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119 CHAPTER 11 The New Ezra Pound Richard Sieburth’s new edition of Ezra Pound’s Poems and Translations is not just a brilliantly assembled and meticulously edited volume in the Library of America series that has already given us excellent one-volume editions of Wallace Stevens and Robert Frost, but also—though not overtly, since the Library of America format excludes editorial commentary—a work of strong revisionary criticism. For here, minus The Cantos and the critical prose, is an Ezra Pound who is not primarily the advocate of Imagist doctrine and “constatation of fact,” nor the ideologue whose eccentric Douglasite economics, Fascist sympathies, and anti-Semitic rhetoric continue to shadow the poet’s reputation. Rather, Sieburth’s Pound is, above all, a passionate maker of poems. A confirmed aesthete, dedicated scholar, collector of great poetry of other cultures, and obsessive translator, Pound emerges from this volume as Eliot’s il miglior fabbro, learnedly and authoritatively transforming the map of Anglo-American poetry so as to include the Troubadours and Guido Cavalcanti, Sophocles and Sextus Propertius, the Japanese Noh and the Confucian Ta Hsiao, The Great Digest. Indeed, what astonishes the reader—at least this reader—of the 1,300page Library of America volume is the sheer amount of work Pound put into his poems and translations. He worked on and for poetry as others might work on a major scientific discovery or a long drawn-out military mission. Thus, as Sieburth reminds us in his introduction to The Pisan Cantos, when, on May 3, 1945, Pound was arrested at his home in the hills above Rapallo, he immediately put a small Chinese dictionary and a copy of the Confucian Classics in his pocket. Working as he then was on his Confucian translations, he knew that, wherever the military police were taking him, he would need these books. Review of Ezra Pound, Poems & Translations, ed. Richard Sieburth; and The Pisan Cantos, ed. Richard Sieburth. Boston Review, April–May 2004, 52–54. 120 Chapter 11 In putting such stress on Pound’s poetic craft, whether in his early Troubadour translations—in 1917 he wrote to John Quinn that he had been “working ten and twelve hours a day on my Arnaut Daniel”—or on the 1956 adaptation of Sophocles’ Women of Trachis, translated while he was confined at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC, Sieburth’s edition subtly challenges the usual narrative of Pound’s poetic development, a narrative put forward by the poet himself during his London years and developed by Hugh Kenner in his early and brilliant Poetry of Ezra Pound (1950), which set the stage for such related studies as Donald Davie’s Ezra Pound: Poet as Sculptor (1964), Herbert Schneidau’s Ezra Pound: The Image and the Real (1969), and Kenner’s own later definitive The Pound Era (1971). According to this narrative, Pound’s early poetry, collected in A Lume Spento (1908), Personae (1909), and Exultations (1909), was written under the sign of pre-Raphaelite lyric, especially that of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, with an influx of colloquialism and “natural” speech derived from the Browning dramatic monologue. This poetry used traditional meters and stanza forms and “high,” sometimes archaicizing diction but turned for its inspiration to such Provençal troubadours as Arnaut Daniel and to Italian medieval poets of the dolce stil nuovo, thus injecting a note unfamiliar to English and American readers. By 1913, the story continues, Pound, now part of a London circle that included Ford Madox Ford and T. E. Hulme, had made his breakthrough into Modernism . The three famous Imagist principles—“(1) Direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective, (2) To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation, and (3) As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of metronome”1 —signaled the invention of a New Poetics. Such prescriptions as “Use no superfluous word, no adjective which does not reveal something,” and “Don’t use such an expression as ‘dim lands of peace.’ It dulls the image,” coupled with the matter-of-fact assertion that “the natural object is always the adequate symbol,” were like a breath of fresh air, given the fuzzy diction, conventional phrasing, circumlocution, pseudo-classical cliché, and lofty sentiment of normative British and American poetry in the pre-War years. “As for twentieth-century poetry, Pound declared at the conclusion of ‘A Retrospect’ (1918), “it will be harder and saner . . . ‘nearing the bone.’ It...


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