Ezra Pound Analysis

Discussion Topics

What are the characteristics of Ezra Pound’s most successful Imagist poems?

In what ways does Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, published shortly after World War I, adumbrate the posture Pound adopted in World War II?

How has Homage to Sextus Propertius influenced later students and translators of classical Greek and Latin poetry?

Does Pound’s poetic practice contradict his poetic theories, or was he simply unable to carry out his theories in his poetry?

In what ways do Pound’s Cantos mirror the twentieth century world in which they were written?

Pound assisted many other writers. What does the diversity of their talent and accomplishments say for Pound’s literary judgment and tutorial skills?

Other literary forms

Ezra Pound was the most influential translator of poetry in the twentieth century. He translated, sometimes with assistance, from Greek, Latin, Provençal, Italian, French, German, Old English, Chinese, and Japanese. The Translations of Ezra Pound (1953) contains most of his poetic translations; there are also two separate books of Chinese translations, The Classic Anthology Defined by Confucius (or The Confucian Odes, 1954) and Confucius (1969), which gathers together in one volume Pound’s translations of two of the Four Books associated with Confucius, the Zhong yong (wr. c. 500 b.c.e.; The Doctrine of the Mean, 1861, titled The Unwobbling Pivot by Pound), and the Da xue (fifth-first century b.c.e.; The Great Learning, 1861, titled The Great Digest by Pound), as well as Confucius’s Lunyu (late sixth-early fifth century b.c.e.; The Analects, 1861).

Pound wrote a great deal of criticism. His music criticism has been collected in Ezra Pound and Music: The Complete Criticism (1977); the best of his art criticism is found in Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir (1916) and his miscellaneous pieces have been brought together in Ezra Pound and the Visual Arts (1980). More important than either of these was his literary criticism, which, though more the notes of a working poet than a systematic body of doctrine, influenced many of the important poets of the century. Literary Essays (1954) and ABC of Reading (1934) contain the best of Pound’s formal criticism, though the informal criticism found in The Letters of Ezra Pound, 1907-1941 (1950) is at least as interesting.

Pound’s translations and criticism have aroused controversy, but nothing in comparison with that aroused by his writings on social, political, and economic questions. These include ABC of Economics (1933), Jefferson and/or Mussolini (1935), Guide to Kulchur (1938), and Impact: Essays on Ignorance and the Decline of American Civilization (1960). Pound’s Selected Prose, 1909-1965 (1973) includes a generous sampling of his writing in this area.

It testifies to the diversity of Pound’s interests that even this account far from exhausts Pound’s work in other forms. He composed an opera, The Testament of François Villon (1926); one of his first books, The Spirit of Romance (1910), was an extended discussion of medieval literature; he translated Confucius into Italian as well as English; and his contributions to periodicals number in the thousands.


There is more disagreement over Ezra Pound’s achievements than over those of any other modern poet. There can be no disagreement, however, over Pound’s extraordinary importance in the literary history of the twentieth century. Such importance derives in large measure from the close relationship that he enjoyed with so many of the twentieth century’s leading writers. While serving as William Butler Yeats’s secretary (from 1913 to 1915), he introduced Yeats to Japanese N drama, which served as a model for Yeats’s subsequent plays for dancers. In the same period, he discovered, promoted, and found publishers for James Joyce and T. S. Eliot. Later, in 1922, he edited Eliot’s masterpiece, The Waste Land, into final form. In 1914, he and Wyndham Lewis founded the Vorticist movement and the short-lived but seminal magazine Blast. During these years, he was actively involved with some of the most exciting literary journals of the period, including Poetry, The Egoist, Little Review, and The Dial.

In the 1920’s, as Pound began to write the long poem that would occupy him for fifty years, the Cantos, his pace of activity as a promoter of other writers declined. Nevertheless, he was an important influence on several generations of American poets, from his contemporaries William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore to E. E. Cummings, Louis Zukofsky, Charles Olson, and others. It is no exaggeration to say that the literary history of the twentieth century is unthinkable without Pound.

Pound’s work as a translator was as multifarious and stimulating as his...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Froula, Christine. A Guide to Ezra Pound’s Selected Poems. New York: New Directions, 1983. A competent and useful companion to the poems that serves as an aid to the reader’s understanding of Pound’s experimental style. A good accompaniment to his early work. Includes a select bibliography and an index.

Heymann, David. Ezra Pound: The Last Rower. New York: Viking Press, 1976. Offers a detailed look at the case for treason which the United States brought against Pound at the end of World War II. By presenting a careful examination of Pound’s political and economic beliefs, Heymann attempts to reconcile the poet’s life and work. Includes letters, photographs, and an index.

Kenner, Hugh. The Poetry of Ezra Pound. London: Faber & Faber, 1951. Rev. ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985. This classic examination and exposition of Pound’s poetry addresses and clarifies most of the obvious misunderstandings that have occurred to those not familiar with his work. Includes a new preface by the author and a foreword by James Laughlin, select bibliography, and an index.

Knapp, James F. Ezra Pound. Boston: Twayne, 1979. Offers a good, basic introduction to, and an overview of, Pound’s work. Includes a select bibliography and an index.

Korg, Jacob. Winter Love: Ezra Pound and H. D. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003. An examination of the personal and professional relationship between two of the most significant poets of the twentieth century.

Laughlin, James. Pound as Wuz: Essays and Lectures on...

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