- 8 Pound and Eliot
Scholarship on both poets continues at a robust pace. Pound scholarship has been treated to a major book on the poet's Neoplatonism and a flurry of articles about his interest in architecture, while Eliot studies reveals how the long shadow of the poet reaches into the 21st century. Both writers, it is clear, maintain their relevance—are perhaps more relevant than ever in the age of globalization and renewed U.S. imperialism.
Peter Liebregts's masterful Ezra Pound and Neo-Platonism (Fairleigh Dickinson) is one of the most comprehensive readings ever attempted on "Pound's explicit and implicit use of elements of the Neoplatonic tradition" in his poetry and politics. The image of light suffuses Pound's poems, and the Neoplatonic connection has long been acknowledged. But Liebregts demonstrates that Pound's reading in Neoplatonism began early and never ended; it is a worldview, a way of being, an attitude toward existence. Indeed, Liebregts's Pound is "permeated" with Neoplatonism as other poets are imbued with Christianity; Plotinus and company are in evidence from the first poem in A Lume Spento, "Grace before Song," and they will accompany him to the end, like "a rushlight / to lead back to splendor," the final lines of Canto 116. The lines are in fact a condensation of Plotinus's final Ennead, almost a response to it. Liebregts is able to show Neoplatonic influence at work in poem after poem from 1908 to 1966, including virtually every canto. [End Page 151]
Liebregts's study continues in the line first laid out by Leon Surette's A Light from Eleusis (1979) and followed up by Demetres Tryphonopoulos in The Celestial Tradition (1992), but his is a far more comprehensive, systematic, and above all philosophical discussion than those of the Canadian scholars. It is not a book about the occult so much as an intense seminar on Pound's appropriation of a certain way of reading Plato, a tradition transmitted through the Arabs to the medieval world and revived by the reintroduction of Greek literature into the West after the fall of Constantinople. Liebregts, who has also written extensively on Yeats, instructs us to observe the distinction between the occult and the Neoplatonic: "The Irish poet believed in a higher reality as an objective, transcendental order and spent his days trying to define it in more specific terms. . . . Pound, on the other hand, did not see the distinction between the worlds of the 'ordinary' self and the 'real' self so much in occult terms, but rather in terms of ordinary human psychology—which is a major reason why he was not so much attracted to the system builders of the occult-spiritualistic tradition, but rather to the religiously liberal tradition of Neoplatonism. Pound was satisfied to simply accept man's mystical leanings without trying to define or explain them in detail." That tradition for Pound is the Neoplatonic search in poetry for self-knowledge through contemplation, a turning inward to the true self that is in touch with the eternal One; this zone is the Nous, the pure intellect, both thought and the object of thought, the world of Platonic Forms, an emanation of the One, on one hand, and the origin of the Soul, on the other. The Soul (Psyche) "is the principle of anything with a temporal life" and inhabits the sensible world, the world of Becoming. For Pound, deeply schooled in Dante, among others, Love is the lens that allows one to glimpse through the sensible world into the Nous. These glimpses are epiphanic, and Liebregts pursues their complicated status in Pound's poetry. Not only can these epiphanies take various shapes, but more importantly one can never be certain about the ontological status of the "immediate moment": Pound always evaded the question of whether the epiphanies are records of "objectively" occurring events or "projections or objectifications to give his subjective beliefs . . . universal value. . . . this ambiguity lies at the heart of Pound's Modernism and may be called his Modernist 'negative capability.'" Liebregts does not follow up on this intriguing connection between Romanticism and modernism; rather, he wants to...