Geoffrey Chaucer, the Critical Heritage

By Derek Brewer | Go to book overview

37.

EZRA POUND, CHAUCER SHOULD BE ON EVERY MAN’S SHELF

1914, 1918, 1927, 1934

Ezra Pound (1884-1973), poet and critic, was educated at Hamilton College in the USA, and the University of Pennsylvania. As perhaps the most important single intellectual influence in the changes in much poetic practice and theory in England and America in the early twentieth century, his scattered remarks on Chaucer have interest, though they do not amount to much more than a vague recognition of some special significance and value in Chaucer’s work, which is often placed in opposition to Milton’s. These extracts are reprinted by permission of Faber & Faber Ltd, and of New Directions Publishing Corporation, New York, from Ezra Pound, ‘Literary Essays’ (Copyright 1918, 1920, 1935, 1954). All rights reserved. Details of attribution are appended to extracts.

(a) ‘Literary Essays’, p. 216; from The Renaissance, ‘Poetry’, 1914.

Chaucer should be on every man’s shelf. Milton is the worst sort of poison.

(b) ‘Literary Essays’, p. 235; from Elizabethan Classicists, ‘The Egoist’, 1917-18.

But Golding’s book published before all these others will give us more matter for reverie. One wonders, in reading it, how much more of the Middle Ages was Ovid. We know well enough that they read him and loved him more than the more Tennysonian Virgil.

Yet how great was Chaucer’s debt to the Doctor Amoris? That we will never know. Was Chaucer’s delectable style simply the first Ovid in English? Or, as likely, is Golding’s Ovid a mirror of Chaucer? Or is a fine poet ever translated until another his equal invents a new style in a later language? Can we, for our part, know our Ovid until we find him in Golding? Is there one of us so good at his Latin, and so ready in imagination that Golding will not throw upon his mind shades and glamours

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