Ezra Pound Controversy
Ezra Pound Controversy
Debate stemming from Ezra Pound's Fascist tendencies and anti-Semitic writings.
Ezra Pound came to epitomize the heart of the art-for-art's-sake argument when he was arrested and charged with treason in April 1945. While widely hailed as an influential poet, writer, critic, and translator and one of the fundamental masters of the Modernist style, Pound was simultaneously reviled by the post-World War II world at-large as an anti-Semite and traitor for his provocative writing and treasonous radio broadcasts in Italy that espoused his Fascist leanings. As a writer, Pound was responsible for The Cantos (1915-1968), a verse narrative that is regarded as one of the most remarkable pieces of American literature. An epic poem of memorable beauty that combines European and Asian aesthetics with American sensibilities, The Cantos also incorporates Pound's vision of a new world order and regrettably, his vitriolic beliefs about Jews and period politics. It is this dichotomy between the stunning sensual clarity of his poetry and the acrimonious nature of his beliefs that has led to questions about whether a work of art can be viewed separately from the nature and intents of its creator.
Born in 1885 in Hailey, Idaho, to Isabel Weston Pound and Homer Loomis Pound, Ezra Pound was the scion of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on his mother's side and Republican congressman Thaddeus Coleman Pound on his father's. While in his teens, he moved along with the demands of his father's work for the U. S. Mint to New York and eventually Philadelphia in 1898. In 1901 he attended the University of Pennsylvania where he began lifelong friendships with Hilda Doolittle (H. D.) and William Carlos Williams, the first of an amazingly varied list of strong personal and artistic connections he would make that would ultimately grow to include such luminaries as William Butler Yeats, Henry James, Robert Frost, Ford Madox Ford, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, and most especially, close friend and political ally, T. S. Eliot. After an innocent scandal led to his dismissal from the teaching staff at Wabash College in Indiana, Pound ventured to England, where he would begin a decades-long period of residency throughout Europe. During this time Pound studied and absorbed the classical literature of the region with zealousness—influences that would be later reflected in his own writing. After releasing a series of critically lauded work that included a volume of poetry, Personae (1909) and a critical study, The Spirit of Romance (1910), Pound founded a new writing movement called Imagism, a literary style he championed with H. D. that attempted to use clarity and exactness rather than symbolism as its primary means of description. Within a year, he had moved to a new abstract organizational style he called “Vorticism” which used cubism and futurism as its basis, which was followed by a study of Chinese poetry and Japanese Noh plays. These influences provided the last building block towards what would be his penultimate and most debated work, The Cantos.
Composed of 117 cantos and written at various intervals over a 53-year period, The Cantos was actually released as a series of shorter volumes, each with its own title but a continuation of the same epic piece of literature. The work is at times a treatise for Pound's theories on economics, his hopes for a different world (closely resembling some of Fascism's stated goals), a modern update of Greek myth, a history lesson, and an attack on political nemeses such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. A synthesis of wildly varying languages, styles, and subject matter, The Cantos nonetheless achieved tremendous fame and critical ovations for Pound, earning him an enviable level of critical respect from his peers. Given that The Cantos was written over such an extended period of time, it is a reflection of its author's growing shift of mood and temperament away from the mainstream. Living in Europe during the volatile period before World War II, Pound saw in Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini contemporary figures with the will and desires to create a utopian state where the class hostilities he felt inherent to the capitalist and communist ideologies could be eliminated. Favoring a government that would give more emphasis to culture and art and less power to the banking industry, whom he felt was directly accountable for the First World War, Pound became particularly drawn to the culture and growing power of the Fascist movement in Italy. As a result, Pound became an eager advocate for “Il Duce,” even going so far as to praise him in a book, Jefferson and/or Mussolini (1935) that, in addition to defending Pound's economic and political theories, hailed the Italian dictator as a sort of second coming of Thomas Jefferson, a man Pound greatly admired. A strong opponent to the coming war, Pound stridently worked to prevent its seeming inevitability through his writings and even a last ditch visit to the United States in 1939. When war finally did flare, Pound became a voice for Mussolini, airing a series of weekly radio broadcasts where he railed against the U.S. involvement in the war and spewed a series of racially tinged invectives against the Jewish people, including apparent support for Hitler's “Final Solution.” Indicted for treason by the United States in 1942, he continued his attacks against U.S. policy until he was eventually handed over to U.S. forces by partisans following a coup against Mussolini in 1945.
For the next six months, he was held at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks near Pisa, Italy, under harsh circumstances. Confined amongst U.S. military prisoners, some of whom were executed at Pisa by the military for such violent crimes as rape and murder, Pound suffered terribly under the stress and conditions of his imprisonment at Pisa. Out of his pain and suffering, and still mourning the death of his Fascist dream, Pound penned The Pisan Cantos (1948), numbers 74-84 in The Cantos, which were immediately hailed as a masterwork of English literature by many leading members of the literati of the time. The most directly personal segment of The Cantos, the elegiac tones are often moving in their expression of the despair he felt during this period of fragile emotional adversity. Unfortunately, The Pisan Cantos also reflected his growing antagonism and the exacerbated mental difficulties that were becoming increasingly apparent, problems that manifested themselves as expanding conspiratorial rants against Jews as well as several lines written in honor of his beloved fallen Mussolini. Upon his return to the United States, Pound had cause to fear for his life as he was charged with treason, which came with a possible death penalty. On the advice of his lawyers and many influential literary friends, Pound agreed to settle for acquittal on the grounds that he was mentally unfit to stand trial, a result that led to his committal at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C. The hope among his advisers was to avoid the trial at a time when emotions about the war were running at a fever pitch, and thus evade any chance he would be handed a death sentence. But the gambit backfired when St. Elizabeth's psychiatrists diagnosed him with narcissistic personality disorder and he was forced to spend the next thirteen years at the hospital against his will.
For their part, the literary community were already split regarding Pound's questionable actions during the war, though most believed that in no way were those actions deserving of execution. The atmosphere became further charged when months after its release, The Pisan Cantos was awarded the prestigious first-ever Bollingen-Library of Congress Award in 1949, given to the finest collection of poetry from the preceding year. The jury committee, which included among its membership famed poets Allen Tate, T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, Conrad Aiken, Louise Bogan, Leonie Adams, Robert Penn Warren, and Robert Lowell, was composed of mostly anti-war Modernists like Pound himself. The possible motivations for Pound's selection may have been an attempt by the Bollingen membership to bring attention to Pound's plight, in addition to their desire to honor a work many of them believed to be perhaps the finest poetry of their generation. Instead, a war of words ensued between those who saw The Pisan Cantos as a grossly anti-Semitic and anti-democratic work and the Bollingen group—many of whom were followers of the New Criticism movement which sought to form a new system of literary criticism centering on the rigorous study of text by itself. The Bollingen jury believed that art should be studied on its own merits without any outside factors influencing one's determination of the quality or value of the work. Leading the voices speaking out against Pound was poet Robert Hillyer, himself a Pulitzer Prize winner, who savagely berated the Bollingen jury in a series of articles in the Saturday Review of Literature that singled out T. S. Eliot (himself rumored to be Fascist-leaning and anti-Semitic) for special condemnation. He believed the Bollingen group and its allies to be an elitist assembly cut off from real-world concerns and Pound to be a terrible choice for such an honor. Among Hillyer's supporters was famed anthologist and critic Louis Untermeyer, who summed up the feelings of much of mid-America when he described Pound as “the most belligerent expatriate of his generation.”
The attention negatively affected Pound, and he came to despise his time at St. Elizabeth's. During his incarceration, his travails inspired him to write two more volumes in his Cantos series, Section: Rock-Drill (1955) and Thrones (1959) as well as a prose essay on artist patronage, Patria Mia (1950). During his time at the institution, he became a sort of tragic, mythic figure to many in the literary world, leading Allen Ginsberg among others to visit him. These visits came to be known as part of the “Ezuversity” and enabled Pound to extend his influence onto a new generation of artists. Upon his release from St. Elizabeth's, Pound returned to his cherished Italy to live with his daughter, and where he mellowed a bit in his beliefs in later years, until his passing at the age of eighty-six in 1972.
Pound believed himself to be an optimist, who in a fashion, outlined his hopes for a dream society where art and culture were king. His legacy to literature is such that no matter what his controversial views, he remains one of the most studied artists of the twentieth century; his Cantos is a masterwork, his criticism continues to be a major influence on literature and he helped expose the works of James Joyce and T. S. Eliot to a wider audience. But regardless of those achievements his critical reputation is still haunted by his words and actions during the World War II period, and as a result a healthy debate continues to rage over his place in history. Critically, the heart of the debate seems to center on two issues: 1) what might have been the truth regarding Pound's intentions during the war versus his own accounting of his goals and 2) can a work—even one as technically proficient and groundbreaking as The Cantos—be considered great art as a whole when pieces of it contain such harsh sentiments?
A Lume Spento (poetry) 1908
Exultations (poetry) 1909
Personae (poetry) 1909
The Spirit of Romance (criticism) 1910
Cathay: Translations for the Most Part from the Chinese of Rihaku, From the Notes of the Late Ernest Fenollosa, and the Decipherings of the Professors Mori and Ariga [translator] (poetry) 1915
Lustra (poetry) 1916
Noh; or, Accomplishment: A Study of the Classical Stage of Japan [with Ernest Fenollosa] (criticism) 1916
The Fourth Canto (poetry) 1919
Hugh Selwyn Mauberly (poetry) 1920
Instigations of Ezra Pound, Together with an Essay on the Chinese Written Characters by Ernest Fenollosa (criticism) 1920
Poems, 1918-21 (poetry) 1921
A Draft of XXX Cantos (poetry) 1930
How to Read (criticism) 1931
ABC of Economics (criticism) 1933
ABC of Reading (criticism) 1934
Eleven New Cantos: XXXI-XLI (poetry) 1934
Jefferson and/or Mussolini (prose) 1935
The Fifth Decade of Cantos (poetry) 1937
Guide to Kulchur (prose) 1938
What is Money For (prose) 1939
Cantos LII-LXXI (poetry) 1940
L'America, Roosevelt e le Cause della Guerra Presente (prose) 1944; also published as America, Roosevelt and the Causes of the Present War, 1951
If This Be Treason (radio broadcasts) 1948
The Cantos (poetry)...
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Criticism: Politics Of Ezra Pound
SOURCE: Berryman, John. “The Poetry of Ezra Pound.” In Ezra Pound: The Critical Heritage, edited by Eric Homberger, pp. 388-404. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972.
[In the following essay, originally published in the Partisan Review in April 1949, Berryman attempts to mark the influences underlying the various phases of Pound's work from his early roots in Imagism to his later Fascist views.]
Since Pound has been for several generations now one of the most famous of living poets, it may occasion surprise that an introduction to his poetry, such as I was lately invited to make for New Directions, should be thought necessary at all. It may, but I doubt that it will. Not much candor is wanted for the observation that though he is famous and his poetry is famous his poetry is not familiar, that serious readers as a class have relinquished even the imperfect hold they had upon it fifteen years ago, and regard it at present either with hostility or with indifference. The situation is awkward for the critic. Commonly, when the object of criticism is at once celebrated, unfamiliar, and odious, it is also remote in time; the enquiry touches no current or recent passion. Our case is as different as possible from this enviable condition.
In a few years no one will remember the buffo, No one will remember the trivial parts of me, The comic detail will be absent.
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SOURCE: Stock, Noel. “Some Dangers of Literary Biography.” In Poet in Exile, pp. 121-29. New York: Barnes and Noble, Inc., 1964.
[In the following essay, Stock warns that the literary biographer's standard approach to analysis—to explore an author's letters, essays, and other related materials to gain insight into his writing—may not provide accurate critical insight into Pound's poetry.]
There was an immense amount of purely prosodic training and general preparation that went into the production of Ezra Pound's verse. His maturity as a poet occurred, it will be noted, about 1920, when he was thirty-five years old; and up to this time his work holds together as an unmistakable unity, despite possible flaws or shortcomings. Of the poetry and prose up to 1920 it is possible to say that it makes sense both on and below the surface, and there is no need for us to go hunting for out-of-the-way explanations to substantiate this claim. When, however, we turn to the second half of Pound's career—from the time he left London in 1921 until the Thrones Cantos in 1959—we are faced with something different. There is still much that is great in his poetry after 1920—and the Cantos is a major work, no matter how harshly we may have to treat certain aspects of it—but the prose begins to disintegrate and there are ominous signs on the surface of the poetry which suggest that all is not well...
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SOURCE: Sicari, Stephen. “Reading Pound's Politics: Ulysses as Fascist Hero.” Paideuma 17, no. 2-3 (fall-winter 1988): 145-68.
[In the following essay, Sicari argues that Pound's explanation of heroic action in his pre-war Cantos helped formulate his later professed admiration for Fascism.]
To understand Ezra Pound's admiration for Italian Fascism in general and Mussolini in particular, we can examine the poet's conception of heroic action in those of The Cantos written before the fall of the Fascist State.1 In 1938 Pound described “the Malatesta cantos” as “openly volitionist, establishing, I think clearly, the effect of the factive personality” (Guide to Kulchur 194). Sigismundo Malatesta is a hero for this poet because he manages to create something beautiful and good despite the obstacles inherent in a corrupt culture: “All that a single man could, Malatesta manages against the current of power” (GK 159). I shall argue that the poet's early work on The Cantos prepares him to embrace a “fascist” conception of the hero whose strong and directed will can transcend historical determinism and alter humanity's course through history. His enthusiasm for Mussolini springs from decisions made first in his poetry.2
Pound develops and deploys a version of the Ulysses figure3 as the paradigm for heroic...
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SOURCE: Kazin, Alfred. “Homer to Mussolini: The Fascination and Terror of Ezra Pound.” In Ezra Pound: The Legacy of Kulchur, edited by Marcel Smith and William A. Ulmer, pp. 25-50. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1988.
[In the following essay, Kazin studies Pound's politics and reflects upon how it affected his writing style, particularly his Cantos as a whole.]
In the museum of modern literature no figure commands more space than Ezra Pound. Born in 1885 and dying at the ripe age of eighty-seven in 1972, he published his first book of poems in Venice, A lume spento, in 1908. My packed shelves hold almost thirty volumes of his writings—the early collected poems in Personae; the final one-volume collected Cantos of 1970; Pound on The Spirit of Romance, on “Kulchur,” on Joyce, on the classic Noh Theater of Japan and the Confucian Odes; Pound on How to Read, Make It New, The ABC of Reading; Pound's literary essays and letters; his translations from the Anglo-Saxon, Chinese, French, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, and Latin; love poems from ancient Egypt; Sophocles' Women of Trachis. There are many more in general circulation.
Not in general circulation these days are the “money pamphlets” that Pound wrote in Italian during the war and that were published in London by Peter Russell in 1950: An...
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SOURCE: Tuma, Keith. “Ezra Pound, Progressive.” Paideuma 19, no. 1-2 (spring-fall 1990): 77-92.
[In the following essay, Tuma attempts to trace the roots of Pound's later political course by analyzing Pound's 1912 essay Patria Mia, a cultural critique of Pound's belief that a forthcoming American renaissance was approaching.]
There has been rather a lot written lately on Ezra Pound's politics, a good part of it concerned with Pound's fascism.1 Somehow Pound's work still can summon a rhetoric of urgency and embattled desperation. His canonical status provides ample ammunition for those political critics who wish to fire away at the skeletons of the New Criticism. But beyond the role Pound has played in the now ancient revolt against New Criticism, which has been repeatedly castigated for its conservatism, there has been remarkably little discussion of Pound within the context of American politics. Larger questions of ideology, intention, poetry and politics, and so on—these have been discussed, sometimes brilliantly, with regard to Pound but often at the expense of a detailed discussion of American political history. Italian Fascism must surely factor into any analysis of Pound's political propaganda of the thirties; even so, someone should take the time to compare that propaganda to the propaganda of such organizations as the America First Committee, because American support for...
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Criticism: Anti-Semitism Of Ezra Pound
SOURCE: Chace, William M. “A Guide to Culture: Anti-Semitism.” In The Political Identities of Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot, pp. 71-85. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1973.
[In the following essay, Chace analyzes Pound's 1938 prose treatise A Guide to Kulchur, particularly its anti-Semitism.]
And if you will say that this tale teaches … a lesson, or that the Reverend Eliot has found a more natural language … you who think you will get through hell in a hurry …
These words open Canto 46. Written in late 1935 or early 1936, the canto is at once a short review of Ezra Pound's beliefs up to that time and an announcement that the modern Inferno in which he as a poet has dwelt has not yet ended. The grasp of history is strong. The test of a man is his ability to endure the contemporary hell contrived by usurers and, moreover, to so describe its shape and feel that the preciseness of his description will serve the struggle of all others so imprisoned.1 The Odyssean travail will at last become success if sanity and knowledge are preserved. As Pound puts it in Canto 47:
Who even dead, yet hath his mind entire! This sound came in the dark First must thou go the road to hell And to the bower of Ceres' daughter Proserpine,...
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SOURCE: Goldensohn, Barry. “Pound and Antisemitism.” Yale Review 75, no. 3 (June 1986): 399-421.
[In the following essay, Goldensohn disagrees with the various rationales often given for Pound's anti-Semitism and that despite the historical tendencies to forgive and forget such indiscretions, Pound's anti-Semitism continues to matter.]
It is a puzzling and painful conflict for one who loves Pound's poetry and poetics and admires his role as a generous mentor of poets to attempt to come to terms with his antisemitism, his Fascism, and his glorification of Mussolini (the “Boss”) and Hitler (“a Jeanne d'Arc”).1 We do not have here a romantic figure of the artist-in-defiance choosing evil or crime like Genet, Rimbaud, or Sade; nor on the other hand do we have here the poet as mass murderer like Sir Walter Ralegh, who in a “pacification campaign” in Ireland is said to have massacred six hundred men and women after their surrender. What repels us in Pound is banal and self-righteous. We have come to understand antisemitism as the all-too-common form of the paranoid fantasy of the credulous, and it does not sit well with Pound's early work: his essays and poetry reveal an ironic, iconoclastic, skeptical intelligence—that of a latter-day Archilochus or Martial set loose in London and Paris, or of a man at home with the alluring, sophisticated mockery of Propertius. This aspect of...
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Criticism: The Bollingen Award Controversy
SOURCE: Hillyer, Robert. “Treason's Strange Fruit: The Case of Ezra Pound and the Bollingen Award.” Saturday Review of Literature 32, no. 24 (11 June 1949): 9-11, 28.
[In the following essay, Hillyer, a Pulitzer Prize winner and former president of the Poetry Society of America, heatedly explains why Pound is undeserving of the 1949 Bollingen Award for poetry.]
Last February 20 the press announced that Ezra Pound, who was then under suspended indictment for high treason, had been awarded a new prize, the Bollingen-Library of Congress Award of ＄1,000. The award was made by “a jury of Fellows of the Library of Congress in American Letters,” which had adjudged Pound's “Pisan Cantos” to be “the highest achievement of American poetry in 1948.” Except for those facts, the general public, even that part of it which is interested in literary matters, knows little.
It is my purpose in these two articles to provide information concerning the background of this award from two points of view, the political and cultural, which are in this case closely related.
Ezra Pound is quite simply under indictment for treason because during the last war he served the enemy in direct poetical and propaganda activities against the United States. The defense has been that he was insane, which may be an interesting commentary on his prize-winning poetry. His poems are the...
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SOURCE: Viereck, Peter. “Pure Poetry, Impure Politics, and Ezra Pound: The Bollingen Prize Controversy Revisited.” In A Casebook on Ezra Pound, edited by William Van O'Connor and Edward Stone, pp. 92-103. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1959.
[In the following essay, originally published inCommentary's April 1951 issue, Viereck debates whether “form and technique can be considered apart from context and meaning” by examining Pound's awarding of the 1949 Bollingen Prize for poetry.]
Not even Ezra Pound's most intolerant belittlers have ever been able to deny his trail-blazing function, whether or not one likes his trails. Therefore one wonders what his feelings must be at watching his pious, humorless disciples—for example, in the recent symposium An Examination of Ezra Pound—turn his rebellious originality into a frozen image as stereotyped as that of the Georgians and late-Victorians whom he overthrew. The contrast between his vitality in the 1920's and the stuffiness of his 1950 praetorian guard is brought out by reading his vivid collected Letters, also recently published, side by side with An Examination. The former book is alive. Much of the latter book is dead with precisely that kind of pompous, pretentious, deadly deadness that Pound was overthrowing in 1913.
The appearance of these two new contrasting books has reopened the dormant...
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SOURCE: Tate, Allen. “Ezra Pound and the Bollingen Prize.” In Ezra Pound Perspectives: Essays in Honor of his Eightieth Birthday, edited with an introduction by Noel Stock, pp. 86-9. Chicago, Ill.: Henry Regnery Company, 1965.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1959, Tate—the famed poet and head of the Bollingen Prize jury—defends his selection of Pound as the winner of their 1949 award as being due to Pound's efforts in regenerating language, though oddly he has strong criticism of the Pisan Cantos.]
What I shall say here is not in further commentary on Mr. William Barrett's article in the April, 1949, issue of Partisan Review; nor is it the “rational, impersonal, and calm justification” of the award of the Bollingen Prize to Ezra Pound which Mr. Barrett was kind enough to expect from me. I intend rather to set down my own reasons for voting for the Pisan Cantos. I shall have in mind the Partisan symposium on the award without, I hope, being influenced by it in reconstructing my views of last November.1
From the time I first read Pound's verse more than thirty years ago I have considered him a mixed poet. In an essay written in 1931, on the first thirty Cantos, I expressed views which the later accretions to the work have not changed: the work to which I helped to give the Bollingen Prize is formless, eccentric and personal. The...
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SOURCE: Coley, Lem. “‘A Conspiracy of Friendliness’: T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Allen Tate, and the Bollingen Controversy.” The Southern Review 38, no. 4 (autumn 2002): 809-26.
[In the following essay, Coley summarizes the events surrounding Pound's selection for the Bollingen Award and gives the opinions of many of the leading literary figures of the period and on which side of the debate they fell on.]
In 1948 the Fellows in American Letters of the Library of Congress announced the creation of a new prize for poetry: one thousand dollars for the best book published by an American citizen during the previous year. The prize would be called the Bollingen Award because the Mellon family's Bollingen Foundation was putting up the money. In February 1949, the Fellows announced that Ezra Pound had won the first award for Pisan Cantos.
From its conception and design to its contentious denouement, the first Bollingen Award owed its existence to Allen Tate. He had established the Fellows in American Letters at the Library of Congress—the jury for the award—and nominated the members. He created the prize, raised the money, and spent 1949 as the floor manager of what would be a grand controversy.
Tate and Pound disliked each other. When Ford Madox Ford asked Pound's support for Tate's campaign to keep John Crowe Ransom at Vanderbilt, Ezra carped, “[T]hat gang...
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Criticism: Pound's Later Writing
SOURCE: Bottrall, Ronald. “The Achievement of Ezra Pound.” In Ezra Pound: The Critical Heritage, edited by Eric Homberger, pp. 415-21. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1952, Bottrall, a well-known English poet, positively reflects upon Pound's body of work, believing “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley” to be his artistic peak, and that his later work, while still excellent, did not live up to his earlier potential.]
During the last twelve months or so in addition to a collection of essays on Ezra Pound, there have appeared the collected edition of the first 70 Cantos; a volume of Pound's letters, edited by D. D. Paige; and a full-length study of Pound's poetry by Hugh Kenner. All this does honour to a neglected writer and is an encouraging riposte to the attacks made by large sections of the American press on Pound and the judges who awarded him the Bollingen Prize. But I sense in a good deal of the criticism the hushed atmosphere of the cult, and this I cannot believe that Pound himself would welcome. He has always been a plain speaker and a hard hitter.
In an essay that appeared in the Dial in January 1928, T. S. Eliot wrote: ‘I cannot think of anyone writing verse, of our generation and the next, whose verse (if any good) has not been improved by the study of Pound's.’ This has always puzzled me. A generation is usually...
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SOURCE: Fraser, G. S. “Pound and His Critics.” In Ezra Pound, pp. 86-114. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1960.
[In the following essay, Fraser charts the critical perception of Pound, particularly that of Wyndham Lewis, and in what way his politics may have colored his legacy.]
Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot have had more written about them, in their own lifetimes, than any previous poets in the English language one can think of. Of writers more or less contemporary with them, also writing in English, the three who compete with them in this respect are James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, and W. B. Yeats and a good deal of the writing about these three is biographical; a good deal, also, of the more elaborate expository or appreciative writing dates from after their deaths. In Pound's case, for instance, there is one book, Hugh Kenner's, devoted to his work as a whole, at least three books devoted to the Cantos and a volume of essays by various hands on the same subject, there is a book of essays and tributes collected by Peter Russell for Pound's sixty-fifth birthday, and there is a little expository volume on Hugh Selwyn Mauberley.
There is a book on the influence of Japan on Western culture of which the liveliest parts are concerned with what Pound and the Imagists generally learned from the haiku. T. S. Eliot's introduction to the Selected Poems and F. R. Leavis's...
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SOURCE: Stock, Noel. “Pound's Style and Method.” In Critics on Ezra Pound: Readings in Literary Criticism, edited by E. San Juan Jr., pp. 89-94. Coral Gables, Fla.: University of Miami Press, 1972.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1964, Stock reviews how writer Ernest Fenollosa and Chinese poetic methods influenced Pound's poetic style and philosophy of writing.]
The best and bulk of Pound's literary prose was written before 1920. Whatever shortcomings it may have, it was written by one who was interested not only in what he was writing about, but the literary world in which he was working as well. The later prose, even the best of it, even essays like ‘How to read’, ‘Date Line’ and those on Monro and Housman, lack the freshness of the earlier pieces, despite the chatty and occasionally effective style; but more than that, they are the work of a man who for critical purposes has lost touch with the literature he is discussing and the literary world for which he is writing, and is engaged in the arbitrary arrangement of categories and often disembodied guesses. Despite the tone of succinct wisdom with which these categories and guesses are laid out and related—related, that is to say, in the sense that Pound puts them together—there are no filaments of thought binding them into a whole. Relationships, all sorts of strange relationships, are thrust upon them by Pound's short...
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SOURCE: Fiedler, Leslie. “Traitor or Laureate: The Two Trials of the Poet.” In New Approaches to Ezra Pound: A Co-ordinated Investigation of Pound's Poetry and Ideas, edited with an introduction by Eva Hesse, pp. 365-77. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.
[In the following essay, Fiedler states that of the poets of their generation, history will likely give Robert Frost the popular acclaim and Pound the critical praise.]
In the United States, poetry has been for so long not so much bought and read as honoured and studied that the poet has grown accustomed to his marginal status. Unlike the novelist, he takes his exclusion from the market place as given, not a subject for anguish and protest but a standing joke, partly on him, partly on those who exclude him. Edmund Wilson was able to ask, as early as the 'thirties, ‘Is Verse a Dying Technique?’ and the mournful answer is implicit in the mournful cadence of the question. But Mr Wilson did not, of course, pose the question for the first time; behind his concern there is a tradition of discovering the end of verse which goes back as far as Thomas Love Peacock's ‘Four Ages of Poetry’ and the earliest impact of advanced technology on the imagination of the West.
Long before the poets of the United States had found an authentic voice, the survival of poetry itself had come to seem problematical; and certainly...
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SOURCE: Young, Kevin. “Visiting St. Elizabeths: Ezra Pound, Impersonation, and the Mask of the Modern Poet.” In Ezra Pound and African American Modernism, edited by Michael Coyle, pp. 185-204. Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, 2001.
[In the following essay, Young relates Pound's transitional sense of both Modernism and the artistic ‘mask’ to that of the African American writing experience.]
Ezra Pound's poetic career—an oxymoron of a term which, before him, was somewhat unimaginable—can be characterized by the very titles of the various literary magazines he edited, hustled for and hawked. From simple Poetry to The Egoist to The Exile, Pound progressed and regressed, along the way founding more “isms” than a political party. Indeed, Pound is all too often read as a self-contained rally: one man whose many voices surround one sure cause, whether Modernism or fascism or some (im)potent combination of the two. Unrepentant genius, anti-Semite, innovator, lecturer, hypocrite lecteur, didact and autodidact, outsider, promoter, provacateur, prisoner, impersonator, Imagist, anti-Amygist, Vorticist, long-married, paranoid, adulterer, Brer Rabbit: Pound embodied as many roles as he wrote volumes—indeed I argue the two are linked—becoming, if for the briefest of moments, even a “race man.”
Certainly, Pound was himself aware of this...
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Criticism: Criticism Of The Pisan Cantos
SOURCE: Watts, Harold H. “Reckoning.” In Ezra Pound: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Walter Sutton, pp. 98-114. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1963.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1953, Watts attempts to define Pound's The Cantos in light of the author's method, tone, goals, and ultimately whether it effectively disseminated its stated aims.]
The Cantos is a poem that interests in many connections. It is the capital piece of “evidence” in any dispute between Ezra Pound and the United States government. Literarily, it cannot be regarded as a “sport,” a willful driving of the language in the direction of obscurity and inconsecutiveness. It is rather—in respect to technique—the investigation of the resources of our language when manipulated in an unusual way: a way that Pound was driven to discover as an alternative to communication that is orderly, logical, and (in Pound's opinion) bootless.
At this point, certain things must be clear. We can know what the poem attempts and what it does not attempt. We can see that there are different techniques of confusion in our culture, techniques that the facile reader lumps together. We can see that it is uncritical to identify a technique that is invented and perfected in the interest of renewing our language and culture (Pound's technique in...
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SOURCE: Schwartz, Delmore. “Ezra Pound and History.” New Republic 142, no. 6, (8 February 1960): 17-9.
[In the following review of Thrones de los Cantares, Schwartz concludes that although the poem has many self-indulgent aspects to it, there is still inherent beauty within its verses.]
As one reads these thirteen new cantos of Ezra Pound's long poem and then rereads the ninety-five which have preceded it, one's first strong impression is that little change or genuine development of these and attitude have occurred throughout the entire work. Through the years Pound has remembered a great deal, but he has learned nothing—nothing that could be called a new insight into the attitudes with which he began to write. Thus Canto 100 begins with
Has packed the Supreme Court so they declare anything he does constitutional.
—Senator Wheeler, 1936
Here, in this denunciatory reference to Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, as elsewhere in these cantos, it is clear that Pound's view of the New Deal and the Second World War have not been altered since the lamentable attempt to pack the Supreme Court. And this is but one instance of the fact that Pound has not reviewed, in the light of recent experience and recent knowledge, his attitude toward the Second World War: he has not asked himself what would have...
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SOURCE: North, Michael. “Where Memory Faileth: Forgetfulness and a Poem Including History.” In Ezra Pound: The Legacy of Kulchur, edited by Marcel Smith and William A. Ulmer, pp. 145-65. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1988.
[In the following essay, North notes the many instances where Pound's historical and factual memory seems to fail him, but believes that for him it was a tool he used in his attempts to define culture.]
When Ezra Pound was returned to the United States in 1945, he declared, “I'd die for an idea all right, but to die for an idea I've forgotten is too much. Does anyone have the faintest idea what I said?” The statement is discomforting for a number of different reasons, not the least of which is the claim of poor memory by the poet who had just completed the Pisan Cantos. We know that memory loss was one symptom of the breakdown Pound suffered during his term in the gorilla cage, but in between that collapse and his return to the United States, Pound composed ten long cantos that depend on and celebrate the faculty of memory. “Dove sta memoria,” the phrase Pound adapts from Cavalcanti, is a kind of motto for these cantos, as it might be for the whole work that begins with a blood offering to the ghosts of the past. And some of Pound's most intemperate outbursts are directed at what he saw as a conspiracy of forgetfulness, a method of writing history “aimed...
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SOURCE: Wilhelm, J. J. “From Rock Drill (Cantos 85-95) to Deliverance (1955-1958).” In Ezra Pound: The Tragic Years (1925-1972), pp. 294-311. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994.
[In the following essay, Wilhelm analyzes some of Pound's later poetic outputs from the 1950s and the efforts to free him from St. Elizabeths Hospital.]
This would be a good year to release poets
—Ernest Hemingway in 1954 shortly after receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature
By 1955, everyone interested in serious literature was curious about the nature of the ensuing cantos, because the rumor was already out that Ezra Pound was working on them, despite the efforts of Dr. Overholser to play the subject down. When Section: Rock-Drill was published by Vanni Scheiwiller in Milan in September (the New Directions publication followed in 1956 and the Faber in 1957), readers were somewhat surprised by the reversion to a pre-Pisan form. The first-person sufferer at Pisa had disappeared, and instead, one was faced at the start of Canto 85 by the formidable Chinese character LING in the second tone, which was defined by the last word of the next line: “Our dynasty came in because of a great sensibility.” Despite this magnificent proclamation, the effect of the whole canto was a bit overwhelming....
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Bell, Ian F. A., and Patricia A. Agar. “Romantic Modernisms: Early Pound and Late Keats.” Paideuma 19, no. 1-2 (spring-fall 1990): 93-105.
Discusses how the later works of John Keats influenced Pound's poetry.
Bush, Ronald. “Modernism, Fascism, and the Composition of Ezra Pound's Pisan Cantos.” Modernism/Modernity 2, no. 3 (1995): 69-87.
Detailed look at the Fascist and Modernist elements of Pound's Pisan Cantos.
Chace, William M. “Ezra Pound: ‘Insanity,’ ‘Treason,’ and ‘Care.’” Critical Inquiry 14, no. 1 (autumn 1987): 134-41.
Examines the circumstances behind Pound's trial for treason and whether or not he was actually mentally incompetent.
Cockram, Patricia. “Collapse and Recall: Ezra Pound's Italian Cantos.” Journal of Modern Literature 23, no. 3-4 (summer 2000): 535-44.
Probing look at Pound's Italian Cantos.
Evans, David W. “Ezra Pound as a Prison Poet.” In Ezra Pound: A Critical Anthology, edited by J. P. Sullivan, pp. 227-32. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, Ltd., 1970.
Praises the organizational style, disliked by many other critics, of The Pisan Cantos and states that since they were so strongly influenced by his imprisonment they can...
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