Ezra Pound

from Vorticism (1914)

I once saw a small child go to an electric light switch and say, “Mamma, can I open the light?” She was using the age-old language of exploration, the language of art. It was a sort of metaphor, but she was not using it as ornamentation.

One is tired of ornamentations, they are all a trick, and any sharp person can learn them.

The Japanese have had the sense of exploration. They have understood the beauty of this sort of knowing. A Chinaman said long ago that if a man can’t say what he has to say in twelve lines he had better keep quiet. The Japanese have evolved the still shorter form of the hokku.

“The fallen blossom flies back to its branch:
A butterfly.”

This is the substance of a very well-known hokku. Victor Plarr tells me that once, when he was walking over snow with a Japanese naval officer, they came to a place where a cat had crossed the path, and the officer said, “Stop, I am making a poem.” Which poem was, roughly, as follows:—

“The footsteps of the cat upon the snow:
(are like) plum-blossoms.”

The words “are like” would not occur in the original, but I add them for clarity.

The “one image poem” is a form of super-position, that is to say it is one idea set on top of another. I found it useful in getting out of the impasse in which I had been left with my metro emotion. I wrote a thirty-line poem, and destroyed it because it was what we call a work “of secondary intensity.” Six months later I made a poem half that length; a year later I made the following hokku-like sentence:—

“The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals, on a wet, black bough.”

I dare say it is meaningless unless one has drifted into a certain vein of thought. 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.

* * * * * * * *

I am often asked whether there can be a long imagiste or vorticist poem. The Japanese, who evolved the hokku, evolved also the Noh plays. In the best “Noh” the whole play may consist of one image. I mean it is gathered about one image. The unity consists in one image, enforced by movement and music. I see nothing against a long vorticist poem.




‘Voriticism’ (BK12) appeared in Fortnightly Review NS 96 (September 1914), pp. 461-71.

For an overview of Pound’s Japanese interests see Ezra Pound and the Invention of Japan in the Bibliography, and for a note about Pound titles in print see In a Station of the Metro.






















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