Ezra Pound: Poems


Critical reception

In 1922 the literary critic Edmund Wilson reviewed Pound's latest published volume of poetry, Poems 1918–21, and took the opportunity to provide an overview of his estimation of Pound as poet. In his essay on Pound, titled "Ezra Pound's Patchwork", Wilson wrote:

Ezra Pound is really at heart a very boyish fellow and an incurable provincial. It is true that he was driven to Europe by a thirst for romance and color that he could scarcely have satisfied in America, but he took to Europe the simple faith and pure enthusiasm of his native Idaho. ... His sophistication is still juvenile, his ironies are still clumsy and obvious, he ridicules Americans in Europe not very much simpler than himself ...[160]

According to Wilson, the lines in Pound's poems stood isolated, with fragmentary wording contributing to poems that "do not hang together". Citing Pound's first seven cantos, Wilson dubbed the writing "unsatisfactory". He found The Cantos disjointed and its contents reflecting a too-obvious reliance on the literary works of other authors, and an awkward use of Latin and Chinese translations as a device inserted among reminiscences of Pound's own life.[160]

The rise of New Criticism during the 1950s, in which author is separated from text, secured Pound's poetic reputation.[161] Nadel writes that the publication of T.S. Eliot's Literary Essays in 1954 "initiated the recuperation of Ezra Pound". Eliot's essays coincided with the work of Hugh Kenner, who visited Pound extensively at St. Elizabeths.[162] Kenner wrote that there was no great contemporary writer less read than Pound, adding that there is also no one to appeal more through "sheer beauty of language".[163] Along with Donald Davie, Kenner brought a new appreciation to Pound's work in the 1960s and 1970s.[164] Donald Gallup's Pound bibliography was published in 1963 and Kenner's The Pound Era in 1971.[162] In the 1970s a literary journal dedicated to Pound studies (Paideuma) was established, and Ronald Bush published the first dedicated critical study of The Cantos, to be followed by a number of research editions of The Cantos.[162]

Following Mullins' biography, described by Nadel as "partisan" and "melodramatic", was Noel Stock's factual 1970 Life of Ezra Pound – although the material included was subject to Dorothy's approval. The 1980s saw three significant biographies: John Tytell's "neutral" account in 1987, followed by Wilhelm's multi-volume biography. Humphrey Carpenter's sprawling narrative, a "complete life", built on what Stock began; unlike Stock, Carpenter had the benefit of working without intervention from Pound's relatives. In 2007 David Moody published the first of his multi-volume biography, combining narrative with literary criticism, the first work to link the two.[165]

In the 1980s Mary de Rachewiltz released the first dual-language edition of The Cantos, including "Canto LXXII" and "Canto LXXIII".[166] These cantos had originally been published in fascist magazines, and are characterized by 21st-century literary scholars as no more than war-time propaganda.[167] In 1991 a complete facsimile edition of Pound's prose and poetry was published, now considered a "fundamental research tool", according to Nadel.[166] Scholarship in the 1990s turned toward in-depth investigations of his antisemitism and Rome years. Tim Redman writes about Pound's fascism and his relationship with Mussolini, and Leon Surrette about Pound's economic theories, especially during the Italian period, investigating how Pound the poet became Pound the fascist.[168] In 1999 Surrette wrote about the state of Pound criticism, that "the effort to uncover coherence in a ... crazy quilt of verse styles, critical principles, crankish economic theories and distasteful political affiliations has made it difficult to perceive the genesis and development of any of these components." He emphasized that Pound's "economic and political opinions have not been properly dated, nor has the suddenness of his radicalization been appreciated."[169]

Nadel's 2010 Pound in Context is a contextual literary approach to Pound scholarship. Pound's life, "the social, political, historical, and literary developments of his period", is fully investigated, which, according to Nadel is "the grid for reading Pound's poetry."[170] In 2012 Matthew Feldman wrote that the more than 1,500 documents in the "Pound files" held by the FBI have been ignored by scholars, and almost certainly contain evidence that "Pound was politically cannier, was more bureaucratically involved with Italian Fascism, and was more involved with Mussolini's regime than has been posited".[171]


Pound helped advance the careers of some of the best-known modernist writers of the early 20th century. In addition to Eliot, Joyce, Lewis, Frost, Williams, Hemingway and Conrad Aiken, he befriended and helped Marianne Moore, Louis Zukofsky, Jacob Epstein, Basil Bunting, E.E. Cummings, Margaret Anderson, George Oppen, and Charles Olson.[172] Hugh Witemeyer argues that the Imagist movement was the most important in 20th-century English-language poetry because it affected all the leading poets of Pound's generation and the two generations after him.[173] In 1917 Carl Sandburg wrote in Poetry: "All talk on modern poetry, by people who know, ends with dragging in Ezra Pound somewhere. He may be named only to be cursed as wanton and mocker, poseur, trifler and vagrant. Or he may be classed as filling a niche today like that of Keats in a preceding epoch. The point is, he will be mentioned."[174]

I have tried to write Paradise Do not move Let the wind speak. that is paradise. Let the Gods forgive what I have made Let those I love try to forgive what I have made.

“ ” from Canto 120[175]

The outrage after Pound's wartime collaboration with Mussolini's regime was so deep that the imagined method of his execution dominated the discussion. Arthur Miller considered him worse than Hitler: "In his wildest moments of human vilification Hitler never approached our Ezra ... he knew all America's weaknesses and he played them as expertly as Goebbels ever did." The response went so far as to denounce all modernists as fascists, and it was only in the 1980s that critics began a re-evaluation. Macha Rosenthal wrote that it was "as if all the beautiful vitality and all the brilliant rottenness of our heritage in its luxuriant variety were both at once made manifest" in Ezra Pound.[176]

Pound's antisemitism has soured evaluation of his poetry. Pound scholar Wendy Stallard Flory writes that separating the poetry from the antisemitism is perceived as apologetic. She believes the positioning of Pound as "National Monster" and "designated fascist intellectual" made him a stand-in for the silent majority in Germany, occupied France and Belgium, as well as Britain and the United States, who, she argues, made the Holocaust possible by aiding or standing by.[177]

Later in his life, Pound analyzed what he judged to be his own failings as a writer attributable to his adherence to ideological fallacies.[178] Allen Ginsberg states that, in a private conversation in 1967, Pound told the young poet, "my poems don't make sense." He went on to supposedly call himself a "moron", to characterize his writing as "stupid and ignorant", "a mess". Ginsberg reassured Pound that he "had shown us the way", but Pound refused to be mollified:

'Any good I've done has been spoiled by bad intentions – the preoccupation with irrelevant and stupid things,' [he] replied. Then very slowly, with emphasis, surely conscious of Ginsberg's being Jewish: 'But the worst mistake I made was that stupid, suburban prejudice of anti-semitism.'[178]

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