We’ve already met most of the small circle of poetic Modernists that assembled itself in London before WWI. From the United States, H. D. (Hilda Doolittle) and her one-time fiancé Ezra Pound; and from England, the combative and influential T. E. Hulme, and the risen from poverty F. S. Flint. Other poets, William Butler Yeats, T. S. Eliot and Robert Frost, touched them tangent, but where bent with the gravity of what Flint called, and Pound promoted, as Imagism. If you’re new here, you can check our archives (now almost 200 audio pieces) and you’ll find all of them represented.
Today we use the words of the man we’ve left out, Richard Aldington. Another Englishman, he married the American H. D. in 1913. He worked with Pound to promote T. S. Eliot. Unlike T. E. Hulme, he survived WWI, but many said his combat experience changed Aldington, and retroactively the diagnosis of PTSD has been associated with him
His long career had more than a few bridge-burning episodes, all disputes which I know not enough to have an opinion on. Partially because of this, Aldington is not well-remembered as a poet, even though at the start of the Imagist movement he was universally considered a principal.
Like his partner H. D., Aldington looked to, and translated, classical Greek poetry and like Pound he was fascinated by Chinese and Japanese compressed forms, and he produced work connected with each of these traditions. Today’s piece, “The Poplar” isn’t one of those poems. In some ways “The Poplar” reminds me of F. S. Flint (another too often forgotten early English Modernist), as it’s free verse in Flint’s “un-rhymed cadences” mode. It’s blissfully easy to read. It’s homey and unfussy images remind me of T. E. Hulme. It’s odd now we think of Modernist poetry as requiring obtuse and learned images, when it’s founders like Hulme and this poem by Aldington have no images that wouldn’t be clear to a grade-school student without need to access Wikipedia.
Musically, today’s piece has a core guitar part that I played on a small acoustic guitar I’ve owned for 35 years now, but instead of “real strings” (which in my case would be “virtual instruments” where various notes and articulations of acoustic string instruments are sampled and then played by a keyboard or a guitar MIDI controller) I used a virtual instrument which sampled an old keyboard “strings” instrument. I feel the dual falsity of this instrument, a simulation of a simulation, produces something that has its own validity. I also wanted to use a harmonium, but I don’t have that available as a real instrument or a sampled one. The closest I could come was a slightly modified “toy organ” patch which had some of the wheezy reed timbre I wanted.
Enjoy “The Poplar” by using the player below. Even though it’s from the dawn of modern English poetry, it remains fresh because it’s not that well known; and it doesn’t ask you to enter some dimly-lit labyrinth of images you cannot decipher. Yes, elusive images can have their pleasures, but so do these.