Ezra Pound lived and wrote in a swiftly modernizing world that, as time went on, placed less and less emphasis on art and beauty. Pound, however, was dissatisfied by this, and made it a point to celebrate art, literature, and beauty in his poetry. The major example of this lies in his long compilation of eighteen short poems called "Hugh Selywn Mauberley." In this poem, Pound criticizes mass culture, saying it will never again be able to produce great art because writers, painters, and other artists in modern day are concerned only with sales and profits. He believes that they are creating work for the wrong reasons.
Since Pound pioneered the Imagist movement, its overarching style and themes resonate throughout his poems. He placed significant value on clarity and economy of language. Pound felt that classic poetry, namely Greek and Roman, presented many model examples of Imagism, and frequently referred back to those ancient verses in his work. He also praised the verbal economy of traditional Japanese and Chinese poetry. A notable example of Imagism in Pound's work is "In a Station of the Metro." It is extremely short, only two lines long, and says only what it needs to say and nothing more. Pound originally wrote thirty lines for this poem, and then proceeded to whittle it down to 14 crucial syllables.
In his later career, Pound became increasingly obsessed with economics, especially when he moved to Italy and embraced fascism in the years leading up to World War II. The theme of economics is evident in a number of Pound's later poems, particularly the Cantos. His is clear about his hatred of interest rates and his belief that they were destroying Western civilization, and he also criticizes the Bank Wars and American capitalism. One of Pound's earlier poems, though he wrote it before he moved to Italy, also contains an abstract variation on this theme. In "Portrait d'une Femme," Pound describes the ideological commerce between the female protagonist and the great minds who came to exchange knowledge and stories for her rumors and tales.
An overwhelming number of Pound's poems revolve around a theme of love. "The River-Merchant's Wife" is about a woman who loves her husband and wistfully longs for his return. "A Virginal" consists of a young man celebrating his affection for his virginal lover. Pound explores different ways that love can be powerful. He was likely a bit of a romantic himself; he became involved with a number of women in Europe before settling down with Dorothy Shakespear, and then even had an affair during his marriage which resulted in an illegitimate child. However, he often explores the divide between love and temptation, which could be a result of his tortured affairs.
Pound often uses unexpected natural metaphors to reflect on people, business, and society. "In A Station of the Metro," he compares the faces on a subway platform to petals on a tree branch. In "A Virginal," the speaker compares his lover to a green spring and in "The River-Merchant's Wife," Pound compares the wife's sadness to somber monkeys and swiftly spreading moss. By frequently including nature into his work, Pound alludes to his love of aesthetics and beauty.
Pound explores history quite often in his poems. In the Cantos, Pound uses John Adams as an example of good government, business, and banking practices. He brings up historical instances of war and denounces them, claiming that war is costly and useless. He crafts the same criticism of poor economic practices and catastrophes like the American Bank Wars. Pound valued history because he recognized how much it influenced the present. He blamed bad historical precedents for all the societal corruption he describes in his poetry.
Many of Ezra Pound's poems center on the process of making a journey, whether metaphorical or physical, to accomplish some sort of goal. Pound himself made many different kinds of journeys, moving from the USA to London to Paris and then to Italy in order to achieve literary success and voice his opinions in the hope of changing society's views. Pound describes small journeys, such as the merchant's trip to another village in "The River-Merchant's Wife," as well as large-scale ones. The Cantos, though full of many different tangents, begin and end with Odysseus's legendary journey.
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