When I carefully consider the curious habits of dogs
I am compelled to conclude
That man is the superior animal.
When I consider the curious habits of man
I confess, my friend, I am puzzled.
Ezra Pound(1885-1972) was definitely not a wonderful person, but he was extremely important to poetry. As The Poetry Foundation puts it, “of all the major literary figures in the twentieth century, Ezra Pound has been one of the most controversial; he has also been one of modern poetry’s most important contributors.” And then there’s T.S. Eliot, who said Pound “is more responsible for the twentieth-century revolution in poetry than is any other individual.”
It wasn’t just as a writer of poetry that Pound was significant—he was also a brilliant editor (he edited T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, for example), critic and ‘befriender of geniuses.’ Before they were well known, Pound supported and promoted writers such as James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, H.D., and D.H. Lawrence. "We have Pound the major poet devoting, say, one-fifth of his time to poetry,” said Ernest Hemingway, “with the rest of his time he tries to advance the fortunes, both material and artistic, of his friends.” And advance them he did. “He forced upon our attention not only individual authors,” wrote David Perkins, “but whole areas of poetry, which no future criticism can afford to ignore.”
When it comes to Pound’s own work, well, it was never widely read by the general public (at least in his lifetime.) Much of his poetry is absurdly difficult. He once wrote his goal was to “know more about poetry than any living man.” He explored poetic traditions from various countries, such as China and Greece, and helped define Imagism, before moving onto his theory of Vorticism. At times, he included Chinese characters in his poems, or scraps of Latin, Greek, French or Italian. His most ambitious work, Cantos, was a modern epic, and was so sprawling in what it attempted to address, but also so fragmented and obscure, that it is near impossible to penetrate. In response to Cantos, poet William Carlos Williams wrote: "Pound has sought to communicate his poetry to us and failed. It is a tragedy, since he is our best poet.”
Born in Idaho, Pound moved to Europe in 1908, first to London, then Paris, and finally, to fascist Italy. Pound was an admirer of Mussolini, and during WWII he made a series of broadcasts on Radio Rome blaming Roosevelt and Jewish bankers for the war. Having decided the broadcasts were treasonous, the US government had Pound arrested by the US army at the end of the war. He was then kept prisoner in a small, wire cage outside of a compound near Pisa, Italy. He was deemed mentally unfit to stand trial (maybe because of the wire cage?!) and sent to an insane asylum for thirteen years. He moved back to Italy upon his release. He died in Venice in 1972.
The song featured in this video is “Speech Bubble/Thought Cloud,” by the fabulous and energetic Montreal band Parlovr.
“Meditatio” is available in Ezra Pound: Selected Poems 1908-1969.