restricted access The Method of Mr. Pound. A review of Quia Pauper Amavi, by Ezra Pound
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[ 141 The Method of Mr. Pound A review of Quia Pauper Amavi, by Ezra Pound London: The Egoist Press. Pp. 51. The Athenaeum, 4669 (24 Oct 1919) 1065-66 The present volume of poems by Mr. Pound is probably the most significant book that he has published. It is, at all events, the most coherent extended work since Personae and Exultations; and it makes easier the adoption of a view of his poetry which many readers have consistently ignored.1 For it shows, what had not been self-evident before, that he has pursued a constant aim with a deliberate and conscious method. Upon reading his first books, we might not have been certain that the beauty discovered there was more than accidental and derivative; and from his later books we might not have been certain that he was doing more than reaching out and about for a new inspiration. This book, the best formed, supplies a clue to the whole process, and makes evident that, whether we like or dislike his work, we cannot accept and reject it here and there, but must acknowledge the whole design. The fusion and transmutation of elements, which has gone on continuously, is not yet complete; it is not yet decided whether there are elements which will never be completely absorbed; but there is obviously a sustained purpose which must be respected. Mr. Pound’s early work, taken by itself, might give the impression of being a brilliant and immensely appreciative piece of archaeology.2 What was not dependent upon the assimilation of mediaeval literature seemed to be slightly distorted by the influence of Mr. Yeats, although a more powerful intelligence than that of Mr. Yeats was visible. There was, of course, the much more beneficent influence of Browning. Ripostes was patently a departure, but the work was, on the whole, slighter. It contained, however, one important evidence of development: the “Seafarer.”3 From the earlier verse it might have seemed that Mr. Pound inclined to bury himself and his readers in the taste or friandise of a particular past.4 The “Seafarer” was evidence of a much more extensive historical sense, the extent of which implied that the point, the only possible point, upon which such various 1919 142 ] historical interests could converge was the present. And Mr. Pound has steadily become more modern by becoming, or by showing himself to be, more universal. Cathay, appearing by itself, was hardly taken in this way by the public: it was taken rather as the opening of a new and delightful sideshow in the Magic City of European Literature.5 So far as Mr. Pound’s example has led to the opening of new side-shows, it may have done harm for which Mr. Pound cannot be held responsible; but in retrospect we ought to be able to see that Cathay is less merely the Chinese than Canzone were merely the mediaeval.6 The style owes nothing to the Chinese inspiration ; it is a development – in fact, the development – of Mr. Pound’s style, which proved a good vehicle for transporting the content of the Chinese poem; the Cathay cathartic may have helped to purge Mr. Pound; but its importance is found in its place in his work, and not in its being Chinese. The historical method is, of course, the one which suits Mr. Pound’s temperament; it is also a conscious and consistent application of a procedure suggested by Browning, which Mr. Pound applies more consciously and consistently than Browning did. Most poets grasp their own time, the life of the world as it stirs before their eyes, at one convulsion or not at all. But they have no method for closing in upon it. Mr. Pound’s method is indirect and one extremely difficult to pursue. As the present is no more than the present existence, the present significance, of the entire past, Mr. Pound proceeds by acquiring the entire past; and when the entire past is acquired, the constituents fall into place and the present is revealed. Such a method involves immense capacities of learning and of dominating one’s learning,andthepeculiarityofexpressingoneselfthroughhistoricalmasks. Mr. Pound has a unique gift for expression through some phase of past life. This is not archaeology or pedantry, but one method, and a very high method, of poetry. It is a method which allows of no arrest, for the poet imposes upon himself, necessarily, the condition of continually changing his mask; hic et ubique, then we...