Personally Discovering British Lit

Writing Like a Modernist: Part 2 of 4

The world of Modernism is huge. It was an extremely busy time with all kinds of movements and schools of thought coming to life and blending into one another. There is a lot of overlapping of ideas so it is impossible to simplify or organize everything, or everyone, down into nice neat little categories with beginning and end dates. Nevertheless, some movements are labels to some very significant literature that is still talked about. Choosing just a few specific styles to work with was a difficult decision, but I narrowed it down to four that I think are most commonly taught: Imagism, Vorticism, High modernism, and Angry Young Men. Each movement has unique characteristics and can be easily identified once a reader gets to know them and their development.

Authors famous for their involvement with these specific movements were extremely interesting as well. Their main goal it seems was to make an impact on society with their literature. Authors like Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, John Osborne and many more are still well read. These unique and interesting movements will be equally fun and challenging to unravel and recreate. These four are also kind of like the timestamps of Modernism marking the beginning, middle, and post, or end, of modernism. They are also important movements to understand because works of literature stemming from them show the effects that war had on society even years after WWII had ended, as we will see in the Angry Young Men movement.

Lets start with Imagism and Vorticism. They are very closely tied together as Vorticism was essentially born from Imagism. Imagism underwent several changes over the course of it existence. It first appeared as a school of thought under the leadership of T.E. Hulme in 1908 with Ezra Pound soon joining. However The term Imagist, did not appeared in print until 1912 and by 1914 the group had already split up.

The idea behind this movement is to isolate a single image with clear sharp language in order to reveal its essence. “An ‘Image’ is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time . . . which gives that sense of sudden liberation” (Pound, “A Few”). The goal of Imagists was to make concrete statements in free verse. They wanted their poems to become clear, unbiased snapshots in time. One of the groups that split from the original, renamed amygism, lasted until 1917, while Pound moved onto Vorticism.

Vorticism is best known as an art movement rather than a literary movement mostly because the literary movement was very short lived. Only two publications of Blast magazine came out in 1914 and 1915 containing aggressive manifestos ‘blasting’ and blessing traditional British art and culture. According to Pound, Imagism is just Vorticism in words. He changed the term “Image” to “Vortex,” and “Imagism” to “Vorticism.” He expanded his definition of the image:

a radiant node or cluster, it is what I can, and must perforce call a VORTEX, from which, and through which, and into which ideas are constantly rushing.” -Pound

“The New Vortex plunges to the heart of the present- we produce a New Living Abstraction”- Lewis.

If T.E. Hulme or Ezra Pound were sitting at a desk sometime between 1912–1914, and a moth suddenly dropped into his liquor, the response would probably look a little like this:

Dusty moth destined to drown,

Making the value of simple life recognized momentarily.

In that moment, simple however, is not —

Simple is seen and pondered causing wonderment.

A hint of revere in the miniscule dust.

Such things cannot be pondered forever.

Dust must be wiped away.

Or maybe Pound and Wyndham Lewis were sharing a cold brew together and had a bad day when a moth happened by…


Your dusty limbs can not provoke such sorry sympathy from


Once your BLESSED and intricate wings carried you on the London breeze

But now

You are just

A flopping


Adding to the DECAY of London.

Next up, Part 3 will be about High Modernism and the Angry Young Men movement

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