Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Ezra Pound, Anti-Semitist - a Troublesome Concept for Lovers of Great Poetry

Ezra Pound, Poet
Public Domain
Ezra Pound was born in 1885 in Hailey, Idaho and moved to Philadelphia with his parents before he was two years old. He travelled widely throughout his lifetime, studying, lecturing and meeting other authors and poets, among them Yeats, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and the philosopher T.E. Hulme. On 20 April, 1914, Pound married Dorothy Shakespear. He met T.S. Eliot the following September and was responsible for editing Eliot's The Waste Land in 1922.

Pound lived in Italy with his family for several years, but revisited the United States in 1939 in an attempt to prevent war. The poet had met Mussolini in 1933 and was impressed by the order the dictator imposed on Italy. An anti-Semitist, Pound was broadcast on Rome's radio in 1941 speaking against the Allied cause, an action that alienated some of his friends.

Ezra Pound on Trial for Treason

The United States declared war, and in 1943, in Washington, in absentia, Pound was accused of treason. From 1945, he was held in the U.S. Army Detention Training Centre near Pisa, then flown to Washington to stand trial in 1945. The following year, the poet was sent to St. Elizabeth's Hospital for the Criminally Insane, but was declared unfit for trial.

His friends, among them Eliot, Hemingway and Robert Frost, persuaded the authorities to release him and he subsequently return to Italy to live with his daughter.

An Imagist Manifesto

Ezra Pound was influenced by medieval literature and troubadour ballads. He was also strongly attracted to the aesthetic theories of the philosopher, T.E. Hulme and, in 1913, wrote an imagist manifesto with F.S. Flint which was published in Poetry Magazine.

Its aims were conciseness of expression, concentrated moments of experience, experimentation, concrete imagery and a musical rhythm rather than a rhythm that relies on the metronome. Authors who contributed to the magazine included Ford Madox Ford, James Joyce, Amy Lowell and William Carlos Williams.

At that time, Pound described himself as an imagist, and valued economy and precision in language. This later caused a quarrel with Amy Lowell, because in Pound's view, she inappropriately called herself an imagist. So incensed was Pound by the fact Lowell ignored him, that he wrote to her publisher, MacMillan, to complain and subsequently she had to find another publisher.

Vorticism - the Art of the Abstract and Non-Representational

From 1914, Pound was to become a committed supporter of the concept of vorticism, a movement of modernism that ran until around 1917 and promoted the abstract and the non-representational in painting and writing, preferring sharpness of definition. Pound defines vorticism as being: "the point of maximum energy."

The movement was inspired by Pound's friend, the sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. One of vorticism's leading figures was painter and author, Wyndham Lewis, although the term "vortex" was first used by Pound himself.

The highly-charged energy suggested by the term found favour with Wyndham Lewis and this helped vorticism to become a movement. However, Wyndham Lewis argued with another member of the movement and broke away in March 1914, forming yet another group, The Rebel Art Centre . They were joined by the sculptor, Jacob Epstein and a number of poets.

The Holocaust - Pound's Influence on Public Opinion

Pound died in Venice on 2 November, 1972, seven years after the death of his friend, T.S. Eliot. Elaine Feinstein points out that many writers assumed the worst prejudices of their time, including anti-Semitist, T.S. Eliot. She says, of Pound:

"The case against Pound is far more troubling. Pound actively contributed to the climate of opinion in which the Holocaust was allowed to happen."

This makes Pound, in Feinstein's opinion, "uncomfortable" for poetry-lovers, despite the great debt we owe to him.


"The Voice of Pound," Elaine Feinstein, PN Review No. 138, (Poetry Nation Review) Founder/Editor: Michael Schmidt, 1999.

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