Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Pound, Ezra (1885–1972)
Author:
Shucard, Alan
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Over the course of his artistic life Ezra Pound's attitude toward Walt Whitman was ambivalent. At heart an American chauvinist much in the Whitman mold, Pound "equated his own hope for an American Risorgimento with Whitman's faith in man's [especially the American's] ability to realize his divine potential" (Willard, "'Message'" 95). Moreover, Leaves of Grass taught Pound important lessons that helped to shape Pound's Cantos—that one could sing one's self as a national and even universal paradigm, and "that a modern American long poem including history could be a cumulative, open-ended, personal record built up over the author's lifetime as a work in progress" (Witemeyer 83).

On the minus side, however, Pound long felt that Whitman, although he was "to my fatherland . . . what Dante is to Italy" (Pound, Selected 116), was too instinctual, insufficiently attuned to European culture, and insufficiently careful as a craftsman. In the 1934 The ABC of Reading, for example, Pound claimed that "If you insist . . . on dissecting [Whitman's] language you will probably find that it is wrong" (192).

There are traces of Whitman in Pound's earlier Cantos (e.g., Canto 47), but with the Pisan Cantos in 1948 (e.g., Cantos 80 and 82), Pound, like many sons who come to terms with filial misgivings, was ready to accept Whitman practically without hesitation. By then his affinity for Whitman was so great that "There is no more callow talk about Whitman's not being 'master of the forces which beat upon him'"—Pound's complaint decades before in The Spirit of Romance (Witemeyer 99). Oddly, however, Pound could never seem to see that in Whitman's open form and direct treatment of the thing in such poems as "The Runner," he was a direct precursor of the imagist movement over which Pound was to preside.

Bibliography

Pound, Ezra. ABC of Reading. London: Faber and Faber, 1963.

———. Selected Prose, 1909–1965. Ed. William Cookson. London: Faber and Faber, 1973.

Willard, Charles B. "Ezra Pound and the Whitman 'Message.'" Revue de littérature comparée 31 (1957): 94–98.

———. "Ezra Pound's Appraisal of Walt Whitman." Modern Language Notes 72 (1957): 19–26.

Witemeyer, Hugh. "Clothing the American Adam: Pound's Tailoring of Walt Whitman." Ezra Pound Among the Poets. Ed. George Bornstein. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985. 81–105.


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