Though Ezra Pound produced a huge number of works, this ClassicNote focuses on a handful of his most famous verses. The first, "Portrait d'une Femme," was published in 1912 and describes a woman from London and the "great minds" who seek her out in order to trade their knowledge, gossip, and ideas for her gaudy tales and useless facts. In the end, though, despite this trade, the woman has nothing that is truly her own, and this is the fact that defines her. This poem has a theme of "commerce" and is an example of the economic themes that permeate Pound's poetry.
"A Virginal", also published in 1912, tells the story of a man who is devoted to a young virgin to the point that he cannot even speak to another woman. "In a Station of the Metro" (1913) is a short, two-line Imagist poem about a crowd on a subway platform as the train rushes by and compares these faces to petals on a damp tree branch.
Pound frequently criticized Walt Whitman's poetry. Whitman was an American poet who lived during the 19th century, and Pound believed that his work was too crude and unpolished to be considered true art. "A Pact," however, published in 1916, was Pound's way of reconciling. In the poem, he admits that he has always judged Whitman's poetry harshly, but now recognizes how Whitman's work has paved the way for his own.
"The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter" (1917) is actually Pound's translation of a Chinese poem. He writes from the point of view of the sixteen-year-old wife of a Chinese river-merchant. She is waiting for her husband to return from a five-month trip down the river to trade with another village. She recalls how they met as children and goes on to describe their marriage, revealing that it took her a while to accept the idea of marrying him. Pound uses natural metaphors, like the seasons, to indicate time passing during their separation.
"A Girl" tells the story of mythological figures Daphne and Apollo. After being pursued relentlessly by the Apollo, Daphne begs her father to change her into a tree so she can escape him. The poem describes the process of Daphne's transformation from a woman to a tree, and Apollo's subsequent commentary. There is also a figurative interpretation for this poem. The Daphne character could actually be a child imagining that she is a tree, and the Apollo character is then an adult, telling her not to let the world subdue her creativity.
"Hugh Selywn Mauberley" (1920) is one of Pound's most pivotal works. It is made up of eighteen short poems and split into two parts. The first part contains a description of Pound himself, and the second part introduces the character of Hugh Selywyn Mauberley, a struggling poet desperate for the world to see value in his work. This poem is Pound's way of criticizing society for devaluing art, beauty, and literature.
The Cantos embody everything Pound wanted to achieve in his career. There are over a hundred different cantos in this piece, which Pound wrote and published over the course of his later life. Like much of Pound's prose, The Cantos centers on themes of economics, government, and history. Pound attempts to show how all of these ideas are connected, and how Western history and culture relates to that of the Far East. He was never able to finish The Cantos, however. His writing declined drastically after he was imprisoned for his antisemitic and fascist radio broadcasts, which led to a slow decline of his sanity. At the end of The Cantos, Pound expresses remorse about his failure to bring the universe together in the way that he had originally intended.