Essay on Poetic Theory

Vortex (1914)

by Ezra Pound

Introduction

Modernist poet Ezra Pound played a central role in the Imagist and Vorticist movements. Vorticism, a pre–World War I movement led by British painter and writer Wyndham Lewis, sought to capture the mechanical dynamism of its age as well as the stillness at its core. While Vorticist art often emphasizes structural mass and a combination of movement and central stillness through the use of thick borders and typographical inventiveness, Vorticist poetry focuses on locating the movement and stillness within the image.

Pound is credited with coining the term Vorticism. His essay “Vortex” appeared in BLAST, published by Lewis, in 1914. Here Pound emphasizes Vorticism’s relationship to motion, noting, “The vortex is the point of maximum energy. It represents, in mechanics, the greatest efficiency. We use the words ‘greatest efficiency’ in the precise sense—as they would be used in a text book of MECHANICS.”

Despite continued advocacy from Pound, the Vorticist movement ended just three years after it began, as World War I engaged many of the movement’s members and popular support dwindled. In the 1920s and ’30s, Pound would continue to advance his poetic theories beyond those expressed by him in “Vortex” and through the Vorticist movement.

VORTEX.

POUND.

______

          The vortex is the point of maximum energy.
         It represents, in mechanics, the greatest efficiency.
         We use the words “greatest efficiency” in the precise sense—as they would be used in a text book of MECHANICS.
         You may think of man as that toward which perception moves. You may think of him as the TOY of circumstance, as the plastic substance RECEIVING impressions.
         OR you may think of him as DIRECTING a certain fluid force against circumstance, as CONCEIVING instead of merely observing and reflecting.

 

THE PRIMARY PIGMENT.

         The vorticist relies on this alone; on the primary pigment of his art, nothing else.
         Every conception, every emotion presents itself to the vivid consciousness in some primary form.
         It is the picture that means a hundred poems, the music that means a hundred pictures, the most highly energized statement, the statement that has not yet SPENT itself it expression, but which is the most capable of expressing.

 

THE TURBINE.

         All experience rushes into this vortex. All the energized past, all the past that is living and worthy to live. All MOMENTUM, which is the past bearing upon us, RACE, RACE-MEMORY, instinct charging the PLACID,
                                    NON-ENERGIZED FUTURE.
         The DESIGN of the future in the grip of the human vortex. All the past that is vital, all the past that is capable of living into the future, is pregnant in the vortex, NOW.
         Hedonism is the vacant place of a vortex, without force, deprived of past and of future, the vertex of a small spool or cone.
         Futurism is the disgorging spray of a vortex with no drive behind it, DISPERSAL.
         EVERY CONCEPT, EVERY EMOTION PRESENTS ITSELF TO THE VIVID CONSCIOUSNESS IN SOME PRIMARY FORM. IT BELONGS TO THE ART OF THIS FORM. IF SOUND, TO MUSIC; IF FORMED WORDS, TO LITERATURE; THE IMAGE, TO POETRY; FORM, TO DESIGN; COLOUR IN POSITION, TO PAINTING; FORM OR DESIGN IN THREE PLANES, TO SCULPTURE; MOVEMENT TO THE DANCE OR TO THE RHYTHM OF MUSIC OR OF VERSES.
         Elaboration, expression of second intensities, of dispersedness belong to the secondary sort of artist. Dispersed arts HAD a vortex.
         Impressionism, Futurism, which is only an accelerated sort of impressionism, DENY the vortex. They are the CORPSES of VORTICES. POPULAR BELIEFS, movements, etc., are the CORPSES OF VORTICES. Marinetti is a corpse.

 

THE MAN.

         The vorticist relies not upon similarity or analogy, not upon likeness or mimcry.
         In painting he does not rely upon the likeness to a beloved grandmother or to a caressable mistree.
         VORTICISM is art before it has spread itself into a state of flacidity, of elaboration, of secondary applications.

ANCESTRY.

         “All arts approach the conditions of music.”—Pater.
         “An Image is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.”—Pound.
         “You are interested in a certain painting because it is an arrangement of lines and colours.”—Whistler.
         Picasso, Kandinski, father and mother, classicism and romanticism of the of the movement.

POETRY.

         The vorticist will use only the primary media of his art.
         The primary pigment of poetry is the IMAGE.
         The vorticist will not allow the primary expression of any concept or emotion to drag itself out into mimicry.
         In painting Kandinski, Picasso.
         In poetry this by, “H. D.”
                                 Whirl up sea —
                                 Whirl your pointed pines,
                                 Splash your great pines
                                 On our rocks,
                                 Hurl your green over us,
                                 Cover us with your pools of fir.

Originally Published: February 15, 2010

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 Ezra  Pound

Biography

Of all the major literary figures in the twentieth century, Ezra Pound has been one of the most controversial; he has also been one of modern poetry's most important contributors. In an introduction to the Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot declared that Pound "is more responsible for the twentieth-century revolution in poetry than is any other individual." Four decades later, Donald Hall reaffirmed in remarks collected . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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