Gushing from the mouths of stone men
To spread at ease under the sky
In granite-lipped basins,
Where iris dabble their feet
And rustle to a passing wind,
The water fills the garden with its rushing,
In the midst of the quiet of the close-clipped lawns.
Damp smell the ferns in tunnels of stone,
Where trickle and plash the fountains,
Marble fountains, yellowed with much water.
Splashing down moss-tarnished steps
It falls, the water;
And the air is throbbing with it;
With its gurgling and running;
With its leaping, and deep, cool murmur.
And I wished for night and you.
I wanted to see you in the swimming-pool,
White and shining in the silver-flecked water.
While the mood rode over the garden,
High in the arch of night,
And the scent of the lilacs was heavy with stillness.
Night and the water, and you in your whiteness, bathing!
I've posted Amy Lowell's poetry a number of times before here, and I make no secret of my admiration or her direct style and clear descriptions of specific scenes. Broadly speaking, she's of the Imagist school of poets. Imagist poetry grew out of modernism, and according to T.E. Hulme, an early proponent of the style, is meant to "use the language of common speech, but to employ always the exact word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word." Imagism can be thought of as a reaction against romanticism, or poetry that was overly abstract.
While that makes Imagism sound somewhat clinical, I think it's clear from the above poem that what Imagism necessitates is an incredible skill for creating a precise picture in the reader's mind's eye. How easy is it to picture the garden scene Lowell describes? The fountains are describe in precise detail, and when talking about a beautiful scene, what language can be more appropriate than the exact word?
Imagist poetry also does not rule out the romantic or sentimental in its quest for clarity. Lowell sits in the garden and pines for her lover. She "wished for night and you" and described her lover "white and shining in the silver-flecked water." Imagist poetry does not seek to moralize a given image, or to construct an elaborate allegory or parallel. Rather, it presents a scene, as if crystallized in amber, and allows us to examine it. I feel like I can walk around Lowell's poems, as if they are a perfect diorama that I may inhabit.
The advantage to this sort of poetry, in my opinion, is that it allows great room for relation and empathy. I feel like I, too, can sit in this garden and can so easily imagine a past lover of mine in the moonlight, and I feel so clearly the tug on Lowell's heartstrings as she wishes for "night and you." The poem is like a painting in how it captures the imagination. Specificity is not antithetical to personal interaction with a poem, or imaginative thought. Just as a photograph can capture your heart so too can a highly focused poem. The beauty of the scene and the clear, direct sentiment of missing a lover at its heart make this a true gem, and one that I plan on memorizing. I want always to carry it with me.