Pound, Ezra (Vol. 10)
Pound, Ezra 1885–1972
Pound was an American poet, translator, and critic. His political sympathies at one time threatened to diminish his reputation as one of the most innovative and creative artists of his generation. Influencing poetry before, during, and after his career as a poet, Pound was a secretary to Yeats, playing an important part in transforming that great poet's artistic vision during his last period. He is responsible for editing The Waste Land into the form that won Eliot world-wide acclaim, and his tenacious support of Joyce during a period of financial distress allowed the novelist to finish Ulysses. His Fascist sentiments during the Second World War and his subsequent confinement, first in an Italian prison and later in an American mental institution, shattered his optimism but not his artistic gifts. He was able to emerge from his experience with his poetic gifts intact, and continued to contribute to his monumental opus, the Cantos. Originally a proponent of the Imagist school, with the Cantos Pound established himself as a unique artist. In this long poem Pound draws from the historical and artistic wealth of the ages to tell the story of an Odyssean character journeying through time. The points of reference raised in the Cantos are often obscure, but they reveal Pound's vast knowledge of history and culture and his determination to use the past to explicate the present. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.; obituary, Vols. 37-40.)
Marjorie G. Perloff
When A Draft of XXX Cantos appeared in 1930, William Carlos Williams remarked with characteristic insight: "A criticism of Pound's Cantos could not be better concerned, I think, than in considering them in relation to the principal move in imaginative writing today—that away from the word as symbol toward the word as reality." (p. 91)
To understand Pound's gradual shift from what Williams called "the word as symbol toward the word as reality," we might profitably consider Pound's debt to the late nineteenth-century French poet who, in the words of Delmore Schwartz, "tried out the whole century in advance"—Rimbaud. (pp. 91-2)
In referring us back to his A Study in French Poets of 1918, Pound reminds us that his initial interest in Rimbaud coincided with the first burst of activity on the Cantos, which got under way, after the abortive First Draft of Cantos 1-3 in 1917, with the publication of Canto 4 in 1919, and, more significantly, with the composition of the Malatesta sequence in 1923. These dates are important: in study after study, we read that the nineteenth-century French poet who influenced Pound was Gautier, but we look in vain in the Cantos for echoes of the Parnassian mode of Emaux et Camées—a mode that does stand squarely behind Hugh Selwyn Mauberley. It is my contention that after 1920, with Mauberley behind him, Pound turned more and...
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Ian F. A. Bell
[We] need to know about the curious vocabulary used in the "Mauberley 1920" half of [Hugh Selwyn Mauberley] and, crucially, the problem of Mauberley's temperament remains an urgent issue in the reading experience. Professor [John J.] Espey established the formula [in his Ezra Pound's 'Mauberley'; a Study in Composition] for that temperament which, in one way or another, has characterised all subsequent commentaries: "… the relation is, I think, clear enough: the passive aesthete played off against the active instigator".
Such a formula seriously distorts the operation of the poem. One cannot deny that Mauberley is a minor artist, that it is right to see him quite firmly as a composite figure partaking of the whole range of aesthetic activities of a secondary nature prevalent during a particular period in English literary history. But is seems to me that the point of the poem is not simply to construct a debate about various kinds of creative behaviour: we can leave that within the sphere of "Imaginary Conversations". To play off one kind of imagination against another is not only too easy but to evade what was, for Pound, the actual situation of the artist, a situation to which he consistently responded in crisis terms. To recognise this situation, we have to get away from the idea of Mauberley as a passive "toy of circumstance", as the delicate diluter of what is potentially an aesthetic programme of some...
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The two last poems of Ripostes, "The Return" and "The Alchemist," facing each other, offer a chance to watch Pound's genius quarrying out its resources. Both poems triumph in the skill with which they conjure up their particular moment; the return of the gods and the transformation of inferior—though lovely, alive—metals into gold. Both poems are miracles of equipoise. In "The Return" we must recognize the provisional, brilliant peace Pound has achieved between stone and wave. For the poem in its near Sapphic stanzas has a carved feeling indeed: cut out of a giant rock, broken off from a once mighty temple, vibrant as Valéry's notion of the dance. As with such great sculpture the poem is made wholly of movement: tentative waves, then swiftly hurtling breakers. In short, one element is composed of the other, rises out of the other: a permanent beauty out of the sea and the sea, its incessant flux, caught forever in that beauty. A frieze of a poem, it slowly thaws out and becomes frieze the more. It begins with a slow, accumulated series of waverings expressed in three-syllabled, hovering words: tentative, uncertain, wavering, half-awakened ("as half-" is echoed by the next lines "As if"), hesitant. In tune with this wavering, snow, a superb "natural" image of hesitant, late winter movement, hangs in air, murmurs, and half turns back. Then as the poem remembers what once these beings were, the mere thought of them discovers enough energy in...
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Donald E. Stanford
As we read through the original verse of Ezra Pound (as distinct from his "translations") from the beginning of his career until the end, that is, from A Lume Spento to the final Cantos, we become convinced that Pound was a poet not for all time but for an age. We must hasten to add, however—what an age! The complexity, depth, and brilliance of the poetry written during the first six or seven decades of this century will rival that of any other period of comparable length in the history of English and American literature. And yet something went wrong. The Experimentalist Movement—of which Pound was the founder and leader—ended in the Cantos, many of which (let's face it) are unreadable, and in the prose of Joyce's Finnegans Wake, which for the most part is also unreadable.
The final failure of the Experimentalist Movement was, I think, brought about not so much by a lack of talent as by a mistaken attitude toward and theories about the nature of poetry. A study of the career of Pound, who theorized about poetry almost as often as he practiced it, will throw a good deal of light on the history of literature of our time. For such a study the Collected Early Poems of Ezra Pound … is indispensable. (pp. 643-44)
In this collection we can watch the eclectic young poet writing (not very well at first) under the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites, Browning, the early Yeats, Swinburne,...
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