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Ezra Pound

Ezra Weston Loomis Pound (October 30 1885 - November 1 1972) was a poet and critic who, along with T. S. Eliot, was one of the major figures of the modernist movement in early 20th century poetry. He was the driving force behind several modernist movements, notably Imagism and Vorticism. The critic Hugh Kenner said on meeting Pound: "I suddenly knew that I was in the presence of the center of modernism."

Table of contents
1 Early Life
2 The London Revolution
3 Paris
4 Italy
5 St Elizabeths
6 Italy Again
7 Pound's Importance
8 Additional Reading
9 External links

Early Life

Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho. He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania and at Hamilton College. During this period, he met and befriended William Carlos Williams and H.D, with whom he had a relationship. He taught at Wabash College for less than a year, and left as the result of a minor scandal. In 1908, he settled in London, after spending several months in Venice.

The London Revolution

Pound's early poetry was inspired by his reading of the pre-Raphaelites and other 19th century poets and medieval Romance literature, but in London, and under the influence of Ford Madox Ford and T. E. Hulme , he began to cast off overtly archaic poetic language and forms in an attempt to remake himself as a poet. He believed W. B. Yeats was the greatest living poet, and befriended him in England eventually being employed as the Irish poet's secretary. As part of his drive to modernize poetry, he convinced his mentor to adopt a more direct way of writing, helping to bring about Yeats' mature style. His translations of Japanese Noh plays influenced Yeats' writing for the Abbey Theatre. In 1914, he married Dorothy Shakespeare, an artist.

In the years before the First World War, Pound was largely responsible for the appearance of Imagism and Vorticism. These two movements, which helped bring to notice the work of poets and artists like James Joyce, Wyndham Lewis, William Carlos Williams, H.D., Richard Aldington, Marianne Moore, Rebecca West and Henri Gaudier Brzeska can be seen as perhaps the central events in the birth of English-language modernism. He also edited his friend Eliot's The Waste Land, the poem that was to force the new poetic sensibility into public attention.

However, the war shattered Pound's belief in modern western civilisation and he abandoned London soon after, but not before he published Homage to Sextus Propertius (1919) and Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1921). If these poems together form a farewell to Pound's London career, The Cantos, which he began in 1915, pointed his way forward.


In 1920, Pound moved to Paris where he moved among a circle of artists, musicians and writers who were revolutionising the whole world of modern art. He continued working on The Cantos, which increasingly reflected his preoccupations with politics and economics, as well as writing critical prose, translations and composing two complete operas and several pieces for solo violin. In [1922] he met and became involved with Olga Rudge, a violinist. Together with Dorothy, they formed an uneasy menage a trois which was to last until the end of the poet's life.


In the early 30s Pound moved to Rapallo, Italy. Here he became an enthusiastic supporter of Mussolini and anti-Semitic sentiments begin to appear in his writings. Pound remained in Italy after the outbreak of the Second World War. He disapproved of American involvement in the war and tried to use his political contacts in Washington D.C to prevent it. He to speak on Italian radio and gave a series of talks on cultural matters. Inevitably, he touched on political matters and his opposition to the war and his anti-Semitism was apparent on occasions.

Towards the end of the war, he was incarcerated in a United States Army detention camp outside Pisa, spending twenty-five days in an open cage before being given a tent. Here he appears to have suffered a nervous breakdown. He also drafted the Pisan Cantos in the camp. This section of the work in progress marks a shift in Pound's work, being a meditation on his own and Europe's ruin and on his place in the natural world in what has been considered as some of the first ecological poetry in English. The Pisan Cantos won the Bollingen-Library of Congress Award in 1948

St Elizabeths

After the war, Pound was brought back to the United States to face charges of treason. He was found unfit to face trial because of insanity and sent to St. Elizabeth's Hospital, where he remained for 12 years. Here he was surrounded by poets and other admirers and continued working on The Cantos as well as translating from the Confucian classics. He was finally released after a concerted campaign by many of his fellow poets and artists.

Italy Again

On his release, Pound returned to Italy where he continued writing, but his old certainties had deserted him. Although he continued working on The Cantos, he seemed to view them as an artistic failure. He also seemed to regret many of his past actions, and in a 1967 interview with Allen Ginsberg he apologised for that stupid, suburban prejudice of anti-Semitism. He died in Venice.

Pound's Importance

Because of his political views, especially his support of Mussolini and his anti-Semitism, Pound continues to attract much valid criticism. Nevertheless, it is impossible to ignore the vital role he played in the modernist revolution in 20th century literature in English. This importance may be considered under four headings: poet, critic, promoter, and translator.

As a poet, Pound was one of the first to successfully employ free verse in extended compositions. His Imagist poems influenced, among others, the Objectivists and The Cantos were a touchstone for Ginsberg and other Beat poets. Almost every 'experimental' poet in English since the early 20th century is in his debt.

As critic, editor and promoter, Pound helped the careers of Yeats, Eliot, Joyce, Williams, H.D., Moore, Ernest Hemingway, D. H. Lawrence, Louis Zukofsky, Basil Bunting, George Oppen, Charles Olson and other modernist writers too numerous to mention as well as neglected earlier writers like Walter Savage Landor and Gavin Douglas.

As translator, although his mastery of languages is open to question, Pound did much to introduce Provençal and Chinese poetry, the Noh, and the Confucian classics to a modern western audience. He also translated and championed Greek and Latin classics and helped keep these alive for poets at a time when classical education was in decline.

Additional Reading

External links