(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 13)

Students of modern literature know Ezra Pound the poet and Ford Madox Ford the novelist not only as writers but also as men devoted to the art of writing and to the promotion of the work of others in whom they saw merit or promise. This volume, compiled by Brita Lindberg-Seyersted from their exchange of letters about each other and their essays on each other, brings their devotion to literature sharply into focus. Lindberg-Seyersted, of the American Institute at the University of Oslo, embeds each letter or essay in the context of her biographical narrative, so that the book reads as a unified whole instead of as a mere compilation. In her introduction, Lindberg-Seyersted gives a very useful overview of Pound and Ford’s relationship, which, she points out, was primarily literary, rarely touching upon their private lives or politics as far as their correspondence reveals; she details the sources of the letters, most of them printed for the first time here, and the printing history of the essays and the three essays by Pound previously unpublished; and she explains her methodology in rendering Pound’s and Ford’s letters in a manner that would be both as faithful as possible to the originals and, at the same time, conducive to a readable, pleasing text. The five chapters document the relationship until Ford’s death in 1939, and the epilogue chronicles Pound’s later reflections on his friend.

The thirty-year literary friendship began in 1909 when Pound, recently arrived in London, met Ford (Hueffer, at that time). Cultivating the image of the eccentric artist and committing himself totally to his art, Pound discovered a similar devotion in Ford, who prided himself not only in being a gentleman but also in fostering young authors. Beyond their devotion to writing and promoting writers, they shared at that time an interest in the Mediterranean and a preference for anecdote and juxtaposition rather than discursive argument—for suggestion rather than explicit statement. Their literary tastes were similar; both admired Joseph Conrad (with whom Ford collaborated), Gustave Flaubert, Thomas Hardy, and Henry James and detested John Milton. Both enjoyed being a part of a literary circle, which brought with it stimulating conversation and good food. Ford’s talk, Lindberg-Seyersted notes, was what primarily interested Pound, and that, aside from a few anecdotes, is lost from the record. Ford more than once complained in his correspondence with Pound of not liking to write letters; Pound, on the other hand, was an avid letter-writer, using his unique epistolary style to persuade, pontificate, and prompt to action. In later years, he harangued his correspondents with diatribes on economics, often tainted with anti-Semitism, though he generally avoided this strain in his letters to pro-Zionist Ford. For his part, Ford annoyed many by embroidering on his stories and disregarding facts, but such lies do not appear in his letters to Pound.

In June, 1909, Ford published in his English Review Pound’s “Sestina: Altaforte,” giving him his first publication in a British magazine. Ford recognized Pound’s talent, printing nine of his poems in the Review and increasingly including him in his literary and intellectual circle (Ford, having left his wife, was then involved with novelist and suffragette Violet Hunt). Such inclusion was just what Pound craved. They read and discussed each other’s unpublished works, much as Pound was to do with T. S. Eliot in the early years of their relationship. Though Ford’s Impressionism was at first somewhat attractive to him, Pound soon rejected it as being “too sloppy,” with too much emphasis on technique and not enough on the subject. About Imagism, however, they agreed for a longer period of time—until, that is, Pound moved on to Vorticism. Ford’s insistence on a modern idiom, his belief that “poetry should be written at least as well as prose,” became part of Pound’s poetic credo for the rest of his life. Perhaps the most important vignette of their relationship, as far as Pound’s career was concerned, comes from these early years when in 1911, according to Pound in his obituary of Ford, Ford rolled on the floor, laughing or groaning, over Pound’s latest volume of verse, Canzoni (1911), which he found stilted. Pound never tired of thanking him for that roll on the floor.

Pound’s first review of Ford’s work (High Germany, 1912) appeared in the March, 1912, issue of Poetry Review. He finds the work flawed by Impressionism, a visual technique which gives too much weight to the surface of things. Although he qualified his praise of Ford’s poetry, Pound thought Ford critically acute in his discussions of poetry. In his review of Ford’s Collected Poems (1913, postdated 1914) for New Freewoman in December, 1913, Pound praises the...

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(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 13)

National Review. XXXIV, August 20, 1982, p. 1032.

The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVII, November 14, 1982, p. 13.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXII, July 23, 1982, p. 124.