Ezra Pound image

Ezra the Enigma

Biography

Ezra Pound, born in Hailey, Idaho on October 30, 1885, was an American poet who contributed greatly to the modernist movement and the imagist movement, a 1912 movement that focused on concrete, succinct language. He spent most of his youth and acquired most of his education in Pennsylvania, but traveled to both Venice and London in his twenties (Wilmer).

Pound was an avid anti-war advocate and proponent of fascism, and his radical speech had him arrested and sent back to the United States in 1945. He subsequently spent twelve years, from 1946-1958, incarcerated in Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. on grounds of insanity. Following his incarceration, he returned to Venice, where he eventually died on November 1, 1972.

Stylistically, Pound “advocat[ed] concreteness, economy, and free verse” in his poetry, and has been considered by some to be “personally responsible” for English poetry’s in the 1910s revival (Wilmer). His most famous work, “In a Station of the Metro,” is only two lines long, but contains an “ineffable” quality that has perplexed and delighted critics for nearly one hundred years (“On ‘In a Station of the Metro.’”).

As a result, Pound is widely considered the father of imagism. One description calls imagism a “succinct verse of dry clarity and hard outline in which an exact visual image ma[kes] a total poetic statement.” The description continues, “Imagism was a successor to the French Symbolist movement, but, whereas Symbolism had an affinity with music, Imagism sought analogy with sculpture” (Imagism). Pound himself wrote a manifesto for Imagism that gained great traction, and his poems.

Mina Loy also deeply admired Pound. However, the frequency, nature, and depth of Pound’s interaction with Mina Loy remains ambiguous. Their interactions are few and inconsistent. The ones that do exist are cryptic. Some historians have envisioned the relationship as a solely one-way one, wherein the eminent Pound was a mentor or role model to the relatively obscure Loy. Yet, a closer look at the evidence points to the contrary: Pound famously coined the term logopoiea–defined as “a dance of the intelligence among words and ideas and modification of ideas and characters”–to describe Loy’s writing. He also once wrote in a letter to Marianne Moore, “except you, Bill [Williams] and Mina Loy who can write anything of interest in verse?” Finally, and most surprisingly, critics have noticed that marked similarities in word choice and vocabulary between Pound’s Hugh Selwyn Mauberley and Loy’s work hint that Pound truly admired–and perhaps at times even strove to emulate–Loy’s abstract, emotionless writing style.

Pound “remains a controversial figure” to many today (Wilmer). His poetry, and his character, are immensely polarizing. Loy recalled that Pound “was like a child, and an old professor at the same time” and that he “was a sensitive man who didn’t think other people were sensitive.” She recalls, “One of his friends said he had brought from America the faults of America, and none of the virtues” (Nicholls). Likewise, Wilmer writes:

His brutal politics have been damaging to his lofty view of the artist and civilization; he is also condemned as an élitist, an obscurantist, and a charlatan—a man deficient in self-knowledge, with no real understanding of the modern world despite his avant-gardiste posturing. [Yet, n]one of these charges quite shakes the substance of his achievement, which is fundamentally a matter of technical accomplishment to a point where refinement of skill becomes a moral quality. Such is the sensitivity of his verse movement that it seems to release independent life and otherness in his subjects, as if it had discovered them by chance[,] whether he seeks to evoke the movement of olive leaves in the wind or the character of a Renaissance condottiere. The same quality lies behind his genius for translation, an art he has been said to have invented for our time: uncannily, he creates a language for each author which registers the remoteness of the author from our world while at the same time making his work available to us. (Wilmer)

As such, the mystery of Pound is the charm of Pound. More is said by the words that he does not say than the words that he does. The same traits that are his worst, least attractive traits are the same ones that release the poetic genius within. Thus, Wilmer concludes:

If Pound is obscure, it is largely because of his wide frame of reference; he was also an educator, who used poetry to introduce his readers to works and ideas he had discovered for himself. It is hardly his fault that his syllabus has never been adopted.

Bio Template

    • Name: Ezra Pound
    • Date of Birth: October 30, 1885 (Encyclopedia Brittanica)
    • Place of Birth: Hailey, Idaho (Encyclopedia Brittanica)
    • Date of Death: November 1, 1972 (Encyclopedia Brittanica)
    • Place of Death: Venice, Italy (Encyclopedia Brittanica)
  • Country of origin, citizenship: American (Encyclopedia Brittanica)
  • Gender: Male
  • Race: Caucasian
  • Kind of Artist/Cultural worker: Poet and critic (Encyclopedia Brittanica)
  • Address in London: 27 Thurlow Rd, Hampstead, London NW3 (https://www.nudelmanbooks.com/pages/books/2996/ezra-pound/pound-ezra-autograph-leter-signed-to-helen-rossetti-angeli-daughter-of-william-michael-rossetti)
  • Dates & Places of Overlap with Loy: Primarily over print (Arid Clarity)
  • Avant-garde movements the figure was associated with:
      • Modernism
      • Imagism
  • Brief summary of the figure’s Biographical/Historical significance
      • Ezra Pound was the father of imagism, and is considered one of the most important poets in bringing a modernist voice to American poetry. Stylistically, he “advocat[ed] concreteness, economy, and free verse” in his poetry, and has been said to be “personally responsible” for English poetry’s in the 1910s revival (Wilmer). His most famous work, “In a Station of the Metro,” is only two lines long, but contains an “ineffable” quality that has perplexed and delighted critics for nearly one hundred years (“On ‘In a Station of the Metro.’”).
  • Brief summary of the figure’s Relationship to Loy:
    • What was the nature of their overlap or connection?
    • Was it social, literary, artistic?
    • Were they involved in collaborative ventures (publications, exhibitions, performances, readings)?
      • The frequency, nature, and depth of Pound’s interaction with Mina Loy remains ambiguous. Their interactions are few and inconsistent. The ones that do exist are cryptic. Some historians have envisioned the relationship as a solely one-way one, wherein the eminent Pound was a mentor or role model to the relatively obscure Loy. However, a closer look at the evidence points to the contrary: Pound famously coined the term logopoiea–defined as “a dance of the intelligence among words and ideas and modification of ideas and characters”–to describe Loy’s writing. He also once wrote in a letter to Marianne Moore, “except you, Bill [Williams] and Mina Loy who can write anything of interest in verse?” Finally, and most surprisingly, similarities between Pound’s Hugh Selwyn Mauberley and Loy’s work hint that Pound truly admired–and perhaps at times even strove to emulate–Loy’s abstract, emotionless writing style. Critics note the similarity.
  • What other artists/writers did your figure come in contact with? (keep a list – this will not contribute to your word count)
      • Marianne Moore
      • William Carlos Williams
      • W.B. Yeats (Wilmer), role model and friend
      • James Joyce
      • T.S. Eliot
  • Bibliography: Works Cited & Consulted [Below]

Annotated Bibliography

Hamilton, Ian, and Clive Wilmer. “Pound’s Life and Career.” The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English, Oxford University Press., www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/m_r/pound/bio.htm.

This source provides a general overview of Pound’s life. It offers an interesting analysis of his persona and controversy, labeling him as a genius and a brilliant artist but also someone “condemned as an élitist, an obscurantist, and a charlatan—a man deficient in self-knowledge, with no real understanding of the modern world despite his avant-gardiste posturing.” It also details both his work and his personal life.

Hanscombe, Gillian E., and Virginia L. Smyers. “Mina Loy.” Writing for Their Lives: The Modernist Women, 1910 – 1940, Northeastern Univ. Press, 1989, pp. 112–128, www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/g_l/loy/bio.htm.

This biography of Mina Loy covers her background, upbringing, and artistic influences. Its particularly salient details include a brief passage describing Loy’s poetic “innovations” in “verbal and rhythmic rendering,” which would draw Ezra Pound’s praise. He notably labeled her technique “logopoeia,” defining it as “a dance of the intelligence among words and ideas and modification of ideas and characters,” thus expressing his admiration for her.

“Imagism.” CPCW: The Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, University of Pennsylvania, www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/Alumverse/imagism-def.html.

This source gives a definition of imagism and cites Ezra Pound, Amy Lowell, and others as pioneers of the genre. It offers one “Imagist manifesto,” which share some of the goals of imagist poetry, which include clarity and hardness in writing.

“Introduction to Modernist Poetry.” EDSITEment!, National Endowment for the Humanities, edsitement.neh.gov/curriculum-unit/introduction-modernist-poetry.

This source offers a very brief definition of modernist poetry, sharing its fundamental questions of “self” and how its elusive nature can often confuse readers. It offers the history of the genre as well as a few notable examples.

Nicholls, Peter. “’Arid Clarity’: Ezra Pound, Mina Loy, and Jules Laforgue.” The Yearbook of English Studies, vol. 32, 2002, pp. 52–64. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3509047.

In “’Arid Clarity’: Ezra Pound, Mina Loy, and Jules Laforgue,” Nicholls seeks to explain the exact way that poets Mina Loy, Jules Laforgue, and Ezra Pound influenced one another. For the sake of this project, I will focus on the connections between Loy and Pound. Nicholls acknowledges that most historians and literary theorists have either seen little overlap between Loy and Pound or made the relationship into a one-way one, wherein the eminent Pound is a type of mentor to the less established Loy. Pound famously classified Loy’s writing as being characterized by a sort of “arid clarity,” a description conventionally seen as critical and accusatory (55-6). However, Nicholls points to other statements Pound has made praising Loy and draws similarities between Pound’s Hugh Selwyn Mauberley and Loy’s work to demonstrate that Pound truly admired–and perhaps at times even strove to emulate–Loy’s abstract, “emotion[less]” writing style (55).

“On ‘In a Station of the Metro.’” University of Illinois English Department, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/m_r/pound/metro.htm.

This source compiles various interpretations of Pound’s most famous poem, “In a Station of the Metro” by various different authors. It examines Pound’s word choice and some of the background around the poem. Several writers comment on the “ineffable” quality of Pound’s poem, with Hugh Witemeyer writing, “the presentation of the Image involves the search for an equation that will approximate a beautiful but ineffable psychic adventure.”

Pound, Ezra. “Pound, Ezra- Autograph Letter Signed to Helen Rossetti Angeli, Daughter of William Michael Rossetti by Ezra Pound.” Nudelman Rare Books, Nudelman Rare Books, www.nudelmanbooks.com/pages/books/2996/ezra-pound/pound-ezra-autograph-leter-signed-to-helen-rossetti-angeli-daughter-of-william-michael-rossetti.

A letter written by Ezra Pound to Rossetti Angeli, the daughter of Michael Rossetti.

Stock, Noel. “Ezra Pound.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 12 Jan. 2017, www.britannica.com/biography/Ezra-Pound.

This general reference article offers a large-scale look at Ezra Pound’s life. It follows him from his early life in in Hailey, Idaho to his popular work while abroad in England, and cites him as a “shaper of modern literature.” It also shares about his disturbance over World War I, and the drier, more adult material that he subsequently began to produce.

4 Comments on “Ezra the Enigma”

  1. Hey Royce, great work here! I think your decision to frontload the piece with biographical detail in order to spend the later part focusing on his artistic impact was a really bold and innovative one. However, I’m not sure it was entirely effective (just in terms of continuity with the other pieces people have been producing for this project). Changing the structure to space out the biographical data more would help even out the lengths of your paragraphs. Also, I’m not sure about the block quotation here — you do some great analysis, so I would love to see you synthesizing these critics’ voices here rather then presenting them in a block!

  2. The greatest strength of this biography is your perceptive, confident discussion of Pound’s relationship to Loy. There, you do a fine job giving us a sense of their relationship in your own voice, informed by research. The biography gets better as you go, but then loses steam when you give it over to quotations from others. I think that, once you find one or two more authoritative sources on Pound, you will be able to synthesize the information into a short biography of Pound, written in your own elegant, concise, confident prose. I agree with Meredith that you might change up the structure, perhaps beginning with a statement about his significance as a poet, editor, and impresario of modernism (he had his hand in virtually every little magazine credited with developing new poetry). He was a powerful mover and shaker. Then you can give some of the “facts” of his life, leading up to the period in which he encountered (and was influenced by) Loy’s work. From there you can talk about his fall from grace, stemming from his flirtations with fascism and his raving writings written while he was imprisoned in WWII. Instead of being punished for treason, he was put in St. Elizabeth’s, an insane asylum, where he received many loyal visitors.

  3. Hey! How fascinating… I particularly enjoyed Loy’s quotes about Pound! And I agree with Dr. Churchill… your voice when describing Loy and Pound’s relationship is clear, authoritative, and entertaining.
    I want more at the beginning! You say that he was an anti-war advocate and a fascist… how do those things go together? How did he articulate his political views? I’m interested but left hanging a bit. I also want to know more about why he was incarcerated and how he was found to be insane. What did he say? What did he publish? Who argued his insanity? Was it founded?
    Lastly, you begin the fourth paragraph by saying, “As a result, Pound is widely considered the father of imagism.” I’m not sure exactly what you are referring to. As a result of what?
    I also agree with Meredith. I think breaking up the biographical information and creating more of a narrative of Pound’s life that the reader can follow through the piece will help the pacing of the bio.
    I really enjoyed reading this. It’s nice to learn more about such a well-known figure from a new angle.
    Thank you for sharing! I look forward to reading your final version 🙂
    Sarah

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