British Imagist poet Richard Aldington published Images of War in 1919. Aldington saw active service in World War One between December 1916 and May 1917, and again from April 1918 until the war ended. Haunting and horrifying, his poetry captures the war experience in a distinctly modern and honest voice that is comparable to the work of war poets such as Wilfred Owen and Robert Graves. Aldington typically offers blunt, graphic detail, coupled with a surreal, otherworldly use of Greek mythology.
Who were the Imagists?
Imagism was a major literary movement of the early 20th century, and was central to the birth and development of modernism. Emerging around 1911, the Imagists sought to capture the essence of ‘something’ – whether an object, experience, or feeling – in a single image. These avant garde writers crafted their ‘images’ using crisp, precise language and form. This approach was a radical and deliberate departure from Victorian poetry.
Aldington was married to H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) who, together with Ezra Pound, made up the three leading figures in this movement.
Why are the illustrations of interest?
This rare edition – signed and hand-coloured by Paul Nash – is one of only 30 copies. Curiously, Nash has used a palette of bright watercolours that is rarely seen in his late war art.
Nash enlisted in 1914. When appointed as an official British war artist in 1917, he witnessed the horrific aftermath of the Battle of Passchendaele. From these experiences Nash depicted powerful and terrifying landscapes that drew strength from the angular abstraction of Cubism and Vorticism.
Here we can see many of Nash’s signature motifs – barbed wire, vast mud and water, gnarled, burnt trees. He grounds his subjects and constructs angles in a way that is off-kilter, claustrophobic, nightmarish. ‘Barrage’, which also forms the book’s cover design, is worth particular mention. The abstracted collection of colourful lines and semicircles, which may initially appear decorative, illustrates heavy artillery fire, ‘huge black dogs / Leaping, full-mouthed, in murderous pursuit!’
- Full title:
- Images of War. A Book of Poems by Richard Aldington. (Decorations designed by Paul Nash.).
- 1919, London
- C W Beaumont
- Book / Illustration / Image
- Richard Aldington, Paul Nash
- Usage terms
Richard Aldington: © The Estate of Richard Aldington - Selected images of 'IMAGES OF WAR by Richard Aldington - 1919 - C.100.g.4' reproduced by kind permission of the Estate of Richard Aldington c/o Rosica Colin Limited, London. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.
Paul Nash: © Crown Copyright. This material has been published under an Open Government Licence.
- Held by
- British Library
- Article by:
- Santanu Das
- Literature 1900–1950, Power and conflict
Santanu Das examines the crafting of one of Owen’s most poignant poems, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, and shows how Owen’s war poems evoke the extreme sense-experience of the battlefield.
- Article by:
- Randall Stevenson
- Literature 1900–1950, Capturing and creating the modern, Power and conflict
Randall Stevenson describes how the violence and loss of the First World War affected modernist writers’ attitudes towards nature and time, as well as shaping their experiments with language, literary form and the representation of consciousness.
- Article by:
- Paul Gough
- Representation and memory
Professor Paul Gough introduces British and Belgian artists of World War One, from Henry de Groux and his eyewitness responses to the Belgian invasion, to the later generation of British artists who transformed their frontline experiences into abstract, modernist artworks.
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