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Ezra Loomis Pound (1885-1972)

 

American poet and critic, often called "the poet's poet" because his profound influence on 20th century writing in English. Pound believed that poetry is the highest of arts. A rebel par excellence, he challenged many of the common views of his time and spent 12 years in an American mental hospital. Pound's major work was the Cantos, which was published in ten sections between 1925 and 1969, and then as a one-volume collected edition, The Cantos of Ezra Pound I-CXVII (1970).

"The Proper METHOD for studying poetry and good letters is the method of contemporary biologists, that is careful first-hand examination of the matter, and continual COMPARISON of one 'slide' or specimen with another." (in ABC of Reading, 1934)

Ezra Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho, but he was brought up in Wyncote, Philadelphia. His father, Homer Loomis Pound, worked as an assistant assayer at the US Mint.  At the age of twelve Pound entered Cheltenham, a military school, where he was introduced to Greek and Latin. He then studied languages at the University of Pennsylvania, and befriended there the young William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), who gained later fame as a poet in New York's avant-garde circles. From 1903 to 1906 Pound studied Anglo-Saxon and Romance languages at Hamilton College. In 1907 his teaching career was cut short at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, when he had entertained an actress in his room.

In 1908 Pound travelled widely in Europe, working as a journalist. His first book of poems, A Lume Spento (1908), was privately printed by A. Antonini in Venice. Inspired by the work of Yeats, he went to London because he thought "Yeats knew more about poetry than anybody else": He founded with Richard Aldington (1892-1962) and others the literary 'Imagism', and edited its first anthology, Des Imagistes (1914). The movement was influenced by thoughts of Rémy de Gourmont whose book, The Natural Philosophy of Love (1904), Pound translated later, and T.E. Hulme (1883-1917), who stressed the importance of fresh language and true perception on nature. In his cautions, published in Poetry in 1913, Pound wrote: "Don't use such an expression as 'dim lands of peace'. It dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. It comes from the writer's not realizing that the natural object is always the adequate symbol."

In their manifesto the Imagists promised: "1. Direct treatment of the 'thing' whether subject or objective. 2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation. 3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome." Pound's short "one-image poem" 'In a Station of the Metro' is among the most celebrated Imagist works: "The apparition of these faces in the crowd; / Petals on a wet, black bough." Pound had seen a succession of beautiful faces one day on the Paris Metro, and in the evening he found suddenly the expression for his sudden emotion.

Pound soon lost interest in Imagism - he did not abandon totally formulaic verse - and after disputing with the poet Amy Lowell, Pound called the movement "Amygism." With Wyndham Lewis and the sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, who was killed in 1915, he founded 'Vorticism', which produced a magazine, Blast. He helped Wyndham Lewis, T.S. Eliot and James Joyce to publish their works in the magazines Egoist and Poetry. When he worked in 1913-14 as W.B. Yeats's secretary, he started a correspondence with Joyce. After their first meeting the Irish poet had said that Pound "can't sing as he has no voice", but later called him a solitary volcano; Wyndham Lewis said he was the Trotsky of literature. Pound wrote on Joyce on various magazines, collected money for him, and even sent spare clothes for him. Pound also played crucial role in the cutting of Eliot's The Waste Land. Eliot dedicated the work to him, as il miglior fabbro (the better maker). In 1914 Pound married the artist Dorothy Shakespear, "surely the most charming woman in London," as Pound described her to his mother. After a vacation in Egypt, Dorothy conceived in 1926 a child, Omar.

Disenchanted with English life and culture, Pound created an alter ego, Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, through whose voice Arnold Bennett says, "No one knows, at sight a masterpiece. / And give up verse, my boy, / There's nothing in it." Moreover, he had lost his close friends, the sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and T.E. Hulme to the war. In 1922 Pound started his relationship with the violinist Olga Rudge, with whom he had a daughter, born five months before Omar. From this period date one of Pound's most widely read poems, Homage to Sextus Propertius (1919).

Pound has been called the "inventor" of Chinese poetry for our time. Beginning in 1913 with the notebooks of the Orientalist Ernest Fenollosa, he pursued a lifelong study of ancient Chinese texts, and translated among others the writings of Confucius. Pound's translations based on Fenollosa's notes, collected in Cathay (1915), are considered among the most beautiful of his writings. Dante and Homer became other sources for inspiration, and especially Dante's journey through the realms have parallels with his examination of individual experiences in the Cantos.

And round about there is a rabble
Of the filthy, study, unkillable infants of the very poor.
They shall inherit the earth.

(in 'The Garden', 1913, 1916)

In 1920 Pound moved to Paris - Britain had become him "an old bitch, gone in the teeth." From the summer of 1921 until the winter of 1924, the Pounds resided at an apartment at 70-bis rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs. The rent was only $30 a month. Pound make it a small museum and gallery. Ford Madox Ford met Hemingway there. When Pound moved in December 1924 to Rapallo, Italy, the American sculptor Janet Scudder took over the apartment.

Pound lived in Italy over 20 years, comfortable with his role as an outsider. He met Mussolini in 1933 and saw in him the long-needed economic and social reformer. In his anti-Semitic statements Pound agreed with those who believed that the economic system was being exploited by Jewish financiers. Banknotes were for him a symbol of  phoniness. The Fascists dismissed Pound's Utopia as "the botched plan of a nebulous mind devoid of any sense of reality".

During World War II Pound made in Rome a series of hysterical and bitter radio broadcasts, that were openly fascist. In one of his radio talks he suggested that "if some man had a stroke of genius, and could start a pogrom against Jews... there might de something to say for it." One of his ideas was that the USA should cede Guam to the Japanese in exchange for 300 film reels of Noh drama. In 1945 he was arrested by the U.S. forces and put in a six foot by six foot "gorilla cage" - he was still an American citizen. Surrounded by barbed wire and exposed to the sun, Pound assembled his Cantos for that period.

Labelled as paranoid by the examining psychiatrists in a trial, Pound spent 12 years in Washington, D.C., in a hospital for the criminally insane. The poet Diane di Prima, who corresponded with Pound, visited him at the hospital and spent time with him there. She later befriended Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and described a Beat orgy with them in her erotic autobiography Memoirs of a Beatnik (1969).

It has been suggested that Pound was feigning insanity to escape the death penalty, but the treason indictment did not drastically affect his ability to write and translate poetry. During this period he received the 1949 Bollingen Prize for his Pisan Cantos, which concerned his imprisonment at the camp near Pisa. After Pound was released from St. Elizabeth's hospital due to the actions and efforts of his last living protégé, Eustace Mullins, he returned to Italy, where he spent his remaining years.

Pound died on November 1, 1972, in Venice. According to Katherine Anne Porter, "Pound was one of the most opinionated and unselfish men who ever lived, and he made friends and enemies everywhere by the simple exercise of the classic American constitutional right of free speech." (The Letters of E.P., 1907-1941, review in New York Times Book Review, 29 Oct. 1950)

Pound published over 70 books and translated Japanese plays and Chinese poetry. The Cantos, a series of poems which he wrote from 1920s throughout his life, are considered among his best achievements. Its last volume was Drafts and Fragments of Cantos CX- CXVII (1968). Arthur Miller denounced his work as "sheer obscenity".

In the Cantos Pound recorded the poet's spiritual quest for transcendence, and intellectual search for worldly wisdom. However, he did not try to imitate classical epic, but had several heroes instead of one, and projected his own self into his characters. His models were Dante's La divina commedia (c. 1320) and Robert Browning's confessional poem Sordello (1840). Pound's Hell is typified with liberalism, capitalism, and cultural degeneration. Just as Beatrice guided Dante's pilgrim, so also classical goddesses appear in the Cantos. In addition, through mythical, historical, and contemporary figures Pound mirrored the poetry and ideas of the past and present. Canto LXXII and Canto LXXIII were not published in the early collections due to their controversial - fascist - thoughts.

Pound's style was clear, economical and concrete. "Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree," he once said. As an essayist Pound wrote mostly about poetry. From the mid-1920s he examined the ways economic systems promote or debase culture. "Why the hell don't the schools give a little rudimentary education in economics, the history of economics, and in the use of language," he wrote in 1933 in a letter to the Idaho senator William Borah, trying to recruit him in the mainly one-sided correspondence as an advocate of his radical political and economic theories. Pound hoped, that fascism could establish the sort of society in which the arts could flourish. He also argued that poetry is not "entertainment", and as an elitist he did not appreciate the common reader.

Pound considered American culture isolated from the traditions that make the arts possible, and depicted Walt Whitman as "exceedingly nauseating pill". Pound's most influential publications on aesthetics are ABC of Reading (1934), which summarized his aesthetic theory and is said to have established the modernist poetic technique, and The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry (pub. 1936), compiled from the notes of Ernest Fenollosa.

For further reading: The Poetry of Ezra Pound by H. Kenner (1951); Ideas into Action by C. Emery (1958); Ezra Pound by Charles Norman (1960,rev. 1969); This Difficult Individual, Ezra Pound by Eustace Mullins (1961); The Rose in the Steel Dust: An Examination of the Cantos of Ezra Pound by W. Baumann (1967); The Life of Ezra Pound by N. Stock (1970); Discretions by Mary de Rachewiltz (1971); The Pound Era by Hugh Kenner (1972); Ezra Pound: The Last Rower by C. David Heyman (1976); The Poetic Achievement of Ezra Pound by Michael Alexander (1979); Ezra Pound by James F. Knapp (1979); Ezra Pound and the Cantos by Wendy Stallard Flory (1980); Ezra Pound and the Pisan Cantos by A. Woodward (1980); Ezra Pound: The Solitary Volcano by John Tytell (1987); Ezra Pound and Italian Fascism by Tim Rddman (1991); Ezra Pound as Literary Critic by K.K. Ruthven (1991); ABC of Influence: Ezra Pound and the Remaking of American Poetic Traditon by Christopher Beach (1992); The Birth of Modernism by Leon Surette (1993); Ezra Pound as Critic by G. Singh (1994); The Cambridge Companion to Ezra Pound, ed. by Ira B. Nadel (1999); Ezra Pound: Poet. Vol 1: The Young Genius 1885-1920 by A David Moody (2007)  - See also: Fernando Pessoa, R. Tagore, T.S. Eliot, whom Pound met in 1914 and started to reform poetic diction with him.  Translations into Finnish: Poundilta on käännetty suomeksi esseekokoelma Lukemisen aakkoset , suom. Hannu Launonen & Lassi Saastamoinen (1967) ja valikoima Personae: Valikoima runoja vuosilta 1908-1919, suom. Tuomas Anhava (1976). Lisäksi Aale Tynni teoksessa Tuhat laulujen vuotta (1974) ja Ville Revon antologiassa Tähtien väri (1992) on Pound-suomennoksia. Imagism: a short-lived movement of American and English poets, whose verse was characterized by concrete language and figures of speech, modern subject matter, freedom in the use of meter, and avoidance of mystical themes. Members of the movement included Hilda Doolittle, Richard Aldington, F.S. Flint, T.E. Hulme, John Gould Fletcher, Harriet Monroe, Amy Lowell, whom Pound did not consider an imagist, but called her attempts "Amygism". Imagism also influenced Conrad Aiken, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, D.H. Lawrence, T.S. Eliot, Herbert Read.  The Imaginist movement deloped in 1913; its members published poems in Poetry and The New Freewoman (later The Egoist).

Selected works:

  • A Lume Spento, 1908
  • A Quinzaine for This Yule, 1908
  • Exultations, 1909
  • Personae, 1909
  • Provenca, 1910
  • The Spirit of Romance, 1910
  • Canzoni, 1911
  • Ripostes, 1912
  • Personae & Exultations, 1913
    - Personae: valikoima runoja vuosilta 1908-1919 (suom. Tuomas Anhava, 1976)
  • Cathay, 1916 (translator; in Lustra)
  • Lustra, 1916
  • Gaudier-Brzeska, 1916
  • Certain Noble Plays of Japan: From the Manuscripts of Ernest Fenollosa, 1916 (translator)
  • "Noh", Or, Accomplishment: A Study of the Classical Stage of Japan, 1916 (with Ernest Fenollosa)
  • Dialogues / Fontenelle, 1917 (translator)
  • Pavannes and Divagations, 1918
  • Quia Pauper Amavi, 1919
  • Homage to Sextus Propertius, 1919 (in Quia Pauper Amavi)
  • The Fourth Canto, 1919
  • Umbra, 1920
  • Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, 1920
  • Instigations of Ezra Pound, 1921
  • Poems 1918-1921, 1921
  • The Natural Philosophy of Love /Remy de Gourmont, 1922 (translator)
  • Indiscretions; or, Und Revue des deux mondes, 1923
  • The Call of the Road / Èdouard Estaunié, 1923 (translator)  
  • Antheil and the Treatise on Harmony, 1924
  • A Draft of XVI Cantos, 1925
  • Personae - The Collected Poems of Ezra Pound, 1926
  • A Draft of the Cantos 17–27, 1928
  • Selected Poems, 1928
  • Ta Hio / Confucius, 1928 (translator)
  • Imaginary Letters, 1930
  • A Draft of XXX Cantos, 1930
  • How to Read, 1931
  • Prolegomena I, 1932
  • ABC of Economics, 1933
  • ABC of Reading, 1934
    - Lukemisen aakkoset (suom. Hannu Launonen & Lassi Saastamoinen, 1967)
  • Make It New, 1934
  • Eleven New Cantos XXXI-XLI, 1934
  • Homage to Sextus Propertius, 1934
  • Jefferson and/or Mussolini, 1935
  • Alfred Venison's Poems, 1935
  • Social Credit, 1935
  • Ernest Fenollosa, 1936
  • Polite Essays, 1937
  • Digest of the Analects / Confucius, 1937 (translator)
  • The Fifth Decade of Cantos, 1937
  • Guide To Kulchur, 1938 (US Tite: Culture: The Autobiography of a Poet)
  • What Is Money For?, 1939
  • Cantos LII, LXXI, 1940
  • A Selection of Poems, 1940
  • Italy's Policy of Social Economics / Odon Por, 1941 (translator)
  • Carta da Visita di Ezra Pound, 1942
  • L'America, Roosevelt e le cause della guerra presente, 1944
  • Oro et lavoro, 1944
  • Introduzione alla Natura Economica degli S.U.A., 1944
  • Orientamini, 1944
  • Testamento di Confucio, 1944 (translator)
  • Ciung lung. L'asse che non vacilla, 1945 (translator)
  • 'If This Be Treason...', 1948
  • The Pisan Cantos, 1948
  • The Cantos of Ezra Pound, 1949
  • Seventy Cantos, 1950
  • Patria Mia, 1950
  • Confucian Analects, 1951
  • The Letters of Ezra Pound, 1907-1941, 1950
  • The Translations of Ezra Pound, 1953 (edited by Hugh Kenner)
  • The Cantos of Ezra Pound , 1954
  • The Classic Anthology Defined by Confucius, 1954 (translator)
  • Lavoro ed Usura, 1954
  • Literary Essays, 1954
  • Selection: Rock Drill, 1955
  • Women of Trachis / Sophocles, 1956 (translator)
  • Moscardino / Enrico Pea, 1956 (translator)
  • Brancusi, 1957
  • Diptych Rome-London, 1958
  • Thrones: 96–109 de los Cantares, 1959
  • Versi Prosaici, 1959
  • Impact - Essays on Ignorance and the Decline Of American Civilization, 1960 (selected, with introduction, by Noel Stock)
  • Nuova Economia Editoriale, 1962
  • Love Poems of Ancient Egypt, 1962 (translator)
  • Ep To Lu: Nine Letters Written to Louis Untermeyer, 1963 (edited by J.A. Robbins)
  • Drafts & Fragments of Cantos CX-CXVII, 1968
  • The Cantos of Ezra Pound , 1970
  • The Letters of Ezra Pound and James Joyce, 1970 (edited by Forrest Read)
  • Selected Prose, 1909-1965, 1973 (edited, with introduction, by William Cookson)
  • Collected Early Poems of Ezra Pound, 1976 (edited by Michael John King)
  • Ezra Pound and Music, 1977 (edited by Murray Schafer)
  • "Ezra Pound Speaking": Radio Speeches of World War II, 1978 (edited by Leonard W. Doob)
  • Letters to Ibbotson, 1935-1952 1979 (edited by V. I. Mondolfo and M. Hurley)
  • Ezra Pound and the Visual Arts, 1980 (edited by Harriet Zinnes)
  • Letters: Ezra Pound, John Theobald, 1984 (edited by Donald Pearce and Herbert Schneidau)
  • Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear: Their Letters, 1909-1914, 1984 (edited by Omar Pound and A. Walton Litz)
  • The Letters of Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis, 1985 (edited by Timothy Materer)
  • Selected Letters of Ezra Pound and Louis Zukofsky, 1987 (edited by Barry Ahearn)
  • Ezra Pound and Japan: Letters and Essays, 1987 (edited by Sanehide Kodama)
  • Pound: The Little Review: The Letters of Ezra Pound to Margaret Anderson: The Little Review Correspondence, 1988 (edited by Thomas L. Scott and Melvin J. Friedman)
  • Ezra Pound and Margaret Cravens: A Tragic Friendship, 1910–1912, 1988 (edited by Omar Pound and Robert Spoo)
  • Ezra Pound's Poetry and Prose: Contributions to Periodicals : 1955-1971, 1991 (11 vols., edited by Lea Baechler, A. Walton Litz and James Longenbach)
  • The Selected Letters of Ezra Pound to John Quinn, 1915-1924, 1991 (edited by Timothy Materer)
  • Ezra and Dorothy Pound: Letters in Captivity, 1945-1946, 1999 (edited by Omar Pound and Robert Spoo)
  • The Correspondence of Ezra Pound and Senator William Borah, 2001 (edited by Sarah C. Holmes)
  • Ezra Pound to His Parents: Letters 1895-1929, 2011 (edited by Mary de Rachewiltz, A. David Moody & Joanna Moody)


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