Thursday, July 25, 2024
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Ezra Pound: Epicentre of Cerebral Controversy

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Dr Ratan Bhattacharjee

Ezra Pound, whom Europe regarded as the ‘poet of the poets’ was an early champion of a number of avant-garde and modernist poets; developed important channels of intellectual and aesthetic exchange between the United States and Europe; and contributed to important literary movements such as Imagism and Vorticism.
Incredible but true that it was he who had the guts to change the draft of TS Eliot’s epoch-making poem The Wasteland (published in 1922). The poem was revised and made shorter with extensive marginal comments chiefly after his unsavoury encounter with Eliot. Pound played a major role in compressing and revising the poem in his search for ‘echt’ or what Pound meant ‘the real thing’ until it achieved its final form.
Pound tightened Eliot’s phrasing in many sections of the poem. Early in his career, Pound aroused controversy because of his aesthetic views and later, because of his political views, including his support for the Fascist government in Italy. He was a critic of the early modernist movement in American poetry, which was partially responsible for his desire to leave the country and settle in Europe. Generally considered as the poet most responsible for defining and promoting a modernist aesthetic in poetry, Pound carved a secure niche as the most important literary figure globally. Pound’s contribution to poetry began in the early 20th century with his role in developing Imagism, a movement stressing precision and economy of language.
Pound was an American expatriate poet who spent the majority of his adult life in London, Paris, and Italy. In an introduction to the Literary Essays of Ezra Pound written in 1954, TS Eliot declared that Pound “is more responsible for the 20th-century revolution in poetry than is any other individual.” Four decades later, Donald Hall reaffirmed in his remarks collected in Remembering Poets that “Ezra Pound is the poet who, a thousand times more than any other man, has made modern poetry possible in English.” For the greater part of the 20th century, however, Pound devoted his energies to advancing the art of poetry.
Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho on October 30, 1885 and grew up near Philadelphia. He completed his undergraduate work at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his BA from Hamilton College, but he lived much of his adult life overseas. In his article How I Began, collected in Literary Essays (1954), Pound claimed that as a youth he had resolved to “know more about poetry than any man living.” In pursuit of this goal, he settled in London from 1908 to 1920, where he carved out a reputation for himself as a member of the literary avant-garde and a tenacious advocate of contemporary work in the arts. The Cantos by Ezra Pound is a long, incomplete poem in 116 sections, each of which is a canto. Most of it was written between 1915 and 1962, although much of the early work was abandoned and the early cantos, as finally published, date from 1922 onwards. It is a book-length work, widely considered to be an intense and challenging read. Through his criticism and translations, as well as in his own poetry, particularly in his Cantos, Pound explored poetic traditions from different cultures ranging from ancient Greece, China, and the continent, to current-day England and America.
Ezra Pound’s contributions to modernist poetry chiefly veer round The Cantos, which remains a signal modernist epic – its mix of history, politics, and what Pound called “the periplum,” an advocacy for developing a range of poetic techniques that capture life in the midst of experience. In his efforts to develop new directions in the arts, Pound besides guiding Eliot, also promoted and supported writers such as James Joyce and Robert Frost. In a 1915 letter to Harriet Monroe, Pound himself described his activities as an effort “to keep alive a certain group of advancing poets, to set the arts in their rightful place as the acknowledged guide and lamp of civilization.”
His first book of poems, A Lume Spento, printed in June 1908, in an edition of 100 copies contains French phrases and scraps of Latin and Greek. He seemed to have affected obscurity and appreciated the abstruse. Pound, who loved the theory of impersonal tone of literature, was of the opinion that his poems were dramatic presentations, not personal expressions.
Pound’s Pisan Cantos, that Paul L Montgomery of the New York Times called “among the masterpieces of this century” won him the Bollingen Prize in 1949.
Pound died in November of 1972; he was buried in his beloved Italy, on the cemetery island Isole di San Michele. In the years since his death, scholarly examination of his work continues unabated. Ezra Pound once said in ABC of Reading, “Literature is news that stays news” and he himself stayed in news through his lifetime.
The author is a contributor at The Shillong Times

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