Expansive Poetics – (Pound & Whitman)

So there’s two poems by Ezra Pound – I haven’t got the dates on them but I’m guessing that they’re around 1917, around World War I or before.

Commission” – First is Pound’s address to his own poems (just as Whitman had addressed his poems to go out into the world – “who touches this book touches a man” (“Camerado, this is no book,/Who touches this touches a man”) “missing me, stop somewhere, you’ll find me under your feet”(“If  you want me again look for me under your boot-soles”…”Missing me one place search another/I stop somewhere waiting for you”)

[Allen reads Ezra Pound’s “Commission” in its entirety ]- “Go, my songs, to the lonely and the unsatisfied,/Go also to the nerve-wracked, go to the enslaved-by-convention/Bear to them my contempt for their oppressors./Go as a great wave of cool water,/Bear my contempt of oppressors/ Speak against unconscious oppression,/Speak against the tyranny of the unimaginative,/Speak against bonds./Go to the bourgeoise who is dying of her ennuis,/Go to the women in suburbs/Go to the hideously wedded,/Go to them whose failure is concealed,Go to the unluckily mated,/Go to the bought wife,/Go to the woman entailed./ Go to those who have delicate lust,/Go to those whose delicate desires are thwarted./ Go like a blight upon the dulness of the world;/Go with your edge against this,/Strengthen the subtle cords,/Bring confidence upon the algae and the tentacles of the soul./Go in a friendly manner,/Go with an open speech./Be eager to find new evils and new good,/Be against all forms of oppression/Go to those who are thickened with middle age,/To those who have lost their interest./ Go to the adolescent who are smothered in family—” – (or, “go to the adolescents who are smothered in family”) – “Oh how hideous it is/To see three generations of one house gathered together! – (it’s actually one popular Whitmanic opinion that is just the opposite now – “Oh how charming to see three generations of one house gathered together!”) – “It is like an old tree with shoots,And with some branches rotted and falling./Go out and defy opinion,/ Go against this vegetable bondage of the blood./..Be against all sorts of mortmain – (“dead hand” “mort main”) – (Actually, there’s a little bit of Whitman’s reversal (in “Respondez!”), there’s a little bit of the same bitterness toward society or toward America).

However, seeing that he’d actually arrived at some kind of identical position as Whitman.. (though, as you can see, a bit more shallow – because Whitman would have loved those large mother and large fathers and large families). Here he’s actually cursing the family – the American family system (in those days, I suppose, more of a smothering influence than it’s conceived to be now.

Then there’s a very brief poem – ten lines – called “A Pact”, which is very famous, because, at this point, the high-talking, intelligent, Ezra Pound concedes something to Whitman whom he despised and talked against. He was mostly pissed at Whitman because Whitman did not invent a new measure for America. (Whitman) seemed to have abandoned all the old European measures without substituting anything new except a worn-out biblical style (which is somewhat of a fault in Whitman) – which Pound and (William Carlos) Williams tried to advance on. That is, Whitman wiped out the old measures and Pound and Williams were now trying to reconstruct some measure for the line of verse in America, and some standard for the diction that had been wiped out by Whitman’s explosion.

So Pound says – “I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman -/ I have detested you long enough./I come to you as a grown child/Who has had a pig-headed father,/I am old enough now to make friends./It was you that broke the new wood,/Now is a time for carving/We have one sap and one root -/Let there be commerce between us.” – So what did he mean, “Now is the time for carving”? – I’m interpreting that as meaning – “Now is a time for reshaping and reconstituting some kind of American measure”- and the phrase “American measure” stays with William Carlos Williams and becomes his obsession by 1950, half a century later – the idea of finding a way of measuring American verse  Yes?

[Audio for the above is available here, starting at approximately  thirty-two-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding at approximately thirty-seven-and-a-quarter minutes]

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