If anything of moment results--so much the better. And so much the
more likely will it be that no one will want to see it.
There is a constant barrier between the reader and his consciousness
of immediate contact with the world. If there is an ocean it is here. Or
rather, the whole world is between: Yesterday, tomorrow, Europe, Asia,
Africa,--all things removed and impossible, the tower of the church
at Seville, the Parthenon.
What do they mean when they say: "I do not like your poems; you
have no faith whatever. You seem neither to have suffered nor, in fact,
to have felt anything very deeply. There is nothing appealing in what
you say but on the contrary the poems are positively repellent. They
are heartless, cruel, they make fun of humanity. What in God's name
do you mean? Are you a pagan? Have you no tolerance for human
frailty? Rhyme you may perhaps take away but rhythm! why there is
none in your work whatever. Is till!, what you call poetry? It is the very
antithesis of poetry. It is antipoetry. It is the annihilation of life upon
which you are bent. Poetry that used to go hand in hand with life,
poetry that interpreted our deepest promptings, poetry that inspired,
that led us forward to new discoveries, new depths of tolerance, new
heights of exaltation. You moderns it is the death of poetry that you are
accomplishing. No. I cannot understand this work. You have not yet
suffered a cruel blow from life. When you have suffered you will write
Perhaps this noble apostrophe means something terrible for me, I am
not certain, but for the moment I interpret it to say: "You have robbed
me. God, I am naked. What shall I do?"--By it they mean that when I
have suffered (provided I have not done so as yet) I too shall run for
cover; that I too shall seek refuge in fantasy. And mind you, I do not
say that I will not. To decorate my age.
But today it is different.
The reader knows himself as he was twenty years ago and he has also
in mind a vision of what he would be, some day. Oh, some day! But the
thing he never knows and never dares to know is what he is at the exact
moment that he is. And this moment is the only thing in which I am at
all interested. Ergo, who cares for anything I do? And what do I care?
I love my fellow creature. Jesus, how I love him: endways, sideways,
frontways and all the other ways--but he doesn't exist! Neither does
she. I do, in a bastardly sort of way.
To whom then am I addressed? To the imagination.
In fact to return upon my theme for the time nearly all writing, up to
the present, if not all art, has been especially designed to keep up the
barrier between sense and the vaporous fringe which distracts the atten-
tion from its agonized approaches to the moment. It has been always a
search for "the beautiful illusion." Very well. I am not in search of "the
And if when I pompously announce that I am addressed--To the
imagination--you believe that I thus divorce myself from life and so
defeat my own end, I reply: To refine, to clarify, to intensify that eternal
moment in which we alone live there is but a single force--the imagina-
tion. This is its book. I myself invite you to read and to see.
In the imagination, we are from henceforth (so long as you read)
locked in a fraternal embrace. the classic caress of author and reader.
We are one. Whenever I say "I" I mean also "you." And so, together, as
one, we shall begin.
o meager times, so fat in everything imaginable! imagine the New World
that rises to our windows from the sea on Mondays and on Saturdays--
and on every other day of the week also. Imagine it in all its prismatic
colorings, its counterpart in our souls--our souls that are great pianos
whose strings, of honey and of steel, the divisions of the rainbow set
twanging, loosing on the air great novels of adventure! Imagine the
monster project of the moment: Tomorrow we the people of the United
States are going to Europe armed to kill every man, woman and child
in the area west of the Carpathian Mountains (also east) sparing none.
Imagine the sensation it will cause. First we shall kill them and then
they, us. But we are careful to spare the Spanish bulls, the birds, rabbits,
small deer and of course--the Russians. For the Russians we shall build
a bridge from edge to edge of the Atlantic--having first been at pains
to slaughter all Canadians and Mexicans on this side. Then, oh then, the
great feature will take place.
Never mind; the great event may not exist, so there is no need to
speak further of it. Kill! kill! the English, the Irish, the French, the Ger-
mans, the Italians and the rest: friends or enemies, it makes no differ-
ence, kill them all. The bridge is to be blown up when all Russia is upon
it. And why?
Because we love them--all. That is the secret: a new sort of murder.
We make leberwurst of them. Bratwurst. But why, since we are our-
selves doomed to suffer the same annihilation?
If I could say what is in my mind in Sanscrit or even Latin I would do
so. But I cannot. I speak for the integrity of the soul and the greatness
of life's inanity; the formality of its boredom; the orthodoxy of its stu-
pidity. Killl kill! let there be fresh meat...
The imagination, intoxicated by prohibitions, rises to drunken heights
to destroy the world. Let it rage, let it kill. The imagination is supreme.
To it all our works forever, from the remotest past to the farthest future,
have been, are and will be dedicated. To it alone we show our wit by
having raised in its honor as monument not the least pebble. To it now
we come to dedicate our secret project: the annihilation of every human
creature on the face of the earth. This is something never before at-
tempted. None to remain; nothing but the lower vertebrates, the mol-
lusks, insects and plants. Then at last will the world be made anew.
Houses crumble to ruin, cities disappear giving place to mounds of soil
blown thither by the winds, small bushes and grass give way to trees
which grow old and are succeeded by other trees for countless genera-
tions. A marvelous serenity broken only by bird and wild beast calls
reigns over the entire sphere. Order and peace abound.
This final and self inflicted holocaust has been all for love, for sweet-
est love, that together the human race, yellow, black, brown, red and
white, agglutinated into one enormous soul may be gratified with the
sight and retire to the heaven of heavens content to rest on its laurels.
There, soul of souls, watching its own horrid unity, it boils and digests
itself within the tissues of the great Being of Eternity that we shall then
have become. With what magnificent explosions and odors will not the
day be accomplished as we, the Great One among all creatures, shall go
about contemplating our self-prohibited desires as we promenade them
before the inward review of our own bowels--et cetera, etcetera, et cet-
era . . . and it is spring--both in Latin and Turkish, in English and
Dutch, in Japanese and Italian; it is spring by Stinking River where a
magnolia tree, without leaves, before what was once a farmhouse, now
a ramshackle home for millworkers, raises its straggling branches of
IIIX (chapter backwards)
Thus, weary of life, in view of the great consummation which awaits
us--tomorrow, we rush among our friends congratulating ourselves upon
the joy soon to be. Thoughtless of evil we crush out the marrow of those
about us with our heavy cars as we go happily from place to place. It
seems that there is not time enough in which to speak the full of our ex-
altation. Only a day is left, one miserable day, before the world comes
into its own. Let us hurry! Why bother for this man or that? In the of-
fices of the great newspapers a mad joy reigns as they prepare the final
extras. Rushing about, men bump each other into the whirring presses.
How funny it seems. All thought of misery has left us. Why should we
care? Children laughingly fling themselves under the wheels of the street
cars, airplanes crash gaily to the earth. Someone has written a poem.
Oh life, bizarre fowl, what color are your wings? Green, blue, red,
yellow, purple, white, brown, orange, black, grey? In the imagination,
flying above the wreck of ten thousand million souls, I see you departing
sadly for the land of plants and insects, already far out to sea. (Thank
you, I know well what I am plagiarizing) Your great wings flap as you
disappear in the distance over the pre-Columbian acres of floating weed.
The new cathedral overlooking the park, looked down from its towers
today, with great eyes, and saw by the decorative lake a group of people
staring curiously at the corpse of a suicide: Peaceful, dead young man,
the money they have put into the stones has been spent to teach men of
life's austerity. You died and teach us the same lesson. You seem a ca-
thedral, celebrant of the spring which shivers for me among the long
Now, in the imagination, all flesh, all human flesh has been dead upon
the earth for ten million, billion years. The bird has turned into a stone
within whose heart an egg, unlaicl, remained hidden.
It is springl but miracle of miracles a miraculous miracle has gradu-
ally taken place during these seemingly wasted eons. Through the or-
derly sequences of unmentionable time EVOLUTION HAS REPEATED ITSELF
FROM THE BEGINNING.
Every step once taken in the first advance of the human race, from
the amoeba to the highest type of intelligence, has been duplicated, ev-
ery step exactly paralleling the one that preceded in the dead ages gone
by. A perfect plagiarism results. Everything is and is new. Only the
imagination is undeceived.
At this point the entire complicated and laborious process begins to
near a new day. (More of this in Chapter XIX) But for the moment ev-
erything is fresh, perfect, recreated.
In fact now, for the first time, everything IS new. Now at last the per-
fect effect is being witlessly discovered. The terms "veracity" "actuality"
"real" "natural" "sincere" are being discussed at length, every word in
the discussion being evolved from an identical discussion which took
place the day before yesterday.
Yes, the imagination, drunk with prohibitions, has destroyed and re-
created everything afresh in the likeness of that which it was. Now in-
deed men look about in amazement at each other with a full realization
of the meaning of "art."
It is spring: life again begins to assume its normal appearance as of
"today." Only the imagination is undeceived. The volcanos are extinct.
Coal is beginning to be dug again where the fern forests stood last
night. (If an error is noted here, pay no attention to it.)
I realize that the chapters are rather quick in their sequence and that
nothing much is contained in any one of them hut no one should be sur-
prised at this today.
THE TRADITIONALISTS OF PLAGIARISM
It is spring. That is to say, it is approaching THE BEGINNING.
In that huge and microscopic career of time, as it were a wild horse
racing in an illimitable pampa under the stars, describing immense and
microscopic circles with his hoofs on the solid turf, running without a
stop for the millionth part of a second until he is aged and worn to a
heap of skin, bones and ragged hoofs--In that majestic progress of life,
that gives the exact impression of Phidias' frieze, the men and beasts of
which, though they seem of the rigidity of marble are not so but move,
with blinding rapidity, though we do not have the time to notice it, their
legs advancing a millionth part of an inch every fifty thousand years--
In that progress of life which seems stillness itself in the mass of its
movements--at last SPRING is approaching.
In that colossal surge toward the finite and the capable life has now
arrived for the second time at that exact moment when in the ages past
the destruction of the species Homo sapiens occurred.
Now at last that process of miraculous verisimilitude, that great copy-
ing which evolution has followed, repeating move for move every move
that it made in the past--is approaching the end.
Suddenly it is at an end. THE WORLD IS NEW.
By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast--a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen
patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees
All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches--
They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind--
Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined--
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf
But now the stark dignity of
entrance--Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken
Pink confused with white
flowers and flowers reversed
take and spill the shaded flame
darting it back
into the lamp's horn
petals aslant darkened with mauve
red where in whorls
petal lays its glow upon petal
round flamegreen throats
petals radiant with transpiercing light
reaching up their modest green
from the pot's rim
and there, wholly dark, the pot
gay with rough moss.
A terrific confusion has taken place. No man knows whither to turn.
There is nothing! Emptiness stares us once more in the face. Whither?
To what end? Each asks the other. Has life its tail in its mouth or its
mouth in its tail? Why are we here? Dora Marsden's philosophic algebra.
Everywhere men look into each other's faces and ask the old unan-
swerable question: Whither? How? What? Why?
At any rate, now at last spring is here!
The rock has split, the egg has hatched, the prismatically plumed bird
of life has escaped from its cage. It spreads its wings and is perched now
on the peak of the huge African mountain Kilimanjaro.
Strange recompense, in the depths of our despair at the unfathom-
able mist into which all mankind is plunging, a curious force awakens. It
is HOPE long asleep, aroused once more. Wilson has taken an army of
advisers and sailed for England. The ship has sunk. But the men are all
good swimmers. They take the women on their shoulders and buoyed on
by the inspiration of the moment they churn the free seas with their sin-
ewy arms, like Ulysses, landing all along the European seaboard.
Yes, hope has awakened once more in men's hearts. It is the NEW!
Let us go forward!
The imagination, freed from the handcuffs of "art," takes the lead!
Her feet are bare and not too delicate. In fact those who come behind
her have much to think of. Hm. Let it pass.
The great English divine, Sam Butler, is shouting from a platform, warn-
ing us as we pass: There are two who can invent some extraordinary
thing to one who can properly employ that which has been made use of
Enheartened by this thought THE TRADITIONALISTS OF PLA-
GIARISM try to get hold of the mob. They seize those nearest them
and shout into their ears: Tradition! The solidarity of life!
The fight is on: These men who have had the governing of the mob
through all the repetitious years resent the new order. Who can answer
them? One perhaps here and there but it is an impossible situation. If
life were anything but a bird, if it were a man, a Greek or an Egyptian,
but it is only a bird that has eyes and wings, a beak, talons and a cry
that reaches to every rock's center, but without intelligence? --
The voice of the Delphic Oracle itself, what was it? A poisonous gas
from a rock's cleft.
Those who led yesterday wish to hold their sway a while longer It is
not difficult to understand their mood. They have their great weapons to
hand: "science," "philosophy" and most dangerous of all "art."
Meanwhile, SPRING, which has been approaching for several pages,
is at last here.
--they ask us to return to the proven truths of tradition, even to the
twice proven, the substantiality of which is known. Demuth and a few
others do their best to point out the error, telling us that design is a
function of the IMAGINATION, describing its movements, its colors--
but it is a hard battle. I myself seek to enter the lists with these few
notes jotted down in the midst of the action, under distracting circum-
stances--to remind myself (see p. 177, paragraph 6) of the truth.
The farmer in deep thought
is pacing through the rain
among his blank fields, with
hands in pockets,
in his head
the harvest already planted.
A cold wind ruffles the water
among the browned weeds.
On all sides
the world rolls coldly away:
darkened by the March clouds--
leaving room for thought.
Down past the brushwood
the rainsluiced wagonroad
looms the artist figure of
The Easter stars are shining
above lights that are flashing--
coronal of the black--
to say it--
Nobody to say: pinholes
Thither I would carry her
among the lights--
Burst it asunder
break through to the fifty words
a crown for her head with
castles upon it, skyscrapers
filled with nut-chocolates--
stars of tinsel
from the great end of a cornucopia
So long as the sky is recognized as an association
is recognized in its function of accessory to vague words
whose meaning it is impossible to rediscover
its value can be nothing but mathematical certain limits
of gravity and density of air
The farmer and the fisherman who read their own lives
there have a practical corrective for--
they rediscover or replace demoded meanings to the religious
Among them, without expansion of imagination, there is
the residual contact between life and the imagination which
is essential to freedom
The man of imagination who turns to art for release and fulfillment
of his baby promises contends with the sky through layers of demoded
words and shapes. Demoded, not because the essential vitality which be-
got them is laid waste- --this cannot be so, a young man feels, since he
feels it in himself--but because meanings have been lost through lazi-
ness or changes in the form of existence which have let words empty.
Bare handed the man contends with the sky, without experience of
existence seeking to invent and design.
Crude symbolism is to associate emotions with natural phenomena
such as anger with lightning, flowers with love it goes further and as-
sociates certain textures with
Such work is empty. It is very typical of almost all that is done by the
writers who fill the pages every month of such a paper as. Everything
that I have done in the past--except those parts which may be called ex-
cellent--by chance, have that quality about them.
It is typified by use of the word "like" or that "evocation" of the "im-
age" which served us for a time. Its abuse is apparent. The insignificant
"image" may be "evoked" never so ably and still mean nothing.
With all his faults Alfred Kreymborg never did this. That is why his
work--escaping a common fault--still has value and will tomorrow have
Sandburg, when uninspired by intimacies of the eye and ear, runs into
this empty symbolism. Such poets of promise as ruin themselves with it,
though many have major sentimental faults besides.
Marianne Moore escapes. The incomprehensibility of her poems is
witness to at what cost (she cleaves herself away) as it is also to the dis-
tance which the most are from a comprehension of the purpose of com-
The better work men do is always done under stress and at great per-
It is no different from the aristocratic compositions of the earlier
times, The Homeric inventions
these occurred in different times, to this extent, that life had not yet
sieved through its own multiformity. That aside, the work the two-
thousand-year-old poet did and that we do are one piece. That is the
vitality of the classics.
So then--Nothing is put down in the present book--except through
weakness of the imagination--which is not intended as of a piece with
the "nature" which Shakespeare mentions and which Hartley speaks of
so completely in his "Adventures": it is the common thing which is
anonymously about us.
Composition is in no essential an escape from life. In fact if it is so it is
negligible to the point of insignificance. Whatever "life" the artist may
be forced to lead has no relation to the vitality of his compositions. Such
names as Homer, the blind; Scheherazade, who lived under threat--
Their compositions have as their excellence an identity with life since
they are as actual, as sappy as the leaf of the tree which never moves
from one spot.
What I put down of value will have this value: an escape from crude
symbolism, the annihilation of strained associations, complicated ritual--
istic forms designed to separate the work from "reality"--such as rhyme,
meter as meter and not as the essential of the work, one of its words.
But this smacks too much of the nature of--This is all negative and
appears to be boastful. It is not intended to be so. Rather the opposite.
The work will be in the realm of the imagination as plain as the sky is
to a fisherman--A very clouded sentence. The word must be put down
for itself, not as a symbol of nature but a part, cognizant of the whole--
Black winds from the north
enter black hearts. Barred from
seclusion in lilies they strike
where the wind breaks it--
strident voices, heat
quickened, built of waves
Drunk with goats or pavements
Hate is of the night and the day
of flowers and rocks. Nothing
is gained by saying the night breeds
murder--It is the classical mistake
All that enters in another person
all grass, all blackbirds flying
all azalea trees in flower
Sold to them men knock blindly together
splitting their heads open
That is why boxing matches and
Chinese poems are the same--That is why
Hartley praises Miss Wirt
There is nothing in the twist
of the wind but--dashes of cold rain
It is one with submarine vistas
purple and black fish turning
among undulant seaweed--
Black wind, I have poured my heart out
to you until I am sick of it--
Now I run my hand over you feeling
the play of your body--the quiver
of its strength--
The grief of the bowmen of Shu
moves nearer--There is
an approach with difficulty from
the dead--the winter casing of grief
How easy to slip
into the old mode, how hard to
cling firmly to the advance--
No that is not it
nothing that I have done
I have done
is made up of
and the diphthong
the first person
of the auxiliary
I have done
IS the same
if to do
energy in vacuo
has the power
which only to
have done nothing
The inevitable flux of the seeing eye toward measuring itself by the
world it inhabits can only result in himself crushing humiliation unless
the individual raise to some approximate co-extension with the universe.
This is possible by aid of the imagination. Only through the agency of
this force can a man feel himself moved largely with sympathetic pulses
A work of the imagination which fails to release the senses in accor-
dance with this major requisite--the sympathies, the intelligence in its
selective world, fails at the elucidation, the alleviation which is--
In the composition, the artist does exactly what every eye must do
with life, fix the particular with the universality of his own personal-
ity--Taught by the largeness of his imagination to feel every form which
he sees moving within himself, he must prove the truth of this by ex-
The contraction which is felt.
All this being anterior to technique, that can have only a sequent
value; but since all that appears to the senses on a work of art does so
the imagination of the external as well as internal means of expression
the essential nature of technique or transcription.
Only when this position is reached can life proper be said to begin
since only then can a value be affixed to the forms and activities of
which it consists.
Only then can the sense of frustration which ends. All composition
Only through the imagination is the advance of intelligence possible,
to keep beside growing understanding.
Complete lack of imagination would be the same at the cost of intelli-
Even the most robust constitution has its limits, though the Roman
feast with its reliance upon regurgitation to prolong it shows an active
ingenuity, yet the powers of a man are so pitifully small, with the ocean
to swallow--that at the end of the feast nothing would be left but suicide.
That or the imagination which in this case takes the form of humor, is
known in that form--the release from physical necessity. Having eaten to
the full we must acknowledge our insufficiency since we have not anni-
hilated all food nor even the quantity of a good sized steer. However we
have annihilated oil eating: quite plainly we have no more appetite. This
is to say that the imagination has removed us from the banal necessity
of bursting ourselves--by acknowledging a new situation. We must ac-
knowledge that the ocean we would drink is too vast--but at the same
time we realize that extension in our case is not confined to the intestine
only. The stomach is full, the ocean no fuller, both have the same qual-
ity of fullness. In that, then, one is equal to the other. Having eaten, the
man has released his mind.
THIS catalogue might be increased to larger proportions without stim-
ulating the sense.
In works of the imagination that which is taken for great good sense,
so that it seems as if an accurate precept were discovered, is in reality
not so, but vigor and accuracy of the imagination alone. In work such as
This leads to the discovery that has been made today--old catalogues aside--
full of meat--
"the divine illusion has about it that inaccuracy which reveals that
which I mean."
There is only "illusion" in art where ignorance of the bystander con-
fuses imagination and its works with cruder processes. Truly men feel
an enlargement before great or good work, an expansion but this is not,
as so many believe today a "lie," a stupefaction, a kind of mesmerism, a
thing to block out "life," bitter to the individual, by a "vision of beauty."
It is a work of the imagination. It gives the feeling of completion by re-
vealing the oneness of experience; it rouses rather than stupefies the in-
telligence by demonstrating the importance of personality, by showing
the individual, depressed before it, that his life is valuable--when com-
pleted by the imagination. And then only. Such work elucidates--
Such a realization shows us the falseness of attempting to "copy" na-
ture. The thing is equally silly when we try to "make" pictures--
But such a picture as that of Juan Cris, though I have riot seen it in
color, is important as marking more clearly than any I have seen what
the modern trend is: the attempt is being made to separate things of the
imagination from life, and obviously, by using the forms common to ex-
perience so as not to frighten the onlooker away but to invite him,
The rose is obsolete
but each petal ends in
an edge, the double facet
cementing the grooved
columns of air--The edge
cuts without cutting
itself in metal or porcelain--
whither? It ends--
But if it ends
the start is begun
so that to engage roses
becomes a geometry--
Sharper, neater, more cutting
figured in majolica--
the broken plate
glazed with a rose
Somewhere the sense
makes copper roses
The rose carried weight of love
but love is at an end--of roses
It is at the edge of the
petal that love waits
Crisp, worked to defeat
plucked, moist, half-raised
cold, precise, touching
The place between the petal's
edge and the
From the petal's edge a line starts
that being of steel
infinitely fine, infinitely
the Milky Way without contact--lifting
from it--neither hanging
The fragility of the flower
The sunlight in a
yellow plaque upon the
is full of a song
fifty pounds pressure
at the faucet of
June that rings
the triangle of the air
pulling at the
Persephone's cow pasture--
When from among
the steel rocks leaps
to solve the core
of whirling flywheels
the Gordian knot
with a Veronese or
perhaps a Rubens--
whose cars are about
the finest on
the market today--
And so it comes
to motor cars--
which is the son
leaving off the g
of sunlight and grass--
to say, impossible
wind, earthquakes in
from dry leaves
Things with which he is familiar, simple things--at the same time to
detach them from ordinary experience to the imagination. Thus they are
still "real" they are the same things they would be if photographed or
painted by Monet, they are recognizable as the things touched by the
hands during the day, but in this painting they are seen to be in some
Here is a shutter, a bunch of grapes, a sheet of music, a picture of sea
and mountains (particularly fine) which the onlooker is not for a mo-
ment permitted to witness as an "illusion:' One thing laps over on the
other, the cloud laps over on the shutter, the bunch of grapes is part
of the handle of the guitar, the mountain and sea are obviously not "the
mountain and sea," but a picture of the mountain and the sea. All drawn
with admirable simplicity and excellent design--all a unity--
This was not necessary where the subject of art was not "reality" but
related to the "gods"--by force or otherwise. There was no need of the
"illusion" in such a case since there was none possible where a picture
or a work represented simply the imaginative reality which existed in the
mind of the onlooker. No special effort was necessary to cleave where
the cleavage already existed.
I don't know what the Spanish see in their Velasquez and Goya but
Today where everything is being brought into sight the realism of art
has bewildered us, confused us and forced us to re-invent in order to re-
tain that which the older generations had without that effort.
The only realism in art is of the imagination. It is only thus that the
work escapes plagiarism after nature and becomes a creation
Invention of new forms to embody this reality of art, the one thing
which art is, must occupy all serious minds concerned.
From the time of Poe in the U. S.--the first American poet had to be
a man of great separation--with close identity with life. Poe could not
have written a word without the violence of expulsive emotion combined
with the in-driving force of a crudely repressive environment. Between
the two his imagination was forced into being to keep him to that reality,
completeness, sense of escape which is felt in his work- topics. Typ-
ically American--accurately, even inevitably set in his time.
So, after this tedious diversion--whatever of dull you find among my
work, put it down to criticism, not to poetry. You will not be mistaken--
Who am I but my own critic? Surely in isolation one becomes a god--At
least one becomes something of everything, which is not wholly godlike,
yet a little so--in many things.
It is not necessary to count every flake of the truth that falls: it is
necessary to dwell in the imagination if the truth is to be numbered. It is
necessary to speak from the imagination--
The great furor about perspective in Holbein's day had as a conse-
quence much fine drawing, it made coins defy gravity, standing on the
table as if in the act of falling. To say this was lifelike must have been
satisfying to the master, it gave depth, pungency.
But all the while the picture escaped notice--partly because of the
perspective. Or if noticed it was for the most part because one could see
"the birds pecking at the grapes" in it.
Meanwhile the birds were pecking at the grapes outside the window
and in the next street Bauermeister Kummel was letting a gold coin slip
from his fingers to the counting table.
The representation was perfect, it "said something one was used to
hearing" but with verve, cleverly.
Thus perspective and clever drawing kept the picture continually un-
der cover of the "beautiful illusion" until today, when even Anatole
France trips, saying: "Art--all lies!"--today when we are beginning to
discover the truth that in great works of the imagination A CRE-
ATIVE FORCE IS SHOWN AT WORK MAKING OBJECTS WHICH ALONE COMPLETE
SCIENCE AND ALLOW INTELLIGENCE TO SURVIVE--his picture lives anew.
It lives as pictures only can by their power TO ESCAPE ILLUSION and
stand between man and nature as saints once stood between man and
the sky--their reality in such work, say, as that of Juan Gris
No man could suffer the fragmentary nature of his understanding of
his own life--
Whitman's proposals are of the same piece with the modern trend to-
ward imaginative understanding of life. The largeness which he inter-
prets as his identity with the least and the greatest about him, his "de-
mocracy" represents the vigor of his imaginative life.
What about all this writing?
0 Miss Margaret Jarvis
clean: yes . . New-York
Wrigley's, appendicitis, John Marin:
Either that or a bullet!
anything might have happened
You lay relaxed on my knees--
the starry night
spread out warm and blind
above the hospital--
It is unclean
which is not straight to the mark--
In my life the furniture eats me
the chairs, the floor
which heard your sobs
drank up my emotion--
they which alone know everything
and snitched on us in the morning--
What to want?
Drunk we go forward surely
beds, beds, beds
elevators, fruit, night-tables
breasts to see, white and blue--
to hold in the hand, to nozzle
It is not onion soup
Your sobs soaked through the walls
breaking the hospital to pieces
obscenely drunk, spinning--
white, blue, orange
--hot with our passion
wild tears, desperate reoinders
my legs, turning slowly
end over end in the air!
But what would you have?
All said was:
there, you see, it is broken
stockings, shoes, hairpins
your bed, I wrapped myself round you--
You sobbed, you beat your pillow
you tore your hair
You dug your nails into your sides
I was your nightgown
Clean is he alone
after whom stream
the broken pieces of the city--
flying apart at his approaches
but I merely
caress you curiously
fifteen years ago and you still
go about the city, they say
patching up sick school children
Understood in a practical way, without calling upon mystic agencies,
of this or that order, it is that life becomes actual only when it is identi-
fied with ourselves. When we name it, life exists. To repeat physical ex-
periences has no--
The only means he has to give value to life is to recognize it with the
imagination and name it; this is so. To repeat and repeat the thing with-
out naming it is only to dull the sense and results in frustration.
this makes the artist the prey of life. He is easy of attack.
I think often of my earlier work and what it has cost me not to have
been clear. I acknowledge I have moved chaotically about refusing or re-
jecting most things, seldom accepting values or acknowledging anything.
because I early recognized the
futility of acquisitive understanding and at the same time rejected reli-
gious dogmatism. My whole life has been spent (so far) in seeking to
place a value upon experience and the objects of experience that would
satisfy my sense of inclusiveness without redundancy--completeness,
lack of frustration with the liberty of choice; the things which the pur-
suit of "art" offers--
But though l have felt "free" only in the presence of works of the
imagination, knowing the quickening of the sense which came of it, and
though this experience has held me firm at such times, yet being of a
slow but accurate understanding, I have not always been able to com-
plete the intellectual steps which would make me firm in the position.
So most of my life has been lived in hell--a hell of repression lit by
flashes of inspiration, when a poem such as this or that would appear
What would have happened in a world similarly lit by the imagination
Oh yes, you are a writer! a phrase that has often damned me, to my-
self. I rejected it with heat but the stigma remained. Not a man, not an
understanding but a WRITER. I was unable to recognize.
I do not forget with what heat too I condemned some poems of some
contemporary praised because of their loveliness--
I find that I was somewhat mistaken--ungenerous
Life's processes are very simple. One or two moves are made and that
is the end. The rest is repetitious.
The Improvisations--coming at a time when I was trying to remain
firm at great cost--I had recourse to the expedient of letting life go com-
pletely in order to live in the world of my choice.
I let the imagination have its own way
to see if it could save itself. Something very definite came of
it. I found myself alleviated but most important I began there and then
to revalue experience, to understand what I was at--
The virtue of the improvisations is their placement in a world of new
their fault is their dislocation of
sense, often complete. But it is the best I could do under the circum-
stances. It was the best I could do and retain any value to experience
Now I have come to a different condition. I find that the values there
discovered can be extended. I find myself extending the understanding to
the work of others and to other things--
I find that there is work to be done in the
creation of new forms, new names for experience
and that "beauty" is related not to "loveliness" but to a state in which
reality plays a part
Such painting as that of Juan Gris, coming after the impressionists,
the expressionists, Cezanne--and dealing severe strokes as well to the
expressionists as to the impressionists group--points forward to what
will prove the greatest painting yet produced.
--the illusion once dispensed with, painting has this problem before
it: to replace not the forms but the reality of experience with its own--
up to now shapes and meanings but always the illusion relying on
composition to give likeness to "nature"
now works of art cannot be left in this category of France's "lie," they
must be real, not "realism" but reality itself--
they must give not the sense of frustration but a sense of completion,
of actuality?lt is not a matter of "representation"?much may be rep-
resented actually, but of separate existence.
enlargement--revivification of values,
The universality of things
draws me toward the candy
with melon flowers that open
about the edge of refuse
proclaiming without accent
the quality of the farmer's
shoulders and his daughter's
accidental skin, so sweet
with clover and the small
yellow cinquefoil in the
parched places. It is
this that engages the favorable
distortion of eyeglasses
that see everything and remain
related to mathematics--
in the most practical frame of
brown celluloid made to
A letter from the man who
wants to start a new magazine
made of linen
and he owns a typewriter--
July 1, 1922
All this is for eyeglasses
to discover. But
they lie there with the gold
earpieces folded down
In passing with my mind
on nothing in the world
but the right of way
I enjoy on the road by
virtue of the law--
an elderly man who
smiled and looked away
to the north past a house--
a woman in blue
who was laughing and
leaning forward to look up
into the man's half
and a boy of eight who was
looking at the middle of
the man's belly
at a watchchain--
The supreme importance
of this nameless spectacle
sped me by them
without a word--
Why bother where I went?
for I went spinning on the
four wheels of my car
along the wet road until
I saw a girl with one leg
over the rail of a balcony
When in the condition of imaginative suspense only will the writing
have reality, as explained partially in what precedes--Not to attempt, at
that time, to set values on the word being used, according to presup-
posed measures, but to write down that which happens at that time--
To perfect the ability to record at the moment when the consciousness
is enlarged by the sympathies and the unity of understanding which the
imagination gives, to practice skill in recording the force moving, then
to know it, in the largeness of its proportions--
It is the presence of a
This is not "fit" but a unification of experience
That is, the imagination is an actual force comparable to electricity or
steam, it is not a plaything but a power that has been used from the first
to raise the understanding of--it is, not necessary to resort to mysti-
cism--In fact it is this which has kept back the knowledge I seek--
The value of the imagination to the writer consists in its ability to
make words. Its unique power is to give created forms reality, actual
Writing is not a searching about in the daily experience for apt similes
and pretty thoughts and images. I have experienced that to my sorrow.
It is not a conscious recording of the day's experiences "freshly and with
the appearance of reality"--This sort of thing is serious to the develop-
ment of any ability in a man, it fastens him down, makes him a--It de-
stroys, makes nature an accessory to the particular theory he is follow-
ing, it blinds him to his world,--
The writer of imagination would find himself released from observing
things for the purpose of writing them down later. He would be there to
enjoy, to taste, to engage the free world, not a world which he carries
like a bag of food, always fearful lest he drop something or someone get
more than he.
A world detached from the necessity of recording it, sufficient to it-
self, removed from him (as it most certainly is) with which he has bitter
and delicious relations and from which he is independent--moving at
will from one thing to another--as he pleases, unbound--complete
and the unique proof of this is the work of the imagination not "like"
anything but transfused with the same forces which transfuse the earth--
at least one small part of them.
Nature is the hint to composition not because it is familiar to us and
therefore the terms we apply to it have a least common denominator
quality which gives them currency--but because it possesses the quality
of independent existence, of reality which we feel in ourselves. It is not
opposed to art but apposed to it.
I suppose Shakespeare's familiar aphorism about holding the mirror
up to nature has done more harm in stabilizing the copyist tendency of
the arts among us than--
the mistake in it (though we forget that it is not S. speaking but an
imaginative character of his) is to have believed that the reflection of na-
ture is nature. It is not. It is only a sham nature, a "lie."
Of course S. is the most conspicuous example desirable of the false-
ness of this very thing.
He holds no mirror up to nature but with his imagination rivals na-
ture's composition with his own.
He himself become "nature"--continuing "its" marvels--if you will
I am often diverted with a recital which I have made for myself con-
cerning Shakespeare: he was a comparatively uninformed man, quite ac-
cording to the orthodox tradition, who lived from first to last a life of
amusing regularity and simplicity, a house and wife in the suburbs, de-
lightful children, a girl at court (whom he really never confused with his
writing) and a cafe life which gave him with the freshness of discovery,
the information upon which his imagination fed. London was full of
the concentrates of science and adventure. He saw at "The Mermaid"
everything he knew. He was not conspicuous there except for his spirits.
His form was presented to him by Marlowe, his stories were the com-
mon talk of his associates or else some compiler set them before him.
His types were particularly quickened with life about him.
Feeling the force of life, in his peculiar intelligence, the great dome of
his head, he had no need of anything but writing material to relieve him-
self of his thoughts. His very lack of scientific training loosened his
power. He was unencumbered.
For S. to pretend to knowledge would have been ridiculous--no es-
cape there--but that he possessed knowledge, and extraordinary knowl-
edge, of the affairs which concerned him, as they concerned the others
about him, was self-apparent to him. It was not apparent to the others.
His actual power was PURELY of the imagination. Not permitted to
speak as IN.S., in fact peculiarly barred from speaking so because of his
Jack of information, learning, not being able to rival his fellows in scien-
tific training or adventure and at the same time being keen enough,
imaginative enough, to know that there is no escape except in perfec-
tion, in excellence, in technical excellence--his buoyancy of imagination
raised him NOT TO COPY them, not to holding the mirror up to them
but to equal, to surpass them as a creator of knowledge, as a vigorous,
living force above their heads.
His escape was not simulated but real. Hamlet no doubt was written
about at the middle of his life.
He speaks authoritatively through invention, through characters,
through design. The objects of his world were real to him because he
could use them and use them with understanding to make his inventions--
The imagination is a--
The vermiculations of modern criticism of S. particularly amuse when
the attempt is made to force the role of a Solon upon the creator of
So I come again to my present day gyrations.
So it is with the other classics: their meaning and worth can only be
studied and understood in the imagination--that which begot them only
can give them life again, re-enkindle their perfection--
useless to study by rote or scientific research--. Useful for certain un-
derstanding to corroborate the imagination--
Yes, Anatole was a fool when he said It is a lie.--That is it. If the
actor simulates life it is a lie. But--but why continue without an audience.
The reason people marvel at works of art and say: How in Christ':
name did he do it?--is that they know nothing of the physiology of the
nervous system and have never in their experience witnessed the larger
processes of the imagination.
It is a step over from the profitless engagements of the arithmetical.
The red paper box
hinged with cloth
inside and out
It is the sun
on it for
these are the same--
Its twoinch trays
that convey glue
or for old ladies
that darn socks
and red elastics--
What is the end
that suck gummed
for this is eternity
dial we discover
on a spool
But the stars
with a tin edge
and a ring
to fasten them
to a trunk
for the vacation--
of sweaty kitchens
thrusts of the sea
Waves of steel
of old pastures
with arms and legs
of agonized spires
where bridge stanchions
talked to me
sleep to trim
he said, we die
him twice a week
ways to grow
I told him
of the quartz
and of old men
sets of teeth
to the cue
of an old man
at the door--
The decay of cathedrals
through the phenomenal
growth of movie houses
whose catholicity is
destruction and creation
of even the smallest
detail even to the
volcanic organ whose
woe is translatable
to joy if light becomes
darkness and darkness
light, as it will--
But schism which seems
adamant is diverted
from the perpendicular
by simply rotating the object
cleaving away the root of
disaster which it
seemed to foster. Thus
the movies are a moral force
Nightly the crowds
with the closeness and
universality of sand
witness the selfspittle
which used to be drowned
in incense and intoned
over by the supple-jointed
imagination of inoffensiveness
backed by biblical
rigidity made into passion plays
upon the altar to
attract the dynamic mob
whose female relative
sweeping grass Tolstoi
saw injected into
the Russian nobility
It is rarely understood how such plays as Shakespeare's were written--or in fact
how any work of value has been written, the practical bearing of which is that
only as the work was produced, in that way alone can it be understood
Fruitless for the academic tapeworm to hoard its excrementa in books. The
The most of all writing has not even begun in the province from which alone
it can draw sustenance.
There is not life in the stuff because it tries to be "like" life.
First must come the transposition of the faculties to the only world of reality
that men know: the world of the imagination, wholly our own. From this world alone
does the work gain power, its soil the only one whose chemistry is perfect to the
The exaltation men feel before a work of art is the feeling of reality they draw
from it. it sets them up, places a value upon experience--(said that half a dozen
the sore on
0 toppled belly
0 passionate cotton
from her mouth
the folded handkerchief
I can't die
--moaned the old
I can't die
I can't die
is the cat's nuts--
with a nickelplated
the savage beast--
Get the rhythm
That sheet stuff
's a lot a cheese.
gimme the key
and lemme loose--
I make 'em crazy
with my harmonies--
Shoot it Jimmy
They can't copy it
The pure products of America
mountain folk from Kentucky
or the ribbed north end of
with its isolate lakes and
valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
and promiscuity between
devil-may-care men who have taken
out of sheer lust of adventure--
and young slatterns, bathed
from Monday to Saturday
to be tricked out that night
from imaginations which have no
peasant traditions to give them
but flutter and flaunt
sheer rags--succumbing without
save numbed terror
under some hedge of choke-cherry
which they cannot express--
Unless it be that marriage
with a dash of Indian blood
will throw up a girl so desolate
so hemmed round
with disease or murder
that she'll be rescued by an
reared by the state and
sent out at fifteen to work in
house in the suburbs--
some doctor's family, some Elsie--
expressing with broken
brain the truth about us--
ungainly hips and flopping breasts
addressed to cheap
and rich young men with fine eyes
as if the earth under our feet
an excrement of some sky
and we degraded prisoners
to hunger until we eat filth
while the imagination strains
going by fields of goldenrod in
the stifling heat of September
it seems to destroy us
It is only in isolate flecks that
is given off
and adjust, no one to drive the car
Or better: prose has to do with the fact of an emotion; poetry has to do with
the dynarnization of emotion into a separate form. This is the force of imagina-
prose: statement of facts concerning emotions, intellectual states, data of all
sorts--technical expositions, jargon, of all sorts--fictional and other--
poetry: new form dealt with as a reality in itself.
The form of prose is the accuracy of its subject matter--how best to expose
the multiform phases of its material
the form of poetry is related to the movements of the imagination revealed in
words--or whatever it may be--the cleavage is complete
Why should I go further than I am able? Is it not enough for you that I am
The cleavage goes through all the phases of experience. It is the jump from prose
to the process of imagination that is the next great leap of the intelligence--from
the simulations of present experience to the facts of the imagination--
the greatest characteristic of the present age is that it is stale--stale as literature--
To enter a new world, and have there freedom of movement and newness.
I mean that there will always be prose painting, representative work, clever as may
be in revealing new phases of emotional research presented on the surface.
But the jump from that to Cezanne or back to certain of the primitives is the im-
The primitives are not back in some remote age--they are not BEHIND experience.
Work which bridges the gap between the rigidities of vulgar experience and the imagin-
ation is rare. It is new, immediate--It is so because it is actual, always real. It is
experience dynamized into reality.
Time does not move. Only ignorance and stupidity move. Intelligence (force, power)
stands still with time and forces change about itself--sifting the world for permanence,
in the drift of nonentity.
Pfo Baroja interested me once--
Baroja leaving the medical profession, some not important inspector's work in the
north of Spain, opened a bakery in Madrid.
The isolation he speaks of, as a member of the so called intellectual class, in-
fluenced him to abandon his position and engage himself, as far as possible, in the
intricacies of the design patterned by the social class--He sees no interest in isolation--
These gestures are the effort for self preservation or the preservation of some quality
held in high esteem--
Here it seems to be that a man, starved in imagination, changes his milieu so that his
food may be richer--The social class, without the power of expression, lives upon imagina-
I mean only to emphasize the split that goes down through the abstractions of art to
the everyday exercises of the most primitive types--
there is a sharp division--the energizing force of imagination on one side--and the
acquisitive--PROGRESSIVE force of the lump on the other
The social class with its religion, its faith, sincerity and all the other imaginative
values is positive (yes)
the merchant, hibernating, unrnagnetized--tends to drop away into the isolate, inactive
particles--Religion is continued then as a form, art as a convention--
To the social, energized class--ebullient now in Russia the particles adhere because of
the force of the imagination energizing them--
Anyhow the change of Baroja interested me
Among artists, or as they are sometimes called "men of imagination" "creators," etc.
this force is recognized in a pure state--All this can be used to show the relationships
between genius, hand labor, religion--etc. and the lack of feeling between artists and the
middle class type--.
The jump between fact and the imaginative reality
The study of all human activity is the delineation of the cresence and ebb of this
force, shifting from class to class and location to location--rhythm: the wave rhythm of
Shakespeare watching clowns and kings sliding into nothing
This is the time of year
when boys fifteen and seventeen
wear two horned lilac blossoms
in their caps--or over one ear
What is it that does this?
It is a certain sort--
drivers for grocers or taxidrivers
white and colored--
fellows that let their hair grow
long in a curve over one eye--
Dirty satyrs, it is
vulgarity raised to the last power
They have stolen them
broken the bushes apart
with a curse for the owner--
They stand in the doorways
on the business streets with a sneer
on their faces
adorned with blossoms
Out of their sweet heads
dark kisses--rough faces
The sea that encloses her young body
ula lu la lu
is the sea of many arms--
The blazing secrecy of noon is undone
and and and
the broken sand is the sound of love--
The flesh is firm that turns in the sea
0 la la
the sea that is cold with dead men's tears--
Deeply the wooing that penetrated
to the edge of the sea
returns in the plash of the waves--
a wink over the shoulder
large as the ocean--
with wave following wave to the edge
It is the cold of the sea
broken upon the sand by the force
of the moon--
In the sea the young flesh playing
floats with the cries of far off men
who rise in the sea
with green arms
to homage again the fields over there
where the night is deep--
la lu la lu
but lips too few
assume the new-- marruu
Underneath the sea where it is dark
there is no edge
one day in Paradise
to see the blandness
of the leaves--
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
The fixed categories into which life is divided must always hold. These
things are normal--essential to every activity. But they exist -- but not as
The curriculum of knowledge cannot but be divided into the sciences,
the thousand and one groups of data, scientific, philosophic or whatnot--as
many as there exist in Shakespeare--things that make him appear the university
of all ages.
But this is not the thing. In the galvanic category of--The same things exist,
but in a different condition when energized by the imagination.
The whole field of education is affected--There is no end of detail that
is without significance.
Education would begin by placing in the mind of the student the nature of
knowledge--in the dead state and the nature of the force which may energize it.
This would clarify his field at once--He would then see the use of data
But at present knowledge is placed before a man as if it were a stair at
the top of which a DEGREE is obtained which is superlative.
nothing could be more ridiculous. To data there is no end. There is
proficiency in dissection and a knowledge of parts but in the use of knowledge --
It is the imagination that--
That is: life is absolutely simple. In any civilized society everyone
should know EVERYTHING there is to know about life at once and always. There
should never be permitted, confusion--
There are difficulties to life, under conditions there are impasses, life
may prove impossible--But it must never be lost--as it is today--
I remember so distinctly the young Pole in Leipzig going with hushed
breath to hear Wundt lecture--In this mass of intricate philosophic data what
one of the listeners was able to maintain himself for the winking of an eyelash.
Not one. The inundation of the intelligence by masses of complicated fact is not
knowledge. There is no end--
And what is the fourth dimension? It is the endlessness of knowledge--
It is the imagination on which reality rides--It is the imagination--It is
a cleavage through everything by a force that does not exist in the mass and
therefore can never be discovered by its anatomization.
It is for this reason that I have always placed art first and esteemed it
over science--In spite of everything.
Art is the pure effect of the force upon which science depends for its
The effect of this realization upon life will be the emplacement of
knowledge into a living current--which it has always sought--
In other times--men counted it a tragedy to be dislocated from sense--
Today boys are sent with dullest faith to technical schools of all sorts--
few escape whole--slaughter. This is not civilization but stupidity--
Before entering knowledge the integrity of the imagination--
The effect will be to give importance to the subdivisions of experience
--which today are absolutely lost--There exists simply nothing.
Prose--When values are important, such--For example there is no use
denying that prose and poetry are not by any means the same IN INTENTION. But
then what is prose? There is no need for it to approach poetry except to be
With decent knowledge to hand we can tell what things are for
I expect to see values blossom. I expect to see prose be prose. Prose,
relieved of extraneous, unrelated values must return to its only purpose: to
clarity to enlighten the understanding. There is no form to prose but that
which depends on clarity. If prose is not accurately adjusted to the exposition
of facts it does not exist--Its form is that alone. To penetrate everywhere with
Poetry is something quite different. Poetry has to do with the crystallization
of the imagination--the perfection of new forms as additions to nature--Prose
may follow to enlighten but poetry--
Is what I have written prose? The only answer is that form in prose ends
with the end of that which is being communicated--If the power to go on falters
in the middle of a sentence--that is the end of the sentence--Or if a new phase
enters at that point it is only stupidity to go on.
There is no confusion--only difficulties.
The veritable night
of wires and stars
the moon is in
the oak tree's crotch
and sleepers in
the windows cough
athwart the round
and pointed leaves
and insects sting
while on the grass
the whitish moonlight
assumes the attitudes
But it is real
where peaches hang
whose tuneful wood
and stringish undergrowth
are ghosts existing
save to conic with juice
and pulp to assuage
the hungers which
the night reveals
so that now at last
the truth's aglow
with devilish peace
which dawns tomorrow
with dreadful reds
the heart to predicate
with mists that loved
the ocean and the fields--
is the perfect
The leaves embrace
in the trees
it is a wordless
I do not
seek a path
I am still with
Gipsy lips pressed
to my own--
It is the kiss
or nettle, the kiss
of oak leaves--
He who has kissed
need look no further--
a canopy or leaves
and at the same time
for I do nothing
I ride in in my car
I think about
in the Pyrenees--
the cave of
Les Trois Freres
The nature of the difference between what is termed prose on the one
hand and verse on the other is not to be discovered by a study of the metrical
characteristics of the words as they occur in juxtaposition. It is ridiculous to
say that verse grades off into prose as the rhythm becomes less and less pronounced,
in fact, that verse differs from prose in that the meter is more pronounced, that
the movement is more impassioned and that rhythmical prose, so called, occupies a
middle place between prose and verse.
It is true that verse is likely to be more strongly stressed than what is
termed prose, but to say that this is in any way indicative of the difference in
nature of the two is surely to make the mistake of arguing from the particular to
the general, to the effect that since an object has a cer-tain character that
therefore the force which gave it form will always re-veal itself in that character.
Of course there is nothing to do but to differentiate prose from verse by the
only effective means at hand, the external, surface appearance. But a counter proposal
may be made, to wit: that verse is of such a nature that it may appear without met-
rical stress of any sort and that prose may be strongly stressed--in short that meter
has nothing to do with the question whatever.
Of course it may be said that if the difference is felt and is not discoverable to
the eye and ear then what about it anyway? Or it may be ar-gued, that since there is
according to my proposal no discoverable differ-ence between prose and verse that in
all probability none exists and that both are phases of the same thing.
Yet, quite plainly, there is a very marked difference between the two which may
arise in the fact of a separate origin for each, each using simi-lar modes for dis-
similar purposes; verse falling most commonly into meter but not always, and prose
going forward most often without me-ter but not always.
This at least serves to explain some of the best work I see today and explains
some of the most noteworthy failures which I discover. I search for "something" in
the writing which moves me in a certain way--it offers a suggestion as to why some
work of Whitman's is bad poetry and some, in the same meter is prose.
The practical point would be to discover when a work is to be taken as coming
from this source and when from that. When discovering a work it would be--If it is
poetry it means this and only this--and if it is prose it means that and only that.
Anything else is a confusion, silly and bad practice.
I believe this is possible as I believe in the main that Marianne Moore is of
all American writers most constantly a poet--not because her lines are invariably
full of imagery they are not, they are often diagrammatically informative, and not
because she clips her work into certain shapes--her pieces are without meter most
often but I believe she is most constantly a poet in her work because the purpose of
her work is invariably from the source from which poetry starts--that it is constantly
from the purpose of poetry. And that it actually possesses this characteristic, as of
that origin, to a more distinguishable degree when it eschews verse rhythms than when
it does not. It has the purpose of poetry written into it and therefore it is poetry.
I believe it possible, even essential, that when poetry fails it does not become
prose but bad poetry. The test of Marianne Moore would be that she writes sometimes
good and sometimes bad poetry but always--with a single purpose out of a single fountain
which is of the sort--
The practical point would be to discover--
I can go no further than to say that poetry feeds the imagination and prose the
emotions, poetry liberates the words from their emotional im-plications, prose confirms
them in it. Both move centrifugally or centripetally toward the intelligence.
Of course it must be understood that writing deals with words and words only and that
all discussions of it deal with single words and their association in groups.
As far as I can discover there is no way but the one I have marked out which will
satisfactorily deal with certain lines such as occur in some play of Shakespeare or in
a poem of Marianne Moore's, let us say: To-morrow will be the first of April--
Certainly there is an emotional content in this for anyone living in the northern
temperate zone, but whether it is prose or poetry--taken by itself--who is going to say
unless some mark is put on it by the intent conveyed by the words which surround it--
Either to write or to comprehend poetry the words must be recognized to be moving
in a direction separate from the jostling or lack of it which occurs within the piece.
Marianne's words remain separate, each unwilling to group with the others except as
they move in the one direction. This is even an important--or amusing--character of Miss
Her work puzzles me. It is not easy to quote convincingly.
Somebody dies every four minutes
in New York State--
To hell with you and your poetry--
You will rot and be blown
through the next solar system
with the rest of the gases--
What the hell do you know about it?
Don't get killed
Careful Crossing Campaign
Cross Crossings Cautiously
THE HORSES black
Outings in New York City
Ho for the open country
Don't stay shut up in hot rooms
Go to one of the Great Parks
Pelham Bay for example
It's on Long Island Sound
with bathing, boating
tennis, baseball, golf, etc.
Acres and acres of green grass
wonderful shade trees, rippling brooks
Take the Pelham Bay Park Branch
of the Lexington Ave. (East Side)
Line and you are there in a few
Interborough Rapid Transit Co.
The crowd at the ball game
is moved uniformly
by a spirit of uselessness
which delights them--
all the exciting detail
of the chase
and the escape, the error
the flash of genius--
all to no end save beauty
So in detail they, the crowd,
to be warned against
saluted and defied--
It is alive, venomous
it smiles grimly
its words cut--
The flashy female with her
mother, gets it--
The Jew gets it straight--it
is deadly, terrifying--
It is the Inquisition, the
It is beauty itself
day by day in them
the power of their faces
It is summer, it is the solstice
the crowd is
cheering, the crowd is laughing
The imagination uses the phraseology of science. It attacks, stirs,
animates, is radio-active in all that can be touched by action. Words occur
in liberation by virtue of its processes.
In description words adhere to certain objects, and have the effect on
the sense of oysters, or barnacles.
But the imagination is wrongly understood when it is supposed to be a
removal from reality in the sense of John of Gaunt's speech in Richard the Second:
to imagine possession of that which is lost. It is rightly understood when John of
Gaunt's words are related not to their sense as objects adherent to his son's welfare
or otherwise but as a dance over the body of his condition accurately accompanying it.
By this means of the understanding, the play written to be understood as a play, the
author and reader are liberated to pirouette with the words which have sprung from the
old facts of history, reunited in present passion.
To understand the words as so liberated is to understand poetry. That they move
independently when set free is the mark of their value
Imagination is not to avoid reality, nor is it description nor an evocation of
objects or situations, it is to say that poetry does not tamper with the world but
moves it--It affirms reality most powerfully and therefore, since reality needs no
personal support but exists free from human action, as proven by science in the inde-
structibility of matter and force, it creates a new object, a play, a dance which is not
a mirror up to nature but--
As birds' wings beat the solid air without which none could fly so words freed by
the imagination affirm reality by their flight
Writing is likened to music. The object would be it seems to make po-etry a pure art,
like music. Painting too. Writing, as with certain of the modern Russians whose work I
have seen, would use unoriented sounds in place of conventional words. The poem then
would be completely liberated when there is identity of sound with something--perhaps
I do not believe that writing is music. I do not believe writing would gain in quality
or force by seeking to attain to the conditions of music.
I think the conditions of music are objects for the action of the writer's imagination just
as a table or--
According to my present theme the writer of imagination would attain closest to the
conditions of music not when his words are disassociated from natural objects and specified
meanings but when they are liberated from the usual quality of that meaning by transposition
into another medium, the imagination.
Sometimes I speak of imagination as a force, an electricity or a medium, a place. It
is immaterial which: for whether it is the condition of a place or a dynamization its effect
is the same: to free the world of fact from the impositions of "art" (see Hartley's last
chapter) and to liberate the man to act in whatever direction his disposition leads.
The word is not liberated, therefore able to communicate release from the fixates which
destroy it until it is accurately tuned to the fact which giving it reality, by its own real-
ity establishes its own freedom from the necessity of a word, thus freeing it and dynamizing
it at the same time.
Black eyed susan
round the purple core
the white daisy
Crowds are white
who live poorly
William Carlos Williams