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Ezra Pound

Ezra Pound
Ezra Pound photographed on October 22nd in Kensington, London, by Alvin Langdon Coburn. (1913)

Ezra Pound was an American poet and was often called "the poet's poet" because of his profound influence on twentieth century English writing.  He was, along with Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, an American expatriate.  Pound believed that poetry was the highest of all the arts.  He challenged many of the common views of his time. This challenge caused him to spend twelve years in an American mental hospital.  He was later released and moved back to Italy where he completed his major work which was The Cantos.  It was published in ten sections between 1925 and 1969.  It was later published as a one-volume collector’s edition, THE CANTOS OF EZRA POUND I-CXVII.

Pound was born in 1885 in Hailey, an Idaho Territory, the only child of Homer L. Pound and Isabel Weston Pound.  Pound's early education took place in a series of schools; some of them run by Quakers.  In 1907 he took a job as a teacher of Romance languages at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, a town he described as “the sixth circle of hell.”  In that same year his teaching career was cut short at Wabash College, which was in a conservative town, when he was entertaining an actress in his room.  In 1908 he travelled to London working as a journalist.  Pound was inspired to go to London by the work of Yeats.  He thought, "Yeats knew more about poetry than anybody else."

While in London, as a foreign editor of several American literary magazines, he helped to discover and shape the work of contemporaries such as T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Robert Frost, and Ernest Hemingway.  Pound was responsible for the publication of Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and for James Joyce's Ulysses.  He assisted Wyndham Lewis, T.S. Eliot, James Joyce and others to publish their works in the magazines Egoist and Poetry.  In 1914 Pound married the artist and socialite Dorothy Shakespeare which he described as “surely the most charming woman in London.”  Dorothy later gave birth to their child in 1926, Omar.  In 1922 Pound started a relationship with the violinist Olga Rudge, with whom he had a daughter, born five months before Omar.  Pound moved to Paris in 1920 because Britain had become "an old bitch, gone in the teeth."

Ezra Pound later became known as a major figure in early modern poetry. He became known for his part developing Imagism, which in reaction to the Victorian and Georgian poets favored tight language, unadorned imagery and a strong correspondence between verbal and musical qualities of the verse and the mood it expresses.  Imagists promised three different things:  “1. The direct treatment of the 'thing' whether it is the subject or objective.  2.  To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation at all.  3. To compose poetry in musical phrase and not in metronome."  His best-known works include Ripostes (1912), Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920), and his 120-section epic, The Cantos, which consumed most of his middle and late career. The Cantos was published between 1917 and 1969.

Four years later he settled in Italy where he lived for over 20 years.  Pound was comfortable with his role as an outsider. Outraged by the loss of life during World War I, he lost faith in England, blaming usury and international capitalism for the war.  While in Italy throughout the 1930s and 1940s, to his friends' dismay, he embraced Benito Mussolini’s fascism, supported Adolf Hitler and wrote for publications owned by the British fascist Oswald Mosley.  In 1933 Time magazine called him, "a cat that walks by himself, tenaciously unhousebroken and very unsafe for children."

Pound met Mussolini in 1933 and saw in Mussolini, an economic and social reformer.  In his anti-Semitic statements and radio announcements Pound agreed that the economic system was being exploited by Jewish financiers.  During World War II, while in Rome, he made a series of hysterical and bitter radio broadcasts that were openly fascist. In one of his wilder radio broadcasts he suggested that "if some man had a stroke of genius, and could start a program against Jews... there might be something to say for it."  The Italian government paid him during World War II to make hundreds of radio broadcasts criticizing the United States and Franklin D. Roosevelt.  During the war these broadcasts were monitored by the U.S. government.

At the end of the war he was arrested for treason by American forces in Italy in 1945.  He spent months in detention at a U.S. military camp in Pisa.  His detention included twenty-five days in a six-by-six-foot outdoor steel “gorilla cage”.  He stated that this triggered a mental breakdown and he said that time in his life was like: "when the raft broke and the waters went over me."  The mental state of Ernest Hemingway was just as bad as the Ezra Pound's mental breakdown.  Deemed unfit to stand trial, he was labeled as paranoid by the examining psychiatrists, a decision disputed for decades after his death.  Pound was sentenced and sent to St. Elizabeth’s psychiatric hospital, for the criminally insane, in Washington, D.C. for over 12 years.

While in custody he began work on sections of The Cantos that became known as The Pisan Cantos in 1948.  He was awarded the Bollingen Prize in 1949 by the Library of Congress.  This award, because of his anti-Semitism, triggered controversy and raised literary questions about whether a supposedly insane poet who held such contentious views could produce a work of any value.  Concerning Pound’s most famous work, The Cantos, Hemingway wrote, "The best of Pound's writing—and it is in The Cantos—will last as long as there is any literature."  The result of numerous campaigns by his fellow writers, led to his release from St. Elizabeth’s in 1958.  When he was released, he returned to live in Italy until his death in 1972.

Through mythical, historical and contemporary figures Pound mirrored the poetry and ideas of the past and present.  Pound hoped that fascism could establish the sort of society in which the arts could flourish.  Although Pound was an American citizen he considered American culture isolated from the traditions that make the arts possible, and depicted Walt Whitman as an "exceedingly nauseating pill".  While Ezra Pound, an expatriate, was viewed by many as a traitor, he may have just wanted a society which furthered the arts.  To this end and according to Katherine Anne Porter, "Pound was one of the most opinionated and unselfish men who ever lived and he made friends and enemies everywhere by the simple exercise of the classic American constitutional right of free speech."  Also, Hemingway wrote in 1925: "He defends [his friends] when they are attacked, he gets them into magazines and out of jail. He loans them money. ... He writes articles about them. He introduces them to wealthy women. He gets publishers to take their books. He sits up all night with them when they claim to be dying ... he advances them hospital expenses and dissuades them from suicide."


List of References:

"Ezra Pound." N.p. Web. 06 December. 2010.


"Responsibilities, by W. B. Yeats by Ezra Pound : Poetry Magazine [article/magazine]." The Poetry Foundation : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry. N.p. Web. 06 December. 2010. <>.

"Imagist Poetry." Before Imagism. Ed. Jones Peter. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972. Web. 06 December. 2010. <>.

"Poems by Ezra Pound." Poets.  N.p.  Web. 06 Dec. 2010. <>.

"Ezra Pound." - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More. N.p., 1997. Web. 06 December. 2010. <>.

Alvin Langdon Coburn.  "Ezra Loomis Pound."  1913.  Kensington, London.  06 December 2010.

Last modified at 12/14/2010 4:46 PM  by Chiodo, Christian