My final poetry rummage-book is Ezra Pound’s Personae: Collected Shorter Poems of Ezra Pound (1926), which includes most of Pound’s early books – Personae (1909), Ripostes (1912), Cathay (1915), Lustra (1916), and more, plus a lot of miscellaneous nonsense. I also referred to the Library of America Poems and Translations to help me with chronology and annotations, but I expect this post will include several grotesque errors. Probably already does.
What I want to say is that Pound’s early poems are so much fun, so zippy and alive. It takes an extra act of imagination to enjoy them. Pound is young, trapped in Indiana, he fears, or plunging into Europe, full of what Edmund Wilson calls a “cavalier spirit.” There are as yet no Cantos, no books about usury, no treason.
You are very idle, my songs.
I fear you will come to a bad end. (from “Further Instructions”)
Pound is an amateur poet, not a professional crank. And when he is a crank, he is having some fun of his own.
So shall you be also,
You slut-bellied obstructionist,
You sworn foe to free speech and good letters,
You fungus, you continuous gangrene. (from “Salutation the Third”)
If that sounds more like the Pound I know is coming, I will note that it was published in a magazine called Blast in 1914, and sounds to me exactly like what an avant garde poet should be publishing in something called Blast: “Let us deride the smugness of ‘The Times’: GUFFAW!” Yes, let’s do that. Even if it is now less amusing when, in the same poem, Pound writes:
But I will not go mad to please you,
I will not flatter you with an early death,
Oh, no, I will stick it out…
But early on, oh how Pound loves poetry, his own and that of everyone else – Heine, Leopardi, Du Bellay, lots of Latin and Provençal poets, and, later, classical Chinese poets. He just wants to play with it. He wants to make it new, but he also loves “certain accustomed forms, / the absolute unimportant” (“Au Salon”).
That age is gone;
Pieire de Maensac is gone.
I have walked over these roads;
I have thought of them living. (from “Provincia Deserta”)
He wants the new to be as exciting as the old, so he translates and imitates and parodies. How is he supposed to know that in a few years everything he does will be so heavy with importance?
As Pound moves towards the Cantos – not that he knew exactly that he was doing that – the collage of languages and references becomes more obscure, by which I mean I sure don’t understand it. The Browning-like pseudo-translation “Homage to Sextus Propertius” is already too difficult for me, for how I normally read poetry, and it’s only from 1919. As Wilson says:
His early poems were full of gallant and simply felt emotions; but they were already tainted with an obsession which has cursed him all his life: the frantic desire to flee as far from Idaho as possible, the itching to prove to Main Street that he has extirpated it from his soul. (“Ezra Pound’s Patchwork,” 1922, in The Shores of Light, p. 45)
Until then, he can write a poem as good as “The Study in Aesthetics,” where he first watches the Italian children praise a woman for her beauty (“Guarda! Ahi, guarda! ch’ è be’ a!”) and then see ones of them play with the sardines when the fishermen bring them in:
And when they would not let him arrange
The fish in the boxes
He stroked those which were already arranged,
Murmuring for his own satisfaction
This identical phrase:
Ch’ è be’ a.
And at this I was mildly abashed.
How beautiful! How beautiful!
I’m going to take a day off. On Monday, I will write about something in prose.