Pound The Method Of Luminous Detail

Pound was Eliot's prime example of a contemporary poet with the 'historical sense': in his introduction to Pound's 1928 Selected Poems he remarked that 'Pound is often most "original" in the right sense, when he is most "archaeological" in the ordinary sense' (Eliot 1948a: 11). If we are to look for an equivalent of 'Tradition and the Individual Talent' in Pound's oeuvre, we might turn to his series of essays 'I Gather the Limbs of Osiris' (1911—1912), which, like 'Tradition and the Individual Talent' argues that knowledge of literary tradition is vital to the poet. Pound's emphasis is somewhat different from Eliot's, however; the early instalments focus less on the writing of poetry than they do on the writing of history or literary history. In a sense, Pound starts his argument a stage earlier than Eliot: if poets are to be well-informed about literary tradition, good literary histories are needed to educate them. At present, he complains, histories either overwhelm one with 'multitudinous detail' or they are all 'sentiment and generalisation'. He proposes instead a 'method of Luminous Detail', by which the scholar presents a 'few dozen' carefully chosen facts that will sum up the period under discussion (1973: 21, 22, 24). Imagism had not been launched when Pound published this series, but we might see Pound's 'method of Luminous Detail' as a proto-imagist approach to literary history.

Most of 'I Gather the Limbs of Osiris' consists of Pound's application of his methodology to literary history: in the study of literature and art, he writes, the luminous details are 'particular works or the works of particular authors'. This at first seems compatible with Eliot's conception of a literary history as a 'simultaneous order' of literary works. But as Pound continues, the difference between the two poets as historians becomes clear. If the emphasis on literary tradition is a means for Eliot to shift attention away from the individual poet, it is for Pound just the opposite: a way of highlighting the significance of certain careers. Prefiguring the individualism of 'The Serious Artist', Pound argues that:

In each soul there Is some one element which predominates, which Is In some peculiar and Intense way the quality or virtu of the Individual; In no two souls Is this the same [. . .] It Is by reason of this virtu that we have one Catullus, one Villon.

He then lists the four writers whose virtu has been most powerful, Homer, Dante, Chaucer and Shakespeare, and claims that they 'represent four distinct phases of consciousness'. He suggests, in other words, that history (up to the Renaissance, at least), can be divided into four phases that can be mapped on to the careers of four men (1973: 28—29).

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