Sunday, July 10, 2011

Poetic Imagery, 1918 style

In 1918, Henry W. Wells, Ph.D. sees it this way, lest we forget:

The types of image:

The Decorative Image
The Sunken Image
The Violent Image or Fustian
The Radical Image
The Intensive Image
The Expansive Image
The Exuberant Image
Images of Wit and Humor
Shakespeare

Yes, Shakespeare is a type. From the introduction:

“The study faces many difficulties. It is difficult to estimate the subject in its bearings and to pursue it with caution and restraint. The popular estimate of its significance has suffered from an early association of symbolism with rhetoric, not, as one might wish, with religion, philosophy, idealism and humor. Poetic imagery has been discussed as though it were a distinctly literary matter, like a point in dramatic technique, and not an element in the very air we breathe. For example, much of the division between Catholics and Protestants from the sixteenth to the present century has been caused by divergent attitudes toward imagery.”

Which shows us a little of the way people would write about poetry back then . . . . Here’s more:

“If primitive and exuberantly undisciplined forms decline in use, we may assume that more sophisticated ones take their place.”

“When the physicist unbends his fancy the universe shakes with laughter through his imagery.”

“What are the circumstances which arouse poetic imagery? We have observed it in the expression of ideals. The more resonant imagination appears under some pressure of emotion, and often with some relaxation of rigorous thinking. Wine it may be observed is a great breeder of imagery. The idea of intoxication itself is sufficient to evoke a flood of metaphors.”

Like “flood of metaphors,” I suppose. Anyway, what a funny little book this has turned out to be:

“While English poetry is perhaps richer in metaphor that the poetry of the Romance languages, metaphorical ceremony seems to flourish with greater distinction among the Latin races. The English people may be said to excel in the transient image of poetry, and the Romance peoples in establishing conventional metaphors for popular abstractions in the pictorial arts.”

It’s 230 pages:

“The Elizabethan age is a windfall of the imagination.”

“No strict definition of metaphor is possible. By this I mean that no two people can so define the term that in any considerable body of poetry they will agree as to what does or does not constitute the metaphorical thoughts. A working test is however practicable. Metaphor is the recognition of a suggestion of one concept by another dissimilar in kind but alike in some strong ungeneric characteristic . . . . The idea can be illustrated by the use of geometric circles which are neither congruent nor removed, but at some points intersect.”

“In Elizabethan imagery there is something to discard, little to imitate and much to admire.”

Now you know.

15 Comments:

At 7/10/2011 3:04 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7/10/2011 3:40 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Well, as Wells writes:

"The representative Elizabethan held in equal regard a strong emotionalism and an imaginative inquiry into life. Expansive imagery flourishes in such a culture."

It is delightful, isn't it? He takes Daniel, Kyd, and Nash, and makes them heroic!

I came accidentally stole it from a hotel library this spring, and am dragging in returning it. From the glaze of dust on it, I imagine I was the first one to open it in years. It's dated 1924 by Columbia University Press, NY.

 
At 7/10/2011 4:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kent, didn't you already write and publish this, back in 1992?

 
At 7/11/2011 9:29 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7/11/2011 10:22 AM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7/12/2011 7:19 AM, Blogger Johannes said...

I like the "sunken image."

Johannes

 
At 7/12/2011 9:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kent, why do you keep posting and then deleting your posts? Is there something we can do to help?

 
At 7/13/2011 6:32 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7/13/2011 6:46 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7/13/2011 9:54 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7/13/2011 12:42 PM, Blogger Kent Johnson said...

>Kent, why do you keep posting and then deleting your posts? Is there something we can do to help?

No, you endearing Anonymous bunny, I don't need any help, thanks.

In that regard anyway. If anyone wants to come on over and help me finish staining this damn deck, please write.

 
At 7/14/2011 3:35 PM, Anonymous Mike Theune said...

A conversation about the image by the Charleses, Wright and Simic:

http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/22382

 
At 7/14/2011 8:08 PM, Blogger Julio de Luna said...

Isn't it cruel, the moment
you pierce the calyx
with the needle-and-thread?
And for what? To string
some beauty along
the porch rail for his
not-coming home? Better
to count the hecatombs
of bugs dead on the sills:
the body count increaseth
by hundreds (it's easier
for the boys in the war
department to keep track
that way) while outside
over the stunted corn
the fireflies convey
their garbled Morse
and the rivers of
the elm-shadows flood
and beautiful boys lie
in the mangers of
theirs beds, continually
born.

- de Luna

 
At 7/18/2011 8:26 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Kent, why did you delete all your comments? What an odd thing.

The sunken image, as someone asked about in an email:

"A sunken image is one which powerfully affects the imagination without conveying a definite picture. It is to be distinguished from faded imagery. In the latter no definite picture is conveyed but neither is the imagination aroused. Thus the word platform, meaning a declaration of a political party, though potentially a metaphor is generally used without metaphorical intention."

This is a very fun book.

".... In such an extreme vagueness Sunken imagery may be seen arising from obscurity."

Are we in the poetic age of Sunken Imagery?

 
At 7/28/2011 3:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What happens if we decorate the sunken image?

What happens if we violate the expansive image?

What happens if we expand the intensive image?

Is the universe really shaking with laughter?

Would Catholics and Protestants have different answers to any of these questions?

 

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