The Unknown Masterpiece: Yeats and the Design of the Cantos

  • Warwick Gould


God damn Yeats’ bloody paragraph. Done more to prevent people reading Cantos for what is on the page than any other smoke screen.


Multiple Perspective Unfinished Work Artistic Failure Historical Task Time Literary Supplement 
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  1. 2.
    ‘Opposition is true Friendship’, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, plate 20, in David V. Erdman (ed.), The Poetry and Prose of William Blake (Garden City, Doubleday, 1965; hereafter cited as Blake) p. 41.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    W. B. Yeats, A Packet for Ezra Pound (Dublin: Cuala Press, 1929) pp. 1–2, hereafter cited in the text as APEP. The passage is repeated without change in A Vision (London: Macmillan, 1937) p. 4; hereafter cited as AV B. Other standard abbreviations for Yeats’s works used hereafter are as follows: The Variorum Edition of the Poems of W. B. Yeats, edited by Peter Allt and Russell K. Alspach (London: Macmillan, 1957, 1966)-VP; The Variorum Edition of the Plays of W. B. Yeats, edited by Russell K. Alspach, assisted by Catherine C. Alspach (London: Macmillan, 1966)-VP1; Autobiographies (London: Macmillan, 1955)-Au; Essays and Introductions (London: Macmillan, 1961)-E&I; The Letters of W. B. Yeats, edited by Allan Wade (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1954)-L; The Oxford Book of Modern Verse (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1936)-OBMV. Other standard abbreviations from Yeats’s works are introduced as needed, below. The abbreviations of titles of the works of Ezra Pound are the standard abbreviations of this volume.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    On which see John Harwood’s excellent Olivia Shakespear and W. B. Yeats: After Long Silence (London: Macmillan, 1989)Google Scholar
  4. Ann Saddlemyer (ed.), ‘George, Ezra, Dorothy and Friends: Twenty-Six Letters, 1918–59’, in Warwick Gould (ed.), Yeats Annual No. 7, including Essays in Memory of Richard Ellmann, edited by Ronald Schuchard (London: Macmillan Press, 1990) pp. 4–28; EPDS passim.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See, for example, Thomas Parkinson’s classic essay, ‘Yeats and Pound: the Illusion of Influence’, in Comparative Literature, 6:3 (Summer 1953) pp. 256–64, reprinted in Poets, Poems, Movements (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1987) pp. 21–30; Herbert Schneidau, ‘Pound and Yeats: The Question of Symbolism’, ELH, 32:2 (June 1965) pp. 220–37; Richard Ellmann, ‘Ez and Old Billyum’, in Eminent Domain: Yeats among Wilde, Joyce, Pound, Eliot and Auden (New York: OUP, 1967; hereafter cited as Ellmann) pp. 57–87; Terence Diggory, Yeats and American Poetry: The Tradition of the Self (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983; hereafter cited as Diggory) pp. 31–58, useful on the influence of Yeats on Pound but inclined to overstress Pound’s ‘humanist spiritualism’ (p. 53). The high point of the counterclaim that Yeats but prepared for the coming of American High Modernism can be found in George Bornstein’s xenophobic essay, ‘Romancing the (Native) Stone: Yeats, Stevens and the Anglocentric Canon’. Bornstein thinks that Pound helped Yeats to ‘renegotiate the relation between Ireland and England in his poetry, and to de-Anglicize his own romanticism’: the result was the ‘de-center[ing] of England’. The claim assumes that Yeats could not make up his mind that he was an Irish poet before the arrival of Pound’s ‘modernist patterns’. See Gene W. Ruoff (ed.), The Romantics and Us (New Brunswick and London: Rutgers University Press, 1990) pp. 108–29, at p. 117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    On this period of their lives see A. Walton Litz, ‘The Road to Stone Cottage’, in George Bornstein (ed.), Ezra Pound among the Poets (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1985) pp. 128–48Google Scholar
  7. James Longenbach, Stone Cottage: Pound, Yeats, and Modernism (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), which reiterates and overstresses the case made for Yeats and Pound as the’ secret Society of Modernism’ in Longenbach’s essay of that title in Warwick Gould (ed.), Yeats Annual No. 4 (London: Macmillan, 1986) pp. 103–20. See, however, John Harwood’s review’ The Hollow Man’, in Warwick Gould (ed.), Yeats Annual No. 8 (London: Macmillan Press, 1990) pp. 249–58, especially pp. 256 onwards; also, see Warwick Gould, ‘An Empty Theatre? Yeats as Minstrel in Responsibilities’, in Jacqueline Genet (ed.), Studies on W. B. Yeats (Caen: Groupe de Recherches d’Etudes anglo-irlandaises du CNRS, 1989) pp. 79–118, especially at pp. 100–104, from which the following argument is developed.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    Poetry (Chicago) IV, II (May 1914) pp. 64–9, quoted from T. S. Eliot (ed.), Literary Essays of Ezra Pound (London: Faber and Faber, 1954) pp. 378–81, at p. 379.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Richard J. Finneran, George Mills Harper, William M. Murphy (eds), Letters to W. B. Yeats (London: Macmillan, 1977) vol. I, p. 289. John Butler Yeats returned to the attack in a further letter of 14 August 1914, characterising Pound as sharing with most Americans, but especially American women, a desire to live a’ surface life’ which ’shuts them out of the world of dream and desire. Not for them the shaping power of imagination. They are exiles consoling themselves as they can, by saying things which are to convince themselves and others that they are superior beings…. So you see why I prefer your Two Kings, which I cannot read without tears, the intensity instantly assuaged by the rhythms of art, and the tears of sorrow mingling with the tears of beauty’ (ibid., p. 301).Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    Humphrey Carpenter, A Serious Character: The Life of Ezra Pound (London: Faber, 1988) pp. 308–9; hereafter cited as Carpenter. I am most grateful to Dr Mary de Rachewiltz for the information about the two following inscriptions. The volume is at Brunnenburg. I am grateful to the Ezra Pound Literary Property Trust for permission to quote Pound’s comment, which remains copyright, and to A. P. Watt Ltd, Michael and Anne Yeats for permission to quote Yeats’s inscription, also copyright. What Pound had in fact written is recalled by Sir Frederick Macmillan in refusing the book to A. P. Watt. He was’ sorry to say that we are not disposed to undertake the publication of Mr. Ezra Pound’s suggested anthology. Perhaps as we were the original publishers of the “Golden Treasury” edited by him who Mr. Pound calls “that blockhead Palgrave” we should hardly be the appropriate people to deal with it’ (British Library Additional MSS 55541, f. 168, 22 February 1917).Google Scholar
  11. 21.
    Yeats had always been preoccupied with the order and arrangement of his own work into books. See W. Gould, ‘Appendix Six: The Definitive Edition’, in A. Norman Jeffares (ed.), Yeats’s Poems (London: Macmillan, 2nd rev. edn, 1991) pp. 706–49.Google Scholar
  12. 23.
    See Edward O’Shea, A Descriptive Catalog of W. B. Yeats’s Library (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1985; hereafter cited as YL followed by item number).Google Scholar
  13. 24.
    If the comment has a point of reference in the conclusion to Canto LXXXVIII, where heart, diamond, club and spade offer a vertical parallel to ‘And / fifty / 2/ weeks / in / 4/ seasons /’ (C 589), then it is well to note that Yeats was dead before Pound had written the passage. Yeats might have been referring to Tarot cards, which-such is their welter of symbolical detail-provide narrative in whatever way they are dealt. The ‘kings, queens, knaves’ however suggest ordinary playing cards and one recalls too the’ scattered… cards’ in Yeats’s own ‘The Host of the Air’. A game of ‘evil chance’ is the means by which the faery host trick O’Driscoll from his bride (VP 145). Scattered cards and scattered wits recur in the story ‘Red Hanrahan’ (Warwick Gould, Phillip L. Marcus and Michael J. Sidnell [eds], The Secret Rose, Stories by W. B. Yeats: A Variorum Edition [London: Macmillan Press, 1992; hereafter cited as VSR] pp. 88 onwards) and in ‘The Tower’ (VP 411–2); the trope is for Yeats a symbol of being lured ‘away’ from reality into subjectivity and dream.Google Scholar
  14. 25.
    Keats to Shelley, [16] August 1820. See Maurice Buxton Forman (ed.), The Letters of John Keats (Oxford: OUP, 1935) p. 507.Google Scholar
  15. 27.
    An echo of this critique might survive in Pound’s eloquent admission of failure I have brought the great ball of crystal; who can lift it? Can you enter the great acorn of light? (C CXVI 795–6) For other explanations of the image, see Colin McDowell and Timothy Materer, ‘Gyre and Vortex: W. B. Yeats and Ezra Pound’, in Twentieth-Century Literature, 31:4 (Winter 1985) pp. 343–67, at pp. 352–9. Their article makes considerable use of comparisons of occult images, but their case for Pound as an occultist depends wholly on his use of Yeats and seems unproven. The distinction Yeats proposed between style and form has been temporarily lost: on the current use of this passage in the debate about the form of the Cantos, see below, pp. 72ff.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 29.
    On the general subject of Yeats and his reading of Balzac, and for a list of previous criticism of the subject, see Warwick Gould, “‘A Crowded Theatre”: Yeats and Balzac’, in A. Norman Jeffares (ed.), Yeats the European (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe; Savage, Maryland: Barnes & Noble Books, 1989) pp. 69–90, 292–9, esp. n. 6.Google Scholar
  17. 36.
    See passage quoted above, p. 43, for Yeats’s shared discussions of sculpture with Pound. See Hugh Kenner, The Poetry of Ezra Pound (Norfolk, Conn.: New Directions, 1950) p. 123, for the origin of the ‘poet-as-sculptor’ analogy for Pound’s work. See also Donald Davie, Ezra Pound: Poet as Sculptor (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964). On sculpture and Yeats and Pound see Michael North, The Final Sculpture: Public Monuments and Modern Poets (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1985) passim. North does not, however, discuss the nexus of the Balzac passage.Google Scholar
  18. 39.
    The title, of course, of a sequence of three poems: see CSP 187, first published as “Φαvoπδεια”, in the Little Review, November 1918, and collected as ‘Phanopoeia’ in Personae 1926. See Carpenter 329 on the origins of the concept of ‘casting of images upon the visual imagination’ and pp. 287–8 on its relation to the genesis of the Cantos. In its first usage Pound did not supply the translation (‘“light-” or “image-making”’, so frequently provided in the same context by subsequent printings), but told Joyce: ‘I have begun an endless poem, of no known category. Phanopoeia or something or other, all about everything…. I wonder what you will make of it. Probably too sprawling and unmusical to find favour in your ears. Will try to get some melody into it further on’ (April 1917, P/J 102). Forrest Read suggests in his note that the word is Pound’s ‘original, provisional title for his long poem’ (ibid.). Eva Hesse repeats the idea in her ‘The End of the Cantos’, in Harold Bloom (ed.), Ezra Pound (New York, New Haven, Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987; hereafter cited as Bloom) pp. 25–40, at p. 39. The concept is discussed in my forthcoming ‘Phantasmagoria and Phantastikon: Yeats, Pound and the Poetics of Flux’.Google Scholar
  19. 40.
    Blake, p. 540; Edwin John Ellis and William Butler Yeats (eds), The Works of William Blake Poetic, Symbolic and Critical etc., vol. II (London: Bernard Quaritch, 1893) p. 380.Google Scholar
  20. 42.
    ‘But one day a student introduced Michael to a young man who was not working, but was wandering from easel to easel. Michael told him what he wanted, and he was excited at once, but first said he must explain to Michael his own plan, that they might understand each other. He brought Michael into the Reading Room and showed him a copy of Leonardo’s book on drawing, which he had been studying. “It is no use”, he said, “trying to draw imaginative figures, whether in patterns or not, by copying models or statues. One must make up these figures out of one’s head, just as one makes sentences, and to do that one must give all the forces of one’s mind. One must have an ideal form and afterwards add whatever expression one wanted.” He came home with Michael and began drawing, but after half an hour he stopped to discourse. Curves, he said, were related to the emotional nature and angles to the intellectual, and… after a little, gradually Michael realized that this young man was interested in ideals but not in art and that he would never get him to draw anything.’ See William H. O’Donnell (ed.), The Speckled Bird by William Butler Yeats with Variant Versions (Toronto: McLelland and Stewart, 1976) p. 80.Google Scholar
  21. 44.
    Jerome J. McGann chooses this very point on which to align Pound and Blake. If it is the case that Pound really did prefer hard to soft outlines, Yeats’s criticism must have been very painful. See Jerome J. McGann, Towards a Literature of Knowledge (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989; hereafter cited as McGann) p. 118. For a refutation of McGann’s arguments on the form of the Cantos, see below, pp. 69–74.Google Scholar
  22. 50.
    An American private collection contains Olivia Shakespear’s copy of A Packet for Ezra Pound (Dublin: The Cuala Press, 1929). It is inscribed on the blue front free end-paper ‘Olivia Shakespear from W. B. Yeats’ but undated. Yeats has, however, revised the first stanza of ‘Meditations upon Death’, on p. 9, in an early try-out of the revisions which went into the London Mercury (November 1930) text of the poem (see VP 493–4vv.). See Warwick Gould, ‘Olivia Shakespear’s Copies of Yeats’s Books’, in Deirdre Toomey (ed.), Yeats and Women: Yeats Annual No. 9 (London: Macmillan, 1992) pp. 295–308. Pound’s own presentation copy is in the Beinecke Library, Yale University. It is inscribed ‘Ezra Pound frm W. B. Yeats, August 1929.’, and ‘Meditations on Death’ is also ‘heavily corrected’, according to Dr Mary de Rachewiltz, to whom I am indebted for the information.Google Scholar
  23. 52.
    According to the letters of Quinn to Yeats, John Butler Yeats’s future in New York had been under close discussion since 13 September 1920. By 5 June 1921, the self-portrait JBY was doing under Quinn’s patronage had become ‘a huge joke. About a month ago he told me that he had scraped it all out and was beginning over again…[t]he last time I saw it the paint was a quarter of an inch thick on it and of no particular color or of all colors’. By 11 June the picture had become ‘very threadbare’ as an ‘excuse’ for JBY’s continued life in New York. The progress of Quinn’s view of the matter can be measured in Alan B. Himber (ed.), The Letters of John Quinn to William Butler Yeats (Ann Arbor, Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1983; hereafter cited as Quinn) pp. 240 onwards, especially, pp. 253, 255, 259, 261 (‘I don’t want the thing. The paint on it is half an inch thick. It would only be a freak and of no art value whatever I mentioned it to him two or three years ago as an excuse for paying him some money and he has been harping on it ever since’), 262–3 (the ‘damn mess of a picture’), 265, 272. The picture remains in the family collection.Google Scholar
  24. 54.
    Such as his letter to Homer Pound of 11 April 1927, in which Pound offers the ‘outline of the main scheme’ of the ‘whole damn poem’: 1. Rather like, or unlike [my italics] subject and response and counter subject in fugue. A. A. Live man goes down into world of Dead C. B. The ‘repeat in history’ B. C. The ‘magic moment’ or moment of metamorphosis, bust thru from quotidien into ‘divine or permanent world.’ Gods, etc. (SL 210) See also Kay Davis, Fugue and Fresco: Structure in Pound’s Cantos (Orono: National Poetry Foundation, 1984) passim, but see also William Harmon’s review of the book in Paideuma 17:2 and 3 (Fall and Winter 1988) pp. 261–3. In Kay Davis’s ‘Fugue and Canto LXIII’, in Paideuma 11:1 (Spring 1982) pp. 15–38, there is a useful history of the red herring (rather than frog) which the idea of fugue has provided for critics since H. W. Hausermann’s ‘W. B. Yeats’s Criticism of Ezra Pound’, English Studies 29:4 (1948) pp. 14–15.Google Scholar
  25. 55.
    ‘Well, I thought he’d caused a good deal of confusion by talking about a “fugue,” and as he wouldn’t have known the difference between a fugue and… what shall we say?… I mean to say, his idea of fugue was very vague so he can’t t have known what the hell I was talking about… I don’t think Yeats knew what a fugue was.’ See D. G. Bridson, ‘An Interview with Ezra Pound’, New Directions 17 (New York: New Directions, 1961) p. 172.Google Scholar
  26. 56.
    Such as Stephen J. Adams, ‘Are the Cantos a Fugue?’, University of Toronto Quarterly 45 (1975) pp. 67–74, at pp. 71,74. The analogy, he concludes, ‘must prove futile’. However, R. Murray Schafer, in the introduction to his Ezra Pound and Music: The Complete Criticism, has a lingering attachment to the idea (pp. 17–22).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 67.
    James’s story depends heavily on what he calls ‘that terrible little tale of Balzac’s’, but turns on the fate of an American artist who is obsessed by the magnificence of his idea for a painting of the Madonna. Its subject in real life ages for twenty years while he confronts a blank canvas. James’s tale, with its American hero of ‘flame-coloured locks… black velvet coat… interminable harangues on the Beautiful’ would have been well known to Pound. Dorothy Pound was also a devoted reader of Henry James. See The Tales of Henry James, vol. II; 1870–1874, ed. Maqbool Aziz (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978) pp. 202 onwards, especially pp. 206, 213. Also see Philip Home, Henry James and Revision: The New York Edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990) pp. 119–28. Frank Kermode, in Romantic Image (1957; London: Fontana, 1971), recalls Yeats’s use of Balzac’s story in respect of Pound, while noting that the value of Mallarmé’s conversation ‘evaporated when [he] wrote it down’ (pp. 131–2, see also pp. 77, 151).Google Scholar
  28. 71.
    Donald Davie, Pound (London: Fontana, 1975) p. 12Google Scholar
  29. M. A. Bernstein, The Tale of the Tribe: Ezra Pound and the Modern Verse Epic (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980; hereafter cited as Bernstein) p. 115.Google Scholar
  30. 80.
    Agreeing with Fredric Jameson that an ‘unexamined [my italics] valorization of the open’ suits ‘the ideological climate of a contemporary American pluralism’ (Rajan 280), quoted from Fredric Jameson, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981) p. 31. Jameson’s point could well be the basis for an ideological enquiry into the American reputation of Ezra Pound.Google Scholar
  31. 82.
    Well, not quite. A fragment from the book is published as ‘Its Own Executioner: Yeats and the Fragment’ in Richard J. Finneran (ed.), Yeats: An Annual of Critical and Textual Studies III, 1985 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press) pp. 72–87. Rajan continues the arguments of his book that Yeats’s is a ‘poetry of stances’ in which ‘the decisive closure a stance invites may have to be placed in relationship to other stances elsewhere in the oeuvre. Closure is often brought about by exclusion and a poem thus closed can take various attitudes to its potential interrogation by that which it excludes. A text may solicit a countertext within the oeuvre but also from the reader…’ (Rajan 302–3). In his follow-up article Rajan proposes that ‘The countertruth to the assertion that Yeats ignores the fragment may be that Yeats writes only in fragments’ (p. 77). This dialogic reading is profoundly true from the perspective of the book of Yeats’s poems, which makes a unity, a’ single being’ out of his ‘congeries of beings’ (Explorations, selected by Mrs W. B. Yeats [London: Macmillan, 1962] p. 305, a passage Rajan meditates upon in both book [pp. 302–3] and article [p. 781). But this is only the case if one substitutes ‘parts’ for ‘fragments’. The double focus which the unity of Yeats’s work brings to bear on the diversity of stances in his individual poems, which always insist on being read in the contexts provided by his other poems, will not allow one to call poems ‘fragments’.Google Scholar
  32. 84.
    On Carpenter and Robert Casillo’s The Genealogy of Demons: Anti-Semitism, Fascism and the Myths of Ezra Pound (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1988), London Review of Books, 7 July 1988, 16–17; hereafter cited as EPE.Google Scholar
  33. 102.
    The material is rehandled yet again in ‘The Third World of Criticism’, in Marjorie Levinson, Marilyn Butler, Jerome McCann and Paul Hamilton, Rethinking Historicism: Critical Readings in Romantic History (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989; hereafter cited as Levinson) pp. 85–107. See below, pp. 75–6.Google Scholar
  34. 110.
    See Jerome J. McGann, The Textual Condition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991) p. 12.Google Scholar
  35. 111.
    Bayreuth: Boomerang Press-Norbert AAS, 1991. See also, his ‘Reconstructing Ezra Pound’s “Cantos”: Variorum Edition-Manuscript Archive-Reading Text’, in Erika Fischer-Lichte and Klaus Schwind (eds) Avantgarde und Postmoderne: Prozesse struktureller und funktioneller Veränderungen (Tübingen: Stauffenberg verlag, 1991) pp. 139–60. Richard Taylor presented his ideas to the History of the Book Seminar in the Publishing History of Modernism at the University of London’s Centre for English Studies on 22 January 1992.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1993

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  • Warwick Gould

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