- Ezra Pound: Imagist & Icon
In his graphic novel The Left Bank Gang, by the Danish artist who goes by the name of Jason, Pound meets Hemingway on the streets of Paris in the 20s. The men are drawn as stick-thin figures, with the heads of dogs. Soon Pound and Hemingway are joined by Fitzgerald and Joyce. All the men are artists—but cartoonists, not writers. Eventually, they take part in a bank heist. The narrative features double-crosses and point-of-view shifts. At the end, Pound and Hemingway are seen struggling over the stolen money on a rooftop. The satchel comes apart and bills scatter in the air.
Whatever else, this Ezra (as he is always identified) in The Left Bank Gang is not your father's Pound. However, the first thing to say about William Pratt's Pound is that he is. This Pound invented Imagism, edited The Waste Land, creatively translated from medieval French as well as Latin and Chinese, wrote his finest poetry in the Pisan Cantos, and deservedly justified himself as having "brought about the revolution in literary style we call modernism." There are no surprises. Pratt wishes merely to transmit, and not challenge, received opinion.
So a reader who might fancy that modernism could be considered as a variant of postmodernism—much less one who would want to argue that imagism was just a minor phase in the larger construction of modern poetry, or that modern poetry equates with modernism most uneasily—would be advised to look elsewhere than this book. The most recent critical study in Pratt's bibliography is over a decade old, so perhaps not surprisingly Ezra Pound and the Making of Modernism is mostly a collection of previously published articles.
This alone explains the large amount of repetition. The same points are made over and over again, the same passages quoted. Most of them are fine points. (Pratt writes especially well on Imagism, as we would [End Page 243] expect from the author of a standard work on the subject.) All of them are fine passages. (It is with good reason that Pratt concludes about The Cantos that "what arrests the reader's attention and lingers in his memory are many striking lines and passages.") Nonetheless, this is a book badly in need of editing, if only so that some more developed, searching argument could emerge.
At the end of one chapter, Pratt quotes four lines about Hugh Selwyn Mauberley's "'fundamental passion'" and then at the end of the next chapter he quotes the same lines again, with no allowance made for the earlier citation. More pages intervene between the time Pratt first quotes "In the Station of the Metro" and the second time. But there is even less difference in context. Other examples occur. Each one attests to the random quality of the book. It's satisfactory, chapter by chapter. Overall, it hangs together very loosely, and the only reason one chapter, on Pound and Yeats, is nearly twice as long as the rest seems to be because originally Pratt wrote it this way.
What is modernism in his account? Basically, swollen Imagism, best embodied, in Pound's case, by The Cantos. And what are The Cantos? At once the most extended example of the "revolution in English literary style" (a formulation endlessly repeated) wrought by Pound and the best example of how Pound's project was complicit in the work of Yeats, Joyce, and Eliot. In fact, though, Pratt seems most engaged by early Pound, and so a reader appreciates the detailed comparison of "The Return" to Yeats's "The Magi" or a page comparing Mauberley with Prufrock. Except insofar as modernism represents a verbal style, Pratt isn't finally much interested in it, and except insofar as The Cantos represent an extension of Imagism, Pratt seems pretty much as baffled by it as anybody else.
For me, two chapters stand out. One is "Pound's Hells, Real and Imaginary" (previously published), which ranges authoritatively over the whole Poundian oeuvre, from his first translations of Propertius...