Ezra Pound, “A Retrospect”

Pound, Ezra. “A Retrospect.” Pavannes and Divisions, 1918.

“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’ rather than 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” (84).

“…the natural object is always the adequate symbol. Go in fear of abstractions… Use either no ornament or good ornament” (85).

“It is not necessary that a poem should rely on its music, but if it does rely on its music that music must be such as will delight the expert” (85).

“Don’t chop your stuff into separate iambs. Don’t make each line stop dead at the end, and then begin every next line with a heave. Let the beginning of the next line catch the rise of the rhythm wave, unless you want a definite longish pause. In short, behave as a musician, a good musician, when dealing with that phase of your art which has exact parallels in music. The same laws govern, and you are bound by no others” (86).

“A rhyme must have in it some slight element of surprise if it is to give pleasure; it need not be bizarre or curious, but it must be well used if used at all” (86).

“The meaning of the poem to be translated can not ‘wobble'” (87).

“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” (87).

“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 sense, and the poetic quality of the passage, is not lost to those who do not understand the symbol as such, to whom, for instance, a hawk is a hawk” (87).

“No good poetry is ever written in a manner twenty years old, for to write in such a manner shows conclusively that the writer thinks from books, convention and cliché, and not from life, yet a man feeling the divorce of life and his art may naturally try to resurrect a forgotten mode if he finds in that mode some leaven, or if he think he sees in it some element lacking in contemporary art which might unite that art again to its sustenance, life” (89).

“As for the nineteenth century, with all respect to its achievements, I think we shall look back upon it as a rather blurry, messy sort of a period, a rather sentimentalistic, mannerish sort of a period, I say this without any self-righteousness, with no self-satisfaction” (89).

“Mr. Yeats has once and for all stripped English poetry of its perdamnable rhetoric. He has boiled away all that is not poetic – and a good deal that is. He has become a classic in his own lifetime and nel mozzo del cammin. He has made our poetic idiom a thing pliable, a speech without inversions” (89).

“As to Twentieth century poetry, and the poetry which I expect to see written during the next decade or so, it will, I think, move against poppy-cock, it will be harder and saner, it will be what Mr. Hewlett calls ‘nearer the bone.’ It will be as much like granite as it can be, its force will lie in its truth, its interpretative power (of course, poetic force will always rest there); I mean it will not try to seem forcible by rhetorical din, and luxurious riot. We will have fewer painted adjectives impeding the shock and stroke of it” (89).

“I think one should write vers libre only when one ‘must,’ that is to say, only when the ‘thing’ builds up a rhythm more beautiful than that of set metres, or more real, more a part of the emotion of the ‘thing,’ more germane, intimate, interpretative than the measure of regular accentual verse; a rhythm which discontents one with set iambic or set anapaestic. Eliot has said the thing very well when he said, ‘No vers is libre for the man who wants to do a good job'” (89-90).


Amy Lowell, “Poetry as a Spoken Art”

Lowell, Amy. “Poetry as a Spoken Art,” in Poetry and Poets: Essays by Amy Lowell

Pages refer to PiT.

“To speak of poetry as a ‘spoken art,’ may seem, in this age of printing, a misnomer; and it is just because of such a point of view that the essential kinship of poetry and music is so often lost sight of. The ‘beat’ of poetry, its musical quality, is exactly that which differentiates it from prose, and it is this musical quality which bears in it the stress of emotion without which no true poetry can exist” (69).

“We moderns read so much more than we listen, that perhaps it is no wonder if we get into the habit of using our minds more than our ears, where literature is concerned, with the result that our imaginative, mental ear becomes absolutely atrophied” (70).

“In the case of the average person, auditory imagination is not nearly so well developed as visual” (70).

“No art has suffered so much from printing as has poetry” (70).

“Printed words, of no beauty in themselves, of no value except to rouse the imagination and cause it to function” (70).
“Using the common implements of all the world, poetry is treated with a cavalier ease which music escapes” (71).

“Whether vers libre is poetry or prose, can be treated quite summarily: It is assuredly poetry. That it may dispense with rhyme, and must dispense with metre, does not affect its substance in the least. For no matter with what it dispenses, it retains that essential to all poetry: Rhythm” (74).

Filippo Marinetti, “Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature”

Marinetti, Filippo. “Technical Manifesto of Futurist Literature,” 1912.

Page numbers refer to PiT.

“This is what the whirling propeller told me, when I flew two hundred meters above the mighty chimney pots of Milan” (57).

“1. One must destroy syntax and scatter one’s nouns at random, just as they are born” (57).

“3. One must abolish the adjective to allow the naked noun to preserve its essential color” (57). (AD: “naked” is an adjective.)

“4. One must abolish the adverb, old belt buckle that holds two words together. The adverb preserves a tedious unity of tone within a phrase” (57).

“5. Every noun should have its double; that is, the noun should be followed, with no conjunction, by the noun to which it is related by analogy. Example: man-torpedo-boat, woman-gulf, crowd-surf, piazza-funnel, door-faucet. Just as aerial speed has multiplied our knowledge of the world, the perception of analogy becomes ever more natural for man. One must suppress the like, the as, the so, the similar to. Still better, one should deliberately confound the object with the image that it evokes, foreshortening the image to a single essential word” (57).

“6. Abolish even the punctuation. After adjectives, adverbs, and conjunctions have been suppressed, punctuation is naturally annulled…. To accentuate certain movements and indicate their directions, mathematical symbols will be used: + – x: = and the musical symbols” (57).

“Analogy is nothing more than the deep love that assembles distant, seemingly diverse and hostile things. An orchestral style, at once polychromatic, polyphonic, and polymorphous, can embrace the life of matter only by means of the most extensive analogies” (57).

“Images are not flowers to be chosen and picked with parsimony, as Voltaire said. They are the very lifeblood of poetry. Poetry should be an uninterrupted sequence of new images, or it is mere anemia and green-sickness. The broader their affinities, the longer will images keep their power to amaze. One must – people say – spare the reader’s capacity for wonder. Nonsense! Let us rather worry about the fatal corrosion of time that not only destroys the expressive calue of a masterpiece but also its power to amaze. Too often stimulated, have our old ears perhaps not already destroyed Beethoven and Wagner? We must therefore eliminate from our language everything it contains in the way of stereotyped images, faded metaphors; and that means almost everything” (58).

“…the analogical style is absolute master of all matter and its intense life” (58).

Literature should be organised into “nets of images” (58).

“11. Destroy the in literature: that is, all psychology… put matter in his place, matter whose essence must be grasped by strokes of intuition, the kind of thing that the physicists and chemists can never do. To capture the breath, sensibility, and the instincts of metals, stones, wood, and so on, through the medium of free and whimsical motors. To substitute the human psychology, now exhausted, the lyric obsession with matter” (58).

“Be careful not to force human feelings onto matter. Instead, divine its different governing impulses, its forces of compression, dilation, cohesion and disaggregation, its crowds of massed molecules and whirling electrons. We are not interested in offering dramas of humanized matter. The solidity of a strip of steel interests us for itself; that is, the incomprehensible and nonhuman alliance of its molecules or its electrons that oppose, for instance, the penetration of a howitzer. The warmth of a piece of iron or wood is in our opinion more impassioned than the smile or tears of a woman” (59).

“Three elements hitherto overlooked in literature must be introduced:

  1. Sound (manifestation of the dynamism of objects).
  2. Weight (objects’ faculty of flight).
  3. Smell (objects’ faculty of dispersing themselves)” (59).


“Man tends to foul matter with his youthful joy or elderly sorrows; matter has an admirable continuity of impulse toward greater warmth, greater movement, a greater subdivision of itself” (59).

“Together we will invent what I call the imagination without strings. Someday we will achieve a yet more essential art, when we dare to suppress all the first terms of our analogies and render no more than an uninterrupted sequence of second terms. To achieve this we must renounce being understood. It is not necessary to be understood” (60).

“Futurist poets! I have taught you to hate libraries and museums, to prepare you to hate the intelligence, reawakening in you divine intuition, the characteristic gift of the Latin races. Through intuition we will conquer the seemingly unconquerable hostility that separates out human flesh from the metal of motors” (60).



T. E. Hulme, “Romanticism and Classicism”

T. E. Hulme, “Romanticism and Classicism,” in Speculations. 1924.

Page numbers reference PiT.

*note: T. E. Hulme is a precursor of Imagism.

“I want to maintain that after a hundred years of romanticism, we are in for a classical revival, and that the particular weapon of this new classical spirit, when it works in verse, will be fancy… fancy will be superior to imagination” (47).

There are two views: “One, that man is intrinsically good, spoilt by circumstance; and the other that he is intrinsically limited, but disciplined by order and tradition to something fairly decent. To the one party man’s nature is like a well, to the other like a bucket. The view which regards man as a well, a reservoir full of possibilities, I call the romantic; the one which regards him as a very finite and fixed creature, I call the classical…” (48).

“It is like pouring a pot of treacle over the dinner table. Romanticism then, and this is the best definition I can give of it, is spilt religion” (48).

“The romantic, because he thinks man infinite, must always be talking about the infinite; and as there is always the bitter contrast between what you think you ought to be able to do and what man actually can, it always tends, in its later stages at any rate, to be gloomy” (49).

“What I mean by classical in verse, then, is this. That even in the most imaginative flights there is always a holding back, a reservation. The classical poet never forgets this finiteness, this limit of man. He remembers always that he is mixed up with earth. He may jump, but he always returns back; he never flies away into the circumambient gas. You might say if you wished that the whole of the romantic attitude seems to crystallise in verse round metahpors of flight. Hugo is always flying, flying over abysses, flying up into the eternal gases. The word infinite is in every other line” (49).

“the thing that I think quite classical is the word lad. Your modern romantic could never write that. He would have to write golden youth, and take up the thing at least a couple of notes in pitch” (50).

“Each field of artistic activity is exhausted by the first great artist who gathers a full harvest from it. This period of exhaustion seems to me to have been reached in romanticism. We shall not get any new efflorescence of verse until we get a new technique, a new convention, to turn ourselves loose in” (50).

“certain extremely complex mechanisms, subtle enough to imitate beauty, can work by themselves – I certainly think that this is the case with judgments about beauty” (51).

“At the present time I should say that this receptive attitude has outlasted the thing from which it was formed. But while the romantic tradition has run dry, yet the critical attitude of mind, which demands romantic qualities from verse, still survives. So that if good classical verse were to be written tomorrow very few people would be able to stand it” (51).

“The dry hardness which you get in the classics is absolutely repugnant to them. Poetry that isn’t damp isn’t poetry at all. They cannot see that accurate description is a legitimate object of verse. Verse to them always means a bringing in of some of the emotions that are grouped round the word infinite. The essence of poetry to most people is that it must lead them to a beyond of some kind. Verse strictly confined to the earthly and the definite (Keats is full of it) might seem to them to be excellent writing, excellent craftsmanship, but not poetry. So much as romanticism debauched us, that, without some form of vagueness, we deny the highest. In the classic it is always the light of ordinary day, never the light that never was on land or sea. It is always perfectly human and never exaggerated: man is always man and never a god” (51).

“It is essential to prove that beauty may be in small, dry things” (51). (Like imagist poems.) “The great aim is accurate, precise and definite description. The first thing is to recognise how extraordinarily difficult this is. It is no mere matter of carefulness; you have to use language, and language is by its very nature a communal thing; that is, it expresses never the exact thing but a compromise – that which is common to you, me and everybody. But each man sees a little different, and to get out clearly and exactly what he does see, he must have a terrific struggle with language, whether it be with words or the technique of other arts” (52).

“I prophesy that a period of dry, hard, classical verse is coming” (52). (Imagism.)

“In prose as in algebra concrete things are embodied in signs or counters which are moved about according to rules, without being visualised at all in the process. There are in prose certain type situations and arrangements of words, which move as automatically into certain other arrangements as do functions in algebra. One only changes the X’s and the Y’s back into physical things at the end of the process. Poetry, in one aspect at any rate, may be considered as an effort to avoid this characteristic of prose. It is not a counter language, but a visual concrete one. It is a compromise for a language of intuition which would hand over sensations bodily. It always endeavors to arrest you, and to make you continuously see a physical thing, to prevent you gliding through an abstract process” (53).

“Works of art aren’t eggs. Rather the contrary” (53).

“it is the zest with which you look at the thing which decides you to make the effort” (54).

“Fancy is not mere decoration added on to plain speech. Plain speech is essentially inaccurate. It is only by new metaphors, that is, by fancy, that it can be made precise” (54).

“The intellect always analyses – when there is a synthesis it is baffled. That is why the artist’s work seems mysterious. The intellect can’t represent it. This is a necessary consequence of the particular nature of the intellect and the purposes for which it is formed. It doesn’t mean that your synthesis is ineffable, simply that it can’t be definitely stated” (55).


Freud, “Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming”

Sigmund Freud, “Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming.” Neue Revue, 1908. 

Page numbers reference Poetry in Theory.

“The opposite of play is not what is serious but what is real” (42).

“The creative writer does the same as the child at play. He creates a world of phantasy which he takes very seriously – that is, which he invests with large amounts of emotion – while separating it sharply from reality. Language has preserved this relationship between children’s play and poetic creation” (42).

“As people grow up, then, they cease to play… Actually we can never give anything up; we only exchange one thing for another. what appears to be a renunciation is really the formation of a substitute or surrogate. In the same way, the growing child, when he stops playing, gives up nothing but the link with real objects; instead of playing, he now phantasies” (43).
The adult, on the contrary, is ashamed of his phantasies and hides them form other people. He cherishes his phantasies as his most intimate possessions, and as a rule he would rather confess his misdeeds than tell anyone his phantasies” (43).

“A happy person never phantasies, only an unsatisfied one. The motive forces of phantasies are unsatisfied wishes, and every single phantasy is the fulfillment of a wish, a correction of unsatisfying reality” (43).

“We must separate writers who, like the ancient authors of epics and tragedies, take over their material ready-made, from writers who seem to originate their own material” (45). (AD: What does this mean for diving into the wreck? Are divers on par with epic-writers / tragediennes?)

“Insofar as the material is already at hand, however, it is derived from the popular treasure-house of myths, legends, and fairy tales. The study of constructions of folk-psychology such as these is as far from being complete, but it is extremely probably that myths, for instance, are distorted vestiges of the wishful phantasies of whole nations, the secular dreams of youthful humanity” (46).

“Such phantasies, when we learn them, repel us or at least leave us cold. But when a creative writer presents his plays to us or tells us what we are inclined to take to be his personal day-dreams, we experience a great pleasure, and one which probably arises from the confluence of many sources. How the writer accomplishes this is his innermost secret; the essential ars poetica lies in the technique of overcoming the feeling of repulsion in us which is undoubtedly connected with the barriers that rise between each single ego and the others…The writer softens the character of his egoistic day-dreams by altering and disguising it, and he bribes us by the purely formal – that is, aesthetic – yield of pleasure which he offers us in the presentation of his phantasies” (46).


Yeats, “The Symbolism of Poetry”

W. B. Yeats, “The Symbolism of Poetry.” In Ideas of Good and Evil, 1903.

— page numbers reference Poetry in Theory 1900-2000.

“In ‘Symbolism in Painting,’ I tried to describe the element of symbolism that is in pictures and sculpture, and described a little the symbolism in poetry, but did not describe at all the continuous indefinable symbolism which is the substance of all style” (30).

“We may call this metaphorical writing, but it is better to call it symbolical writing, because metaphors are not profound enough to be moving, when they are not symbols, and when they are symbols they are the most perfect of all, because the most subtle, outside of pure sound, and through them one can best find out what symbols are….. All sounds, all colours, all forms, either because of their preordained energies or because of long association, evoke indefinable and yet precise emotions, or, as I prefer to think, call down among us certain disembodied powers, whose footsteps over our hearts we call emotions; and when sound, and colour, and form are in a musical relation, a beautiful relation to one another, they become, as it were, one sound, one colour, one form, and evoke an emotion that is made out of their distinct evocations and yet is one emotion” (30).

“It is indeed only those things which seem useless or very feeble that have any power, and all those things that seem useful or strong, armies, moving wheels, modes of architecture, modes of government, speculations of the reason, would have been a little different if some mind long ago had not given itself to some emotion, as a woman gives herself to her lover, and shaped sounds or colours or forms, or all of these, into a musical relation, that their emotion might live in other minds” (31).

“The purpose of rhythm, it has always seemed to me, is to prolong the moment of contemplation, the moment when we are both asleep and awake, which is the one moment of creation, by hushing us with an alluring monotony, while it holds us waking by variety, to keep us in that state of perhaps real trance, in which the mind liberated from the pressure of the will is unfolded in symbols” (31).

“If I say ‘white’ or ‘purple’ in an ordinary line of poetry, they evoke emotions so exclusively that I cannot say why they move me; but if I bring them into the same sentence with such obvious intellectual symbols as a cross or a crown of thorns, I think of purity and sovereignty” (32).

“…if one is moved by Dante, or by the myth of  Demeter, one is mixed into the shadow of God or of a goddess. So, too, one is furthest from symbols when one is busy doing this or that, but the soul moves among symbols and unfolds in symbols when trace, or madness, or deep meditation has withdrawn it from every impulse but its own” (33).

“…the importance of form, in all its kinds, for although you can expound an opinion, or describe a thing, when your words are not quite well chosen, you cannot give a body to something that moves beyond the senses, unless your words are as subtle, as complex, as full of mysterious life, as the body of a flower or of a woman” (34).