Ezra Loomis Pound, one of the most influential and controversial figures in modern literature, was born in the mining town of Hailey, Idaho, in 1885. When Pound was only eighteen months old the family moved to Philadelphia, where his father, Homer, became an official with the United States mint—an occupation that perhaps influenced Pound’s later interest in economic and monetary matters. Pound made his first trip to Europe in 1898 with his great aunt; he would later live most of his adult life on the Continent, becoming a virtual exile from his native country. To some he would be more than that: He would be a traitor.
In 1901, Pound began college at the University of Pennsylvania, then completed his undergraduate degree at Hamilton College, in Clinton, New York, in 1905. He received an M.A. in Romance languages from Hamilton the following year, then a fellowship to travel in Spain, Italy, and the Provence region of France, where he gathered material for a book on the troubadours—the poets of courtly love who flourished during the late middle ages.
Returning to the United States, Pound was briefly an instructor in French and Spanish at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He was dismissed after he allowed a stranded young actress to share his room in a boardinghouse.
Having determined, at age fifteen, to become a poet, Pound considered his dismissal a release, and he returned to Europe, writing and traveling, mainly in Italy. In 1908, he published his first books, a slim volume titled A Lume Spento (“with candles extinguished”) and A Quinzaine for This Yule. Both were heavily influenced by the troubadour poets and by the highly elaborate and artificial diction of late nineteenth century verse.
In 1908, Pound moved to London, where he remained until the end of World War I, establishing himself as a flamboyant personality as well as an aspiring poet. He affected earrings, flowing capes, and a dramatic red beard; his antics were wild and outrageous. Partially he sought to mask his own social insecurities, but he also wished to draw attention to his commitment to art. He became known by the major writers of the time, including Ford Madox Ford, Wyndham Lewis, and William Butler Yeats, and he continued to publish poems, translations, reviews, and essays.
Around 1912, Pound developed a poetic doctrine which he termed Imagism, which put emphasis upon clear, specific language and poems stripped of excess ornament and useless words: The particular image was to be the new focus of verse. Within two years Pound had moved in another direction, that of “vorticism,” which was based on the concept of energy as symbolized by the vortex, a whirlpool or spiral form. Although Pound soon abandoned the formal aspects of these theories, their central tenets would remain part of his poetry for the rest of his life.
A third enduring influence from this time was that of Chinese poetic and philosophical thought. Believing that Chinese poets had used their...
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