Ezra Pound is so complex, he really calls for meticulous knowledge and towering judgment. And I can’t provide that, but have a few thoughts. A man who decided when he was young that he wanted to know more about poetry than any other person in the world, he seems to have inherited the burden of the 20th Century, set the pace for it in English language poetry.
He and his friends replaced the cloying sentimentality, soft dreaminess, meditative nature, and the dependence on “inspiration”, of the poetic world they were born into. But while the poetry became harder to read, harder in tone, more exact in image, the pain of the early 20th Century broke out and this was felt by Pound more than anyone else, even in the sense that he was a cheerleader for the dark force of the century, a fashioner of fascist propaganda, who completely lost his mind in the years leading up to the war.
He almost extruded privacy from his poetry, but not from his radio addresses. By removing the private and the personal, the subjective expression, and the personal position from his poetry, he did radically deny the luxuriant interiority of the 19th Century, but also, what could be more fascistic?
Room became available in his own work for the stripped down renderings of the great heroic literary testimonies of the past, which he brought in through translation and innovative literary cannibalism, though these also read in a kind of hyper-textual, but fundamentally unrealistic way, in the sense that the characters of the Cantos (and I haven’t read much but based on what I have read and heard) are like shades: they are either literary characters, or if they are historical, their treatment is with such a high diction and fragmentary tone that the nature of the Cantos as text is always pronounced.
I don’t have much to add to the great controversy and scandal concerning Ezra Pound. His fascism, anti-semitism, treason, destroyed his life. Ultimately he saw himself as a failure as a writer and a man; he seems to have been essentially crazy the second half of his life; his translations have been called uninformed, perhaps delusional; and I imagine many people think he is very overrated as a poet.
Though I haven’t read the Cantos, the two poems I include here I do think are tremendous accomplishments. The first, the Ballad Goodly Fere, is a translation of an imaginative rendering of the Christ figure with one of His Disciple, Simon Zelotes. The second poem is one of Pound’s better known Cantos, Canto XLV, and works despite his personal agitas concerning usury.
I encourage all of you to enjoy the nice resources on Pound at The New Yorker, which has a lovely article on him, also at Penn Sound, and here at this Langdom Hammer lecture from Yale Course on youtube.