Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Lume Spento by Ezra Pound

This book is so old I can't even find a picture to go with it, sorry.

As part of National Poetry month, I tried to read as much poetry as I could, which will trickle down into reviews here as time goes on.

One of the things I tackled was some Ezra Pound, a poet I've had on my "to-read" list for quite a while now.

Maybe I shouldn't have gone with an early work, or maybe I just have to accept that I am far more comfortable with the poetry of the personal, because for me this Pound was only worth a few cents.

(I apologize, that was terrible. Blame my editor. Oh wait, I don't have one.)

In a little over 100 pages of early poems and notebook work, there is simply not a single poem I liked, not even just a little bit. Usually, I can find at least one or two good poems even from a poet I dislike. But Pound's lines are just so blandly constructed on subjects that feel so artificial--a troubadour, dryads, old men with troubles, and the like, all portrayed as distant actors, without a chance to get close to the reader.

It's almost like reading Shakespeare without talent, or a homage to old poetry without a sense of irony that someone like Atwood might try. It's not that I object to the subject matter. I am going to rave about a poet that uses Barbie as her subject sometime soon, so I'm not saying you have to write from what you know. You can write a good poem, even today, about any of those things I list above. But the language Pound uses feels outdated even for the early 20th Century and today is just downright painful to slog through. I don't get this many "thee" and "thou" references when I read old Stan Lee Thor comics!

Here's a few snippets of the poems, chosen more or less at random.

From La Fraisne:

"For I was a gaunt, grave councilor
Being in all things wise, and very old,
But I have put aside this folly and the cold
That old age weareth for a cloak."

From Villonaud for the Yule:

"Towards the Noel that morte saison
(Christ make the shepherd's homage dear!)
Then when the grey wolves everychone
Drink of the winds their chill small-beer
And lap o' the snows food's gueredon
Then makyth my heart his yule-tide cheer
(Skoal! with the dregs if the clear be gone!)
Wineing the ghosts of yester-year."

The Tree (entire):

"I stood still and was a tree amid the wood
Knowing the truth of things unseen before,
Of Daphne and the laurel bow
And that god-feasting couple olde
That grew elm-oak amid the wold.
'twas not until the gods had been
Kindly entreated and been brought within
Unto the hearth of their heart's home
That they might do this wonder-thing.
Nathless I have been a tree amid the wood
And many new things understood
That were rank folly to my head before."

This last example may be the best poem in the book, but even so, it's horribly dated for the time it's written, at least in my opinion. (I had a similar reaction to Robinson Jeffers' poetry.)

I do understand that this is Pound's early work, so maybe it gets better over time. I also think that those who like classical poetry post Shakespeare through the Victorian age (I don't) would enjoy the overwrought writings in this collection. But when your poetry requires footnotes by the poet, I think you're on thin ice and I'm pretty sure I don't want to read more, at least for awhile.

If you find yourself drawn to Kim Addonizio, Mark Doty, and other writers of the very personal, this is not the book for you. It's going to remind you of at least one of your interminable college english classes, where this type of writing was your professor's favorite. If you are a fan of classic poetry only, give this a shot. I have a feeling you'll like it. If you need me, I'll be hanging out with my complete works of Alan Ginsburg, something you'd be unlikely to enjoy. Luckily for us, poetry's nice and varied that way.


  1. Hi! I am a highschool student and am doing a research paper about Ezra Pound!

    I can't find out what exactly Ezra Pound wrote about in his poems...

    If you could fill in the blanks in this sentence then I would be very happy!! Thank you very much!

    Ezra Pound was a modernist writer who wrote poems about__________ as a result of ____________

    ( as a result of ) means what influenced him in his writing..

    I dont know if you know this much about Pound, but i would love all the help i can get!

    Thank you :)

  2. Rob, I'm posting 'Cino' by Pound here in the hope of converting you. I'm not sure if it was published in a Lume Spento, but if it was and you read it and disliked it, then you clearly need to read it again. Just look at those sexy metrics!


      Italian Campagna 1309, the open road

    Bah! I have sung women in three cities,
    But it is all the same;
    And I will sing of the sun.

    Lips, words, and you snare them,
    Dreams, words, and they are as jewels,
    Strange spells of old deity,
    Ravens, nights, allurement:
    And they are not;
    Having become the souls of song.

    Eyes, dreams, lips, and the night goes.
    Being upon the road once more,
    They are not.
    Forgetful in their towers of our tuneing
    Once for wind-runeing
    They dream us-toward and
    Sighing, say, ``Would Cino,
    Passionate Cino, of the wrinkling eyes,
    Gay Cino, of quick laughter,
    Cino, of the dare, the jibe.
    Frail Cino, strongest of his tribe
    That tramp old ways beneath the sun-light,
    Would Cino of the Luth were here!''

    Once, twice a year---
    Vaguely thus word they:

    ``Cino?'' ``Oh, eh, Cino Polnesi
    The singer is't you mean?''
    ``Ah yes, passed once our way,
    A saucy fellow, but . . .
    (Oh they are all one these vagabonds),
    Peste! 'tis his own songs?
    Or some other's that he sings?
    But *you*, My Lord, how with your city?''

    My you ``My Lord,'' God's pity!
    And all I knew were out, My Lord, you
    Were Lack-land Cino, e'en as I am,
    O Sinistro.

    I have sung women in three cities.
    But it is all one.
    I will sing of the sun.
    . . . eh? . . . they mostly had grey eyes,
    But it is all one, I will sing of the sun.

    ``'Pollo Phoibee, old tin pan, you
    Glory to Zeus' aegis-day,
    Shield o' steel-blue, th' heaven o'er us
    Hath for boss thy lustre gay!

    'Pollo Phoibee, to our way-fare
    Make thy laugh our wander-lied;
    Bid thy 'flugence bear away care.
    Cloud and rain-tears pass they fleet!

    Seeking e'er the new-laid rast-way
    To the gardens of the sun . . .

    * * *

    I have sung women in three cities
    But it is all one.
    I will sing of the white birds
    In the blue waters of heaven,
    The clouds that are spray to its sea."