A long time ago (well, in 1912) in a land far, far away (okay, in England) two young poets (Hilda Doolittle and Ezra Pound) were chilling at the library. Ezra was reading Hilda's work as she was getting ready to send her poems off to Poetry magazine for publication.
Ezra, the consummate editor, made a few small changes to Hilda's poems, and then scrawled at the bottom of them "H.D., Imagiste," and then popped them in the mail. They were published soon after, and Hilda Doolittle (now known to the world as "H.D") and Pound were credited with beginning Imagism, a brief but incredibly influential movement in poetry. Imagism was all about short, intense, crystalline, highly visual poems, poems that painted a picture (or, hey, an image) in your mind when you read them. For Imagists, less is more.
"Oread" is one of H.D.'s most famous and most Imagist-y poems. It's short, intense, and it creates one heck of an image in your brain. Imagist poems are all about what Pound referred to as "the direct treatment of the thing" (source). In other words, an Imagist poem gets right to the heart of the matter. No flowery language, no fancy rhyme schemes. Just the thing itself. In "Oread," there are actually two things: the land, and the sea. But there's not much else, and that's exactly how an Imagist poem should be.
While lots of poets dabbled with Imagism, H.D. was hands down the premier Imagist, and she's best known today for her short, lyrically intense early poems that conjure up beautiful worlds in just a few lines. Her collection Sea Garden is filled with similarly dense and visual poems. Check 'em out (if amazingly beautiful poetry is your kind of thing, that is).
(And hey, if you're interested in Pound, be sure to check out what we've got to say about his Imagist poem "In a Station of the Metro.")
Why Should I Care?
"Oread" consists of twenty-six words. That's right, you heard us correctly, twenty-six words. (Well, twenty-seven if you count the title.)
We really feel like we shouldn't have to convince you to read a poem that's so incredibly short; it's actually shorter than the sentence you're reading right now. But maybe we do need to convince you to care about this poem just a little bit. Sometimes, the shortest poems are the most difficult ones to understand.
So why should you care about "Oread"? Well, it's twenty-six words of a mountain nymph yelling at the sea. Just picture it: little nymph, big sea. Awesome, right? The cool thing about this poem is how wonderfully, magically visual it is, even though it's so short. Reading "Oread" is like looking at an incredibly detailed photograph. Twenty-six words, six lines, a whole world. We wouldn't mind it if every poem were as short, beautiful, and intense as this little bugger.