Monday, May 19, 2014

Autumn - T. E. Hulme

A touch of cold in the Autumn night-
I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer.
I did not stop to speak, but nodded,
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.

Hulme's poetry, along with Ezra Pound's, are the real genesis of the Imagist movement in poetry.  This poem, along with the rest of Hulme's works, are characterized by clear and precise images, with little ink wasted on sweeping moralization.  I think the great strength of Imagist poetry is its power of suggestion in relation to its economy.  In seven lines, Hulme paints a singular image, one that exists for the briefest moment.  The senses are immediately engaged from the first line.

"A touch of cold in the Autumn night-" is the first thought of the poem, and it s not even a complete sentence.  We're given an image, a sensation, and it is followed then by action, movement, walking.  The moon, ruddy "like a red-faced farmer" is leaning over the hedge.  A nod to acknowledge it, no need to "speak."  Speaking here would mean, I think, attributing some sort of moral quality of larger significance to the moon in the scene.  Instead, Hulme nods, acknowledges its beauty, and continues on.

He gives the stars a bit more character, calling them "wistful."  Their faces are white and shining, like those of children.  Is this a good thing, a bad thing?  Does it make Hulme think of peace, of youthful vivacity, of sadness?  Who can say?  Rather, he presents us with the image, and lets us feel as we may about it.  What's certain is that the image is evocative and beautiful.  For a poem to bring to mind such clear and vivid images in such a few lines is a real triumph of the power of suggestion, and it makes a break from the oftentimes overblown sentimentality and rhapsodic human personification and reverence of Nature present in Romantic poetry.  I really appreciate the clarity of suggestion at work in Imagist poetry, and Hulme is one of its great architects, sadly lost to us in his youth, in the war in 1917.

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