Ezra Pound's Early Verse and Lyric Tradition: A Jargoner's Apprenticeship

Ezra Pound's Early Verse and Lyric Tradition: A Jargoner's Apprenticeship

Ezra Pound's Early Verse and Lyric Tradition: A Jargoner's Apprenticeship

Ezra Pound's Early Verse and Lyric Tradition: A Jargoner's Apprenticeship

Synopsis

Traces the lyricism and musicality in Pound's early verse through to his radical Modernist style. Robert Stark argues that Pound learned how to write poetry more or less as if it was a foreign tongue, a poetic 'jargon' with a unique lexicon, grammar, and even morphology. Stark contextualizes Pound's poetic craft by examining his relationship to the Mediaeval and Classical originators of the methods he employs and by considering the practice and criticism of his immediate Victorian and Romantic predecessors. He explores the influence of poets such as François Villon, Guido Cavalcanti, Robert Burns, Robert Browning, Algernon Charles Swinburne and Walt Whitman on Pound's lyrical style. For Stark, Pound's poly-vocalism arises out of his interest in dialect and, above all, in the the acoustic qualities of language.

Excerpt

Headless Statues

Music and poetry enjoyed a kind of association in ancient literature that is now difficult to imagine. Nietzsche put it best in The Birth of Tragedy: ‘the most important phenomenon of ancient poetry’, he says, is ‘that union - nay identity - everywhere considered natural, between musician and poet (alongside which our modern poetry appears as the statue of a god without a head)’.1 The emblem is still more apt for twentieth-century poetry in English than for the poetry of Nietzsche’s time. On the one hand, the advent of free verse has resulted in a neglect of the traditional prosodic aspects of the art. On the other hand, some of the most noted poets of the century have consistently shown how the musical features of poetry continue to have a vital role to play in the present. Ironically, the same poets have usually been responsible for both tendencies.

Ezra Pound is precisely such a figure. As Wyndham Lewis once remarked, Pound ‘would teach anybody to be Dante, technically’.2 At the same time, however, Pound’s attempt to ‘break the pentameter’ line, his scepticism about ready-made poetic forms (such as the sonnet, which he considered to be obsolete by the twentieth century), his promotion of precise visual presentation, and many other aspects of his poetry and teaching, mean that he is perhaps as responsible for the neglect of the musical aspect of the art as any other single figure.3 Pound was, like Nietzsche, a breaker of statues and idols, a decapitator of convention. He is as responsible for the acephalisis of the ancient statue as any modern poet; yet he was always committed to erecting as completely embodied a poetic artefact as his talents, and his era, would allow.

’It is impossible to read Pound’s poetry or prose criticism without realizing the important role music plays in his thought and writing,’ Ellen Stauder remarks. The poet’s attention to auditory matters was . . .

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