Introduction: Some of our Best Poets are Fascists



In 1934, Ezra Pound published a collection of essays entitled Make it New, including a long and important piece called ‘Cavalcanti: Medievalism’, which is subsequently dated ‘1910–1934’. Making it new out of the medieval: ‘I hadn’t in 1910 made a language, I don’t mean a language to use, but even a language to think in.’1 Pound had arrived in Europe in 1908, aged twenty-three, with a small collection of poems which he published privately in Venice under the title A Lume Spento. In London he produced selections from this work, adding new texts in a series of volumes: A Quinzaine for this Yule (1908), Personae and Exultations (1909) and Canzoni (1911), from which the title Personae was recovered in 1926 as the generic title for Pound’s collected shorter poems. Referring to the earlier Personae, Pound wrote in 1914 that it represented the beginning of a ‘ “search for oneself” ‘, for ‘ “sincere self-expression” ‘, a ‘search for the real’.2 The voices and techniques experimented with in his first works constitute, then, a double project for both a ‘language’ and a poetic ‘self, which then become the base for his collected shorter poems and the major work, The Cantos. His main resources in this first period (1908–11) were those writers discussed technically and historically in his Spirit of Romance (1910) — the Troubadours of Provence, the Tuscan poets, their contemporaries and successors: making it new out of the medieval.


Literary History Industrial Capitalism Eternal Truth English Verse Aesthetic Pleasure 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 6.
    Citation for the Bollingen Prize for Poetry, quoted in Ezra Pound: The Critical Heritage, ed. Eric Hornberger (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972) p. 26.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    Donald Davie, Ezra Pound: Poet as Sculptor (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965) p. 242.Google Scholar
  3. See also A Casebook on Ezra Pound, ed. William Van O’Connor and Edward Stone (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1959), which includes a selection of materials documenting the contemporary debate.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Peter Nicholls has recently made quite clear in what ways the Pisan Cantos are very much not a gesture of defeat or repentance; rather ‘the “heroism” and “courage” for which the sequence has been praised often entail a holding-fast to those very ideas and principles which most critics are keen to see the poet “transcend” ‘— Peter Nicholls, Ezra Pound: Politics, Economics and Writing (London: Macmillan, 1984) p. 163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 9.
    Hugh Kenner effectively launched modern Pound studies with his The Poetry of Ezra Pound (London: Faber & Faber, 1951). His The Pound Era (London: Faber & Faber, 1975), a study of modernism centred on Pound, Wyndham Lewis, James Joyce and T. S. Eliot, represented the case for Pound as modernist at the most ambitious level, as the title suggests.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    The term ‘objective correlative’ was coined by T. S. Eliot, but the concept owes much to Pound’s argument in SR & see Hugh Witemeyer, The Poetry of Ezra Pound, 1908–1920: Forms and Renewals (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969) p. 29.Google Scholar
  7. 11.
    T. S. Eliot, in Poetry (Chicago), Sep 1946.Google Scholar
  8. 18.
    Interview with Donald Hall, Paris Review, 28 (1962).Google Scholar
  9. 18.
    Interview with Donald Hall, Paris Review, 28 (1962). in Writers at Work, 2nd ser. ed. George Plimpton (New York: Viking, 1963) p. 33.Google Scholar
  10. 21.
    Arthur Symons, The Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899; rev. 1908, 1919; New York: E. P. Dutton, 1958) p. xix.Google Scholar
  11. 22.
    Ford Madox Ford, in Critical Writings of Ford Madox Ford, ed. Frank MacShane (Lincoln, Nebr.: University of Nebraska Press, 1964) p. 154. Ford was related to the Pre-Raphaelites through his maternal grandfather, the painter Ford Madox Brown, who was also the father of William Michael Rossetti’s wife (Madox Brown’s daughter by a previous marriage). Pound to an extent works out his relations with Dante Gabriel Rossetti in his translations of the Sonnets and Ballate of Guido Cavalcanti (1912), which Rossetti had himself translated in an influential edition.Google Scholar
  12. See the discussion in David Anderson, Pound’s Cavalcanti: An Edition of the Translations, Notes, and Essays (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983) pp. xvii–xviii.Google Scholar
  13. 23.
    Ian F. A. Bell, Critic as Scientist: The Modernist Poetics of Ezra Pound (London: Methuen, 1981) p. 229. I make considerable use of this book throughout the present work. I also rely on its most thorough discussion of Pound’s poetics (rather than his practice) and its relations to fields of science which are not embraced by my own work. Bell selects four familiar keynotes of the poetics: ‘his analogies from geometry and electromagnetism, his campaign for the seriousness of the artist, his conceptions of the “vortex” and of “tradition” ‘p. 3). He contextualises Pound’s model of diagnosis, the luminous detail and the virtu, lines of force, the Vortex itself, the ideogram, tradition and historicity, the ‘repeat’, myth and metamorphosis, the palimpsest, etymologies, a language of objects, pattern, design and harmony of process, in terms of a poetic model of transcendentalism and scientific models of, mainly, atomic physics and biology. Besides the clearer dependencies, what will be less visible is the extent to which Ian Bell’s work has informed and assisted my own beyond what can be indicated by direct reference.Google Scholar
  14. 25.
    There is of course the case of the Georgian poets and their (especially commercial) popularity. This success in relation to the modern reading public is, however, very much achieved at the cost of a marginalisation of the scope of poetry, reduced to a rather parochial pastoral mode dependent on sustaining a myth of ‘England’, most of which was destroyed (as we know, all too literally) by the First World War. It is none the less curious how many contemporary poets have recently returned to the sort of attention to place (as opposed, for example, to Pound’s internationalist perspective) as is encountered in the work of the best of the Georgians, such as Edward Thomas. Despite the fact that many of them also acknowledge or exhibit the influence of Pound, the work of poets such as Basil Bunting (Briggflatts, 1965).Google Scholar
  15. Geoffrey Hill (King Log, 1968; Mercian Hymns, 1971), Seamus Heaney, Jeremy Hooker, Ronald Johnson and Jonathan Williams also demonstrates a recuperation of this alternative response to the fate of poetry in the modern world.Google Scholar
  16. Geoffrey Hill (King Log, 1968; Mercian Hymns, 1971), Seamus Heaney, Jeremy Hooker, Ronald Johnson and Jonathan Williams also demonstrates a recuperation of this alternative response to the fate of poetry in the modern world.Google Scholar
  17. 26.
    Paul Valéry, ‘Existence du Symbolisme’ (1938), Oeuvres, I (Paris: Pléiade, 1962) 689–90.Google Scholar
  18. 29.
    The Context of English Literature: 1900–1930, ed. Michael Bell (London: Methuen, 1980) p. 18.Google Scholar
  19. 32.
    Paul Valéry, ‘Dialogue ou nouveau fragment relatif à M Teste’, M Teste (1946; Paris: Gallimard, 1969) p. 97.Google Scholar
  20. 59.
    Walter Lippman, A Preface to Politics (London: Fisher & Unwin, 1909) pp. 49–51.Google Scholar
  21. See also, for example, Graham Wallas, Human Nature in Politics (London: Constable, 1908), of which Lippman made considerable use. Wallas, a professor at the London School of Economics, was close to the radical Liberals, and to the New Age circle.Google Scholar
  22. 64.
    See Julian Cornell, The Trial of Ezra Pound: A Documentary Account of the Treason Trial by the Defendant’s Lawyer (London: Faber & Faber, 1967), and also a recent, rather more sensationalist account, which none the less includes new material:Google Scholar
  23. E. Fuller Torrey, The Roots of Treason: Ezra Pound and the Secrets of St Elizabeth’s (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1984).Google Scholar
  24. 66.
    Charles Olson, in Charles Olson and Ezra Pound: An Encounter at St Elizabeths, ed. Catherine Seelye (New York: Grossman, 1975) pp. 19–20.Google Scholar
  25. 68.
    George Orwell, ‘Politics and the English Language’ (1946), in ‘Inside the Whale’ and Other Essays (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962) p. 143.Google Scholar
  26. 70.
    Orwell, ‘Politics versus Literature’ (1946), ibid., p. 139.Google Scholar
  27. 72.
    Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ 1936, in Illuminations (London: Fontana, 1970) p. 243.Google Scholar
  28. 73.
    Geoffrey Hartman, The Fate of Reading (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975) p. 258.Google Scholar
  29. 74.
    David Jones, ‘Art and Democracy’ (1947), in Epoch and Artist, ed. Harman Grisewood (London: Faber & Faber, 1959) p. 85.Google Scholar
  30. 75.
    Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, ed. Pierre Cabane (1967), tr. Ron Padgett (New York: Viking, 1971) p. 16.Google Scholar
  31. 76.
    David Jones, ‘Preface to The Anathameta’ (1951), in Epoch and Artist, ed. Grisewood, p. 108.Google Scholar
  32. 77.
    In this respect, it is worth bearing in mind Edward Dorn’s critique of ‘the concept of absolutism in terms of style’. He argues that ‘that’s the whole point of democracy — that it demands style’ — Edward Dorn: Views, ed. Donald Allen (San Francisco: Four Seasons Foundation, 1980) p. 20. The conclusion that I would draw from his remarks is that not only is style power, but the right to personal styles (as opposed to the commodity of fashion: ‘When diminished expectations are sold as a commodity, you get Governor Brown and Linda Ronstadt’ — p. 23) is a component of democracy.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martin A. Kayman 1986

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations