The Poem (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Homage to Sextus Propertius is essentially Ezra Pound’s translation of books 2 and 3 of the Elegies by the Roman poet Sextus Propertius, who lived during the latter part of the first century c.e. Calling this poem a “translation,” however, is misleading. Although many of Pound’s lines are accurate translations of the Latin verses, other stretches of the English-language poem depart widely in sense from the Latin original. Nevertheless, the subject matter of Homage to Sextus Propertius is that of the original books of the elegies, though the ordering of the various sections is often Pound’s own.
Section I encompasses the standard elegiac introduction of classical poetry: Propertius establishes his credentials as a young poet, with a new way of saying things. He acknowledges that his fame might be some time in coming, but when it does come, he will have a better memorial than the finest, most elaborate tomb. Part of Propertius’s novel poetic manner is his subject matter: Instead of glorifying the exploits of Imperial Rome, he intends to be part of the lyric tradition of classical poetry, which emphasizes love and intense personal emotion.
In the first stanza, Propertius calls up the ghosts of past lyric poets, thereby establishing his poetic heritage. He then contrasts the lyric tradition, in the second stanza, with popular contemporary poets whose subject is war. In the third...
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Forms and Devices (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Like nearly all Pound’s poetry, Homage to Sextus Propertius uses free verse—poetic lines that have no set rhythm or consistent number of feet and that do not rhyme. This does not mean, however, that the poem lacks strong verse structure. Moreover, certain distinct rhythms recur, which often suggest certain classical patterns. For example, anapestic feet (two unstressed beats followed by a stress) occur frequently, as in the poem’s first stanza: “Who hath taught you so subtle a measure.” Such rhythms were used in classical poetry for a variety of purposes, especially for Latin comic drama.
Generally, however, the rhythms here are those of speech: Pound believed that Propertius’s lines were meant to mimic the rise and fall of conversation, in the same rhythmic fashion as Pound’s own verse. The result is often a rhythmic line, or sequence of lines, followed by an ironic, nonrhythmic conclusion. The generally anapestic rhythm of “And expound the distentions of Empire,” for example, is interrupted by the lack of distinct rhythm in the line immediately following: “But for something to read in normal circumstances?” In the preceding example, Pound uses structural irony—the pompous beat of the first line contrasted with the idiomatic rhythm of the second—to reinforce the thematic irony, which contrasts the windy subject matter of Imperial Rome with Propertius’s own more personal verse.
The other striking structural...
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Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Froula, Christine. A Guide to Ezra Pound’s Selected Poems. New York: New Directions, 1983.
Heymann, David. Ezra Pound: The Last Rower. New York: Viking Press, 1976.
Kenner, Hugh. The Poetry of Ezra Pound. London: Faber & Faber, 1951. Rev. ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985.
Knapp, James F. Ezra Pound. Boston: Twayne, 1979.
Laughlin, James. Pound as Wuz: Essays and Lectures on Ezra Pound. St. Paul, Minn.: Graywolf Press, 1987.
Nadel, Ira Bruce. Ezra Pound: A Literary Life. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
Stock, Noel. The Life of Ezra Pound. 1970. Rev. ed. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1982.
Surette, Leon. Pound in Purgatory: From Economic Radicalism to Anti-Semitism. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999.
Tryphonopoulos, Demetres P., and Stephen J. Adams, eds. The Ezra Pound Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2005.
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