This week I will look at some poems by the very successful proponent of the Imagist movement, Ezra Pound (1885-1972). Pound has been alternately celebrated for his extremely adept poetics, and condemned for his fascist politics and often very condescending approaches towards female subjects in his poetry as well as in reality (see his interactions with Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) for example). Pound also had a fascinating approach to poetry translation, which sometimes equated to not translating the original poem at all, but writing a poem about what he “felt” that the meaning of the poem happened to be, drawing on the original images for detail.
Things that Pound likes: Brief, clear images and language. Engaging with contemporary poets, rewriting Chinese and Japanese poems, and not using traditional poetry styles. Likes to like musicality with imagery, rather than traditional rhythm schemes.
Thing that Pound dislikes: Rejects the artifice of Georgian and Victorian poetry. Doesn’t like abstraction, too many adjectives or inverting word orders, or anything else that obscures clarity.
Things that are cool about Pound’s poetry: Despite its sophistication, Pound’s poetry is extremely accessible even to an infrequent reader of poetry. His strictness with word counts and descriptions means that his images are almost always extremely proficient as well as efficient. Even his longer poems are easy to read all at once. His experimentation with ancient Chinese, Japanese and Greek poetry, to name a few, also gives his work a sense of history, despite using a very new style at the time.
Some good poems:
One of the best-known examples of Imagism’s efficiency is “In a Station of the Metro”, a tiny fragment poem. “Further Instructions” links classical poetry motifs with modern concerns, reflecting cynically and self-depreciatingly on his own work. “Ladies” highlights Pound’s glaring issues with women, but also shows some excellent uses of description and engagements with the ancient Greek poet Sappho as a counterpoint. The speaker in “Middle-Aged” laments about his increasing age with a parallel to an entombed pharaoh, surrounded by uncomprehending “tourists”, not for his impending mortality, but for his increasing distance from his creative drive and activity.
In a Station of the Metro
Let us express our envy for the man with a steady job and no worry about the future.
You are very idle, my songs,
I fear you will come to a bad end.
You stand about the streets, You loiter at the corners and bus-stops,
You will come to a very bad end.
I have talked to you so much that I almost see you about me,
Insolent little beasts! Shameless! Devoid of clothing!But you, newest song of the lot,
You are not old enough to have done much mischief.
I will get you a green coat out of China
With dragons worked upon it.
I will get you the scarlet silk trousers
From the statue of the infant Christ at Santa Maria Novella;
Lest they say we are lacking in taste,
Or that there is no caste in this family.
Four and forty lovers had Agathas in the old days,
All of whom she refused;
And now she turns to me seeking love,
And her hair also is turning.
I have fed your lar with poppies,
I have adored you for three full years;
And now you grumble because your dress does not fit
And because I happen to say so.
Memnon, Menmon, that lady
Who used to walk about amongst us
With such gracious uncertainty,
Is now wedded
To a British householder.
Lugete, Veneres! Lugete, Cupidinesque !
Flawless as Aphrodite,
The faint odour of your patchouli,
Faint, almost, as the lines of cruelty about your chin,
Assails me, and concerns me almost as little.
As gold that rains about some buried king.
When tourists frolicking
Stamp on his roof or in the glazing light
Try photographs, wolf down their ale and cakes
And start to inspect some further pyramid;
Beneath their transitory step and merriment,
Drifts through the air, and the sarcophagus
Gains yet another crust
Of useless riches for the occupant,
So I, the fires that lit once dreams
Now over and spent,
Lie dead within four walls
And so now love
Rains down and so enriches some stiff case,
And strews a mind with precious metaphors,And so the space
Of my still consciousness
Is full of gilded snow,The which, no cat has eyes enough
To see the brightness of.