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!’