Ezra Pound: Poems

Ezra Pound: Poems Quotes and Analysis

"He had been born

in a half-savage country, out of date..."

- "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley"

This quote exemplifies Pound's feelings regarding his birthplace and former home country, America. Pound felt that American culture was too focused on money and capitalism and showed little regard for art and literature. This was a major motivation for him to leave the country and move to Europe in the first place. Pound admired the way that Europeans historically placed enormous cultural value on classical art and literature. Pound found that his poetry flourished after leaving his home country.

"The apparition of these faces in the crowd

Petals on a wet, black bough."

- "In a Station of the Metro"

These two lines comprise the entire text of "In a Station of the Metro." This poem exemplifies Pound's reverence for and practice of Imagism. He and his fellow Imagist poets believed in poems which could express a certain sentiment with a few carefully-selected, precise words as opposed to rambling verses of flowery description. Here, Pound compares the faces he sees on a subway platform to flower petals. The image of this fleeting moment captures the theme of continual growth and change. Just like flowers, plants, and all living things, human beings are always changing. This poem is essentially a snapshot, freezing a unique moment in time before the train rambles on and everyone keeps moving.

"It was you who broke the new wood

Now it is time for carving."

- "A Pact"

In this quote, Ezra Pound admits that Walt Whitman has had a major influence on the world of poetry, even though Whitman's style was quite different from Pound's. Pound is finally able to accept that Whitman paved the way for his own work, after having denounced the elder poet's "crudity" on a number of occasions beforehand. However, Pound's compliments are slightly backhanded. He insinuates that Whitman's contribution was to break off the new piece of wood, but now it is Pound's duty to do the "carving," meaning that his work will transform the raw material into refined art.

"No! There is nothing! In the whole and all

Nothing that's quite your own

Yet this is you."

- "Portrait d'une Femme"

These three lines come at the very end of "Portrait d'une Femme" and explore the concept of possession. Though the woman in this poem has compiled a store of knowledge, ideas, and gossip from the great minds who seek her out, she does not quite own anything. There are a number of different hypotheses about Pound's meaning. Perhaps he is referring to the fact that the knowledge this woman has acquired has been filtered through many people before it has reached her. Pound's comparison of this woman to the Sargasso Sea supports this interpretation. Several ocean currents deposit marine plants and refuse into the Sargasso Sea. Similarly, the woman's mind is a repository for tales from all over the world. Although she hears these stories, they are not unique to her mind or based on her experiences.

"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."

- "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter"

The start of their love was as beautiful and fresh as spring, but now that her husband has been gone for five months, the river-merchant's wife is beginning to feel the weight of his absence. She compares her loneliness to an early fall, bringing cold weather which kills the sprouts of spring. The line "I grow older" is a relative statement, since, at sixteen, she is technically still a child. However, she married her husband when she was only fourteen, and she has matured as she has learned to cope with his continuing absence.

"I will not spoil my sheath with lesser brightness,

For my surrounding air hath a new lightness;"

- "A Virginal"

In these two lines of "A Virginal," Pound explores the complexity of attraction. The smitten narrator is in love with a woman who is a virgin, and her purity has brought brightness to his world. However, it would "spoil his sheath" (a sexually charged metaphor) if he were to engage with another woman who happens to be impure. Ultimately, though, if he is to eventually consummate his relationship with his virgin, she will lose her purity as well. Will his affection wane once she is impure - and is he only attracted to her purity? Pound himself struggled romantically, engaging in a number of relationships and affairs, so it is possible that this poem is his way of examining his own desires.

"And all this is folly to the world."

- "A Girl"

This quote carries two different meanings, depending on the interpretation of the poem. For one, it could be about Apollo criticizing Daphne for her decision to become a tree instead of remaining a woman. However, it could also represent an adult speaking to a child who is pretending to be a tree. The older voice acknowledges that adults see childlike imagination as "folly" but encourages the child to revel in her creative fantasies for as long as she can.

"Moves, yes she moves like a goddess

And has the face of a god

And the voice of Schoeney's daughters

And doom goes with her in walking."

- "Canto II"

This quote is a reference to Helen of Troy. In this Canto and Canto I, Pounds retells Homer's classic myths. Here, he makes his fascination with Greek and Roman mythology apparent, a trend that continues throughout the Cantos. Later, Pound writes about Greek goddesses visiting him in his prison and setting him free. To Pound, these mythological gods and goddesses represent perfection, beauty, and art, which he believes society should value much more than it does.

"And if the money be rented

Who shd pay rent on that money?

Some fellow who has it on rent day,

or some bloke who has not?"

- "Canto XLVIII"

This quote exemplifies Pound's focus on economics in The Cantos. In particular, he criticizes the interest system. He believed that the practice of lending money for profit was swiftly causing the downfall of Western society, which he makes clear throughout the Cantos. Many sections criticize immoral banking practices, usury, and corruption in the economy, which are all topics that Pound felt very strongly about.

"And I am not a demigod,

I cannot make it cohere."

- "Canto CXVI"

In these two lines at the very end of The Cantos, Pound essentially admits his own failure. He comes to terms with the fact that even though he meant The Cantos to be an epic poem that interwove various aspects of history, literature, and the universe, this monumental task has proven to be beyond Pound's human ability. While Pound has indeed failed to achieve the coherence he strived for, he also asserts that this task would have been impossible for any poet. By writing "and I am not a demigod," Pound claims that only a higher being could achieve his particular goal.