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The Revolutionary Gardens of Imagism

On February 8, 1912, Canadian activist Gertrude Harding orchestrated a protest in the form of a midnight destruction of rare orchids in Kew Gardens.[1] Since the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew operated as a central node in Britain’s colonial network, a “depot for the interchange of plants wherever it saw commercial possibilities,” Harding’s targeted liberation of colonial subjects struck at the deceptively ornamental center of English power.[2] Acting in the name of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), Harding delivered a message: cultivated orchids would no longer be complicit in England’s botanic imperial schemes.

Fig. 1. Kew Tea Pavillion. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

A year later, in March 1913, in another attack on public parks, the WSPU arson campaign led to the setting fire of the Heaton Park pavilion and bowling house.[3] Christabel Pankhurst called this destruction a work of “purification,” explaining the acts as part of a “great upheaval, a great revolution, a great blasting away of ugly things . . . to make way for the good and the new.”[4] From these instances it is evident that the WSPU recognized the pliability of nature for political purposes. In 1913, members of the WSPU etched with acid the phrases “Votes for Women” and “Deeds not Words” into the grass at Sandwich golf course. The exclusionary, curated green space––a golf club reserved for men and known to be a favorite of liberal party suffrage opponents––had been the target of feminist admonishment.[5] A newspaper report of a WSPU rally notes that “a barbed wire had been strung along the front of the platform and it was hidden by decorations and flowers. Several policemen were hurt when they grabbed the concealed wire.”[6] The Chicago Tribune’s report on the cross-Atlantic activity claimed in a mix of horror and glee that suffragettes had “hurl[ed] flower pots at police” (1). By destroying curated nature spaces like the female-prohibited golf course or the imperial zoological garden, suffragettes challenged the sacredness of taboos organized along lines of gender exclusion and disrupted horticultural activities used in service of exploiting colonial farmland. At their most literal, they weaponized their floral decorations.

These acts––what today would be described as eco-terrorism—demonstrate that militant suffragists of the WSPU understood something important and fundamental about cultivated nature. Cultivated nature operates as a metonym for a host of value systems––a visual and embodied, material display of ideas about gender, sexuality, social hierarchies, and the might of empire.

The turbulent years 1912-1917 also were transformative years for poetry. In the apocryphal account of the birth of imagism, Ezra Pound met with H.D. and Richard Aldington in a Kensington tea shop outside the British Museum, ringed by Russell Square Gardens, Malet Street Gardens, Bedford Square Gardens, and Bloomsbury Square Garden. Here H.D. presented Pound with her unpublished poems. Recognizing their newness as well as their marketability, Pound crossed out Hilda Doolittle and, in a flourish, rebranded her “H.D., Imagiste.” He dispatched these poems to Harriet Monroe, who had just launched the fledgling magazine Poetry (H.D. would later write to Monroe asking her to simply print her name as “H.D.”). Although Pound had been in discussion about theories of the image with T. E. Hulme and Ford Madox Ford for some time, Pound, H.D., Aldington, and the other early imagist poets solidified this story as the movement’s germinal moment. Their site-specific narrative emplots imagism in the social space of a tea shop, a kind of business which had sprung up recently in London, especially in or adjacent to public parks. The origin story encourages an interpretation of imagism as a cultural formation linked with urban civic space.

The difficulty with characterizing imagism’s politics is that, in contrast to futurism, vorticism, surrealism, or dada, it was never unified by a manifesto so much as by a series of doctrinal statements that gave little sense of a political or social agenda.[7] The clue to unearthing some of imagist poetry’s investments in contemporary politics lies in one of its features, which has gone unremarked––its formal and conceptual representation of gardens.[8] The porous ecological political modernity of these imagist gardens has been hiding in plain sight because, as Robert Pogue Harrison reflects, “the basic inability to see a garden in its full-bodied presence is the consequence of a historical metamorphosis of our mode of vision, which is bound up with our mode of being.”[9] As Harrison explains, perception is conditioned by historically determined frameworks. The “richness of the visible world” is mostly lost because of the “extreme poverty of our capacity to perceive it” (Harrison, Gardens, 114). However, with the rise of ecomaterialism, the knowledge practices developed in imagist gardens comes into fuller view. As the convergence of science studies, environmental humanities, and feminist studies, this approach situates the human as enmeshed within “incalculable, interconnected material agencies.”[10] Stacy Alaimo, Karen Barad, and Elizabeth Grosz reframe the human in terms of its corporeal dependencies on the nonhuman world. Alaimo explains the theory as “grappling with what it means to understand materiality as agential, rather than as passive, inert, and malleable.”[11] Material agency, which can be thought of as a power, or, in some contexts, as volition, is distributed across human bodies, plants, animals, minerals, and atmospheric forces. Accordingly, ecomaterialism views these ontological categories as suffused with agential and social qualities. Ecomaterialism’s insistence on interconnectedness aids modernist studies by reworking our modes of seeing and reading so that the foreground of an imagist poem can be understood as partially constituted by its background matter or peripheries.[12]

More complex than a simple locus amoenus, the imagist garden topos draws from observable phenomena in actual gardens and city parks, which indicates that imagist poems engage with politics in ways that no one has explored to date. The garden topos common to imagist poetry constituted “an intersubjective visual study” of the social and political meanings of metropolitan parks and gardens.[13] The technologies of seeing that the imagists developed––direct presentation of an intellectual and emotional perception­­–––anticipates one of ecomaterialist proposition that agencies of observation are inseparable from the object perceived.[14] Imagism’s formalisms can be situated historically within the political atmosphere and environmental conditions of early twentieth-century London. Therefore, a historicized ecomaterialist approach enables reevaluation of the imagistic “natural object” within an expanded political realm.

As subscribers to a variety of political philosophies, imagists respond to the contemporary scenes of parks and gardens to different effect––some, by fantasizing it as an emptiness, apart from modern life, render a Marvellian world of Edenic solitude (Flint), others responding with disgust to the social reality staged within the public garden, reassert a pastoral mode (Aldington), while others, inspired by the contemporary life of cities staged upon these greens, embrace urban gardens as an aesthetic challenge (Hulme, Lowell, Pound, and H.D.). It is this latter subset of imagism that this essay primarily explores.

Reexamining H.D. and Pound’s imagist work in light of the fact that both poets lived in London in close proximity to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens—and in terms of their involvement with the anarcho-feminist politics of Dora Marsden’s the New Freewoman and the Egoist—this essay argues that Pound and H.D.’s imagist phase— rather than a reactionary movement, an anti-avant garde—was a period of exploration in which varying degrees of sympathy for anarcho-individualist perspectives led them to produce poems that indicate their engagement with contemporary political issues: in particular the gender politics and the suffrage debates in England that were on display in London public parks.[15]

At the outset of the Marsden period stands Pound’s “Contemporania” sequence. Published in the May 1913 issue of Poetry, the series presents Pound’s first imagist work––poems of idiomatic precision, directness of address, and emotional intensity informed by a strong spatial imagination. Invoking the language of Whitman and the Song of Songs in tones of humanitarian expression and satirical distance, the poems locate modern men and women’s experience with regard to the suburb, the city, and the garden. At the other end of the period stands H.D.’s Sea Garden (1916) poems, which work according to a strong geospatial imaginary and depict an intensity of subjective experience through an “interlacing of the imaginary with its external counterpart.”[16] Pound’s poetry portrays landscapes as forms of containment––a problem for bodies. For H.D., landscape is a problem of mind. Pound’s “The Garden” and H.D.’s “Sheltered Garden” register as outliers in terms of imagist technique but sit squarely within a cluster of imagist garden poems that emphasize destabilized literary, social, economic, political, and environmental orders.[17] Pound’s “The Garden,” which he described as “effete” and “ultramoderne,” and H.D.’s Sea Garden, which H.D. broadly viewed as “a most tenuous shoot of this Imagist Tree of life,” display an anarcho-feminist philosophy.[18] These poems focus their attention not on the masses of people engaged in collective protest, but instead on individual women inwardly wrestling with their own sense of self and their own agency, which puts these poems’ garden scenes in dialogic response to the spatial display of feminist politics in public gardens.

Imagist Gardens and Suffrage Activism in London Public Parks

Many imagist poems depict gardens. The 1914 Des Imagistes Anthology included Aldington’s “Au Vieux Jardin”; H.D.’s Sea Garden poems “Sitalkas” and “Hermes of the Ways,” and an orchard poem “Priapus”; Flint’s “London, my beautiful”; and Amy Lowell’s “In a Garden.” The Egoist’s 1915 “Imagist Number” reprinted “Sitalkas,” and “Hermes,” and also featured H.D.’s “Midday” and “Oread,” Aldington’s “Autumn,” Flint’s “Easter,” and Amy Lowell’s “Spring Day.” The 1915 Some Imagist Poets included an even greater number of garden poems: Aldington’s poem “Childhood” and a poem about Kensington Gardens’ Round Pond, titled “Round Pond”; seven poems by H.D., all of which contain garden elements; two by John Gould Fletcher ––“The Blue Symphony” (in which a mythic suburban garden hovers as a “wall of green”) and “London Excursion,” which features gardens; and seven poems by Flint that invoke gardens in cities either as transposed upon the urban scene or as embedded within the city. Notable among Flint’s poems are “Lunch,” “Trees,” “Fragment,” and “Houses.” In addition, D. H. Lawrence had written a garden-like “Ballad of Another Ophelia” and Lowell contributed seven garden-focused poems, including “Solitaire,” set explicitly in an urban garden. Each poem is enunciated by an individual speaker who records his or her visual perceptions. Of the one hundred and twenty-nine poems published in the four imagist anthologies between 1914 and 1917, seventy-four poems, 57% include cultivated gardens. Indeed, Aldington enumerated the many observational opportunities offered by city life that found their way into Flint’s poetry:

London, its streets, its squat irregular houses huddled into alleys or stretching out into noisy thoroughfares, its parks and innumerable little gardens and squares, its open-air markets, its shops, its lights, its multitudinous hurrying vehicles.[19]

The imagist garden is a modern scene; it is often a park porous to the city, its populations, and its organizational flows. For a majority of these poems, gardens extend into the city––and the city extends into the garden.

The diversity of imagist poems and the prevalence of the garden topos means that imagist gardens have varied functions and demonstrate the imagists’ heterogeneous social politics. For instance, Lowell’s gardens range from the democratic urban public garden setting in later poems like “Lilacs” or “May Evening in Central Park” to the secluded private reveries depicted in “In a Garden.” Lowell’s garden poems convey ideas of the nation as well as sexual and feminist awakening. By contrast, Aldington’s “Round Pond” carves out a traditional patriarchal impersonal pastoral reverie in the midst of London’s Hyde Park that is reactionary to feminism. The speaker is male and the feminine is naturalized, figured literally as nature: “Even the cold wind is seeking a new mistress.”[20] Additionally, the garden in “Childhood” is depicted as a rule-bound space, indicative of the stultifying past. The poem’s condensation of time in the space of the “public park,” presents a critique of the society of the small prewar municipality in which the park is embedded.[21]

London’s urban public gardens are a far cry from the “wyrt-tun” (plant enclosure) or even more so than the “wyrt-geard” (plant-yard or orchard) of the Saxon era, discrete plots of land given to the cultivation of edible and medicinal plants organized as homogenous spaces of production, and more like the heterotopia Michel Foucault describes in “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias” as a densely layered site of the mythic and real, in which the experience of space is hypercharged by relations of proximity between incompatible kinds of experiential spaces of the sacred and profane, private and public, and instructional and cathartic. The garden, Foucault counsels, is one of the oldest of representational spaces as it signified a sacred space of “very deep and seemingly superimposed meanings” about the origins of the world.[22] Though of course ancient gardens had their fair share of complexity, Foucault emphasizes the modern garden’s heterogeneity. Not only do modern gardens signify the sacred “umbilicus,” but they also are a repository of layers of cultural frameworks bestowed, over time, on cultivated nature. Gardens are archives of cultural configurations expressed in the idioms of garden design.

In the early twentieth century, the public garden was a representational place, cultivated through elaborate landscape design intended to teach lessons about gender, courtship, empire, and nation. They were also a place for political representation. The identifier “garden” could refer to parks, public halls, or floral beds. That which unites all three kinds of space is didactic purpose: horticultural lessons and social cultivation. Since the 1890s, the government invested millions of pounds in an ambitious project to create or refurbish public gardens in the six largest cities in England.[23] This investment in national public garden spaces was on display when on May 21, 1912, London hosted the “Flowers of all Nations” show, which depicted countries by their flowers and characteristic garden arrangements. Flowers like nasturtium, phlox, and foxgloves signified “Old England.”[24] Arrangements were praised according to their ability to invoke an appreciation of beauty, thrift, and goodness. Similarly, school vegetable gardens taught lessons about domestic economy, small-scale agriculture, and mathematics. In Evolution of the Amateur Gardener (1903) an anonymous writer opines,

the spell of the garden is strong. Perhaps it is so strong because our minds turn against the manner of our today’s life in towns, because we are not all entirely satisfied that man was created to sit on a stool . . . the love of gardens is a protest ––a protest admitting that the crowded city can be the best dwelling place for us. (Quoted in Petrie, Notes, 35)

The author sees the garden’s potential to be “part of the national system of education” and advocates city gardens as release valves that satisfy the needs of the city dweller.

Fig. 2. Photograph of Indian suffragettes on the Women's Coronation Procession, June 17, 1911. Courtesy of the Museum of London.

Inevitably the garden was also a site of resistance to these municipal stabilizing purposes. In 1908, two months before Pound moved to London, Hyde Park was the site of the largest political demonstration London had ever seen. In June the massive “Sunday March” drew 250,000 protestors chanting “Votes for Women.” The procession gathered in the Speakers’ Corner of Hyde Park, a place in the park designated especially for political evangelizing. Here suffrage demonstration employed pageantry, manipulating the language of advertising to produce a spectacle that articulated a collective will. It conveyed through traditional Edwardian ideas about beauty new ideas about women’s role in society. Three years later H.D. also moved to London, taking up residence at 6 Church Walk in Kensington, in close proximity to Hyde Park and adjacent Kensington Gardens. Located in London’s West End and comprising 968 acres, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens had once been demarcated by a ha-ha or ditch but in the nineteenth century the ha-ha was converted into a road, West Carriage Drive, allowing easy access between the two parks. Women’s causes in particular demonstrated in public parks. Earlier that year, on June 17, 1911, the Women’s Coronation Procession, which celebrated iconic historical figures like Joan of Arc, Boadicea, Elizabeth I, and the sansculottes of revolutionary France, wended its way through Kensington to Hyde Park. Women in costume marched under banners for Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and India. Also in the procession were women’s guilds of scriveners, gardeners, pharmacists, typists, factory workers, shop assistants, nurses, and physical trainers. Sylvia Pankhurst describes the scene as a triumph of political spectacle:

As far as the eye could reach was one vast mass of human beings––not black, as crowds usually are–––but coloured, like a great bed of flowers because of the thousands and thousands of women all dressed in the lightest and daintiest of summer garments.[25]

Pankhurst’s comparison of the women protestors to a massive flower garden emphasizes through visual analogy a new female critical mass. The analogy recognizes the traditional association of women as flowers, a deliberate strategy suffragettes employed to seem less threatening, and, it implies that women belong in public spaces; they are part of the cultivated urban environment.

To advertise these demonstrations, suffragettes produced laurel leaf bordered posters featuring an individual woman rallying supporters, framed by green lawns.

Souvenir paper table napkin printed with a programme for the “Votes for Women” Coronation procession of 1911.
Fig. 3. Souvenir paper table napkin printed with a programme for the “Votes for Women” Coronation procession of 1911. Courtesy of the Museum of London.
Votes for Women Handbill, 1911.
Fig. 4. “Votes for Women” Handbill, 1911. Courtesy of the Museum of London. 

The 1911 poster imagery, as Moreland writes, “simultaneously appropriated and subverted traditional categories of the meaning of “woman” and conventional attitudes toward women.”[26] The posters were printed in the campaign’s signature purple, green, and white and were often adorned with borders of softly clinging violets. Modeled on the language of flowers, purple stood for dignity, white stood for purity, and green stood for hope. The suffragette costume of flowing white dresses, also gaily adorned with purple, green, and white ribbons, produced a flower-like appearance.

The March of the Women, 1911.
Fig. 5. The March of the Women, 1911. Courtesy of the Museum of London. 

With the English press characterizing suffragettes as vinegar spinsters, mannish, and brute-like, activists resisted these caricatures by embracing a visual association with hegemonic gender conventions. The embrace of floral imagery was a deliberate rhetorical decision. As Janet Lyon has noted, many suffragettes studied alongside vorticists at the Slade School of Fine Art and were trained in the same avant-garde precepts. The prewar suffrage movement shared with the vorticists the same militant spirit, defending their causes against charges of disease and degeneracy. Whereas vorticists actively delighted in alienating audiences with their own “rhetoric of contempt for unsympathetic publics,” suffragettes wished to build a sympathetic public.[27] To win popular support, suffragettes deployed mass-market aesthetics “somewhere between ‘decorative art and commercial art,’ the two most salient critical targets of Vorticist art” (Lyon, Provocations, 108). Suffragettes recognized cultivated nature as political––and they put this insight to use. Their promotional material employed violets and other common cultivated garden flower embellishments.

In addition to (feminine) floral dress, the suffragette strategy of adopting some feminine conventions carried over to textual reference. In the forward to Holloway Jingles (1912), imprisoned suffragette Theresa Gough recalls that even within the austere walls of Holloway Prison, gardens comforted the suffragettes: “the passing of the weeks was punctuated by flowers that blossomed in those grim surroundings; sturdy crocuses, then daffodils and tulips, and now the lilacs are in bloom in the garden.”[28] In an otherwise polemical statement about the collective will expressed by suffrage “jingles,” this reference to a garden scene might seem strangely unpolitical. It is in many ways a generic effusion for the beauty of cultivated flowers, a deflationary moment, reminding readers that suffragettes are still feminine Edwardian ladies who share with readers the simple pleasures of observing nature’s renewal and rebirth. After all, what could be less political than a tulip? What could be more feminine than a love of flowers?

Embroidery made in Holloway Prison, 1912.
Fig. 6. Embroidery by Janie Terrero made in Holloway Prison, 1912. Courtesy of the Museum of London.

Dora Marsden, The New Freewoman, and The Egoist

Despite significant revisionary work in the nineteen-nineties, the idea has persisted that Dora Marsden’s defection from the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and the sequence of little magazines that she created are evidence of her metamorphosis from disaffected suffrage activist to handmaiden to literary modernism—a transformation completed with the renaming of the New Freewoman as the Egoist. Such a shibboleth ignores the vital ways in which Marsden’s anarcho-feminist politics influenced Pound and H.D. Rather than the marginal figure that Pound or Aldington tried to construct through correspondence and retrospective accounts, Marsden, as Bruce Clarke, Andrew Thacker, and J. Richards have discussed, was a significant force behind the development of Pound’s ideas in “The Serious Artist” and “The New Sculpture” and Marsden proposed the magazine’s name change herself as a means of signaling her commitment to androgynous anarchistic individualism.[29] When Pound met Marsden sometime in 1912, she was running the New Freewoman. A year earlier, in 1911, she had severed ties with the WSPU, citing frustration with its collectivism and the autocratic control of the Pankhursts and had launched the Freewoman. Although the Freewoman was perceived as an extension of the suffrage press, both it and the New Freewoman audaciously flouted the bourgeois respectability demanded by the WSPU. Marsden had come to question the efficacy of advocating solely for the vote at the expense of criticizing the state’s exploitation of workers, limitations set on public health campaigns, injunctions against divorce, persistent policing of sexuality, and denial of wages for mothers.[30] Marsden warned that “there is no essential virtue in unity, especially among women. We are becoming more convinced that women will have to move apart the better to come together in a wider understanding.”[31] Feminist, but with an anarchist edge, Marsden and her contributors called for the acceptance of homosexuality and advocated for legal protections for prostitutes–––in short, an egoist philosophy for the rights of individuals to make their own decisions. As a devotee of Max Stirner, even described as “the Max Stirner of feminism,” Marsden had come to believe that the vote alone would not be what liberated women.[32] For Marsden, the identity category of “woman” was a hobble that rendered the individual beholden to a group. It was an idea that followed from Stirner’s call for the individual to liberate itself from social bondage in order to achieve “unique,” autonomous ego.[33] By Clarke’s surmise, “Marsden reasoned [that], one who stands for a collective movement assumes the role of an interchangeable token,” subordinating the self, even erasing the self, for the collective––“often literalizing [her] status as a signifier by attaching [herself] to an inscription, say, a picket sign or political placard” (Dora Marsden, 133).

In August 1913, at the invitation of Rebecca West, acting on behalf of Marsden, Pound became literary editor of the New Freewoman. In 1916 H.D. became assistant editor of the Egoist, taking over the role from Aldington, though as early as 1914 she had an active role in reading submissions and working closely with managing editor Harriet Shaw Weaver.[34] No other little magazine could boast of three imagists serving in such pivotal editorial capacities. With a change in title to the Egoist, the little magazine consolidated its politics under the term egoism. Superficially, it appeared that Marsden’s magazine had retreated from political action in favor of philosophical-aesthetic pursuits.

With Pound, Aldington, and H.D. serving as editors, the Egoist was an imagist publication, but it was also a political organ for anarchist-feminist philosophies of language. In its May 1, 1915 issue, dedicated to a discussion of imagism and presentation of imagist poems, Marsden introduced her theory of the “sense-image” in which “space is a thing: a complex of emotions.”[35] Reality, for Marsden, is produced in intimate perception of self with world: “all things then are purely individual” (“Truth and Reality—III,” 67). For Marsden, the image is the primary form through which the world is apprehended. An image “‘appears’: it is primarily neither ‘real’ nor ‘unreal.’”[36] The real is a “label applied to images only after subjecting them to the process of a test” which affirms some as imaginary, possible, even probable, and others as verifiable and true (34). This interest in the real images of the mind is echoed in H.D.’s praise of Fletcher’s Goblins and Pagodas, where she similarly praises the “suggestion” of images that stem from “direct presentation.”[37] Marsden’s anarchist aesthetic of individual experience is complementary to the imagist project, making it clear that, rather than Pound’s editorship signaling a take-over of the magazine and retreat from politics, the Egoist represented a marriage of anarcho-feminist politics with the aesthetic avant-garde.[38]

Because of their alliance with the Egoist, evidence of overt suffrage support from Pound or H.D. is scarce. H.D.’s unpublished story “The Suffragette” describes the conversion of a young American girl (likely to be H.D. herself) convinced by meeting a young English woman (likely a young militant Marsden) of the righteousness of the suffragette’s cause.[39] H.D.’s short story, taken alongside Pound’s op-ed “Suffragettes,” published pseudonymously under the name of Bastien von Helmholtz in 1914, demonstrates that both H.D. and Pound were following the fight for enfranchisement and had sympathy with the militant suffragette cause.[40] Pound and H.D. would have been well-versed in suffrage debates since columns devoted to this topic saturated the pages of the Freewoman and the New Freewoman.

Pound and H.D.’s philosophical-political affinity with Marsden ensured their positions as editors. In “The Serious Artist,” discussing the immorality of bad art, Pound explains that immoral art is “inaccurate art” which makes “false reports.”[41] To illustrate the gravitas of inaccuracy, Pound invokes a feminist issue: women’s public health. He draws an analogy between the bad artist and the unethical doctor who makes false reports at a “maternity hospital . . . to get profit and advancement” (“The Serious Artist,” 162). Pound/von Helmholtz proclaims the “present demand for enfranchisement of women [is] “irrevocably just.”[42] He characterizes force-feeding as a “torture[] worthy of a mediæval dungeon” (Pound, “Suffragettes,” 255). And, he refuses to “deplore” the WSPU’s tactics of “violence,” though he admits he wouldn’t like his own windows to be smashed (255). In BLAST, Pound jocularly encourages the activities of the militant feminist campaign, though, as J. Richards points out, in a paternalistic way.[43] Pound’s armchair theorizing and the fact that H.D. never sought publication for her story suggest that, like Marsden’s, their activity as homo civicus was to be expressed through less explicitly political means. Moreland surmises that “even though H.D. was not actively involved in the politics of the suffragettes or the war, though she did attend a meeting with Marsden, she . . . she was at least privately exploring [them] in her art” (Moreland, “Suffragettes,” 245). As H.D. writes in “The Suffragette,” “Surely, it was better to take an active interest in the affairs about one, if only for the whetting of one’s intellect” (8). Intellectual curiosity aside, as resident aliens, their role in revolutionary politics would be more safely one of observation than of action (at that point neither knew if they would stay long in England). In “Patria Mia,” published in the October 31, 1912 issue of the New Age, Pound explains that, as an American in England, “the traveller should, until he has carefully observed their customs, treat the inhabitants of any strange country, in which he expects to stay more than one week, very much the way he would treat mysterious and possibly dangerous insects.”[44] Additionally, accustomed to the American suffrage movement’s antipathy to extremism, Pound and H.D. may have been relieved to join with Marsden in pursuing linguistic rather than actual violent revolution. With feigned disinterest (and characteristic Poundian humor), von Helmholtz closes his remarks: “I write from outside the struggle. It is all one to me whether these women want to vote about district inspection of milk-cans, or whether they want the right to walk on shepherds’ stilts” (Pound “Suffragettes,” 255). With these remarks Pound displays a humanitarian philosophy that would evolve to complement Marsden’s individualist anarchism. However, H.D., during this period as well as throughout her career, maintained stronger feminist identifications than Marsden. H.D. never abandoned the word “woman.” H.D. wrote numerous flower poems that extend the tradition of women’s nature poetry in which women are depicted as flowers. Importantly, H.D. intervenes in the Victorian feminine floral tradition through a combination of Greek tailoring, feminist politics, and almost scientific precision.

The Flowers of Revolution

Early twentieth-century critics generalized the imagist garden trope as pastoral retreat, a means of obscuring history or celebrating mythic form. In a 1921 review in the New Republic, Louis Untermeyer derided conventional women’s poetry by praising the hardness of “H.D., Mrs Kilmer [Aline Kilmer], and “Mrs. Wiley” [Elinor Wiley]. They are not

the manufacturers of traditional, politely feminine verse; they care about many things too much to write, as so many of their sisters have been doing, the sort of nature-poem that seems designed for a wall calendar or the type of love-lyric that appears to be concocted in a candy factory. These three poets respond to their times. But, what is more important, they respond to themselves.[45]

Like Pound’s praise of Marianne Moore and Mina Loy as poets who do not sink to “scenery description of nature,” Untermeyer distances H.D. from female counterparts who write decorative floral poetry.[46] This need to separate imagist work, from the category of nature poetry originated with the commentary and reviews that defined and explained the movement at its inception. Flint declared that Imagists were not interested in revolutionizing verse or society: “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––Sappho, Catullus, Villon.”[47] Lowell solidified the assessment of imagism as a movement motivated by art for art’s sake, claiming: “H.D.’s life is that of a true artist. It is one of internal mental and emotional experiences, not of external events.”[48] Yet the phenomenological “internal” work of H.D.’s Egoist era poems would be impossible if they were not embedded in a material context, that is to say, the ideological realities of twentieth-century London.

By recognizing the garden in its 1910s manifestation–––a place of suffrage protest, a public green space embedded in London’s cityscape, rich with overlaid meanings and charged with revolutionary potential–––we can enrich existing readings of the political ideas inscribed in imagist poetic gardens by discerning that H.D.’s gardens, even as they aspire to mythic imaginary realms, are timely contributions to contemporaneous revolutionary discourse. The lone garden speaker of H.D.’s poems aligns with other imagist poets’ mode of solitary reverie in the public park or garden, yet H.D. does not identify her garden with a specific geographic one. Certainly, the resemblance to landscapes found in The Greek Anthology is well-documented.[49] More recently Annette Debo and Celena Kusch have linked H.D’s work to US landscapes, but there is a case to be made also for London’s influence not only in terms of observable phenomena but also in terms of the psychic meanings attached to city parks. H.D.’s poems of this period bear traces of local London flora––likely that of her neighboring Hyde Park, and later, Hampstead Heath.[50] A 1913 guide book, Hyde Park: Its History and its Romance, describes the park’s landscape, including appendices listing its flowering plants, fruiting trees, and herbs in its beddings, greenswards, and orchards. A number of flowers, shrubs, and trees appearing in Sea Garden (1916) and The God (1917), which she wrote during her greatest period of editorial involvement with The Egoist, grew in Hyde Park: Pyrus Communis or the pear tree of “Sheltered Garden,” rows of scented pinks or dianthus glutinosus, pink flowers of the Quince tree, and hyacinths of “Hermes of the Ways.” In a retrospective letter to Norman Holmes Pearson, H.D. recalls that “‘O, wind,’ ‘Orchard,’ ‘Sea Gods,’ ‘Oread, and ‘The Pond’ were written . . . in a dark London autumn 1912, then in Italy, where I spent that winter, Capri especially, where I found some time and space and found the actual geographical Greece.”[51] In poems of the prewar and war period, H.D explains, “Times, places, dates don’t seem so much to matter. Yet there are the times and places of these fragments, as well as I can time and place them” (Letters, 10). Perhaps, as Kusch has suggested, specific place names seemed too limiting for H.D.’s purposes of writing a new “modernist form of poetry.”[52] Or perhaps she feared that her work would be too narrowly received as descriptive rather than philosophic, or perhaps fearing the label of regional poet, a concern that was well-enough warranted for a woman poet, she preferred general terms of “garden” and “orchard.” For any combination of these reasons, the 1912–1916 poems refer to unspecified gardens and orchards.

H.D.’s Sea Garden poems, many of which she published in the Egoist, depict gardens as scenes of turbulence where the forces of the sea batter the land, creating liminal zones shadowed by a mythic city. In every garden there is a horizon or seascape which delimits the garden, what Harrison would call a reminder of the garden as “enclosed space” (Gardens, 56). Sea Garden concludes with the poem “Cities,” which, as Eileen Gregory remarks, acts to enclose all the preceding poems within it: “Cities” “tells us what we have experienced in the sea garden, a place distinct from, yet within, the city.”[53] All the wild sea gardens are enclosed, at least conceptually, within this indistinct metropolis. Imaginative geographies––part recollection, part invention—filter through daily experience of space. Just as H.D. wrote Trilogy when she lived in Knightsbridge and the walls are recognized by Bryher as “the ruins of bombarded city churches, transformed by weeds into gardens and playgrounds,” Sea Garden’s imaginary landscapes are filtered through the everyday garden landscapes of London.[54] The final effect is an imaginary realm of Hellenic antiquity as much as it is a palimpsest of Maine and Rhode Island coasts, Capri, and London’s parks. H.D.’s Sea Garden poems uproot the conventions of the British pastoral, indeed, also the human gaze, as she reworks the boundaries not only between sea and land but also between human and nonhuman.

In “Sheltered Garden,” a synthetic poem psycho-geographically oriented by London flora and Hampstead Heath topography, H.D. draws a metonymic connection between the cultural gendering of flowers and the socialized biology of women. The speaker is overcome with the monotony of the delicate cottage-variety flowers that recur in precision in “border on border of scented pinks / clove-pinks, wax-lilies, / herbs, sweet-cress.”[55] Cultivated flowers, once their blossoms withered, were often dug up and transported to Hyde Park’s greenhouses to be stored until next year. In this way Hyde Park’s beds of perpetual bloom were paeans to horticultural prowess. The border-pinks are not metaphors for women since, as “Sheltered Garden” makes clear, the flowers and women that “belong” to this garden are subject to the same processes of socially determined cultivation. In frustration the speaker asks,

Have you seen fruit under cover

that wanted light—

pears wadded in cloth,

protected from the frost,

melons, almost ripe,

smothered in straw? (H.D., “Sheltered Garden,” 20)

Whereas suffrage protests used flower imagery in their campaigns as a means of “naturalizing” their positions, “Sheltered Garden” highlights the unnaturalness of cultivated flowers, pointing toward the historically bound trajectories of human and botanical “codetermination,” a term from evolutionary biology, meaning that organisms and their environment codetermine one another.[56] Arguing for this dialectical understanding of biology, Richard Lewontin and Richard Levins describe the way in which the cultivation of municipal flowers according to a notion of the flower as a feminine––therefore delicate, highly cultivated botanical––in turn fueled the cultivation of women to be like the very flowers that had been cultivated to resemble them.

The “fruit under cover,” and “pears wadded in cloth,” and “melons, almost ripe, / smothered in straw” manifest suppressed desire for self-determination (H.D., “Sheltered Garden,” 20). The fruit “wanted light” and to

cling, ripen of themselves,
test their own worth,
nipped, shriveled by the frost,
to fall at last but fair
with a russet coat. (20)

Desire is not directed toward an absent other but is instead an autoerotic desire for self-actualization. The poem chimes with Marsden’s belief that female pleasure should not be suppressed. To have the freedom to age with experience may mean that the fruit becomes “tart to the taste” but, it “is better to taste of frost–– / the exquisite frost –– than of wadding and dead grass” (20). The orchard fruit and cottage flowers that grow in this tended and protected space have been picked in advance of ripening in order to protect them from bruising hailstorms, which ideologically translates to an effort to preserve youth-like beauty, effectively subjecting the arboreal inhabitants of this garden to cultivation, informed by gender standards. Like wearing corsets, which were marketed as aids to posture and correctives for women’s supposedly inherently weak skeletons, the pears and quince have been packed in “wadding” in which watering, and hyper attentiveness create cultivated beauties. H.D.’s new beauty, like the New Woman, requires freedom of movement: “For this beauty / beauty without strength, / chokes out life” (20). In this way H.D.’s cultural critique advances a notion of nature as a variable and relative construct of human discourse. Cultivated flowers are the product of human intervention, but they are still part of nature, totemic elements of gendered cultivation practices.[57]

The “borders” create boundary and enclosure rather than the promise of limitless expanses. Every “foot-path leads at last”––as if with the promise of perspective––to the “hill-crest,” yet this vantage only yields monotonous repetitions of “the same slope on the other side” (H.D., “Sheltered Garden,” 19). As with much of H.D.’s work of the period, the speaker of the poem suffers from wanting to transform forbidden borders into inhabitable boundaries, interstitial spaces of encounter. Although powerless to escape the old story of the garden, H.D.’s speaker invents a new garden plot. The old story is one in which women and fruit, are protected, picked, and sold at the marriage market. Recognizing that such flowers are the projection or material manifestation of gender ideology, the speaker invents a psychic storm to expose the sheltered garden to the undiscriminating forces of wind, rain, hail, and storm:

I want wind to break,

scatter these pink-stalks,

snap off their spiced heads,

fling them about with dead leaves—

spread the paths with twigs,

limbs broken off,

trail great pine branches,

hurled from some far wood

right across the melon-patch,

break pear and quince—

leave half-trees, torn, twisted

but showing the fight was valiant. (20–21)

By “blot[ing]” out this “sheltered garden” H.D. purges the garden of cultivated femininity (21). With the initial effect of a “sharp swish of a branch” H.D. appeals to a fundamental, violent interpenetration of human and more-than-human worlds to liberate women from the sheltered and claustrophobic social spheres in which they have been cultivated to be weak “wadded” and “protected” (19, 20). In this passage the poem abandons the connections between flowers and women as it imagines the branch as an ontologically disruptive force exposing nonhuman material dependencies.

The poem works in a series of increasing pressures, until the creative act of destruction (momentarily) dissolves obstacles. In a series of apostrophes and rhetorical questions the poem “blot[s] out” this “sheltered garden” in order to find “a new beauty / in some terrible / wind-tortured place” (21). With the trochee “scatter” and each forceful monosyllabic verb “snap,” “fling,” “spread,” “hurl,” “break,” “twist,” “tear,” and “trail,” the poem creates a second landscape overlaid on the initial static ordered space. In this second landscape the force of natural elements buffets the “pine branches,” “pears,” “melon-patches,” and quince, leaving temporal marks on the fruit and trees able to survive the onslaught (20). The action of the poem takes place as fantasy, flooding the garden with daydreams of destruction and producing a superpositioning of real and imagined. In the dreamed garden, those flowering plants and, by extension, their ideological referents, English women who are able to survive exposure, bear the marks of their struggle. They gain strength and character from their contact with the human and nonhuman world. Cultivated flowers are the product of human intervention, manifestations of gendered cultivation practices. H.D.’s images depend, as Christina Walter puts it, on “opaque immediacy, . . . associated with radical materiality [that] tri[es] to visualize the unseen.”[58] The hallucination of a revolutionary sundering echoes militant suffragettes’ call for radical destruction. The speaker of “Sheltered Garden” pauses at the threshold of the real and the imagined, finding power in words, not deeds. Whereas the narrator of “The Suffragette” in the story’s epiphanic climax declares she will join Marsden at a meeting, the speaker of “Sheltered Garden,” writing from the later vantage point of the war years, perhaps chastened by the wide-scale violence of war, remains alone in the garden, working through internal anguish. With the onset of war, the fractious internal divides that had characterized prewar London transformed into rallying cries for the preservation of Empire and as a unified support of the English State. In this atmosphere suffrage and labor movements seemed like selfish individualist causes.

The Artist as Bystander

The urban municipal park presented, in addition to revolutionary political protest, new opportunities for crowd observation as different social classes mixed. In his twelve-year residence in London (1908-1920), Ezra Pound also lived at 10 Church Walk, Kensington, and then at 5 Holland Place, in close proximity to H.D. Although the Pisan Cantos have been mined for references to pubs Pound frequented, as yet, there have been no connections drawn between Pound’s nature-oriented imagist work and the municipal gardens of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, which also figured into his daily routines.[59] While Pound was in the initial stages of his study of the ideogram he was writing about the socially- and politically-inflected spaces of municipal nature. Poems from the “Contemporania” sequence (August 1913) depict the modern woman caught within distinctly modern snares; she is “in [the] suburbs,” “unluckily mated,” or “the bourgeoisie who is dying of her ennuis.”[60] Although imagists did not often strike up Baudelairean enthusiasm for the “ineffable orgy” of the crowds, they were fascinated by them nonetheless. Pound’s imagist poem “The Garden,” first published in Poetry in April 1913, like H.D.’s “Sheltered Garden,” presents an unchaperoned woman park-user in a London municipal park. However, in Pound’s poem the speaker is an artist-bystander and he, rather than she, provides the perspective and voice of the poem:

                   En robe de parade

Like a skein of loose silk blown against a wall
She walks by the railing of a path in Kensington Gardens,
And she is dying piece-meal
of a sort of emotional anemia.

And round about there is a rabble
Of the filthy, sturdy, unkillable infants of the very poor.
They shall inherit the earth.

In her is the end of breeding.
Her boredom is exquisite and excessive.
She would like some one to speak to her,
And is almost afraid that I
will commit that indiscretion.[61]

“The Garden” is set in Kensington Gardens, a 275-acre public park in London’s west, an area home to both the very wealthy (Kensington) and the very poor (Notting Hill). In 1902 the Kensington Potteries and Notting Hill were described as “criminal and irreclaimable.” Local employment consisted of steam laundry, factory, railway, and omnibus work, but “less reputable” career paths also thrived. Kensington Gardens was known as a permissive space harboring same-sex trysts, prostitution, and various clandestine liaisons. The London City Mission Magazine listed for the area: “costermongers, rag and bone men, hawkers and flower sellers, Punch and Judy showmen, and street organists . . . professional thieves, cadgers, pickpockets, and the most degraded women.”[62] The 1908 guide book to neighboring Hyde Park described it as a place of contradictions, a place “surrounded by the palaces of the rich” and a “refuge of the vicious and the destitute, and, alas, its green sward serves as the dormitory of the filthy vagrants, whose very existence in this city of boundless wealth is an eyesore and a reproach.”[63] “The Garden” is situated within this mixed metropolitanscape.

The poem explores the anxiety attending the end of the aristocracy, the dissolution of rigid class barriers, and the emergence of the modern woman. The setting is a municipal garden, yet it does not mention bird, bud, or leaf. Instead, the poem presents municipal nature only in social terms. The poem is populated by three identities: a woman, referred to entirely as “she,” an undifferentiated mass or “rabble” of children, “the filthy, sturdy, unkillable infants of the very poor,” and the speaker of the poem (Pound “The Garden,” 2-3). Although all of the figures are within proximity of one another, none of them make direct contact. Instead, each figure or group is isolated by class and gender, a closeness without contact made possible by the park’s design of radial pathways, arranged like spokes of a wheel around monuments and lakes. This separation is formally reflected in the division of the poem into three stanzas. The children are “round about” and the “I” of the poem resists the desire to “commit [the] indiscretion” of speaking to the woman (3).

In the style of mid-Victorian voyeuristic literature, the speaker’s gaze presents an unchaperoned woman as the center of a web of potential park encounters. Whereas H.D. discerns gendered inscriptions coded into park and garden landscapes, which is to say the processes of codetermination that link the subject-speaker with her objects of observation, Pound amplifies the fluid meanings of public park space. Rather than a metonymic blending of the edges of human and vegetal ontology, like that of the spectacles of women protestors in Hyde Park, the Kensington Garden scene emphasizes the unnaturalness of class distinction. The poem hinges on a tension between the promiscuous intimacies of public space and the moralizing expectations of public gardens––focused in the figure of a solitary patrician woman. The opening simile compares the woman to a “skein of loose silk blown against a wall,” which establishes a metonymic relation between the woman and the silk from which her dress is sewn––foregrounding the materiality or bodily nature of the woman as commodity, a skein, a length of yarn or thread (2-3). “Loose” and “blown,” the woman lacks power. On one hand, the metonymy associates the woman with silk as an expensive luxury commodity. On the other hand, the comparison of the woman to a skein of silk suggests a synecdoche between the woman and a working-class women’s employment in cloth factories–––the gendered labor that has produced her finery. That the skein is “loose” suggests a fissure or slippage in the image of womanhood that she presents. There are other women, besides this isolated aristocrat, in the park, some who by economic necessity are “loose,” unchaperoned or for-hire.[64] Finally and importantly, there is still another category of women––those paper sellers campaigning for suffrage in Hampstead Heath, Hyde Park, and Wimbledon Common who ran the danger of being denounced as prostitutes as a means of containing and quelling their political activity. Pound’s poem highlights the all-too possible means by which “unnaturally” independent women could be accused of depravity in garden space.

Spatially proximal but categorically different from these other constituencies, a noble woman, finely-dressed, “dying piece-meal / of a sort of emotional anemia,” lets her “exquisite and excessive” boredom demonstrate her superiority over the “infants of the poor” who share the grounds of Kensington Gardens (Pound “The Garden,” 2-3). The speaker imagines her solitary walk is an expression of “exquisite” and “excessive” “boredom” (2). He imagines that she is a “loose end” of a patrician line—either by choice or circumstance (2)­­. That this skein has been arrested in its flight, “blown against a wall,” underscores the dead-end nature of her predicament (2). The speaker muses that her class is dying out and she has by will or biology separated herself from lines of inheritance. The speaker speculates that the woman desires to overcome her isolation, ventriloquizing that, “She would like some one to speak to her,” but is “almost afraid that / I will commit that indiscretion” (3).

Potentially misidentifying the social status of women in public gardens, that is, confusing respectable middle-class women with streetwalkers, was a real anxiety. Victorian-era reformer Josephine Butler describes the frequency of mistaken identities, of middle-class women confused for prostitutes.[65] In the nineteenth century, a woman over thirty could be out unattended, but her independence signaled that she was beyond marrying age. Elizabeth Wilson has noted that prostitution was so common and comparatively well-paying (prostitution paid better than dressmaking) that many women at some time engaged in selling their bodies, though often enough moved on to respectable married lives.[66] This was considered an alarming pattern because it indicated that the prostitute and the virtuous woman were not clearly distinct identities. William Acten opined, “Who are those fair creatures, neither chaperones nor chaperoned, ‘those somebodies nobody knows,’ who elbow our wives and daughters in the parks and promenades and rendezvous of fashion?”[67] Fifty years later, in “Marriage as a Trade” (1909), Cicely Hamilton would question the distinction between prostitute and respectable woman, proclaiming marriage “a trade,” just as prostitution is a trade, but unlike the prostitute who is paid for the “possession of her person,” the wife is not.[68] The 1908 Hyde Park guide book explains that the most reliable way of telling an honest woman from a prostitute is by the gold watch chain she wears around her neck to signal her status as a prostitute.

Print made by Paul Sandby, 1904.
Fig. 7. “A Prostitute Drum’d out of the Camp in Hyde Park 1780” Series: Ten Views of Encampments in Hyde-Park and Black-Heath (second series). Print made by: Paul Sandby, 1904. Bequeathed to the British Museum by Paul Sandby. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) license. The Trustees of the British Museum. here.

It was only in the 1900s that younger middle-class women in England walked in the city, in significant numbers, unattended,—and municipal parks like Kensington Gardens, offered some of the first safe areas in which they might appear unchaperoned. Not only in terms of gender, but also in terms of class, municipal parks were democratic spaces (Tweedy “Hyde Park,” 289). Kensington Gardens had recently abandoned its dress code, effectively creating an open-to-all policy. The erotic undertones of the speaker’s gaze and his fantasy intrusion suggest a violation of etiquette. Pound’s speaker imagines a predatory invasion of the woman’s “exquisite boredom” that borders on sexual exploitation (Pound “The Garden,” 2). He would “speak to her,” “commit that indiscretion” (3). Disdainful of her self-imposed isolation, the bohemian-artist-speaker muses on the horror he would inspire in her by such an act of perceived effrontery. The final line is also a moment of self-disdain. Though confident of his decoding abilities, bourgeois propriety immobilizes the speaker. He is unable to act out in the highly visible modern theater of the public garden.

“The Garden” is usually mentioned in relation to imagism’s reactionary stance toward the modern city and the movement’s classist disgust for the poor.[69] To be sure, by describing the children as “sturdy, unkillable infants,” more like tenacious weeds than worthy little Londoners, the speaker, from his vantage point of bohemian-artist, shares some of the aristocrat’s presumed disgust (2). Like H.D., Fletcher, and Aldington, Pound observed the crowded slums of American and British cities. Fletcher’s “London Excursion,” a poem about public transportation, describes the horror of mixing with the masses and fantasizes intruding into their private selves: “The passengers shrink together, / I enter indelicately into all their souls.”[70] Aldington describes the London crowds as “Millions of human vermin.”[71] By contrast, Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” described ephemeral contact with masses of people as “the apparition of these faces in the crowd,” associating them with “petals on a wet black bough.”[72] In a statement on the ethical imperative for art to report accurately about the world, Pound finds in “The Serious Artist,” “It is obvious that ethics are based on the nature of man, just as it is obvious that civics are based upon the nature of men when living together in groups” (Pound, 161). For Pound, slum conditions were an unconscionable crime. Published in 1913, the same year as “The Garden,” “The Serious Artist” singles out Arthur Winnington-Ingram, the bishop of London, stating that he “is a criminal of a type rather lower than rather more detestable than the souteneur” because he encouraged the poor to reproduce, bringing children into a life of the slums, yet made no provision for helping them to advance beyond it (161).

For Pound, good art was essential to civic living and to illustrate this point, in “The Serious Artist,” an essay written in dialogue with Marsden, Pound refers to the self-evident good of municipal parks and gardens, saying, “It is as if one said to me: what is the use of open spaces in this city. What is the use of rose-trees and why do you wish to plant trees and lay out parks and gardens?” (161). For Pound and his readers municipal parks served as touchstones for conversations about “living together in groups” (161). Pound’s spirited evocation of the goodness of the municipal garden provides a clue that “The Garden” is not a break from republican optimism so much as a social document that records the new and exciting cross-class encounters and potential misidentifications made possible in park space.

Alas, for Pound, his civic humanitarianism was inconsistent and eventually abandoned. For instance , earlier in 1913, in “Through Alien Eyes” (The New Age, January 1913) he explores a vocabulary that distances himself from Marsden’s philosophy, avowing that “I don’t want to prevent anything. I am not a humanitarian but a humanist. The drama of life depends on inequalities.”[73] Despite these proclamations, anarchist theories of education, like those of the Ferrer School in New York, filter Pound’s excursus on poor Italian-American immigrants’ education systems. He praises liberal education rather than trade-based instruction.[74] By 1914, his essay “The New Sculpture” (1914) inveighs against art’s participation in society even as it remains somewhat entangled in the imagist garden-topos. The essay also indicates his increasing interest in sculptural metaphors for verbal art. Pound decries the old sense of art as a Romantic and naturalistic endeavor in his review of T. E. Hulme’s lecture on cubism and the new art:

The old fashioned artist was like a gardener who should wish to turn all his garden into trees. The modern artist wishes dung to stay dung, earth to stay earth, and out of this he wishes to grow one or two flowers, which shall be something emphatically not dung, not earth. The artist has no longer any belief or suspicion that the mass, the half-educated simpering general, the semi-connoisseur, the sometimes collector, and still less the readers of the “Spectator” and the “English Review,” can in any way share his delights or understand his pleasure in forces.[75]

In the same essay, alluding to the suffrage movement, Pound emphasizes the freedom of the poet who “knows he is born to rule but he has no intention of trying to rule by general franchise . . . He is not elected by a system of plural voting” (“The New Sculpture,” 68). The poet’s exclusion from democratic representation frees him from accountability to an electorate.

As if identifying with the violent tactics of the WSPU, Pound arrives at the conclusion that a poet must “live by craft and violence” (68). Along with abandoning democracy, Pound was ready to abandon nature, in the words of Wyndham Lewis: “We want to leave Nature and Men alone.”[76] Pound and Marsden were growing increasingly convinced of Max Stirner’s rejection of all organized political positions, cleaving instead to Stirner’s proposition that, rather than fostering national loyalties one should only have allegiance to the self, there being no higher power. As Michael Levenson points out, egoist philosophy refuted Feuerbach’s “altruistic humanism.”[77] In “The New Sculpture” Pound wants to make clear that his place in the garden has never been as a gardener-arborist and might be more like a flâneur or even a guerilla gardener. According to him, the old-fashioned artist has a teleological plan for the earth. He wants to improve or cultivate it—to turn earth and seeds into trees.  By contrast, the modern artist wants “dung to stay dung “and humbly to see “one or two [of his] flowers” bloom. In later years it was the clover and rotting vegetable that held imaginative power for Pound whose increasing distrust in people and civic life led him to seek out in earthly material a solution to symbolic money systems that, as Lewis Hyde puts it “profit on the alienation of the symbol from the real.”[78] But as Pound’s interest in the imagist garden fades, the trope of a solitary figure in a public garden remains powerful for a host of imagist-influenced free verse poets. An informal cluster developed including other imagist poems such as Richard Butler Glaerizer’s “I am a Hater of Cities,” Sara Teasdale’s “Central Park at Dusk,” William Carlos Williams’s “Spouts,” Lowell’s “May Evening in Central Park,” and Flint’s “Poems in Unrhymed Cadence,” as well as less avowedly imagist vers libre feminist articulations of women’s experience like those of Agnes Lee’s “A Statue in a Garden,” Louise Bogan’s “Statue and Birds,” and Helen Hoyt’s “Ellis Park.”

In “Garden Agon” Susan Stewart emphasizes that a gardener intervenes in nature to produce form: “making a garden, like making other works of art and unlike practicing agriculture, involves producing form for its own sake.”[79] This garden form can only be discerned through the alignment of thought with object. I have suggested that for H.D. and Pound, suffrage activity in London’s greens made visible the newly independent woman, who had upended traditional expectations about work, love, marriage, desire, and child-rearing. H.D. and Pound turn their attention not toward the masses of people striving for action but instead to these solitary women consumed in their own thoughts, working through internal struggles. H.D.’s “Sheltered Garden” stages a self-reflection through a metonymic identification with garden flowers. H.D. is the unchaperoned woman in the public garden, but she is the New Woman, not the old aristocrat. The poem’s dynamic sense-image is created through violence like that of the WSPU actions, though H.D. distances herself from such militancy by putting agency in the hands of nature, rather than herself. She dismantles nature as feminine and feminized nature—focusing on what biologists call co-determination. Pound, by contrast, presents class dissolution as libidinal arousal inspired by the new misidentifications (which his practiced eye sees beyond) in garden space. In Pound’s “The Garden” the sense-image is fully realized in a complex civic-consciousness that is composed of competing Malthusianism (evidenced in his dislike of the “surplus population” of young rabble) and anarchist-individualist feelings. Both poems’ formal and generic imagist technique—that of treating the “direct object” of real geographically-situated gardens through visual emphasis—is accomplished through a layering of images that shifts the object of representation horizontally across the imaginary (rather than the symbolic system) allowing objects conventionally categorized as nature (vegetation, women) and those relations categorized as natural (gender and class hierarchies) to take on a more fluid ontological status.

Just as “Sheltered Garden” and “The Garden” imagine the space of the public garden as politically charged, not all imagist contributors to the Egoist were as receptive to suffragette activity as H.D. and Pound. In Hulme’s “The Embankment” (1908–1909) a male gaze arrests a woman in a London park, turning dynamic movement into static image. While the public linear gardens of “The Embankment” afforded Hulme a “fantasia,” an imaginative combination of the perceiving “I” and the perceived, which produced a dynamic image, a superpositioning of intellectual and emotional perception, for Hulme, the unchaperoned woman is the elemental ground from which the speaker springs to thoughts of star, sky, and self; the woman is an erotic component rather than the complex image itself.[80] By contrast, H.D.’s and Pound’s poems seem to acknowledge that Marsden, their interlocutor and partner in publishing, now opposed collective violence even as they themselves held a fascination with imagined violence as a means of expanding perceptual space. Like Marsden, H.D. and Pound believed, as Edward Comentale and Andrzej Gasiorek have phrased it, a “linguistic renewal lay at the basis of any wider social renovation.”[81] Although both poets wrote other much more identifiably imagist poems than “The Garden” or “Sheltered Garden,” these two poems represent early and late stages of their involvement with the New Freewoman and the Egoist, Marsden’s anarcho-feminist politics, and her theories of the image.

In sympathy with the Egoist’s muted yet still identifiable politics, these garden poems present tension between the imagined and the real, order and disorder, words and deeds. Destruction and violation, as politically and socially liberating forces, manifest as (imagined) avant-garde violence for perceptual ends. In this way these two garden poems represent a feminist-anarchist impulse within imagism. The poems indicate, as do other imagist poems that take up the garden topos, that imagists regarded the garden as a lively stage for thinking through the complexities of modern gendered identity––some seeking the garden as a malleable space for exerting categories of domination, others for exploring anarchist redefinition. Urban gardens themselves invite a dissolution between dualisms––nature/culture and female/male. H.D.’s imagist flavor of anarcho-feminist philosophy is, in particular, a critique of these categories as it offers instead the ego as both object and subject, active and passive force.


[1] Gretchen Wilson, With All Her Might: The Life of Gertrude Harding, Militant Suffragette (New York: Holms and Meier, 1998), 100–101.

[2] Lucille Brockway, “Science and Colonial Expansion: The Role of the British Royal Botanical Gardens,” American Ethnologist 6, no. 3 (1979): 449–65, 453.

[3] Elizabeth Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Britain and Ireland: A Regional Survey (London: Routledge, 2013), 35.

[4] Quoted in Andrew Rosen, Rise Up, Women!: The Militant Campaign of the Women's Social and Political (London: Routledge, 2012), 197.

[5] Cities contain a variety of different natureculture spaces, including the golf course and the public park. Both the golf course and the public park are potted, seeded, and trimmed. To be sure, a golf course receives a different kind of manicure from that of the public park, but the close relationship between these two kinds of green spaces originates with Frederick Law Olmsted who designed for Buffalo, Louisville, and Chicago public parks that incorporate golf courses. Then, as now, city planners and park administrators construct and maintain these spaces to reflect culturally contingent ideas about nature, landscape, and the human place within it. For additional discussion of golf courses as nature spaces, see Bernard Quetchenbach, Accidental Gravity (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2017).

[6] “Mrs. Pankhurst Again Arrested,” Chicago Tribune, March 10, 1914, 1.

[7] Paradoxically, despite the emphasis on formal elements in these statements, relatively few imagist poems wholly embody imagist principles. Judged by formal principles Imagists themselves articulated, half the poems included in the first imagist anthology Des Imagistes (1914) do not seem particularly imagist. All imagist poems have affinities with other imagist poems but not all imagist poems possess close relationships with one another.

[8] See Andrew Thacker’s productive assessment of the meanings of nature in imagist poetry in The Imagist Poets (United Kingdom: Northcote House Publishing, 2011). Unlike John Gould Fletcher’s “Hoardings,” which invokes nature, as Thacker notes, because of the poem’s inability to think city life, I regard the garden imagery of these two poems as evidence of engagement with modernity, rather than retreat.

[9] Robert Pogue Harrison, Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 115.

[10] Stacy Alaimo, Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010), 17.

[11] Stacy Alaimo Exposed: Environmental Politics and Pleasures in Posthuman Times (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016), 130. See also Kelly Elizabeth Saltzbach, Ecocriticism in the Modernist Imagination: Forster, Woolf, and Auden (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016) and Elizabeth Grosz, Time Travels: Feminism, Nature, Power (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005).

[12] For discussion of how modernist studies in the age of weak theory enables new assessments that consider environment-as-object and that operate according to collapsed foreground/background distinctions, see Margaret Konkol “Weakly Ecological.” Modernism/modernity Print Plus 4, 2 (2019).

[13] Andrew Thacker astutely describes the imagist project as recording the new beauty of urban experience as a set of “intersubjective visual relations” (Moving Through Modernity: Space and Geography in Modernism [Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2003], 81).

[14] See Karen Barad, “Posthumanist Performativity” in Material Feminisms, ed. Stacy Alaimo and Susan Hekman (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008), 120–54.

[15] Lawrence Rainey characterizes imagism as an anti-avant-garde. See Laurence Rainey, Institutions of Modernism: Literary Elites and Public Culture (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), 30.

[16] Dora Marsden, “Observations Preliminary to a Definition of ‘Imaginary.’” The Egoist: An Individualist Review 4, no. 2 (1917): 17–20, 31, 17.

[17] Deborah Parsons argues for a wartime flâneuse who resembles, as Parsons notes, not the Benjaminian surveillance figure, but the marginal figure, more like the Baudelairean flâneur, who revels in the palimpsestic space of the city. See Deborah Parsons, Street Walking the Metropolis: Women, the City and Modernity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). My discussion focuses on imagist poetry which is concerned with the locatedness of the woman park-user rather than her rootlessness.

[18] Ezra Pound, The Letters of Ezra Pound, 1907–1931, ed. D. D. Paige (San Diego, CA: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1950), 11. H.D. quoted in Georgina Taylor, H.D. and the Public Sphere of Modernist Women Writers 1913–1946: Talking Women. (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 2001), 55.

[19] Richard Aldington, “The Poetry of F. S. Flint,” The Egoist: An Individualist Review 2, no. 5 (1915): 80–81, 80.

[20] Richard Aldington, “Round Pond,” in Some Imagist Poets: An Anthology (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1915), 12.

[21] Richard Aldington, “Childhood” in Some Imagist Poets: An Anthology, 3–9, 7.

[22] Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias,” translated by Jay Miskowiec, 6,

[23] See Ruth Petrie, Notes from the Garden (London: Guardian, 2009).

[24] See Petrie for discussion of First World War garden advocacy as well as arguments about the making public of formerly private “London squares” or city gardens for the relief of wounded soldiers. Additionally, see Jane Louden’s The Ladies’ Companion to Her Flower Garden (London: Smith, 1841) and any of Gertrude Jekyll’s numerous garden design books which enumerated which plants were appropriate for ladies to grow.

[25] Sylvia Pankhurst, The Suffragette: The History of the Women’s Militant Suffrage Movement, 1905–1910 (New York: Sturgis & Walton Company, 1911), 246.

[26] Deborah Moreland, “The Suffragettes, the Great War and Representation in H.D.’s Asphodel.” Sagetrieb, 1 no. 2. (1996): 243­–72, 246.

[27] Janet Lyon, Manifestoes: Provocations of the Modern (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), 106.

[28] Quoted in Literature of the Women’s Suffrage Campaign in England, ed. Carolyn Christensen Nelson (Ontario, CA: Broadview Press, 2004), 158.

[29] See Dora Marsden, “The Illusion of Anarchism,” The Egoist: An Individualist Review 1, no. 18: 341–44. Bruce Clarke, Dora Marsden and Early Modernism: Gender, Individualism, Science (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996), Andrew Thacker, “Dora Marsden and The Egoist: An Individualist Review ‘Our War Is With Words,’”English Literature in Transition, 1880–1920, 36, no. 2 (1993): 179–96, and J. Richards “Model Citizens and Millenarian Subjects: Vorticism, Suffrage, and London’s Great Unrest,” Journal of Modern Literature 37, no. 3 (2014): 1–17.

[30] Sex-positive and class-conscious, the New Freewoman was pro-vaccination and encouraging of syphilis research.

[31] Dora Marsden, “Superficial Unity,” The Freewoman 1, no. 19 (1912): 377.

[32] Floyd Dell, Women as World Builders: Studies in Modern Feminism (Chicago, IL: Forbes and Company, 1913), 103.

[33] Max Stirner, The Ego and His Own, trans. Steven Byington (London: Fifield, 1913), 355.

[34] For H.D.’s editorial work, see Jayne Marek, Women Editing Modernism: “Little” Magazines and Literary History. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1995) and Cyrena Pondrom, ‘H.D. and the Origins of Imagism” in Signets: Reading H.D, ed. Susan Stanford Friedman and Rachel Blau DuPlessis (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990), 85–109.

[35] Dora Marsden, “Truth and Reality––III,” The Egoist: An Individualist Review 2, no. 5 (1915): 65–69, 68.

[36] Dora Marsden, “Truth and Reality––I,” The Egoist: An Individualist Review 2, no. 3 (1915): 33–37, 34.

[37] H.D., “Goblins and Pagodas,” The Egoist: An Individualist Review 3, no. 12 (1916): 183–84, 183.

[38] The marginalization of Marsden has obscured traces of imagist anarcho-feminist politics in H.D. and Pound. But with the recovery of Marsden’s role in the development of modernism, which began with work of Clarke and McNeil, the political and philosophical networks in which H.D. and Pound engaged during their imagist phase come more clearly into relief. See Helen McNeil, “Vortex Marsden: A Little Magazine and the Making of Modernity” in Journalism, Literature, and Modernity: from Hazlitt to Modernism, ed. Kate Campbell (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000), 141–69.

[39] Donna Hollenberg dates J. Beran/H.D.’s story’s composition between 1912 and 1913. See Donna K. Hollenberg, preface to H.D., “The Suffragette, with a Preface By Donna K. Hellenberg” Sagetrieb 15, no. 1–2 (1996): 7–11.

[40] For H.D.’s attendance at a suffragette meeting, see Helen Carr, The Verse Revolutionaries: Ezra Pound, H.D. and The Imagists (London: Jonathan Cape, 2009), 360. Barbara Guest is quick to discount the possibility of H.D.’s political engagement, writing that there were no “evening gatherings with angry suffragettes, no Emmeline Pankhurst histrionics, parades, or jails” (Herself Defined: The Poet H.D. and Her World [New York: Doubleday, 1984], 116). Guest is partially right that it would have been unlikely that H.D. got involved with the WSPU, but the reason for her absence from that organization can better be understood as a demonstration of allegiance with Marsden, May Sinclair, and Harriet Shaw Weaver at the Egoist.

[41] Ezra Pound, “The Serious Artist,” The Freewoman: An Individualist Review 1, no. 9 (1913): 161–63, 162.

[42] Ezra Pound [Bastien von Helmholtz], “Suffragettes,” The Egoist: An Individualist Review 1, no. 13 (1914): 254–56, 255.

[43] See Richards, “Model Citizens.”

[44] Ezra Pound, “Patria Mia,” The New Age 11, no. 27 (1912): 635–36, 635.

[45] Louis Untermeyer, “Fire and Ice,” New Republic (December 28, 1921): 133–34, 133.

[46] Ezra Pound, “A List of Books,” Little Review 4, no. 11 (1918): 54–58, 57.

[47] F. S. Flint, “Imagisme,” Poetry: A Magazine of Verse 1, no. 6 (1913): 198–200, 199.

[48] Amy Lowell, Tendencies in Modern American Poetry. (Norwood, MA: Macmillan, 1917), 252.

[49] There is a wealth of criticism on H.D. and her Greek sources, including Janice Robinson’s study which notes that during the month of August 1912 H.D., Pound, and Aldington frequently met to discuss The Greek Anthology. See Janice Robinson, “H.D.: The Life and Work of an American Poet” in Reading America: Essays on American Literature, ed. Denis Donoghue (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 237–41.

[50] From her home first on 6 Church Walk, and later from her shared home with Aldington at 5 Holland Place Chambers, H.D. had access to a variety of kinds of London green space including royal parks, commons, municipal parks, and greens. Of all of these, Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens was her neighborhood park. By 1915 she had removed to 7 Christchurch Place, Hampstead, across the street from the heath. Annette Debo explains H.D.’s palimpsestic landscapes as composed of “shards of her past” in which American landscape “undergird[s] the Greek myths and allusions” she superimposes on it” (Annette Debo, “H.D.’s American Landscape: The Power and Permanence of Place” South Atlantic Review 69, no. 3/4 [2004]: 1-22, 4).

[51] H.D. to Norman Pearson, November 12, 1937, in Between History and Poetry, The Letters of H.D. And Norman Holmes Pearson, ed. Donna K. Hollenberg (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1997), 10.

[52] Celena Kusch, “H.D.’s American ‘Sea Garden:’ Drowning the Idyll Threat to US Modernism,” Twentieth Century Literature 56, no. 1 (2010): 47–70, 59.

[53] Eileen Gregory, “Rose Cut in Rock: Sappho and H.D.’s Sea Garden” in Signets: Reading H.D., ed. Susan Stanford Friedman and Rachel Blau DuPlessis, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990) 129–54, 151.

[54] Diana Collecott, “H.D.’s Transformative Poetics.” The Cambridge Companion to H.D., ed. Nephie Christodoulides and Polina Mackay, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012) 95–112, 108.

[55] H.D., “Sheltered Garden,” in Collected Poems: 1912–1944 (New York: New Directions, 1986), 19–21, 19.

[56] Richard Lewontin and Richard Levins, Biology Under the Influence: Dialectical Essays on Ecology, Agriculture, and Health (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2007), 35.

[57] This poem has frequently been interpreted as a call for women’s freedom from gender restrictions but never as equally a commentary on constructions of nature.

[58] Christina Walter, ‪Optical Impersonality: Science, Images, and Literary Modernism (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014), 86.

[59] Ning Yu and Richard Caddel argue that Pound’s interest in Chinese written characters demonstrates a “nascent modernist ecology” (Richard Caddel, “Secretaries of Nature: Towards a Theory of Modernist Ecology” in Ezra Pound, Nature and Myth, ed. William Pratt [New York: AMS Press, 2002], 139–50, 139). Yu argues that Pound’s ideographic method identifies “a close connection between nature and culture” (Ning Yu, “A Poetics of ‘Secretaries of Nature’: Ezra Pound’s Etymological Reading of Chinese Characters as a Poetic Site for the Reunification of Culture and Nature,” Comparative American Studies 7, no. 2 [2009]: 140–50, 142).

[60] Ezra Pound, “Commission,” Poetry: A Magazine of Verse 2, no. 1 (1913), 10–11, 10.

[61] Ezra Pound, “The Garden,” Poetry: A Magazine of Verse 2, no. 1 (1913): 3–4, 3.

[62] Robert Lee “Christian Effort in the Kensington Potteries,” London City Mission Magazine, March 1, 1902, quoted in Tom Vague, Getting it Straight in Notting Hill Gate: A West London Psychogeography Report (London: Bread and Circuses Publishing, 2013), n. p.

[63] Mrs. Alec Tweedie, Hyde Park: Its History and its Romance (London: Eveleigh Nash Fawside House, 1908), 2.

[64] In the latter half of the nineteenth century one of the few trades open to women was that of the seamstress. Women were paid very little for labor-intensive work. For discussion of women’s employment, see Elizabeth Wilson, The Sphinx in the City: Urban Life, the Control of Disorder, and Women. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982). As J. Laite notes, the increased presence of unchaperoned women in public space resulted in increased charges. Under the Contagious Disease Acts of 1864 and the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839 women were accused of being “common prostitutes” in increasing number. This interpellation was often inaccurate. By 1906, a staggering 70% of fines leveled at women were brought about on these grounds. See Jay Laite, Common Prostitutes and Ordinary Citizens: Commercial Sex in London, 1885–1960. (New York: Springer, 2011).

[65] Josephine Butler, “Letter to My Countrywomen” in The Sexuality Debates, ed. Sheila Jeffreys (London: Routledge, 2013) 151–69, 156, 164.

[66] See Wilson, The Sphinx in the City.

[67] William Acten, Prostitution: Considered in its Moral, Social, and Sanitary Aspects in London and Other Large Cities and Garrison Towns, with Proposals for the Control and Prevention of its Attendant Evils (London: Churchill, 1857), viii.

[68] Cecily Hamilton, “Marriage as a Trade.” (New York: Moffat, 1909), n. p.

[69] Adam Piette has characterized “The Garden” as a break from “republican optimism,” a “grimly sardonic portrait” of a “snobbish grande dame” “disdaining all identifications, in nauseous retreat from the contacts of democracy” (“Pound’s ‘The Garden’ as Modernist Imitation: Samain, Lowell, H.D.,” Translation and Literature 17, no. 1 [2008]: 21–46, 40). I build on Piette’s assessment by contextualizing the poem in terms of the fluid social space offered by Kensington Gardens and other parks in the 1900s.

[70] John Gould Fletcher, “London Excursion,” The Egoist: An Individualist Review 1, no. 14 (1914): 275–76, 275.

[71] Richard Aldington, “Cinema Exit,” Images Old and New. Boston: Four Seas Company, 1916, 43. For discussion of Aldington’s attitude toward “the crowd” see Andrew Frayn, “Richard Aldington’s Images, the Metropolis, and the Masses,” Modernist Cultures 9, no. 2 (2014): 260–81.

[72] Ezra Pound, “In a Station of the Metro,” Poetry: A Magazine of Verse 2, no. 1 (1913): 12.

[73] Ezra Pound, “Through Alien Eyes,” The New Age (1913): 275­–76, 276. Marsden’s philosophy developed out of her reading of Stirner, who broadly equated “socialism, suffragism, and feminism” as “expressions of humanitarianism because they all enforce the notion that the ‘cause is great the person is small’” (Ego, 114). Marsden would not have called herself a humanitarian per se since she did not believe the state could emancipate women. However, suffrage work and her feminism made equality a cornerstone principle (see John F. Walsh, Max Stirner's Dialectical Egoism: A New Interpretation [Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2010]).

[74] Andrew Cornell outlines a rift in anarchist circles between training children to overthrow oligarchies versus training their children to be free thinkers. See Andrew Cornell, Unruly Equality: U.S. Anarchism in the Twentieth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016).

[75] Ezra Pound, “The New Sculpture,” The Egoist: An Individualist Review 1, no. 4 (1914): 67–68, 68.

[76] Wyndham Lewis, “Long Live the Vortex!,” BLAST 1 (1914): n. p.

[77] Michael Levenson, A Genealogy of Modernism: A Study of English Literary Doctrine 1908–1922 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 65.

[78] Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World (New York: Vintage Books, 2007), 219. See also Ezra Pound, “Canto XLI” and “Canto LXXXI,” in The Cantos (New York: New Directions, 1996), 201–208, 537–42.

[79] Susan Stewart, “Garden Agon,” Representations 62 (1998): 111–43, 111.

[80] See T. E. Hulme, “The Embankment” in The Collected Writings of T. E. Hulme, ed. Karen Csengeri (London: Clarendon Press, 1994), 3.

[81] Edward P. Comentale and Andrzej Gasiorek, “Introduction: On the Significance of a Hulmean Modernism” in T. E. Hulme and the Question of Modernism, ed. Edward P. Comentale and Andrzej Gasiorek (New York: Ashgate, 2006), 1–22, 11.