Poetry Review: “March Evening” by Amy Lowell

This month, MontanaWriter is featuring poems about the month of March. 

Unseasonably warm weather has come to the North Country, making winter seem a distant memory. It never ceases to surprise how quickly we can move from one season to the next. Overnight a mini-ice age ends and months of darkness turn into long afternoons of light.

The March evening that Amy Lowell is thinking about in this poem is a wetter one than we have had so far here. It is the kind of March evening we are used to… wet and cold and rainy. It is the kind of March evening we need to bring moisture levels up to where they belong.

Lowell and the Imagists wanted to strip poetry of non-essential ornamentation. The poetry they envisioned was one of:  ”direct language, non-traditional form, [with] the concentration on an image… a thing itself.”

What Lowell and Richard Aldington (and Ezra Pound for awhile) were trying to do as Imagists was to create a different kind of poetry than the one they had inherited.  In the preface to the famous 1915 edition of Some Imagist Poets, they spelled out their vision of poetry in a credo.  I have posted the credo at MontanaWriter before. I am  posting it here again with Lowell’s wonderful poem “March Evening.”

Enjoy!

 

  1. To use the language of common speech, but to employ always the exact word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word.
  2. To create new rhythms — as the expression of new moods — and not to copy old rhythms, which merely echo old moods. We do not insist on ‘free-verse’ as the only method of writing poetry. We fight for it as for a principle of liberty. We believe that the individuality of a poet may often be better expressed in free-verse than in conventional forms. In poetry, a new cadence means a new idea.
  3. To allow absolute freedom in the choice of subject. It is not good art to write badly about aeroplanes and automobiles; nor is it necessarily bad art to write well about the past. We believe passionately in the artistic value of modern life, but we wish to point out that there is nothing so uninspiring nor so old-fashioned as an aeroplane of the year 1911.
  4. To present an image (hence the name: “Imagist”). We are not a school of painters, but we believe that poetry should render particulars exactly and not deal in vague generalities, however magnificent and sonorous. It s for this reason that we oppose the cosmic poet, who seems to us to shirk the real difficulties of art.
  5. To produce poetry that is hard and clear, never blurred nor indefinite.
  6. Finally, most of us believe that concentration is of the very essence of poetry.

 

March Evening
Blue through the window burns the twilight;
Heavy, through trees, blows the warm south wind.
Glistening, against the chill, gray sky light,
Wet, black branches are barred and entwined.
Sodden and spongy, the scarce-green grass plot
Dents into pools where a foot has been.
Puddles lie spilt in the road a mass, not
Of water, but steel, with its cold, hard sheen.
Faint fades the fire on the hearth, its embers
Scattering wide at a stronger gust.
Above, the old weathercock groans, but remembers
Creaking, to turn, in its centuried rust.
Dying, forlorn, in dreary sorrow,
Wrapping the mists round her withering form,
Day sinks down; and in darkness to-morrow
Travails to birth in the womb of the storm

 

Listening with a pencil and my ear, these are the lines I marked:

Wet, black branches are barred and entwined.
Sodden and spongy, the scarce-green grass plot
Dents into pools where a foot has been.

I love these lines. They are the embodiment of Imagist poetry. She writes beautifully about something without any apparent beauty at all.

I have never been fully comfortable with the cliche that a good poem should help you to “see things in a new way.” But in the case of Imagist poetry, that is exactly the point: seeing things themselves. In this poem, Lowell does this as well as it can be done.

 

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