| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
No one better symbolizes the course of modern
literature—its triumphs and defeats—than Ezra Pound. From the lyric poems of
his Edwardian period to the complex allusive style of his epic Cantos, Pound
marked the path that modern poetry followed. His work in criticism and
translation, from his “Imagist Manifesto” and Guide to Kulchur to his translations
from Provençal and Chinese, signaled new directions in modern literature and
criticism. But it is not only as a major influence on literary modernism that
Pound is important.
was born in Hailey, Idaho, and raised in Pennsylvania, where his father worked
in the Mint in Philadelphia. His pugnacious spirit is evident in an essay
titled “How I Began,” in which Pound says that at age fifteen he decided to
become a poet and to know by age thirty more about poetry than any living man.
Pound was a student at the University of Pennsylvania in 1902, where he met
William Carlos Williams, and Hilda Doolittle, who was a student at Bryn Mawr.
He received his B.A. from Hamilton College in 1905 and an M.A. in Romance
Languages from the University of Pennsylvania in 1906. After being fired as a
teacher at Wabash College for harboring a “lady-gent impersonator” in his room,
Pound departed for Europe, where he would remain for most of his life.
1908, Pound arrived in Venice, where he arranged to have his first volume of
poems, A Lume Spento, published at his own expense. Within the next few years,
he became a central figure in London literary life. Through his own work and by
fostering the work of others, including W. B. Yeats, James Joyce, H.D.,
Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, and T. S. Eliot, Pound sought to bring
about a renaissance of the arts in England and America. In “A Few Don’ts by an
Imagiste,” which appeared in Poetry in 1913, he announced the modernist poetics
of precision, concision, and metrical freedom which he had formulated in
conversation with H.D. and Richard Aldington.
poems of Lustra (1916) reflect the range of Pound’s intellectual interests, the
variety of his technical experiments, and the extent of his artistic
achievement in his London years. For Pound as for other modernists, the First
World War marked a turn away from the aestheticism of his early years toward
what he would call “the poem including history.” Having entombed the aesthete
figure of his early period in “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley,” which was published in
1920, Pound departed for Europe and turned his main energies to writing his
epic Cantos. Under the influence of C. H. Douglas’s ideas on Social Credit and,
after 1924, the politics of Mussolini in Italy, Pound came to attribute the
waste of the war and the malaise of the modern world to the dominance of
bankers and munitions manufacturers, usury, and Jews. Insisting on the
relationship between good government, good art, and the good life, Pound
incorporated his social and economic views into the works he published during
the thirties, including ABC of Economics (1933), Eleven New Cantos (1934),
Social Credit: An Impact (1935), and Jefferson and/or Mussolini (1935).
1939 he made a trip to Washington, D.C., where he spoke with members of
Congress about his economic policies and about his fear that Roosevelt, the
bankers, and the armaments industry were leading America into another war.
Unsuccessful with American politicians, he returned to Italy, where in 1941 he began
regularly broadcasting his ideas over Rome Radio, in a program aimed at the
English-speaking world. Mixing reflections on literature with tirades against
Roosevelt, usury, and international finance, Pound continued these broadcasts
until July 1943, when he was indicted for treason. After being arrested in May
1945, he was incarcerated for six months in a wire cage in Pisa before he was
sent back to America to stand trial. Declared mentally unfit to stand trial by
a team of psychologists, Pound was committed in 1946 to St. Elizabeths Hospital
in Washington, D.C. where he remained until his release in 1958.
in February 1949 the Library of Congress awarded the Bollingen Prize for Poetry
to the Pisan Cantos (1948), Pound became the center of a controversy over the
relation of poetry and politics, and modernism and fascism, that raged for
several months in the American press. While T. S. Eliot, Allen Tate, and Robert
Penn Warren argued for the separation of poetry and politics in the evaluation
of Pound’s work, others, including Karl Shapiro and Robert Hillyer, argued that
Pound’s politics ultimately vitiated the artistic value of his poetry.
his later writings, Pound lost no opportunity to criticize the “mere aesthete,”
who did not understand the social and regenerative function of his epic “tale
of the tribe.” In the wake of the Bollingen controversy, however, it was the
image of Pound the formalist and aesthete that rose to prominence in the
Anglo-American tradition. This emphasis was supported by the increasing
obscurity and complexity of Pound’s later volumes of Cantos. Since Pound’s
death, studies of his work have remained split between those who would praise
the poet and forget the politician and those who would attack the fascist and
forget the poet. But in the final analysis, it may be Pound’s Americanism as
much as his fascism that pervades his work.
University of Pennsylvania
In the Heath Anthology
In a Station of the Metro
Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (Life and Contacts)
from The Cantos
I [And then went down to the ship]
XIII [Kung walked]
XLV [With usura hath no man a house of good stone]
LXXXI [Yet/Ere the season died a-cold]
CXX [I have tried to write Paradise]
A Lume Spento
(1909 - 1926)
The Spirit of Romance
(1916 - 1968)
Make It New
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The strange and inscrutable case of Ezra Pound
An abstract of this Smithsonian Magazine article, December 1995.
Alumverse site on Imagism
Description of imagism from poetry project.
Electronic Poetry Center
An online discussion between those who knew and studied Pound.
Modern American Poetry
Extensive selection of criticism, bibliography, biography, and links.
Poet Page: Ezra Pound
Biography and bibliography; links to texts, journals, and lists.
Christopher Beach, ABC of Influence: Ezra Pound and the Remaking of American Poetic Tradition, 1992
Peter Brooker, A Student's Guide to the Selected Poems of Ezra Pound, 1979
Daniel M. Hooley, The Classics in Paraphrase: Ezra Pound and Modern Translators of Latin Poetry, 2000
Terri B. Joseph, Ezra Pound's Epic Variations: The Cantos and Major Long Poems, 1995
George Kearn, Guide to Ezra Pounds Selected Cantos, 1980
Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era, 1971
Ira B. Nadel, The Cambridge Companion to Ezra Pound, 1999
Noel Stock, The Life of Ezra Pound, 1970