Ezra Pound is the poet probably most responsible for establishing and promoting the modernist aesthetic in poetry. He, as one individual, promoted and facilitated the exchange of ideas and work across the globe. He connected British and American writers. He also very generously advanced the careers of writers and poets such as T. S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, James Joyce, and Ernest Hemingway. His Cantos is an epic work of modern poetry.
In 1945 Ezra Pound returned to the United States after a voluntary exile in Italy where he had participated in Fascist politics. He was promptly arrested. In 1946 he was acquitted but then committed to a hospital for the mentally ill. He was released from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington D.C. after twelve years due to the continued efforts of writers and poets who petitioned on his behalf. While he was committed in St. Elizabeth’s, the jury of the Bollingen-Library of Congress Award (which included many of the most eminent writers of the time) decided to look past Pound’s political involvement with the Fascists in the interest of recognizing his poetic achievements. They awarded him the prize for the Pisan Cantos (1948).
Pound’s significant contributions to poetry began with his conception of Imagism, a movement in poetry which derived its technique from classical Chinese and Japanese poetry. The Imagists movement stressed clarity, precision, and economy of words over traditional rhyme and meter. Pound summed up his ideas by saying that a poet should “compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in the sequence of the metronome.”
Portrait d’une Femme
by Ezra Pound
Your mind and you are our Sargasso Sea,
London has swept about you this score years
And bright ships left you this or that in fee:
Ideas, old gossip, oddments of all things,
Strange spars of knowledge and dimmed wares of price.
Great minds have sought you—lacking someone else.
You have been second always. Tragical?
No. You preferred it to the usual thing:
One dull man, dulling and uxorious,
One average mind—with one thought less, each year.
Oh, you are patient, I have seen you sit
Hours, where something might have floated up.
And now you pay one. Yes, you richly pay.
You are a person of some interest, one comes to you
And takes strange gain away:
Trophies fished up; some curious suggestion:
Fact that leads nowhere; and a tale or two,
Pregnant with mandrakes, or with something else
That might prove useful and yet never proves,
That never fits a corner or shows use,
Or finds its hour upon the loom of days:
The tarnished, gaudy, wonderful old work;
Idols and ambergris and rare inlays,
These are your riches, your great store; and yet
For all this sea-hoard of deciduous things,
Strange woods half sodden, and new brighter stuff:
In the slow float of differing light and deep,
No! there is nothing! In the whole and all,
Nothing that’s quite your own.
Yet this is you.