The Poet on her Art and its Penalties, Fifth Book
The artist’s part is both to be and do,
Transfixing with a special, central power
The flat experiences of the common man,
And turning outward, with a sudden wrench,
Half agony, half ecstasy, the thing
He feels the inmost: never felt the less
Because he sings it…Does a torch less burn
For burning next reflectors of blue steel,
That he should be the colder for his place
Twixt two incessant fires, - his personal life’s
And that intense refraction which burns back
Perpetually against him from the round
Of crystal conscience he was born into
If artist born? O sorrowful great gift
Conferred on poets, of a twofold life,
When one life has been found enough for pain!
We, staggering ‘neath the burden as mere men,
Being called to stand up straight as demi-gods,
Of the universal, and send clearly up,
With voices broken by the human sob,
Our poems to find rhymes among the stars!
But soft! – a ‘poet’ is a word soon said;
A book’s a thing soon written. Nay, indeed
The more the poet shall be questionable
The more unquestionably comes his book!
And this of mine – well, granting to myself
Some passion in it, furrowing up the flats,
Mere passion will not prove a volume worth
Its gall and rags even. Baubles round a keel
Mean nought, excepting that the vessel moves.103
Consider the present poet’s Poet, Poetaster, Poetess
‘The artist’s part is both to be and do’.
(from ‘Poet on Her Art’, Aurora Leigh).
A poet then, perhaps is someone who
is able to, as Barrett Browning’s key-
note poem puts it: transfixes inmost
outwards. She means, to take the core of day-
to–day experience – our innermost
of feelings – and convey in such a way
they sing, but undiminished by the song.
And poets too, have burdens as mere men
(or humankind as she implies) among
the demi-gods are called to stand. But when
mere passion won’t suffice, technique’s the thing.
A poet always makes a poem sing.
A poet always makes a poem sing.
To quote the O.E.D’s interior,
a poetaster’s work’s ‘inferior’.
Got no rhythm. Got no beat. Got no swing.
Got wooden feet. Doesn’t go Petrarchan.
Doesn’t sound a lot like Philip Larkin.
No alliteration, repetition,
Not in Frankie Leavis’s ‘Great Tradition’.
A poetaster might be someone who
quite likes to taste a poet now and then.
A fricassée of Sitwell – tough to chew,
quite rare, a point, and seasoned with cayenne.
She isn’t very easy to digest.
We’ll take a butcher’s now at poetess
We’ll take a butcher’s now at ‘poetess’.
A prestige term, reputedly applied
to Sappho. Now, the writer’s vilified,
diminished by the epithet as less
than poet. Whalebone stays constrain the /ess/
in rigid subject matter, ending /y/;
her domesticity, maternity.
The angel of the hearth’s her mode of dress.
Should tonal ranges fade to /y/ as well?
Gentility and piety – sweet sounds –
a ‘sweet’ transposed by Plath to something true;
a housewife/mother/poet’s voice so swelled
with assonance of stark, the harsh resounds.
The artist’s part is both to be and do.104
Aurora Leigh advocates an equal art/life balance, and Browning herself successfully combined marriage with creativity. Lizbeth Goodman perceives the ‘masculine worldliness’ of Aurora Leigh to be anomalous:
This must have seemed especially surprising as the work of a woman who,
before her marriage had spent her adult years as a feeble invalid … an
almost hopeless bookish recluse, or a caged bird. It was as if Tennyson’s
‘The Lady of Shalott’ had left her loom, plunged into life and survived
with aplomb and glee.105
‘An almost hopeless bookish recluse’ is hardly consistent with the poet-legislator. However, Goodman’s gendered reading of ‘The Lady of Shalott’, in which she perceives the Lady’s perception as ‘passive and powerless’, relative to the poem’s visual interpretations, provided the catalyst for this writer’s following ekphrastic poems. Christina Rossetti’s ‘In An Artist’s Studio’ (1856) is the starting-point. Rossetti usurped the sonnet form: a woman poet interrogating the plight of Lizzie Siddal, her brother’s muse for the Lady of Shallot, and other artworks. Siddal was a (comparatively) minor poet and accomplished artist.
In An Artist’s Studio
One face looks out from all his canvasses,
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
The mirror gave back all her loveliness,
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer greens,
A saint, an angel, every canvas means
The self same meaning – more or less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting or with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope was bright,
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream. 106
The present poet’s response explores gender representations in Rossetti’s sonnet, including her subversive treatment of the mirror image. Whereas Tennyson’s mirror brings about his Lady’s demise, it reanimates Rossetti’s lady.
Gender presentations in ‘In An Artist’s Studio’
Rossetti’s just turned Petrarch inside out;
subverting expectations of a form
where male addressing female is the norm.
the poet - and her readers – are about
to rescue Lizzie Siddal, who, throughout
the art of Dante Gabriel, transforms
to medieval damozel. Re-formed,
rehashed, and reconstructed, and re-sprout.
Millais and Holman Hunt did that as well.
Christina’s less concerned with them, I feel
she takes a pot at Dante Gabriel –
subverts the mirror image – Lizzie’s real
persona reappears. No damozel,
no saint, no angel, she herself revealed.
The following sonnets are imaginary exchanges on perceptions of gender between Siddal and Rossetti, in which the present poet permits Siddal the freedom of language consistent with discarding the corset.
Siddal on Rossetti
Christina disapproves of me. Not bright
enough for Dante Gabriel. Perceives
a supermodel, bimbo, tart. Believes
I challenge rigid codes of dress. I might
decide to let my hair down – so? Alright,
I’ve ditched the corset, whalebone strayed. Retrieve
it, straight-laced virgin, straight away. Naïve
Christina’s way past prudish. Well uptight.
And yet – I feel a volta coming on –
she wrote that sonnet dwelling on the plight
of muses just for me. She looks upon
her brother like some kind of parasite.
He paints me saint, or angel, Lizzie’s gone.
He feeds upon[my] face by day and night.
Rossetti on Siddal
Her octave’s just a tad unwarranted,
don’t disapprove at all, it isn’t that.
I think Elizabeth’s quite talented,
she scribbles a few lines which rhyme – somewhat.
Her poetry contains the same old strains
of unrequited love, or love that’s lost.
Her painting? Rather good: I think she aims
to de-romanticize, convey the cost
of daily obligation to conform.
Her Lady at Her Loom – in pen and ink –
is simple, differs from my brother’s norm
of medieval imag’ry. I think
it’s just the same with all his canvasses.
Her painting shows the Lady’s loneliness.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s visual interpretation of the Lady of Shalott would seem to support Goodman’s ‘passivity’ theory. The following is Siddal’s imagined perception of her representation, which portrays Lancelot’s final utterance, supporting Goodman’s view of a masculine poem spoken in a masculine voice.
Siddal On Her Gendered Representation
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti designed for
Alfred, Lord Tennyson Poems London: 1857
Moxon. Wood engraving, proof print on
India paper, 26cm. x 19cm.
It’s all about Sir Lancelot. Not she
(or me). He dominates pictorial space.
He’s active, looks intently at my face,
Expresses reverence and sympathy.
This emphasizes such profundity
of Lancelot’s emotions. Just in case
you’ve missed the point, he’s bending from the waist,
portraying medieval chivalry.
My face looks out from all his canvasses?
Where am I then? My features are obscure,
my hair and figure hidden. And my dress?
Its guidelines merge into the boat’s contour
which doubles as my coffin – more or less.
I’m passive in extremis, that’s for sure.
Angus Calder’s new-historicist view of the Lady’s active representation, and the poet’s voice as female, contradicts Goodman. Calder locates the poem in the time of its production, ‘to early Victorian concerns about poetry and art in general, and the ways in which these concerns were gendered’.107 Calder argues that Tennyson not only took-on female-centred subject matter of ‘death, desolation and frustration’, but adopted a female persona for this particular poem. He also contends that this persona ‘may have been influenced by Tennyson’s own ambiguous sexual identity.’
Whilst Goodman’s opinion cannot be dismissed, Calder’s additional point that ‘for Tennyson, the inner life of the solitary working artist is feminine’ is cogent. Siddal and Waterhouse’s representations of the poem vindicate this theory, and provide an opportunity for the present poet to present herself as art critic on these representations, in Tennyson’s innovative aaaabcccb rhyme scheme. The poems are prefaced with Tennyson’s relevant passages.
The Lady of Shalott, by William Waterhouse
Oil on canvas
200 cm x 153 cm
Lying robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right –
The leaves upon her falling light –
Through the noises of the night
She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat head would along
The willowy herbs and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
The Lady of Shalott. 108
She occupies a smallish space –
just left of centre she’s been placed –
the viewer, level with her face
observes her features full of grace.
She’s floated down to Camelot.
The larger space, where nature’s seen –
the water’s lapis, reeds are green,
the chink of sky cerulean.
The Lady of Shalott
is lighted by low-angled light –
to place her in a flood of bright -
and dramatize the snowy white.
The sun is setting on her right
as she arrives in Camelot.
Her face is ashen, hair shines gold.
Her tapestry of life unfolds,
its colours fade from hot to cold.
The Lady of Shalott’s
confined in guidelines from the trees –
the time-lines on her tapestry –
the slant of falling leaves – thus, she’s
enmeshed in this geometry.
She’s anchored down in Camelot.
Her mouth half-open, starts to sing.
Two swallows leave the boat, they bring
her heart to heaven it’s said – on wing,
The Lady’s of Shalott.
The Lady of Shalott at her Loom, by Elizabeth Siddal
Pen, black ink, sepia ink and pencil on paper
16 cm. x 22.3 cm
Maas Gallery, London
There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.
The muted colours symbolize
her grey existence – emphasize
her stark surroundings – signalize
monotony. They moralize
as she looks down on Camelot.
A picture of simplicity –
resigned to domesticity –
her weaving is utility –
the Lady’s of Shalott.
With the ‘Intentional Fallacy’ proviso, prosodic features in the factory poems by Barrett Browning and Hood could be seen to fit the mechanistic political models of prosody, express oppression, and indicate their writers’ convictions. Repercussions for the present poet were not straightforward in this section. Whilst the sonnet’s regular metre and rhyme scheme might flout ‘reflective’ and fit ‘Marxist’ models, their application is problematic. Competing voices of oppressor, and oppressed, in the ‘Cotton Mill’ and ‘Sweatshop Sonnets’, articulate the writer’s ambivalence and ‘Devil’s
Advocate’ self-presentation. Applying these models to Rossetti’s and Tennyson’s ‘art
versus-life’ poems, was equally problematic. Rossetti’s, and the present poet’s, sonnet might also seem to flout the application of the ‘reflective’ whilst fitting the ‘Marxist’ models, were it not for their subversive use of the form. Tennyson’s innovative prosodic features may have indicated the gender politics of their originator, and present poet, alike.
Chapter 4: Making it New: Doolittle doing it differently
This chapter will present the greatest degree of difficulty for this formalist poet, because of the need to work in pared-down images, something hitherto unattempted. The basis is a consideration of the extent to which Hilda Doolittle’s work differs from that of her male counterpart in the Imagist Movement, Ezra Pound, and how she exploits Imagist ‘rules’ in her complex self-presentation. The term ‘Imagist’ was coined by Pound when, after discussing her poems with Doolittle in 1912, he amended her signature to H.D. Imagiste, which in itself, could be considered reductive.
In his introduction to Imagist Poetry, Peter Jones laments that whilst it ’should be an easy matter’ to cope with the Imagists in that only seven poets were ‘intimately associated with the movement’, and only five anthologies published, the poems ‘often don’t tally with the precepts of the manifesto’.109 The four American poets were Ezra Pound, Hilda Doolittle, John Gould Fletcher and Amy Lowell, and the British poets, Richard Aldington, F.S. Flint and D.H. Lawrence. There were four annual anthologies (1914-17), a manifesto (1915) and a later anthology (1930). Pound was influenced initially by T.E. Hulme’s thinking who, as early as 1904, objected to metrical forms on the grounds that ‘it enables people to write verse with no poetic inspiration, and whose mind [sic] is not stored with new images.110
Pound wanted to present new images in order for poetry to respond to the fragmented nature of early twentieth-century society, the antithesis of elaborate representations of the English countryside and Arthurian legend. He was also against the tendency for Victorian poetry to moralize. In 1908 he sent his embryonic ‘rules’ of Imagism to William Carlos Williams, envisaging ‘the ultimate attainments of poesy’ were
To paint the thing as I see it
Freedom from didacticism111
When Flint met the Americans, he perceived their, as yet unpublished, ‘rules’ to be:
1: Direct treatment of the “thing” whether subjective or objective.
2: To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the
3: As to rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase
and not the rhythm of the metronome. 112
Pound’s later expatiation called for a precise, vivid, instantaneous image, ‘which represents an intellectual or emotional complex in an instant of time’. Poetry should ‘use no superfluous word, no adjective which does not convey something’. Imagery should be concrete, ’Go in fear of abstractions’. Retelling in ‘mediocre verse that which has been done in good prose’ was vetoed.113
Pound’s iconic Imagist poem, ‘In a Station of the Metro’, adheres mostly to these conflated ‘rules’.
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.114
The poem, as Jones correctly states, fulfils the ‘notion of a complex’, in that it is ‘an interaction of complexes’ in a ‘single image’; that is, subjective imagery being a ‘thing’ transformed by the brain into something other than itself, and objective images being the ‘thing’ stripped down, yet remaining its essential self.115 Thus, the faces in the crowd have become the petals on the bough, pale, round and interacting. There are no verbs, just two adjectives and the poem is arrhythmic, although, taken as a whole, the first line could be seen as an alexandrine. Pound appropriates the classical structure of Japanese Haiku which fulfill Hulme’s speculations about the relationship between Romanticism and Classicism:
When I say that there will be another classical revival I don’t necessarily
anticipate a return to Pope. I say merely that now is the time for such a
revival. Given people of the vital capacity, it will be a vital thing; without
them we may get a formalism something like Pope. When it does come
we may not even recognize it as classical. Although it will be classical it
will be different because it has passed through a romantic period.116
Pound’s poem deviates from the classical Haiku form (seventeen syllables, comprising three phrases of five, seven and five syllables), in that it is a two line poem of nineteen syllables. Yet the poem conforms to the extent that it ‘is divided into two parts standing in contrast or reversal to each other’.117 Pound contrasts modern urban life with rural imagery. This is not unusual, similar juxtapositions were seen in Winchilsea’s ‘nature’ poems, the ‘factory poems’ and the present writer’s responses. Here though, a Vietnamese fellow PhD student applies Oriental thinking: ‘the crowd contains interlacement like the bough, and the words ‘Station of the Metro ’make a feeling of busy life like the web of branches.’ 118
The first creative task then, is to write in similar form based on personal recollection and my colleague’s opinion.
Bolton Bus Station
The miners’ faces on the number fourteen bus;
Pandas in a bamboo grove.
Nineteen sixties Northern England urban imagery set against rural oriental seems incongruous, but this is not necessarily so. The urban images of miners’ blackened faces and white eyes are thrust into comparison with those of the pandas. The words ‘number fourteen bus’ and ‘bamboo grove’ contain interlacement, create a ‘feeling of busy life’, and also, a sense of community. The group of miners coming off their shift are interlaced with the group of pandas munching bamboo shoots; thus, an ‘interaction of complexes’. There are no verbs or adjectives (unless bamboo is adjectival), like Pound’s poem, it is arrhythmic, and taken as a whole, the first line could be seen as alexandrine. Neither ‘In a Station of the Metro’ nor ‘Bolton Bus Station’ is didactic.
Consider now to what extent Doolittle’s possibly most anthologized Imagist poem ‘Oread’ differs from ‘In a Station of the Metro’, and the extent to which she exploits Imagist ‘rules’.
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.
‘Oread’ has denominators common to ‘In a Station of the Metro’, economical with adjectives, and containing seemingly incongruous imagery. Sea and forest blur in a similar way to the faces and petals in Pound’s poem. However, it is arguable that gender boundaries also blur. Doolittle could be described as a ‘New Woman’, non-conformant with Victorian notions of idealized femininity, and bisexual. What follows contends that, within the considered poems, Doolittle may be seen to question gender stereotyping in her sexually fluid self-presentation.
From the first word, the poetic voice of the wood nymph commands. ‘Whirl’, both verb and imperative, is repeated, and reinforced with ‘Splash … Hurl … Cover’. Moreover, these verbs are capitalized - Doolittle does not habitually begin each line with a capital letter. They have prominence, aggression and masculinity. Yet, ‘Dryad’ (water nymph) was H.D.’s other pseudonym. Thus, there is the possibility of dual voices inhabiting the personae of forest and sea nymph simultaneously. The sea becomes the forest and the forest becomes the sea. The opposing ‘your’ and ‘our’, dominator and dominated, become indistinguishable. They are interchangeable entities, androgynous, like Doolittle herself and her genderless initials. Gary Burnett’s view that ‘Oread’ is ‘a poem about nothing less than the very creation or discovery of
an identity within and through poetry’ supports this stance. 120 The interchangeable imagery prompted an analogy from the present poet
Oread and Dryad
A truffle on the forest
an oyster on the sea
Truffle and oyster inhabit different spatial locations, yet interlace because, although
they each occupy lowly positions within those zones, and have rough exteriors, they contain precious core ingredients.
Doolittle’s ‘Sea Rose’, with its preoccupation with gender ideology, follows organically from ‘Oread’. The poem appeared originally in Some Imagist Poets (1915), compiled by H.D. and Aldington, and was later incorporated into her Sea Garden collection. ‘Oread’ is not part of that collection, yet the poems have remarkable similarities.
Rose, harsh rose,
marred and with stint of petals,
meager flower, thin,
sparse of leaf,
than a wet rose,
single, on a stem –
you are caught in the drift.
Stunted, and with small leaf,
you are flung on the sands,
you are lifted
in the crisp sand
that drives in the wind.
Can the spice-rose
drip such acrid fragrance
hardened in a leaf?
H. D. (S.I.P. 1915)121
‘Sea Rose’ may be read as a poem querying perceptions of female identity and, as such, contravenes the ‘freedom from didacticism’ rule. Doolittle subverts the image of the rose, historically associated with love, virtue, purity, and idealized femininity. ‘Harsh’ is not usually associated with either the rose itself, or its connotations of idealized femininity. H.D.’s adjectival choice immediately undermines expectations and, compounded by the harsh assonance of this stanza, wrong-foots the reader. We hear the thinness of ‘stint … meager… thin’. This is an imperfect specimen.
Stanza 2 opens with the overtly declarative ‘more precious / than a wet rose,’ i.e. the cultivated, perfect rose. ‘Wet’, to twenty-first century readers, might hold the added meaning of ‘wimpish’. Contrastingly, the rose’s imperfections, its battle-scars, evoke a fighter in a corner. ‘Caught’ might allude equally to the whalebone stays of Victorian gender ideology, or the constraints of Imagist ‘rules’. The rose is caught in a ‘drift’ and, like Oread, is on the boundary of land and sea, belonging to neither and both.
Stanza 3 reiterates the rose’s slight stature – ‘stunted and small’. In what seems to be an unequal struggle against violent nature, she is ‘flung … lifted / in the crisp sand’ that ‘drives’ in the wind. ‘Drives’ is a mighty verb; Doolittle’s sand is not merely blown, and the verbal accumulation, as in ‘Oread’, ‘contributes to meaning’.
The final stanza poses the question ‘Can the spice rose / drip such acrid fragrance?’ and this brings the adjectival tally to thirteen. This is not exactly minimal in 16 lines, but the adjectives fulfil the ‘contribute to the meaning’ rule in that they are disproportionately allocated in favour of the ‘harsh’ rose. ‘Sea Rose’ shares certain characteristics with the sonnet form: a philosophical argument comprising three proposals with a concluding rhetorical question substantiating these propositions. Whereas the ‘harsh rose’ is able to transcend the vicissitudes of violent nature and social upheaval, the ‘wet rose’ can survive neither.
‘Harsh Rose’ from the present poet contains a similar central message, images of the brittle flower’s strength, and it explores the potential of poetry to create identity:
pale, and paper
Abrases pale and paper
Sand and paper
planes and scrapes.
Erases hard woods. Softens
In her correspondence, Doolittle wrote, ‘the things I write are all indirectly (when not directly) inspired by my experiences.122 Concurrent with producing ‘Sea Rose’, the poet had a stillborn daughter whilst married to Aldington. Thus, it is possible that ‘stunted and with small leaf’ suggests a stillborn foetus and, by extension, the ‘harsh’ rose’s strength in her battle against violent nature. This prompts the present writer to attempt an Imagist reworking of a sonnet she had written previously on her own stillbirth experience. Stillbirth is difficult subject matter for the female poet and, like Doolittle, this twenty-first century woman poet needed to distance herself from her experience. The sonnet’s associations with love poetry made it a suitable vehicle, and its structure enabled procrastination until the final couplet. Even then, another Bolton writer’s imagery was ‘borrowed’.123
By chance, one day last week I thought of you –
I’d read a story in a magazine.
It’s not the sort of thing I’ve time to do,
but on that day appointment times had been
delayed. I sort-of recognized myself –
the writer simply said the woman ate.
Some women do, and jeopardize their health,
would rather sublimate than contemplate.
I saw your image next, in words that shed
a likeness quite impossible to miss.
The author, to her credit, never said
‘the baby died’, implied it – more or less.
Instead, she wrote of nearly- hardened bone,
translucent skin, a heart, a cherry stone.
Imagist reworking of ‘Sonnet’
Fetid Rose (Draft 1)
acrid stench -
placental slime -
jelly baby -
marble mother –
soft-boned babe, translucent -
small stone heart and
‘Fetid Rose’ conforms to Imagist ‘rules’ in that it avoids abstractions and presents a complex of imagery economically. ‘Fetid’ and ‘Rose’ seems paradoxical. The title came from Doolittle’s ‘acrid’ (‘Sea Rose’); and is reminiscent also of Blake’s ‘The Sick Rose’ and Bhatt’s ‘The Stinking Rose’, both of which might be emblematic of female genitalia. Eighteen words lead from labour, through delivery, to death. Unlike the sonnet, the poem is not a narrative, rather a series of snapshots. The grizzly images of the first stanza are transcended by the softer ones of the second. The Pietà, an artistic presentation of Mary holding the dead Christ, seemed appropriate imagery for a stillbirth. The stanza contains opposing hard and soft imagery, and has stillness. The mother is as still as marble, and the ‘stone’ cold babe and she are eternally united.
Writing these small poems has been problematic, and writing practices have required revision. Generally, when writing formal poetry, I make no drafts, just syllabic and accentual stress checks. However, this particular poem was drafted and re-drafted. The Bolton Research Group workshopped Draft l, and the general opinion was that ‘dead’ and ‘cold’ were overstatement. Consequently, ‘dead’ was replaced with ‘Pieta’ and ‘cold’ with ‘stone’ in Draft 2. Imagery in the second draft seems sharper without the conjunctions of Draft 1. Unlike the sonnet, both drafts tackle the topic head-on.
Fetid Rose (Draft 2)
acrid stench –
heart a cherry
There are tenuous connections between ‘Fetid Rose’ and the final poem in this short series; the pieta and the crucifixion. Dinh states that ‘precious terms’ in Haiku such as
the seasons are ‘turned flexibly into vivid imagery’.124 Cherry blossom (amongst others) stands proxy for spring, thus ‘cherry stone’ is a further link in the chain with connotations of renewal and of resurrection.
pierce your forehead,
nails drive in your hands, your
Bloody petals howl the question
Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?
The remaining four flower poems in Sea Garden, ‘Sea Lily’, ‘Sea Poppies’, ‘Sea Violet’ and ‘Sea Iris’ share similarities with ‘Sea Rose’. The images are clear and highly sensory yet they are not, as in ‘In a Station of the Metro’ simply visual. The adjectives and verbs, although not exactly minimal, are not superfluous in that they ‘contribute to meaning’. As in ‘Sea Rose’, Doolittle subverts conventionally compliant, bending floral imagery to explore perceptions of female identity.
The fragile sea flowers struggle against violent, yet liberating, nature and they are transcendental. Sea poppies, ‘spilled near the scrub pines’, remain ‘beautiful’. ‘Sea Violet’, ‘fragile as agate’ manages to ‘catch the light’. ‘Sea Iris’ is a ‘ brittle flower’, yet
remains a ‘Fortunate one’. 125 ‘One’, of course, is also a personal pronoun, and indicative of the potential of poetry to create an identity.
As in ‘Sea Rose’, the flowers are trapped between boundaries of land and sea, belonging to neither and to both. ‘Sea Lily’ is presented as a ‘reed’ inhabiting both land and sea. ‘Sea Poppies’ are caught
among wet pebbles
and drift flung from the sea
and grated shells
and grated conch shells.
Anaphora emphasizes both the level of entrapment and the interconnection between land and sea. Generally, grated shells are found on the shoreline and conch shells the sea. ‘Sea Iris’ is simultaneously ‘sweet and salt’, tastes and smells of land and sea. The sea violet’s ‘grip is frail / on the edge of the sand hills’.
Finally, cultivated flowers representing Victorian notions of idealized femininity are presented negatively when compared with their wild counterparts. The interrogating voice asks the sea poppy
what meadow yields
so fragrant a leaf
as your bright leaf?
When ‘The greater blue violets / flutter on the hill’, the poet rephrases her question
but who would change for these
and who would change for these
one root of the white sort?
‘Flutter’ carries connotations of fluttered eyelashes, and evokes the ‘trivial beauties’ so despised by Winchilsea.
Based on the above, the next poem from the present writer tracks the hardy specimen’s hazardous seasonal journey towards renewal. The poem conflates selections from Dinh’s listed seasonal imagery: cherry blossom (spring), sun (summer), frost, (autumn) and snow (winter) with allusions to Shakespeare and Coleridge.126
The following version interchanges seasonal imagery of the first stanza with jewel imagery in the second. They are seemingly unrelated, but In Japanese culture, cherry blossom symbolizes cloud, because of its profusion. It is also a metaphor for the transience of life, intrinsic to the Buddhist concept of mono no aware, meaning ‘the pathos of things’.
Cherry blossom stone,
hiding from the grasshopper,
moonbeam and snowflake.
of rose-quartz and pearl spring clouds,
mono no aware.
‘Mono no aware’ is not necessarily a negative philosophy. The cherry blossom is jewel precious because it is ephemeral. In a similar way, the beauty of the gnat’s song, ‘in a wailful choir of the small gnats mourn’ lies in its transience.127
Finally, consider Pound and Doolittle’s ‘Garden’ poems along with work from this writer, in their adherence to, or departure from, Imagist ‘rules’.
En robe de parade, Samain
Like a skein of loose silk blown against a wall
She walks by the railing of a path
in Kensington Gardens,
And she is dying piece-meal
of a sort of emotional anaemia.
And around about there is a rabble
Of the filthy, sturdy, unlikeable infants of the very poor.
They shall inherit the earth.
In her is the end of breeding,
Her boredom is exquisite and excessive.
She would like someone to speak to her,
And is almost afraid that I
will commit that indiscretion.128
This could be considered to be an Imagist poem which does not entirely ‘tally with the precepts of the manifesto’. Pound’s 1913 poem appears to flout his own ‘beauty’, and ‘freedom from didacticism’, rules. The poem is not obscure, Pound proffers a clue. His preface is a quotation from first line of Albert Samain’s 1893 work ‘Mon âme est une infante en robe de parade, (‘my soul is a princess in dress parade’).129 This gives an impression of the woman in the first stanza as aristocratic. Pound likens her to a ‘skein of loose silk blown against a wall’. There are immediate opposing mechanisms of fine and rough; the lady is presented as beautiful and fragile, in opposition to the roughness of the wall against which she is ‘blown’. ‘Loose’ suggests the lady is adrift in society. She walks by the ‘railings’ on the edge of exclusive Kensington Gardens, home of the Albert Memorial, which could be perceived to be symbolic of Victorian Imperialism. ‘And she is dying piece-meal of a sort of emotional anaemia’ is an abstraction, indicative not only of her own steady drip, drip, into obscurity, but inherently, of everything she embodies.
The reason becomes apparent in the second stanza when she is surrounded by a ‘rabble’, the rough as opposed to the fine. The longest line of the poem is ‘Of the filthy, sturdy, unlikeable infants of the very poor’, yet the adjectives are not superfluous because they ‘contribute to meaning’. The long line equals the long succession of the progeny of the poor. ‘Filthy’ does not tally with Pound’s ‘beauty’ rule, and ‘unlikeable’ does not totally tally with ‘no didacticism’. The lady and her class are a dying breed, whereas the ‘sturdy’ lower class are healthy. ‘They shall inherit the earth’ might be indicative of domination by the lower classes.130 Because the children (and their class) are ‘unlikeable’, it is not unreasonable to think that the poet laments the demise of the ruling classes. The final stanza’s ‘In her is the end of breeding’ would seem to reinforce this view. Her boredom is ‘exquisite’ and whilst paradoxically ‘she would ‘like someone to speak to her’, it cannot be with her social inferiors, in this case, the voyeuristic poetic ‘I’ who may be the main protagonist.
The following exercise from the present poet revisits a ‘garden’ in which the steady drip, drip of common courtesy in present-day society is a grave concern. The cake and
extended culinary conceits, were inspired by Webb’s lyrics.131 There are elements of role reversal, the Union Jack image is emblematic of a dying breed of gentleman, and unlike Pound’s silent Petrarchan Laura, the female poet-speaker speaks, albeit indirectly. The apron image carries interchangeable connotations of working class domesticity and creativity. There is a degree of poetic licence: although the Bolton park was renamed Queens Park in celebration of Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, there is no commemorative statue of the monarch. ‘Queens Park’, like Pound’s poem ‘The Garden’, could be seen to flout ‘beauty’ and ‘freedom from didacticism’ rules.
Like a Union Jack cake left out in the rain,
he crumbles by Her monument inside
and he is dying. Drip-drip,
his blood red icing trickles down.
For all around Her person lies a lake
of stagnant scum; piss, lager cans and voddy bottles, ‘gear’.
They have inherited Benefits.
He wants to bake himself again.
Those fine ingredients – where are they now?
He’d like to ask if anyone remembers,
sees my apron, turns away. So to myself, I say
‘I’ve found your recipe’.
Consider next Doolittle’s Garden
You are clear,
O rose, cut in a rock,
hard as the descent of hail.
I could scrape the colour
from the petal
like spilt dye from a rock.
If I could break you
I could break a tree.
If I could stir
I could break a tree.
I could break you.
rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it sideways.
Fruit can not drop
through this thick air:
fruit can not fall into heat
that presses up and blasts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.
Cut the heat,
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path. 132
The two parts of Doolittle’s poem might appear to be as unrelated to each other as the entire work relates to that of Pound. However, they could be read as an organic progression in which Pound’s lady, his fading rose, becomes a hard-edged ‘New Woman’ non-conformist and, inherently railing against the constraints of Imagism. In a 1955 letter to Prof. Norman Holmes Pearson, Doolittle wrote, ‘I feel the early poems were written to be painted or chizzled rather than to be dramatized’.133 ‘Chizzled’ is apposite for part 1 of the poem. As in ‘Sea Rose’ and the Sea Garden collection, the poet subverts floral imagery by hardening it, in this instance the rose is both chizzled, ‘cut in rock’, and dramatized. Julie Minchew makes the cogent assertion
If the rose is Imagist poetry, the conditional assertions
exemplify her dualistic desire to break femininity and
the Imagist code. But in order to ‘break’ the rose
she must possess superhuman strength.134
Textual evidence supports this stance. The rose is addressed directly, the verb aggressive, ‘I could scrape the colour / from the petal’. Internal dialogue reasons: ‘If I could break you / I could break a tree’. ‘If I could stir’ suggests either inertia, restraint or, in view of the invoking voice in Part II, of witchcraft. The poem might be ‘chizzled’, but does not lack ‘dramatization’.