Pound, Ezra (Vol. 13)
Pound, Ezra 1885–1972
American poet, translator, essayist, and critic, Pound is heralded as the initiator of modern twentieth-century poetry. Influenced by Whitman's Leaves of Grass, his own lifetime masterpiece, Cantos, was constantly revised and added to during the more than forty years of its construction. Literary allusions, foreign phrases and forms abound in this volume, which T. S. Eliot called "an inexhaustible reference book of verse form." His translations of Chinese poetry are often criticized as misrepresentative of their original structure, reading like Pound's own work; such experimentation, however, added new dimensions to the genre, later expounded upon by other twentieth-century poets. Pound's 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. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 58, rev. ed.; obituary, Vols. 37-40, rev. ed.)
S. J. Adams
Surprisingly little has been written about Pound's translation of the Old English "Seafarer." (p. 127)
Truly, the scholar who possesses the original poem is in an awkward position, faced with two poems remarkably alike but different; his approach inevitably suffers from a psychological interference—something like hearing a new interpretation of a familiar song. He may prefer a bland Modern English substitute, that reminds him of the original, to a fully recreated poem. The scholar too will have his own understanding of the poem; Pound's, following a line of scholarship now in disfavor, will almost certainly differ. The reader without Old English, on the other hand, may find Pound's poem magnificent …, but he may be troubled by rumours of Pound's blunders. The question can only be settled by a line-by-line comparison of the two poems, with a mind alert to possible reasons for whatever divergences do exist—for it will be found that their number has been exaggerated. A simple check-list of Pound's "errors" is most misleading. But, before such a comparison is possible, some other points must be kept in mind.
Pound first published his "Seafarer" in … 1911. Except for a brief "philological note" it formed without comment the first of a series of twelve articles under the title "I Gather the Limbs of Osiris," which were said to illustrate a "new method" in scholarship…. His "new method" of scholarship is a...
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Because of [the] cavalier disregard of ascertainable facts and documents we can be offered, as a portrait of the youthful Pound, a figure who [according to George Quasha] "was seeking a radical redefinition of poetic possibilities and returning to the roots of civilization in order to show how much had been lost in the watery conventions handed over to us by the nineteenth century." The ascertainable records present us on the contrary with a man who admired Swinburne and Thomas Hardy and D. G. Rossetti, Beddoes and Landor and Browning, Gautier and Heine and Leopardi, Stendhal and Remy de Gourmont and Flaubert; a man who had virtually no views of American nineteenth-century literature, since he appears not to have read attentively (nor was he to read) Emily Dickinson or Melville or Hawthorne, Fenimore Cooper or Thoreau; who thought on the other hand that "there is more wisdom, perhaps more 'revolution' in Whistler's portrait of young Miss Alexander than in all the Judaic drawings of the 'prophetic' Blake", in short, a man who carried more nineteenth-century baggage than any comparably gifted contemporary among writers in English. If Pound is a master and founding father of twentieth-century modernism in the arts, it is certainly not by virtue of having exploded, and persuaded us to reject, nineteenth-century pretensions.
we may reach back further, and consider not the nineteenth century but the eighteenth…. As with nineteenth century...
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The reader who is not a student of poetry has [a] ground for indifference [towards Pound]. Pound, he has always heard, has no "matter." Granting the "importance" of his verse, granting the possibility that having been for poets fertile it might prove on acquaintance agreeable or beautiful, what has he to do with this sport, a matterless poetry?… "I confess," Eliot once wrote, "that I am seldom interested in what he is saying, but only in the way he says it"; and R. P. Blackmur, "He is all surface and articulation." We notice Eliot's qualification ("seldom") and we are puzzled by an ambiguity in Blackmur's "articulation" (is this jointing or merely uttering?); but on the whole they put authoritatively the established view. Now there can be no question of traversing such authorities directly. But it is a violent and remarkable charge; I think we are bound to look into it a little. (p. 256)
Pound's poetry treats of Provence, China, Rome, London, medieval living, modern living, human relationships, authors, young women, animals, money, games, government, war, poetry, love, and other things. This can be verified. What the critics must mean, then, is that they are aware of a defect, or defects, in the substance of the poetry. About one defect they have been explicit: the want of originality of substance. Pound has no matter of his own. Pound—who is even in the most surprising quarters conceded to be a "great"...
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Joyce's and Eliot's concern for time certainly needs no emphasis. Everyone has spoken of it. But Pound's concern is probably less widely realized. And this despite the fact that his critics have written significantly about its importance. It is perhaps best, then, to begin with two of the finest of these, with Daniel Pearlman, who has stated Pound's interest strongly ("The Cantos, as I read the poem, is precisely an elaboration of this thesis—that the central problems in all spheres of human involvement must be referred ultimately to a consideration of the nature of time."—The Barb of Time, 1969), and with George Dekker, who finds in Pound's changing attitude toward "the tyranny of place and time" the Cantos' "formal principle of development" (Sailing after Knowledge, 1963).
These two critics must be consulted in detail by everyone interested in Pound's work. I refer to them primarily to single out a major point they both stress: that Pound found significance implicit in the very heart of this world and not in some ideal world set over against this one. This fact seems so important to Pearlman that he suggests a word for the view: "holism." And Dekker, who speaks of Pound's near pagan attachment to this world in many places, uses at one point a very enlightening metaphor. Speaking of the famous "Envoi" to the first section of Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, he says that in it timeless beauty suddenly...
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