Ezra Pound Early Writings

ISBN 13: 9780142180136

Early Writings

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9780142180136: Early Writings

Ezra Pound makes his Penguin Classics debut with this unique selection of his early poems and prose, edited with an introductory essay and notes by Pound expert Ira Nadel. The poetry includes such early masterpieces as “The Seafarer,” “Homage to Sextus Propertius,” “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley,” and the first eight of Pound’s incomparable “Cantos.” The prose includes a series of articles and critical pieces, with essays on Imagism, Vorticism, Joyce, and the well-known “Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry.”

  • First time in Penguin Classics

  • Includes generous selections of Pound's poetry, as well as an assortment of prose

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Ezra Pound (1885–1972) is generally considered the poet most responsible for defining and promoting a modernist aesthetic in poetry.

Ira Nadel, professor of English at the University of British Columbia, is the author of Ezra Pound, A Literary Life and the general editor of The Cambridge Companion to Ezra Pound.


Ira Nadel, professor of English at the University of British Columbia, is the author of Ezra Pound, A Literary Life and the general editor of The Cambridge Companion to Ezra Pound.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Introduction

 

POEMS

THE CANTOS - (1917-1922)

PROSE

 

Explanatory Notes

Index of Titles and First Lines

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EARLY WRITINGS

 

 

 

EZRA POUND, poet, essayist, editor, translator, anthologist and literary provocateur, was one of the major modernists of the twentieth century. Born in Hailey, Idaho, on October 30, 1885, he attended the University of Pennsylvania and Hamilton College, then briefly taught at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, before heading to Europe in 1908 and settling for a time in Venice, where he published his first book, A Lume Spento. He then moved to London, where he continued to write and met such authors as Yeats, Henry James, Wyndham Lewis, Ford Madox Ford, and T. S. Eliot. In late 1920 he and his wife, Dorothy—they had married in 1914—moved to Paris, but not before he guided movements like Imagism and Vorticism to prominence and aided writers like H.D. and Joyce in getting their early works published.

In Paris, Pound met the American violinist Olga Rudge, who would become his companion for almost fifty years, and continued to work on his long poem, The Cantos, which he had begun in 1917. He also edited Eliot’s The Waste Land and became friendly with Picabia, Brancusi, Duchamp, Cocteau, and Ernest Hemingway, while working on an opera, Le Testament, based on the work of François Villon. In 1923 he visited Rimini and became absorbed by the life of Sigismundo Malatesta and his Tempio, which would prompt the Malatesta Cantos, numbers VIII-XI of his long work. He continued to publish criticism and visit Italy, where he and Dorothy, and then Olga, moved in 1924, settling in Rapallo and Venice. At the same time, prose works like the ABC of Economics (1933) and Jefferson and/or Mussolini (1935), became increasingly economic and social in outlook.

Pound remained in Italy the rest of his life, except for two trips to the United States: the first, in 1939, was an aborted attempt to visit President Roosevelt and several congressmen to prevent U.S. involvement in World War II; the second, in 1945, occurred after his arrest for treason at the end of the war following his anti-American broadcasts on Italian radio. Declared to be mentally unfit to stand trial, Pound was committed to St. Elizabeths mental hospital in Washington, D.C., where he remained from 1946 to 1958, during which time he continued to write. In 1949, he won the prestigious Bollingen Prize for The Pisan Cantos, which he began while at a U.S. Army detention camp in Pisa, Italy. Following his release from St. Elizabeths, Pound returned to Italy, where he wrote sporadically. He died in Venice on November I, 1972.

 

IRA B. NADEL, educated at Rutgers and Cornell universities, is professor of English and Distinguished University Scholar at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. His books include Biography: Fiction, Fact and Form; Joyce and the Jews; Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen; Double Act: A Life of Tom Stoppard; and Ezra Pound: A Literary Life. He has also edited The Letters of Ezra Pound to Alice Corbin Henderson and the Cambridge Companion to Ezra Pound.

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First published in Penguin Books 2005

 

6 4 2

 

Introduction and notes copyright © Ira B. Nadel, 2005 All rights reserved

 

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA

 



Pound, Ezra, 1885-1972.

[Selections. 2005]

Early writings / edited with an introduction and notes by Ira B. Nadel. p. cm. Includes index,

eISBN : 978-1-101-00734-1

I. Nadel, Ira Bruce II. Title.

PS3531.082A6 2005

818’.5208—dc22 2004058722

 

 

 

 

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Introduction

T. S. Eliot called Ezra Pound “il miglior fabbro,” “the better craftsman.” James Joyce declared he was “a miracle of ebulliency, gusto and help.” W. B. Yeats recalled that to “talk over a poem with him” was “like getting you to put a sentence into dialect. All becomes clear and natural.” Wyndham Lewis summed him up as the “demon pantechnicon driver, busy with removal of the old world into new quarters.” The supercharged Ezra Pound seemed to be everywhere at once in the literary world of the early twentieth century, cajoling, hectoring, provoking, and refashioning literature whether in London, Paris, New York, or Rapallo. He met Henry James and corresponded with Hardy. He redirected the poetry of Yeats, discovered Robert Frost, and promoted H.D. His admirers were right: Pound was the quintessential modernist, the figure who overturned poetic meter, literary style, and the state of the long poem. Only his experimentation with new forms and determination to “make it new” exceeded his boldness in editing The Waste Land, overseeing publication of Ulysses, and creating new movements like Imagism. As he wrote in a note to his early poem “Histrion,” “I do not teach—I awake.”

Pound’s multiple importance might be condensed to a single conviction: poetry shapes the world. Like Shelley, who believed that poets are “the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” Pound knew that poetry informed the moral and aesthetic values of a culture: “Poetry is a sort of inspired mathematics which gives us equations ... for the human soul,” he proclaimed. Literature, he announced in the ABC of Reading, is “news that stays news” because it galvanizes readers—especially if it follows his precept to “use no superfluous word.” “Cut direct,” he ordered when discussing style. Pound, in other words, was a literary activist who insisted that ideas be put into action.

Some of Pound’s best and most challenging work is his earliest. Rewriting the dramatic monologue, the Provençal lyric, or the pentameter line meant the discovery of personae, Imagism, and a new form of dramatic expression that his earliest poetry embodied. “To break the pentameter, that was the first heave,” Pound wrote in The Pisan Cantos (Canto LXXXI), recalling his first encounter with late-nineteenth-century poetry but, more important, suggesting the aggressive and challenging approach he took to the task of poetic composition. Self-possessed and assured in his early work, he could fashion a narrative out of “a shifting change,/A broken bundle of mirrors,” as he writes in his remarkable reworking of Provençal traditions, “Near Perigord,” a poem that combines Dante, Provençal, and modernist form.

Pound contested traditional if not accepted conventions of poetic writing, replacing Swinburne with Arnaut Daniel, late Victorian elaboration with Imagism. The elegance and precision of the Chinese written character, where the ideogram replaced expansive metaphors, became his new focus. From 1908, when his first book, A Lume Spento, appeared, through 1923, when he was well under way with his lifetime’s preoccupation, The Cantos (by 1923 there were 8; the final number, some only fragments, would be 117), Pound tested, revised, rejected, and recovered forms of poetic expression that became a new direction for poetry for a host of contemporaries, including H.D., T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Louis Zukofsky, and Basil Bunting.

Pound began to remake his language on or about 1910: “I was obfuscated by the Victorian language ... I hadn’t in 1910 made a language ... to think in” (LE, 193—94). His poetic as well as cultural education had been alternately stultifying and liberating. “It takes six or eight years to get educated in one’s art, and another ten to get rid of that education,” he declared (LE, 194). In criticizing his own Rossetti-influenced efforts to translate Guido Cavalcanti, for example, Pound explained that his mistake was “in taking an English sonnet as the equivalent for a sonnet in Italian” (LE, 194). They are not the same, and when he realized this it freed him to explore, expand, discover, and construct his version of these works.

The anti-Romantic essays of T. E. Hulme, the English philosopher, provided Pound with an early direction: “beauty may be in small dry things ... the great aim is accurate, precise and definite description,” wrote Hulme.a By 1912, Pound would express similar ideas in a set of rules:

1. Direct treatment of the “thing,” whether subjective 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 the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome (LE, 3).

 

His own poetry quickly demonstrated this approach, Pound’s energetic and aggressive attitude, evident from his earliest work. In his account of the sculptor Gaudier-Brzeska, Pound wrote, “the image is the poet’s pigment” (GB, 86).

Pound’s prose is often a key to his poetry. The Spirit of Romance (1910), originally written as a set of lectures on Romance literature given in London in the fall of 1909/1910 and then printed by J. M. Dent, records his absorption with Italian poets and Provençal troubadours. It also contains one of his most important early statements about poetry, defining it as “a sort of inspired mathematics, which gives us equations, not for abstract figures ... but equations for the human emotions” (SR, 14). The work also reflects Pound’s focus on the particular and the need for the definite, whether in terminology or imagery. His early aesthetic also favors restraint, “which drives the master toward intensity” (SR, 18). Arnaut Daniel, Dante, and Cino emerge as heroes. And he cites Dante’s praise of Daniel in Canto 26 of Purgatorio, adopting the phrase il miglior fabbro as a chapter title in The Spirit of Romance. Eliot would use the phrase as part of the dedication to The Waste Land, which reads, “For Ezra Pound / il miglior fabbro” (SR, 33).

The poetry of Provence becomes Pound’s ideal, what he calls the “poetry of democratic aristocracy,” drawing its audience through lyricism and drama (SR, 39). Its basis in song, expressed through the troubadour’s voice, was another foundational idea for Pound, who used the concept of melopoeia or song as a key to his own sense of sound, meter, and rhythm: “troubadour poetry was ... made to sing; the words are but half the art,” he believed (SR, 53). This ideal sustained Pound’s image of the poet and his relation to this culture throughout his writing. To be both poet and warrior, which the Provençal writer Bertran de Born embodied, became a further ideal for Pound.

The Spirit of Romance is the sourcebook for understanding Pound’s early poetry through its references, history, and detail—as well as its aesthetic. Throughout the account of El Cid, Dante, and the troubadours, Pound makes his conception of the artist clear, explaining that “an art is vital only so long as it is interpretative, so long ... as it manifest something which the artist perceives at greater intensity and more intimately, than his public” (SR, 87). Science, particularly physics, comes to Pound’s aid in explaining the evolution of literary culture and how the conditions of Provence provided the necessary restraint and tension to produce great writing: “electric current gives light where it meets resistance” (SR, 93-94, 97). And as Pound moves slowly from Provence to Italy, he sharpens his distinctions. The poetry of Provence had been “a cult of the emotions,” but the poetry of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Italy is the “cult of harmonies of the mind,” an “objective imagination” that appeals by its “refined exactness” (SR, 116; Pound would call the Renaissance “the cult of culture” [SR, 223]).

Pound believed that the Italian dolce stil novo poetry of the late thirteenth century—the period of Dante, Cavalcanti, Cino da Pistoia—was the direct descendant of Provençal verse (Makin, 79). Shakespeare’s language is “beautifully suggestive,” but Dante’s is “more beautifully definite”; Shakespeare is a forest, Dante a cathedral (SR, 158, 159). Geographically, Pound moves from Provence to Tuscany and then England. Paris and the work of Villon (François Montcorbier) is, however, another stop. Villon’s persistent gaze at what is before him, even when it is himself, expressed through a voice of mockery, suffering, and fact, appealed to Pound, who refers to Villon as “the only poet without illusions” and who never lies to himself (SR, 169). Dante, writes Pound, is many men; Villon is always himself (SR, 177). Arnaut Daniel, Bertran de Born, Dante, Villon—these are the poets who shaped Pound’s early ideas and technique.

Rossetti, Browning, and even Swinburne, as well as the Anglo-Saxon poets, were the first in the English tradition to challenge Pound, who alternately found their work admirable and execrable. But he vigorously reacted against “the crust of dead English, the sediment present in my own available vocabulary” (LE, 193), determined to renew the language of poetry. Whitman, Noh drama, and Chinese poetry, which he encountered through the work of Ernest Fenollosa, helped him to further his new direction, which in 1912. he labeled “Imagism.” Pound defined this as the drive toward precision in contrast to abstraction, replacing Victorian generalities with the clarity found in Japanese haiku, Noh theater, and ancient Greek lyrics. In “A Few Don’ts by an Imagist” (1913), he presented the new aesthetic, defining an image as the presentation of “an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time” treated according to certain rules, starting with “direct treatment of the ‘thing,’ whether subjective or objective.” Use “no word that does not contribute to the presentation,” he admonished writers (LE, 3-4). His anthology, Des Imagistes (1914), with work by H.D., Aldington, Williams, Joyce, and hims...

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