English Literary Terms

Abstract Imagery- what is it

What is Abstract Imagery in English Literature


You are beautiful – what is beautiful can not be expressed through words apart from some image or shadow, which may flash in our psychic process; we may search for something another beautiful object to create a comparative imaginary identity to satisfy the sense, but it would be an abstract idea- without any shape or form.

Language that describes qualities that cannot be perceived with the five senses. For instance, calling something pleasant or pleasing is abstract, while calling something yellow or sour is concrete. The word domesticity is abstract, but the word sweat is concrete.

The preference for abstract or concrete imagery varies from century to century. Philip Sidney praised concrete imagery in poetry in his 1595 treatise, Apologie for Poetrie. A century later, Neoclassical thought tended to value the generality of abstract thought. In the early 1800s, the Romantic poets like Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley once again preferred concreteness.

In the 20th century, the distinction between concrete and abstract has been a subject of some debate. Ezra Pound and T. E. Hulme attempted to create a theory of concrete poetry. T. S. Eliot added to this school of thought with his theory of the “objective correlative.”

Abstract imagery is different from the abstract poem

ABSTRACT POEM: Verse that makes little sense grammatically or syntactically but which relies on auditory patterns to create its meaning or poetic effects; Dame Edith Sitwell popularized the term, considering this verse form the equivalent of abstract painting (Deutsche 7). Sitwell’s poems from her collection Façade are samples of this genre, including her poem “Hornpipe.” A sample from this poem appears below:

Sky rhinoceros-glum
Watched the courses of the breakers’ rocking-horses and with Glaucis
Lady Venus on the settee of the horsehair sea! (qtd. in Deutsche 7)

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