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Ezra Pound (Ezra Weston Loomis Pound) Biography

(1885–1972), (Ezra Weston Loomis Pound), A Lume Spento, Personae, Responsibilities, The Spirit of Romance

American poet, born in Hailey, Idaho; he grew up in Philadelphia where his father worked as an assayer with the US mint. His study of Romance Languages at the University of Pennsylvania had an important bearing on the development of his poetry, which was initially influenced by the works of Swinburne and Rosetti. As a student he began his long friendship with William Carlos Williams and was briefly engaged to Hilda Doolittle. In 1906 he lectured at Wabash College, Indiana, and subsequently travelled in Spain, France, and Italy. In 1908, the year in which A Lume Spento, his first collection of verse, was published in Venice, he came to London to renew his acquaintance with W. B. Yeats, whom he had met in the USA in 1903. His debt to Yeats, who employed him as his secretary in 1913 and 1914, is indicated in Personae (1909), a work which shows the influence of the dramatic monologues of Browning. Yeats also benefited from their working relationship, the new directness of voice in Responsibilities (1914) resulting in part from revisions suggested by Pound. In 1908 he taught at the Regent Street Polytechnic, adapting his lectures to form The Spirit of Romance (1910). His later critical writings include A B C of Reading (1934) and Guide to Kulchur (1938).

Ripostes (1912), in which his well-known translation of ‘The Seafarer’ appeared, established him as the spokesman of the Imagists, whose anthology Des Imagistes he edited in 1914. The free-verse forms introduced in Ripostes become dominant in Lustra (1916) which contains his most characteristically Imagist poems, the two lines of ‘In a Station of the Metro’ having been frequently cited as epitomizing the mode. In 1913 he came into possession of the papers of Ernest Fenollosa, which provided the basis for the majority of the translations from the Chinese in Cathay (1915). His growing interest in Chinese culture expanded his work's cultural frame of reference, which had already encompossed French, Italian, English, and Classical antecedents, and led him towards the ‘Ideogrammatic Method’ of The Cantos, published in numerous sections from 1925. He subsequently produced many versions from the Chinese and other languages, selections of which appeared as The Translations of Ezra Pound (1970). Cathay made him ‘the inventor of Chinese poetry for our time’, as Eliot stated in his introduction to Pound's Selected Poems (1928). The two had met in 1914, by which time Pound was an established figure in the literary life of London; he was also influential in the USA as European editor of Poetry, Chicago, through which he promoted the poetry of Robert Frost and others. Eliot respected him greatly, particularly for his remarkable sensitivity to the musical and rhythmical aspects of verse; having increased Eliot's confidence as a poet through his advice and encouragement, Pound secured publication of Prufrock and Other Observations with the Egoist Press in 1917. Among the other writers whom he assisted was James Joyce, whose Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was serialized in The Egoist magazine in 1914 and 1915. In 1922 Eliot sought his assistance in finalizing his draft of The Waste Land; Pound's extensive excisions and alterations determined the form in which the work was published.

He moved to Paris in 1920; Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920) testifies to his disillusionment with the ‘botched civilization’ of Georgian England, which he saw as ridden with false values and shadowed by the massive futility of the First World War. The book, thought by many to be his finest, frames its acerbically elegiac synopsis of English cultural history from the mid-nineteenth century onwards in verse of great deftness and originality. In 1924 he settled at Rapollo in Italy, devoting himself henceforth to The Cantos. His conception of the work as a unifying structure for the diversity of his preoccupations was informed by the Vorticist aesthetics of Wyndham Lewis and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, with whom he had collaborated to produce Blast in 1914; his Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir (1916) describes how his sense of poetic form developed in response to the sculptor's use of contrasting masses and interrelated planes, which find their equivalents in the thematic juxtapositions and correspondences of The Cantos.

During the 1930s his obsession with economic theories led him to express distinctly anti-Semitic views in critizing usury as the basis of international capitalism. Feeling his ideas were in broad conformity with the fascism of Mussolini, whom he had met and been impressed by in 1933, in 1941 he began broadcasting material hostile to the USA's wartime interests on Rome Radio. He was arrested in 1945 and, after some months in abject conditions of captivity near Pisa, was taken to Washington to stand trial for treason. Considered unfit to plead, he was committed to a New York psychiatric hospital until 1958. He then returned to Italy, where he remained, continuing The Cantos, until his death.

While Pound's stature is clouded by the intimidating complexity and ideological implications of The Cantos, his earlier work is recognized as an achievement of great distinction. Eliot, who was directly instrumental in securing his release from confinement in 1958, indicated Pound's centrality to modern literature in stating that he was ‘more responsible for the XXth Century revolution in poetry than any other individual’. The Letters of Ezra Pound, 1907–1941, edited by D. D. Paige, were published in 1950; biographical studies include N. Stock's The Life of Ezra Pound (1970) and H. Carpenter's A Serious Character (1988). See also Black Mountain Writers, Objectivist Poetry, and projective verse.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog to Rabbit Tetralogy