The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, vols. I and II, ed. A. Walton Litz and Christopher MacGowan (New York, 1986, 1988).
William Carlos Williams, Imaginations, ed. Webster Schott (New York, 1970).
-Paterson, ed. Christopher MacGowan (New York, 1992).
James Breslin, William Carlos Williams: An American Artist (New York, 1970). Paul Mariani, William Carlos Williams: A New World Naked (New York, 1981).
Ezra Pound (1885-1972)
Ezra Pound was at the center of the modernist avant-garde in London, Paris, and even - from a distance - in New York. He was a recognizer of major talent in others (including Henry James, William Carlos Williams, James Joyce, H.D., and T. S. Eliot), a selfless entrepreneur on their behalf in such journals as Poetry and The Little Review, and a remarkable editor (most memorably helping Yeats and Eliot). His critical principles continue to be influential, and the triumphs and tragedies of his life are still debated; all this in addition to the range and achievement of his own poetry.
Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho, but at the age of 2 moved east with his family, eventually to the suburbs of Philadelphia. He first attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he met Williams and Hilda Doolittle (who was later a student at Bryn Mawr) before transferring to Hamilton College. He returned to the University of Pennsylvania with a fellowship for graduate work in Romance languages and literature, receiving an MA in 1906. His fellowship was not renewed for the following year, and from September 1907 to February 1908 he taught Romance Languages at Wabash College, Indiana, from which he was fired over a disputed incident concerning a woman in his room. Determined on a career as a writer, in 1908, with his father's financial help, Pound traveled first to Venice, where he published his first book, A Lume Spento, at his own expense, and then at the end of the summer to London.
A Lume Spento and the next four books that appeared over as many years, A Quinzaine for this Yule, Personae, Exultations, and Canzoni, show Pound's interest in the medieval and Renaissance poets of the Romance cultures he had been studying since his college years. These included the troubadour poets of Provence, and early Tuscan poetry, and in particular Dante, Guido Cavalcanti, Arnaut Daniel, Rabelais, and Villon. His The Spirit of Romance (1910) is a prose study of the medieval poets of southern Europe. Pound's interest in the way that the values of a culture are reflected in its dominant figures, its literature, and its treatment of its major artists - a theme central to his Cantos - is also part of these early volumes. But for Pound this was not merely a nostalgic return to the past, although these were poets that Pound felt any serious reader and writer should know. His concern was with the present state of poetry in particular, which he came to feel was behind the novel, music, and painting in modernizing itself. For Pound, writers of the present, and the wider culture within which they wrote, could learn from the significant achievements of the past.
In these volumes sometimes the poems not only reflect the style of the particular historical poet, but present the poet as speaking the lines, bringing the poem closer to the poet's state of mind and to the quality of his time. (This mode also reveals Pound's admiration for Browning, although he had little time for most other Victorian poets.) In the poems as in his criticism Pound emphasizes the difficult craft of poetry, as against Romantic ideas of "inspiration," and also the importance of writer and reader being informed about work in languages other than English.
Pound's use of the past can be illustrated in his version of the AngloSaxon The Seafarer. Pound's poem parallels the original's alliterative line, thus opening with "May I for my own self song's truth reckon." But his interest is not in a literal rendering of the original, but in capturing something of the poet's voice and the reading experience of the original poem for the present-day reader. Thus he renders the Anglo-Saxon wrecan as "reckon," it being closer in sound to the original than the literal "to make or compose." The Seafarer is one of the first known poems in English, and thus marks a return to one set of beginnings (Pound begins Canto I with alliterative lines, perhaps an allusion to this poem and to his version of it). The subject matter is an anonymous poet who chooses exile over compromising with the mercenary values of his "lord," just as Pound felt he had been driven into exile by the commercial values of American publishers and readers. "The Return" (1912) dramatizes the tentative and weakened return of a force once powerful, associated as in Pound's later poetry with a rediscovery of latent powers in "Gods" too long displaced by the Christian tradition.
Pound threw himself into the Edwardian literary scene, but as he met some of the figures, such as Yeats, T. E. Hulme, and Ford Madox Ford, who advocated alternatives to it, his attitude became less reverential and more critical. He worked as Yeats's secretary for three years, became the foreign correspondent of Poetry, the poetry editor of The Egoist, later was associated with The Little Review, and worked tirelessly to promote himself and the writers whom he believed in through the pages of these and any other journals open to modern work. His passionate interests included music, painting, sculpture, and philosophy, and these all contributed, aided in particular by Hulme's theories on "images," "accuracy," and their relationship to language, to his development around 1912, along with Richard Aldington, H.D., and F. S. Flint, of the ideas of imagism. The principles stressed compression, complexity, concrete presentation, economy of language, and variety of rhythm. The two-line poem "In a Station of the Metro" is the example most often printed. This pictorial style dovetailed with Pound's work on the manuscripts that the widow of orientalist scholar Ernest Fenollosa gave him in 1913, and which resulted in the translations of Cathay in 1915. In both the oriental translations and the imagist poems economy of language worked with a pictorial focus, a lack of explicit connectives, and juxtaposition, to produce a heightened moment of emotional intensity. Meanwhile, through his interest in the vorticist movement, particularly the writing and painting of Wyndham Lewis, Pound was associated with the two issues of the aggressively iconoclastic journal Blast. Vorticism stressed dynamic force rather than the pictorial stasis of imagism. The poetry of Yeats and the theories and writing of Ford Madox Ford continued to be major interests of Pound's, and he met T. S. Eliot for the first time in September 1914. Out of this mix of developments came Lustra (1916), a volume of free verse poems which also included the poems of Cathay.
But with the coming of war, opportunities to promote a revolution in the arts dried up. A particular blow to Pound was his close friend vorticist sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska being killed in France in June 1915. Pound moved towards what would become a career-long interest in alternatives to the contemporary economic and political systems that he saw on both sides of the conflict as stifling the arts, and producing the needless and self-serving destruction of the war. "There died a myriad, / And of the best, among them," he wrote in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, "For an old bitch gone in the teeth, / For a botched civilization."
Pound left London permanently in 1920 for France, settling in Paris in 1921. In the three years before this move his important publications included Homage to Sextus Propertius (1919) and Hugh Selwyn Mauberley the following year. Both marked steps towards what would after 1920 become Pound's life's work, The Cantos (although he had begun publishing a version of the earliest cantos in 1917). Both the Homage and Hugh Selwyn Mauberley find a way to bring together in a longer sequence contemporary concerns and recent and distant history, using irony and shifting styles, attitudes, and responses to represent the poem's full temporal and historical reach. The method of the Cantos is a development of this discovery, while the structure of Eliot's The Waste Land is also indebted to their achievement. Homage to Sextus Propertius is Pound's version of the Elegies of the first-century bc Roman poet. In 1931 he wrote of the poem that it "presents certain emotions as vital to me in 1917, faced with the infinite and ineffable imbecility of the British Empire, as they were to Propertius some centuries earlier, when faced with the infinite and ineffable imbecility of the Roman Empire" (Selected Letters, 231). These shared concerns, as Pound saw them, included trying to remain a writer with integrity in a time of war when under pressure to write what amounted to imperialist propaganda. The poem was also another of Pound's blasts at the academic establishment, this time for its neglect as he saw it of Propertius.
Hugh Selwyn Mauberley foregrounds more contemporary cultural and political history, although tracing its theme of present philistine decadence back to what Pound saw as the influence and decline of Christianity. "Christ follows Dionysus // . . . Even the Christian beauty / Defects - after [i.e. as did the cult of] Samothrace." The poem is divided into two halves and within them into sections. Although it is not reducible to easy parallels with Pound's life, it is often read as reflecting two aspects of his interests and career up to that point. "E.P.," the persona of the first half, is presented as a writer of good intentions ("born / In a half savage country, out of date"), who tried to bring the best of the past's literary achievements into contemporary writing and culture. He finds only a philistine audience preferring to settle for something much less demanding. E.P.'s failure to find a wider readership or to extend his work beyond sophisticated pastiche of past masters is put into the context of the failure of the Pre-Raphaelite painters and writers, the failure of the poets of the 1890s such as Ernest Dowson and Lionel Johnson, and the inevitable drift into war. Mauberley, on the other hand, in the poem's second half, is an imagist who fades into oblivion on the stream of his heightened and finally irrelevant intensities, a small master of a minor art. But although the poem displays the limitations of these two sides of Pound's career, broadly drawn, the poem itself helped give him an answer. It showed a way for the Cantos to use juxtaposition within a sentence, stanza, or section, or between cantos, to present multiple levels of time, different cultures, and the central figures that Pound saw representing them, all within a framework in which connections accumulated suggestion, rather than becoming reductively definitive. Thus the poem could demand full attention from a reader required to fill out and connect the allusions sketched sometimes only by a phrase or word.
When A Draft of XVI Cantos appeared in 1925 Pound and his wife had moved from Paris to Rapallo, Italy. In Paris his circuit had included Joyce and Ford Madox Ford, as well as many of the American expatriates, including Hemingway. In 1921 Eliot left with him the draft of The Waste Land for suggestions, and the poem was published the following year much as Pound had left it after cutting it down considerably in length, and eliminating many surface continuities. As a mark of gratitude Eliot dedicated the landmark poem to him.
Pound's interests in the late 1920s and the 1930s increasingly focused on economics, particularly the social credit theories of Major C. H. Douglas, and on politics, although his root concern was always the impact upon writing and a culture's treatment of its writers. In his tendency to view an age as summed up in the actions of a single figure, he came to see Mussolini's policies as representing the kind of social and monetary reform that he was advocating. This attraction to fascism, combined with an increasing tendency on Pound's part to equate what he condemned as the parasitical effects of usury (see Canto XLV) with world Jewry, led to his sometimes virulent anti-Semitism. Such views come into the Cantos of these years, for this "poem including history" was to include also the history of its maker. Pound began broadcasting his literary and political views over Rome radio in 1941 and was arrested by the US army on charges of treason at the war's end and imprisoned near Pisa.
The Cantos start with a series of beginnings: the descent to the underworld of book XI of the Odyssey, a ritual blood-drinking with prophet Tiresias, a voyage, and a search. The general themes of the poem take up the first seven cantos. Cantos VIII-XI explore the career and impact of the fifteenth-century Venetian soldier and art patron Sigismundo Malatesta, and, after a passage through the modern hell of London, in Canto 17 medieval Venice serves as a vision of paradise. The middle cantos, XXXI-LXXI, explore the policies of some early US presidents (Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Van Buren, and John Adams), and the history of ancient China, which Pound saw as at its most prosperous and peaceful when governed by Confucian ethics. Cantos LXXIV-LXXXIV, the Pisan Cantos, were written under the extreme conditions of Pound's arrest and confinement. He was initially held in a cage, and later housed in a tent, with the loan of a typewriter for a few hours in the evening and just a handful of books to consult. For many readers these are the finest cantos. In them the destruction of the poet's personal life (he faced execution) and of his literary and social hopes are at the center of a remarkable sequence that blends sharp observation of the camp and its surroundings, memories of friendships, plans and achievements in worlds now irrevocably past, and a sometimes humble, sometimes defiant personal reflection. The sequence was published in 1948 and the following year awarded the first Bollingen Prize for Poetry by a jury that included T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, and Robert Lowell. Pound was by now housed in St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC, having been declared insane and thus not fit for trial. The resulting political controversy over Pound winning the prize resulted in its future management being taken away from the control of the Library of Congress and given to Yale University.
Pound continued his reading and translations in St. Elizabeths, received many visitors, and increasingly became a figure whose work was looked to by those seeking an alternative to the tenets of formalism. He also continued The Cantos. Section: Rock-Drill (LXXXV-XCV) appeared in 1955, and Thrones (XCVI-CIX) in 1959, the year after he was released from St. Elizabeths and the charges of treason dropped. However, The Cantos were never finished, and Pound sometimes expressed the opinion late in his life that his massive and ambitious project had failed. Drafts and Fragments of cantos 110-17 was published in 1968. Pound spent most of his last years in Venice, where he died and is buried, having outlived all of the major modernist peers upon whom his life and work had such an impact.
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