Ezra Pound

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Ezra Pound (October 30, 1885November 1, 1972) was an American expatriate poet, musician and critic who was a major figure of the Modernist movement in early to mid-20th century poetry. He was the driving force behind several Modernist movements including Imagism and Vorticism.


  • Poetry is a sort of inspired mathematics, which gives us equations, not for abstract figures, triangles, squares, and the like, but for the human emotions. If one has a mind which inclines to magic rather than science, one will prefer to speak of these equations as spells or incantations; it sounds more arcane, mysterious, recondite.
  • It is better to present one image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous work.
  • Image…that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time.
  • Who brought this to pass?
    Who has brought the flaming imperial anger?
    Who has brought the army with drums and with kettle-drums?
    Barbarous kings.
    A gracious spring, turned to blood-ravenous autumn,
    A turmoil of wars-men, spread over the middle kingdom,
    Three hundred and sixty thousand,
    And sorrow, sorrow like rain.
    • 'Lament of the Frontier Guard' (From Cathay, 1915)
  • One discards rhyme, not because one is incapable of rhyming neat, fleet, sweet, meet, treat, eat, feet but because there are certain emotions or energies which are nor represented by the over-familiar devices or patterns.
    • "Affirmations: As for Imagism", The New Age, January 1915
  • Poetry must be as well written as prose.
    • Letter to Harriet Monroe (January 1915)
  • It has been complained, with some justice, that I dump my note-books on the public.
    • A Retrospect (1918)
  • Artists are the antennae of the race but the bullet-headed many will never learn to trust their great artists.
    • Instigations of Ezra Pound (1920), p. 109
  • Hang it all, Robert Browning, there can be but the one "Sordello."
    • From Draft of XXX Cantos (1933), No.2
  • Make it new!
    • Book title (1935)
  • Genius is the capacity to see ten things where the ordinary man sees one.
    • Jefferson and/or Mussolini (1935), Ch. 23
  • Properly, we should read for power. Man reading should be man intensely alive. The book should be a ball of light in one's hand.
    • Guide to Kulchur (1938), p. 55
  • But the one thing you shd. not do is suppose that when something is wrong with the arts, it is wrong with the arts ONLY.
    • Guide to Kulchur (1938), p. 60
  • Our own consciousness is incapable of having produce the universe. God, therefore, exists. That is to say, there is no reason for not applying the term God, Theos, to the intimate essence
    • Axiomata (1921). Quoted in Witemeyer, Hugh (1951), The Poetry of Ezra Pound, University of California Press, p. 26
  • Both in Greece and in Provence the poetry attained its highest rhythmic and metrical brilliance at times when the arts of verse and music were most closely knit together, when each thing done by the poet had some definite musical urge or necessity bound up within it.
    • "The Tradition", in Poetry, ed. by Harriet Monroe, III, 3 (December 1913), p. 137; reprinted in Literary Essays of Ezra Pound (1968), p. 91.
  • My worst mistake was the stupid suburban prejudice of anti-Semitism, all along.
    • A dinner table conversation quoted in Composed on the tongue, "Encounters will Ezra Pound" by Allen Ginsberg
  • I never was. When I left the hospital I was still in America and all America is an insane asylum.
    • When asked by the press when he had been released from the mental hospital; apparently from an interview in Naples after emigrating back to Italy after WW2, this is his most notorious quotation, though he didn't write it down.[citation needed]
  • The art of letters will come to an end before A.D. 2000. I shall survive as a curiosity.
    • Quoted in A Serious Character (1988) by Humphrey Carpenter
  • Not one man in a thousand can be aroused to an interest in economics until he definitely suffers from the effects of an evil system.
    • ABC of Economics (1933)
  • It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse.
    • Ezra Pound: An Interview, Paris Review, Donald Hall

The Cantos[edit]

  • If a man have not order within him
    He can not spread order about him
    And if a man have not order within him
    His family will not act with due order;
    And if the prince have not order within him
    He can not put order in his dominions.
    • Canto XIII
  • And even I can remember
    A day when the historians left blanks in their writings,
    I mean, for things they didn't know,
    But that time seems to be passing.
    • Canto XIII
  • Without character you will
    be unable to play on that instrument
    • Canto XIII
  • The blossoms of the apricot
    blow from the east to the west,
    And I have tried to keep them from falling.
    • Canto XIII
  • With usura hath no man a house of good stone
    each block cut smooth and well fitting
    with usura
    hath no man a painted paradise on his church wall
    no picture is made to endure nor to live with
    but it is made to sell and sell quickly
    • Canto XLV
      • Note: Regarding usura, in 1972 Pound wrote in the foreword to "Selected Prose, 1909-1965":

I was out of focus, taking a symptom for a cause.
The cause is AVARICE."

  • What thou lovest well remains,
    the rest is dross
    What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
    What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage
    • Canto LXXXI
  • Pull down thy vanity, it is not man
    Made courage, or made order, or made grace,
    Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down.
    Learn of the green world what can be thy place
    • Canto LXXXI
  • How mean thy hates
    Fostered in falsity

    Rathe to destroy, niggard in charity
    • Canto LXXXI
  • To have gathered from the air a live tradition
    or from a fine old eye the unconquered flame
    This is not vanity.
    Here error is all in the not done,
    all in the diffidence that faltered . . .
    • Canto LXXXI
  • "You damn sadist!" said mr. cummings,
    "you try to make people think."
    • Canto LXXXIX
  • The temple is holy because it is not for sale.
    • Canto XCVII
  • Pride, jealousy and possessiveness
    3 pains of hell
    • Canto CXIII
  • And of man seeking good,
    doing evil.
    • Canto CXV
  • But the beauty is not the madness
    Tho’ my errors and wrecks lie about me.
    And I am not a demigod,
    I cannot make it cohere.
    • Canto CXVI
  • Many errors,
    a little rightness.
    • Canto CXVI
  • I have tried to write Paradise
    Do not move
    Let the wind speak.
    that is paradise.
    Let the Gods forgive what I
    have made
    Let those I love try to forgive
    what I have made.
    • Canto CXX (the concluding Canto of the 1975 edition of The Cantos')

Drafts and Fragments of Cantos CX-CXVII[edit]

  • Here is the core of evil, the burning hell without let-up,
    The canker corrupting all things, Fafnir the worm,
    Syphilis of the State, of all kingdoms
    Wart of the common-weal,
    Wenn-maker, corrupter of all things
    Darkness the defiler
    Twin evil of envy,
    Snake of the seven heads, Hydra, entering all things
    Passing the doors of temples defiling the grove of Paphos,
    neschek, the crawling evil,
    slime, the corrupter of all things,
    Poisoner of the fount,
    of all fountains, neschek,
    The serpent, evil against Nature's increase,
    Against beauty
    • Addendum for C
    • Note: neschek is a transliteration of the Hebrew "נֶשֶׁך" meaning "usury"
  • "A pity that poets have used symbol and metaphor and no man learned anything from them for their speaking in figures"
    • Addendum for C
  • All other sins are open,
    Usura alone not understood.
    • Addendum for C
  • And for one beautiful day there was peace.
    • Notes for CXVII et seq
  • To be men not destroyers
    • Notes for CXVII et seq

ABC of Reading (1934)[edit]

  • The author's conviction on this day of the New Year is that music begins to atrophy when it departs too far from the dance; that poetry begins to atrophy when it gets too far from music.
    • Preface
  • Literature is news that STAYS news.
    • Ch. 2 (p. 29 in the 1961 paperback)
  • Any general statement is like a cheque drawn on a bank. Its value depends on what is there to meet it.
    • p. 25
  • The man of understanding can no more sit quiet and resigned while his country lets literature decay than a good doctor could sit quiet and contented while some ignorant child was infecting itself with tuberculosis under the impression that it was merely eating jam tarts.
    • p. 33
  • Good writers are those who keep the language efficient. That is to say, keep it accurate, keep it clear.
    • Chapter 3
  • AT ABOUT THIS POINT the weak-hearted reader usually sits down in the road, removes his shoes and weeps that he 'is a bad linguist' or that he or she can't possibly learn all those languages. One has to divide the readers who want to be experts from those who do not, and divide, as it were, those who want to see the world from those who merely want to know WHAT PART OF IT THEY LIVE IN.
    • p. 42
  • Real education must ultimately be limited to one who INSISTS on knowing, the rest is mere sheep-herding.
    • Ch. 8

Quotes about Ezra Pound[edit]

  • My early identity and love poems were influenced by the imagism of Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams.
    • Marilyn Chin Preface to A Portrait of the Self as Nation: New and Selected Poems (2018)
  • Chinese poetry, as we know it today, is something invented by Ezra Pound.
  • Personally I admire several writers (Céline, for instance) who have gone over to the Fascists, and many others whose political outlook I strongly object to. But one has the right to expect ordinary decency of a poet. I never listened to Pound’s broadcasts, but I often read them in the B.B.C. Monitoring Reports, and they were intellectually and morally disgusting. Antisemitism, for instance, is simply not the doctrine of a grown-up person. People who go in for that kind of thing must take the consequences.
  • I have been very excited by Ezra Pound's work with Chinese. People don't realize how much of Chinese culture is part of American culture. I mean, all those transcendentalists at the beginning of American writing.
  • A musician once asked Ezra Pound if there was anywhere one could get all of poetry, in the sense that one could get all of music in Bach. Pound's response was that if a person would take the trouble really to learn Greek, he could get all of it, or nearly all of it, in Homer.
    • Stanley Lombardo, Iliad (Hackett Publishing Company, 1997), Translator's Preface.
  • Pound's ideas about Russian communism developed in two directions. First, he felt that there were basic similarities between the Russian and the fascist revolutions. Second, he felt a great deal of admiration for Lenin as a man of action in the mold of his hero, Mussolini (this was not an entirely accidental comparison, for the contemporary figure most admired by Mussolini was Lenin).
    • Tim Redman, Ezra Pound and Italian Fascism (Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 108.
  • Pound's fascism-crazed mind

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