Poetry Challenge 20 – Imagery

We’ve been talking in the comments about the two beauties of a poem, generated by the dual nature of language, which is poetry’s material.

There’s physical beauty, created by sound effects – because speech is sound.

And there’s conceptual beauty, created by the ideas of language – because speech is rational.

To which category does “imagery” in a poem belong?

When words generate an image in the mind of the reader – an image of a massive tree or slate-gray mountains or a white tower – does the beauty of an image derive from the senses and their gathering-in of size, color, and shape? Or does it derive from the intellect, which feels aesthetic joy in what the senses gather?

One answer this question differently, perhaps, if one is a materialist, a humanist, a spiritualist, a traditionalist, or something else.

For me, the fact that we are not looking at an actual image, but generating one in the mind in response to the words, means that this is an intellectual beauty. Yet it bears a close relationship to physical beauty; without prior physical seeing, no intellectual image-making would be possible to the mind.

So perhaps there’s something central to the poetic experience in this generation of imagery – since the dual nature of language is brought together in the poetic image.

Ezra Pound and his “Imagists” about a century ago based their entire theory of poetry on the art of the poetic image. And while I do consider this to be an example of “subtracted poetry,” the early Imagist poetry was in actual effect more concentrated than subtracted. Really, the beauty of these poems can be astonishing and potent.

The poetry challenge I’m setting myself for the next two weeks – and feel free to join me, one and all – is to re-read some of that early Imagist poetry and enjoy the exquisite and artful care with which language can provoke us to generate a mental image.

And then, beginning a few weeks from now to write a poem similar in effect. I’ll be aiming at three or more carefully observed images, translated into effective, poetic language. I’ll be further aiming to do this within the context of a full, unsubtracted poem.

Join me if you dare!

Challenges remain open forever.

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