An Analysis of Modernism on Christopher Okigbo’s Labyrinths, with Path of Thunder
What is modernism?
The Modernist Period in English Literature occupied the years from shortly after the beginning of the twentieth century through roughly 1965. In broad terms, the period was marked by sudden and unexpected breaks with traditional ways of viewing and interacting with the world. Experimentation and individualism became virtues, where in the past they were often heartily discouraged. Modernism was set in motion, in one sense, through a series of cultural shocks. The first of these great shocks was the Great War, which ravaged Europe from 1914 through 1918, known now as World War One. At the time, this “War to End All Wars” was looked upon with such ghastly horror that many people simply could not imagine what the world seemed to be plunging towards. The first hints of that particular way of thinking called Modernism stretch back into the nineteenth century. As literary periods go, Modernism displays a relatively strong sense of cohesion and similarity across genres and locales. Furthermore, writers who adopted the Modern point of view often did so quite deliberately and self-consciously. Indeed, a central preoccupation of Modernism is with the inner self and consciousness. In contrast to the Romantic world view, the Modernist cares rather little for Nature, Being, or the overarching structures of history. Instead of progress and growth, the Modernist intelligentsia sees decay and a growing alienation of the individual. The machinery of modern society is perceived as impersonal, capitalist, and antagonistic to the artistic impulse. War most certainly had a great deal of influence on such ways of approaching the world. Two World Wars in the span of a generation effectively shell-shocked all of Western civilization.
In its genesis, the Modernist Period in English literature was first and foremost a visceral reaction against the Victorian culture and aesthetic, which had prevailed for most of the nineteenth century i.e. Romanticism. Indeed, a break with traditions is one of the fundamental constants of the Modernist stance. Intellectuals and artists at the turn of the twentieth century believed the previous generation’s way of doing things was a cultural dead end. They could foresee that world events were spiraling into unknown territory. The stability and quietude of Victorian civilization were rapidly becoming a thing of the past. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria was essentially the triggering event of the First World War, a conflict which swept away all preconceived notions about the nature of so-called modern warfare.
In the world of art, generally speaking, Modernism was the beginning of the distinction between “high” art and “low” art. The educational reforms of the Victorian Age had led to a rapid increase in literacy rates, and therefore a greater demand for literature or all sorts. A popular press quickly developed to supply that demand. The sophisticated literati looked upon this new popular literature with scorn. Writers who refused to bow to the popular tastes found themselves in a state of alienation from the mainstream of society. To some extent, this alienation fed into the stereotype of the aloof artist, producing nothing of commercial value for the market. It’s worth mentioning that this alienation worked both ways, as the reading public by and large turned their backs on many “elitist” artists. The academic world became something of a refuge for disaffected artists, as they could rub elbows with fellow disenfranchised intellectuals. Still, the most effective poets and novelists did manage to make profound statements that were absorbed by the whole of society and not just the writer’s inner circles. In the later years of the Modernist period, a form of populism returned to the literary mainstream, as regionalism and identity politics became significant influences on the purpose and direction of artistic endeavor.
In Modernist literature, it was the poets who took fullest advantage of the new spirit of the times, and stretched the possibilities of their craft to lengths not previously imagined. In general, there was a disdain for most of the literary production of the last century. The exceptions to this disdain were the French Symbolist poets like Charles Baudelaire, and the work of Irishman Gerard Manley Hopkins. The French Symbolists were admired for the sophistication of their imagery. In comparison to much of what was produced in England and America, the French were ahead of their time. They were similarly unafraid to delve into subject matter that had usually been taboo for such a refined art form. Hopkins, for his part, brought a fresh way to look at rhythm and word usage. He more or less invented his own poetic rhythms, just as he coined his own words for things which had, for him, no suitable descriptor. Hopkins had no formal training in poetry, and he never published in his lifetime. This model – the self-taught artist-hermit who has no desire for public adulation – would become synonymous with the poet in the modern age. This stereotype continues unrivaled to this day, despite the fact that the most accomplished poets of the Modern period were far from recluses. Even though alienation was a nearly universal experience for Modernist poets, it was impossible to escape some level of engagement with the world at large. Even if this engagement was mediated through the poetry, the relationship that poets had with their world was very real, and very much revealing of the state of things in the early twentieth century.
Leading up to the First World War, Imagist poetry was dominating the scene, and sweeping previous aesthetic points of view under the rug. The Imagists, among them Ezra Pound, sought to boil language down to its absolute essence. They wanted poetry to concentrate entirely upon “the thing itself,” in the words of critic-poet T. E. Hulme. To achieve that effect required minimalist language, a lessening of structural rules and a kind of directness that Victorian and Romantic poetry seriously lacked. Dreaminess or Pastoral poetry were utterly abandoned in favor of this new, cold, some might say mechanized poetics. Imagist poetry was almost always short, unrhymed, and noticeably sparse in terms of adjectives and adverbs. At some points, the line between poetry and natural language became blurred. This was a sharp departure from the ornamental, verbose style of the Victorian era. Gone also were the preoccupations with beauty and nature. Potential subjects for poetry were now limitless, and poets took full advantage of this new freedom.
No Modernist poet has garnered more praise and attention than Thomas Stearns Eliot. Born in Missouri, T. S. Eliot would eventually settle in England, where he would produce some of the greatest poetry and criticism of the last century. Eliot picked up where the Imagists left off, while adding some of his own peculiar aesthetics to the mix. His principal contribution to twentieth century verse was a return to highly intellectual, allusive poetry. He looked backwards for inspiration, but he was not nostalgic or romantic about the past. Eliot’s productions were entirely in the modern style, even if his blueprints were seventeenth century metaphysical poets. One of the distinguishing characteristics of Eliot’s work is the manner in which he seamlessly moves from very high, formal verse into a more conversational and easy style. Yet even when his poetic voice sounds very colloquial, there is a current underneath, which hides secondary meanings. It is this layering of meanings and contrasting of styles that mark Modernist poetry in general and T. S. Eliot in particular. It is no overstatement to say that Eliot was the pioneer of the ironic mode in poetry; that is, deceptive appearances hiding difficult truths.
In American Literature, the group of writers and thinkers known as the Lost Generation has become synonymous with Modernism. In the wake of the First World War, several American artists chose to live abroad as they pursued their creative impulses. These included the intellectual Gertrude Stein, the novelists Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the painter Waldo Pierce, among others. The term itself refers to the spiritual and existential hangover left by four years of unimaginably destructive warfare. The artists of the Lost Generation struggled to find some meaning in the world in the wake of chaos. As with much of Modernist literature, this was achieved by turning the mind’s eye inward and attempting to record the workings of consciousness. For Hemingway, this meant the abandonment of all ornamental language. His novels are famous for their extremely spare, blunt, simple sentences and emotions that play out right on the surface of things. There is an irony to this bluntness, however, as his characters often have hidden agendas, hidden sometimes even from themselves, which serve to guide their actions. The Lost Generation, like other “High Modernists,” gave up on the idea that anything was truly knowable. All truth became relative, conditional, and in flux. The War demonstrated that no guiding spirit rules the events of the world, and that absolute destruction was kept in check by only the tiniest of margins.
The novel was by no means immune from the self-conscious, reflective impulses of the new century. Modernism introduced a new kind of narration to the novel, one that would fundamentally change the entire essence of novel writing. The “unreliable” narrator supplanted the omniscient, trustworthy narrator of preceding centuries, and readers were forced to question even the most basic assumptions about how the novel should operate. James Joyce’s Ulysses is the prime example of a novel whose events are really the happenings of the mind, the goal of which is to translate as well as possible the strange pathways of human consciousness. A whole new perspective came into being known as “stream of consciousness.” Rather than looking out into the world, the great novelists of the early twentieth century surveyed the inner space of the human mind. At the same time, the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud had come into mainstream acceptance. These two forces worked together to alter people’s basic understanding of what constituted truth and reality.
Experimentation with genre and form was yet another defining characteristic of Modernist literature. Perhaps the most representative example of this experimental mode is T. S. Eliot’s long poem The Waste Land. Literary critics often single out The Waste Land as the definitive sample of Modernist literature. In it, one is confronted by biblical-sounding verse forms, quasi-conversational interludes, dense and frequent references which frustrate even the most well-read readers, and sections that resemble prose more than poetry. At the same time, Eliot fully displays all the conventions which one expects in Modernist literature. There is the occupation with self and inwardness, the loss of traditional structures to buttress the ego against shocking realities, and a fluid nature to truth and knowledge. (shorter version of modernism)
Modernism is a philosophical movement that, along with cultural trends and changes, arose from wide-scale and far-reaching transformations in Western society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the factors that shaped Modernism was the development of modern industrial societies and the rapid growth of cities, followed then by the horror of World War I. Modernism also rejected the certainty of Enlightenment thinking, and many modernists rejected religious belief.
Modernism, in general, includes the activities and creations of those who felt the traditional forms of art, architecture, literature, religious faith, philosophy, social organization, and activities of daily life were becoming outdated in the new economic, social, and political environment of an emerging fully industrialized world. The poet Ezra Pound’s 1934 injunction to “Make it new!” was the touchstone of the movement’s approach towards what it saw as the now obsolete culture of the past. Nevertheless, its innovations, like the stream-of-consciousness novel, twelve-tone music and abstract art, all had precursors in the 19th century.
Modernism, here is limited to aesthetic modernism, describes a series of sometimes radical movements in art, architecture, photography, music, literature, and the applied arts which emerged in the three decades before 1914. Modernism has philosophical antecedents that can be traced to the eighteenth-century Enlightenment but is rooted in the changes in Western society at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries.
Modernism encompasses the works of artists who rebelled against nineteenth-century academic and historicist traditions, believing that earlier aesthetic conventions were becoming outdated. Modernist movements, such as Cubism in the arts, Atonality in music, and Symbolism in poetry, directly and indirectly explored the new economic, social, and political aspects of an emerging fully industrialized world.
Modernist art reflected the deracinated experience of life in which tradition, community, collective identity, and faith were eroding. In the twentieth century, the mechanized mass slaughter of the First World War was a watershed event that fueled modernist distrust of reason and further sundered complacent views of the steady moral improvement of human society and belief in progress.
A notable characteristic of Modernism is self-consciousness, which often led to experiments with form, along with the use of techniques that drew attention to the processes and materials used in creating a painting, poem, building, etc. Modernism explicitly rejected the ideology of realism and makes use of the works of the past by the employment of reprise, incorporation, rewriting, recapitulation, revision and parody.
Some commentators define Modernism as a socially progressive trend of thought that affirms the power of human beings to create, improve and reshape their environment with the aid of practical experimentation, scientific knowledge, or technology. From this perspective, Modernism encouraged the re-examination of every aspect of existence, from commerce to philosophy, with the goal of finding that which was ‘holding back’ progress, and replacing it with new ways of reaching the same end. Others focus on Modernism as an aesthetic introspection. This facilitates consideration of specific reactions to the use of technology in the First World War, and anti-technological and nihilistic aspects of the works of diverse thinkers and artists spanning the period from Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) to Samuel Beckett (1906–1989)
To what extent has modernist tradition affected Labyrinth?
There are certain elements of modernism that influences the poetry of Okigbo in Labyrinth. For example, Okigbo talks about ‘Idoto’ in the poem and because the readers don’t know what it means, he goes ahead to give a footnote of the terms used in the poem that would prove difficult to readers’ understanding. This is a modernist element because footnote is not a traditional African element in poetry.
Also, the traditional mode of poetry which uses strict or rigid poetic structure and versification and also the use of rhymes were abandoned during the modernist era. This is also applicable to Okigbo’s Labyrinth as the poet makes use of the free verse (no end rhymes) to pass across his message. The idea of rendering a poem without recourse to rhyming is a modernist idea which has found footing in Okigbo’s Labyrinth.
More so, in the modernist era, the poet is allowed to use any name or idea so far he is communicating. Okigbo borrows ideas from tradition and modernism to touch on the issues of the time. From the traditional angle, the invocation to mother Idoto, the river goddess while modernist ideas of Christianity where the poet alludes to ‘Heavens-gate’ ‘Noah’s ark’ ‘paradise’ etc could be seen. Also, he adopts modernist ideas like surgery and anesthetics which are not traditional.
He makes use of complex language so complex that the poet is even talking to himself believing that poems expresses the mind of the writers. His language is also metaphoric to keep his message hidden. The modernist symbols of surgery, anesthetics, heavens gate, labyrinth, etc. In all, Okigbo uses contemporary modernist ideas to fashion his thoughts on tradition.
What is the contemporary relevance of Okigbo’s Labyrinth?
Contemporary means the present however, there can be no present without a past. Contemporary African poetry draws from tradition to examine issues that affect the society at the present. Okigbo’s Labyrinth has contemporary relevance because it also possesses elements of contemporary African poetry and in the issues it treats. He uses Labyrinth to explain the rights of passage which is a traditional African idea. Okigbo explains that his community ‘Aro’ has a goddess and before you could get to her, you will pass through several chambers like the labyrinth which has not point of exit. The stage you pass through to get to the goddess Idoto is similar to that of old Greeks.
African tradition is the base of Okigbo’s poetry as his work is deeply rooted in African tradition. The basic form for African poetry is orality which means the use of verbal form or expressions. This orality in Okigbo’s Labyrinth can be seen in the following:
He uses myth and mythology of Idoto. The myth becomes a public document identified with no particular person but with the community members. The myth in Okigbo’s Labyrinth could be said to have no author but it is passed down from generation to generation.
There is also a supernatural occurrence or presence which has to do with African belief system where the ancestor is seen to be a part and parcel of the living.
Idiomatic expressions characterize the poem which are in the forms of proverbs, wise sayings, riddles etc.
The first part of Labyrinth has to do with African belief system which has to do with the rites of passage. The passage is like a labyrinth and it means the road to reaching the spirit world. I heavensgate, the poem is based on the African belief system that the gods can receive you back to his folds as long as you performed the cleansing rites. This is clearly expressed in the poem, “the passage.” The poet personae is before mother Idoto pleading for forgiveness before he/she can be received and the oil bean is being used to perplex the goddess as the person begging must go bare footed just like the biblical instance where Moses had to approach God in the burning bush with bare foot (p.9). Okigbo uses this poem to describe his initiation into the cult of mother Idoto. Okigbo uses imagery like water maids, the rooster, white hen, palm frond, thundering drums, etc to show tradition and modernism.
NEW PARADIGMS IN MODERNISM
The early 20th century signaled a massive explosion in scientific innovation. We’re not just talking about motorcars and the telephone—although those were huge—we’re talking about Einstein.
The era of the Modernist writers saw tremendous leaps in physics that shook the world. Modernists were equally influenced by the shiny new science of their time and by new discoveries about ancient civilizations. Sound confusing? Yeah, that’s the idea—Modernists were living in an age where both the new (the Theory of Relativity) and the old (King Tut) were changing the way people thought about everything.
Religious belief started to give way to science as the predominant way of understanding the universe (leading to several notable clashes) but allusions to Judeo-Christianity, Eastern religions, and ancient mythology were popping up everywhere. How do you deal with this topsy-turvy world? You write about it, naturally. That “what’s going on here” change of public perception has an SAT-caliber name: a shift in the dominant paradigm. And it turns out that a massive shift in the way people think leads to some awesome-sauce—albeit confusing—writing.
For instance, Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming,” leans on the (spooky!) Book of Revelation in its language and imagery, but reads more like a political prophesy. There are plenty of detailed Biblical references in this poem. But Yeats adds to these his own mystical and historical elements. Yeats, true to his Modernist roots, is looking both backward (towards Biblical language) and forward (at a particularly nasty political and religious apocalyptic future).
Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway creates a network of perspectives on a single day in London. Perspective, like Einstein’s universe, is proved to be relative.
Avant-garde in modernism
The term “Avant-garde” comes from French military terminology. It refers to the front line of soldiers, the vanguard, who are out in front of the rest. It also refers to creating new art. This was also dangerous, both figuratively and sometimes even literally. Writers were taking their positions on the battle lines, fighting against the forces of the outmoded traditions to offend, upend, and destroy the surviving vestiges of the old order. Out with the old, in with the new.
Artistic experimentation wasn’t just about getting attention, but about creating a new role for art and artists and helping to bring a new order into being. These guys were playing for pretty high stakes.
We’re supposed to be talking about literature here, but Modernism tends to blur the lines between media. Maybe that’s because Modernist writers hung out with visual artists all the time, and these kinds of art tended to cross-pollinate. Crazy-pants artistic movements like Cubism, absurdism and Surrealism definitely influenced writers. If visual artists could paint from all angles at once, or paint their dreams, what was stopping their literary pals from doing the same?
Nothing but tradition, that’s what. And Modernists weren’t keen on the same old way of doing things.
for instance, heard of Finnegan’s Wake? Notice we said, “heard of” not “read”: it’s generally acknowledged to be unreadable (something that didn’t keep the authorities, ever suspicious of such subversive efforts, from claiming that it was obscene!). It’s almost impossible to read Joyce’s book without a dozen reference texts and dictionaries in several languages. What could the point of such dizzying confusion-making be?
Take a gander at the strange poems in Gertrude Stein’s collection Tender Buttons. It’s crazy-weird, and, like Finnegan’s Wake, it requires its own Wiki to contain all the references it makes to other (older) literature. If Avant-garde works like this require knowledge of conventional literary history, are they really as new as they pretend to be?
THE LOST GENERATION IN MODERNISM
Gertrude Stein reportedly quoted the mechanic who fixed her car when she branded the young group of artists and writers who attended her Paris salon as “a lost generation.” Ernest Hemingway borrowed that line (cause it’s awesome) for the epigraph of his first novel, The Sun Also Rises.
This super-wise repairman based his view on the idea that the ages of 18-25 generally marked the period during which individuals became civilized members of society. But the soldiers returning from WWI, which ended in 1919, had missed this crucial “becoming a good citizen” period. They also returned traumatized by crazy-pants modern warfare: poison gas and trenches don’t exactly make for happy memories.
Modernism marked an age of accelerated technological change—both on and off the battlefield. Some of this change we would probably list as positive (cars! movies!), but also there were also a whole lot of check marks in the “Technology Is Evil” side of the list.
Airplanes are awesome, right? Sure, until they’re used in warfare in WWI. The same goes for automobiles, which brought tanks to the battlefield. Aerial photography made bombing from the air more accurate, which was good if you were on the right side of the camera but not so hot if you weren’t. Basically, war was more brutal than ever before.
So it’s no shocker that young men began to question traditional wisdoms and new innovations. The authorities (a stand-in for traditional wisdoms) sent these men into battle, and new innovations in weaponry helped kill, maim, or haunt them. No wonder this generation didn’t trust anyone. And if you don’t know who to trust, it’s pretty easy to feel, well, lost.
For example, though Hemingway’s writing style seems much more straightforward and conventional than other Modernist writers’ (although that’s not saying much!) it still captures the spirit of the period: Hemingway refuses to tell us how to feel.
Trench warfare, perhaps made possible by the invention of barbed wire, was its own sort of hell, as the World War I British poet, Isaac Rosenberg testifies in his poem, “Dead Man’s Dump.” Rosenberg’s poem is like a close-up lens that gives us an individual’s view of the war.
STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN MODERNISM
Freud’s theories about the unconscious definitely changed the way people thought about the mind. But William James’ theories about the nature of consciousness that had a much greater influence on the way Modernist literature was written than most people realize. Wait. William who now?
Willy James’ had a little theory called Radical Empiricism (which kind of sounds like a metal band), which sheds doubt on the existence of a unified self. In normal-people speak, this means that the “I” you were five years ago or even five minutes ago is not the same “I” you are now. We are all a series of selves and that the self cannot be disentangled from the world. In other words, we are what we see.
He shared with his brother, the novelist Henry James (how much do you want to go to the James family Thanksgiving?!), a preoccupation with consciousness. He described the flow of thought, in a phrase that would launch a thousand works of fiction, as “a stream.” The rest is history… Modernist literary history.
Who employed stream of consciousness writing techniques? Um, everyone who was anyone in Modernism. Dorothy Richardson, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce… and that’s just the tip of the stream of consciousness iceberg.
Not surprisingly, Henry James was the earliest novelist whose work reflects his bro William James’ theories. The books Henry James published after the appearance of his brother’s Principles of Psychology (1890) seem to turn upon the issues related to consciousness. In novels like What Maisie Knew (1897) and The Golden Bowl (1904), readers have to ask themselves how the narrators’ perspectives account for what they see.
Gertrude Stein also was tight with William James. He was her mentor at Radcliffe, where she studied from 1893-97. In fact, the story goes that Stein wrote nothing at all in her examination booklet in the final exam for James’ class (didn’t feel like taking an exam that day, it seems), but he gave her an A in the class anyhow. Official Shmoop Disclaimer: We do not suggest taking this same approach to acing your exams.
As Judith Ryan argues in her book The Vanishing Subject: Early Psychology and Literary Modernism, even though critics often call Stein’s work Cubist, it is William James’ theories that account for Stein’s Avant-garde techniques.
Stream of consciousness reminds us of a technique in film that, not coincidentally, was also introduced about this time. That’s “montage,” developed by Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein. When a camera cuts from the door to a shot of a person looking frightened, we get the idea that something or someone dangerous is about to come through that door. Eisenstein was the first filmmaker to cut from one shot to another seemingly discontinuous one so that the viewer had to draw an inference about their connection.
This method seems super-obvious today (and we also think of montages more about scrappy underdog athletes training for the Big Day in feel-good 80s movies than anything else), but back then, it seemed revolutionary… and definitely the cinematic equivalent of stream of consciousness writing.
for example, James Joyce’s novel Ulysses not only gives us access to the thoughts of its characters, but also presents each chapter in the style of a different writer and work. This novel is a whole delta of streams of consciousness. In the novel Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf plays up stream of consciousness while emphasizing the uniqueness of the characters, creating a web of connection between them.
MAKE IT NEW IN MODERNISM (new forms of doing things)
One of the most influential poets of the period was Ezra Pound, who proclaimed the maxim “Make it New!” on frequent occasion and even made it a title to one of his books.
Pound and his buddies disagreed with the Futurists and Dadaists, who wanted to jettison everything from the past. In fact, Pound & Co. sought out ancient traditions and used them in their work.
A scholar as well as a writer, Pound researched the latest scholarly work on the Chinese and Japanese literary traditions and produced “translations” (more like poems influenced by these traditions than literal translations) of classic Chinese works. Pound felt that rather than throwing out every outmoded idea and tradition, poets and artists had to gather up odds and ends of the past and repurpose them. The resulting works would preserve civilization, even in an age where everything seemed to be up for grabs.
For instance, Pound’s poem “The River Merchant’s Wife” is a Chinese translation, relic of a tradition thousands of years old. Then how is Pound following his own advice—is he making this poem new?
T.S. Eliot’s technique in The Waste Land sticks bits of this and that into the text of his poem.
IMAGISM AND VORTICISM IN MODERNISM
As well as being among the most significant poets of his time, Pound had a talent for attracting attention. This gift served him well in the early years, when he could pretend to discover rules for making immortal poetry. What he was actually doing was describing the poems he liked and that he and his immediate circle had already written. Clever guy. In 1912-1913, Pound embraced or invented imagism. Imagism had three major criteria: It had to be direct and unornamented, economical in its language, and composed in free verse (or at least not in any forms of the immediate past).
Pound first branded his lover, the poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), who had grown up with him in Pittsburgh, as an “Imagiste.” Notice the pretentious spelling! By his criteria, her poems seem to fit. But we can’t really say that of others who associated themselves with this short-lived school of poetry.
Though we might tend to use the word “image” interchangeably with “metaphor” or “simile,” Pound had something much larger and more complex than this in mind. Pound’s definition of an image as “that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.” D-dang, Pound.
So basically, in a very small space of time an artwork should connect many different ideas that had not been connected up to that point in a new way that would spark emotional and psychological insight. It should also totally change the way people would view the world and the way they would feel about it too. Not too tall an order, right? Sounds easy enough?
By 1914, Imagism (though not the images themselves) had lost its luster for Pound. Too many boring people he’d rather not be associated with were flying this banner. So he cut himself loose from Imagism and now proclaimed himself and the visual artists, musicians, sculptors, and writers he embraced to be Vorticists.
Pound founded a journal, Blast, in June of 1914 to present the works associated with this movement.
The characteristics of Vorticism—which sounds kind of sci-fi to us—sound a lot like those of Imagism, though the description of Vorticism referred to all the arts, and not just poetry. Pound described a vortex as “a radiant node or cluster […] from which and into which ideas are constantly rushing.” Sounds like a hurricane or a black hole.
What’s our takeaway from all this (besides that the all-important strategy of rebranding can apply even to poets)? Simple: cram as many ideas, as beautifully as possible, into your artwork.
for instance, with some judicious editing by Pound, the poem “Oread,” by H.D. becomes the definition of an Imagist poem. In fact, it was while Pound was reading through H.D.’s poetry that he first got the idea for Imagism in the first place. Psst: also, H.D. and Pound were totally smooching.
Compare “Oread” to H.D.’s poem to Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro.” Do the language and imagery of these poems seem to work similarly to you? In what way?