden there are yellow moths
Fluttering about a white azalea bush.

***

The Fisherman’s Wife

When I am alone,
The wind in the pine-trees
Is like the shuffling of waves
Upon the wooden sides of a boat.

***

Vespers

Last night, at sunset,
The foxgloves were like tall altar candles.
Could I have lifted you to the roof of the greenhouse,
my Dear,
I should have understood their burning.

***

Middle Age

Like black ice
Scrolled over with unintelligible patterns
by an ignorant skater
Is the dulled surface of my heart.

 

 

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LINKS

Some poems from Lacquer Prints (1913-1919).

The Terebess Asia Online (TAO) page on Amy Lowell.

The Modern American Poetry Page on Amy Lowell.

Critical Flame article on Amy Lowell.

 

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Petals – Brief Poems by Ezra Pound

Ezra_PoundEzra Pound (1885-1972), an American from Hailey, Idaho,  is possibly the most influential and the most controversial poet of the twentieth century. According to T. S. Eliot, “Pound is more responsible for the twentieth-century revolution in poetry than is any other individual.” He was famous for the generosity with which he advanced the work of such major contemporaries as W. B. Yeats, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, H. D., James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, and especially T. S. Eliot who dedicated The Waste Land to Pound who was instrumental in editing the final version. In his own poetry, Pound adopted many voices with great skill, learning from Robert Browning’s dramatic poetry which was an enduring inspiration. An early collection was entitled, appropriately, Personae. Pound could speak through the mouth of a troubadour warrior, a Chinese river-merchant’s wife, an Italian Renaissance prince or the Roman poet, Sextus Propertius.

He was among the early practitioners of a school of poetry known as Imagism (or Imagisme to give it its Frenchified term bestowed by H. D.). It was, according to Thom Gunn “a tiny movement with a tiny life-span which produced tiny poems; but it was to be the most influential poetic movement of the century, in subject matter confining itself to the sensory at the expense of the conceptual, in style emphasising clarity and compression, and in form carrying with it the implicit necessity of free verse, which was still young and experimental at that time, and by no means the drab norm it is nowadays.” The most famous example of Imagism remains that short two-line poem which Pound wrote in 1913, In a Station of the Metro.

In a Station of the Metro

Pound’s Parisian Metro station has the same iconic status as the red wheelbarrow of William Carlos Williams. First printed in 1913 in Poetry Magazine in the version printed below (I am indebted to Thom Gunn’s selection for this information) it was originally a thirty line poem before he put it through his Imagist paces. This was his version of Japanese haiku which, he claimed, provided a model of compression in verse, a “one-image” poem  which is “trying to record the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective.” The title anchors and places the poem. The first line is a simple, clear and straightforward statement. The second is a brilliant use of metaphor. The poem’s emotional core is the connection and the disconnection between the two lines.

Pound claimed in his essay A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste that an image is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time. It is the presentation of such complex instantaneity that gives a sudden sense of liberation that we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art.” He went on to state that “it is better to produce one image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works.” That he managed both, if we include the encyclopedic epic poem he entitled The Cantos, is to his immeasurable credit. (My own view of The Cantos is that it is like Finnegans Wake by James Joyce: in parts, utterly incomprehensible and, in other parts, absolutely brilliant.)

 

Ezra Pound and Translation

Throughout his long and varied life, Ezra Pound translated from nine European languages and from four other languages. Michael Alexander in an essay divides his translations into two kinds; what he calls “copies” which stick close to the original (such as those included in the brief translations section below) and what he calls “remakes” where Pound edits and reshapes the originals such as his poem, Papyrus, which is based on three words found in a Sappho manuscript.

Pound has arguably done more than any other poet in the twentieth century to open poetry in English to non-English influences. He may not be an accurate translator. His friend, T. S. Eliot, claimed that “Pound is the inventor of Chinese poetry for our time” and went on to call his poems from other languages, in a brilliant word, “translucencies” rather than translations. Whatever way you approach them, they are wonderful poems in English.

 

 

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Brief Poems by Ezra Pound

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition     of these faces     in the crowd    ;
Petals     on a wet, black     bough    .

(As printed in Poetry magazine, 1913)

***

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

***

Alba

As cool as the pale wet leaves
of lily-of-the-valley
She lay beside me in the dawn.

***

Reflection

I know that what Nietzsche said is true,
And yet
I saw the face of a little child in the street,
And it was beautiful.

***

In Epitaphium

Write me when this geste, our life is done:
“He tired of fame before the fame was won.”

***

Ts’ai Chi’h

The petals fall in the fountain,
the orange-coloured rose-leaves,
Their ochre clings to the stone.

***

Epitaph

Leucis, who intended a Grand Passion,
Ends with a willingness-to-oblige.

***

Epitaphs

Fu I

Fu I loved the high cloud and the hill,
Alas, he died of alcohol.

Li Po

And Li Po also died drunk.
He tried to embrace a moon
In the Yellow River.

***

And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass.

(The epigraph to Lustra)

***

Papyrus

Spring…..
Too long…..
Gongula…..

***

Causa

I join these words for four people,
Some others may overhear them,
O world, I am sorry for you,
You do not know these four people.

***

Women Before A Shop

The gew-gaws of false amber and false turquoise attract them.
‘Like to like nature’: these agglutinous yellows!

***

Fan-Piece, For Her Imperial Lord

O fan of white silk,
clear as frost on the grass-blade,

You also are laid aside.

**

L’Art, 1910

GREEN arsenic smeared on an egg-white cloth,
Crushed strawberries! Come, let us feast our eyes.

 

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Brief Translations by Ezra Pound

Then folk would stand to watch him pull out
tench or bream, bream or trout.

from the old Chinese

***

I hate and love. Why? You may ask but
It beats me. I feel it done to me and ache.

after Catullus 85

***

Thais has black teeth,  Laecania’s are white because
she bought ‘em last night.

From the Latin of Martial

***

I dreamt that I was God Himself
Whom heavenly joy immerses,
And all the angels sat about
And praised my verses.

After the German of Heinrich Heine

***

Nicarchus upon Phidon his Doctor

Phidon neither purged me, nor touched me;
But I remembered the name of his fever medicine and died.

From the Greek of Nicarchus

***

Woman? Oh, woman is a consummate rage, but dead or asleep she pleases.
        Take her—she has two excellent seasons.

From the Greek of Palladas

 

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LINKS

Ezra Pound’s A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste.

The Poetry Foundation page devoted to Ezra Pound.

Pound’s Metro, an essay by William Logan.

That section of the  Modern American Poetry site devoted to Ezra Pound.

A page from the Modern American Poetry site devoted to In a Station of the Metro including Pound’s description of the genesis of the poem.

Ezra Pound as Translator, an essay by Michael Alexander.

Listen to Ezra Pound read his poetry on the PennSound site.

 

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