The literary movement, boosted by Ezra Pound in the autumn of 1912, which launched the careers of Richard Aldington and Hilda Doolittle (H. D.). Often characterized by scholars as rooted both in French philosophy (particularly the work of Bergson) and in the thought and poetry of T. E. Hulme and his circle, whom Pound came to know in London in 1908, imagism, according to Aldington in his memoir Life for Life’s Sake (1941), was at least at first merely a label Pound used to advertise the poems Aldington and H. D. had written in Paris during the previous summer. Aldington writes that Pound was “so much worked up” by H. D.’s poems that, over tea in a bun shop in Kensington, he “informed us that we were imagists.” Neither H. D. nor Aldington had ever heard of the word much less of the principles later used to define the movement. In fact, they had developed their ideas of modern poetry in part through Pound’s influence and in part through their own rejection of Victorian sentimentality in favour of verse derived from their passion for Greek literature. Specifically, Aldington and H. D. had been reading the French symbolists, Villon, Verlaine, and Neo-Latin poetry, but had been translating together short epigrams from The Greek Anthology and writing relatively short poems in free verse which captured the subjects, spirit, rhythms, and form of the Hellenic material.
The now famous bun-shop meeting was significant on several counts. Pound slashed away with his red pencil at H. D.’s poems and signed them “H. D. Imagiste,” thereby giving Hilda Doolittle the initials which would serve as her pen name through her career. Pound’s “naming” of H. D. was to be for her both a burden and a limitation with which she would struggle for years (was she a developing poet in her own right or merely Pound’s protegée, merely an imagist?). Imagism soon became an important movement which gathered about it a circle of early modernist writers, both British and American, and formally heralded modernism in English poetry; it also forged trans-Atlantic links and made many writers (and readers) conscious of literature and its possibilities in an entirely new way.
Pound sent Aldington’s and H. D.’s poems to Harriet Monroe at Poetry: A Magazine of Verse in Chicago. Acting as the journal’s “foreign correspondent,” Pound praised the work of his friends and advertised it over the months that followed by delineating its “rules.” Aldington’s work (“Choricos,” “To a Greek Marble,” and “Au Vieux Jardin”) appeared in the November issue, in which Monroe described the “imagistes” as “a group of ardent Hellenists who are pursuing interesting experiments in vers libres.” H.D.’s work (“Hermes of the Ways,” “Epigram” and