Imagism and Peculiarities of its Reception in the Georgian Literary World

Reception of Imagism in Georgian Literary Studies

Imagism found no reflection in its contemporary Georgian literature even though some modernist movements, e.g. Symbolism, Dadaism and Futurism, to a greater or lesser extent, gained a foothold in Georgian literature of the early 20th century. The first data on the “imaginization” appear in the works of one of the first researchers of the Georgian Verse libre, and ardent supporter of the “Tsisperkantselebi” and Dadaists, Gr. Tsetskhladze, who mentions “imaginazation” as a poetic device in the verse libre [Barbakadaze, 2002:3].  However, it is hard to say conclusively who he actually means when referring to “imaginization” – the European Imagists or the Russian Imaginist group inspired by the former and set up in 1919 (the group included Sergei Esenin, Riurik Ivnev, Anatoly Mariengof, and Vadim Shershenevich), who in their manifesto proclaimed the death of “futurism”, along with the rebirth of “Image” and the formation of the new movement “Imaginism.” 

Under the Soviet regime, especially in the period between 1931 - the early 1950s, Georgian writers compelled to abide by the rules of Socialist Realism rejected all associated with or related to the West and Modernism. Even more dangerous was mentioning the name of one of the inspirers of Imagism, Mussolini’s fervent supporter and notorious Fascist - Ezra Loomis Pound. 

According to prominent scholar of Ezra Pound’s works, Ian Probstein, in 1939 Russian translations of Ezra Pound’s poetry by a Russian Acmeist poet Mikhail Zenkevich were excluded from The Anthology of New English Poetry as by that time Pound had become a staunch supporter of Mussolini.  However, Thomas S. Eliot’s poems and a large fragment from his Waste Land were included. It was not until 1994 when Zenkevich’s translations were eventually published, even though he was the first of all the Soviet scholars to study Pound’s works and life in earnest and started translating some of his most famous poems – The Garden, the Pact, the Rest – as early as in the 1930s. It was not until 1982, i.e. the period when the Soviet dictate started declining, that the first independent publication of Pound’s works was printed. 

In this respect Georgian literature was ahead of the Russian. The first data on Imagism and Imagist poets appear in The 20th century American Poetry by Zviad Gamsakhurdia, where the author gives insight into the shift, the so-called Renaissance, taking place in the American poetry of the 1910s, and distinguishes two groups (“pleaides”) of poets. He assigns Ezra Pound, Emi Lowell, Hilda Dolittle and Thomas Sterns Elliot to the second, which came on the poetic scene almost simultaneously with the first (Edwin Arlington Robinson, Carl Sandburg and Robert Frost) (Gamsakhurdia, 1972). Z. Gamsakhurdia associates the poets of the second group with the European poetic tradition and calls Ezra Pound “the flagship of Imagism”. Gamsakhurdia highlights Pound’s interest in social themes, substantiating the claim by his “Lake Isle” and “Commission”. 

In Georgian literary studies Z. Gamsakhurdia is the first to give official data on Imagism and the Imagist movement. He provides an overview of the peculiarities of the Imagist poem and techniques and inspirational sources of creating an image. According to him, “Imagists’ image, which derives from an imaginative dream, is vague, sometimes only the emotion is left.”  [Gamsakhurdia, 1972:86]. Gamsakhurdia claims the Imagist poetry is closely associated with the Symbolist dispositions and maintains their image is manifested in “unrealistic perspective.” 

Z. Gamsakhurdia is accurate in his judgement of the Imagists’ unassuming and clear style, which is almost “drained of feelings”. He offers a deep insight into the essence of the image by stating: “the Imagist poet catches a momentary glimpse in order to turn it into eternal.” [Gamsakhurdia, 1972:93]. 

Z. Gamsakhurdia rightly attributes “modern stylization” and strive for revitalization of the motives of the ancient poetry to Ezra Pound. According to him, “he exercises modernist stylization through which he brings the modern spirit close to the sentiments of the ancient poetry” [Gamsakhurdia, 1972:89]. This phenomenon is clearly obvious throughout all of Pound’s works, replete with allusions from the ancient Greek, Egyptian and Chinese poetry. 
Of all the Imagist poets, Gamsakhurdia gives special mention to H.D (Hilda Dolittle), who, according to him, is a more “typical imagist poet” “modernizing the lyrical traditions of ancient Greek poetry.”

Z. Gamsakhurdia highlights the common feature uniting these new poets debating over certain theoretical issues but being unanimous about the necessity of using as few adjectives as possible. “The leaders of the new poetry unanimously declared war against the similes and metaphors as they were understood in the earlier poetry.” [Gamsakhurdia, 1972:119]. 

Z. Gamsakhurdia is credited with being the first Georgian translator of Ezra Pound’s poetry and the fact that Pound’s first Georgian translations were published in 1972 while, as previously noted, his first Russian translations saw the daylight only ten years later, is truly worth mentioning. The fact is exceptional in and of itself as under the Soviet regime, translations of foreign authors’ works were published in the peripheries only after they had been printed in the language of the hegemon nation. However, it should be highlighted that Russian expatriates persevered in translating his poetry.

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Soviet dictate, Modernism in general, and Ezra Pound’s poetry in particular, started drawing attention of the poets and translators who had been previously denied access to them. Nowadays Pound’s pieces are translated into Georgian by Zviad Ratiani, Dato Barbakadze, Nino Baramidze, Zaal Jalaghonia, Otar Tsiskaridze, Zaal Chkheidze, Fridon Kardava and Ana Kopaliani.

Image and Key Imagist Tenets  

Despite the interest in the poetry of one of the inspirers and “flagships” of Imagism, Georgian literary world still knows rather little about the short-lived but influential movement, which is why in trying to find answers to the following questions, we will give a brief overview of the movement and its tenants: 

1. What was Imagism and what were the differences and similarities between it and the other modernist movements?
2. What is the “image” and what is the difference between the Imagist’s image and images of traditional poetry?

Imagism developed from a sequence of three literary groups formed during the years of 1909 to 1917: 1909-1911 – Pre-Imagism phase, 1912-1913 – Imagism and 1914-1917 – Amagism. 

Imagism has at least two chronological sources: the modern and the ancient. The ancient literatures from Greek, Latin, Chinese, and Japanese contributed to the ideals of Imagism just like the modern influence from France. Of course, not each poet was affected by the same literatures; every poet had a specific influence and was an individual product of singular combinations of sources. In the result of these diverse origins there wasn’t such a jumble as might be thought; on the contrary – its theory was orderly and consistent. According to some scholars, the Imagists have “produced an anomaly: a literary movement of great and lasting significance without a great literature” [Internet resource 3]. 

Even though the creators and inspirers of Imagism emphasized the difference between them and the other poetic schools, many a scholar speak about similarities between Imagism and other modernist movements. According to Ian Probstein, Pound’s first Russian translator, Zinaida Vengerova called his poem “Heather” “a symbolist poem” but later in the article printed in 1915 in the magazine “Strelets” (Sagittarius), convinced that their manner was borrowed from Marinetti’s aggressive manifesto, she referred to the movement as “the English Futurists” [Internet resource 4]. 

According to prominent scholar of Imagist movement, Stanley Coffman, Imagism clearly echoes the symbolist movement and the Imagists (from Hulme to Emmy Lowell) developed their theory and practice from models they found in their contemporary French literature [Coffman, 1972:91]; however, the Imagists themselves never acknowledged this affinity or similarity; they rejected ambiguity of the Symbolist poems, their eloquence and overuse of the adjectives; they said no to “obscure” statements which, in their view, only dulled the image. Ezra Pound in the essay published in “fortnightly Review” states: “IMAGISME IS NOT symbolism. The symbolists dealt in “association,” that is, in a sort of allusion, almost of allegory. They degraded the symbol to the status of a word. They made it a form of metonomy. One can be grossly “symbolic,” for example, by using the term “cross” to mean “trial.” The symbolist’s symbols have a fixed value, like numbers in arithmetic, like 1, 2, and 7. The imagiste’s images have a variable significance, like the signs a, b, and x in algebra” [Pound, vol. 6:484]. 

The fundamental principles of Imagism were rooted in the ideas first developed by English philosopher and poet T. E. Hulme, who was influenced by the 19th century philosopher Henri Bergson. For Hulme poetry was based on an absolutely accurate presentation of its subject, with no excess verbiage; for him the starting point of the poetry was an “image” and the poetry itself was the phenomenon speaking the language of images. As he noted in his famous article “Romanticism and Classicism” “Images in verse are not a mere decoration, but the very essence”. For Hulme Image was an instant information perceived through senses; the method of creating images was an analogy, on which he noted: “never, never a simple statement. It has no effect. One must always have analogies, which make another world.” [Hughes, 1972:21]. 

According to Hulme, the main function of the Image was “to appeal to the visual”, however, his like-minded Pound expanded its meaning and attributed intellectual appeal to it. Pound believed Image should reproduce the past feelings, which he successfully accomplished in his famous, mono-image poem “In a Station of the Metro.” 

The Imagist poems are noted for the clarity of image, brevity, suggestiveness, freedom from metrical laws. The Imagists believed, a reader shouldn’t be able to detect a scheme of rhythm, meter or rhyme. They opposed to making symbols out of objects and attaching one specific significance to any of them. For them the natural object was always the adequate symbol. The Imagists revolted against works which were written in a specific style and had no individual aspects. They tried to use no superfluous word, no adjective which did not contribute to the presentation; the poem had to be freed from the syntactic frames, which is why majority of the Imagist poems use parataxis. 

For Hulme the most significant element of all the poetic structures was analogy. However, Pound, who adapted his ideas on poetry for his Imagist movement, invented a literary means of his own naming it “superposition”; he considered one image to be the basis of one poem, the clear example of which are his tanka and haiku-style poems. 

With a view to understanding and comprehending the essence of the image, we will give an example of the most famous of all Hulme’s poems – “Autumn”, which for a number of reasons cannot be considered a perfect example of the Imagist doctrine. 

A touch of cold in the Autumn night – 
I walked abroad, 
And the ruddy moon leaned over a hedge.
Like a red-faced farmer. 
I did not stop to speak, but nodded, 
And round about were the wistful starts
With white faces like town children [Internet resource 2].

The seven line stanza presents one dominant image – the image of Autumn night; however, there are images of the moon and the stars too. The author does not use any inexact or decorative word which would “obscure” the image. The moon and the stars are described through analogy; the perception is individual and subjective; likening the moon to the red face of a farmer does appear strange to many as only few can perceive in the moon “leaned over a hedge” “the ruddy face” of a farmer and see any affinity between the “wistful stars” and “white faces like town children”. It may seem odd but is backed up by logic, though this logic is neither rigidly enforced nor explicitly stated. The analogy clearly creates a very powerful image; however, there is a clear violation of the major Imagist tenet, namely, the conjunction “and” and the word “like” should not have been used. The phrase “autumn night” should not be used in the body of the poem as “autumn” is its title and for the Imagists, the title and the body make one complex. By adhering to the imagist principles, the poem should sound like this:  

Autumn Night 
A touch of cold 
I walked abroad, 
the ruddy moon leaned over a hedge.
A red-faced farmer. 
I did not stop to speak, but nodded, 
round about were the wistful starts
The white faces of town children. 

The poem has no intrusive rhythm and no rhyme scheme. The euphony is created through alliteration. There is not a single unnecessary adjective which does not contribute to the creation of an image or even worse, obscures it. The syntactic structures are minimal, if not a few lapses, the poem would have been considered a perfect example of the Imagist doctrine. 

Nowadays the poem written by adhering to all the Imagist tenets is considered “Oread” by H.D., the acclaimed archetype of the Imagist poet, widely read and admired for her innovative and experimental approaches to poetry. Her poems epitomizing the imagist tenets are based on structural and linguistic polarity, like: the sea and the land, soft and hard, ripe and unripe, salty and sweet, etc. It is true H.D.’s concentration of the language, the skill to create a musical line and a clear image materialized the Imagist doctrine, however, she did not write her poetry to fit the theory, nor did she contribute in print to the doctrinal debates about Imagism. 

The most controversial of all the Imagist poets is an American poet and critic, Emi Lowell whose works cannot be strictly analyzed from the viewpoint of Imagist doctrine, in the first place because of loquacity of her works; however, “we cannot fully reject her.” [Harmer, 1975:24] as she is credited with the popularity the Imagist doctrine enjoyed in America. 

After the World War I, Imagism as an organized movement ceased to exist; however, it is important not only because of the pieces of poetry produced by it but also for its revolt against the 19th century poetry traditions and the contribution to the tenets of the modern poetry. 

Overview of the Georgian Translations of the Imagist Poetry 

Interest in the Modernist poetry, especially in Ezra Pound’s, is high indeed among our contemporary Georgian translators, who translate his early works – of Pre-Imagist, Imagist and Post-Imagist eras. Dato Barbakadze even wrestled with his Canto XLV, which with its archaic lyricism and authoritative didacticism is reminiscent of neoclassical texts to the extent that it is often considered anti-Modernist. However, it should be noted that Dato Barbakadze brilliantly succeeded in this endeavor. We will not go deep into this translation of his but will limit our discussion and state that this translation is not only one of the best of all his translations of Ezra Pound’s poetry but of all the Georgian translations of the great Modernist’s works. 

The most frequently translated of all his works is Pact, the title of which is translated differently by different poets. The poem has been translated by Z. Gamsakhurdia, Z. Ratiani, D. Barbakadze, O. Tsiskaride and Z. Jalaghania. There are a few translations of a mono-image haiku-style poem In a Station of the Metro, Salutation and Commission, the title of all of which are translated differently into the target language but all of them are quite faithful to the source. 

The Georgian translations are noted for their faithfulness to the principles of verse libre, which allows readers to pay more attention to the contents rather than to the rhyme or the metrics. The Georgian translators refrain from embellishing and thus obscuring the images created in Pound’s poems noted for their simplicity and modesty. They do not strive to overuse tropes to make the poems sound more poetic. Like the author, they create euphony through alliteration and assonance. However, we cannot deny the existence of a few exceptions to this general trend either.  

The Georgian translations of Ezra Pound’s poetry almost never distort the poem’s architecture; they retain the original’s style (simplicity of the language and laconism), contextual-conceptual information and sub-text and the images created. However, with a view to attaining poeticism and euphony, the translators more often than not use grammatical and lexical archaisms and in certain cases even translate with 14 syllable lines, which is manifested to different extents in the works of different translators. 

However, translations of the individual poets and their translational strategies is a topic of more comprehensive research. 


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