Ezra Pound - Poems and Translations

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"News That Stays News" -- the New Pound

Oct 27, 2004 (Updated Oct 27, 2004)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:At last -- a comprehensive collection of Pound's poetry, with selected translations, notes, and chronology.

Cons:No cons that I can see -- but not the best book for beginners.

The Bottom Line: Get this and The Cantos and you have all of Pound's poetry -- and like everything else from the Library of America, it's a very fine book.


For the first time - and it took a long time, too long a time in coming - we have a comprehensive collection of Ezra Pound's poetry and select translations. This beautiful volume from the Library of America does not include The Cantos or prose translations like the stories of Paul Morand, but it does finally gather all of the poems that until now were scattered in various collections (mostly published by New Directions, some now difficult to obtain) -- and it includes more than fifty pages of uncollected poems. With the index, fairly exhaustive notes, and a fine chronology of Pound's life by the editor, Richard Sieburth - the reader gets 1363 pages of the essential Ez - everything from his version of the Confucian Analects to snappy little poems written for BLAST.

For anyone into Pound, this book is obviously a must - so I'll mostly confine my comments here (an appreciation, not really a review) to whether getting this lovely volume is a good way to enter the mysterious, complex and conflicted world of one of the twentieth century's most important and most controversial poets. Whether you want to enter Pound's world at all is obviously up to you - it's disturbing, though, that his difficult and at times noxious politics now seem to lead some casual readers to simply dismiss him (he was caged by American forces for treason - his broadcasts for fascist Italy - and ended up in a mental hospital... his time behind bars, when he expected to be executed, resulted in some of his greatest work, the Pisan Cantos).

To those who've not encountered anything by Pound except perhaps "In a Station of the Metro" ("The apparition of these faces in the crowd; / Petals on a wet, black bough.") or maybe the famous dictum, "literature is news that stays news" - I'd still suggest starting with the slim Selected Poems published by New Directions and now in its thirtieth printing. It's a concentrated, excellent selection. This new volume is necessary if you want all of the poetry - and I think anyone who's read some of what Pound did not include in Personae, his standard collection, will want all of the poetry - but if you're interested in the poems you may not be interested in his translations of the Sophoclean dramas, for instance, or in The Unwobbling Pivot. There is no introduction - this is not meant as an introductory book.

Still, some of the work that's moved me the most can be found only here and in the Collected Early Poems - and there's really no reason to buy the Early Poems anymore. If you're hungry for more than what is in the Selected, get this instead of any other collection - everything and more is in here. If you're really hungry - get this, The Cantos, Carroll F. Terrell's A Companion to the Cantos, and Selected Prose 1909-1965 - and, er, a big pile of dictionaries. I'd also suggest The Spirit of Romance and Paul Blackburn's anthology, Proensa, to help shed light on the Troubadours (and one of the best parts of the Library of America edition, the Arnaut Daniel). Poets' versions of "L'Aura Amara" alone could make a fantastic book. If you're truly ravenous - you probably don't need any of this advice.

But if you're new to Pound, don't be intimidated... the only thing that should keep you from the work is a closed mind - "trees open, their minds stand before them" (Canto CVI). By this I mean - if you are going to enter Ezra's world by this or any other book, don't expect to "get" it right away. You will find a sustained musicality -

"form is cut from the lute's neck, tone is from the bowl
Oak boughs alone over Selloi"

- and that could be enough to seduce you into reading further (both this passage and the line from CVI were taken as epigraphs for works by Ken Irby), but there's a lot that's difficult. There's breathtaking beauty in this book, and it is a wonderful volume for perusal - open it to read a poem or part of a poem, and you may be awed by some image or sound; Pound's eye and especially his ear are perhaps unmatched.

But if you're turned off when you don't immediately understand a text - you probably won't like this book or any of Pound's books. Even some of his most sublime work - Cantos XXXIX and XLVII are erotic to the point of raising goose pimples or drawing tears, for example - isn't easy, and Pound couldn't care less:

"I join these words for four people,
Some others may overhear them,
O world, I am sorry for you,
You do not know these four people."

("Causa.") The difficulty is not from obscurity, though - it's a matter of complexity and sometimes of reference. He was a master of form, and the poems actually strive for clarity - he means to "make it new," but the newness involves an amazing exhumation of the ancient, from the forgotten Cavalcanti to his efforts to bring the Chinese poets into English. "Man reading should be man intensely alive. The book should be a ball of light in one's hand." His work is a ball of light, and in some ways he was the last poet with the guts - and maybe hubris - to try to handle such an all-encompassing ball.


Recommend this product? Yes

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