Warmth’s The Very Stuff of Poesy

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“A poem is good if it contains a new analogy and startles the reader out of the habit of treating words as counters.”

T. E. Hulme

Balatetta

By Ezra Pound

The light became her grace and dwelt among
Blind eyes and shadows that are formed as men;
Lo, how the light doth melt us into song:
The broken sunlight for a healm she beareth
Who hath my heart in jurisdiction.
In wild-wood never fawn nor fallow fareth
So silent light; no gossamer is spun
So delicate as she is, when the sun
Drives the clear emeralds from the bended grasses
Lest they should parch too swiftly, where she passes.


“Who hath my heart in jurisdiction. In wild-wood never fawn nor fallow fareth.” A wonderful line, yet its an example that Pound had yet to completely break free of the ties to classical poetry.  In Balatetta he was starting to bend them.  I have no idea how this poem came to be, but as someone who is fascinated by writing sonnets, I have a theory that this started out as a sonnet or he was consciously or unconsciously influenced by the sonnet structure.  It’s lines are constructed mostly of ten syllables.  The rhyming scheme further supports the theory, but what to make of the fact it has ten lines not fourteen?  Sometimes when I write I find I have said all I really want to say in fewer lines than fourteen or I edit out the fluff and lines get cut.  It would be fun to know what the real story behind the creative process on this poem.

One of the criticisms of Pound was that he was an “imitator”.  He borrowed liberally from the genius of others and found a broader audience for that creativity.  I do not find that a fault, as I think Pound furthered the discussion and built on the ideas.  Pound was a net-worker, a mentor, a connector of people, who inserted himself into the discussion among modernist thinkers and artists because he had something interesting to contribute. Where he can be faulted is trying to take more credit than he deserves for his “originality.”

One of the proof points those critics point to is that Pound’s ideas around image and his concepts of poetry were first formulated by T. E. Hulme, who died young in 1917 during WWI.  I admire Pound for building on Hulme’s work and insuring that it continued to influence his own and other’s writing after Hulme’s death.  Pound included five poems of Hulme’s in his book Ripostes and all five are striking examples of a poetic form that the Imagists would expand upon in years to come. Hulme wrote very little poetry that survives, but he was instrumental in the Imagist movement. Hulme defined image as the constant bombardment of sensory information before analysis. Image is the base of human experience.  Intellectualizing raw images, he argued, was constrained because language over-simplifies the nuanced complexity of what our eyes, ears, touch and taste experience and is therefore inadequate of our unfiltered reality.

I find it fascinating that Hulme’s ideas on poetry and image were profoundly impacted by his interactions with the philosopher Henri Bergson. Hulme sought out Bergson in France in the 1890’s to talk about Bergson’s writing. Bergson believed  there are two forms of awareness: one based on intellect, the other based intuition.  Bergson declared that intellect serves knowledge, whereas intuition serves to increase the enjoyment of life’s experience through the senses.  The idea of intuitive writing fueled the concepts that Hulme and Pound furthered in their poetry.

The decade before the start of the 20th Century was a time when science, physics, philosophy and art were still connected in creative thought.  Knowledge had yet to be partitioned into intense specialization that the great walls of minutiae had not yet been built. Bergson’s philosophy emphasizes the unexpected in novel thinking, the creative process and freedom. Bergson won the Nobel Peace prize for Literature in 1927 for his contributions on his theories around time, identity, free will, perception, change, memory, consciousness, language, and the limits of reason.

The concept that the totality of experience can not be put into words, spurred Hulme to reject the flowery, stilted language of classical poetry and experiment with a more visceral approach to verse.  He advocated for a poetic form stripped of unnecessary adjectives to allow the reader’s mind to free associate in creating their own image. Hulme felt that poetry could be a vessel for a wider array of the experiences of life if it were freed from convention.

“The artist tries to see what there is to be interested in… He has not created something, he has seen something.”

For a longer more complete overview of Hulme’s contributions to poetry check out the biography of Hulme in Poetry Foundation.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/t-e-hulme

 


The Embankment

by T. E. Hulme
……………(The fantasia of a fallen gentleman on a cold, bitter night.)
Once, in finesse of fiddles found I ecstasy,
In the flash of gold heels on the hard pavement.
Now see I
That warmth’s the very stuff of poesy.
Oh, God, make small
The old star-eaten blanket of the sky,
That I may fold it round me and in comfort lie.

 

There Is Nothing To Do But Keep On

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T. E. Hulme

 

“It is a delicate & difficult art fitting rhythm to an idea…communicating momentary phases in a poet’s mind.”

T. E. Hulme (1883 – 1917)

 

Trenches: St Eloi 

by T. E. Hulme

(Abbreviated from the Conversation of Mr TEH)

Over the flat slopes of St Eloi
A wide wall of sand bags.
Night,
In the silence desultory men
Pottering over small fires, cleaning their mess- tins:
To and fro, from the lines,
Men walk as on Piccadilly,
Making paths in the dark,
Through scattered dead horses,
Over a dead Belgian’s belly.

The Germans have rockets. The English have no rockets.
Behind the line, cannon, hidden, lying back miles.
Beyond the line, chaos:

My mind is a corridor. The minds about me are corridors.
Nothing suggests itself. There is nothing to do but keep on.


Every 200,000 years or so the Earth’s polarity switches and the magnetic poles rotate, with the compass needle swinging from north to south, and then in another 200,000 years, back again from south to north. The current magnetic field of the Earth is weakening. Although this change doesn’t happen on a human time scale, there are many scientists who feel that another polarity reversal is “imminent” in the next 10,000 years. The magnetic pole wanders around at the top of the world about 50 miles a day as the Earth spins,  in search of a good jumping off point.

In poetry, polarity shifts happen every generation. I can relate to the passion of the Imagists, who rebelled against the stuffy confines of romanticism and decided to rip-up the rules of poetry during the early 1900’s. Why do I relate to this period when rhymes were being left behind for something more abstract? It’s because part of my fascination with sonnets is it feels like I am rebelling against the current pervasiveness of free verse.  I feel the pull of poetic polarity reversing and with it the liberty to not necessarily beat the “iambic pentameter bongos,” as Billy Collins would say, but to try and find a new language within the sonnet form.  I find writing sonnets an act of rebellion with every rejection notice I receive, in the same way that I can imagine Hulme, T. S. Eliot, Pound and William Carlos Williams found it liberating to break free of it.

I have given a lot of thought about what it is I find attractive about the period of 1900 to 1950 in poetry.  I think it’s because I can relate to the language, there are not many old English words in use during this time that make sonnets and poems of a slightly earlier period sometimes difficult to understand.  I like the tension of discovery within literature during this period.  The expanse of poetry being written at the start of the 20th century is a connection to parallel movements in philosophy, painting, physics and politics, the old romantic classical period of elitist imperialistic politics not yet waned and the new modernist approaches of creative thought and social justice evolving.  This tension between old poetic forms and new fresh creative approaches infuses both with a fluidity of language that I find pleasing to my inner ear and a strength of character for the forcefulness required for change that is inspiring. The early 20th century is the final period before technology reshapes the world in every way.  And yet, without technology, all of my endeavors into poetry would not have been as likely or even possible, as the world comes to me magically through my little Chromebook and me to it.

One of things I enjoy about sonnets, is almost every poet, even the modernists from 1900 to 1950, published at least one sonnet or a poem that is based on an evolution of the sonnet structure.  Its fun to dig around and try and find the toss off, that may not represent the vast majority of a poet’s work, but was included none the less, just to show how high up on the poetic tree they could lift their leg and mark their territory.  This is a period, where the magnetic pull of sonnets and classical rhymes still heavily influences creativity, the attraction of Dante and Shakespeare still strong, that even the most ardent modernist is compelled to roll up their sleeves and try their hand, just to prove their greatness against the best.

Here’s one of Ezra’s original sonnets. I particularly like the lines, “Oh, I have picked up magic in her nearness.  To sheathe me half in half the things that sheathe her.”

A Virginal

by Ezra Pound

No, no! Go from me. I have left her lately.
I will not spoil my sheath with lesser brightness,
For my surrounding air hath a new lightness;
Slight are her arms, yet they have bound me straitly
And left me cloaked as with a gauze of æther;
As with sweet leaves; as with subtle clearness.
Oh, I have picked up magic in her nearness
To sheathe me half in half the things that sheathe her.
No, no! Go from me. I have still the flavour,
Soft as spring wind that’s come from birchen bowers.
Green come the shoots, aye April in the branches,
As winter’s wound with her sleight hand she staunches,
Hath of the trees a likeness of the savour:
As white their bark, so white this lady’s hours.

 

To Ezra Pound

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Ezra Pound

Poetic Eggs

by Ezra Pound

I am a grave poetic hen
that lays poetic eggs.
And to enhance my temperament
A little quiet begs.

We make the yolk philosophy
True beauty the albumen.
And then gum on a shell of form
To make the screed sound human.


Ode

NOUN

  • A lyric poem, typically one in the form of an address to a particular subject, written in varied or irregular metre.

    Oxford English Dictionary


To Ezra Pound

by T. A. Fry

For your convictions, not the least of which
Was treason: by what do I measure you?
Was it romance or reason that carved your niche?
An Imagist, whose chant was Make it New.
The unkept vagrant of rebellious screed,
Who Frost declared, “wanton and a poseur.”
Should I forgive your racist, fascist deeds
In lieu of your roiled poetic allure?
Pound for Pound, man’s the most fallible beast.
My own past mocks in brilliance and despair.
If our life is but A Moveable Feast*?
Let’s hope the worst is not beyond repair.
And with words, left to time, an image paint,
The truth of it; both serpent and a saint.

*Pound and Hemingway were long-time friends who both lived in Paris during the period Hemingway wrote A Moveable Feast.  The reference in the sonnet is an acknowledgement to shared passions and demons.  Hemingway lobbied for Pound’s release from the insane asylum where he was incarcerated for treason in the United States from 1945 – 1957.  Read my prior blog post, Make it New, for more stirrings on Ezra Pound.


© T. A. Fry and Fourteenlines, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to T. A. Fry and Fourteenlines with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Make It New

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Ezra Pound

 Sonnet XI

By Guido Cavalcanti (1255 – 1300)

Translated by Ezra Pound (1885 – 1972)

IF Mercy were the friend of my desires,
Or Mercy’s source of movement were the heart,
Then, by this fair, would Mercy show such art
And power of healing as my pain requires.
From torturing delight my sighs commence,
Born of the mind where Love is situate,
Go errant forth and naught save grief relate
And find no one to give them audience.
They would return to the eyes in galliard mode,
With all harsh tears and their deep bitterness
Transmuted into revelry and joy;
Were’t not unto the sad heart such annoy,
And to the mournful soul such rathe distress
That none doth deign salute them on the road.

Ezra Pound’s life story reads like fiction.  I can’t  begin to approach the expanse of it in a short blog post, so I will begin where I will end, with mercy.  Pound’s 1934 book Make it New, looked to the past and through a combination of translations, imitations and original material, sought to recast the old with a fresh voice. I am, of course, drawn to Pound’s translations of Guido Cavalcanti’s sonnets, but the sonnets are not reflective of most of Pound’s life work, in fact they stand almost diametrically opposed to Pound’s pursuit of a simpler modernistic style.

Pound was a driving force in the Imagists movement in poetry.  It was Pound who saw the genius in T. S. Eliot when no one else would publish him and forwarded on a copy of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock to Poetry magazine and promoted its publication.  To a non-academic interested in poetry, I have been shocked how I seem to run into Pound at every turn. Pound befriended and promoted the careers of many leading modernist writers of the Twentieth Century.  In addition to Eliot, Joyce, Lewis, Frost, Williams and Hemingway, he corresponded and helped the careers of Marianne Moore, Louis Zukofsky, Jacob Epstein, E.E. Cummings, Margaret Anderson, and Charles Olson as a short list.

I think the Imagist movement was probably the most important in English 20th-century poetry simply because of the sheer number of poets influenced by it.  Carl Sandburg wrote in Poetry magazine in 1917:

“All talk on modern poetry, by people who know, ends with dragging in Ezra Pound somewhere. He may be named only to be cursed as wanton and mocker, poseur, trifler and vagrant. Or he may be classed as filling a niche today like that of Keats in a preceding epoch. The point is, he will be mentioned.”

Pound developed his theory of being a poet in 1912.  His aim was clarity. He was rebelling against abstraction, romanticism, proscribed rhetoric and over-use of adjectives.  He laid out the following three principles for his writing:

  1. Be direct regardless of whether the “thing” is subjective or objective.
  2. Be brief.  Use only words that contribute to the image, avoiding unnecessary words, particularly adjectives.
  3. Be musical, make the words flow, but not necessarily in a pre-set rigid sequence.

Bravo Pound!   I agree whole heartedly with this philosophy that the job of a poet is to make words that are meaningful sound beautiful.  It’s why I find his translations of Cavalcanti’s sonnets remarkable.   In his own writing he was moving away from classical poetry and yet he undertook the task to carefully translate 13th Century sonnets into the English language beyond just their meaning.   He wrote in the forward:

“I have in my translations tried to bring over the qualities of Guido’s rhythm, not line for line, but to embody in the whole of my English some trace of that power which implies the man…. it was my first intention to print only his poems and an unrhymed (translation). This has not been practicable. I can not trust the reader to read the Italian for the music after he has read the English for the sense….”

For me, Pound is a symbol of the complicated personal contradictions that make us human.  He was a modernist who translates classical poetry.  He was a romantic in lifestyle and militant in his politics.   He supported the Italian Fascist cause because he believed that only through conflict would come a new economic order that would create greater wealth equality, but he invoked racist ideology to further his cause. In his writing, he was just as inconsistent.  He used translation and imitation to inform his body of work, yet was cutting edge in his modernist free verse.  Through it all he persevered to an old age, despite reoccurring depression and an extended imprisonment in an insane asylum in the United States.

His writing veers wildly.  He himself condemned his Cantos as “scattered and unfinished.”  It was published despite its obvious flaws and received a literary award because his literary friends and political supporters hoped it would put pressure on the State Department to release him from the mental hospital where he had been confined after being convicted of treason in 1945 for his support of Fascism and Mussolini.  When Hemingway won the Nobel Peace prize for Literature he told Time magazine “this would be a good year to release poets.”  In 1957 the government finally relented and realized Pound was no threat to anyone and had suffered enough.  He was released from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and was quoted as saying:

“I never was (released). When I left the hospital I was still in America, and all America is an insane asylum.”

Pound was both contrite and unrepentant at times following his release in terms of his extremist right-wing views.  He made contradicting statements regarding whether he had matured beyond his anti-semitic racism.  I like to think he found some measure of clarity and peace in truthful contemplation late in life, as I nostalgically root for my literary heroes to do the right thing.  In an interview by Allen Ginsberg in 1967, Pound described his life’s work as:

“A mess…my writing, stupidity and ignorance all the way through… but my worst mistake was the stupid suburban anti-Semitic prejudice, all along that spoiled everything…I found after seventy years that I was not a lunatic but a moron… I should have been able to do better …”

Yes, some of Pound’s life and by reflection his writing is a mess and not very attractive. But some of it is beautiful.  I think it is with mercy we should forgive this complex and imperfect man who had an impact on poetry that is vast and uncompromising.  Where would poetry be without the unmeasured life of Ezra Pound? The current headlines in the United States on sexual harassment beg this same question: can we admire a person for their art, despite their despicable failings as a person?

The Seeing Eye

by Ezra Pound

The small dogs look at the big dogs;
They observe unwieldy dimensions
And curious imperfections of odor.

Here is a formal male group:
The young look upon their seniors,
They consider the elderly mind
and observe its inexplicable correlations.

Said Tsin-Tsu:
It is in only small dogs and the young
That we find minute observation.