Ezra Weston Loomis Pound (October 30 1885 - November 1 1972) was a poet and critic who, along with T. S. Eliot, was one of the major figures of the modernist movement in early 20th century poetry. He was the driving force behind several modernist movements, notably Imagism and Vorticism.
Hugh Kenner, on meeting Pound: "I suddenly knew that I was in the presence of the center of modernism."
Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho. He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania (where at age 16, he met William Carlos Williams, then a young medical student) and at Hamilton College. He taught at Wabash College for less than a year, and afterward settled in London, after months in Venice. He had thought W. B. Yeats was the greatest living poet, and befriended him in England. His intelligence, confidence and verve found him a place in London's premier artistic circles. He married Dorothy Shakespear in 1914. In 1924, he moved to Italy, settling in Rapallo.
Pound's early books created a sensation in England, and he was considered the cutting edge in the years just prior to World War I. Yeats was moved by Pound's work to modify his own style, abandoning the pre-Raphaelite techniques that characterized his early poetry.
He lived in the Montparnasse Quarter of Paris, France for a time during the gathering of great artists. Frequently, Pound could be seen at the café Le Dome, playing chess on the terrace with Ford Madox Ford.
In the early 30s Pound moved to Rapallo, Italy. Economics became his obsession and Mussolini his great hope. He compared the Fascist to the princes of Renaissance Italy. During World War II he volunteered to speak on cultural subjects on Italian radio. The broadcasts are overtly political, however, and his political sentiments were clear enough: he hated Roosevelt, and the usury of world banking - which he pinned on the Jews. The Allies would lose the war, he thought. And wars were needless--they were started only to create debt--he thought.
After the war he was incarcerated outdoors in an open cage (the infamous "gorilla cage") at Pisa for twenty-five days, then for medical reasons (he considered himself broken by his time in the cage) in a tent. During the six months spent at Pisa living with the American GIs he worked on his translation of Confucius and wrote the Pisan Cantos.
"The enormous tragedy of the dream in the peasant's bent/ shoulders" they begin, written on scraps of paper and using a typewriter in the medical tent after-hours. For books, Pound had the Chinese of Confucius, possibly James Legge's translation too, a Chinese dictionary, all of which he pocketed before the MPs took him away, an anthology of verse he found at the latrine, & a standard military issue Bible. The setting of these Cantos is as much Pound's memory, specifically of London, as the Italian landscape, and the collapse of Fascist Italy.
Distinguished and recognized writers, in spite of Pound's politics, awarded him the Bollingen-Library of Congress Award for the Pisan Cantos.
He claimed to be a polyglot - adept at learning languages, and possessed some knowledge of Spanish, ancient Greek, Latin, Italian, French, Provençal, Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Anglo-Saxon and ancient Egyptian. His works frequently featured untranslated passages in some of these languages.
One may note he was a poor scholar, and was always looking to cut corners. Pound claimed that in order to translate a poem it was only necessary to know the definitions of the words that appeared in that particular poem, and so he translated from languages which he barely understood. His translations often have laughable errors. Homage to Sextius Propertius especially was attacked by well meaning, literal-minded Latinists. His Chinese translations, as well, are not taken terribly serious by Sinologists. (One thinks of Achilles Fang, who wrote the introduction to Pound's Confucius, who remarked that to get a grasp on Chinese was roughly the equivalent of learning Latin and Greek and all the Romance languages. Pound was not that patient.) For Greek portions of the Cantos he didn't bother with accents, the publisher (James Laughlin) sent those sections to a Greek scholar to fill them in.
In terms of his views on translation, the back cover of Pound's Confucius offers, "Pound never wanted to be a literal translator. What he could do, as no other could, is to identify the essence, pick out 'what matters now,' and phrase it so pungently, so beautifully, that it will stick in the head and start new thinking."
Allen Ginsberg said, "He was the poet of the age." after the news came that Pound had died.
Forgetting his poetry, Pound would be remembered as a great advocate for poets, the classics, the arts; in fact, as he viewed it, he was pushing for a new civilization. He tirelessly promoted artists he thought were creating innovative, good work. Upon seeing Robert Frost's first book and recognizing his talent, he took up Frost in England and quickly became an informal advocate. He was instrumental or absolutely vital in getting James Joyce, William Carlos Williams, and T. S. Eliot published. Eliot's "The Waste Land" was heavily pared by Pound, which led Eliot to dedicate the poem to him, "the better craftsman" (in Italian, which were Dante's words.) Pound wrote extensively on the arts, including a book-length "Guide to Kulchur", and "ABC of Reading". Charles Olson, one of many directly influenced by "Old Ez", expressed at Berkeley in 1965, his thought that Pound had freed the languages of the world.
"The thought of what America would be like/ If the classics had a wide circulation/ Ah, well, it troubles my sleep."
"No man ever knows enough about any art." (Guide to Kulchur)