Ezra Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho in October of 1885. He was only eleven years old when he published his first piece. It appeared in the Jenkintown Times-Chronicle in 1896 and consisted of a limerick composed a failed presidential candidate. In his early life he started a romance with the writer Hilda Doolittle. She is better known today as H.D.
After being fired from a teaching position, Pound settled in London and self-published his first book of poetry, A Lume Spento, or With Tapers Quenched. As his writing carer progressed he came to the head of a burgeoning Modernist movement known as Imagism. It is for his role as the leader of this movement that he is best-remember today.
Ezra Pound‘s health began to suffer his later years and was eventually arrested, spending in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. Pound was not released until April of 1958 after various campaigns on his behalf by other writers, such as Ernest Hemingway. By the time he turned 87 he was very weak. Pound was admitted to a hospital in Venice and died in his sleep of an intestinal blockage. You can read more about Ezra Pound and his biography here.
Top 10 Ezra Pound Poems
One of Ezra Pound’s most famous poems, ‘The Return’ was written in 1913 and then published in The New Poetry: An Anthology in 1917. It describes the return of a group of gods. At the beginning of the poem “they” are coming back to earth tentatively, as if they are unsure how to proceed. They do not have the same strength they used to.
As the poem progresses the speaker recalls the former strength of these beings. They moved alongside their “silver hounds”. By the end of the poem the speaker’s opinion of the gods goes unchanged, they are not what they used to be. They remain sickly and weak in his eyes.
‘The Lake Isle’ is a two stanza poem that speaks on the same themes as ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ by W.B. Yeats. The poem begins with the speaker asking the gods, as he does multiple times in the text, to give him something. This time it is a tobacco shop. This simple building and business represent something larger in the poem—a freedom and escape from the bustling modern world of endless commerce and industrial advancement.
As the poem progresses Pound’s speaker asks for other things, many of which would obviously be contained within his shop. In conclusion, the speaker who has begun to sound more and more like Pound himself, asks that the gods do something, anything, to remove him from his “damn’d profession of writing”.
‘The Garden’ is set within the gardens of Kensington, a traditionally wealthy, and upper-class neighbourhood. Pound published the poem in 1917, months before the end of World War I. The War would leave a permanent mark on English society and Ezra Pound depicts the beginnings of social change in this short piece.
The poem describes, through the landscape of the gardens, the emotional conflict caused by changes in the upper and lower classes of England during the ending months of the War. He speaks on the wealthy and the poor. The former is a graceful woman who moves and acts like “loose silk”. The latter are dirty children and, as the woman describes, “unkillable,” meaning, they are always present. The woman is living a conflicted life in which she wants to reach out to the world beyond her immediate socially appropriate circle. But, it isn’t quite able to yet.
One of Pound’s earlier poems, this short twelve-line poem addresses the natural world, love, and mythology. Pound uses two stories from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, that of Daphne and Apollo as well as that of Baucis and Philemon to speak of a changing perspective on the world. His speaker refers to himself as “a tree” and how being “a tree” has allowed him access to truths that are normally inaccessible.
‘L’Art’ is one of Pound’s shortest poems. It might remind readers of another poem on this list, ‘In a Station of the Metro’. IN these two lines of this piece Pound paints an image of green arsenic on a white cloth and juxtaposes it with that of “Crushed strawberries”. The contrast between these two colours and something edible and something deadly is powerful. This piece is a perfect example of Pound’s skill at crafting poignant images.
In this poem, a reader can explore Pound’s professional relationship, through time, to the American free verse poet Walt Whitman. The poet obliquely addresses the problems he has with Whitman’s poetry. It is unrefined, something Pound found unforgivable. He tells the long since deceased poet that they should come to a truce where they can acknowledge one another and move beyond hatred.
The Imagist movement, which Pound helped found, was defined by its focus on an economic use of language and a precise wielding of imagery. This poem is likely the most famous Imagist poem of all time. It consists of only two lines: “The apparition of these faces in the crowd: / Petals on a wet, black bough.” Pound published the poem in 1913 in the magazine Poetry. When asked to speak about the work after its publication Pound said the lines describe a moment he experienced at a metro station in Paris.
‘The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter’ describes through a letter the relationship between a sixteen-year-old girl and her merchant husband. The first stanza lays out the beginning of the relationship. Then, the intervening years follow, finally the last moments the couple spent together. This fluid way of writing allows a reader to get an accurate sense of what the relationship is like. The young wife is the speaker of the text. She begins by informing the reader that she was married when she was fourteen. At the time she was very reserved and nervous around her husband. But, as she aged she came to love him. This love only grew, and now her husband is on a trip from which she hopes he will soon return.
In this ten-line poem the speaker addresses the rich, or “thoroughly smug” and compares their lives with those lived by fishermen and their families. The latter, as a reader might expect, is the happier of the two. The speaker describes the “untidy” lives of these poor families and the pleasure they take from something simple like sitting outside in the sun and eating. The poem concludes with a great metaphor that uses a fish and its lack of clothing to speak on what truly makes a good life.
In this poem Pound describes, in his characteristic style with memorable images, a brief encounter with a woman. The scene depicted in these five lines is a simple one, but due to his command language there is a lot for lovers of poetry to dig into. Did the speaker leave with the woman? What kind of relationship did they have or would they have? What does it mean for their “new morality” that Pound is still presenting women in a stereotypically delicate way?