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  • Pound and Eliot
  • Alec Marsh and Elisabeth Däumer

Eliot scholarship this year continues to be vigorous and variegated, with two international collections of essays, a comprehensive critical companion geared toward advanced high school and undergraduate students, several book-length studies on multiple authors in which Eliot figures prominently, and even a play, simply titled Eliot. A major trend among these publications is to locate Eliot's work in current explorations of modernism's investment in history, to study Eliot within a global context, and to revisit Eliot's spiritual struggles and commitment to Christian ethics. Eliot's "other" sides—his penchant for pornography, his passion for deviance—continue to fascinate. As for Pound, A. David Moody has brought out the first volume of a two-decker biography, and there is a major collection of Pound's economic correspondence as well as two other books. A sad note: Burton Hatlen, the generous and energetic scholar who effectively ran the National Poetry Foundation, Paideuma, Sagetrieb, and the Ezra Pound Society for many years, died in January 2008 after a brief illness. He is irreplaceable. Alec Marsh contributes the Pound section, Elizabeth Däumer the section on Eliot.

i Pound

a. Biography

The first full-dress biography of Pound of substantial length in over 20 years, following Ira Nadel's brief Ezra Pound: Literary Life (see AmLS 2004, p. 155), has now appeared. The Young Genius 1885– 1920, volume 1 of David Moody's two-volume biography Ezra Pound [End Page 169] Poet: A Portrait of the Man and His Work (Oxford), begins with the poet's birth and leaves off with his removal from England to France. It makes for compelling reading and is cleverly arranged in short subchapters salted with whole letters and never-before-published matter of great interest, such as his "tirade" on the (im)possibility of the epic of the American West, sent to his mother from London in 1910: "Lo I behold a vision. Rockefellow [sic] marches in purple robes thru a cloud of coal smoke, Morgan is clothed in samite, and the spirits of the 3rd heaven foster their progress enthroned on trolley cars." The title Ezra Pound Poet is important, for Moody's interest is first and foremost the poetry, so the story is of Pound's gradual mastery of his craft and of himself—that is, to the responsibilities of his own genius as he saw them. The epigraph to volume 1, which apparently suggested its title, is taken from a letter Pound wrote to Margaret Cravens, a woman who recognized his genius and funded it for some years before taking her own life. Pound tells her, "[The] events of a life like mine are . . . a fantasmagoria, but the events working inward—I mean the effects of events on whatever in genius takes the place of the 'self' [in a human being are] even harder to follow."

Faithful to Pound's self-evaluation, Moody's task is to give us this genius, not the "bundle of accident and incoherence that sits down to breakfast," as Yeats suggested was the usual bread and butter of biography. Moody focuses on the poetry, not the poet's love affairs. The strength of his work lies in its strong and sometimes startlingly new readings of many poems, such as "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley." He gives more than five full pages to "Homage to Sextus Propertius," proving that the "translation" scorned by pedants captures Propertius's irreverence and wit better than the Latinists, who could parse but not read his verses. Moody is a masterful and engaging close reader with a strong formalist impulse. He uses his skills to risk interpretations of whole volumes poem by poem. He has a gift for finding patterns in Pound's books, even in the earliest work. He finds, for example, in A Lume Spento something that "has passed unnoticed . . . the revolutionary intent and bold ambition implicitly declared in certain poems but most of all in the arrangement of the collection as a whole"; throughout this more or less retrograde work, Moody finds "a determination to challenge and drive out the 'crepuscular spirit' from modern poetry" structured by "a covert but ambitious plotting...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2125
Print ISSN
0065-9142
Pages
pp. 169-194
Launched on MUSE
2009-10-01
Open Access
No
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