Selected Cantos of Ezra Pound

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9780571081806: Selected Cantos of Ezra Pound
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Among his fellow modernists, Ezra Pound inspired equal parts admiration and contempt. T.S. Eliot called him "il miglior fabbro" and dedicated "The Waste Land" to him after Pound had surgically stripped down the masterwork. Gertrude Stein, on the other hand, mocked his obsession with "Kulchur" and his pedagogical need to insert his versions of history, thought, economics, and morality into the Cantos. Pound was, she punched, "a village explainer, excellent if you are a village, but if you are not, not."

Turning to the poems affords illumination, though not resolution. The complete Cantos number 117, weigh in at more than 800 pages, and require several companion volumes of exegesis, filled as they are with private matters and forgotten, obscure souls and associations. Selected Cantos, 117 pages in all, contains what Pound called his "beauty spots": evocations of his heroes (from Chinese emperors to the Founding Fathers), cameos and critiques of his contemporaries (Yeats admiring the symbol of Notre Dame more than Notre Dame itself), and scabrous, unbeautiful visions of politicians, war profiteers, and "the perverts, the perverters of language" in hell. A signal irony is that the poet whose goal was to "make it new" is often freshest in his evocations and imitations of the past.

The greatest sequence is, however, "The Pisan Cantos". In 1945, following his pro-fascist Italian radio broadcasts, Pound was imprisoned by the American military. The art that emerged out of desperation, particularly Canto LXXXI, is a litany of nostalgia, pain, and delusion. Pound for once casts a sharp eye (usually reserved for others) on his personal and artistic failings: "Pull down thy vanity / How mean thy hates / Fostered in falsity ..." But even this section is troubling. In the end, the village explainer could explain little.

About the Author:

Ezra Pound was born in 1885 in Hailey, Idaho. He came to Europe in 1898 and settled in London, where he was to meet Yeats, Eliot, Ford, Hulme and Gaudier-Brzeska. In 1920 he moved to Paris, and later to Rapallo. His acquaintances by now included Joyce, Hemingway, Brancusi, Picabia, Cocteau, Antheil and C. H. Douglas. During the Second World War he broadcast over Rome Radio - for which, eventually, he was tried for treason in Washington. He was committed to a hospital for the insane, where he was held for thirteen years. He was released in 1958 and returned to Italy, dying in Venice in 1972. His main publications include The Cantos (I-CXVII), Collected Shorter Poems, Translations, The Confucian Odes, Literary Essays, Guide to Kulchur, Selected Prose and ABC of Reading.

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