Wait! Why the history lesson?
In the 1890s a strand of thinking began to assert that it was
necessary to push aside previous norms.
It was argued that, if the nature of reality itself was in
question, and if restrictions which had been in place around
human activity were falling, then art would also have to
Powerfully influential in this wave of modernity were the
theories of Sigmund Freud and Ernst Mach, who argued, that
the mind had a fundamental structure, and that subjective
experience was based on the interplay of the parts of the
All modern writers were united by a romantic distrust of
Victorian positivism and certainty. Instead they championed
irrational thought processes through the lens of rationality.
Most of the prose and verse written during this period was
experimental in the way it made comments on aspects of life
including politics and society. Many felt disillusioned,
especially after the consequences of the First World War, the
brutality of the battle proving to the British Empire that it was
not as ‘invincible’ as it had believed itself to be.
Consequently, this had led to a downfall in the values of
upper-middle class societies mostly found in Europe. Novels
such as Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf affirm this shift in
Experimental literature responded to a perceived crisis of the
representation of raw truths through the development of
new techniques to represent reality such as psychological
time, fragmentation and stream of consciousness.
EZRA POUND-a man ‘who wanted to create
Ezra Weston Loomis Pound (30 October 1885 – 1 November 1972)
was an American poet and critic, and a major figure in the early
modernist movement in poetry. He became known for his role in
developing Imagism.
Pound is considered the poet most responsible for defining and
promoting a modernist aesthetic in poetry.
Working in London in the early 20th century, Pound helped to
discover and shape the work of contemporaries such as T. S. Eliot,
James Joyce, Robert Frost, and Ernest Hemingway.
It was Pound who was responsible for the publication in 1915 of
Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and for the serialisation
from 1918 of Joyce's Ulysses.
Outraged by the loss of life during the First World War, he lost faith
in England, blaming usury and international capitalism for the war.
He moved to Italy in 1924 where throughout the 1930s and 1940s,
he embraced Benito Mussolini's fascism and expressed support for
Adolf Hitler.
Pound was arrested for treason by American forces in Italy in 1945.
He spent months in detention in a U.S. military camp in Pisa.
Deemed unfit to stand trial he was incarcerated in St. Elizabeth’s
psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C., for over 12 years.
While in custody in Italy he had begun work on sections of The
Cantos that became known as The Pisan Cantos (1948), for which he
was awarded the Bollingen Prize in 1949 by the Library of Congress.
He was released from St. Elizabeth’s in 1958 and returned to live in
Italy until his death.
Pound understood that to change the structure of
your language is to change the way you think and
see the world. The aim was clarity: a fight against
abstraction, romanticism, rhetoric, inversion of
word order, and over-use of adjectives. Pound
later said they agreed in the spring or early
summer of 1912 on three principles:
1. Direct treatment of the "thing" whether
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.
So, did you spot it?
In the poem:
“Green arsenic smeared on an egg-white cloth,
Crushed strawberries! Come, let us feast our eyes.”
How can you classify this poem as one that mirrors the
ideas expressed in the Imagism movement?
THE METRO (1913)
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.”
Context: The poem was published in 1913, during the
Modernist period and is considered one of the
leading poems of the Imagist tradition. The poem is
Pound’s written equivalent for the moment of
revelation and intense emotion he felt at the Metro
at La Concorde, Paris. It is a set of images that have
unexpected likeness and convey the rare emotion of
disillusionment that Pound was experiencing at that
Meaning and ideas expressed: Pound simply wished
to translate his perception of beauty in the midst of
ugliness into a single, perfect image in written form.
"In a poem of this sort," as Pound explained, "one is
trying to record the precise instant when a thing
outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into
a thing inward and subjective." Many critics argue
that it deliberately transcends traditional form and
therefore its meaning is solely found in its technique
as opposed to in its content.
Stylistic techniques
Structure: Written in a Japanese haiku style, Pound’s use of only fourteen words typifies Imagism’s focus on
economy of language, precision of imagery and experimenting with non-traditional verse forms.
Notably, the number of words in the poem is the same as the number of lines in a sonnet.
Punctuation: The pivotal semi-colon has sparked debate as to whether the first line is in fact subordinate to
the second or both lines are of equal, independent importance. Arguably the heart of the poem is not
the first line, nor the second, but the mental process that links the two together.
Word Choice: The word “apparition,” is considered crucial as it evokes a mystical and supernatural sense of
Paradox: The plosive word ‘Petals’ conjures ideas of delicate, feminine beauty which contrasts with the
bleakness of the ‘wet, black bough’.
Metaphor: Pound contrasts the factual, mundane image that he actually witnessed with a metaphor from
nature and thus infuses this “apparition” with visual beauty. The metro itself is a metaphor for the
Industrial Revolution that was taking place during this period, indicating to the reader that this period
was a time of immense change not only on a psychological scale but on a technological level as well.
Stream of consciousness: The two sentences flow into each other, demonstrating the incongruent thoughtprocesses of the human mind and hence creating intense emotion.
The Super-pository technique: There is a quick transition from the statement of the first line to the second
line’s vivid metaphor; this ‘super-pository’ technique exemplifies the Japanese haiku style.
Time to appreciate some rather
‘short’ poetry-contribution to
The poem is successful in contributing
to the tantalising literature found
within the period of Modernity. It is
an early work of Modernist poetry as
it attempts to "break from the
pentameter", incorporates the use of
visual spacing as a poetic device, and
contains not a single verb. It passes
like a thought- imitating the natural
thought processes of the human
mind during a time which was
concerned with unconventional ways
of representing raw truths.
Now, you try!
In true Ezra Pound
style, look at the
painting that is in front
of you. Observe it and
whenever your ready,
compose two
sentences that
encapsulate the
intense emotions you
feel when you gaze at
the image. Make it as
unconventional as
possible but make sure
to stick to the ideas
that typify Imagism.
You have five minutes,
you may begin!
The muse of literature...
The Scream-Edvard Munch
Guernica-Pablo Picasso 1937
Is what you PERCIEVE!
• The Scream- The environment of The Scream is often compared to
that of which an individual suffering from depersonalisation
disorder experiences, such a feeling of distortion of the
environment and one's self. This is very similar to the
disillusionment of self people experienced during the period of
• Guernica- Guernica shows the tragedies of war and the suffering it
inflicts upon individuals, particularly innocent civilians. This work
has gained a monumental status, becoming a perpetual reminder of
the tragedies of war, an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of
peace. It demonstrates a decline in patriotic symbols during
GLOOM (1908)
For God, our God is a gallant foe
That playeth behind the veil.
I have loved my God as a child at heart
That seeketh deep bosoms for rest,
I have loved my God as a maid to man—
But lo, this thing is best:
To love your God as a gallant foe that
plays behind the veil;
To meet your God as the night winds
meet beyond Arcturus' pale.
I have played with God for a woman,
I have staked with my God for truth,
I have lost to my God as a man, cleareyed—
His dice be not of ruth.
For I am made as a naked blade,
But hear ye this thing in sooth:
Who loseth to God as man to man
Shall win at the turn of the game.
I have drawn my blade where the
lightnings meet
But the ending is the same:
Who loseth to God as the sword blades
Shall win at the end of the game.
For God, our God is a gallant foe that
playeth behind the veil.
Whom God deigns not to overthrow
hath need of triple mail.
The Ballad for Gloom was first published in 1908 when Pound was about 23 years old.
It comes at a time when some critics see Pound and his work as being nostalgic for an earlier, better era.
The Modernist movement aimed to reject tradition in order for composers to find radically new ways of making art.
Rejecting religion or uncovering truths about its nature was often done.
In a time when science was thriving and developing due to the influence of such dominating figures such as Charles Darwin,
many began to turn away from religion in search of the reality of human existence. Many turned to atheism while others placed
their faith in science and its findings. Some began to explore deep existential ideas about the purpose of life and the irony of its
cyclical nature.
Modernity in its broadest cultural sense is the assessment of the past as different to the modern age, the recognition that the
world was becoming more complex, and that the old "final authorities" (God, government, and reason) were subject to intense
critical scrutiny.
Meaning and ideas expressed:
God is a foe that can be trusted to treat the vanquished justly and with honour.
That trust, rooted in His gallantry, may serve as the foundation for faith.
He may grant our prayers because He is gallant. He may deny them because He is our foe.
Moreover, the notion of God as foe has the useful purpose of explaining misfortune and calamity.
There are instances in which God the foe has vanquished someone.
It may even go so far as to resolve the question of evil, that is, why would a good and righteous God tolerate evil? Answer: there
is no evil; there is only God as a foe.
Religion is somewhat contradictory and at times an intimidating aspect of life.
Stylistic techniques
Word choice: Much of the language used is rather archaic, meaning old. This might classify the poem as being
subtly satirical since it had been published at a time when Pound was impatient for a new modern era that broke
convention and challenged politics, religion and society. It seems that the word ‘gallant ‘ here encompasses more
than just courage, it also includes courtly manner, chivalry, and honour.
Rhyme: The rhyme adds rhythm and beat to the poem, emphasising the third aspect of Pound’s Imagism: to
compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.
Metaphor: The line: “For I am made as the naked blade” carries with it a great deal of metaphorical significance.
People are forged, just as steel is forged; a difficult process involving intense heat, dramatic changes in
temperature from hot to cold and back again, and a great deal of hammering. The process resembles a fight
between the smith and the metal.
Paradoxical ideas: The reader is called upon: “To love…God as a gallant foe…” Perhaps this is a reference to
Jesus’ admonition to love thy enemy as thyself. A love for a gallant foe seems to imply several things: respect,
honour, and a kind of attachment certainly. It entails a duty to fight, or an obligation not necessarily to accept
God’s Will but to accept His chivalric code. Pound seems to be saying first that the reader needs to fight in order
to grow, and second that it doesn’t matter how much they struggle against God, His Will prevails. More
importantly, the readers can rely upon his gallantry for whatever forgiveness may be necessary when the fight is
over. The steel doesn’t cooperate with the smith so much as it is literally bent by the smith’s will. And as he
polishes the finished blade, the smith doesn’t curse the metal for having those properties.
Symbolism: The veil that God is playing behind symbolises human ignorance. In this context “Who loseth to God
as the sword blades lose /Shall win at the end of the game,” the one who loses becomes a blade. In addition, the
person who is not forged in this manner , those who are ignorant (that is, whom God deigns not to overthrow) is
in for a real fight later on; one that will require triple mail for protection.
How has this
contributed to
the period of
Justify your
FINAL POEM-Song in the manner
of Housman (1911)
O woe, woe,
People are born and die,
We also shall be dead pretty soon
Therefore let us act as if we were
dead already.
The bird sits on the hawthorn tree
But he dies also, presently.
Some lads get hung, and some get shot.
Woeful is this human lot.
Woe! woe, etcetera . . . .
London is a woeful place,
Shropshire is much pleasanter.
Then let us smile a little space
Upon fond nature's morbid grace.
Oh, Woe, woe, woe, etcetera . . . .
Context: Written in 1911 London, Pound began to target ambiguous existential ideas
about life and death. Many writers during this time, including Pound, aimed to
describe their personas as they experienced illuminating epiphanies into the
meaning of life and death. The human race was horrified of inevitable death, but in
some inner sense, they sought it, hoping that something fundamental would remain
of each of them, something that would live on forever. These ideas about death are
evident throughout this poem revealing Pound’s darker psyche.
Meaning and ideas expressed: This poem is about defiance in the face of death. The
poet believes that death is unavoidable and obligatory that it almost becomes
comedic that we fear something that must and always happens. Ezra Pound also
conveys his resentment for London-the city he had worked in during the early years
of the 20th century. He was shocked at the violence that permeated in the city, and
disregarded the English political system of the time and foreboded that
international capitalism and usury would spark the First World War that was said to
be on the verge of occurring. However, he accepts that this is the world he resides in
today and says that he must just smile in the misery and despair of human nature
and society: “Upon fond nature’s morbid grace.”
Stylistic techniques
Paradox: “Upon fond nature's morbid grace.” The fondness of nature is being contrasted with its
morbid attempt of being graceful. This typifies Pound’s resentment for superficial English society
and the hypocritical and violent nature of humans, who will all share the same end.
Satire: The "Woe! woe, etcetera" is a satiric twist on the fact that humans often think it is
extremely miserable when someone dies, but they ironically go on grieving long after they really
care, and their grieving rituals become more of a habit (etcetera) than an actual meaningful act.
Metaphor: The bird acts as a metaphor in the poem resembling members of the human race that
continue living their lives (resembled by the bird sitting on a tree). They live untruthfully, masking
their emotions and acting immorally and these actions in turn, make them ignorant of the reality of
life- that they will eventually die, and everything they have done in their lives will cease to matter.
Repetition: The repetition of the ‘Woe’ emphasises the poets feelings of despair and sorrow, yet
seem rather sarcastic and exaggerated. This implies that Pound was quite aware that society was
ignorant of the inevitability of death and imitates its reaction to this truth.
Punctuation: The use of the ellipsis highlights the extensive nature of the word ‘etcetera’,
indicating the misery aroused by the immoral and oppressive state of English society, during this
Allusion: This poem is a riotous parody of the Victorian verse of A.E Housman. He was an English
classical scholar and poet, best known to the general public for his cycle of poems A Shropshire
Lad. His poems’ wistful evocation of doomed youth in the English countryside, in spare language
and distinctive imagery, appealed strongly to late Victorian and Edwardian taste, and to many early
twentieth century English composers both before and after the First World War. Pound is mocking
Housman’s melodramatic poetry and his exaggerated ideas of death.
Which of the following is true about the poem?
A) It targets existential ideas that were being explored
during Modernity.
B) It satirises romanticised English culture and literature.
C) It demonstrates the insincerity and falseness of English
society and shows a decline in patriotism.
D) All of the above
“The difficulty of
literature is not to
write, but to write what
you mean.”
Robert Louis Stevenson quotes
(Scottish Essayist, Poet and Author of fiction and
travel books, 1850-1894)

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