ModPo Writing Assignment 2: Two Versions of an Imagist Poem by William Carlos Williams



Below you will see two versions of a poem by William Carlos Williams called "Young Woman at a Window." One of these versions was published and the other remained unpublished during the poet's lifetime; this manuscript version was found by scholars among Williams's papers and was eventually published. For now let's leave aside the question of which of these two versions was published by Williams (and thus presumably preferred by him). And let us assume—reasonably—that one version was a rewriting or reworking of the other, or that he wrote one and then revised it, and that the effort of revision produced the other.
We have no particular evidence, other than what we might find in the poem itself, to believe that Williams wrote "Young Woman at a Window" under the influence of imagism. We don't know that he meant this poem to adhere to imagist principles. Nonetheless, the second of these two Williams poems is generally considered to be more imagist than the first.
Please write a short essay, of 500 words, on "Young Woman at a Window." To prepare to write this short essay, please re-read the six propositions in the imagist manifesto at this link. Then, think about this question: What makes the second version of "Young Woman at a Window" more imagist than the first version of the poem? How does it conform to the principles and ideas of imagism as they are declared in the manifesto more effectively or more successfully or more faithfully than does the first version?
Your job in this short essay is to look closely at the poems and to argue that interpretative position—that version 2 is "more imagist." You should do so by showing how version 2 follows the manifesto but you can also do so by showing how version 1 does not. (We realize that some readers will deem version 1 to be "more imagist." But for the purpose of this exercise, we ask such readers to "try on" the other argument.)


Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate

Dear Peer,


I'll save you some time. I'm not going to compare the two versions of Young Woman at a Window. Intellectually, I can't even begin to read them; I'm stuck on defining Imagism. Or rather, I'm stuck on whose Imagist Manifesto is more in line with itself. 

I will be comparing Amy Lowell's 6-point manifesto and Ezra Pound's 3-point manifesto.


I will cut to the chase. I believe Pound's is the correct manifesto. So, in the interest of brevity, I will refer to the manifestos as the Amygism Manifesto and the Imagism Manifesto. 

(If you have been paying attention, you will have realized that I am stating that we--ModPo students--have been given the wrong manifesto.)

Let's begin with me examining the original texts.

Word Count

The Amygism Manifesto was introduced in Tendencies in Modern American Poetry (New York: Macmillan Company, 1917)

In order to explain herself, Lowell buries her tenants in an essay--according to a copy/paste into Microsoft Word--of 3269 words. Let's contextualize that number. 3269 words is roughly equivalent to 6.5 ModPo essays comparing the two versions of Young Woman at a Window.

In contrast, Pound published his Imagism Manifesto in an interview with F. S. Flint in 1913 for Poetry magazine. It was--including the tenants themselves--421 words or less than 1 ModPo essay.

Word Count After Applying The Rules of Amygism/Imagism

On the economy of words there seems to be some agreement, Lowell's first tenant is "To use the language of common speech, but to employ the exact word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word." Pound's second tenant is "To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation."

I'm not sure how Lowell is defining the adjectives exact or decorative, but at over 3,000 words, I posit that she could have edited a few.

You may ask, "But, Omar [that's my name], both writers embedded their manifestos within explanations. Fine. Okay. Let's pull the  points out of the essays.

Lowell's is 137 words. Pound's is 38. Lowell's is 3.6 times as long. Meaning, you can repeat Pound's 3 times and still not have as many words as Lowell's.


Both Lowell and Pound also seem to agree that there ought to be musicality.

Lowell: 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.

Pound: As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of the metronome.

In their way, they're both saying we should use free verse and abandon metric writing. However, while Lowell uses cadence to go into the harmonious quality of a poet's voice, Pound uses the term metronome indicating that meter is monotonous.


While Pound doesn't discuss it, Lowell seemed to need to state "Absolute freedom in the choice of subject." I think I've given this sentence too many words.


Lowell: "To present an image. 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 is for this reason that we oppose the cosmic poet, who seems to us to shirk the real difficulties of his art."

Pound: "Direct treatment of the "thing", whether subjective or objective."

When I was young and was asked, by a teacher, to define a word, I was always taught that your definition should not include the word itself.


Lowell: "To produce a poetry that is hard and clear, never blurred nor indefinite."

If one needs 3269 words to explain it, it seems to me to not be clear.

Pound embedded this idea in the direct treatment point.


Lowell: "Finally, most of us believe that concentration is of the very essence of poetry"

Pound embeds this idea within the rhythm and direct treatment points.

I am not really sure why Lowell includes this point. It seems to me to be a reprise of "To use the language of common speech, but to employ the exact word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word." 

To repeat the bits about using the "exact word" and "concentrating" seems, to me, to be inept.


I have failed the assignment's two guidelines.

* I have not discussed the poem. 
* I have written well over 500 words.

Thank you and goodnight. 

F. Omar Telan
October 5, 2014 5:28 am

HumanitiesF. Omar Telan