The “image” as an emotional and intellectual complex

“An “image” is an emotional and intellectual complex in an instant of time… It is the presentation of such a “complex” instantaneously which gives that sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits; that sense of sudden growth, which we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art.” -Ezra Pound, “A Retrospect”


In “A Retrospect” and “A Few Don’ts”, Pound discusses a lot of rules he views as vital to the writing of poetry, many of which are prohibitive in nature—to avoid abstractions, to ornament only when necessary, to make it “free of emotional slither”— and paraphrases these throughout the essay like dogma. These, of course, are NOT dogma according to Pound. Pound’s definition of image is cosmic to me, so omnipotent and nebulous, that for me it almost contradicts his steadfast rules about form and style. The concept of an image existing as a complex in an instant of time is something so metaphysical that I have trouble assigning rules to it in an attempt to recreate it. Do we as poets have enough agency and power over the natural world to think that rules about form, rhythm, and rhyme can lead to the creation of this elusive but important moment?


Of course, Pound’s recommendations for poets are useful and ring true with many of the techniques I’ve already learned about poetry—but we must be careful to understand that perhaps conventions and understandings of the image differ from writer to writer and from school to school, and realize it takes a lot of gall to claim supremacy over the Image.

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