Ezra Pound

Biographical Information
Ezra Pound, ca. 1913.

Ezra Pound


October 30, 1885, Hailey, Idaho


November 1, 1972, Venice, Italy

Country of Origin/Citizenship

United States/ America

Kind of Artist/Cultural Worker

poet, critic

Avant-Garde Movements Associated With

modernism, Imagism

Date & Places of Overlap with Loy

Paris 1920s

Born in Idaho and raised in Pennsylvania, Ezra Weston Loomis Pound (Ezra Pound) is a considered the father of imagism and a foundational figure of the modernist movement in America. Obtaining his M.A. in Romance languages at the University of Pennsylvania, he taught briefly and then moved to Europe. In London he quickly established a career publishing several collections of poetry and became an influential contributor to literary magazines such as New Freewoman/Egoist, Poetry, Others, and The Little Review (Nelson 19). In 1913 one of his most famous poems, “In a Station of the Metro,” was published. Only two lines long, this poem is said to both perplex and delight readers as well as critics.

As the landscape of England was altered due to the brutality of World War I, so too was Pound’s career. He became  “[u]nsettled by the slaughter of World War I and the spirit of hopelessness…pervading England” (Stock). Having lost faith in England, blaming international capitalism for the tragedies of war, Pound decidedly moved to Paris in 1921. There he developed relationships with the likes of Marcel Duchamp, Ernest Hemingway and T.S. Eliot, later helping edit Eliot’s, The Waste Land. However, it is his highly influential and polemic “booklength [sic] sequence of more than 116 poems, The Cantos (1915-1969), for which Pound is widely known (Nelson 19). While Pound refers to it as “a poem containing history,” readers are quickly reminded that it is a history seen primarily through the author’s eyes. Due to the numerous “unexplained references” and idiosyncrasies, Pound is “effectively the only reader fully prepared to read his poem” (19).

Not only difficult to read, Pound’s poem proves to be a defense of European fascism. Although an expatriate, Pound retained his interests in America, finding himself in direct conflict with his homeland’s stance during WWII. He supported the facist ideology that the arts were at their finest when “allied with absolute political power” (Nelson 19). Throughout The Cantos readers are urged to view the Axis powers as the path towards the “new Golden Age” (19). An admirer and paid promoter of Mussolini and Hitler, Pound announced on a wartime radio broadcast that Hitler’s anti-Semitic manifesto, Mein Kamph (1925), was a “keenly analyzed” work of history (20).

Pound’s anti-Semitism, however, is evident early on in his poetic career. In “Salutation the Third” (1914), he writes: “Let us be done with Jews and Jobbery,/Let us SPIT upon those who fawn on the Jews for their money” (qtd. in Nelson 20). This position led him to proclaim in one of his Radio Speeches of World War II 1941-1943, “the danger to the United States…is NOT from Japan, but from Jewry” (20). Likewise, in Cantos 73, which was published in a 1943 Italian military journal, he refers to Roosevelt and Churchill as “bastards and small Jews” and derogatorily called Roosevelt, “Rosenfeld” (qtd. in Nelson 20). With the end of WWII and the fall of the Nazi regime, Pound was situated on the wrong side of history.

After the war, Pound was captured by American troops and faced trial for treason. He earned the title of one of “America’s prison poets” because he partially composed The Pisan Cantos in a prison cell while awaiting trial. Through the intervention of friends, and in order to stay alive, Pound plead insanity and was sent to St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington D.C. (Nelson 20). In 1946 under the title The Pisan Cantos, the “Cantos LXXIV–LXXXIV” were readied for publication but Pound held on to it, claiming to be awaiting the optimal time to publish. In an effort to work towards his release, friends arranged for Pound to be the first recipient of the Bollingen Prize, “a national poetry award given by the Library of Congress, with a $1000 monetary prize donated by the Mellon family” (Tytell). The Pisan Cantos was eventually published in 1948; the following year Pound won the prize. A huge controversy arose, resulting in it being the first and last time this award was administered. Pound’s cohort continued the campaign and he was released in 1958. Following his institutionalization, Pound returned to Venice, where in poor physical and mental health, he stopped writing. He died in his sleep on November 1, 1972.

Despite Pound’s problematic history, The Cantos is a classic example of modernist American poetics. Based on his use of poetic devices such as collage, the mixing of rhetoric and musicality, and literary and historical references, it remains influential to the literary canon. Moreover, the intersections of politics and poetics in The Cantos, makes for an interesting read and a compelling study (Nelson 21). In her essay “Of Modern Poetry,” Mina Loy writes of Pound: “To speak of the modern movement is to speak of [Ezra Pound]; the masterly impresario of modern poets, for without the discoveries he made…this modern movement would still be a nebula rather than the constellation it has become” (Loy 157-8). Many historians envision Pound and Loy’s relationship one-sidedly, with Pound as a mentor to Loy (Nicholls). In 1918 Pound wrote in The Little Review, “These girls,” [Marianne Moore and Mina Loy] have written a distinctly national product, they have written something which would not have come out of any other country” (Perloff). Additionally, he expressed his respect for Loy in a 1921 letter to Marianne Moore, “[i]s there anyone in America except you, Bill [Williams] and Mina Loy who can write anything of interest in verse?” (qtd. in Perloff). And, in 1928 Pound famously coined the term logopoiea–defined as “a dance of the intelligence among words and ideas and modification of ideas and characters”–to describe Loy’s writing method as it “employs words not only for their direct meaning, but it takes count in a special way of habits of usage” (Pound 25).

Loy and Pound apparently had a deep respect for each other. Acting as an advocate, critic, and editor, Pound introduced Loy, as well as other modernist artists and writers to publishers and patrons in an effort to build their reputations and careers. Even so, he is often regarded as an opinionated, often tactless individual. Gertrude Stein’s description of Pound reflects this sentiment: “A village explainer, excellent if you were a village, but if you were not, not” (Menand). While Pound remains a divisive figure, his brilliance as a poet, thinker, and supporter explain why modernist figures such as Marianne Moore, T.S. Eliot, and Mina Loy respected him and why he still admired today.

Works Cited

“Introduction to Modernist Poetry.” EDSITEment!, National Endowment for the Humanities, edsitement.neh.gov/curriculum-unit/introduction-modernist-poetry.

Loy, Mina, and Roger L. Conover. The Lost Lunar Baedeker: Poems of Mina Loy. Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1999.

Menand, Louis. “The Pound Error.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 19 June 2017, www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/06/09/the-pound-error.

Nelson, Cary. “A Century of Innovation: American Poetry from 1900 to the Present.” The Oxford Handbook of Modern and Contemporary American Poetry, Oxford Univ. Press, 2014, pp. 3–49.

Nicholls, Peter. “ ‘Arid Clarity’: Ezra Pound, Mina Loy, and Jules Laforgue .” Peter Nicholls:(In-Conference — HOW2), ASU: HOW2, 2002, www.asu.edu/pipercwcenter/how2journal/archive/online_archive/v1_5_2001/current/in-conference/mina-loy/nicholls.html.

Perloff, Marjorie. “ ENGLISH AS A ‘SECOND’ LANGUAGE : Mina Loy’s ‘Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose.’” Jacket # 5 – Marjorie Perloff – MINA LOY’S “ANGLO-MONGRELS AND THE ROSE”, 1998, jacketmagazine.com/05/mina-anglo.html.

Pound, Ezra. Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. Edited by T. S. Eliot, Faber and Faber, 1954.

Stock, Noel. “Ezra Pound.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 12 Jan. 2017, www.britannica.com/biography/Ezra-Pound.

Tytell, John. Ezra Pound: the Solitary Volcano. Ivan R. Dee, 2006.

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