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Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

name of a movement in poetry that sought clarity of expression through use of precise visual images, "hard light, clear edges," coined 1912 by Ezra Pound; see image + -ism. Related: Imagist.


n. A form of poetry utilising precise imagery and clear language


n. a movement by American and English poets early in the 20th century in reaction to Victorian sentimentality; used common speech in free verse with clear concrete imagery


Imagism was a movement in early 20th-century Anglo-American poetry that favored precision of imagery and clear, sharp language.

Imagism has been described as the most influential movement in English poetry since the activity of the Pre-Raphaelites. As a poetic style it gave Modernism its start in the early 20th century, and is considered to be the first organized Modernist literary movement in the English language. Imagism is sometimes viewed as 'a succession of creative moments' rather than any continuous or sustained period of development. René Taupin remarked that 'It is more accurate to consider Imagism not as a doctrine, nor even as a poetic school, but as the association of a few poets who were for a certain time in agreement on a small number of important principles'.

The Imagists rejected the sentiment and discursiveness typical of much Romantic and Victorian poetry, in contrast to their contemporaries, the Georgian poets, who were generally content to work within that tradition. In contrast, Imagism called for a return to what were seen as more Classical values, such as directness of presentation and economy of language, as well as a willingness to experiment with non-traditional verse forms. Imagists use free verse.

Imagist publications appearing between 1914 and 1917 featured works by many of the most prominent modernist figures, both in poetry and in other fields. The Imagist group was centered in London, with members from Great Britain, Ireland and the United States. Somewhat unusually for the time, a number of women writers were major Imagist figures.

A characteristic feature of Imagism is its attempt to isolate a single image to reveal its essence. This feature mirrors contemporary developments in avant-garde art, especially Cubism. Although Imagism isolates objects through the use of what Ezra Pound called "luminous details", Pound's Ideogrammic Method of juxtaposing concrete instances to express an abstraction is similar to Cubism's manner of synthesizing multiple perspectives into a single image.

Usage examples of "imagism".

It had never occurred to Myron or to Effie that in an hotel suite, without even dish-wiping or feeding the chickens, and with no particular longing to study Imagism or Assyriology or the History of Endocrinology, she would not have enough to do.