Friday, October 30, 2009


Today is the birthday of Ezra Pound, born October 30, 1885, the poet generally considered most responsible for defining and promoting a modernist aesthetic in poetry.

Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho, and he grew up around Philadelphia. At the age of 15 he entered the University of Pennsylvania, then taught for a time at Wabash College in Indiana. After a scandal involving a local actress, Pound left his teaching post and headed for Europe. Pound self-published A Lume Spento, his first collection of short poems, while living in Venice. He finally settled in London, and was named the editor of the Little Review in 1917. In 1924, he moved to Italy and became involved in Fascist politics. When Pound finally returned to the United States in 1945 he was arrested on charges of treason for broadcasting Fascist propaganda by radio to the United States during the Second World War. Though he was acquitted of the charges, he was declared mentally ill and committed to St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. During his confinement, he was awarded the first ever Bollingen Prize from the Library of Congress Award for his Pisan Cantos, which he wrote while being held in a U.S. Army detention camp. Continuous appeals from an international coterie of writers won his release from the hospital in 1958. Pound returned to Italy and remained in Venice until he died in 1972.

Pound was one of the first poets to successfully employ free verse in extended compositions, his work exerting a huge influence on almost every 'experimental' poet in who followed him, very much including Allen Ginsberg who made an intense study of Pound's use of parataxis before writing his breakthrough poem Howl.

Pound was keenly interested in diverse languages, bringing Provençal and Chinese poetry to English audiences and translating Greek, Latin and Anglo-Saxon classics. As a critic, editor and promoter, Pound helped shape the careers of some of the 20th century's most influential writers including W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Wyndham Lewis, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, D. H. Lawrence, and Charles Olson.

While his political views irreparably damaged his later career, earning him many enemies in addition to his forced confinement, there is simply no question that Pound's work played a pivotal role in the modernist revolution of 20th century literature.

Ancient Music

Winter is icummen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm.
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Sing: Goddamm.

Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham.
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damn you, sing: Goddamm.

Goddamm, Goddamm, 'tis why I am, Goddamm,
So 'gainst the winter's balm.

Sing goddamm, damm, sing Goddamm.
Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.

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