Ezra Pound: Poems

Ezra Pound (1885-1972) was born in Idaho, raised in Philadelphia, and attended Penn. He left for Europe in 1908, where he wintered with Yeats and edited the work of T.S. Eliot, among others. Pound detested American culture, save Whistler and Lincoln. He campaigned for “imagism” as a way of presenting the thing in itself, often by bucking conventional grammatical structures. He was hospitalized in D.C. after his stint in an open-air cage in an Italian prison near Pisa. He was never tried for treason, but was released and returned to Italy, where he died.

LUSTRA (1916)

“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.

The tone of this poem is both conciliatory and ironic – making a pact with the dead American poet, Pound outs himself as one who dislikes Whitman – “a grown child/ Who has had a pig-headed father.” He acknowledges that Whitman “broke the new wood,” while Pound feels it is “time for carving.” This has a touch of the Freudian totem/taboo to it, but it also paints Pound, an embellisher, in the European tradition, versus the young, energetic “breaking” typical of American art, which he dislikes. The last line, “let there be commerce between us,” makes peace but also makes Pound a separate entity, even a separate nation, posited towards and against each other in economic terms.

“IN A STATION OF THE METRO”

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
Pound’s famous imagist poem juxtaposes an urban scene with an evocation of the Eastern world that so fascinated him. One can read it as mere juxtaposition or as a layering, where the pale faces flutter on the wet, black pavement of the city crowd.

“THE GARDEN”

En robe de parade. – [Albert] Samain (dressing to show)

Like a skein of loose silk blown against a wall
She walks by the railing of a path in Kensington Gardens,
And she is dying piece-meal
of a sort of emotional anaemia.

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

In her is the end of breeding.
Her boredom is exquisite and excessive.
She would like some one to speak to her,
And is almost afraid that I
will commit that indiscretion.

The first stanza reduces the woman to a length of fluid, expensive fabric, dying “piece-meal” (perhaps a pun on silk piece-work) of the “emotional anaemia” of her class. All around her are the “breeders,” while in her “is the end of breeding.” Like Prufrock, the speaker (and the woman) are desirous of contact, but also terrified by it.

“THE RIVER MERCHANT’S WIFE”

The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead
I played about 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 Chokan:
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-to-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 Cho-fo-Sa.

By Rihaku – a translation

“HUGH SELWYN MAUBERLEY,” 1920

The poem, too long to reproduce here, is modeled on the “center of consciousness” Pound thought typical of Henry James’ fiction – a judging mind that is also being judged.  The epigraph is Nemesianus’ “The heat calls us into the shade,” and the opening lines are “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… His true Penelope was Flaubert.” On the war: “There died a myriad,/ And of the best, among them,/ For an old bitch gone in teeth,/ For a botched civilization.” “Daphne with her thighs in bark/ Stretches toward me her leafy hands.” “Knowing my coat has never been/ Of precisely the fashion/ To stimulate, in her,/ A durable passion” refers to the woman’s superficiality, but also to the Yeats poem “A Coat” perhaps. “Poetry, her border of ideas,/ The edge, uncertain, but a means of blending/ With other strata.” The last lines of the envoi are “Siftings on siftings in oblivion,/ Till change hath broken down/ All things save Beauty alone.”

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