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Generations -- Amy Lowell

       
(Poem #102) Generations
You are like the stem
Of a young beech-tree,
Straight and swaying,
Breaking out in golden leaves.
Your walk is like the blowing of a beech-tree
On a hill.
Your voice is like leaves
Softly struck upon by a South wind.
Your shadow is no shadow, but a scattered sunshine;
And at night you pull the sky down to you
And hood yourself in stars.

But I am like a great oak under a cloudy sky,
Watching a stripling beech grow up at my feet.
-- Amy Lowell
Another Imagist poem... I like Imagist poetry :-)

'Generations' is deceptively simple in thought and execution. I say
'deceptively', because it's difficult to appreciate today how revolutionary
poems like this one were, back in the early years of this century. To an
audience who had grown up on a diet of maudlin Victorian poets, the plain
and unadorned yet intensely evocative works of art fashioned by Pound and
his ilk came as nothing short of a revelation. It takes great skill and
painstaking craftsmanship to make poetic statements with their particular
type of compressed 'meaningfulness'; today's poem may not be as brilliantly
concentrated as some, but it's nevertheless a fine piece of work, elegant
and unforced.

And yes, I used the phrase 'works of art' quite intentionally, in the
previous paragraph. I've always felt that Imagist poetry is closer to
painting than it is to literature - read 'The Red Wheelbarrow', Minstrels
Poem #83 to see what I mean.

thomas.

[Overview]

First published in 1919 in Pictures of a Floating World, "Generations" is a
fine example of the imagist style which Lowell, along with Ezra Pound and H.
D. (Hilda Doolittle), made famous in England and America during the early
part of the twentieth century. This poetic movement, a reaction to what was
seen as the abstract and sentimental poetry of the Victorian period,
stressed the importance of the concrete image and argued for poetic forms
based not upon fixed forms but upon common speech presented through
free-verse or what Lowell termed "unrhymed cadence." Proponents of this
movement argued for what might be termed "rhetorical efficiency" or
minimalism. In other words, imagism called for a new poetry, one in which
there were no frills, no ornament, one in which the poem managed to
communicate as much as possible in the fewest words and with the least
rhetorical posturing.

[Criticism]

"Generations" was first published in 1919, in a collection of poems titled
Pictures of a Floating World, a collection which did much to assure Lowell's
critical acclaim. The title of this volume Pictures of a Floating World was
derived from the Japanese word "ukiyoye" which was commonly applied to
eighteenth-century realistic paintings that depicted delight in life's
transient pleasures. As well, the brilliant images of the volume were
informed by Lowell's many years studying Chinese and Japanese visual art and
poetry. Indeed, one could argue that Lowell's poetry is best understood in
the context of her Asian studies. Glenn Richard Ruihley notes in his book
The Thorn of a Rose that the "wide ranging research" Lowell did in this area
"deepened her response to a civilization in which art had ordered and
refined the whole conduct of life. This was the concept of the Orient
developed by Percival Lowell, her brother, and Amy's identification with
Oriental life follows the lines of this thought." Poetically, Lowell was
especially interested in hokku and tantra and wrote a number of experiments
in which she tried to imitate these poetic forms. According to S. Foster
Damon, in his book Amy Lowell: A Chronicle with Extracts from Her
Correspondence, each of these might "be considered an experiment in economy
of means." That is to say that Lowell did not emulate the elaborate syllabic
patterns of these poetic forms. Rather, she was profoundly influenced by the
simplicity and clarity of their imagery. As Glenn Hughes notes in his
article "Amy Lowell: The Success," only a fraction of this book is "written
in actual imitation of foreign modes, yet the Oriental influence is dominant
throughout the book. Fantastic imagery conveying evanescent moods is the
artistic aim involved." "Generations" is not an imitation of Asian poetic
form per se, but the terseness of the last few lines are remindful of haiku
and share with it the sense of economy as regards language.

[Biography]

A descendent of one of the oldest and most respected families in New
England, Amy Lowell was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, on February 9,
1874, to Augustus Lowell and Katherine Bigelow Lawrence Lowell. Raised on a
ten-acre estate, Lowell first received tutoring at home by governesses
before she attended private schools in Boston until the age of seventeen.
Around 1902 Lowell decided to seriously study poetry in hopes of becoming a
poet herself. Houghton Mifflin published her first collection of poems in
1912, but the work received little notice from critics. Not until she
traveled to London in the summer of 1913 to meet Ezra Pound, Hilda Doolittle
(H. D.), and other poets involved in Imagism, did Lowell begin to receive
both recognition and notoriety for her work. Upon returning to Boston she
became an important promoter for the Imagist movement in America, helping
edit, publish, and support Imagist poets and anthologies. Throughout the
rest of her life, Lowell continued to champion the works of American poets
and introduce the public to contemporary poetry. Afflicted by chronic hernia
problems since 1916, Lowell underwent numerous operations, but she never let
her illness interfere with her poetry. On May 10, 1925, she cancelled a
lecture tour after suffering from her most serious hernia attack. Two days
later, Lowell died on her Brookline estate of a cerebral hemorrhage.

(all the above are from the Gale Poetry Resource Centre,
http://www.gale.com/gale/poetry/poetset.html)

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and unadorned yet intensely evocative works of art fashioned by Pound and
his ilk came as nothing short of a revelation. It takes great skill and
painstaking craftsmanship to make poetic statements with their particular
type of compressed 'meaningfulness'; today's poem may not be as brilliantly
concentrated as some, but it's nevertheless a fine piece of work, elegant
and unforced.
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