Academic journal article Parnassus : Poetry in Review

He Do the Poets in Different Voices

Academic journal article Parnassus : Poetry in Review

He Do the Poets in Different Voices

Article excerpt

He Do the Poets in Different Voices Ezra Pound. Poems and Translations. Edited and Annotated by Richard Sieburth. The Library of America 2003. 1,363 pp. $45.00

Let me begin with a confession: I am not an expert on Ezra Pound's poetry. Nor on Anglo-American modernism, nor on the classics. Not that one should need to be in order to read a poet's work, but wherever the name of Pound is spoken, the word "erudite" seems never far behind. And yet, notwithstanding the masses of literary, historical, political, economic, cultural, and occasional references crammed into his work (so many that, even early on, his elder colleague Yeats said he was trying "to provide a portable substitute for the British Museum"), one senses that Pound aimed less to buttonhole the happy few than to recreate the voice of a multitudinous Everyman. Despite its superficially exclusionary aspect, his is arguably the most inclusive body of verse ever created-what Pound himself, with a mix of grandiosity and laconic dismissal, termed "my history of the woild."

The most celebrated outcome of this comprehensive endeavor is the Cantos, an eight-hundred-page distillation of human knowledge and culture that sets the reader pinballing from ancient citations to up-to-the-minute glimpses of the author's own circumstances, with practically everything in-between. This "big long endless poem," as its author called it, a "rag-bag" for the modern world "to stuff all its thought in," was in the truest sense a life's work. Pound claimed (no doubt with some exaggeration) to have conceived it as far back as 1905-that is, contemporary with his first mature verses. The Cantos are Pound's legacy, one of the most studied and, truth be told, intimidating works of twentieth-century literature, as exhaustdtive in their embrace as they are daunting to read. They are the boulder on which the bulk of his reputation rests.

It is difficult to speak of Pound without being drawn into a discussion of the Cantos, for though they are not included in Poems and Translations, and while many of the pieces here date from before the Cantos were begun in earnest, their presence is felt throughout. In essence, the Library of America edition reprises Personne, The Collected Early Poems, Translations, and the Confucian texts, all deserving of consideration in their own right, plus some four dozen rarely seen poems and translations that neither significantly enhance nor diminish Pound's standing. Yet one is tempted to read these collected poems in large part as a kind of trial run, laboratory, and idea bank for the epic that ultimately absorbed the lion's share of Pound's poetic attention. While this is no doubt unfair, in some instances it becomes inevitable: "Three Cantos of a Poem of Some Length," to take one example, shows the miglior fabbro laboring to set the tone of his magnum opus some ten years before he released Λ Draft of XVI Cantos, the first major installment. More generally, these poems attest to the Canto's enormous reach, their centrality to Pound's project.

Poems and Translations also offers, in addition to the convenience of having Pound's shorter works compacted into a single volume, a useful chronology of his life and some very helpful, if at times overly terse, annotations to the poems' myriad foreign phrases and proper nouns. Richard Sieburth, an award-winning translator and the author of a previous book on Pound, is clearly at home with the material, and I suspect that his glosses are exactly what the poet-who claimed to write "for a few hundred people who are already aware of the classics," but who probably knew damn well that most of his readers weren't-would have wished, had he been of a mind to make such concessions. My one regret is that the notes don't contain more background information on the major individual poems, as is generally found in the French Bibliothèque de la Pléiade (the model for the Library of America)-but at nearly 1,400 pages the book is already long enough, thank you. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.