Ever wanted to visit an old school flame? Maybe not even for romance, just to catch up on what they’re doing, or to let them know what you’ve been up to? Well, in 1911 24-year-old Hilda Doolittle visited London to meet up with Ezra Pound who she knew from the University of Pennsylvania.
Pound was up to something alright. Along with a small group of men including F. S. Flint and T. E. Hulme, he was planning to tear down and repave English language poetry. No more stentorian Victorian third-generation copies of Romantic verse. No. No extra words. No dusty ornaments. Metaphors as decoration? No. Instead: direct treatment of the thing! Incongruous emotional language in tired verse? No. Strict rhythms and forced rhymes? No.
The group were poets, not just theorists, and they were trying to create yes poems to those no ideals.
Hilda showed Ezra some poems and asked what he thought of them. Pound was cat on mouse with that sort of offer, because there was no larger reserve of literary opinions in London at that time than Pounds’.
He liked them. He said Doolittle was already doing what they were formulating. And then with his characteristic audacity, he took his blue pencil to the bottom of Doolittle’s poems and wrote “HD, Imagiste.”
Oh, and Pound was the overseas conduit for new poetry to Harriet Monroe’s Chicago-based Poetry magazine. Off he sent some of Doolittle’s poems with her new pen name applied.
Doolittle never liked her family name anyway. She kept the shortened name but dropped the French addition.
“The Pool” is one of the most anthologized of H. D.’s early short Imagist poems. One can think of it as a just as short, just as spare, contrast to William Carlos Williams’* “The Red Wheelbarrow.” “The Red Wheelbarrow” wants us to clearly see something mundane as meaningful, as beautiful. “The Pool” wants us to impressionistically see something mysterious obscured by water, never framed sharply. WCW seems comforted by and comfortable with the wheelbarrow and chickens. H.D. seems at least a little taken aback by what she sees in the pool, as does what she sees there (it “trembles.”) That it’s the subject of a poem tells us she’s fascinated by it, but we’re not sure she likes what she’s seeing. WCW’s rainwater on the wheelbarrow seems like magnifying-glass raindrops. H.D.’s pool water applies an obscuring filter.
What’s in the pool? Is it some alien-looking sea creature? See below for another possibility. And here’s a third.
Is this poem a riddle to be solved? If you like, it can be. One reading has it that what she sees is her own reflection, and the strings of the net she dips into the reflection make it “banded.” She can’t catch her reflection or fully understand herself, so the ending without naming the thing in the pool “reflects” that.
We’re still celebrating National Poetry Month, so three ways again to hear my musical setting and performance of H. D.’s “The Pool” today. There’s a graphical player below for some, and a brand-new lyric video above. Just want the audio, but don’t see a player? This highlighted link will open a new tab with its own audio player.
*It just so happens that there was a young medical student at that university too: William Carlos Williams. Yes, they all knew each other in college. And they continued to spar with each other afterward.