From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"With Hulme as metaphysician and Pound as impresario, the Imagists did a lot of useful pioneering work. They dealt a blow at the post-Victorian magazine poets... They livened things up a lot. They made free verse popular... And they tried to attain an exacting if narrow standard of style in poetry.'" — Backgrounds to Modern Literature (1968) by John Oliver Perry
Ezra Weston Loomis Pound (October 30 1885 – November 1 1972) was an American expatriate poet, musician, and critic who was a major figure of the Modernist movement in early-to mid- 20th century poetry. He was the driving force behind several Modernist movements, notably Imagism and Vorticism.
Pound's The Cantos contains music and bears a title that could be translated as The Songs—although it never is. Pound's ear was tuned to the motz et sons of troubadour poetry where, as musicologist John Stevens has noted, "melody and poem existed in a state of the closest symbiosis, obeying the same laws and striving in their different media for the same sound-ideal - armonia."
In his essays, Pound wrote of rhythm as "the hardest quality of a man's style to counterfeit." He challenged young poets to train their ear with translation work to learn how the choice of words and the movement of the words combined. But having translated texts from 10 different languages into English, Pound found that translation did not always serve the poetry: "The grand bogies for young men who want really to learn strophe writing are Catullus and François Villon. I personally have been reduced to setting them to music as I cannot translate them." While he habitually wrote out verse rhythms as musical lines, Pound did not set his own poetry to music.
In 1919, when he was 34, Pound began charting his path as a novice composer, writing privately that he intended a revolt against the impressionistic music of Claude Debussy. An autodidact, Pound described his working method as "improving a system by refraining from obedience to all its present 'laws'..." With only a few formal lessons in music composition, Pound produced a small body of work, including a setting of Dante's sestina, "Al poco giorno", for violin. His most important output is the pair of operas: Le Testament, a setting of François Villon's long poem of that name, written in 1461; and Cavalcanti, a setting of 11 poems by Guido Cavalcanti (c. 1250–1300). Pound began composing the Villon with the help of Agnes Bedford, a London pianist and vocal coach. Though the work is notated in Bedford's hand, Pound scholar Robert Hughes has been able to determine that Pound was artistically responsible for the work's overall dramatic and acoustic design.
During his years in Paris (1921–1924), Pound formed close friendships with the American pianist and composer George Antheil, and Antheil's touring partner, the American concert violinist Olga Rudge. Pound championed Antheil's music and asked his help in devising a system of micro-rhythms that would more accurately render the vitalistic speech rhythms of Villon's Old French for Le Testament. The resulting collaboration of 1923 used irregular meters that were considerably more elaborate than Stravinsky's benchmarks of the period, Le Sacre du Printemps (1913) and L'Histoire du Soldat (1918). For example, "Heaulmiere", one of the opera's key arias, at a tempo of quarter note = M.M. 88, moves from 2/8 to 25/32 to 3/8 to 2/4 meter (bars 25–28), making it difficult for performers to hear the current bar of music and anticipate the upcoming bar. Rudge performed in the 1924 and 1926 Paris preview concerts of Le Testament, but insisted to Pound that the meter was impractical.
In Le Testament there is no predictability of manner; no comfort zone for singer or listener; no rests or breath marks. Though Pound stays within the hexatonic scale to evoke the feel of troubadour melodies, modern invention runs throughout, from the stream of unrelenting dissonance in the mother's prayer to the grand shape of the work's aesthetic arc over a period of almost an hour. The rhythm carries the emotion. The music admits the corporeal rhythms (the score calls for human bones to be used in the percussion part); scratches, hiccoughs, and counter-rhythms lurch against each other—an offense to courtly etiquette. With "melody against ground tone and forced against another melody", as Pound puts it, the work spawns a polyphony in polyrhythms that ignores traditional laws of harmony. It was a test of Pound's ideal of an "absolute" and "uncounterfeitable" rhythm conducted in the laboratory of someone obsessed with the relationship between words and music.
After hearing a concert performance of Le Testament in 1926, Virgil Thomson praised Pound's accomplishment. "The music was not quite a musician's music", he wrote, "though it may well be the finest poet's music since Thomas Campion. . . . Its sound has remained in my memory."
Robert Hughes has remarked that where Le Testament explores a Webernesque pointillistic orchestration and derives its vitality from complex rhythms, Cavalcanti (1931) thrives on extensions of melody. Based on the lyric love poetry of Guido Cavalcanti, the opera's numbers are characterized by a challenging bel canto, into which Pound incorporates a number of tongue-in-cheek references to Verdi and a musical motive that gestures to Stravinsky's neo-classicism. By this time his relationship with Antheil had considerably cooled, and Pound, in his gradual acquisition of technical self-sufficiency, was free to emulate certain aspects of Stravinsky. Cavalcanti demands attention to its varying cadences, to a recurring leitmotif, and to a symbolic use of octaves. The play of octaves creates a surrealist straining against the limits of established laws of composition, history, physiology, reason, and love.
Pound's statement, "Rhythm is a FORM cut into TIME", distinguishes his 20th century medievalism from Antheil's SPACE/TIME theory of modern music, which sought pure abstraction. Antheil's system of time organization is inherently biased for complex, asymmetric, and fast tempi; it thrives on innovation and surprise. Pound's more open system allows for any sequence of pitches; it can accommodate older styles of music with their symmetry, repetition, and more uniform tempi, as well as newer methods, such as the asymmetrical micro-metrical divisions of rhythm created for Le Testament.
- Books published in his lifetime
- 1908 A Lume Spento. Privately printed by A. Antonini, Venice, (poems).
- 1908 A Quinzaine for This Yule. Pollock, London; and Elkin Mathews, London, (poems).
- 1909 Personae. Elkin Mathews, London, (poems).
- 1909 Exultations. Elkin Mathews, London, (poems).
- 1910 The Spirit of Romance. Dent, London, (prose).
- 1910 Provenca. Small, Maynard, Boston, (poems).
- 1911 Canzoni. Elkin Mathews, London, (poems)
- 1912 The Sonnets and Ballate of Guido Cavalcanti Small, Maynard, Boston, (cheaper edition destroyed by fire, Swift & Co, London; translations)
- 1912 Ripostes. S. Swift, London, (poems; first announcement of Imagism)
- 1915 Cathay. Elkin Mathews, (poems; translations)
- 1916 Gaudier-Brzeska. A Memoir. John Lane, London, (prose).
- 1916 Certain Noble Plays of Japan: From the Manuscripts of Ernest Fenollosa, chosen and finished by Ezra Pound, with an introduction by William Butler Yeats.
- 1916 Ernest Fenollosa, Ezra Pound: "Noh", or, Accomplishment: A Study of the Classical Stage of Japan. Macmillan, London,
- 1916 Lustra. Elkin Mathews, London, (poems).
- 1917 Twelve Dialogues of Fontenelle, (translations)
- 1917 Lustra Knopf, New York. (poems). With a version of the first Three Cantos (Poetry, vol. 10, nos. 3, June 1917, 4, July 1917, 5, August 1917).
- 1918: Pavannes and Divisions. Knopf, New York. prose
- 1918 Quia Pauper Amavi. Egoist Press, London. poems
- 1919 The Fourth Canto. Ovid Press, London
- 1920 Hugh Selwyn Mauberley. Ovid Press, London.
- 1920 Umbra. Elkin Mathews, London, (poems and translations)
- 1920 Instigations of Ezra Pound: Together with an Essay on the Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry, by Ernest Fenollosa. Boni & Liveright, (prose).
- 1921 Poems, 1918–1921. Boni & Liveright, New York
- 1922 Remy de Gourmount: The Natural Philosophy of Love. Boni & Liveright, New York, (translation)
- 1923 Indiscretions, or, Und Revue des deux mondes. Three Mountains Press, Paris.
- 1924 Antheil and the Treatise on Harmony. Paris, (essays). As: William Atheling.
- 1925 A Draft of XVI Cantos. Three Mountains Press, Paris. The first collection of The Cantos.
- 1926 Personae: The Collected Poems of Ezra Pound. Boni & Liveright, New York
- 1928 A Draft of the Cantos 17–27. John Rodker, London.
- 1928 Selected Poems, edited and with an introduction by T. S. Eliot. Faber & Gwyer, London
- 1928 Confucius: Ta Hio: The Great Learning, newly rendered into the American language. University of Washington Bookstore (Glenn Hughes), (translation)
- 1930 A Draft of XXX Cantos. Nancy Cunard's Hours Press, Paris.
- 1930 Imaginary Letters. Black Sun Press, Paris. Eight essays from the Little Review, 1917–18.
- 1931 How to Read. Harmsworth, (essays)
- 1933 ABC of Economics. Faber, London, (essays)
- 1934 Eleven New Cantos: XXXI-XLI. Farrer & Rinehart, New York, (poems)
- 1934 Homage to Sextus Propertius. Faber, London (poems)
- 1934 ABC of Reading. Yale University Press, (essays)
- 1935 Alfred Venison's Poems: Social Credit Themes by the Poet of Titchfield Street. Stanley Nott, Pamphlets on the New Economics, No. 9, London, (essays)
- 1935 Jefferson and/or Mussolini. Stanley Nott, London, Liveright, 1936 (essays)
- 1935 Make It New. London, (essays)
- 1935 Social Credit. An Impact. London, (essays). Repr.: Peter Russell, Money Pamphlets by Pound, no. 5, London 1951.
- 1936 Ernest Fenollosa: The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry. Stanley Nott, London 1936. An Ars Poetica With Foreword and Notes by Ezra Pound.
- 1937 The Fifth Decade of Cantos. Farrer & Rinehart, New York, poems
- 1937 Polite Essays. Faber, London, (essays)
- 1937 Confucius: Digest of the Analects, edited and published by Giovanni Scheiwiller, (translations)
- 1938 Culture. New Directions. New edition: Guide to Kulchur, New Directions, 1952
- 1939 What Is Money For?. Greater Britain Publications, (essays). Money Pamphlets by Pound, no. 3, Peter Russell, London
- 1940 Cantos LXII-LXXI. New Directions, New York, (John Adams Cantos 62–71).
- 1942 Carta da Visita di Ezra Pound. Edizioni di lettere d'oggi. Rome. English translation, by John Drummond: A Visiting Card, Money Pamphlets by Pound, no. 4, Peter Russell, London 1952, (essays).
- 1944 L'America, Roosevelt e le cause della guerra presente. Casa editrice della edizioni popolari, Venice. English translation, by John Drummond: America, Roosevelt and the Causes of the Present War, Money Pamphlets by Pound, no. 6, Peter Russell, London 1951
- 1944 Introduzione alla Natura Economica degli S.U.A.. Casa editrice della edizioni popolari. Venice. English translation An Introduction to the Economic Nature of the United States, by Carmine Amore. Repr.: Peter Russell, Money Pamphlets by Pound, London 1950 (essay)
- 1944 Orientamini. Casa editrice dalla edizioni popolari. Venice (prose)
- 1944 Oro et lavoro: alla memoria di Aurelio Baisi. Moderna, Rapallo. English translation: Gold and Work, Money Pamphlets by Pound, no. 2, Peter Russell, London 1952 (essays)
- 1948 If This Be Treason. Siena: privately printed for Olga Rudge by Tip Nuova (original drafts of six of Pound's Rome radio broadcasts)
- 1948 The Pisan Cantos. New Directions, (Cantos 74–84)
- 1948 The Cantos of Ezra Pound (includes The Pisan Contos). New Directions, poems
- 1949 Elektra (started in 1949, first performed 1987), a play by Ezra Pound and Rudd Fleming
- 1948 The Pisan Cantos. New Directions, New York.
- 1950 Seventy Cantos. Faber, London.
- 1950 Patria Mia. R. F. Seymour, Chicago [Reworked New Age articles, 1912, '13 (Orage)
- 1951 Confucius: The Great Digest; The Unwobbling Pivot. New Directions (translation)
- 1951 Confucius: Analects (John) Kaspar & (David) Horton, Square $ Series, New York, (translation)
- 1953 Hugh Kenner (ed.): The Translations of Ezra Pound, New Directions, (translations)
- 1954 The Classic Anthology Defined by Confucius. Harvard University Press (translations)
- 1954 Lavoro ed Usura. All'insegna del pesce d'oro. Milan (essays)
- 1955 Section: Rock-Drill, 85–95 de los Cantares. All'insegna del pesce d'oro, Milan, (poems)
- 1956 Sophocles: The Women of Trachis. A Version by Ezra Pound. Neville Spearman, London, (translation)
- 1957 Brancusi. Milan (essay)
- 1959 Thrones: 96–109 de los Cantares. New Directions, (poems)
- 1960 Noel Stock (ed.): Impact: Essays on Ignorance and the Decline of American Civilization. Henri Regnery, Chicago
- 1968 Drafts and Fragments: Cantos CX-CXVII. New Directions, (poems)
- Selected posthumous publications
- 1975 William Levy (ed.): Certain Radio Speeches of Ezra Pound. Cold Turkey Press, Rotterdam
- 1976 Collected Early Poems of Ezra Pound. New Directions.
- 1977 R. Murray Schafer (ed.): Ezra Pound and Music: The Complete Criticism. New Directions, (essays).
- 1978 Leonard W. Doob (ed.): 'Ezra Pound Speaking': Radio Speeches of World War II. Greenwood Press (speeches)
- 1980 Harriet Zinnes (ed.): Ezra Pound and the Visual Arts. New Directions (essays)
- 1991 Charlotte Ward (ed.): Pound's Translations of Arnaut Daniel. Garland, New York 1991 (translations)
- 1992 Richard Sieburth (ed.): A Walking Tour of Southern France: Ezra Pound Among the Troubadours. New Directions, New York.
- 1996 Maria Luisa Ardizzone (ed.): Machine Art and Other Writings: The Lost Thought of the Italian Years. Duke University Press. (essays)
- 1997 Jack Ross: Ezra Pound' s Fascist Cantos (72 & 73) together with Rimbaud's 'Poets at Seven Years Old' . Perdrix Press, Auckland (the two Salo Cantos were first published in the newspaper: Marina Repubblicanain early 1945; re-published in 1973 in an edition of 25; in Cantos editions (untranslated in Italian) since 1986.
- 2002 Massimo Bacigalupo (ed.): Canti postumi. Mondadori, Milan, (Cantos)
- 2002 Margaret Fisher, Ezra Pound's Radio Operas: The BBC Experiments 1931–1933 (MIT Press) with the complete radio script by Pound for the 1931 broadcast of Le Testament.
- 2003 First edition of Cavalcanti, three-act opera (1931–1932). Robert Hughes and Margaret Fisher: Calvacanti: A Perspective on The Music of Ezra Pound (engraved music score of complete opera, Second Evening Art Publishing ISBN 978-0-9728859-0-4). A compact disk Ego Scriptor Cantilenae: The Music of Ezra Pound was published in 2003 by Other Minds; OM 1005-2, (music; 2 operas).
- 2005 First edition of the unfinished third opera, Collis O Heliconii (c. 1933): The Recovery of Ezra Pound's Third Opera Collis O Heliconii, Settings of Poems by Catullus and Sappho, Margaret Fisher (ed.),(engraved music scores of two unfinished arias and musical interludes, Second Evening Art Publishing ISBN 978-0-9728859-3-5).
- User-friendly editions
- 2003 Richard Sieburth (ed.): Ezra Pound, Poems and Translations. Library of America. ISBN 978-1-931082-41-9.
- 2004 First edition, Complete Violin Works of Ezra Pound, Robert Hughes, ed. (engraved music scores, Second Evening Art Publishing ISBN 978-0-9728859-2-8).
- 2008 First editions of the 1926 and 1933 versions of Ezra Pound's opera Le Testament. Margaret Fisher and Robert Hughes (eds.), (engraved music scores, Second Evening Art Publishing ISBN 978-0-9728859-4-2).
- projected, 2011: First edition of the 1923 Le Testament de Villon. Facsimile of the 1923 holograph music score edited by George Antheil, with audio CD of the complete opera. Robert Hughes and Margaret Fisher (eds.), (Second Evening Art Publishing ISBN 978-0-9728859-8-0).