Toward a cognitive rhetoric of Imagism.
--Glenn Hughes (Imagist 23)
1. On Imagism
"What was Imagism?" is not an easy question to answer. For example, Ezra Pound called Stanley Coffman's 1951 book, Imagism: A Chapter for the History of Modern Poetry, "nuts" several times (Cole 248), and Pound would no doubt take issue with most histories of Imagism. Even so, this has not prevented critics from trying to understand Imagism. For John Fuller, although "Imagism seems absurdly provincial, its aims were at the centre of the whole modernist programme in poetry" (72). Likewise, David Perkins calls Imagism "the grammar school of modern poetry" (329), while Jacob Korg sees Imagism as a "corrective" to nineteenth-and early twentieth-century poetry (127). For his part, Joseph Frank claims Imagism "opened the way for later developments by its clean break with sentimental Victorian verbiage" (10-11). Because Imagism succeeds Symbolism yet precedes Surrealism, it is situated at the dawn of "classical" literary modernism (Zach 229), (1) which is why teleological literary histories regard Imagism as "the beginning of modern literature in English" (Pratt 75). If such claims are true, then clearly Imagism mattered regardless of whatever else might be said about the movement.
Most of the poets involved with Imagism were based in London between 1912 and 1918. Three British poets (Richard Aldington, F. S. Flint, and D. H. Lawrence) and four American poets (Pound, H. D., Amy Lowell, and John Gould Fletcher) were more or less core group members (Jones 13). T. E. Hulme, a British writer who died in 1917 in World War I, was an influential figure for the Imagists before 1914. (2) The word "Imagist" itself might have been used publicly for the first time in 1912, when Pound wrote "HD, Imagiste" at the bottom of "Hermes of the Ways" before sending H. D.'s poem to Harriet Monroe at Poetry in Chicago. In 1915 F. S. Flint claimed, however, that Hulme had actually used the term first at his Poet's Club meetings before 1912 (de Chasca 75), so the origin of the term remains in dispute. What we do know for sure is that four Imagist anthologies were published between 1914 and 1918. Pound edited the March 1914 anthology, Des Imagistes, while Lowell edited the remaining three anthologies, all titled Some Imagist Poets, which appeared in April 1915, May 1916, and April 1917, respectively. Although the Imagists nearly became known as the "Quintessentials" in early 1915 when Lowell was negotiating with Ferris Greenslet, Houghton Mifflin's poetry editor, Greenslet rejected the name change due to his sense that "'Imagism' had a certain mercantile value" (de Chasca 75). This may be why some see Imagism as little more than publicity stunt even if it was more than that.
To keep my terms clear for the purposes of this article, by "Imagist" I mean a poet whose poetry appeared in one of the four original Imagist anthologies. Between Pound's collection (which had eleven contributors) and Lowell's three collections (which each had the same six contributors), "we have a total of thirteen writers who may possibly be considered bona fide Imagists" (Imagist 24). There were 35 poems in the 1914 anthology, 37 poems in the 1915 anthology, 32 poems in the 1916 anthology, and 26 poems in the 1917 anthology. Thus, there were 130 Imagist poems written by thirteen "bona fide" Imagist poets. That excludes Imagist poems the Imagists published elsewhere as well as the thirty new poems published in the Imagist Anthology 1930. (3) These tallies remind us that the number of Imagist poems and the number of Imagist poets are rather limited ones. Why, then, should such a small movement receive so much attention over the years?
One answer comes from literary history: Imagism, a "campaign for free verse" (Roberts, "Lawrence" 82), included some major twentieth-century writers. In his "Foreword" to the Imagist Anthology 1930, Glenn Hughes argued that many Imagists became well-known "world figures" after Imagism (24), which is one reason why Imagism has not been forgotten. Another reason literary history has not forgotten Imagist poetry is Imagist theory. Imagism, "a theory of poetics" according to Daniel Tiffany (60), was as much about poetic theory or poetic criticism as it was about writing poetry. That is to say, Imagism entailed writing both poems as well as critical explanations of those (and other) poems. Granted, in his In the Arresting Eye: The Rhetoric of Imagism, John Gage raises many questions about the sincerity of Imagist rhetoric, especially with regard to the criticism and theoretical exposes written by the Imagists. However, it is hard to separate theory from practice in an attempt to understand what Imagism was. For this reason, it is helpful to be reminded of key components in Imagist theory.
The famous principles of Imagism, which were first set down in Flint's "interview" of Pound for Poetry in March 1913, were the following:
(1) Direct treatment of "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 the sequence of the metronome. (qtd. in Jones 129)
Korg, who recently paraphrased these three principles as (I) the use of concrete imagery, (2) "a rigorous economy of language," and (3) "the use of vers libre," reminds us that these principles were "subjects of thoughtful consideration" rather than strict "dogma" for Pound (131). Even so, Pound's three "thoughtful" principles would become six "essentials" a year later in the unsigned preface to the 1915 Imagist anthology (4):
(1) To use the language of common speech, but always the exact word, not the nearly-exact, not the merely decorative word.
(2) To create new rhythms--as the expression of new moods--and not to copy old rhythms, which merely echo old moods. We do not insist upon "free-verse" as the only method of writing poetry. We fight for it as a principle of liberty. We believe that the individuality of a poet may often be better expressed in free-verse than in conventional forms. In poetry, a new cadence means a new idea.
(3) To allow absolute freedom in the choice of subject. It is not good art to write badly about aeroplanes and automobiles; nor is it necessarily bad art to write well about the past. We believe passionately in the artistic value of modern life, but we wish to point out that there is nothing so uninspiring nor so old-fashioned as an aeroplane of the year 1911.
(4) To present an image (hence the name: "Imagist"). We are not a school of painters, but we believe that poetry should render particulars exactly and not deal in vague generalities, however magnificent and sonorous. It is for this reason that we oppose the cosmic poet, who seems to us to shirk the real difficulties of his art.
(5) To produce poetry that is hard and clear, never blurred nor indefinite.
(6) Finally, most of us believe that concentration is of the very essence of poetry. (Some 1915 vi-vii)
These principles or essentials may seem somewhat redundant at times. For instance, Keith Waldrop claims that in their writings about Imagism the Imagists really only cared about "the use of images and the use of free verse" (74). However, because principle number 2 in March 1913 had become essential number 1 by April 1915, Waldrop is wrong to overlook the Imagist emphasis on verbal economy. Indeed, the Imagists went out of their way in the preface to their 1916 anthology to clarify once again essential number 1: "The 'exact' word does not mean the word which exactly describes the object in itself, it means the 'exact' word which brings the effect of that object before the reader as it presented itself to the poet's mind at the time of writing the poem" (Some 1916 vi). Moreover, because Pound in 1951 "still considered the principle paramount" to understanding Imagism (Cole 249), the verbal economy principle cannot be sidelined for the sake of convenience when telling the story of Imagism.
While the principles and essentials may seem like rules to follow for writing an Imagist poem, many Imagist poems in fact violate at least one principle or essential. That is why Korg reminds us that they are not dogma, and it is also why the unsigned preface to 1916 Imagist anthology informs us that the Imagists knew that "no theories nor rules [alone] make poetry" (viii). Thus, because many Imagist poems do not follow all the rules all the time, an Imagist poem cannot be defined simply as a poem that adheres strictly to every principle or essential. This is especially true when we see that essential number I conflates thepoetic concern for verbal economy in principle number 2 with a sociolinguistic concern for using the "language of common speech" in poetic diction. Ironically, despite their apparent revolt against nineteenth-century English poetry, the Imagists' praise for the "language of common speech" harks back to Wordsworth's infamous preference (in the 1805 preface to the Lyrical Ballads) for "the very language of men." As Piers Gray has argued, swearing is the real language of men (189-211), but there is little of that in either Romanticism or Imagism. Of course, Pound would call European civilization "an old bitch gone in the teeth" in "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley" in 1920, but that long poem was written after Imagism had run its course for Pound. Even so, the example shows us that vivid figurative language was highly valued by the Imagists.
2. On Cognitive Rhetoric
The history of rhetoric reminds us that stylistics (broadly defined as the study of literary style) originated in rhetoric, and that figurative language (for the last few centuries at least) has become a focal point of that study. (5) Given this state of affairs on the one hand, and the rhetorical nature of Imagism on the other, figurative language can be discussed in terms of cognitive rhetoric and Imagist style can be studied through examples of figurative language. And yet, a cognitive rhetorical study of literature is not a rhetorical study per se. In the past, rhetorical criticism often consisted of simply locating and identifying rhetorical figures (e.g., chiasmus) in a text, and resistance to rhetorical criticism may have been partly due to the belief that it only required naming figures in texts. Sitting with a text in one hand, and a handbook of rhetorical terms in the other meant such identification exercises could easily seem pointless. Why? Figure identification is not figure explanation. Moreover, the belief that figures are "in" texts is simply an illusion. According to Dan Sperber, "la figure n'est pas dans le texte [...]. Elle est dans la representation conceptuelle du texte" (415), and this goes to the heart of cognitive rhetoric. To focus on conceptual representations is to move away from the linguistic realm of rhetoric and toward the conceptual realm of cognitive rhetoric. After all, "Meanings are [...] in people's minds, not in words on the page" (Lakoff and Turner 109), so figures "on the page" are but pathways to the mind as far as the cognitive rhetorician is concerned. While classical rhetoricians excelled at identifying figures and creating taxonomies for them, they sometimes confused figures of thought with figures of speech. For the cognitive rhetorician, figures of thought are conceptualizations that give rise to figures of speech, which are verbal manifestations of those mental conceptualizations.
Since the 1970s, the term "cognitive rhetoric" has been used differently in pragmatics (Sperber), literary theory (Turner, "Cognitive," Reading), and English composition studies (Flower, "Context," "Inquiry," "Writer-Based"). Although Sperber, Mark Turner, and Linda Flower each uses the term distinctly, given the fact that they work in different fields, Flower's emphasis on " constructing meaning" is no doubt something both Sperber and Turner would agree is key to any definition of "cognitive rhetoric." Generally, cognitive rhetoric can be thought of as the study of the production of discourse, the construction of meaning, and the interpretation of the potentially persuasive aspects of discourse. Specifically, cognitive rhetoric can be thought of as the interdisciplinary study of discourse. Semiotics, poetics, rhetorical theory, and cognitive sciences such as linguistics and psychology are locations where cognitive rhetorical research already occurs. That is why cognitive rhetoric is interdisciplinary--no single field has a monopoly on its object of study. "Discourse" is a polysemous term, but I use it to mean the language of Imagism for the purposes of this article. Moreover, verbal "production," within a literary context, may refer to the object of study in genetic criticism. However, because this article does not treat genetic criticism, Imagism's figurative language is what I explore here.
To discuss Imagist poetry in terms of rhetoric may, I admit, seem strange. For the Imagists, "rhetoric was at odds with the practice of poetry" (Gage 5); and for Pound rhetoric meant "the art of dressing up some unimportant matter so as to fool the audience for the time being" (qtd. in Jones 21) or "discursive language [...] that only obstructs meaning" (Lewis 195). Given this view of rhetoric, Pound felt he was paying T. S. Eliot a compliment when saying "there is no rhetoric" in Eliot's poetry--even though Eliot knew "rhetoric" was a term often used imprecisely (Gage 32). And yet, the Imagists probably knew that rhetoric and poetics were reconcilable. As Jonathan Culler has stated, "Poetry is related to rhetoric: it is language that makes abundant use of figures of speech and language that aims to be powerfully persuasive" (71). Poetry (even Imagist poetry) is in fact rhetorical, which is why classical rhetoricians categorized it as a form of epideictic rhetoric. Moreover, if critical writings (even those by the Imagists themselves) are also rhetorical, then it is fitting to study Imagism in terms of cognitive rhetoric.
3. Metaphors and Imagism
The presence of figurative language in Imagist poetry might seem perplexing because of the Imagist belief in verbal precision. After all, if one of the classic arguments against figurative language is that it seems imprecise or misleading, then praising so-called scientific or objective prose on the one hand (which the Imagists did) while using figures on the other (which they also did) would appear to be disingenuous. Pound often dismissed as "rhetoric" poetic diction that seemed too emotional or overwrought, but the Imagists did try to strike a balance between their use of figurative language in their own poems and their criticism of the figurative language of others. This balance was necessary because the Imagists probably sensed that figurative language was crucial to their short poems and therefore could not be purged outright from their works. (6)
Although Imagists sometimes saw similes as "superfluous" (Pondrom 78) and metaphors as "extravagances" (Hatlen 119), their poetry nevertheless is comprised of these figures. For cognitive linguists and psychologists (Gibbs; Lakoff and Johnson), this is just what would be expected, since metaphor is anything but "superfluous" to thought and language in general. If a metaphor "is a systematic conceptual mapping involving two domains" and not "just an expression from a source domain" (Lakoff and Turner 128), then an Imagist's explicit evocations of source domains are only one part of the equation. The target domains we implicitly construe via those source domains is the other part of the metaphor equation.
As Pound once stated, "The gulf between evocation and description [...] is the unbridgeable difference between genius and talent" (qtd. in Jones 31), and Imagism is a poetics of evocation rooted firmly in figurative language. If "conceptual projection from a source to a target is not arbitrary" (Turner, Literary 31), and if "the source domain is more concrete than the target domain in a wide range of conventional metaphors" (Shen 46), then we can see why the Imagists put great emphasis on depicting concrete objects in their poems. While Turner and Yeshayahu Shen highlight two tenets of cognitive metaphor theory, the Imagists seemed to have understood these tenets many decades ago. By merely priming source domains in the minds of their readers, Imagists could count on readers to complete the task and carry out the meaning-making procedures of mapping, inference, and interpretation.
With this in mind, let us consider Fletcher's poem, "Clouds Across the Canyon":
Shadows of clouds March across the canyon, Shadows of blue hands passing Over a curtain of flame. Clutching, staggering, upstriking, Darting in blue-black fury, To where pinnacles, green and orange Await. The winds are battling and stirring to break them: Thin lightnings spit and flicker, The peaks seem a dance of scarlet demons Flitting amid the shadows. Grey rain-curtains wave afar off, Wisp of vapour curl and vanish. The sun throws soft shades of golden light Over rose-buttressed palisades. Now the clouds Are a lazy procession; Blue balloons bobbing solemnly Over black-dappled walls, Where rise sharp-fretted golden-roofed cathedrals Exultantly, and split the sky with light.
(Some 1916 40-41)
Clouds, wind, lightning, mountaintops, rain, and sun are all personified in the poem's first four stanzas. Markers of personification, in terms of the EVENTS ARE ACTIONS conceptual metaphor (Lakoff and Turner 70-75), include action verbs such as "march," "clutching," and "battling," as well as "hands" that are "passing" before the sun. From a human source domain of volition and self-locomotion, we conceptually map the human capacity to carry out such actions onto the target domains here, which is to say the natural objects described in the poem. Mapping is how we metaphorically personify Fletcher' s objects as we read, thereby bringing the metaphors to life in our imaginations. By the final stanza, an image metaphor appears when the "sharp-fretted" canyon peaks are called "golden-roofed cathedrals." To convey the idea that natural canyons are holy cathedrals, which is one of Fletcher's arguments, Fletcher uses figurative language to represent the scene. But how is the rhetoric of Fletcher's poem cognitive?
Consider the verbs used in the last two lines of the poem. Fictively attributing motion to immobile objects---canyon peaks that "rise" or cathedral spires that "split the sky"--is commonplace for the human conceptual system, and this is known as "fictive motion" in cognitive linguistics (Talmy). A famous example of fictive motion as a type of metaphor comes from Leonard Talmy: "The mountain range goes from Canada to Mexico." The mountains do not move anywhere literally, but the verb "goes" and the prepositions "from" and "to" all imply that they do when "the mountain range" is imagined as an agent moving from one location to another. With regard to Talmy's example, Jim Swan writes: "[T]he sentence is a model for the way cognition implements [in Talmy's words] 'veridically unequal discrepant representations of the same object,' without committing to one representation being objectively real and the other not" (Swan 462). To return to Fletcher's depiction of the stormy scene, the fictive motion apparent in the last lines is certainly metaphorical, and we can say this without entailing that this representation of the scene is false simply because it is not literal. Persuasiveness in poetry often depends on plausible uses of figurative language, and this is the case with Fletcher's poem. If the scene proved to be hard to grasp rather than easy to understand, then the first place to look for problems would probably be Fletcher's choice of metaphor.
But Imagists like Fletcher seemed to have sensed that persuasion was very much an issue of comprehension. It would be hard for a poet to convince a reader that the poet's depiction of a scene was honest or credible if the figurative language the poet used in that depiction was incomprehensible and implausible. For a plausible use of metaphor, examples of it can be found in '"Bus-Top," a poem from Fletcher's 1915 sequence, "London Excursion":
Black shapes bending, Taxicabs crush in the crowd. The tops are each a shining square Shuttles that steadily press through woolly fabric Dropping blossom, Gas-standards over Spray out jingling tumult Of white-hot rays. Monotonous domes of bowler-hats Vibrate in the heat. Silently, easily we sway through braying traffic, Down the crowded street. The tumult crouches over us, Or suddenly drifts to one side.
(Some 1915 43-44)
The first two stanzas present London's taxis as "Shuttles" and traffic as "woolly fabric." In almost Cubist fashion, the taxis are verbally reduced to "Black shapes" and "shining square[s]." Gas lamps near the street are "Dropping blossom[s]" in the form of "white-hot rays" of light (perhaps "the heat" of stanza four). Then round shapes appear in the form of the "domes of bowler-hats" before the "tumult" of buildings and traffic and people either "crouches over" the persona and his fellow passengers, in a narrow street, "Or suddenly drifts to one side" whenever the bus turns a corner. In sum, this is one way to paraphrase the action in the poem.
However, such a paraphrase tells us little about the poem' s figurative language and whether or not Fletcher's language seems plausible. In the poem, traffic metaphorically becomes "woolly fabric" that vehicles "press through" since shuttles weaving through a loom to create a fabric are the source domain of the metaphor here for vehicles driving in traffic. Exactly what kind of traffic Fletcher refers to here is clear in the final stanza. Although the bus moves "Silently, easily," the "crowded street" contains "braying traffic." As the word "tumult" is used twice in the poem, the scene seems noisy even though it contrasts with the easy movement of the bus. While this makes Fletcher's choice of adverbs ("Silently, easily") questionable, my concern is with the metaphorical phrase, "braying traffic."
The OED will tell us that "bray" was used as a verb in the past to refer mainly to the sound made by a general range of animals. However, the OED also mentions the fact that by the twentieth century "bray" began to refer most commonly to the sound made specifically by the donkey, the mule, or the ass. In this sense, then, "braying traffic" is both "noisy" traffic and stubborn traffic. But where does the inference of stubbornness come from? According to the OED, "the mule is proverbially regarded as the epitome of obstinacy," so at some point in our cultural history the human personality trait known as stubbornness became attributed to mules. Associating obstinacy with mules reveals what Gilles Fauconnier and Turner call a "conceptual blend" in which a personality trait from the human domain has been projected onto the animal domain. The blend may have taken years to become entrenched culturally, but it arose when a human personality trait (i.e., obstinacy) became projected onto the mule as the animal's prototypical personality trait. (7) This blend is evident in everyday similes ("stubborn as a mule") and novel poetic metaphors ("braying traffic"). Fletcher's choice of "braying" puts the culturally entrenched blend of obstinate mules into a new context: London's traffic. While the blend of obstinacy and mules is not novel, Fletcher's appropriation of it to depict London's traffic certainly seems so.
If "braying" demonstrates the Imagist preference for using "the exact word, not the nearly-exact" word because of the rich meanings evoked by le mot juste, it also puts into practice a theoretical idea espoused by Hulme. Great poetry, Hulme argued,
always endeavours to arrest you, and to make you continuously see a physical thing, to prevent you from gliding through an abstract process. It chooses fresh epithets and fresh metaphors, not so much because they are new, and we are tired of the old, but because the old cease to convey a physical thing and become abstract counters. A poet says a ship "coursed the seas" to get a physical image, instead of the counter word "sailed." (102)
What Hulme calls "the counter word" refers to the literal alternative of a figurative expression. Had Fletcher written "we sway through traffic making the noises of mules," or "we sway through traffic that is as stubborn as a mule," this would seem less effective than the more concise expression, "we sway through braying traffic." As Hulme would say, since the literal "counter words" do not "prevent us from gliding through" the poem, figurative language is needed to stop us in our tracks as we read the poem. This is precisely what figurative language can do for two simple reasons.
First, recent psycholinguistic data suggest that it takes longer to read sentences containing figurative language than it does to read their more literal equivalents. As psycholinguist Ira Noveck and his colleagues have found, "Universally longer reading times for sentences containing unanticipated metaphoric references is one piece of evidence revealing of [the cognitive] costs" of metaphor (119). If readers of Fletcher's poem do not anticipate the appearance of the word "braying," then it will take them several hundred milliseconds longer to read the sentence because of the added cognitive costs entailed by the metaphor. While a delay of several hundred milliseconds might not seem like being stopped in one's tracks, clearly contemporary cognitive science offers empirical evidence to support Hulme's original belief. Second, at 400 milliseconds post-onset in an experiment measuring brain activity via event related potentials (ERPs), a negative moving wave appears after exposure to and processing of items such as semantic anomalies or metaphors (Coulson 100-01). Known as an "N400 spike" (for negative moving wave at 400 milliseconds after stimulus presentation) in psycholinguistics, this empirically demonstrated phenomenon predicts that unexpected novelties such as figurative expressions will take subjects longer to process and thus comprehend. I assume "braying traffic" would produce just such an N400 effect although that is an empirical question. As Fletcher explained to Lowell in the summer of 1913, he wanted "to write about a modern city by recording its various moods," perhaps as "a series of pictures," which was why "he had been walking about London, staring intently at scenes and objects and setting down his reactions" in poems that would become part of his 1915 volume, Irradiations (de Chasca 41). '"Bus-Top" probably was a result of this method, and "braying traffic" puts into practice both Pound's insistence on selecting exact words and Hulme's preference for creative metaphors that disrupt reading. In other words, concentration and creativity are aspects of many Imagist metaphors (for another discussion of Imagist metaphor, see Crisp).
4. Similes and Imagism
Along with metaphor, Imagists also used similes, although they openly preferred metaphors. This is apparent when, in a review, Ford Madox Ford complained that Lawrence was "a fine poet" who nevertheless "employs similes" (qtd. in Jones 26). Ford and Lawrence were both Imagists, and Ford liked adhering to principles, such as "never state a negative" (qtd. in Kimbrough 213), but "never use a simile" was not an Imagist principle. Of course, the following claim is made in the 1916 anthology's preface: "Imagists deal but little with similes, although much of their work is metaphorical. The reason for this is that while acknowledging the figure to be an integral part of all poetry, they feel that the constant imposing of one figure upon another in the same poem blurs the central effect" (Some 1916 vi). This suggests that while figures may be used, they should only be used sparingly. It also relates to Pound's claim that the "'one image poem' [like his Metro haiku] is a form of super-position, that is to say, it is one idea set on top of another" (qtd. in Alfrey 33). Setting one idea "on top of another" is acceptable for an Imagist, but setting ten ideas upon one another is not. Less is more would be one way to sum up the Imagist aesthetic even though the production of more from less puts more emphasis rather than less emphasis upon a poet's figurative language.
Despite the expressed preference for metaphor over simile, Imagists frequently used similes. Although the Imagists openly praised Aristotle (Some 1916 xii), ever since Aristotle claimed "[t]he simile is also a metaphor, the difference is but slight" in Rhetoric (1406b), the similarities and differences between similes and metaphors have been a source of endless commentary. Today, psycholinguists like Sam Glucksberg and Boaz Keysar maintain, rather categorically, that"[s]imiles can always be intensified by putting them in metaphor form, whereas the reverse does not hold" (406). This would seem to account for the intuitive difference we sense between similes and metaphors, although intuition alone is inadequate empirical evidence for supporting such a robust claim. According to cognitive linguist Michael Israel and his colleagues, similes "reflect similarities between conventionally unrelated items or domains" whereas metaphors "create" similarities (3). Or, as the psycholinguist Albert Katz has recently stated, "A good metaphor emphasizes similarity relations and de-emphasizes the dissimilarities" (33), which is something a simile may also do.
The intuition that metaphors are more intense than similes may stem from the difference between reflection and creation, or between a target that is already similar to a source rather than a target constructed solely via an unfamiliar or dissimilar source. To consider the truth of the proposition that similes reflect similarities, rather than create them, let us consider "The Fisherman's Wife," a poem from Lowell' s 1917 sequence, "Lacquer Prints" (Some 1917 81):
When I am alone, The wind in the pine trees Is like the shuffling of waves Upon the wooden sides of a boat.
Here the fisherman's wife tries to counter her feeling of loneliness by equating it with her husband's. She does this in two ways. First, wood metonymically links the "pine trees" and the "wooden sides of a boat," thus allowing persona and reader to make the two separate scenes cohere. Second, the wind that results in the sound heard in the trees is also "shuffling" the waves against the hull of the fisherman's boat. The two sounds can thus seem congruent because the simile reflects similarities between the sound the wind makes in the pine trees and the sound the waves make against the boat. Lowell's simile conceptually prompts us to recognize those similarities. Lowell's persona imagines that the loneliness she feels is also felt by her husband, despite the distance between them, through two natural items (wood and wind) that both the wife's scene and the husband's scene have in common. At the end of his long poem, "Horae Canonicae," Auden referred to a similar feeling with the refrain: "In solitude, for company." For the fisherman's wife, in "solitude" there is "company" when she imagines that she and her husband simultaneously share their solitude thanks to the wind and the wood that are present to each one at the same time.
"From China," the next poem in Lowell's "Lacquer Prints" sequence, also reveals a Far Eastern influence upon Imagism where the simile is concerned. In this case, the simile becomes the climax of the poem, with each line building up to the simile at the end of the poem:
I thought:-- The moon, Shining upon the many steps of the palace before me, Shines also upon the chequered rice-fields Of my native land. And my tears fell Like white rice grains At my feet.
(Some 1917 82)
What Pound called "super-position" might be evident with "steps of the palace" being visualized as "chequered rice-fields" by the persona. But that parallelism is neither a metaphor nor a simile overtly. The overt simile appears at the end, where "tears" are understood as "white rice grains." We have to wait until line six of the poem before the target is introduced overtly, and then the next two lines of the poem provide the source domain through which we understand the tears, how they fall, and (as Israel and his colleagues would maintain) how the tears in the target domain are a priori similar to the rice grains in the source domain. In contrast to Lowell, Aldington formally reverses the climax in poem 4 of "Images" by opening with the source domain of the simile and ending with the target domain:
As a young beech-tree on the edge of the forest Stands still in the evening, Then shudders through all its leaves in the light air And seems to fear the stars-So are you still and so tremble.
Here the persona's addressee, "you," is imagined in terms of a beech tree. The beech tree is the source of the simile, while the addressee is the target of the simile. Aldington, unlike Lowell, begins with the source rather than the target, thereby creating a different sort of climax. In Aldington's case, because he begins with the source ("As a") we expect a target to follow ("So are you").
The same source-then-target form of simile appears in "The Gold Fish," a poem in Allen Upward's sequence, "Scented Leaves from a Chinese Jar":
Like a breath from hoarded musk, Like the golden fins that move Where the tank's green shadows part--Living flames out of the dusk--Are the lightning throbs of love In the passionate lover's heart.
(Des Imagistes 51)
Whereas Lowell used a target-then-source simile, Upward (like Aldington) uses a source-then-target simile. Upward's simile, if transposed into the target-then-source form, would read: "the lightning throbs" are "like [...]." What the source-then-target form used by Aldington and Upward creates is a sense of expectation whereby readers anticipate a target will follow and that a pattern is to be completed (see Rumelhart et al. on the cognitive process of pattern completion). But readers of Lowell' s "From China" might not know a simile is coming at the end of the poem because of her choice to use a target-then-source form of simile in just the last three lines of the poem. Although both forms of simile are effective, the source-then-target form raises a reader' s expectations in ways the target-then-source form does not. That the Imagists would use such similes is not surprising given the influence Far Eastern poetry had upon their own. In a Japanese hokku for example, "the tenor [target] can follow the vehicle [source]" (Lewis 202), which may explain why we see the similes we see in the poems by Aldington and Upward (ironically, the source-then-target form of simile is also found in Milton' s epic similes in Paradise Lost).
If similes can either be of the source-then-target type, or the target-then-source type, then the implicit simile in Pound's famous haiku from September 1914, "In a Station of the Metro," seems to embody both types at once. The haiku, which ironically does not appear in any of the four anthologies, is widely recognized as one of the premier Imagist poems (8):
In a Station of the Metro The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet black bough.
In The Pound Era, Hugh Kenner recognized the demands that Imagist poetry makes on readers, readers whose minds are provoked--by minimal cues like these--into forging rich associations between ideas. This recognition was based on his consideration of Pound's famous haiku:
The mind that found "petals on a wet, black bough" had been active (and for more than a year on that poem, off and on). The "plot" of the poem is that mind's activity, fetching some new thing into the field of consciousness. The action passing through any Imagist poem is a mind's invisible action discovering what will come next that may sustain the presentation--what image, what rhythm, what allusion, what word--to the end that the poem shall be "lord over fact," not the transcript of one encounter but the Gestalt of many, from the Metro traveller's to that of Kore in the underworld. (Kenner 186)
The mind of the Imagist poet and the mind of the reader of Imagist poetry engage in an "invisible action" of meaning-making for Kenner. The poems are visible, but their effects and how they are achieved are not. That is why it is necessary to examine the poem's figurative language even if identifying the poem's main rhetorical figure has proven to be surprisingly difficult.
While Christopher Butler calls this figure the prime example of the Imagist "metaphor without copula" (214), Kenner argues the poem contains an implicit simile, which is "a simile with 'like' suppressed" (185). Gage also finds an implicit simile here (with faces as the target) since the semicolon (later a colon) after the word "crowd" seemingly replaces the words "are like" (62). As for the poem's function of "presenting a juxtaposition of images" (Lamarque and Olsen 414), Brian Caraher says the juxtaposition "puts human faces and natural flowers, underground platform and darkened tree limb, into co-active perceptual exchange" (165). Caraher maintains that what makes Pound's figure unique is that it reverses the conventional trope of understanding a human element (target) in terms of a natural element (source) because he feels that the natural (petals) is understood in terms of the human (faces) here. But then Caraher contradicts his claim by saying (like Butler) that the figure is indeed a metaphor with "faces" as source and "petals" as target (165). Ethan Lewis seems likewise confused, since he argues that neither the faces nor the petals are metaphorically "construed 'in terms of' the other" (202). Lewis says this in order to offer the poem up as an example of the so-called figure of super-position, in which neither term is strictly identifiable as source and target. Lewis's super-position position, although indebted to Pound, is (as I see it) an attempt to take up a third position somewhere between the implicit simile side of the debate (e.g., Kenner and Gage) and the metaphor side of the debate (e.g., Caraher and Butler). However, although it may seem that "no principle of decision for any of the questions raised is given by the poem itself' (Rodway 101-02), there are two good reasons to say Pound's implicit simile invites us to picture faces in terms of petals.
First, because "dynamic events, not single, isolated occurrences, are the basic unit of perception" (Gibbs and Colston 362), Pound's haiku reveals something vital about the mind. The "apparition" Pound depicts is a dynamic event, a fundamental "unit of perception." If similes "reflect similarities" (Israel et al. 3), then how does the implicit simile provoke a reflection of similarities between petals and faces? The cognitive-linguistic notion of image schema offers an answer. Image schemas are highly abstract, physiologically-based mental images used in cognitive functioning (Turner, Reading 57), and they may be thought of as "gestalt structures" (Johnson 44). Pound's implicit simile (faces are like petals) reveals is a LINK image schema: both faces and petals are smaller objects linked to objects (human bodies and tree boughs) that are larger in size, respectively. According to Mark Johnson, "The simple LINK schema makes possible our perception of similarity. Two or more objects are similar because they share some feature or features. Those shared features are their cognitive links in our understanding" (118-19). While Johnson admits "we have a highly abstract notion of linkage" here (119), two features shared by faces and petals in Pound's implicit simile are (1 .) their relatively small size in relation to the objects that (2.) they are linked to. Because these features of size and linkage are shared equally and in similar ways by both "faces" and "petals," this might explain the ease with which critics have been able to view either term as source and target.
Second, apart from the LINK schema, the size and position of the simile's terms can be examined from a cognitive perspective. Gage thus took a step in the right direction with his reference to the gestalt psychology of figure/ground relations in his discussion of this poem (61). The juxtaposition and relative size of the two different objects in the poem relate directly to a figure/ground relation. This can be seen in what the cognitive grammarian Ronald Langacker has called a "relational profile" (494) between a figure and ground (conceptually) and between a trajector and landmark (linguistically). Just as faces are profiled against the bodies they are attached to in the poem, so too are petals profiled against the bough they are attached to. In this sense, faces are figures while bodies are grounds, and petals are figures while the bough is the ground. And yet, while petals are profiled against the ground of the bough, the faces are explicitly profiled against a "crowd" (i.e., a ground that is larger than any single human body to which a face would be attached). Indeed, there is a mismatch in profiles because of the different prepositions, "in" and "on," that Pound uses here. The prepositions "in" and "on" semantically encode different profiles between figures and grounds at the conceptual level, and trajectors and landmarks at the linguistic level. For example, in ESL textbooks it is common to teach students the meaning of "in" and "on" with reference to pictures, say, of a ball "in" or "on" a cube. For Langacker, such visual, image-schematic information is encoded in the verbal prepositions themselves with their unique profiles. So while "faces" are profiled against the (back)ground of the "crowd" linguistically, in Pound's poem the faces are imagined as "in" a bounded space (the crowd on the subway platform) conceptually.
This is different from "petals" that are "on" the tree's "bough" since the petals are linguistically profiled against the (back)ground of the bough as opposed to the larger object (tree) to which the bough is presumably attached. In other words, in one line we have faces/bodies/crowd, while in the other we have petals/bough/tree. There are profiles between three levels in the two lines, but the profiles are mismatched. Pound and his readers profile the first-level term against the third-level term in the top line, while profiling the first-level term against the second-level term in the bottom line. Thus, there are four juxtapositions here rather than two: faces on bodies, petals on a bough, faces in a crowd, and faces as petals. We can find similarity between faces and petals due to the presence of a LINK schema although we can find a difference in the profiles marked by the prepositions in the poem. But similes reflect similarities, which is what Pound's figure also does, so Kenner and Gage seem right to feel that there is an implicit simile in the poem. (9)
5. Analogies and Imagism
Don't use such an expression as "dim land of peace." It dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. It comes from the writer's not realizing that the natural object is always the adequate symbol.
--Ezra Pound (qtd. in Jones 131)
Pound's preference for the concrete over the abstract helps account for the presence of many natural objects that appear in Imagist poems, but Pound's true reasons for dismissing examples like "dim land of peace "could be made explicit by analyzing such analogically compressed terms as "Noun Phrase-of-Noun Phrase" compounds (Turner, "Figure" 54). And yet, although Pound dislikes "mixing" the abstract with the concrete, this is in fact how poetic symbols are conceptually created. "No particular objects are intrinsically [...] symbols. They are interpreted to be so," according to biological anthropologist Terrence Deacon, so "when we say something is a 'symbol,' we mean there is some social convention, tacit agreement, or explicit code which establishes the relationship that links one thing to another" (71). The conceptual process that "establishes the relationship that links one thing to another" is an analogical process involving dissimilar elements. In general, an analogy, which "puts pressure on conventional category structures" (Turner, Literary 93), is "not constructed between very like concepts" (Turner, Reading 135). However, when analogies prompt us to combine two distinct elements, then poetic symbols can be the result.
In the case of Imagism, one of those elements is often a natural object, but that concrete object only obtains its symbolic significance when analogically associated with something abstract. To understand analogy as a process for creating Imagist symbols, let us consider two poems. The first is "The Swan" by F. S. Flint:
Under the lily shadow and the gold and the blue and mauve that the whin and the lilac pour down on the water, the fishes quiver. Over the green cold leaves and the rippled silver and the tarnished copper of its neck and beak, toward the deep black water beneath the arches, the swan floats slowly. Into the dark of the arch the swan floats and into the black depth of my sorrow it bears a white rose of flame.
(Des Imagistes 35)
Flint, who probably knew more about the French Symbolism than any other Imagist in 1913, seems to have written a poem that is equally Imagist and Symbolist. If a "Symbolist poem was necessarily short, evocative, and mysterious" (McArthur, para. 1), then one might claim that Flint's poem is as much Symbolist as it is Imagist. The poem also demonstrates something Pound referred to once with respect to his metro haiku: "In a poem of this sort one is trying to record the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective" (qtd. in Jones 33). The exterior-to-interior transformation Pound mentions is actually the completion of an analogical process. Here, the transformation occurs in the last stanza of Flint's poem when we recognize the swan as an analogue for the persona and what the swan does as an analogue for how the persona feels.
While sorrow is abstract, the swan is concrete. Just as the motion--"the black depth of [...] sorrow--is depicted spatially, the swan physically moves under "the dark of the arch." Just as the "black depth" and "dark" "arch" are analogues, so too are the concrete "swan" and the abstract sorrow. Therefore, we must mix the concrete with the abstract (pace Pound) to see the swan as a symbol for the persona s sorrow. Also, the white rose," which is itself a symbol for purity (Ferber 175), exacerbates the persona's sorrow in the form of a painful "flame." These remarks are in fact recognitions resulting from analogical processes that yield poetic symbols. Clearly, Flint's literal depiction of what the swan does is a figurative description of an emotional state. Certain critics would no doubt define the swan as an objective correlative, but the agent responsible for that correlation is the subjective human mind that correlates the swan with sorrow. As for Flint's decision to depict a swan rather than some other animal or object, Deacon's idea of "social convention" in symbol interpretation is relevant here. Since "the association of swans with poets" is an old one in literary history, and since "swans are migratory, and are frequently seen alone," they seem apt symbols to poets for emotions like sorrow (Ferber 214-15). While Flint's depiction of the swan is original, the choice of swan is conventional. But that is not to say the conventional choice is the wrong choice. In fact, the conventional choice is the right choice lest the poet be reduced to using symbols that nobody else recognizes as such.
Another apt choice of symbol can be seen in the second poem under discussion here, (10) "Brooding Grief" by D. H. Lawrence:
A yellow leaf from the darkness Hops like a frog before me--Why should I start and stand still? I was watching the woman that bore me Stretched in the brindled darkness Of the sick-room, rigid with will To die--And the quick leaf tore me Back to this rainy swill Of leaves and lamps and traffic mingled before me.
(Some 1916 74)
Lawrence's choice of the leaf is symbolically apt. In classical poetry, "leaves, their mortality, and their susceptibility to wind made them perfect emblems for the dead" (Ferber 108), and much the same can be said here. Given Lawrence's argument that the world is "rainy swill" when your mother is ready to die on her deathbed, the presence of a leaf in this poem is fitting. According to Neil Roberts, "Pound's 'Go in fear of abstractions' is, of all the Imagist principles, the one that would most have appealed to Lawrence" ("D. H." 106), and this might also explain the presence of the leaf. While the persona's emotional grief is abstract, the poet's representation of the dead leaf blown by about the wind is concrete. The movement of the "yellow leaf" is first presented through a simile (the leaf "Hops like a frog"), and then "the quick leaf" becomes personified as an agent tearing the persona "Back to this rainy swill," itself a metaphor for the world. However, despite the frog simile and the personification metaphor, we might ask how the leaf (a natural object) becomes "the adequate symbol" for the persona's "Brooding Grief"?
To say the leaf is a symbol for grief is to make a simple statement about a conceptual process that is anything but simple. Simple explanations of complicated processes cannot be mistaken for the processes themselves. As F. R. Leavis once wrote, in reference to the "Water-Party" chapter in Lawrence's Women in Love, "to suggest that the rabbit and the cattle 'stand for' this and that would be to suggest much simpler ways of constructing and conveying significance and much simpler significances than we actually have" (203). Disagreeing with Leavis today may seem like flogging a dead horse, but Leavis confuses our "ways of constructing and conveying significance" with descriptions of those "ways." The production of meaning and descriptions of the production of meaning are two different things. Just because a description seems simple, we cannot conclude that the process described is simple. The production of poetically significant symbols is an analogical process although naming that process and explaining how that process works are two different things. But in the poems by Flint and Lawrence the swan and the leaf are not irrelevant objects. They are not objects whose presence is simply gratuitous. They are objects that we relate directly to the emotions suggested by the poems. We do so by recognizing that what the objects are, and what they do, are analogues for the personae and their feelings. After all, Pound aligned "evocation" with "genius" (Jones 31), and I stated earlier that Imagism was a poetics of evocation because the recognition of the symbolic significance of the natural objects in Imagist poems like these is something we do implicitly rather than something the poems do explicitly. That is the art of evocation and it is the art of Imagist poetry. Although it may seem difficult to imagine today, at the time Imagist poems seemed unusual--even "antipoetic" (Tiffany 60)--and terms like laconic, hard, clear, straight, objective, direct, and paratactic are just some of the words that have been used over the years to describe the Imagist style. As Hulme stated (circa 1913), "I prophesy that a period of dry, hard, classical verse is coming" (101), and that prediction was seemingly fulfilled by the arrival of Imagism and its presentations of "hard" objects of symbolic significance.
In this article, I have tried to reveal how concepts like fictive motion, image schemas, and analogical reference relate to the cognitive rhetoric of Imagism, especially figurative language in Imagism. Granted, discussing nine Imagist poems by seven Imagist poets means that some of the generalizations in this article may seem hasty. However, the cognition involved with metaphor, simile, and analogy is principled rather than arbitrary, and it operates just as effectively in literary contexts as it does in nonliterary contexts. That is why I think that some of the things I have said here are applicable not only to Imagist poetry in particular but to most poetry in general. That said, a cognitive rhetoric of Imagism will remain incomplete until the images of Imagism are analyzed. Of course, the image may be a difficult concept to come to terms with in Imagist theory. This is because, according to Tiffany, "Pound's attempts to define the Image violate the basic principles of Imagism (economy, precision, clarity). Not only is he unable to offer a literal definition of the Image, but the figurative analogies multiply with remarkable fecundity and obscurity" (44). The infamously ill-defined "Doctrine of the Image" suggests at least as much. However, "in literary usage, imagery refers to images produced in the mind by language" (Preminger, ed. 93), and the imagery produced by readers of Imagist poetry is something cognitive rhetoric could analyze in the future. But what would this demand?
It could require, for example, picking up where Elaine Scarry left off in her recent study of literary imagery. Scarry's book is not about Imagism, although many of her claims are supported by evidence from cognitive psychology. However, her ideas might be extended to Imagism while drawing on Zenon Pylyshyn's more recent imagery research and Allan Paivio's "dual storage system" theory of cognitive memory and its interaction with language. In Paivio's system, "an object elicits its verbal label (or image or other objects) and a word arouses implicit verbal associates or images of objects" (qtd. in MacCormac 140-41), so the power of words and objects to evoke each other has clear ramifications for literary study. After all, "the mind thinks with pictures as well as words" (Thagard 94), so literary imagery is worth studying in more detail. In sum, I am hopeful that cognitive rhetoric's roots in cognitive science will help it overcome the "disproven linguistics" and "dubious psychology" that Norman Holland maintains has plagued literary criticism for far too long (qtd. in Wright 530).
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(1) To these -isms can now be added "Postsymbolism," Ronald Bush's term for the sort of poetry that includes Imagism, Vorticism, and the canonical modernist poems of the 1920s (371-72).
(2) For more about Hulme, see Ferguson's recent biography.
(3) Although many Imagists wrote different kinds of poetry after Word War I, H. D. remained the exemplary Imagist well into the 1920s because many of her poems continued to address, or were preoccupied with, Imagist concerns (Gledhill 175).
(4) According to Edmund de Chasca, Fletcher and Lowell were responsible for the prefaces in 1915 and 1916 (77).
(5) For the origins of stylistics in rhetoric, see Fahnestock.
(6) Exactly how short is a "short" poem? That remains an open question, since some Imagist poems, such as Lawrence's "Terra Nuova" (Some 1917 69-75), are actually several pages long.
(7) Although Lakoff and Turner refer to such things as metaphors with the example of "a dog's loyalty, which is understood in terms of a human character trait" (More 112), given recent discussion of similar Aristotelian examples (e.g., "Achilles is a lion") there is a growing consensus among cognitive linguists that these are blends rather than metaphors.
(8) I have tried here faithfully to reproduce Pound's original 1914 typesetting of the poem, which includes his use of a semicolon rather than a colon. For an extended discussion of the changes Pound made in both the typesetting and the punctuation of the poem, see Lewis.
(9) I have briefly discussed Imagist image schemas and imagery elsewhere (see Hamilton, "Cognitive," "Future").
(10) Although Neil Roberts has argued that Lawrence's poems cannot be discussed in isolation from one another, especially if they are part of a sequence ("Lawrence" 87), for my purposes it is fitting to discuss Lawrence's poem on its own, without reference to his other poems, including his Imagist poems.
Craig A. Hamilton
University of California at Irvine
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