(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Witemeyer’s thoughtfully edited collection of letters between Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams over a nearly sixty- year span is arranged in five chronological sections. Part 1 covers the years 1907 to 1920; part 2, 1921 to 1932; part 3, 1933 to 1941; part 4, 1945 to 1951; and part 5, 1952 to 1963, the year William Carlos Williams died. Each of these sections begins with an overview of the period upon which the letters in that section focus, setting biographical and historical contexts.

Witemeyer culled from a body of 535 items the 169 letters he thinks offer the most coherent view of the two authors and their times. He considered four types of letters in making his selection, those that provide information about the genesis, authorial intention, and publication history of the works of Pound and Williams; those that articulate their artistic, political, and philosophical principles; those that reflect their reading and their evaluation of the works of others; and those that chronicle significant developments in their lives and their relationship.

Each letter is reproduced in its entirety with no editorial abridgment. Each is numbered, with an indication of the type of letter it is (typed signed letter, autograph signed letter, and so forth), and the number of leaves. Each letter is followed by notes that identify persons and events alluded to in the preceding letter. These notes are supplemented by a biographical section in which Witemeyer identifies in useful detail the principal figures mentioned in the letters.

This volume is one in a series of seven (all published by New Directions) that presents Pound’s literary correspondence. The other volumes contain Pound’s correspondence with Ford Maddox Ford, James Joyce, Wyndham Lewis, Margaret Anderson, Dorothy Shakespear, and Louis Zukofsky.

The Pound-Williams letters are housed largely in three major collections, the Poetry and Rare Book Collection of the University of Buffalo, the Lilly Library of Indiana University, and the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University. A few letters are in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin, in the Alderman Library of the University of Virginia, and in the private collection of the late Dr. William Eric Williams of Rutherford, New Jersey.

Included in part 4 are letters from Dorothy Pound who handled her husband’s correspondence during his incarceration in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, a mental institution to which Pound was confined after being charged with treason.

The correspondence was one-sided until 1921 because Williams’ letters to Pound have been lost. Therefore, only the Pound side of the correspondence was preserved. A gap exists during the years from the entry of the United States into World War II and the end of that conflict, a period when Ezra Pound remained in Italy. Williams’ last letter to Pound before the United States entered the war is dated November 26, 1941 and was returned to Williams because postal delivery between Italy and the United States was suspended early in December of that year.

In the final letters of 1941, Pound and Williams were at political odds. Pound supported Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler’s fascist minion in Italy. In his final, undelivered letter to Pound, Williams asked whether the poet also supported Hitler. The tone of this letter indicates Williams’ displeasure with Pound’s political loyalties.

The Pound-Williams correspondence illuminates a great deal of what was happening in literature, particularly poetry, during the first half of the twentieth century. It also provides a sound documentary record of the development of literary societies and of small literary magazines, many of which, although they quickly ceased operation, published the early works of the most notable literary figures in the United States and Great Britain.

The letters reflect the impact that massive historical events of the period had on artists and on their work, notably World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, and the Spanish Civil War. In the aftermath of World War I, of course, many American writers remained in Europe, gravitating to Paris, where they imbibed a literary spirit unknown since that day.

Pound and Williams first met in 1902 when they were students at the University of Pennsylvania. Although two years younger than Williams, the precocious Pound was a sophomore studying...

(The entire section is 1834 words.)