December 6, 2008

Ezra Pound

Ezra Pound [USA]

Perhaps the most influential American poet of the 20th Century, Ezra Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho, but moved at an early age to Philadelphia, where his father worked as the assistant assayer for the U.S. Mint.

At the University of Pennsylvania, Pound studied languages and befriended William Carlos Williams. Pound studied Anglo-Saxon and Romance languages at Hamilton College from 1903 to 1906, beginning a teaching career at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana in 1907. He was fired from position for taking in a poor actress, whom he found starving on the streets, for the night.

The following year he traveled to Europe, touring Spain, Italy, and London. During the same year, he published his first major work of poetry, A Lume Spento (a work described in his letter of the same year to William Carlos Williams reproduced in this volume in the “Documents” section).

Much of the poetry of this period was highly influenced by his studies, in particular his admiration of Provençal poetry, which he described in The Spirit of Romance (1910).

Influenced by Ford Madox Ford and T. E. Hulme, Pound began working toward a more modernist sensibility, launching in 1912 the Imagist movement, which advocated concreteness, economy, and free verse (see the “Documents” section). But when Amy Lowell began writing about Imagism, Pound dropped his association with it, aligning himself instead with the artist-writer Wyndham Lewis and other figures which he and Lewis would develop into the so-called Vorticist movement, post-Cubist sculpture and painting that juxtaposed masses and planes.

Pound was also influenced during this period by the scholar Ernest Fenellosa, who argued that Chinese written characters were ideograms expressing compressed and abstracted metaphors. Pound’s attraction to this poetry led him to a series of translations of Chinese and Japanese poetry he loosely “translated” in Cathay (1915).

In 1914 Pound married Dorothy Shakespear, and over the next few years embark upon a life-long series of poems, The Cantos, containing numerous of the devices—allusions, quotations, and fragments of narrative—which his involvement with Vorticism and his attraction to Asian poetry. He became the London editor of the Little Review in 1917, and over the next few years helped to launch the careers of many younger American poets, including Ezra Pound, whose The Waste Land he helped to edit.

In 1920 he left London, using his great poem “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley” as a kind of farewell to city and culture, and spent four years in Paris before moving to Rapallo, Italy. Continuing work on The Cantos, Pound focused his writing on politics, economics, and race, expressing values that would lead him down the road of anti-Semitism and, ultimately, to an embracement of fascist politics, particularly those of the Italian leader Mussolini, whose promotion of political and monetary change and energetic politics attracted Pound. In the late 1930s Pound devoted a great deal of time and energy defending fascism and trying to avert war. When World War II broke out, Pound almost fanatically addressed American troops in broadcasts on Rome Radio, which ended in 1945 with his arrestment by partisans and imprisonment by U.S. Forces in a Disciplinary Center near Pisa. It was there that Pound began to recognize the absurdity of several of his values about which he wrote in the near-apologia of The Pisan Cantos, published in 1948.

In 1946 he was taken to the United States to stand trial. Found unfit for trial due to insanity he was incarcerated in St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC until 1958. During that period he continued to write and visited by several notable American poets and critics.

Upon his release he returned to Italy, where his time was spent in great self-doubt and an increased recognition of his “errors and wrecks.” He died in Venice in 1972.

Given the destructiveness of many of his viewpoints, several of which he expressed directly in his poetry and poetics, Pound’s position in American culture has continued to be controversial. Some critics and readers, understandably, have been unable to forgive him for the virulent anti-Semitism and violent fascism he embraced. Yet there can be doubt that Pound transformed American poetry in the early century in numerous ways, energizing its expression and pointing ways in which to refresh and reengage the English language. If in more recent years American poetry has moved away from some of his values, it has been often toward a more sentimental and narrative form of poetry that has delimted its effects.


A Lume Spento (Venice: privately printed by A. Antonini, 1908); A Quinzaine for this Yule (London: Pollock, 1908); Personæ (London: Elkin Mathews, 1909); Exultations (London: Elkin Mathews, 1909); Provenca (Boston: Small, Maynard, 1910); Canzoni (London: Elkin Mathews, 1911); Ripostes (London: S. Swift, 1912/Boston: Small, Maynard, 1913); Personæ and Exultations (London, 1913); Canzoni and Ripostes (London: Elkin Mathews, 1913); Cathay (London: Elkin Mathews, 1915); Lustra (London: Elkin Mathews, 1916/New York: Alfred Knopf, 1917); Quia Pauper Amavi (London: Egoist Press, 1918); The Fourth Canto (London: Ovid Press, 1919); Umbra (London: Elkin Mathews, 1920); Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (London: Ovid Press, 1920); Poems, 1918-1921 (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1921); A Draft of XVI Cantos (Paris: Three Mountains Press, 1925); Personæ: The Collected Poems of Ezra Pound (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1926); Selected Poems, ed. by T. S.Eliot (London: Faber & Gwyer, 1928; New York: Laughlin, 1957); A Draft of the Cantos 17-27 (London: John Rodker, 1928); A Draft of XXX Cantos (Paris: Hours Press, 1930/New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1933); Homage to Sextus Propertius (London: Faber, 1934); Eleven New Cantos: XXXI-IXL (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1934/published as A Draft of Cantos XXXI-XLI (London: Faber, 1935); (as The Poet of Titchfield Street) Alfred Venison’s Poems: Social Credit Themes (London: Nott, 1935); The Fifth Decade of Cantos (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1937); Cantos LII-LXXI (New York: New Directions, 1940); A Selection of Poems (London: Faber, 1940); The Pisan Cantos (New York: New Directions, 1948); The Cantos of Ezra Pound (New York: New Directions, 1948/London: Faber, 1954 [revised]); Selected Poems (New York: New Directions, 1949); Personnæ: The Collected Shorter Poems of Ezra Pound (New York: New Directions, 1950/London: Faber, 1952); Seventy Cantos (London: Faber, 1950); Section Rock-Dril, 85-95 de los Cantares (Milan: All’Insegna del Pesce d’Oro, 1955/New York: New Directions, 1956); Thrones: 96-109 de los Canatares (New York: New Directions, 1959); The Cantos (1-109) (London: Faber 1965); The Cantos (1-95) (New York: New Directions, 1965); A Lume Spento, and Other Early Poems (New York: New Directions, 1965); Selected Cantos (London: Faber, 1965); Drafts and Fragments: Cantos CX-CXVII (New York: New Directions, 1968); From Syria: The Worksheets, Proofs, and Text, ed. by Robin Skelton (Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 1981); The Collected Early Poems of Ezra Pound (New York: New Directions, 1982); Diptych Rome-London (New York: New Directions, 1994); Early Poems (Mineola, New York, 1996).

For a selection of voice recordings of Pound's readings, click below:
For Pound reading Canto XLV (with Usura), click here:
For a reading with Pier Paolo Pasolini and Pound, click here:

Portrait d’une Femme

Your mind and you are our Sargasso Sea,
London has swept about you this score years
And bright ships left you this or that in fee:
Ideas, old gossip, oddments of all things,
Strange spars of knowledge and dimmed wares of price.
Great minds have sought you- lacking someone else.
You have been second always. Tragical?
No. You preferred it to the usual thing:
One dull man, dulling and uxorious,
One average mind- with one thought less, each year.
Oh, you are patient, I have seen you sit
Hours, where something might have floated up.
And now you pay one. Yes, you richly pay.
You are a person of some interest, one comes to you
And takes strange gain away:
Trophies fished up; some curious suggestion;
Fact that leads nowhere; and a tale for two,
Pregnant with mandrakes, or with something else
That might prove useful and yet never proves,
That never fits a corner or shows use,
Or finds its hour upon the loom of days:
The tarnished, gaudy, wonderful old work;
Idols and ambergris and rare inlays,
These are your riches, your great store; and yet
For all this sea-hoard of deciduous things,
Strange woods half sodden, and new brighter stuff:
In the slow float of differing light and deep,
No! there is nothing! In the whole and all,
Nothing that's quite your own.
Yet this is you.

(from Ripostes, 1912)

The Return

See, they return; ah, see the tentative
Movements, and the slow feet,
The trouble in the pace and the uncertain

See, they return, one, and by one,
With fear, as half-awakened;
As if the snow should hesitate
And murmur in the wind,
and half turn back;
These were the "Wing'd-with-Awe,"

Gods of the wingèd shoe!
With them the silver hounds,
sniffing the trace of air!

Haie! Haie!
These were the swift to harry;
These the keen-scented;
These were the souls of blood.

Slow on the leash,
pallid the leash-men!

(from Ripostes, 1912)

The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played at the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.
And we went on living in the village of Chōkan:
Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you.
I never laughed, being bashful.
Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.
Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.
Why should I climb the lookout?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-tō-en, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out,
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me. I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
As far as Chō-fū-sa.

By Rihaku (Li T’ai Po)

(from Cathay, 1915)

A Pact

I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman—
I have detested you long enough.
I come to you as a grown child
Who has had a pig-headed father;
I am old enough now to make friends.
It was you that broke the new wood,
Now is a time for carving.
We have one sap and one root—
Let there be commerce between us.

(from Lustra, 1916)

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough

(from Lustra, 1916)

Hugh Selwyn Mauberley

"Vocat aestus in umbram"
Nemesianus Es. IV.


For three years, out of key with his time,
He strove to resuscitate the dead art
Of poetry; to maintain "the sublime"
In the old sense. Wrong from the start --

No, hardly, but, seeing he had been born
In a half savage country, out of date;
Bent resolutely on wringing lilies from the acorn;
Capaneus; trout for factitious bait:

"Idmen gar toi panth, os eni Troie
Caught in the unstopped ear;
Giving the rocks small lee-way
The chopped seas held him, therefore, that year.

His true Penelope was Flaubert,
He fished by obstinate isles;
Observed the elegance of Circe's hair
Rather than the mottoes on sun-dials.

Unaffected by "the march of events",
He passed from men's memory in l'an trentiesme
De son eage; the case presents
No adjunct to the Muses' diadem.


The age demanded an image
Of its accelerated grimace,
Something for the modern stage,
Not, at any rate, an Attic grace;

Not, not certainly, the obscure reveries
Of the inward gaze;
Better mendacities
Than the classics in paraphrase!

The "age demanded" chiefly a mould in plaster,
Made with no loss of time,
A prose kinema, not, not assuredly, alabaster
Or the "sculpture" of rhyme.


The tea-rose, tea-gown, etc.
Supplants the mousseline of Cos,
The pianola "replaces"
Sappho's barbitos.

Christ follows Dionysus,
Phallic and ambrosial
Made way for macerations;
Caliban casts out Ariel.

All things are a flowing,
Sage Heracleitus says;
But a tawdry cheapness
Shall reign throughout our days.

Even the Christian beauty
Defects -- after Samothrace;
We see to kalon
Decreed in the market place.

Faun's flesh is not to us,
Nor the saint's vision.
We have the press for wafer;
Franchise for circumcision.

All men, in law, are equals.
Free of Peisistratus,
We choose a knave or an eunuch
To rule over us.

A bright Apollo,

tin andra, tin eroa, tina theon,
What god, man, or hero
Shall I place a tin wreath upon?


These fought, in any case,
and some believing, pro domo, in any case ..

Some quick to arm,
some for adventure,
some from fear of weakness,
some from fear of censure,
some for love of slaughter, in imagination,
learning later ...

some in fear, learning love of slaughter;
Died some pro patria, non dulce non et decor" ..

walked eye-deep in hell
believing in old men's lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy;

usury age-old and age-thick
and liars in public places.

Daring as never before, wastage as never before.
Young blood and high blood,
Fair cheeks, and fine bodies;

fortitude as never before

frankness as never before,
disillusions as never told in the old days,
hysterias, trench confessions,
laughter out of dead bellies.


There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization.

Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
Quick eyes gone under earth's lid,

For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.

Yeux Glauques

Gladstone was still respected,
When John Ruskin produced
"Kings Treasuries"; Swinburne
And Rossetti still abused.

Fœtid Buchanan lifted up his voice
When that faun's head of hers
Became a pastime for
Painters and adulterers.

The Burne-Jones cartons
Have preserved her eyes;
Still, at the Tate, they teach
Cophetua to rhapsodize;

Thin like brook-water,
With a vacant gaze.
The English Rubaiyat was still-born
In those days.

The thin, clear gaze, the same
Still darts out faun-like from the half-ruin'd face,
Questing and passive ....
"Ah, poor Jenny's case" ...

Bewildered that a world
Shows no surprise
At her last maquero's

"Siena Mi Fe', Disfecemi Maremma"

Among the pickled fœtuses and bottled bones,
Engaged in perfecting the catalogue,
I found the last scion of the
Senatorial families of Strasbourg, Monsieur Verog.

For two hours he talked of Gallifet;
Of Dowson; of the Rhymers' Club;
Told me how Johnson (Lionel) died
By falling from a high stool in a pub ...

But showed no trace of alcohol
At the autopsy, privately performed --
Tissue preserved -- the pure mind
Arose toward Newman as the whiskey warmed.

Dowson found harlots cheaper than hotels;
Headlam for uplift; Image impartially imbued
With raptures for Bacchus, Terpsichore and the Church.
So spoke the author of "The Dorian Mood",

M. Verog, out of step with the decade,
Detached from his contemporaries,
Neglected by the young,
Because of these reveries.


The sky-like limpid eyes,
The circular infant's face,
The stiffness from spats to collar
Never relaxing into grace;

The heavy memories of Horeb, Sinai and the forty years,
Showed only when the daylight fell
Level across the face
Of Brennbaum "The Impeccable".

Mr. Nixon

In the cream gilded cabin of his steam yacht
Mr. Nixon advised me kindly, to advance with fewer
Dangers of delay. "Consider
Carefully the reviewer.

"I was as poor as you are;
"When I began I got, of course,
"Advance on royalties, fifty at first", said Mr. Nixon,
"Follow me, and take a column,
"Even if you have to work free.

"Butter reviewers. From fifty to three hundred
"I rose in eighteen months;
"The hardest nut I had to crack
"Was Dr. Dundas.

"I never mentioned a man but with the view
"Of selling my own works.
"The tip's a good one, as for literature
"It gives no man a sinecure."

And no one knows, at sight a masterpiece.
And give up verse, my boy,
There's nothing in it."

* * *

Likewise a friend of Bloughram's once advised me:
Don't kick against the pricks,
Accept opinion. The "Nineties" tried your game
And died, there's nothing in it.


Beneath the sagging roof
The stylist has taken shelter,
Unpaid, uncelebrated,
At last from the world's welter

Nature receives him,
With a placid and uneducated mistress
He exercises his talents
And the soil meets his distress.

The haven from sophistications and contentions
Leaks through its thatch;
He offers succulent cooking;
The door has a creaking latch.


"Conservatrix of Milésien"
Habits of mind and feeling,
Possibly. But in Ealing
With the most bank-clerkly of Englishmen?

No, "Milésian" is an exaggeration.
No instinct has survived in her
Older than those her grandmother
Told her would fit her station.


"Daphne with her thighs in bark
Stretches toward me her leafy hands", --
Subjectively. In the stuffed-satin drawing-room
I await The Lady Valentine's commands,

Knowing my coat has never been
Of precisely the fashion
To stimulate, in her,
A durable passion;

Doubtful, somewhat, of the value
Of well-gowned approbation
Of literary effort,
But never of The Lady Valentine's vocation:

Poetry, her border of ideas,
The edge, uncertain, but a means of blending
With other strata
Where the lower and higher have ending;

A hook to catch the Lady Jane's attention,
A modulation toward the theatre,
Also, in the case of revolution,
A possible friend and comforter.

* * *

Conduct, on the other hand, the soul
"Which the highest cultures have nourished"
To Fleet St. where
Dr. Johnson flourished;

Beside this thoroughfare
The sale of half-hose has
Long since superseded the cultivation
Of Pierian roses.

(from Lustra, 1916)

Canto I

And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and
We set up mast and sail on that swart ship,
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, and winds from sternward
Bore us onward with bellying canvas,
Crice's this craft, the trim-coifed goddess.
Then sat we amidships, wind jamming the tiller,
Thus with stretched sail, we went over sea till day's end.
Sun to his slumber, shadows o'er all the ocean,
Came we then to the bounds of deepest water,
To the Kimmerian lands, and peopled cities
Covered with close-webbed mist, unpierced ever
With glitter of sun-rays
Nor with stars stretched, nor looking back from heaven
Swartest night stretched over wreteched men there.
The ocean flowing backward, came we then to the place
Aforesaid by Circe.
Here did they rites, Perimedes and Eurylochus,
And drawing sword from my hip
I dug the ell-square pitkin;
Poured we libations unto each the dead,
First mead and then sweet wine, water mixed with white flour
Then prayed I many a prayer to the sickly death's-heads;
As set in Ithaca, sterile bulls of the best
For sacrifice, heaping the pyre with goods,
A sheep to Tiresias only, black and a bell-sheep.
Dark blood flowed in the fosse,
Souls out of Erebus, cadaverous dead, of brides
Of youths and of the old who had borne much;
Souls stained with recent tears, girls tender,
Men many, mauled with bronze lance heads,
Battle spoil, bearing yet dreory arms,
These many crowded about me; with shouting,
Pallor upon me, cried to my men for more beasts;
Slaughtered the herds, sheep slain of bronze;
Poured ointment, cried to the gods,
To Pluto the strong, and praised Proserpine;
Unsheathed the narrow sword,
I sat to keep off the impetuous impotent dead,
Till I should hear Tiresias.
But first Elpenor came, our friend Elpenor,
Unburied, cast on the wide earth,
Limbs that we left in the house of Circe,
Unwept, unwrapped in the sepulchre, since toils urged other.
Pitiful spirit. And I cried in hurried speech:
"Elpenor, how art thou come to this dark coast?
"Cam'st thou afoot, outstripping seamen?"
And he in heavy speech:
"Ill fate and abundant wine. I slept in Crice's ingle.
"Going down the long ladder unguarded,
"I fell against the buttress,
"Shattered the nape-nerve, the soul sought Avernus.
"But thou, O King, I bid remember me, unwept, unburied,
"Heap up mine arms, be tomb by sea-bord, and inscribed:
"A man of no fortune, and with a name to come.
"And set my oar up, that I swung mid fellows."

And Anticlea came, whom I beat off, and then Tiresias Theban,
Holding his golden wand, knew me, and spoke first:
"A second time? why? man of ill star,
"Facing the sunless dead and this joyless region?
"Stand from the fosse, leave me my bloody bever
"For soothsay."
And I stepped back,
And he strong with the blood, said then: "Odysseus
"Shalt return through spiteful Neptune, over dark seas,
"Lose all companions." Then Anticlea came.
Lie quiet Divus. I mean, that is Andreas Divus,
In officina Wecheli, 1538, out of Homer.
And he sailed, by Sirens and thence outwards and away
And unto Crice.
In the Cretan's phrase, with the golden crown, Aphrodite,
Cypri munimenta sortita est, mirthful, oricalchi, with golden
Girdle and breat bands, thou with dark eyelids
Bearing the golden bough of Argicidia. So that:

(from A Draft of XXX Cantos, 1930)

Canto XILX

For the seven lakes, and by no man these verses:
Rain; empty river; a voyage,
Fire from frozen cloud, heavy rain in the twilight
Under the cabin roof was one lantern.
The reeds are heavy; bent;
and the bamboos speak as if weeping.

Autumn moon; hills rise about lakes
against sunset
Evening is like a curtain of cloud,
a blurr above ripples; and through it
sharp long spikes of the cinnamon,
a cold tune amid reeds.
Behind hill the monk's bell
borne on the wind.
Sail passed here in April; may return in October
Boat fades in silver; slowly;
Sun blaze alone on the river.

Where wine flag catches the sunset
Sparse chimneys smoke in the cross light

Comes then snow scur on the river
And a world is covered with jade
Small boat floats like a lanthorn,
The flowing water closts as with cold. And at San Yin
they are a people of leisure.

Wild geese swoop to the sand-bar,
Clouds gather about the hole of the window
Broad water; geese line out with the autumn
Rooks clatter over the fishermen's lanthorns,

A light moves on the north sky line;
where the young boys prod stones for shrimp.
In seventeen hundred came Tsing to these hill lakes.
A light moves on the South sky line.

State by creating riches shd. thereby get into debt?
This is infamy; this is Geryon.
This canal goes still to TenShi
Though the old king built it for pleasure


Sun up; work
sundown; to rest
dig well and drink of the water
dig field; eat of the grain
Imperial power is? and to us what is it?

The fourth; the dimension of stillness.
And the power over wild beasts.

(from The Fifth Decade of Cantos XLII-LI, 1937)

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