In the April 1934 issue of The Criterion, T.S. Eliot said of English poetry, “The predominance of Paris is incontestable.”1 This was 23 years after the little—and short lived—magazine, Rhythm. From its start in 1911, Rhythm recognized the literary significance of France, and situated itself squarely inside its literary tradition. In a way, the magazine was born in France; it was the brainchild of a very young John Middleton Murry, an Englishman gone to Paris to learn the language.2 With its young, optimistic editor, Rhythm functioned more as a magazine of appreciation than one of criticism, one of enthrallment with French ideas; it was interested in bringing “ Parisian literary, artistic, and philosophical excitement to England.”3 In this way, it was different in kind than many of its contemporary periodicals.
Rhythm was different during the “dead years”4 of English poetry because its engagement of French artistic ideals was entirely singular. Other publications were looking at French culture— The New Age5 , The Poetry Review6 —but Rhythm was taking an inside-out, rather than outside-in view, in more than a few ways. Its content was coming straight from the horse’s mouth as its philosophical leanings and many of its regular contributors were not critics of or commenters on the French, but French themselves.
Murry’s early appreciation for aesthetic philosophy of Henri-Louis Bergson guided the magazine; Bergsonian thought was the foundation for the theoretical and editorial manifestos of Rhythm’s first issue. Murry—interpreting Bergson—saw humanity and individual intuition, not “convention and tradition,” at the base of all “true art”. In practice, he saw that art (particularly poetry) should be “concentrated and intense;” its formal manifestation essential, refined, and beyond historical creed. In short, Murry envisioned in these first of Rhythm’s pages, an artistic/critical atmosphere in England where “past is judged by the present, not the present by the past.”7 Murry recognized these attributes in the French literary scene. While other critics in the know, like T.E. Hulme8 , were also looking to Bergson’s ideas, Murry was the earliest to point to Bergsonian aesthetics as a call to action for English artists. And no doubt, these very ideas—of intense, refined, unreceived artistic form (read vers libre)—point to the imagiste poetry that would come to dominate avant-garde work in England during the teens and ripple through all of modern art.
Beyond Murry’s support of such French ideals, he employed French correspondents Francis Carco and Tristan Dereme to assure his audience an authentic, untranslated Parisian perspective. Both members of a coterie of French poets known as fantasistes, they wasted no time in introducing Rhythm’s readers to a decidedly French, bohemian, and imagiste aesthetic. In the June 1912 issue of Rhythm, Dereme’s first contribution to the magazine “Lettre de France, I: Les Poemes,” expounded on these leanings. “Dereme was emphatic in insisting upon the importance of the new or ‘original’ and the highly personal…such an emphasis upon originality is one pole of the period’s intense conflict between theoretical allegiance to tradition and emergence of highly innovative techniques, and it has its significant echo in Pound’s Make it New.”9
In a follow up column in the August 1912 issue, Dereme pressed on, “Mais si un poète a trois disciples, il faut crier au miracle et les théoriciens même sont les premiers a ne suivre pas leurs propres théories...d'abord l'attention aussi bien par leur valeur que par le bruit qu'ils mènent.”10 Here he begins to list the three Bergsonian/modernist qualities in French poetry and criticism that “were to become touchstones in England: the use of images, creation of a poetry of personal vision, and intense critical concentration on the poetic text itself.”11 These principles clearly point to those of the imagiste movement and are again echoed by Pound in his 1913 Poetry essay “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste.”12
In paper, Rhythm was short lived. It ran only fourteen issues between 1911 and 1913 and only three more under its later manifestation, The Blue Review. This might seem to evidence that it was not a legitimate or important voice in the cacophony of little British literary magazines. The truth is to the contrary. Rhythm was quite literally a fresh voice--dedicating many of its pages to untranslated French literature and thought. While the goal of many of these magazines was to bring innovative work to a British audience, Murry’s Rhythm did so by looking almost exclusively overseas. In this way, he moved beyond the magazine’s print run and prefigured the sentiment behind Pound’s 1913 “Approach to Paris” when he wrote “The History of English poetic glory is a history of successful steals from the French.”13
1 T.S. Eliot, “A Commentary,” The Criterion, XIII, 52 April 1934, 451-2.
2 Cyrena N. Pondrom, The Road from Paris, (London, Cambridge University Press, 1974) 14
3 Pondrom, 14.
4 T.S. Eliot, “Books of the Quarter: Baudelaire and the Symbolist,” The Criterion, IX, 35, January 1930, 577.
5Ezra Pound “The Approach to Paris,” The New Age, XIII, 20, 11 September 1913, 577.
6 The Poetry Review, I, 8 August 1912 355-414
7 John Middleton Murry “Art and Philosophy,” Rhythm, Summer 1911, 9-12
8 “Bax and Bergson”, The New Age, IX, 3 August 1911, 328-31.
9 Pondrom, 146.
10 Tristan Dereme, “Lettre de France,” Rhythm, August 1912, 115.
11 Pondrom, 147.
12Ezra Pound, “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste,” Poetry, March 1913, 200-206.
13Ezra Pound, “The Approach to Paris” The New Age, XIII, 20, September 1913, 577.