- Ezra Pound's Early Verse and Lyric Tradition: A Jargoner's Apprenticeship by Robert Stark
Public attention was still simmering over l'affaire Pound in the summer of 1951 when Hugh Kenner's The Poetry of Ezra Pound took the kettle off the hob, successfully making the case that questions of poetic achievement are best left to experts. Since that time, while public attention has been desultory at best, experts have argued Pound's achievement in dozens if not scores of ways. None of these arguments—not even those about Pound's anti-Semitism or racism—has been more fundamental to Pound studies than those over the principles by which both individual cantos and indeed the Cantos themselves cohere. Virtually all theses have been hermeneutic. Virtually everyone has pursued the meaning of it all, whether thematic or ideological. What if, instead, we take the title, Cantos, "songs," seriously? What if, anticipating that no two cantos sound alike, we listen for the primary organizing principle for any individual canto in its unique structuring of poetic music and sound?
Because Robert Stark's Ezra Pound's Early Verse and Lyric Tradition confines itself to Pound's earliest poems it doesn't go even as far as Homage to Propertius (1919), let alone the Cantos. Nevertheless, no academic study has more carefully considered how the sound of Pound's poetry informs its sense. More than that, Stark endeavors to historicize Pound's sound. At times this goal leads to bracing insights, as when he offers that "rhythms are precisely how Pound drafts the poetic and prosaic past into the ambivalent light of contemporaneity" (168). Everyone who has read Pound at all seriously is familiar with his notion of subject rhymes, "the repeat in history." To consider the implication of Stark's work doesn't mean we have to let go of this idea, but it does suggest we might want to revisit our collective sense of how subject rhymes work.
In a certain way, this book is a wonderful mess, somewhat scattershot in its theoretical warrants (chiefly Vico, Hegel, and Raymond Williams, although Stark's acknowledgements tell us that "the project began as a comparative study of what I then termed 'picture-thinking' in Hegel, Heidegger, and Gadamer"), and culminating with an appendix on [End Page 783] Aristophanes that accounts for forty-one of the book's 218 pages. Clearly this is a scholar who finds it difficult to contain his enthusiasms, especially his unmistakably abiding interest in the ancients. But Stark nevertheless succeeds in sustaining his principal focus, and he makes space for that focus with an enabling etymological move: the word "jargon" originally meant "birdsong," and Stark contends that-through his studies of the ancients and of the troubadours-Pound was alive to this sense of things. "By considering poetry as a special kind of jargon, I aim," he explains, "to demonstrate a necessary relationship between 'the meaningful and the rhythmic, the transparent and the opaque' in Ezra Pound's poetry and, by implication, in poetry more generally" (14). In fact, Stark affirms, "the idea that the aural and lexical aspects of language must be considered in their correspondence is the datum of Pound's art" (72). This is a stronger position than might be apparent: in offering this connection as a datum-something given or granted-Stark both tables arguments about Pound's success or aspirations and separates them from questions ideological.
Stark's fascination with etymology not surprisingly takes him to that Poundian leitmotif, Ford Madox Ford's insistence that writers get "A DICtionary / and learn the meaning of words!"1 In the envoi to his book Stark spends a page teasing out the significance of the word "draft" in Draft of XXX Cantos:
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "draft" is a "drawing down," "drawing off"; a "detachment, or selection . . . from a larger body." It is first used in the robust sense, as of a plough's pulling of a load, or "the act of drawing a...