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.
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 some 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
‘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 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, isn’t quite able to yet.
The Coming of War: Actaeon
Within this poem Ezra Pound uses the ancient myth of Actaeon to speak on the feelings of hopelessness he and many others experienced during the days of the First World War. Actaeon was a Greek hero who unfortunately brought the wrath of Artemis down upon himself. The lines appear fragmented on the page and reference the mental state of the speaker who is unsure about his surroundings and experiences.
Ballad of Goodly Fere
This poem was first published in 1909 and is told from the perspective of one of Jesus’ apostles. The apostle is Simon the Zealot, also known as Simon Zelotes. He describes the Crucifixion and the memories he holds of Christ. Ezra Pound wrote ‘Ballad of Goodly Fere’ in response to what were then recent depictions of Jesus he found to be inappropriate.
‘The Cantos’ is one long poem, consisting of 116 sections. Each section is as a “canto”. The group of poems was written between 1915 and 1962 and was left incomplete by Ezra Pound. Throughout, Pound speaks on some of his most frequently touted on themes, including culture and economics. When first glancing at the text of ‘The Cantos’ a reader might be struck by the use of Chinese characters and of European languages other than English. The work is one of the most important of the Modernist movement.
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 Letter
‘The River Merchant’s 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.
Like ‘In a Station at the Metro’, ‘Fragment’ is a great example of what Imagist poets were striving for. The poem is only eleven words long. The words are scattered across four lines and have margins that vary in width. ‘Fragment’ makes use of natural imagery, that taps into one’s senses, in order to poignantly describe one brief moment. The speaker in this text describes the wind as “lithe” (a word not usually used to describe natural forces). It is human-like and caressing; he goes on to describe it as “sinuous”.
Hugh Selwyn Mauberley
‘Hugh Selwyn Mauberley’ was published by Ezra Pound in 1920 and is one long piece that is made up of eighteen short poems. Pound’s failures as a poet might be represented in the character. A lot of information about Pound is found in the first autobiographical poem. rom the first poem. The next sections introduce the main character, “Maubelery” who many assume to be a different iteration of the poet himself. After Ezra Pound finished writing this piece he departed England.