Imagism 3: The Thing Itself

February 14, 2024 Elijah Perseus Blumov
Imagism 3: The Thing Itself
Show Notes Transcript

Topics discussed in this episode include:


-"A Retrospect" and "A Few Don'ts By An Imagiste" by Ezra Pound

-A ruinous misunderstanding of meter and music

-"Intellectual-emotional complex" and unified sensibility

-"The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry" by Ernest Fenollosa

-The ideogrammatic method

-Kiru, Wabi-Sabi, and Mono no Aware (see this fascinating wiki-page on Japanese aesthetics)

-"In A Station of the Metro" by Ezra Pound

-"Fan-Piece For Her Imperial Lord" by Ezra Pound

-The Objective Correlative

-"Oread" by H.D.

-"The Pool" by H.D.

-"Des Imagistes" anthology

-Vorticism vs. "Amy-gism"

-"The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams

-"This Is Just To Say" by William Carlos Williams

-"Arrival" by William Carlos Williams

-Expressionist painter Egon Schiele

-"The Widow's Lament in Springtime" by William Carlos Williams

-Objectivism, Projectivism, Deep Imagism

-"The Diver" by Peter Vertacnik, and his book, "The Nature of Things Fragile"

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List of the most common metrical feet:
Iamb: weak-STRONG (u /)
Trochee: STRONG-weak (/ u)
Anapest: weak-weak-STRONG (u u /)
Amphibrach: weak-STRONG-weak (u / u)
Dactyl: STRONG-weak-weak (/ u u)
Cretic: STRONG-weak-STRONG (/ u /)
Pyrrhic: weak-weak (u u)
Spondee: STRONG-STRONG (/ /)

The year is 1912. The place: The bustling tearoom of the British museum. Four years before, T.E. Hulme had delivered his trailblazing “Lecture On Modern Poetry.” Today, three young writers in their late twenties sit around a table: a stern British man, his petite American girlfriend, and a rather odd looking third wheel, an American man wearing dandyish clothes and sporting a shock of absurdly windswept, curly hair. Utterly unnoticed by the other diners, they are about to make literary history. They are each staring intensely at a single piece of paper on the table, the couple watching as the man with the windswept hair pontificates in a faux London accent, gesticulates, and scratches out words on the page. Finally, he pauses, seemingly pleased with himself. Then, with a jolt of inspiration, he leans down once more, and scribbles below the words a signature: H.D., Imagiste. 

This unlikely and somewhat goofy trifecta—Richard Aldington, Hilda Doolittle (rechristened H.D.), and Ezra Pound— would go on to become recognized as the official founders of the movement known as Imagism. That same year, in that same place, they came up with three principles by which to guide their new movement: 


1.     Direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether objective or subjective. 

2.     To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.

3.     As regarding rhythm: to compose poetry in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome. 


One might view these almost comically vague guidelines as the half-baked cliff notes of Hulme’s lecture four years prior. Later that year, in a note which accompanied his publication of five of Hulme’s poems along with a book of his own, Pound called Imagism the descendant of the “forgotten school of 1909” by which he meant Hulme, who had hardly been forgotten in the three years since he had published his first lyrics. Pound, who had recently arrived in London after a botched academic career in America, had begun attended Hulme’s meetings the year before, and had quickly decided that his liberating yet conservative agenda was just the thing to get poetry out of its Victorian doldrums. In earlier years, Pound had struggled to balance his guilty love of Browning, Rossetti, and Swinburne with his conviction that poetry ought to return to the purer and more elegant utterances of high medieval poets like Arnaut Daniel and Guido Cavalcanti. Pound later reflected: “In the art of Daniel and Cavalcanti, I have seen that precision which I miss in the Victorians, that explicit rendering, be it of external nature, or of emotion. Their testimony is of the eyewitness, their symptoms are first hand.” Hulme’s complementary vision of Imagism, along with exposure to Chinese and Japanese art at the British museum, clarified for Pound the fresh yet simultaneously revivalist direction he thought poetry ought to take. 

It is interesting to note that in both the quote above as well as in the list of Imagist principles, Pound makes clear that he desires precision and directness both in the objective and subjective realms. Very often, people assume that Imagism is merely the poetry of objective description, an assumption they make no doubt due to the astringent, delimiting influence of William Carlos Williams. In its original forms however, both in Hulme and in the Poundian trifecta, the expression of personal emotion was considered a legitimate subject for poetry. Moreover, as we have seen in Hulme, and as we shall see again in a moment, plain description in itself was hardly the original goal. 

Before moving on however, let’s briefly take another look at the three principles propounded by the original Imagists. The first two of these principles were criticized almost as soon as they were published for being vague and commonplace. After all, poets since time immemorial poets have attempted to directly treat their subjects, and “to use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation” is merely an elementary rule of good writing. The third and last point is the most specific, the most influential, and also the most wrongheaded: “to compose poetry in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.” Hulme had said something similar, and called meter “heavy, crude, and jangling.” 

Both cases, as many later metrical writers have pointed out, evince a jarringly unsophisticated misunderstanding of how meter works. It is only the schoolchild or the greenhorn amateur who believes that all the craft of meter is putting obviously strong syllables next to obviously weak ones in order to fill out a predetermined schematic. Even if we completely disregard the existence of substitutions, even if we completely disregard the existence of punctuation and caesurae, even if we ignore the fact that no two words in a line receive the exact same amount of emphasis, spoken or otherwise, it is a fact known to anyone with a basic understanding of prosody that strength and weakness are relative qualities, and therefore that accents and unaccents can have greater or lesser degrees of stress, and that a consistent metrical line can endlessly modulate from stronger to weaker rhythms and back. Indeed, one of the great points of artistry in metrical composition is the counterpoint one can achieve between accent and stress, as I’ve discussed on earlier episodes. Well written iambic pentameter lines are like snowflakes: though they all share the same general structure, no two are the same, and this infinite variety within unity provides both musical and semantic interest to a poem composed in them. We are thus forced to acknowledge a simultaneously farcical and tragic fact: poets did not abandon the music of meter because it was monotonous, they abandoned it because they themselves were tone-deaf. 

This is all the worse given how adamant Pound was that poets learn the history and technique of their art. In what has proven to be a staggering bit of anti-prophecy, Pound wrote in his Credo: 


“It is certain that the present chaos will endure until the Art of poetry has been preached down the amateur gullet, until there is such a general understanding of the fact that poetry is an art and not a pastime; such a knowledge of technique, of technique of surface and technique of content, that the amateurs will cease to try to drown out the masters.”


You could forge a sculpture of Mussolini with the amount of historical irony in this passage. 


Speaking of music, what exactly does Pound mean by abandoning the metronome to compose “in the sequence of the musical phrase?” He forgets the fact that nearly all music is composed in time signatures— i.e. musical meter. Without measure, without a rhythmic norm, “musical phrase” becomes a totally vague if not arbitrary or even meaningless distinction. He later says in the Credo: “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.” To me, this is further proof that little Ezra from Idaho has no idea what he’s talking about. His vision requires an intimate and consistent mimetic correspondence between form and content which simply does not exist. 

In my poetic analyses, I endeavor to point out points where I think that formal choices mimetically reinforce semantic choices, but the opportunities to do this are few and far between, and even here there is much room for interpretation. What is the exact proper rhythm to express boredom at the airport, or grief over a lost child, or fury at the government, or sexual arousal? There is none— any choice you make will be subjective and arbitrary. Finally, the simple fact is that rhythm and music, if we are using these words in the normal senses, require consistent sonic patterns in order to obtain. If rhythm and music are primary concerns of the poet, then meter of some kind must also be a primary concern. If we look at a work by Eliot, or Pound, or Stevens, or Williams and find it musically compelling, chances are there is at least the ghost of metrical organization afoot. 

We have seen the famous three points of the Imagists and found them wanting, both as critical guidance and simply as an adequate definition of a style. In his impressionistic manner, Pound was somewhat more specific in a famous essay he published that same fateful year of 1912 in Poetry Magazine, entitled “A Few Don’ts By An Imagiste.” There, he says:


“An image is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.” 


Now we seem to be getting somewhere. We notice here again that Pound is not talking about a poetry of pure description. Indeed, he later says: “Don’t be descriptive; remember that the painter can describe a landscape much better than you can, and that he has to know a deal more about it.” Rather, by an image he means an “intellectual and emotional complex” which interestingly foreshadows T.S. Eliot’s later obsession with a poetry of unified sensibility. As an example of this sort of complex, Pound says: “When Shakespeare talks of the ‘dawn in russet mantle clad,’ he presents something which the painter does not present. There is in this line of his nothing that one can call description; he presents.” 

We may quibble with Pound about this line being description or not, but his point is taken. The image must be presented, as Hulme earlier said, using the powers of fancy. The imagist’s task is to get you to sharply observe objects and emotions in a way that you hadn’t before, not with clinical description, but an imaginative, usually metaphorical presentation. Moreover, while Pound does suggest that we go “in fear of abstractions,” this is not because abstract thoughts are not suitable subjects for poetry— rather, it is because, according to him, abstract words are dull and lazy, and actually the most vivid way to understand an abstraction is to be presented with a concrete example illustrates it.

 Pound was partially inspired here by Ernest Fenollosa’s study The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry, which discusses how Chinese characters for abstractions are often combinations of other characters which signify concretions. For instance, the character which means “East” is a combination of the characters meaning “tree” and “sun.” Pound would later call this sort of image-based, indirect presentation of an idea “the ideogrammatic method.” He was also inspired by haiku, wherein the primary literary device is the juxtaposition of images to produce an implicit comparison or commentary, a method which in Japanese is known as kiru, which literally means “cutting.” We see all of this sort of thinking at work in Pound’s most famous poem, the two-line masterpiece “In A Station of the Metro.” It goes: 


The apparition of these faces in the crowd:

petals on a wet, black bough. 


This is a haiku in spirit, if not in form. Already in the first line, the use of the word “apparition” moves away from direct description, and suggests that, to Pound, the faces appear like a supernatural vision. We can therefore we can infer his emotion: awe. Now let’s close that tab for just a moment and move to the second line: “petals on a wet, black bough.” This is a vivid piece of description, but it is more than that. If the bough is wet and black, that probably means that it’s being rained on. If it’s raining, that probably means that the petals are falling. Petals falling suggests transience, and indeed is a universal metaphor for it. We are reminded of Homer’s line: “like the generations of leaves, the lives of mortal men,” or Isaiah’s line, “all flesh is as grass.” We are also reminded of countless Japanese poems, and the fact that transience is for Japanese poetry what daffodils were for Wordsworth, embodied in the concepts of wabi-sabi and mono no aware. Therefore, “petals on a wet black bough” is an ideogram for transience. With this in mind, we can return to the first line, and we see the kiru, the implicit comparison— the apparition of these faces in the crowd is like watching petals on a wet, black bough. Despite being in a metro station, it is a scene of natural beauty, charged with supernatural wonder and the pathos of transience and mortality. It is a pair of images which, together, constitute a macro-image in the mind, an emotional and intellectual complex. It is vivid, and it is Imagist, but pure description it ain’t. Nevertheless, in its objectivity, restrained elegance, vivid sensuousness, and melancholic tone, it may be aptly considered an example of 20th century Parnassianism. Pound’s injunctions in his essay to “consider the way of the scientist” and to read Gautier also sound the Parnassian note.

An even simpler lyric example will show Pound’s priorities at work. This one is called “Fan-Piece For Her Imperial Lord.” Like the previous piece, it is a mere 19 syllables long: 


O fan of white silk,

clear as frost on the grass blade, 

you also are laid aside. 


This lyric is probably one of the best and purest examples one could give of what T.S. Eliot would later call an “objective correlative:” an action which embodies or demonstrates the presence of a particular emotion. The “fan of white silk” is not only a luxury item suggesting the status of its owner, but an ideogram of coy modesty and virginal purity. Women would often hide their faces behind fans to avoid eye contact with men, and the whiteness signifies an abstention from sensuality. This cold aloofness is highlighted by the comparison to frost in the second line. However, the simile “clear as frost on a grass blade” indicates that the fan is a transparent façade to the bristling life that lies behind it, incapable of hiding the woman’s nature, literally and figuratively. In the third line: “you also are laid aside,” the word “also” is key. What else is being laid aside? Her clothes, her virginity, her entire former way of life. Discarding the fan, the woman wistfully sets aside her entire girlhood to embrace her life as the companion of the imperial lord.  The dense figuration and depth of reference in this apparently simple poem points to the essential difficulty I mentioned last week of distinguishing image from symbol. 

Though Pound gave us some exquisite Imagist gems, the true star of the movement and its purest exemplar was H.D., Pound’s ex-fiancée, who was viewed by herself and Pound as a kind of Sappho reborn. Whereas Pound drew primarily upon Chinese and Japanese examples, extending and deepening the orientalist chinoiserie and Japonisme of previous generations, H.D. and her new husband, Richard Aldington, mined the lyric verse of Archaic Greece for their pseudo-ancient, primitivist revival. The husband’s poetry often reads like a watered-down version of the wife’s, less cleansed of Victorian sentiment and verbosity. H.D., on the other hand, achieved a style which in its chiseled terseness, authoritative voice, and general otherworldliness does seem to summon forth some ancient spirit into modern literature. Typical of her practice is her famous short piece entitled “Oread.” It goes like this:


Whirl up, sea—

whirl your pointed pines,

splash your great pines

on our rocks,

hurl your green over us,

cover us with your pools of fir.


We lose here the complexity of Pound but gain an incantatory quality and a kind of alien sensibility. The lyric is from the perspective of an oread, a mountain nymph. There are, as I see it, two interpretations of this piece. In the first scenario, the oread has gotten her first glimpse of the sea, having lived amongst mountains all her life. Because all she knows is mountain terrain, the only way she can think to describe the sea is in terms of mountain forests— to her, the rolling and rising green waves remind her of pine and fir trees, and, in a state of rapture, she calls for the sea to rise up and flood her mountains home. Figuratively speaking, we can think of this as an invitation to the sublime, a submission to a strange yet somehow familiar force. 

The second even more interesting interpretation is this. Mountains are extremely old. Therefore, the spirits who inhabit them are probably also extremely old. To them, time seems to pass differently than it does for us. We can therefore imagine an oread, born when the mountain was first formed, who is able to observe the development of the landscape. To her, a growth of forest over the mountains seem to happen as quickly as a wave washing over a rock. 

In either case, we also note that the concluding phrase, “pools of fir,” homophonically suggests an animal, and that there is thus an implicit comparison of the sea to a creature—the ghost of a haiku-like juxtaposition. 

Just for fun, let’s look at one more lyric by H.D. This is one that I’ve always found almost inexplicably cute. It’s called “The Pool.” It goes like this:


Are you alive? 

I touch you.

You quiver like a sea-fish.

I cover you with my net.

What are you, banded one?


For some reason that first line, “are you alive?” just gets to me. It’s so bold and innocent. It reminds me of a toddler coming up to a snoozing parent. In any case, I can think of three possible interpretations of this piece. Firstly, that it involves a child or some other curious person coming up to a dormant unidentified creature in a pool, trapping it and interrogating it. Secondly, that it involves some kind of supernatural aquatic entity — a mermaid, a siren, a nereid— observing a drowning human in fascination. In this case, the phrase “banded one” would refer to the bands of cloth that Greeks sometimes wore on their heads, waists, or arms. Finally, what I think is the truest interpretation is that it involves a person, who, like Narcissus, discovers their own reflection in a pool of water for the first time. They touch the water, and it ripples, causing the reflection to “quiver like a sea-fish.” The person attempts to catch their reflection by throwing a net over it. This however merely causes further ripples and the net to sink to the bottom of the pool. Due either to the ripples or the net becoming incorporated into the image, the reflection now appears to be banded. The reflection is also banded in the sense of being trapped, either by the net or simply by its limitation to its watery domain. I discovered after writing this that some have also interpreted this poem as an address from a pregnant mother to her fetus, which is also plausible. In each of these potential interpretations, the lyric is not really trying to teach us anything, but merely to get us to observe reality in a fresh and interesting way. 

Overall then, we can see that in the best work of the original Imagists, there is not so much draconic restriction or even anti-intellectualism as is often supposed. It is true that by jettisoning rhetoric, narrative, and abstract language, they radically limited the types of expression they were capable of, and perhaps even condemned themselves to writing minor verse as a result. However, they certainly remained interested in the exploration of ideas, and in wedding sharp imagery to those ideas in imaginative ways. Yvor Winters, who began his career as a passionate apostle for Imagism, recognized the potential that this movement had to offer when he proposed what he called the Post-Symbolist method of writing poetry. I discussed this concept at more length in my David Yezzi episode, but just to briefly recap, a Post-Symbolist poem is one in which the imagery is both sharp enough yet trenchant enough to admit equally well of literal and allegorical interpretations. This is only a stone’s throw away from the Imagist method and the idea of the ideogram, but harnessed to larger, more ambitious rhetorical architecture. Imagism is a potent technology which can work well on its own, but it may do wonders when combined with other methods. 

I would be doing a historical disservice however if I did not briefly remark that many so-called Imagist poems, even in the movement’s infancy, were not nearly as disciplined and pure exemplars as the ones we’ve looked at so far. The inaugural anthology of Imagism, 1914’s Des Imagistes, edited by Ezra Pound, is a fascinating look at the many different interpretations of Imagism by a variety of writers who felt attracted to what Hulme and Pound were putting down. The anthology, which I’ll link to in the show notes, is available online, and can be read in full in about half an hour. There, you’ll discover how much of so-called Imagism was really just the free verse version 1890’s decadent poetry—flowers, jewels, exotic locales, and swooning emotions abound. 

Just a year later, in 1915, Pound’s short temper, knack for alienating people, and intellectual promiscuity came through, and he abandoned Imagism following disputes with fellow writers F.S. Flint and Amy Lowell. Despite his own questionable editorial decisions, he became convinced that these two, Lowell in particular, were intent on diluting the rigorous spirit of his movement. He therefore stormed off to start the short-lived Vorticist movement with his friend Wyndham Lewis, and derided Amy Lowell’s subsequent efforts to promote Imagism as “Amygism.” Meanwhile, Pound’s college friend William Carlos Williams was independently remaking Imagism in his own image. 

Nowadays, when people think of Imagism, the work they often first think of happens to be one of the most annoying lyrics in English. It’s by William Carlos Williams, and I’m sure you know it. It’s called “The Red Wheelbarrow.” It goes like this: 


So much depends


a red wheel


glazed with rain


beside the white



            If there is anything legitimately interesting about this piece, it is the fact that it is not actually an Imagist lyric, but a didactic lyric masquerading as an Imagist one. The point of it is not to show you the red wheelbarrow or the white chickens—it is to preach to you that red wheelbarrows and white chickens, the homely trivia of everyday life, are the sort of thing one should talk about in poetry. Now of course, barring access to a full understanding of chaos theory, there is no actual argument to be made that any given wheelbarrow or chicken has much causal significance. The hyperbole is there to mystify you, and hook you into treating the work of William Carlos Williams, which is intent on local detail, as more charged with significance than it actually is. 

            Williams’ other most famous lyric, “This Is Just To Say,” highlights the stark difference between his interpretation of Imagism and Pound’s. It goes:


I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox


and which 

you were probably 


for breakfast


Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold


If you were looking for a lyric that means nothing more than what it says, this is it; pure description of a mundane situation, and no more. Its popularity can be ascribed to its eminent intelligibility and cute mischievousness, but again, there is nothing really interesting about it. Williams famously said there were “no ideas but in things,” which is actually a paraphrase of one of Pound’s dicta: “The natural object is always the adequate symbol.” Too often, “no ideas but in things” is interpreted to mean that only things, not ideas, have a place in poetry. However, while it is true that both Pound and Williams in their Imagist phases abjured abstract, idea-focused language, both were intent on having ideas in their work, the ideas simply had to be symbolized by concretions. In Williams, however, it is easy to see how the mistake can be made. Many of his lyrics, his most famous ones especially, seem utterly bereft of ideas. 

Williams was however occasionally capable of writing Imagist lyric in the true vein. Consider his vivid and haunting piece, “Arrival.” It goes like this: 


And yet one arrives somehow, 

finds himself loosening the hooks of

her dress

in a strange bedroom—

feels the autumn

dropping its silk and linen leaves 

about her ankles.

The tawdry veined body emerges

twisted upon itself

like a winter wind…!


The complex of sexuality, mortality, and grotesque alienation here reminds me of nothing so much as an Egon Schiele painting. It is also very much in the spirit of Schopenhauer. Williams captures the sensation of having one’s free will hijacked by lust, and being bewildered and even disgusted by the fact. The metaphorical link between the taking off of clothes and the falling of autumn leaves is a perfect example of Pound’s “intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.” The ritual of sex is intimately bound up with our fear of aging and death, as well as the death-like desire to lose ourselves in another. The fundamental strangeness and absurdity of sex is captured yet more vividly once the woman’s body is revealed: “tawdry and veined, twisting upon itself like a winter wind.” The object of the speaker’s desire proves to be a grotesque and decaying body just like his own, and its writhings of lust do nothing so much as icily remind him of the coming grave. The word “veined” here does triple duty, not only emphasizing the visceral corporeality and agedness of the woman, but suggesting also the vanity of the encounter and the windy windiness of her body, like a v-a-n-e. Given the strange bedroom and the description of the woman as “tawdry,” we can reasonably infer that Williams is describing a visit to a prostitute, or at the very least a one night stand. The disgust and reckoning with mortality this prompts in the speaker makes this one of Williams’ most fiercely moral lyrics, following the method of Baudelaire. 

Lastly, I’d like to draw your attention to what I think is Williams’ most affecting piece, and proof that the Imagist method can accommodate the intense expression of emotion. It is called “The Widow’s Lament In Springtime.” It goes like this: 


Sorrow is my own yard

where the new grass

flames as it has flamed

often before but not

with the cold fire

that closes round me this year.

Thirtyfive years

I lived with my husband.

The plumtree is white today

with masses of flowers.

Masses of flowers

load the cherry branches

and color some bushes

yellow and red

but the grief in my heart

is stronger than they

for though they were my joy

formerly, today I notice them

and turn away forgetting.

Today my son told me

that in the meadows,

at the edge of the heavy woods

in the distance, he saw

trees of white flowers. 

I feel that I would like 

to go there

and fall into those flowers

and sink into the marsh near them. 


The tension here between despair and loveliness is sublime. It gets to the very heart of the human situation at its most intense. I don’t feel the need to say more—the lyric does a wonderful job of explaining itself. As much as I’m annoyed by Williams generally, this piece is definitely a candidate for my favorite work of prose lyric. 

            As influential as Imagism was to all the modernists, from Eliot, to Frost, to Stevens, to Moore, to Williams, it did not last very long as a movement. By the 1920’s, Imagism had fulfilled its task of clearing the ground—  of, in Mallarme’s words, “purifying the dialect of the tribe,” so that new forms of verse and lyric prose could be written. Imagism opened the floodgates for free verse, but it also re-centered attention on elegance and precision of diction in ways which were largely salutary. In the 1930’s, a movement known as Objectivism, pioneered by Louis Zukofsky and George Oppen among others, sought to pick up where the Imagists left off, rejecting their primitivist pretensions in favor of describing objects of gritty urban life with a tinge of social realist rhetoric and more radical formal experimentation. Later movements like Projectivism and the Deep Image school would pick up on Imagism’s concern for organic free form and the symbolically resonant image, respectively, yet in their concern for self-probing consciousness exploration, spiritual liberation, experimentation, and disregard for precision, essentially turned the wheel back to a kind of Romantic Symbolism once again. 

            Today, while it is easy for us to look back on the half-baked theories and primitivist pretensions of the Imagists as rather quaint, to view the output of its practitioners as minor, and to view its advocacy of free verse as deeply wrong-headed, I believe it is still worth our while to continually return to them as models of precision, concision, and imaginative vision; to see in them, and their Parnassian predecessors, precedents for the pursuit of a poetics which condemns vagueness, verbosity, and vapid self-absorption, which are so common in our own day; to also see in them how a pursuit of Classical ideals can be sabotaged by unconscious contemporary assumptions, and to learn from this; and finally, to simply learn from them how to look at the particulars of the world more closely and deeply, which is what they were after in the first place, and which is above all a noble and spiritual act. 

            I’d like to close out this series by offering what I think is a fine contemporary example of a poem in the spirit of Imagism. Coming from Peter Vertacnik’s new book, The Nature of Things Fragile, it is entitled “The Diver:” 


At the hospital, 

a hollow, pressurized

hiss, as from

a diver’s mask,

marks his breath:

brief buoyancy, long

depth. Our task

is to watch 

as he floats

too still, though

no one dares

to say it’s 

the last time

we’ll see him 

alive. No one 

speaks. The diver

continues to dive.