Ezra (Weston Loomis) Pound

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Publisher: Gale
Series: Dictionary of Literary Biography
Document Type: Biography
Length: 11,403 words

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About this Person
Born: October 30, 1885 in Hailey, Idaho, United States
Died: November 01, 1972 in Venice, Italy
Nationality: American
Occupation: Poet
Other Names: Pound, Ezra Loomis; Pound, Ezra Weston Loomis; Atheling, William; Poet of Titchfield Street; Venison, Alfred




  • A Lume Spento (Venice: Printed for the author by A. Antonini, 1908).
  • A Quinzaine for this Yule (London: Pollock, 1908).
  • Personae (London: Elkin Mathews, 1909).
  • Exultations (London: Elkin Mathews, 1909).
  • The Spirit of Romance (London: Dent, 1910; London: Dent/New York: Dutton, 1910).
  • Provença (Boston: Small, Maynard, 1910).
  • Canzoni (London: Elkin Mathews, 1911).
  • Ripostes (London: Swift, 1912; Boston: Small, Maynard, 1913).
  • Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir Including the Published Writings of the Sculptor and a Selection from his Letters (London: John Lane, Bodley Head/New York: John Lane, 1916).
  • Lustra (London: Elkin Mathews, 1916; enlarged edition, New York: Knopf, 1917).
  • Pavannes and Divisions (New York: Knopf, 1918).
  • The Fourth Canto (London: Ovid Press, 1919).
  • Quia Pauper Amavi (London: Egoist Press, 1919).
  • Instigations of Ezra Pound, Together with an Essay on the Chinese Written Character by Ernest Fenollosa (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1920).
  • Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (London: Ovid Press, 1920).
  • Umbra (London: Elkin Mathews, 1920).
  • Poems 1918-21 (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1921).
  • Indiscretions (Paris: Three Mountains Press, 1923).
  • Antheil and the Treatise on Harmony (Paris: Three Mountains Press, 1924; Chicago: Covici, 1927).
  • A Draft of XVI. Cantos (Paris: Three Mountains Press, 1925).
  • Personae: The Collected Poems (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1926; London: Faber & Faber, 1952).
  • A Draft of the Cantos 17-27 (London: John Rodker, 1928).
  • Selected Poems, edited by T. S. Eliot (London: Faber & Gwyer, 1928).
  • A Draft of XXX Cantos (Paris: Hours Press, 1930; New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1933; London: Faber & Faber, 1933).
  • Imaginary Letters (Paris: Black Sun Press, 1930).
  • How to Read (London: Harmsworth, 1931).
  • A B C of Economics (London: Faber & Faber, 1933; Norfolk, Conn.: New Directions, 1940).
  • A B C of Reading (London: Routledge, 1934; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1934).
  • Make it New (London: Faber & Faber, 1934; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1935).
  • Eleven New Cantos: XXXI-XLI (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1934; London: Faber & Faber, 1935).
  • Homage to Sextus Propertius (London: Faber & Faber, 1934).
  • Alfred Venison's Poems: Social Credit Themes, as The Poet of Titchfield Street (London: Nott, 1935).
  • Social Credit: An Impact (London: Nott, 1935).
  • Jefferson And/Or Mussolini (London: Nott, 1935; New York: Liveright/Nott, 1936); rewritten in Italian and republished as Jefferson e Mussolini (Venice: Edizioni Popolari, 1944).
  • Polite Essays (London: Faber & Faber, 1937; Norfolk, Conn.: New Directions, 1940).
  • The Fifth Decad of Cantos (London: Faber & Faber, 1937; New York & Toronto: Farrar & Rinehart, 1937).
  • Confucius: Digest of the Analects (Milan: Giovanni Scheiwiller, 1937).
  • Guide to Kulchur (London: Faber & Faber, 1938; Norfolk, Conn.: New Directions, 1938).
  • What Is Money For (London: Greater Britain Publications, 1939).
  • Cantos LII-LXXI (London: Faber & Faber, 1940; Norfolk, Conn.: New Directions, 1940).
  • A Selection of Poems (London: Faber & Faber, 1940).
  • Carla da Visita (Rome: Edizioni di Lettere d'Oggi, 1942); republished as A Visiting Card, translated by John Drummond (London: Russell, 1952).
  • L'America, Roosevelt e le Cause della Guerra Presente (Venice: Edizioni Popolari, 1944); republished as America, Roosevelt and the Causes of the Present War, translated by Drummond (London: Russell, 1951).
  • Oro e Lavoro (Rapallo: Tip. Moderna [Canessa], 1944); republished as Gold and Work, translated by Drummond (London: Russell, 1952).
  • Introduzione alla Natura Economica degli S.U.A. (Venice: Edizioni Popolari, 1944); republished as An Introduction to the Economic Nature of the United States, translated by Carmine Amore (London: Russell, 1950).
  • Orientamenti (Venice: Edizioni Popolari, 1944).
  • "If This Be Treason ..." (Siena: Printed for Olga Rudge by Tlp. Nuova, 1948).
  • The Pisan Cantos (New York: New Directions, 1948; London: Faber & Faber, 1949).
  • The Cantos (New York: New Directions, 1948; London: Faber & Faber, 1950).
  • Selected Poems (New York: New Directions, 1949).
  • Patria Mia (Chicago: Seymour, 1950).
  • Literary Essays, edited, with an introduction, by T. S. Eliot (London: Faber & Faber, 1954; Norfolk, Conn.: New Directions, 1954).
  • Lavoro ed Usura (Milan: All'Insegna del Pesce d'Oro, 1954).
  • Section: Rock-Drill 85-95 de los cantares (Milan: All'Insegna del Pesce d'Oro, 1955; New York: New Directions, 1956; London: Faber & Faber, 1957).
  • Gaudier-Brzeska (Milan: All'Insegna del Pesce d'Oro, 1957).
  • Pavannes and Divagations (Norfolk, Conn.: New Directions, 1958; London: Owen, 1960).
  • Versi Prosaici (Rome: Biblioteca Minima, 1959).
  • Thrones 96-109 de los cantares (Milan: All'Insegna del Pesce d'Oro, 1959; New York: New Directions, 1959; London: Faber & Faber, 1960).
  • Impact: Essays on Ignorance and the Decline of American Civilization (Chicago: Regnery, 1960).
  • Patria Mia and The Treatise on Harmony (London: Owen, 1962).
  • Nuova Economia Editoriale (Milan: Vanni Scheiwiller, 1962).
  • A Lume Spento and Other Early Poems (New York: New Directions, 1965; London: Faber & Faber, 1966).
  • Être Citoyen Romain, edited by Pierre Aelberts (Liège: Editions Dynamo, 1965).
  • Canto CX (Cambridge, Mass.: Sextant Press, 1965).
  • Selected Cantos (London: Faber & Faber, 1967; enlarged edition, New York: New Directions, 1970).
  • Redondillas (New York: New Directions, 1968).
  • Drafts and Fragments of Cantos CX-CXVII (New York: New Directions, 1969; London: Faber & Faber, 1970).
  • Selected Prose 1909-1965 edited by William Cookson (London: Faber & Faber, 1973; New York: New Direction, 1973).
  • Selected Poems 1908-1959 (London: Faber & Faber, 1975).
  • Collected Early Poems, edited by Michael John King (New York: New Directions, 1976; London: Faber & Faber, 1977).
  • Ezra Pound and Music: The Complete Criticism, edited by R. Murray Schafer (New York: New Directions, 1977; London: Faber & Faber, 1978).
  • "Ezra Pound Speaking": Radio Speeches of World War II, edited by Leonard W. Doob (Westport, Conn. & London: Greenwood Press, 1978).
  • Ezra Pound and the Visual Arts, edited by Harriet Zinnes (New York: New Directions, 1980).
  • From Syria: The Worksheets, Proofs, and Text, edited by Robin Skelton (Port Townsend, Wash.: Copper Canyon Press, 1981).


  • Des Imagistes: An Anthology, edited, with contributions, by Pound (New York: A. & C. Boni, 1914; London: Poetry Bookshop/New York: A & C. Boni, 1914).
  • Catholic Anthology 1914-1915, edited, with contributions, by Pound (London: Elkin Mathews, 1915).
  • 'Noh' or Accomplishment, by Pound and Ernest Fenollosa (London: Macmillan, 1916; New York: Knopf, 1917)--edited, with introduction and translations, by Pound.
  • Guido Cavalcanti, Rime, Italian text, edited, with notes and some translations, by Pound (Genoa: Marsano, 1932).
  • Active Anthology, edited, with contributions, by Pound (London: Faber & Faber, 1933).
  • Confucius to Cummings: An Anthology of Poetry, edited by Pound and Marcella Spann (New York: New Directions, 1964).


  • The Sonnets and Ballate of Guido Cavalcanti (Boston: Small, Maynard, 1912; London: Swift, 1912).
  • Cathay: Translations by Ezra Pound for the Most Part from the Chinese of Rihaku, From the Notes of the Late Ernest Fenollosa, and the Decipherings of the Professors Mori and Ariga (London: Elkin Mathews, 1915).
  • Remy de Gourmont, The Natural Philosophy of Love, translated, with a postscript, by Pound (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1922; London: Casanova Society, 1926).
  • Odon Por, Italy's Policy of Social Economics, 1930-1940 (Bergamo, Milan & Rome: Istituto Italiano D'Arti Grafiche, 1941).
  • Confucius: The Unwobbling Pivot & the Great Digest, translated, with commentary, by Pound, Pharos, no. 4 (Winter 1947).
  • The Translations of Ezra Pound, edited by Hugh Kenner (London: Faber & Faber, 1953; New York: New Directions, 1953).
  • The Classic Anthology Defined by Confucius (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1954; London: Faber & Faber, 1955).
  • Sophocles, Women of Trachis (London: Spearman, 1956; New York: New Directions, 1957).
  • Love Poems of Ancient Egypt, translated by Pound and Noel Stock (Norfolk, Conn.: New Directions, 1962).


  • "Status Rerum," Poetry, 1 (January 1913): 123-127.
  • "The New Sculpture," Egoist, 1 (16 February 1914): 67-68.
  • "Affirmations, I-VII," New Age, 16 (7 January 1915): 246-247; (14 January 1915): 277-278; (21 January 1915): 311-312; (28 January 1915): 349-350; (4 February 1915): 380-382; (11 February 1915): 409-411; (25 February 1915): 451-453, 471.
  • "Provincialism the Enemy, I-IV," New Age, 21 (12 July 1917): 244-245; (19 July 1917): 218-219; (26 July 1917): 288-289; (2 August 1917): 308-309.
  • "The Revolt of Intelligence, I-X," New Age, 26 (13 November 1919): 21-22; (11 December 1919): 90-91; (18 December 1919): 106-107; (1 January 1920): 139-140; (8 January 1920): 153-154; (15 January 1920): 176-177; (22 January 1920): 186-187; 4 March 1920): 287-288; (11 March 1920): 301-302; (18 March 1920): 318-319.
  • "On Criticism in General," Criterion, 1 (January 1923): 143-156.
  • "Epstein, Belgion, and Meaning," Criterion, 9 (April 1930): 470-475.
  • "Mr. Eliot's Mare's Nest," review of After Strange Gods, New English Weekly, 4 (8 March 1934): 500.
  • "Mr. Eliot's Quandries," New English Weekly, 4 (29 March 1934): 558-559.
  • "What Price the Muses Now," New English Weekly 5 (24 May 1934): 130-132.
  • "American Notes," New English Weekly, 6 (3 January 1935)-8 (2 April 1936).
  • "Augment of the Novel," New Directions in Prose and Poetry, 6 (1941): 705-713.


  • The Letters of Ezra Pound, edited by D. D. Paige (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1950; London: Faber & Faber, 1951).
  • Pound/Joyce, The Letters of Ezra Pound to James Joyce, edited by Forrest Read (New York: New Directions, 1967; London: Faber & Faber, 1969).
  • Letters to Ibbotsom, 1935-1952, edited by Vittoria I. Mondolfo and Margaret Hurley (Orono, Maine: National Poetry Foundation, University of Maine, 1979).
  • Letters to John Theobald, edited by Donald Pearce and Herbert Schneidau (Redding Ridge, Conn.: Black Swan, 1981).
  • Pound/Ford, The Story of a Literary Friendship: The Correspondence Between Ezra Pound and Ford Madox Ford and Their Writings About Each Other, edited by Brita Lindberg-Seyersted (New York: New Directions, 1982).
  • Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear, Their Letters 1910-1914, edited by Omar Pound and A. Walton Litz (New York: New Directions, 1984).
  • The Letters of Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis, edited by Timothy Materer (New York: New Directions, 1985).


That he should be included in a volume devoted to American criticism would have both amused and delighted Ezra Pound. His relationship to his native country was so charged, so fretful, so variable, that it is at once impossible to classify him as an American critic and impossible to exclude him from the category. His first important critical gesture may have been his decision to leave this country, but he never ceased to cast attentive glances, hopeful and reproachful, toward his place of origin and the site of his indignity.

The estrangement of the American sensibility from its European past is a common preoccupation; it can lead to what Pound called in Guide to Kulchur (1938) "pusillanimous subservience." But it is well worth noting that the distance of America from Europe has another far more productive consequence which is nowhere better exemplified than in the critical career of Ezra Pound. Claiming to belong to no venerable tradition, Pound placed himself as the heir to every tradition. He took nothing more modest than human civilization as his proper domain, and Pound's development as a critic can be seen as the sometimes brilliant, sometimes catastrophic, result of the formidable task he set for himself: to decipher the entire text of cultural history. He is as responsible as any English-speaking critic for the existence of that ambiguous phenomenon that we know as modernism. "Pound did not create the poets," wrote T. S. Eliot , "but he created a situation in which, for the first time, there was a 'modern movement in poetry.'"

Born to Homer and Isabel Weston Pound in the frontier town of Hailey, Idaho, in 1885, raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia from June 1889 on, Pound had a rather ordinary middle-class upbringing but extraordinary personal ambitions. He later wrote that in his fifteenth year he decided that by thirty he would know more about poetry than any man living. In Philadelphia Homer Pound worked at the United States Mint as an assistant assayist. In 1903 he and his genteel wife did missionary work among the Italian immigrants in the slums. Pound was educated at public elementary school, Chelten Hills School, Cheltenham Military Academy, and Cheltenham Township High School. He matriculated at the University of Pennsylvania in 1901, then transferred to Hamilton College in 1903, receiving his bachelor's degree in 1905. He again attended the University of Pennsylvania, took a fellowship year from 1906 to 1907 during which time he did research at the British Museum and the National Library in Madrid, and received an M. A. in Romance languages in 1907, having projected a thesis on Lope de Vega which he never completed. He abandoned pursuit of the Ph.D. after failing a course in the history of literary criticism, Noel Stock reports in The Life of Ezra Pound (1970), despite his insistence that he was "the only student who was making any attempt to understand the subject of literary criticism and the only student with any interest in the subject." During his years in Philadelphia he formed personal ties with two important American modernists, William Carlos Williams and Hilda Doolittle , to whom he was once briefly engaged. He presented Doolittle with a collection of early poems known as Hilda's Book written between 1905 and 1907. In the fall of 1907 he received an appointment as an instructor in Romance languages at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, but he quickly became frustrated with Wabash which just as quickly became frustrated with him. He was fired early in 1908 and though it was probably not clear to Pound at the time, this event initiated a break not only with American academic life but with America.

When Pound sailed to Europe on 8 February 1908 at the age of twenty-two he had two grand ambitions: to become a successful poet and to pursue his critical interest in medieval literature, especially the literature of Provence. As throughout his later career, these conditions were tightly bound to one another. It is not simply that Pound's early poetry betrays the influence of his studies in Provençal poetry; it is that the boundary between the critical and creative acts becomes indistinct. T. S. Eliot once remarked that Pound's poetic experiments of the immediate prewar years were essentially critical exercises, and one might offer the reverse proposition about his essays, that they are imaginative gestures which refuse the canons of discursive rationality and which often achieve the power of his finest poetry.

In Europe Pound lived for three months in Venice, traveled in France, and in the fall of 1908 arrived in London, where he would spend most of the next fifteen years and where his critical efforts would bear their first fruit. In 1908 Pound's first two poetry books, A Lume Spento and A Quinzaine for this Yule, were published; the next two, Personae and Exultations appeared in the following year. Between 21 January and 25 February 1909 he gave six lectures on medieval literature at the Regent Street Polytechnic. These lectures became the basis for his first published book of criticism, The Spirit of Romance, which appeared in 1910 with the imposing subtitle, "An Attempt to Define Somewhat the Charm of the Pre-Renaissance Literature of Latin Europe."

The Spirit of Romance makes no claim to being a work of professional scholarship or even a work of analytic criticism. Proceeding from the axiom that "the study of literature is hero-worship," it is a vigorous encounter with a large body of poetry stretching from Ovid and Apuleius to Dante and Shakespeare. Pound willfully neglects historical distinctions on the assumption that "All ages are contemporaneous" and that any satisfactory method of criticism should be able to "weigh Theocritus and Mr. Yeats with one balance." Thus armed with his one balance Pound is boldly evaluative, demoting Renaissance poet and scholar Petrarch; promoting late-medieval French poet François Villon ; elevating the Castilian Poema del Cid or Cantar de mio Cid (written circa 1140); criticizing the eleventh-century Breton Chançon de Roland; doting on Dante's friend, stilnovisti poet Guido Cavalcanti; and beating John Milton with the long staff of Dante. But the weight of the work and its chief significance lie in the extended consideration of the romance tradition among the Provençal troubadours. Indeed the book often appears as a primer in Provence, a Baedaker to the haunts of such neglected figures as Arnaut Daniel and Bertrans de Born.

The tone of The Spirit of Romance, as important in its way as its substantive claims, is one of impatience, of frustration at the received opinions which conceal the living tradition, and Pound expresses a longing for direct engagement with the poetry itself. Pound's procedure is to offer terse summaries of the historical backgrounds, the lives of the poets, and the themes of their works, then to clear away the stock critical responses, and finally to display the poetic fragment in its isolated glory. In this respect it is a work of critical archeology, an attempt to retrieve valuable imaginative artifacts buried under the encrustations of Victorianism.

Pound would look back on The Spirit of Romance with some rueful embarrassment, considering many of its judgments incorrect and finding its style awkward. Nevertheless, though his opinions and his manner changed markedly, this first work began an endeavor which he would never abandon: the effort to rewrite the history that culminated in modernity and to establish a living tradition beneath a dead one.

Arguably Pound's temperament was never suited to the composition of volume-length studies, and while he published many books in his career, these were, whatever their length, more in the nature of extended pamphlets or brochures. The unit of his critical facility was the essay, in particular the polemical essay, and in the years following The Spirit of Romance he produced a continuous stream of reviews, commentaries, sketches, parodies, notes, and manifestos, all inspired by the goal of revolutionizing both modern art and modern critics.

Soon after settling in London, Pound met Olivia Shakespear and her daughter Dorothy, whom he married in 1913. Through the elder Shakespear he met William Butler Yeats , whom he began to see regularly. At the same time he established an important relationship with Ford Madox Hueffer (later Ford Madox Ford ), who was already a successful novelist and a respected poet in the modern vein. Such acquaintances became essential aspects of Pound's critical project, the abiding goal of which was to contribute to a general renaissance in humane letters. To that end Pound remained highly attentive to any stirring of creative energy, taking as his first axiom the principle that no one individual could revive literature along. From the moment he had settled in London, a leading aspect of his critical endeavor was an energetic attempt to bring individual artists together and to formulate principles that could serve as the basis for a common program of artistic experiment.

In a series of brief essays begun at the end of 1911 and published under the title "I Gather the Limbs of Osiris," Pound offers a defense of the form of historical criticism that he had begun to develop in The Spirit of Romance, and at the same time he lays the groundwork for a revision of contemporary aesthetic values. He announces a "New Method in Scholarship," the method of "Luminous Detail," which aims neither to accumulate facts nor to establish general principles, but which seeks instead to identify a few resonant particulars, a few significant events which will illuminate the sweep of history and the movement of civilization. A line of poetry, an apparently minor political incident, a surviving scrap of conversation--these become the material for the intuitive historical reflections that form the basis of Pound's critical method.

The technique of the luminous detail, however, not only offered a program for the literary historian; it could also serve, Pound quickly recognized, as a code for the practicing artist. The artist, too, must seek the perspicuous fragment, must suppress superfluous context, and must eschew general moral commentary. By the end of 1911 Pound had begun to develop these formulations into coherent literary doctrine, and just a few months later the luminous detail would enter modernist consciousness under the new guise of the "image."

From the time of his arrival in London, Pound had begun to form connections not only with established figures like Ford and Yeats but with a group of younger poets who shared the will to literary revolution and who for a time met weekly in order to read their work and to discuss the most advanced critical views imported from the European continent. The leading figure in this group was T. E. Hulme who, under the influence of French theories of vers libre and the philosophy of Henri Bergson, had articulated a definition of the image on which Pound would later draw. According to Hulme both the grandeur of the classical epic and the perfection of the romantic lyric were inappropriate to the skeptical cast of the contemporary mind. In an age that no longer pursues religious truths and moral absolutes, that no longer aims toward artistic sublimity, poets must imitate the example of Impressionist painters and seek to communicate momentary states of mind, instantaneous perceptions captured in striking images. The image will replace philosophic declamation and lyric effusion; it will be concrete and direct; it will free poetry from the confinements of regular meter; it will permit poetic expression unfettered by the habits of convention.

These critical insights had few immediate results. The young poets abandoned their weekly forum, and Pound later referred to the group as "the forgotten school of 1909." But Hulme's theories, soon accompanied by the fine critical insights of Remy de Gourmont who, Pound said, "prepared our era," gave Pound new ideas to ponder, and his search for literary allies simply moved to other possible candidates. By early 1912 Pound was in close contact with H. D. (Hilda Doolittle ), who had come to live in London, and with the young English poet Richard Aldington , who married H. D. the following year. In the terse lapidary style of H. D.'s verse, with its stark metaphors and its tense rhythms, Pound found an example of the new poetic sensibility he sought, and, so the story goes, Pound turned one day to his young friends in a tea shop in Kensington and informed them that they were "les imagistes." H. D. began to sign her poems, "H. D., imagiste", and Aldington, though he never generated the same enthusiasm in Pound, willingly closed ranks. Pound had recently scorned the Parisian tendency to have "eight schools for every dozen of poets," but his own proportion was as yet scarcely more impressive. Imagisme, soon to become Imagism, began as two poets and a poet impresario.

This was the first great age of the little magazine, the small-scale journal with a narrow audience but a potentially wide influence. Pound's early achievements as a critic depended greatly on his rapid and canny understanding of the possibilities offered by these journals. Eliot once observed that "Pound accomplished more than any other man could have done with anthologies and periodicals of such limited circulation." He became London correspondent for Poetry magazine published by Harriet Monroe in Chicago, and he served as a regular contributor to two of London's most adventurous periodicals, A. R. Orage's New Age and Harriet Weaver's the New Freewoman (later the Egoist). To have an accurate sense of this first phase of Pound's critical career, it is necessary to picture him engaged in a tireless attempt to write a new movement into existence, to persuade, to bully, and to cajole the readers of the little magazines into adopting a new set of literary values which would become, through a series of widening circles, the dominant values of twentieth-century literature.

The history of Imagism is among other things a locus classicus of the power of modern publicity. Pound was never satisfied merely to formulate new ideas; he was intent to provoke others into a confrontation with novelty. Thus in announcing to the readers of Poetry ("Status Rerum," January 1913) the advent of Imagism, Pound wrote in characteristically dramatic tones that "the youngest school here that has the nerve to call itself a school is that of the Imagistes." He undertook an active campaign to win new adherents to the cause, and during 1913 he persuaded several other young poets, among them D. H. Lawrence , Amy Lowell , and William Carlos Williams , to contribute to an anthology of Imagist verse which was published in early 1914.

Having thus coined the term, Pound was obliged to define what it meant. In the March 1913 issue of Poetry there appeared the manifesto, "A Few Don'ts by an Imagiste," in which he set out the celebrated definition of the Image: "that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time." To this axiom Pound appended three further principles: direct treatment of the "thing," whether it be subjective or objective; rigorous economy of presentation; and rhythm based not on fixed metrical schemes but on musical phrasing. He went on to attack the poetic reign of adjectives and abstractions and to defend the legitimacy of free verse. The early Imagist propaganda contained a strong element of rhetorical posturing, but behind the posturing lay a serious attempt to free English poetry from the artifice that had come to dominate it--the sentimentality, the ornament, and the metaphysical vagueness--and to restore the method of direct presentation and clear speech.

Here the influence of Ford Madox Ford became important to the emerging critical position. When Pound was working on his volume of poetry, Canzoni (1911), he visited Ford to ask his opinion, and as Pound later recalled, Ford was so appalled with the precious archaic diction that he began to roll on the floor. That roll, wrote Pound, "sent me back to my own proper effort, namely, toward using the living tongue." Pound named Ford "the defender of the prose tradition," the one who upheld the values of clarity, efficiency, and precision, those high virtues which nineteenth-century poetry had neglected. The lesson that Pound drew from Ford was that poetry, in succumbing to the lure of rhetoric, had surrendered its supremacy to those who had mastered the modern craft of prose. Pound agreed that novelists such as Stendhal and Gustave Flaubert , rather than poets like Alfred Tennyson or Matthew Arnold , were the great nineteenth-century predecessors of the twentieth-century renaissance, and accordingly he saw Imagism as an attempt "to bring poetry up to the level of prose." This meant clearing away the rot of rhetoric; it meant restoring the privilege of common speech; it meant a commitment to the virtues of control and discipline; and most significantly it meant the embrace of a new realism in poetry which held that words must correspond directly to things and that the artist must register the "data" of the world no less precisely than the scientist.

Before the advent of Imagism the most important strain in avant-garde poetry of the English-speaking world had been a late variant of French Symbolism, best exemplified in the early work of Yeats. In the spirit of Stéphane Mallarmé the Symbolist aspiration was to rely on "suggestion" and "evocation" to pass beyond the narrow realm of material fact into a sphere of transcendent values. The symbol itself was, in Yeats's words, "the only possible expression of some invisible essence, a transparent lamp about a spiritual flame," and the Symbolist poem sought to ascend beyond the physical world toward "something that moves beyond the senses."

Under the influence of Ford, Pound bluntly repudiated this Symbolist ambition. He sought an art devoted to the workings of the senses, not to what moved beyond them, an art that relied not on suggestion and evocation but on "direct treatment" as rigorous as the experiments of chemistry. Unconcerned with the invisible essence, Pound held that "the natural object is always the adequate symbol," and in opposition to the evocative vagueness of the Symbolists he boldly announced that "when words cease to cling close to things, kingdoms fall, empires wane and diminish." Imagism, in short, began as a realist alternative to Symbolism. Inspired by the example of modern science and nineteenth-century prose fiction, the Imagist would offer a scrupulously polished mirror, capable of reflecting both the public world and the private self.

No understanding of Pound and no understanding of modernism are possible unless one acknowledges the extraordinary range of cultural pressures that converged as a decisive moment in literary history. Psychoanalysis and anthropology, Friedrich Nietzsche and Karl Marx , Impressionism and Symbolism, Wassily Kandinsky and Igor Stravinsky, evolution and revolution, free verse and abstract painting--all met in a few major European cities, London, Paris, Berlin, where groups of young artists were attempting to launch a cultural revolution, most often without yet knowing what their revolutionary program would be. Pound, like others of the prewar generation, moved in a world of new and alluring possibilities, each vying for prominence, and to follow the course of his critical thought in its first and most fertile decade is to watch an energetic and restless development that opened him to new influences and models and that led ultimately to radical shifts changes in his aesthetic principles. The shift in emphasis from Provençal troubadours to London Imagists is itself a notable movement, but still more striking changes were to follow.

One of the most important encounters in Pound's intellectual life occurred in late 1913 when a woman named Mary Fenollosa presented him with manuscripts written by her late husband Ernest, who had spent years studying the languages and cultures of the Orient. Among the fruits of his research were investigations into the Noh drama, and, most importantly, reflections on the Chinese language which Pound prepared for publication under the title The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry ... An Ars Poetica (1936). Pound, who was immediately captivated by Fenollosa's work, quickly incorporated Fenollosa's ideas into his own critical theory.

According to Fenollosa the power of the Chinese character is that it is not merely a conventional linguistic sign, an "arbitrary symbol"; it is often a "vivid shorthand picture of the operations of nature," a visual rendering of what it represents. The languages of the West depend on "sheer convention," while the writing of the Chinese follows "natural suggestion." Moreover what the written characters depict are not objects but processes, and working from this assumption Fenollosa argued that the imaginative force of Chinese is that it stays "close to nature" by attempting to convey the ceaseless movements of the physical world.

Pound saw in these insights "a whole basis of aesthetic," and he adapted his definition of Imagism accordingly. Having initially described the Imagist goal as direct treatment of the "thing," now under the influence of Fenollosa he calls for attention to movement and activity. The noun yields pride of place to the verb, and in place of the static notion of an "intellectual and emotional complex," Pound comes to insist that the Imagist poem is a "radiant node or cluster," "endowed with energy." Furthermore Fenollosa's emphasis upon the visual aspect of Chinese may well have prepared Pound for his next great object of enthusiasm, the recent formal experiments in painting and sculpture.

In late 1913 Pound announced in a letter to William Carlos Williams that "we are getting our little gang after five years of waiting." A "little gang" of cultural revolutionaries is what Pound had been seeking since his appearance in London, and in accounting for his sudden new confidence, one must look beyond the rather modest literary achievements of Imagism. From his earliest critical essays Pound had been beguiled by the prospect of a radical artistic movement, a broad alliance of innovative talents who would constitute a genuine avant-garde capable of new perceptions unavailable to the stolid mass of ordinary citizens. Between 1910 and 1914 just such an avant-garde began to make itself felt in London, but this was due less to the work of the poets and more to the efforts of several young painters and sculptors who succeeded in outraging the artistic establishment and winning great attention for themselves.

In late 1910 a fiercely controversial exhibition of post-Impressionist art had been held in London, an event which is said to have provoked Virginia Woolf 's observation that "on or about December 1910 human character changed." Over the next several years a series of exhibitions introduced the work of sculptors Jacob Epstein and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and painters David Bomberg, Edward Wadsworth, and Wyndham Lewis . Month after month the London critics attacked the new art as unformed and uncivilized, while the artists retorted in angry polemics with such disarming titles as "Kill John Bull With Art."

This was the kind of cultural upheaval that Pound had sought, regarding it as the necessary step toward a thoroughgoing cultural renaissance. By the last months of 1913 his interest in the fine arts had grown deeper than it had ever been, and in early 1914 he became a passionate defender of Epstein, Gaudier-Brzeska, and Lewis. Moreover in the course of developing this keen interest in the fine arts, Pound underwent another important change in his critical principles. If Ford had taught him that a new realism was the way to literary reform, the painters and sculptors taught that realism was itself outdated, another relic of an obsolete era, and that a genuinely revolutionary art would break free of the obligation to mirror the world. The paintings of Picasso and Kandinsky had attracted the fascinated attention of these young London artists, and Kandinsky in particular suggested how the fine arts could abandon representation in favor of the play of forms themselves--or, as Pound put it in Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir (1916), "form, not the form of anything."

As late as December 1913 Pound had offered his defense of aesthetic realism, based on principles derived from Ford, but just three months later he wrote an essay for the Egoist on the new sculpture in which he announced that "We have heard all that the 'realists' have to say." If the first goal of Imagism had been to bring poetry up to the level of prose, its new ambition was to rise to the level of painting and sculpture. Indeed after his encounter with the work of Lewis and Gaudier-Brzeska, Pound redefined Imagism as poetry in which "painting or sculpture seems as if it were 'just coming over into speech.'"

Along with this new conception went a new name: Vorticism. This was to be the general term for the common program in all the arts, and Imagism was now to refer to the poetic experiments within the broader Vorticist movement. (Imagism, wrote Pound, could just as well be called Vorticist poetry.) The controlling idea behind this newest round of Pound's rapidly turning critical position was that once free of the burden of realism the artist would be released to transform "energy" directly into "pattern." Art, argued Pound, should replace the mimetic faculty with the creative. Why, he asked, should a work of art resemble something else? "You do not demand of a mountain or a tree that it should be like something." So too Vorticism will not be "a mimicry of external life"; it will not imitate but create--not represent but present.

The first six months of 1914 constitute a period of critical energy and polemical fervor unequaled in the history of the English avant-garde. From one week to the next, new theories were formulated, new opponents attacked, new insults exchanged. The popular press took regular notice of the disturbances in the arts, and for a brief moment the inner workings of experimental aesthetic technique became an issue of public concern. At the center of the storm raged Pound, writing, lecturing, jeering, hectoring. He set about organizing his movement, observed Wyndham Lewis , like a second Robert Baden-Powell founding the Boy Scouts. By late spring Pound had a troop of allies who were willing to call themselves Vorticists, who gathered at the new Rebel Art Centre, and who, in an eerie mimicry of the approaching war, waged successful battle against their avant-garde rivals, the Italian Futurists.

In July the culminating gesture of his intensely active period was made, the publication of the Vorticist journal Blast with its bright puce cover, its series of uncompromising manifestos, its deliberate provocations, and its unrelenting assault on established cultural values ("BLAST years 1837 to 1900," "BLAST SPORT," "BLAST The Post Office"). Years of experiment in the arts seemed at last to have yielded a victory for the avant-garde. In celebration of the success a grand banquet was held, attended by some of the gifted artists of the twentieth century. Two months later there was war.

The outbreak of World War I and its long, painful course had deep and lasting effects on Pound. Like so many others he was shaken by the waste of young life, and an immediate result was that his aggressively militant tone and his polemical challenge became greatly muted. There were no more calls to "Blast" his opponents and no more incitement to an aesthetic war against English society. After years of sniping at the nation that spawned him and the nation that adopted him, he wrote a series for the New Age called "Provincialism the Enemy" (1917) in which he indicated that his only political hope lay in a coalition of England, France, and America.

Gaudier-Brzeska, aged twenty-three, and Hulme were killed in combat. Ford, Aldington, and Lewis fought at the front. The threat to life coincided with a threat to art, and Pound, who had been ready to lead a Vorticist charge against the cultural establishment, was left in near isolation. He composed a memorial volume for Gaudier-Brzeska in which he assumed an elegaic tone not just toward the dead young sculptor but toward the artistic movement which itself seemed to have died in the trenches of the war. Adding to the literary frustration which accompanied Pound's personal despair, Amy Lowell began to lead an insurrection in the ranks of the Imagists, inviting contributors to the first anthology to participate in a second volume free of Pound's editorial control.

At this difficult moment in his career Pound met Eliot and immediately recognized him as a potential new ally. He arranged the publication of several of Eliot's poems, defended him against hostile critical attacks, and helped him to take Richard Aldington 's place as literary editor of the Egoist when Aldington left for the war.

By 1917 Pound and Eliot were working out their critical principles in active collaboration, and together they quickly formulated another revision in the theory of modernist poetry. Eliot had not participated in the Imagist or Vorticist phases of the movement, and his detachment from these earlier critical doctrines no doubt encouraged Pound to reconsider principles he had once considered axiomatic. Years later Pound would reflect on this association with Eliot, calling it "a movement to which no name has ever been given" and observing that "at a particular date in a particular room, two authors, neither engaged in picking the other's pocket, decided that the ... general floppiness had gone too far and that some counter-current must be set going."

This "counter-current" involved a departure from some of the central tenets of the Imagist and Vorticist aesthetic. After his early defense of free verse, Pound now held that poetic progress lay "in an attempt to approximate classical quantitative metres," and in place of the earlier deference to prose writers such as Flaubert and Stendhal , he now paid homage to Stendhal 's opponent Théophile Gautier (in, for instance, "The Hard and Soft in French Poetry" of 1918). In their own poetry Pound and Eliot experimented with Gautier's strict rhythms and precise rhymes, as the Imagist demand for natural poetic diction yielded to an acceptance of the artifices of form.

One further result of Pound's close association with Eliot during this period from 1917 to 1921 was that his literary opinions were no longer decisively formed by the example of painting and sculpture. Much of his best literary criticism (in the narrow sense) was written in this period, including essays on Eliot, Henry James , James Joyce , Wyndham Lewis , and Remy de Gourmont. Moreover Pound was less concerned with dividing modern art into two opposing camps and defending the merits of his own while heaping scorn on the other. In a new spirit of critical tolerance he introduced what would become a highly influential distinction among three kinds of poetry: melopeia, or "poetry which moves by its music"; phanopoeia, or "poetry wherein the feelings of painting and sculpture are predominant"; and logopoeia, or poetry "which is a dance of the intelligence among words and ideas." The result is that Imagism (which was Pound's first name for phanopoeia) is no longer the dominant term in an aesthetic dualism; it is now one among several equally valued activities.

Pound once remarked that while Eliot was the more brilliant practitioner of logopoeia, he himself excelled at melopoeia, and this observation reflects a subtle shift in Pound's aesthetic orientation. He remains zealous in the effort to link literature to the other arts, but increasingly through his later career he looks toward music, rather than painting and sculpture, as the preeminent paradigm of aesthetic activity. Between 1917 and 1921 he earned much of his income as the regular music critic for the New Age, and he gave renewed attention to the problem that had occupied him in his studies of the troubadours, the problem of motz el son, the marriage of words and music in poetic creation.

In these years after the war Pound's critical development entered an ambiguous and uncertain phase. Even as he made tentative efforts to revive the coherence of the prewar avant-garde, he was coming to recognize the exhaustion of that rich vein of critical discourse. At the beginning of 1921 he left London for Paris and threw himself into an encounter with new imaginative possibilities. He became interested in the work of Jean Cocteau and the Dadaists, Ernest Hemingway and the young composer George Antheil whose "Treatise on Harmony" Pound would see into print. From the standpoint of his later development, the stay in Paris between 1921 and 1924 can be seen as a kind of relaxed interlude between the English and Italian stages of Pound's career, two quite different stages but each marked by programmatic critical commitments.

In 1924 Pound left Paris for Rapallo, Italy, which would remain his domestic center until the end of his life. The decision to leave Paris for Rapallo, though informed by many factors, might be taken as Pound's refusal of the aesthetic milieu so prominent in the French capital in favor of an engagement with the strong political and social currents that were flowing through Italy. "I am extremely glad," wrote Pound, "to be out of the maelstrom of literary London and artistic Paris, with leisure to do my own job." Behind him he left Hemingway, Cocteau, Joyce, Antheil, and others; ahead of him was Mussolini.

Most important for Pound's critical evolution is that in these immediate postwar years, his sensitive ear heard not only subtle differences in poetic voice but heard too the still-muted sound of social discontent. Never again would he enjoy the privilege of formulating aesthetic principles in a context of general social stability. For the rest of his career Pound, like Eliot, had to establish his critical position within a period of social and political unease, and in deciding what stance to assume within the postwar era, these allies, veterans of the "counter-current," began to diverge. As early as 1919 signs of strain had begun to appear when Eliot wrote a distinctly cool review of Pound's new volume of poetry. Pound, who was clearly offended, sent a letter to the editor, complaining that Eliot seemed not to regard literature as something enjoyable, something with "tang, gusto, aroma," but as something one ought to enjoy. Eliot replied by saying that he did not regard his enjoyment as a "question of public interest."

Over the next several years the two remained in close contact, with Pound performing some of his most important critical labors in helping Eliot revise The Waste Land (1922). But even as Eliot was moving steadily toward a position of dominance in the literary establishment, Pound began to reassert his estrangement from the reigning powers. He felt that Eliot was writing for "the professors," while he himself wanted to keep clear of the institutions supporting a "botched civilization." This tension between Pound and Eliot points to a broader problem in postwar modernism, the gradual disappearance of a common critical program that would unite the avant-garde. Pound attacked Eliot; Eliot attacked Aldington; and Lewis attacked Pound. The days of Vorticist unity receded into the modernist past. Pound, for his part, no longer saw such shared purpose as a desirable goal; he now preached the necessity of productive disagreement among the leading artists of the age; and thus the modern movement fractured into talented atoms.

In 1928 Eliot wrote an essay for Dial called "Isolated Superiority," in which he praised Pound's technical ability, in particular his fine ear, but then went on to ask, "What does Mr. Pound believe?" It was a question which clearly stung Pound but which indeed raises a central problem in his literary career. In his "Axiomata" of 1921 (collected in Selected Prose, 1973) Pound had dismissed religious belief as "a cramp, a paralysis, an atrophy of the mind in certain positions," and in general his early critical development may be seen as an attempt to avoid the paralytic cramp of any permanent doctrine. His literary opinions were always expressed with great vehemence, but they changed so rapidly, and Pound was so willing to encourage the change, that it is difficult to speak of anything to determinate as a belief. Certainly Pound never arrived at a formulation as settled as Eliot's famous embrace of Anglo-Catholicism, classicism, and monarchy. All through the period of intense critical activity in London, he had remained indifferent to religion and metaphysics and detached from the political and economic questions that obsessed his contemporaries.

One of the burdens of the modernist avant-garde, however, is that it lived past a period of relative cultural stability which permitted bold experiment in the arts and which accommodated the productive extremist of the young artists. In the years before World War I the great threat to culture seemed to be lethargy and fatigue, a condition which Pound and his comrades noisily sought to overcome. The anarchic disregard of the political process and the bitter contempt for the general public could still seem appropriate attitudes for the free artist dedicated to reviving the craft of poetry or painting.

It is a painful irony of cultural history that the English avant-garde reached its greatest creative moment just as World War I began. After the terrible losses in that conflict, after the moral and political confusion of the 1920s, after the economic crisis of the thirties, it became increasingly difficult for artists to devote themselves to technical matters alone, and it became difficult, too, to dismiss the importance of belief. Pound came around to the opinion that one could not restrict attention to a minority culture of artists and that the problem of civilization could not be solved "without regard for the common man."

This is a notable change in view. But one thing that does not change is Pound's commitment to extreme solutions. If these had formerly involved the violent renewal of a moribund literature, they now became demands for a reconsideration of the grounds of society. In 1927 Pound began to edit a short-lived journal called Exile, and the name not only indicates his geographic separation from his place of birth but his thoroughgoing detachment from Western values which he could no longer accept as his own. "I want a new civilization," he announced in 1928, and from the mid 1920s through the 1930s his criticism was based on this revolutionary demand. Whereas Eliot became steadily more prominent in the Anglo-American literary world, Pound moved ever further from the tradition and the culture into which he had been born.

Two concerns came to dominate Pound's criticism between the wars. The first was the problem of modern economics, a problem which, in one sense, had been implicit in his earliest views on the future of the arts. From the moment he became committed to a contemporary artistic renaissance, he confronted the question of how to pay for it, how to support the artists who would not be able to count on public enthusiasm as a source of income.

Like Pound himself, allies such as Joyce, Eliot, and Gaudier-Brzeska had to struggle for years without the economic security that would let them pursue their art free of distraction. In his 1912 essay on the United States, Patria Mia (1950), Pound had appealed to wealthy Americans to place resources in the hands of impoverished artists, and while he waited for that generosity, he undertook to find whatever monetary support might allow Gaudier-Brzeska to chisel the next stone, Eliot to write the next poem, Joyce to compose the next chapter. He persuaded editors to publish unconventional and often highly controversial work; he tried to secure patrons; later he attempted to establish a fund that would let Eliot leave his demoralizing job at Lloyd's bank. He himself wrote much of his criticism in order to secure the modest remuneration that the little magazines could offer. He would later say that he recognized the unemployment crisis long before others, because he saw the best artists of his generation continually unemployed.

Against this background it is not surprising that Pound would become committed to the cause of economic reform. In the last years of the first world war, he was writing regularly for the New Age when the journal's editor, A. R. Orage, became a convert to the economic ideas of C. H. Douglas. Douglas was a retired Army major who had developed a theory of "social credit" which held that the problem of economic production had been solved and that only the problem of distribution remained. He proposed that money be granted directly to the populace in a system of national dividends which would ensure that every member of society would have sufficient purchasing power to acquire the goods necessary for a decent life. Such a system was to remove financial power from the banks and place it in a neutral institution which would consult only the good of the public as a whole.

Douglas's proposal, it is plain, was an assault on the basic assumptions of a capitalist economy, but this disturbed Pound very little, and as time went on, it troubled him even less. In a bitter essay called "Murder by Capital" published in Eliot's journal, the Criterion, Pound argues that from the standpoint of art, capitalism has failed. It has committed "crimes against living art" and thus stands condemned by its works. The root of the problem, contends Pound, is usury, the private appropriation of the power to lend, and in his criticism, as in his poetry, he returns obsessively to the need to eliminate usury from civilized life. He tirelessly reiterates the proposition that economic justice is the necessary condition of cultural health.

Pound's writings of the 1920s and 1930s give vivid testimony to the unsettled state of intellectuals and artists in that turbulent period. His opposition to the prevailing powers was relentless and unyielding, but though he knew that he was an enemy of liberalism and capitalism, he was an enemy in search of a program. The infatuation with Douglas yielded to an infatuation with Silvio Gesell who invented a system of stamp scrip, a way of taxing the possession of money in order to prevent hoarding. In essay after essay, Pound returned to the need to break the stranglehold of the banks, to provide work for all, and to ensure material well-being throughout the populace. Often his proposals swerved abruptly from the political left to the political right, and at one point he cites both Lenin and Hitler to support his claims.

It is impossible to understand the curve of Pound's critical development without grasping how thoroughly the concern with artistic structure was supplanted by the concern with economic structure. In one of his "American Notes" written for the New English Weekly he wrote, in 1935, that whereas twenty years ago people "bleated" about painting now it was time to make economic theory part of the general culture. In place of the three principles of Imagism he offers an A B C of Economics (1933).

Pound sustained his ties with Eliot, Joyce, Yeats, Ford, and Lewis, but now he recast their literary revolution in terms of social struggle. He reinterpreted cultural history as a struggle between producers and usurers, locating the weakness of Greece in its willingness to allow pernicious economic practices, and identifying the strength of Rome with its sterner attitudes towards interest and borrowing. Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams became great heroes to Pound, who celebrated what he considered their enlightened attitudes toward circulation and currency. Contrary to his Vorticist embrace of a non-mimetic art, he now insisted that no novelist or novel reader could understand the motivation of character without understanding economics, and he proceeded to the uncompromising assertion that "you can't understand ANY history without understanding economics."

Pound's obsessive preoccupation with economics can be seen as an extravagant outgrowth from his early concern to find material support for the young artists around him whose talent was only rivalled by their poverty. His second recurrent theme in this period, the "immediate need of Confucius," can also be traced to ideas that originally emerged in the more strictly literary context of his first decade of criticism. In Fenollosa's theories of the Chinese character Pound had seen a new "aesthetic," but the more deeply he pondered Chinese thought, and in particular the more he reflected on the thought of Confucius, the more convinced he became that he had found the only secure basis for a decent civilization.

One of the persistent aims of the modernists was to establish a standpoint at the greatest possible distance from the culture which they rejected, and what Confucius offered to Pound was a perspective radically removed from the "age of pestilence" in which he felt he had the misfortune to live. The embrace of Confucian thought allowed him to pass beyond the unyielding problems of Christianity and capitalism, democracy and liberalism, romanticism, and classicism. He asserted that "a sane university curriculum will put Chinese where Greek was"--a remark that epitomizes his increasing estrangement from the dominant ideals of Western culture.

Perhaps the best way to account for Pound's attraction to Confucius is to notice that it allowed him to transfer some of his earliest literary principles into the domain of social thought. He repeatedly quoted the Confucian opinion on the first responsibility of government: "call things by their right names"--a maxim that echoes the Imagist principle that words must "cling close to things." Moreover the Confucian insistence upon clarity and precision accords with the literary commitments derived from Ford, and the enshrinement of discipline in Confucian ethics is a fit complement to Poundian aesthetics.

In another historical context the union of these two dominant strains in Pound's critical thought, radical economics and Chinese philosophy, Silvio Gesell and Confucius, would have been a harmless idiosyncrasy, a source of poetic metaphors like Yeats's system of occult forces. But in the chaos of the 1930s, in a period when the political center ceased to hold and the polarities of left and right sharpened, these consuming preoccupations made Pound susceptible to the drift towards political barbarism.

He took from Douglas and Gesell the demand for a strong collective body which would prevent individuals from disrupting economic stability; he took from Confucius the insistence on hierarchy and control; and in the context of the 1930s these two convictions led him quickly and fatefully to fascism. During the first world war he had called for the cultural alliance of France, England, and America, but in the midst of World War II he identified himself with the "Rome-Berlin axis" and with the most shameful opinions emanating from those two capitals.

In his book Jefferson And/Or Mussolini (1935) Pound defended the Fascist revolution in Italy as the legacy of the American revolution and insisted that the similarities between Jefferson and Mussolini were more profound than their differences. Both, he argued, sought to protect the nation as a whole from the particular interests that threatened to dissolve it. Fascism, like Jeffersonian democracy, was an "anti-snob" movement which understood that the best government is the one which most speedily translates the best thought into action.

Pound no doubt saw in Mussolini an image of the role he himself had sought in the realm of art, the strong-willed leader who can impel a collection of individuals into a common movement and who is able to convert ideas into action. In 1914 Pound had enjoined the modernist artist to "live by craft and violence." Twenty years later the metaphor transformed into the image of the Confucian books as an axe for clearing away the jungle of Christian theology. Then, just before World War II, Pound celebrated fascism as the "surgeon's knife" which will cut usury out of the world. The violence of the rhetoric is constant, but the object of rhetorical assault changes from specifically literary concerns (adjectives, sentimentality, abstractions) to the characteristic obsessions of the Fascist mind (usurers, liberals, Jewish people). Part of what is most disturbing in the second, and longer, phase of Pound's critical career is the ease with which the narrowly textual question metamorphoses into the broadly political question. "Poetry" yields pride of place to "civilization," and Pound is willing to apply the same surgical methods to social life that he had employed in the revolution of the poetic word.

In the effort to understand how a critical intellect capable of such fine literary discriminations could make so many crude political judgments, one should recall another aspect of his fascination with Chinese culture. For Pound, Fenollosa's speculations on the Chinese written character not only offered insight into the workings of human language but also a new technique for poetry and, most pertinent here, a new method for criticism. Indeed late in his career Pound identified his own chief (perhaps only) contribution to criticism as the introduction of the "ideogrammic system." Just as Fenollosa claimed that the Chinese character presented a picture of the world, so Pound elaborated a critical method based on the vivid description of particular details rather than a series of generalizations. In a refinement of his early techniques of the luminous detail Pound offered a critical method which he opposed to "Aristotelian logic" and which he described as a "method of first heaping together the necessary components of thought," "of presenting one facet and then another until at some point one gets off the dead and desensitized surface of the reader's mind," of accumulating "concrete examples" and "facts, possibly small, but gristly and resilient, that can't be squashed, that insist on being taken into consideration."

The result is that from the late 1920s Pound's essays proceeded chiefly through the depiction of illustrative events juxtaposed without explanation and offered as the concrete representatives of world history. The critical essay became the Chinese character writ large. Guide to Kulchur (1938) is the epitome of this developing critical method, a series of essay-length disquisitions on such subjects as Mussolini's Italy, eighteenth-century music, Dadaism, and the criticism of Eliot, bound together not by rational connections but by imaginative relations never explicitly declared. As in Pound's cantos, which rehearse so many of the same themes and which employ much the same method, certain historical particularities serve as the recurrent units out of which the complex ideogram is to emerge. The founding of the Bank of England, the life of Kung (Confucius), the correspondence of Adams and Jefferson, the dispute between Leibniz and Bossuet, the career of Gaudier-Brzeska--such local events as these were tirelessly repeated in Pound's attempt to understand history through a constellation of vivid particulars rather than through the dull progression of abstractions. "It is the curse of our contemporary 'mentality,'" Pound had written, "that its general concepts have so little anchor in particular and known subjects."

But there is an illuminating, even poignant, moment in Guide to Kulchur, when Pound interrupts himself and bluntly confesses that he is doing no better than any other "writer of general statements." This is certainly true. The stunningly precise rendition of historical fact alternates with cumbersome abstractions that offer unsubtle and unlovely characterizations of the history of literature, the history of economics, the history of religion; for example he says, "the WHOLE of 18th century literature was a cliché." Such generalizations are not mere anomalies; they are problematic of Pound's criticism and problematic of his age.

In the late 1920s Pound had discovered the work of the German anthropologist Leo Frobenius whose concept of paideuma became increasingly important to him. Frobenius held that every nation, every period, every culture organized its entire system of attitudes, concerns, beliefs, desires, and values in terms of a coherent pattern which would manifest itself in every aspect of cultural life. Paideuma, wrote Pound, is "the tangle or complex of the in rooted ideas of any period," "the mental formation, the inherited habits of thought, the conditionings, aptitudes of a given race or time." It is not difficult to see why such a concept would attract Pound. For a man so committed to luminous details and concrete images, the notion of paideuma offered an intellectual warrant, a guarantee of general coherence behind the particulars. If Pound's imagination worked most naturally upon resonant fragments, the conception of paideuma promised a controlling sense of the whole.

In his music criticism Pound had developed the notion of the Great Bass, an underlying principle of order, a rhythmic basis that establishes the deep form upon which all serious musical composition rests. Beneath the variety, the intricacy, and the harmony there exist certain simple relationships that can be expressed in mathematical form and that provide the controlling structure, the great bass, of the composition. One can see in this abstract musical concept the same habit of thought that served Pound so ill in his political judgments, the same impatience with complexity, the same rage for simplicity.

Both the imaginative brilliance and the moral agony of Pound's critical achievement can be understood in terms of the unstable relations between "direct treatment of the thing" and the abstract mathematics of the Great Bass, between the luminous detail and the obscure paideuma. From his earliest speculations in The Spirit of Romance Pound had refused to negotiate the long course from the rich particular to the encompassing abstraction; he simply leapt between the two. While this allowed for startling and original perceptions in his early work, the course of twentieth-century history deepened the chasm over which a leap had to be made. It is one thing to move from a lyric of Arnaut Daniel to the psychology of the troubadours, it is another to pass from the death of Gaudier-Brzeska to the criminality of Roosevelt and the villainy of the Jews. By the late 1930s Pound was identifying the integrity of the individual with the integrity of the corporate state, and he was ready to pass from the rhetorical violence of his literary program to the political violence of Fascist militarism.

During the war Pound made an infamous series of radio broadcasts in which the principles he had been repeating for a decade were turned to the purposes of wartime propaganda. After the war he was forcibly returned to the United States and accused and indicted on nineteen counts of treason, avoiding conviction for the crime when he was declared insane on 13 February 1946. He was placed in St. Elizabeth's hospital where he remained until 1958 when several of his friends finally helped persuade the government to release him. He returned to Italy, where he pursued work on the cantos and continued to offer sweeping appraisals of the fate of civilization. But in the years after the war Pound published no criticism of consequence, and in the early 1960s he fell into an almost unbroken silence, interrupted occasionally by the repudiation of opinions he had so relentlessly rehearsed. "I have come too late to a condition of doubt," he told an interviewer in 1963, and thus his last decade as a critic reverses the temper established in the first. The booming certainties of the Imagist, the Vorticist, and the Fascist yield to a doubting silence.

Pound liked to say that the central act of criticism was the creation of an anthology, the gathering of glorious specimens, the "maxima" of a culture. He called Confucius history's greatest anthologist and argued that every great culture produced a major anthology. Pound himself compiled several anthologies and regularly tabulated lists of the essential documents of human civilization, acting on the principle that "criticism may be written by a string of names." The will to anthologize expresses deep and contradictory urges that suggest the lasting virtues and the ineradicable defects of Pound's critical sensibility. He had an abiding devotion to the specificity of imaginative accomplishment but an equally strong compulsion to condense the totality of civilization into a single brief text.

Indeed Pound's career as a critic might be seen as a grand anthology of European modernism, a vast compendium of major critical attitudes that dominated so much literary opinion in the first half of the century. For this reason his influence has been as heterogeneous as his accomplishment. He has left behind scholars who tidy his historical speculations, prosodists who attempt to refine his already meticulous formal judgments, poet-critics who ask what remains of the modernist experiment, and political adventurists who borrow his name for their own shabby ends.

For certainly Pound was not alone in failing to find a balanced and humane relationship between the local truths of imaginative experience and the general pressures of modern social life. But what makes his failure so regrettable is that he had preached as eloquently as anyone the prescience of the arts; artists, as he liked to put it, were the "antennae of the race." It is fair to say that Pound's early criticism was a precise antenna sensitive to the future course of literary modernism. But it is just as necessary to acknowledge that his later work does not anticipate cultural novelty but slavishly follows political archaism. This is the humiliation which the great defender of the avant-garde had to endure: he had worked to reform his culture, no one more energetically, defiantly, successfully, but in the effort he deformed himself.


The majority of the Pound papers are in the Ezra Pound Archive of the Beinecke Library, Yale University. Other papers are in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library, the Houghton Library of Harvard University, the Newberry Library in Chicago, and the libraries of Hamilton College, Cornell University, and the University of Pennsylvania. The Lilly Library of Indiana University has about twelve thousand letters to Ezra and Dorothy Pound, dating from 1945-1953.




D. G. Bridson, "An Interview with Ezra Pound," New Directions in Prose and Poetry, 17 (30 November 1961): 159-184.

Donald Hall, "Ezra Pound: An Interview," Paris Review, 28 (Summer-Fall 1962): 22-51.

"The Poet Speaks: Interview by Grazia Levi," Paideuma, 8 (Fall 1979): 243-247.

"The Interview [of Vanni Ronsisvalle and Pier Paolo Passolini with Ezra Pound in 1968]," Paideuma 10 (Fall 1981): 331-345.


Donald C. Gallup, Ezra Pound: A Bibliography (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1963; revised edition, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983).


Charles Norman, Ezra Pound, revised edition (New York: Minerva, 1969).

Noel Stock, The Life of Ezra Pound (New York: Pantheon, 1970; London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970).

Mary de Rachewiltz, Discretions (Boston: Little, Brown, 1971).

Charles Olson, Charles Olson and Ezra Pound at St. Elizabeths, edited by Catherine Seelye (New York: Grossman, 1975).

C. David Heyman, Ezra Pound: The Last Rower (New York: Viking Press, 1976).

Hilda Doolittle, End to Torment: A Memoir of Ezra Pound by H. D. (New York: New Directions, 1979).

James H. Wilhelm, The American Roots of Ezra Pound (New York: Garland, 1985).


Robert M. Adams, "A Hawk and a Handsaw for Ezra Pound," Accent (Summer 1948): 205-214.

Ian F. A. Bell, Critic as Scientist: The Modernist Poetics of Ezra Pound (London & New York: Methuen, 1981).

William M. Chace, The Political Identities of Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot (Stanford, Cal.: Stanford University Press, 1973).

Stanley K. Coffman, Jr., Imagism: A Chapter in the History of Modern Poetry (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1951).

Richard Cork, Origins and Development, volume 1 of Vorticism and Abstract Art in the First Machine Age (London: Fraser, 1976; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976).

Reed Way Dasenbrock, The Literary Vorticism of Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis: Toward the Condition of Painting (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985).

Guy Davenport, "Pound and Frobenius," in Motive and Method in the Cantos of Ezra Pound, edited by Lewis Leary (New York: Columbia University Press, 1954).

Donald Davie, Ezra Pound (London: Fontana, 1975; New York: Viking, 1976).

Earle Davis, Vision Fugitive: Ezra Pound and Economics (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1968).

N. Christoph De Nagy, Ezra Pound's Poetics and Literary Tradition: the Critical Decade (Bern: Francke, 1966).

T. S. Eliot, "Ezra Pound," Poetry, 68 (September 1946): 326-338.

Ford Madox Ford, "Pound and 'How to Read'," New Review, 11 (April 1932): 39-45.

Philip Grover, ed., Ezra Pound: The London Years 1908-1920 (New York: AMS, 1978).

Natalie Harris, "A Map of Ezra Pound's Literary Criticism," Southern Review (Summer 1983): 548-572.

Eric Homberger, "Pound, Ford and 'Prose': The Making of a Modern Poet," Journal of American Studies, 5 (December 1971): 281-292.

Homberger, ed., Ezra Pound: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972).

Glenn Hughes, Imagism and the Imagists: A Study in Modern Poetry (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1931).

Thomas H. Jackson, "The Poetic Politics of Ezra Pound," Journal of Modern Literature, 3 (1974): 987-1011.

Hugh Kenner, "The Poetics of Speech," in Ford Madox Ford, Modern Critical Judgments, edited by Richard A. Cassell (London: Macmillan, 1972).

Kenner, The Pound Era (Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1971).

Timothy Materer, Vortex: Pound, Eliot and Lewis (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1979).

Marshall McLuhan, "Ezra Pound's Critical Prose," in Ezra Pound: A Collection of Essays to be Presented to Ezra Pound on his Sixty-Fifth Birthday, edited by Peter Russell (London & New York: Nevill, 1950).

Herbert N. Schneidau, Ezra Pound: The Image and the Real (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969).

R. Murray Shafer, "The Developing Theories of Absolute Rhythm and Great Bass," Paideuma, 2 (Spring 1973): 23-35.

Richard Sieburth, Instigations: Ezra Pound and Remy de Gourmont (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978).

Noel Stock, ed., Ezra Pound Perspectives (Chicago: Regnery, 1965).

William Wees, Vorticism and the English Avant-Garde (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1972).

René Wellek, "Ezra Pound's Literary Criticism," Denver Quarterly, 11 (1976): 1-20.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1200006356