A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste: Learning from Ezra Pound

The following is an annotated presentation of a preeminent essay by Ezra Pound. My introduction and annotations are not previously published. Originally written in January and February of 2014. I invite you to read each footnote as you go along; you might want to open the footnotes in a separate window.       +

In the March 1913 issue of Poetry magazine, Ezra Pound published “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste.” That same issue contained a note titled “Imagisme,” attributed to F. S. Flint, but actually written by Pound. These two documents are among the fundamental influences of the Imagist movement in Western poetry. Imagism, of course, was heavily influenced by haiku, then newly emerging from Japan, first in French, and then in English. Pound later came to dismiss Imagism in the manner it was adopted by others, especially Amy Lowell (“Amygism,” as Pound called it), and evolved his thoughts into the cubist-inspired art movement he called “Vorticism.” However, the groundwork he laid in Imagism in the early twentieth century proved to be a powerful force in opening the west to haiku poetry. Haiku poems lived and breathed in the image, and the rise of Imagism served to help validate haiku poetry as it became more widely written in the West. Yet the long history of Japanese haiku had validated the core tenets of Imagism to begin with.

        The following is a presentation of Pound’s brief but seminal essay with comments on the writing of haiku today. I do not attempt to comment on everything Pound says, or its implications on modernism, postmodernism, or postdigging, for that matter, but do attempt to evaluate the essay in terms of contemporary English-language haiku poetry more than a hundred years later. Ultimately, I agree with Donald Keene’s observation in Japanese Literature: An Introduction for Western Readers (New York: Grove, 1955). Keene says that, “although the main thesis of this school [Imagism], that poetic ideas are best expressed by the rendering of concrete images rather than by comments, need not have been learned from Japanese poetry, it is hard to think of any other poetic literature which so completely incarnates this view” (46).

Ezra Pound’s text is sourced from the Poetry Foundation.

A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste

by Ezra Pound

An “Image” is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.[1] I use the term “complex” rather in the technical sense employed by the newer psychologists, such as Hart, though we might not agree absolutely in our application.

        It is the presentation of such a “complex” instantaneously which gives that sense of sudden liberation[2]; that sense of freedom from time limits[3] and space limits[4]; that sense of sudden growth[5], which we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art.

        It is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works.[6]

        All this, however, some may consider open to debate. The immediate necessity is to tabulate A LIST OF DON’TS for those beginning to write verses.[7] But I can not put all of them into Mosaic negative.[8]

        To begin with, consider the three rules recorded by Mr. Flint[9], not as dogma—never consider anything as dogma[10]—but as the result of long contemplation, which, even if it is some one else’s contemplation, may be worth consideration.

        Pay no attention to the criticism of men who have never themselves written a notable work.[11] Consider the discrepancies between the actual writing of the Greek poets and dramatists, and the theories of the Graeco-Roman grammarians, concocted to explain their metres.


Use no superfluous word, no adjective, which does not reveal something.[12]

        Don’t use such an expression as “dim lands of peace.” It dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. It comes from the writer’s not realizing that the natural object is always the adequate symbol.[13]

        Go in fear of abstractions.[14] Don’t retell in mediocre verse what has already been done in good prose. Don’t think any intelligent person is going to be deceived when you try to shirk all the difficulties of the unspeakably difficult art of good prose by chopping your composition into line lengths.[15]

        What the expert is tired of today the public will be tired of tomorrow.[16]

        Don’t imagine that the art of poetry is any simpler than the art of music,[17] or that you can please the expert before you have spent at least as much effort on the art of verse as the average piano teacher spends on the art of music.[18]

        Be influenced by as many great artists as you can,[19] but have the decency either to acknowledge the debt outright, or to try to conceal it.[20]

        Don’t allow “influence” to mean merely that you mop up the particular decorative vocabulary of some one or two poets whom you happen to admire.[21] A Turkish war correspondent was recently caught red-handed babbling in his dispatches of “dove-gray” hills, or else it was “pearl-pale,” I can not remember.

        Use either no ornament or good ornament.[22]

Rhythm and Rhyme

Let the candidate fill his mind with the finest cadences he can discover, preferably in a foreign language so that the meaning of the words may be less likely to divert his attention from the movement; e.g., Saxon charms, Hebridean Folk Songs, the verse of Dante, and the lyrics of Shakespeare—if he can dissociate the vocabulary from the cadence.[23] Let him dissect the lyrics of Goethe coldly into their component sound values, syllables long and short, stressed and unstressed, into vowels and consonants.[24]

        It is not necessary that a poem should rely on its music, but if it does rely on its music that music must be such as will delight the expert.[25]

        Let the neophyte know assonance and alliteration, rhyme immediate and delayed, simple and polyphonic, as a musician would expect to know harmony and counter-point and all the minutiae of his craft.[26] No time is too great to give to these matters or to any one of them, even if the artist seldom have need of them.[27]

        Don’t imagine that a thing will “go” in verse just because it’s too dull to go in prose.[28]

        Don’t be “viewy”—leave that to the writers of pretty little philosophic essays. Don’t be descriptive[29]; remember that the painter can describe a landscape much better than you can, and that he has to know a deal more about it.

        When Shakespeare talks of the “Dawn in russet mantle clad” he presents something which the painter does not present. There is in this line of his nothing that one can call description; he presents.[30]

        Consider the way of the scientists rather than the way of an advertising agent for a new soap.[31]

        The scientist does not expect to be acclaimed as a great scientist until he has discovered something.[32] He begins by learning what has been discovered already. He goes from that point onward.[33] He does not bank on being a charming fellow personally. He does not expect his friends to applaud the results of his freshman class work.[34] Freshmen in poetry are unfortunately not confined to a definite and recognizable class room. They are “all over the shop.” Is it any wonder “the public is indifferent to poetry?”[35]

        Don’t chop your stuff into separate iambs. Don’t make each line stop dead at the end, and then begin every next line with a heave. Let the beginning of the next line catch the rise of the rhythm wave, unless you want a definite longish pause.[36]

        In short, behave as a musician, a good musician, when dealing with that phase of your art which has exact parallels in music. The same laws govern, and you are bound by no others.[37]

        Naturally, your rhythmic structure should not destroy the shape of your words, or their natural sound, or their meaning.[38] It is improbable that, at the start, you will be able to get a rhythm-structure strong enough to affect them very much, though you may fall a victim to all sorts of false stopping due to line ends and caesurae.

        The musician can rely on pitch and the volume of the orchestra. You can not. The term harmony is misapplied to poetry; it refers to simultaneous sounds of different pitch. There is, however, in the best verse a sort of residue of sound which remains in the ear of the hearer and acts more or less as an organ-base. A rhyme must have in it some slight element of surprise if it is to give pleasure;[39] it need not be bizarre or curious, but it must be well used if used at all.

        Vide further Vildrac and Duhamel’s notes on rhyme in “Technique Poetique.”[40]

        That part of your poetry which strikes upon the imaginative eye of the reader will lose nothing by translation into a foreign tongue; that which appeals to the ear can reach only those who take it in the original.[41]

        Consider the definiteness of Dante’s presentation, as compared with Milton’s rhetoric. Read as much of Wordsworth as does not seem too unutterably dull.[42]

        If you want the gist of the matter go to Sappho, Catullus, Villon, Heine when he is in the vein, Gautier when he is not too frigid; or, if you have not the tongues, seek out the leisurely Chaucer. Good prose will do you no harm, and there is good discipline to be had by trying to write it.[43]

        Translation is likewise good training,[44] if you find that your original matter “wobbles” when you try to rewrite it. The meaning of the poem to be translated can not “wobble.”[45]

        If you are using a symmetrical form, don’t put in what you want to say and then fill up the remaining vacuums with slush.[46]

        Don’t mess up the perception of one sense by trying to define it in terms of another. This is usually only the result of being too lazy to find the exact word. To this clause there are possibly exceptions.[47]

        The first three simple proscriptions* [“*Noted by Mr. Flint.”][48] will throw out nine-tenths of all the bad poetry now accepted as standard and classic; and will prevent you from many a crime of production.[49]. . . Mais d’abord il faut etre un poete,” as MM. Duhamel and Vildrac have said at the end of their little book, “Notes sur la Technique Poetique”;[50] but in an American one takes that at least for granted,[51] otherwise why does one get born upon that august continent!


[1] Much has been written about Pound’s definition of Imagism—or at least the “image”—that need not be covered here. For haiku poets writing a hundred years later, we can continue to see haiku in this construct. Central to most haiku is the notion of capturing a moment in time—or “releasing” it, as the more poetic among us might say. But what is an “intellectual and emotional complex”? When haiku present a moment in time, the point of doing so is traditionally to create or convey an emotional feeling, but we sometimes overlook the intellectual effects of haiku—the ideas and even commentary that a haiku also might offer. We need not reject them, or at least not too quickly. We need not be afraid of balancing both the head and the heart. Cummings began one of his poems by saying “since feeling is first” (ahead of thinking), and that any person “who pays any attention / to the syntax of things / will never wholly kiss you.” “Kisses,” Cummings adds, “are a better fate / than wisdom.” Perhaps Pound puts the intellect first merely in his sentence structure, but he does nevertheless emphasize it, and we might challenge ourselves as haiku poets to consider the intellectual effects of our haiku together with their emotional effects. It would seem that some avant-garde gendai haiku are already doing this, perhaps to the utter detriment of emotional effects, but I suspect that the middle ground between these two extremes is worthy of exploration. I would also distinguish between intellectual effects, which happen as one interprets a poem, as opposed to intellectual statements in the poem itself, which many avant-garde gendai haiku include, thereby minimizing reader engagement on both intellectual and emotional levels. In any event, Pound reminds us here of the focus on an instant of time. Not in time, but of time. This distinction points to what we are capturing (the source), not just how we write it (the process) or what we are creating (the product). Our focus on time in haiku (the seasons, the here and now) enables us to approach the infinite.

[2] Here we cannot help but note the technique of juxtaposition, created by the use of a kireji, or cutting word, in Japanese. Often the presentation of two juxtaposed parts together, instantaneously, creates the haiku’s energy. The result of an effective juxtaposition is indeed akin to a sudden liberation, a heightened feeling of wholeness and rightness in the world, even to the point of exclamation at the world’s beauty and wonder.

[3] I’ve long thought of haiku as an approach to infinity, as already suggested, like Zeno’s paradox or Escher’s “circle limit” designs. By sharpening their focus to the smallest of moments, most haiku practically seem to stop time, to transcend time, to be timeless.

[4] While it’s common to think of haiku transcending or stopping time in its sharp focus on the moment, we think less often of its ability, as Pound says, for the image to also transcend space. If haiku is the poetry of the here and now, that sharpened focus on the here does indeed provide freedom from the limits of space as well, even if we might more readily think of haiku as focusing more on sharp moments of time.

[5] Such a feeling of sudden growth is not much different, it seems to me, from the “aha” moment in haiku, sometimes called the “haiku moment.” Perhaps this haiku moment is at once the moment of inspiration, the moment expressed in the poem, and the moment of the reader’s realization—indeed, an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.

[6] Such an ideal didn’t stop Pound, of course, from producing voluminous works. This ideal reminds me of Bashō who said that one is a master if one produces a handful of excellent haiku in a lifetime.

[7] One might immediately think of Lorraine Ellis Harr’s “The Isn’ts of Haiku,” a sort of haiku checklist that provided advice for haiku poets in the manner of identifying what haiku should not be. Her list was influential, perhaps because of its memorable title, but it also offended those poets who happen to dwell more in the positive than the negative. Harr’s list may have been directly inspired by Pound’s lists of “Don’ts,” but I have no evidence to support this other than the text itself.

[8] Pound has thrown down the gauntlet. Who will be the Haiku Moses to write a list of Haiku Ten Commandments? The title of Pound’s essay also refers to “Don’ts,” of course, so it seems he did indeed wax Mosaic.

[9] Here Pound is referring to a note titled “Imagisme” attributed to F. S. Flint in the same issue of Poetry, but Pound himself had apparently written that text too (with Hilda Doolittle and Richard Aldington). For more on this controversy, if it is one, see https://www.thoughtco.com/imagism-modern-poetry-2725585 and other sources. Here is the complete text of the note attributed to Flint (pages 199–200 of the March 1913 issue Poetry magazine, immediately preceding Pound’s essay; text sourced from https://ia601601.us.archive.org/35/items/jstor-20569729/20569729.pdf):


*Editor’s Note—In response to many requests for information regarding Imagism and the Imagistes, we publish this note by Mr. Flint, supplementing it with further exemplification by Mr. Pound. It will be seen from these that Imagism is not necessarily associated with Hellenic subjects, or with vers libre as a prescribed form.

Some curiosity has been aroused concerning Imagisme, and as I was unable to find anything definite about it in print, I sought out an imagiste, with intent to discover whether the group itself knew anything about the “movement.” I gleaned these facts.

        The imagistes admitted that they were contemporaries of the Post Impressionists and the Futurists; but they had nothing in common with these schools. They had not published a manifesto. They were not a revolutionary school; their only endeavor was to write in accordance with the best tradition, as they found it in the best writers of all time,—in Sappho, Catullus, Villon. They seemed to be absolutely intolerant of all poetry that was not written in such endeavor, ignorance of the best tradition forming no excuse. They had a few rules, drawn up for their own satisfaction only, and they had not published them. They were:

        1. Direct treatment of the “thing,” whether subjective or objective.

        2. To use absolutely no word that did not contribute to the presentation.

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

        By these standards they judged all poetry, and found most of it wanting. They held also a certain ‘Doctrine of the Image,’ which they had not committed to writing; they said that it did not concern the public, and would provoke useless discussion.

        The devices whereby they persuaded approaching poetasters to attend their instruction were:

        1. They showed him his own thought already splendidly expressed in some classic (and the school musters altogether a most formidable erudition).

        2. They re-wrote his verses before his eyes, using about ten words to his fifty.

        Even their opponents admit of them—ruefully—“At least they do keep bad poets from writing!”

        I found among them an earnestness that is amazing to one accustomed to the usual London air of poetic dilettantism. They consider that Art is all science, all religion, philosophy and metaphysic. It is true that snobisme may be urged against them; but it is at least snobisme in its most dynamic form, with a great deal of sound sense and energy behind it; and they are stricter with themselves than with any outsider.

        F. S. Flint

It is interesting that Flint (or Pound, if it was indeed Pound who wrote this) takes the stance of trying to seek out an “imagiste” when he himself was one. I do not believe this was an attempt to distance himself from Imagism, but perhaps a gimmick to appear objective in his “discoveries.” One may also wonder why the “Doctrine of the Image” would provoke “useless discussion.” See http://themargins.net/bib/A/03.htm, where it says that, around 1908 and 1909, members of the Poet’s Club, including Flint, T. E. Hulme, Edward Storer, F. W. Tancred, Joseph Campbell, Florence Farr, and Ezra Pound, “wrote dozens of Japanese tanka and haikai as amusement.” These poems have reportedly not survived, but “their effects are traceable in the published work of all those who were present.”

[10] Bless Pound for saying this, and any haiku poet worth his or her salt would readily agree. Pound certainly seemed to offer a lot of dogma in his career, though.

[11] This seems like an overly sweeping generalization. By logical extension, we would have to conclude that no person should ever have an opinion on any piece of art unless he or she had produced such art himself or herself. And it would have to be notable, too. At poetry readings, I’m most grateful, in fact, for the audience members who come just to listen rather than those who also come to read their own poetry. Many intellectuals have made extensive careers out of studying subjects deeply, regardless of their own ability, for example, to write a symphony or pen a poem. I am happy to pay attention to their criticisms as well, even if I might pay a different sort of attention to it.

[12] Haiku poets everywhere would agree. But this is hardly the exclusive domain of haiku poetry.

[13] Here I think of Eliot’s depiction of the “objective correlative,” that each object, if we trust it, will adequately convey a corresponding emotion. Should we, therefore, as Pound insists, never mix the abstract with the concrete? I’m not so sure, because I’ve found that touches of the subjective in haiku can work well if they are sufficiently grounded by objective description in the rest of the poem. However, I also find that haiku beginners too readily allow the subjective in their poems without realizing that they’ve failed to control or even identify what might be overly subjective or judgmental in their work. Nevertheless, I suspect that the conscientious poet would be afraid of nothing, but that same conscientious poet should also know when the image is completely enough.

[14] Well, this is the Imagist way, isn’t it? Such a pronouncement begs its opposite, to know when and how to use abstractions. I don’t mean to give license to every opaqueness imaginable, but to recognize the value of carefully combining the abstract and the concrete. For my money, the abstract seldom succeeds, however, as already mentioned, without solid grounding in the concrete.

[15] A good point for all beginning haiku poets to tattoo onto their foreheads. Haiku is not chopped-up prose. The art of haiku is more subtle than that, more complex.

[16] In the White Pine Press haiku anthology The Unswept Path, in “Yama-Biko: Mountain Echo,” Edith Shiffert said that “There never were any rules [in haiku], just fashions and preferences.” So the whims of haiku are just what Pound has said—they ebb and flow with the poetic fashions of the day. One may like to be fashionable, of course, and there’s always an iconoclast on every poetic corner who will buck the fashion, but there’s always a way to see through the fashions, to seek what the masters sought.

[17] Or any other art. Or that haiku is simpler than any other sort of poetry.

[18] Or, as Malcolm Gladwell has written in his book Outliers, we need to spend 10,000 hours on our art or craft to reach a modicum of expertise. There are no shortcuts.

[19] The agony of influence be damned—let yourself be influenced by every poem you read, good and bad, on what to do and what not to do, and by every poet, by their lifestyles, their successful habits, their industriousness and crafting. See Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence, 1973, and Jonathan Lethem, The Ecstasy of Influence, 2011. Also see my essay, “Anxieties of Influence: Learning Haiku from Harold Bloom.

[20] Concealing one’s influences is not a license to plagiarize, however.

[21] Ah yes, let the influence be much deeper than this. The great artist steals—and utterly transforms—whatever his or her influences may be. Imitation in haiku, too, is at best a grade-school phase to have worked one’s way past, and not an island to be stranded on. As T. S. Eliot wrote in 1920, in The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism, “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” But he did not stop there. That quotation ends with a semicolon and then continues: “bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion.” (See an informative discussion of Eliot’s quotation, and its contexts, at https://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/03/06/artists-steal/.) Steal, for perhaps we cannot even avoid doing this, but never lightly.

[22] Well, this seems self-evident, doesn’t it? Who would ever choose to use a bad ornament? In any case, I think of how James W. Hackett has described haiku as being like a finger pointing to the moon, and that if the finger is bejeweled, we no longer see the moon. So, in haiku, should we perhaps use no ornament at all? What is an ornament anyway?

[23] A valuable suggestion for the haiku poet. Not to read just the Japanese, but to read haiku in other languages also—not for meaning, but for rhythm, to feel the varieties and textures, the spikes and velvet in every tongue, to see how they might find manifestation in English.

[24] Haiku has been beaten to death over the idea of counting syllables—either that one should, in grade school or in pseudo-haiku, or that one shouldn’t, when one graduates to a more literary sort of haiku. But that sort of “attention” to syllables had obscured the deeper attention that every element of haiku needs. Do we think about the length of syllables, the combination of particular vowel and consonant sounds, the stresses and rests, the rhythm of peculiar and regular permutations, the amalgam of meaning that lies in partial sounds rather than whole words? Though we may perform this dissection coldly, let us also do it warmly, with feeling as well as intellect.

[25] Agreed, that not all haiku need be musical, but let us consider the music of the poem, the rhythm and the sounds, lest we miss the opportunity to delight—provided that the effect of delighting the reader does not point more to the author’s cleverness than to the depth and reverberation of the experience itself. Let us see the moon, not the bejeweled finger that points to the moon. Considering the music of the poem also applies, I might add, to the art of translations. I have read some haiku translations by academics that feel wooden and lifeless, perhaps because the art of music has been neglected, or not in the academic’s repertoire.

[26] We should be, as Henry James advised, one upon whom nothing is lost. This means that the haiku poet has the responsibility to know his chops, to know basic grammar and punctuation, the difference between an en and em dash, even how to count syllables properly if he or she insists on counting syllables (it’s surprising how much misunderstanding exists on this matter, even among native English speakers). Do we know how to control harmony and counterpoint in our haiku, how to occasionally use rhyme or slant rhyme to our advantage, and to make the most of every poetic technique? Do we know how to balance the objective and the subjective, the abstract with the concrete? How many of us go deeply into craft, rather than just winging it? These are factors that advance the neophyte towards mastery.

[27] Such an admirable distinction, that each matter of craft deserves our attention even if seldom used. For a genre of poetry that dwells so deeply in attention to detail, it can deplorable how matters of craft and useful consistency can be so readily neglected.

[28] My inclination is to think the opposite, that if it’s too dull to go in poetry, it might go in prose. But Pound is challenging us here, to not let laziness creep into poetry. Meter and rhyme might hide or overshadow sloppiness in other areas, for example, and we should hold ourselves to higher standards.

[29] Well, hmmm. Aren’t haiku writers always descriptive? Perhaps by “viewy” Pound means “showy.” But of course we should describe, and show rather than tell, but more on this in a moment. One message I take from Pound here is not to overdo it. Fortunately, the haiku poet can trust the image, and can rely on the part to represent the whole. Haiku succeeds by what it leaves out, by the power of suggestion. As for not being “descriptive,” we can still trust images in haiku, which are inherently descriptive, but our haiku need not stop there, and Pound makes this distinction in his next sentence. Likewise, when Shiki promoted shasei, or sketching from life, he ultimately offered it as a place for haiku to start, not where it always needed to end. If haiku has two parts, as suggested by an English equivalent of the kireji, or cutting word, those two parts should not be merely one plus one equals two. By reverberation, suggestion, implication, and synergy, the two parts—the two “descriptions”—can be like one plus one equals three, like the chemical reaction that happens when one mixes baking soda with vinegar.

[30] Here we have a clarification of terms. And here the haiku poet can readily agree, to present rather than to describe. Ultimately, this is the message to show rather than tell. What do we as haiku poets present rather than describe? By understanding this distinction, I believe we can improve in our haiku art.

[31] Here the virtue of the scientist, for haiku, is to report and describe, but not to infer. Let the reader do the inferring. By presenting the right images in careful juxtaposition, the combination can result in mathematical magic, that one plus one equals three. But that three comes from the reader, from the reader’s inferences, the reader’s engagement with the haiku as an “unfinished” poem, becoming the poem’s moment, the poem’s image, letting the feeling consume him or her. (This does not mean the poet does not intend that three, or doesn’t aim at it, but the virtue of the haiku poet’s art is to point to it.) By trusting the scientist’s objectivity, we can create subjective reaction in the reader much more powerfully than by flowering our poems with unnecessary subjectivity. And think too of the question of motives. The advertising agent wants to sell something, to motivate a purchase, to modify behavior. To the extent that the haiku poet does this, he or she is driven more by agenda than by joie de vivre, more by intellect than by feeling. Feeling is first.

[32] I’m not sure that this is true. First, does a scientist expect to be acclaimed just for discovering something? Second, it stands to reason that many scientists achieve acclaim, and certainly fulfillment, without discovering anything. For the haiku poet, then, I would suggest that “discovery” (to always do something innovative) is not the only goal.  Bashō spoke of treading the “middle way.” Perhaps the goal is to discover for oneself, and simply to share one’s private discoveries with wide-eyed wonder. While I’m grateful for those who discover and successfully innovate in poetry, even in haiku, I would wish no diminishment on those who do not, even while every haiku should be an act of discovery—of experience and lifefulness, if not poetic innovation. We need not live in perpetual fear of the Modernist dictum to endlessly “make it new.” I’ve quoted Jane Hirshfield before, who said, “Make it yours,” and Robert Henri, who wrote, “A tree growing out of the ground is as wonderful today as it ever was. It does not need to adopt new and startling methods.”

[33] This is fine for the scientist, but does the poet does have to follow suit? Certainly, one does not want to reinvent the telephone, but haiku is not science. Haiku simply uses, like science, the same technique of careful observation. If one notices something new, like a scientist discovering a new species of arachnid, that can be wonderful, but for the haiku poet the goal is simply to notice and to share that noticing. As Mary Oliver once wrote, “Pay attention. / Be astonished. / Tell about it.”

[34] A message for haiku poets here is not to expect to achieve excellence quickly, or to try to publish (whether in journals but especially in books) too hastily. Would that more haiku poets, when new to the craft, would set themselves the goal of writing a thousand haiku before publishing their first one, of writing a hundred for every ten they submit for publication. Haiku may seem easy enough at the outset, but quick validation should not be confused with excellence. Even to understand what excellence is is part of the haiku poet’s task.

[35] Let them be indifferent. As Cummings said, his poetry is not for “mostpeople.” I would prefer indifference to dismissal or misunderstanding. Yet I hasten to add that most haiku poets would prefer understanding and appreciation to indifference or ignorance.

[36] Pound does not really finish his ideas here. It would be helpful if he unpacked his thoughts on this matter further. It’s fine to want a pause, to start with a heave. One wants to do what one needs to do, for the sake of both sound and sense. I also bear in mind that he is not thinking directly of haiku here, but of longer poetry.

[37] I’m not sure that the poet (haiku or otherwise) is bound by no other laws but those of music, but the haiku poet would do well to always consider rhythm, to let the poem trip off the tongue, to find its way to the ear. As Charles Olson said in his essay on projective verse, “the HEAD, by way of the EAR, to the SYLLABLE / the HEART, by way of the BREATH, to the LINE.” One must not overdo alliteration or any other poetic technique, unless one is joking, but how many “academic” translations are as wooden as dead trees because the translator has no ear?

[38] Form, of course, follows function.

[39] Rhyme in haiku, if used, seldom surprises in any kind of successful way. In fact, the only rhyme that would ever seem to work in haiku is one that not only surprises but feels natural, or is so subtle as to be mostly subconscious. No jewels on the finger!

[40] Charles Vildrac and Georges Duhamel were proponents of the French tradition of Unanimism. Their book, Notes sur la technique poétique (Notes on Poetic Technique), was published in French in 1910, and promoted strongly accented rhythms. It is listed on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Technique-Poetique-Georges-Charles-Vildrac/dp/B006H126M6/. See also https://www.britannica.com/art/Unanimism and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unanimism.

[41] In The Book of Tea, Kakuzo Okakura writes that “Translation is always a treason, and as a Ming author observes, can at its best be only the reverse side of a brocade.” The treason, of course, begins with sound. Musical techniques in the original may occasionally find analogs in the destination language, but mostly won’t, as with most double meanings and allusions. But Pound redeems translation by noting that images or ideas of the imagination can indeed be translated. We can, at least, still get the gist of each poem in translation. It would seem self-evident, even, that every single successful poem is always worth translating, despite what is lost—remembering, too, that some virtues can also be gained.

[42] What can Dante, Milton, and Wordsworth teach the haiku poet? At the very least, the haiku poet would do well to be open to learning anything.

[43] Likewise, the haiku poet can improve upon his or her station by embracing all manner of writing. Novelists and essayists could also benefit from exploring haiku. The benefit goes both ways.

[44] It is no wonder that many of the best poets also do translations. It’s a means of exploring not just another language, but of exploring one’s own. It is an art that moves beyond mere composition to include the restraints of accuracy and validity, not to mention rhythm, sound, and meaning. Even if one cannot rise to the level of publishing significant new translations, the act of trying cannot help but improve one’s poetry, haiku included.

[45] Unmon said, “When walking, just walk. When sitting, just sit. Above all, don’t wobble.” The translation, and the poem, must be sure.

[46] Whether you consider haiku to be a “symmetrical” form or not, no padding or chopping allowed! Does Pound even need to mention such rudimentaries?

[47] The tradition for synesthesia in poetry, including haiku, is well established (think of Bashō’s wild duck call that is “faintly white”). The point to take here is to first strive for the right word, which may well make synesthesia unnecessary. Nor, though, should we fear it.

[48] The footnote refers to F. S. Flint and his essay, “Imagisme,” actually written by Pound, in the same issue of Poetry magazine. See this essay’s footnote #9.

[49] The three proscriptions are the direct treatment of the “thing,” whether subjective or objective; to use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation; and, regarding rhythm, to compose musically, not following a metronome. Would these proscriptions cull nine-tenths of bad haiku? More direct treatment, no unnecessary words, and composing rhythmically would surely help. In Traces of Dreams: Landscape, Cultural Memory, and the Poetry of Bashō (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1998), Haruo Shirane adds Pound’s definition of the image as a fourth proscription: “An ‘Image’ is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.” Shirane also notes that, in the anthology Some Imagist Poets, Amy Lowell added two additional rules (42): “To produce poetry that is hard and clear, never blurred nor indefinite” and “Finally, most of us believe that concentration is of the very essence of poetry.” The majority of haiku poets, it seems to me, would concur. Nevertheless, Shirane’s book makes the case that Imagism overly narrowed the perception of haiku in the West, and that it should not be limited to here-and-now suchnesses in the Zen and Imagist tradition.

[50] Here Pound returns from the head to the heart. First one has to be a poet. All matters of craft and intention follow from there.

[51] Is Pound being ironic here? If the public is indifferent to poetry, as he claimed earlier, then surely not everyone is automatically born a poet. But some people are, and they should not squander that gift. Nor, too, should any haiku poet.