Isolated Superiority. A review of Personae: The Collected Poems of Ezra Pound
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[ 321 Isolated Superiority1 A review of Personae: The Collected Poems of Ezra Pound New York: Boni and Liveright, 1926. Pp. 231 The Dial, 84 (Jan 1928) [4]-7 By publishing his “collected poems” – a collection remarkable because it represents also a rigorous selection and omission – Mr. Pound provokes us to another attempt to estimate his work.2 I am doubtful whether such a valuation is, or will ever be, quite possible for our generation; but even if not, it is worth while at least to enquire into the nature of our difficulty in criticizing his work. Pound has had, and has an immense influence, but no disciples. For the absence of the latter, I think he is to be felicitated; or perhaps it does not matter an atom. He has been a great deal imitated, but that matters still less; and with his imitators neither I nor any one else can be concerned. But apart from imitation and plagiarism, there are these two things which are not the same: influence and discipleship. Sometimes they are united in the same persons; but I have suggested that Pound has great influence but no disciples. And I think that the reason is this: that influence can be exerted through form, whereas one makes disciples only among those who sympathize with the content. To illustrate by a very different case, Cardinal New­ man has influenced a great number of people, but his disciples, if there are any, must be very few. But of Pound I believe that in form he foreran, excelled, and is still in advance of our own generation and even the literary generation after us; whereas his ideas are often those of the generation which preceded him. It is an interesting anomaly, but perhaps not curious. What is curious is his complete and isolated superiority as a master of verse form. No one living has practised the art of verse with such austerity and devotion; and no one living has practised it with more success. I make no exception of age or of country, including France and Germany; what there may be in other languages I cannot judge. Nor do I limit the “art of verse” by the necessary but dangerous word technique. A man who devises new rhythms is a man who extends and refines our sensibility; and that is not merely a matter of 1928 322 ] “technique.” I have, in recent years, cursed Mr. Pound often enough; for I am never sure that I can call my verse my own; just when I am most pleased with myself, I find that I have only caught up some echo from a verse of Pound’s. The term vers-libres, never a happy one, is happily dying out. We can now see that there was no movement, no revolution, and there is no formula.3 The only revolution was that Ezra Pound was born with a fine ear for verse. He has enabled a few other persons, including myself, to improve their verse sense; so that he has improved poetry through other men as well as by himself. I cannot think of any one writing verse, of our generation and the next, whose verse (if any good) has not been improved by the study of Pound’s. His poetry is an inexhaustible reference book of verse form. There is, in fact, no one else to study. One or two eminent writers have tried to taketheirlessonsdirectfromWhitman.But(astheirworkshows)Whitman is not a safe model unless you have a better, or at least a more reliable ear than Whit­man; it is wiser to absorb your Whitman through Pound.4 Fromthispointofview,Iregretthatthenewvolumeshouldbeaselection. Mr. Pound has written some poems which I find rub me the wrong way; but I would not have any of them omitted, for there is something to be learned from every one. And besides, to tell the truth, the poems that annoy me are here: “Moeurs Contemporaines.”5 Mr. Pound has an exquisite sense of humour, and his epistolary style is masterly; but the wit and humour in his verse. . . . But that question would lead us to another aspect of the matter. Meanwhile,whereare“InTemporeSenectutis”andthe“LamentforGlaucus”?6 Another collection must be made after Mr. Pound is dead. There is another thing to be said about Pound’s Art of Verse.7 As many persons prefer his early poems, I must record my conviction that his verse has steadily improved, and that the Cantos are the most interesting of all...