H. D. (Hilda Doolittle): Sea Poppies (1916)

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Japanese arts made a considerable impact on the West. The traditional Japanese esthetic of understatement, subtlety and refinement had great appeal for a generation that was rebelling against romantic excess. Japanese prints influenced impressionist painters, Japanese music influenced impressionist composers, and the compact art of the Japanese haiku transformed the thinking of many western poets. Particularly strongly influenced were the Imagists, a group of English and American poets who strove for a highly compressed yet natural kind of poetry. One of the more prominent Imagists was the American Hilda Doolittle, who in her collection Sea Garden published a series of poems about flowers beside the ocean. The result is both longer and more elaborate than a waka or haiku, but strives for the same concentrated attention to simple but beautiful elements of nature.

Amber husk
fluted with gold,
fruit on the sand
marked with a rich grain,

spilled near the shrub-pines
to bleach on the boulders:

your stalk has caught root
among wet pebbles
and drift flung by the sea
and grated shells
and split conch-shells.

Beautiful, wide-spread,
fire upon leaf,
what meadow yields
so fragrant a leaf
as your bright leaf?

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This is an excerpt from Reading About the World, Volume 2, edited by Paul Brians, Mary Gallwey, Douglas Hughes, Azfar Hussain, Richard Law, Michael Myers, Michael Neville, Roger Schlesinger, Alice Spitzer, and Susan Swan and published by Harcourt Brace Custom Books.

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