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August 1958, listening to Canto 43 and 44.


Pound, Reading

Is he the priest celebrating mass? His voice seems to come from far away, from another world and another time. Through what mask does he speak when he does? What persona speaks through him? Is this the voice of Homer, Cavalcanti, of Wolkenstein? For a few moments I seemed to hear drums in the background, or the sound of flutes coming up from the valley.

Pound stresses each word, stretches individual syllables, rolls the “r,” changes the rhythm, drags out the syllables and sings the end of a sentence, or holds the tone for longer. Suddenly, he seems to be overcome by fatigue, then shouts individual words, pushes them forward, steps up, crashes, takes a breath and falls back into a steady singsong.

The voice trembles. I can’t make out: is it age, is it exhaustion? Or does he want the effect? The words swing more weakly and trembling, seem fragile. But now it doesn't seem that he does not notice or control the trembling and the fragility. They are part of his reading, accents of the rhythm, not breaks. The melody of his voice adds the text to this unity, even when it picks up and allows undertones to be heard. Is it not the fullness of a chorus that is heard in this voice?

Rhapsodically, intoning, his reading is drifting by: invocation, curse, and quotation succeed each other without a break. With the same solemnity, the names of mythical heroes and slang terms appear next to each other and bear witness to our decaying civilisation. Pound’s voice contains sarcasm, then pathos which suddenly veers into irony and the echo of laughter.

Pound’s reading is an invocation of voices. Voices come as if from an inexhaustible supply. What is our history if not a constellation of voices? In this heaven, individual voices wait to be invoked.

Here are the voices resuming their 1912 salon conversations as if they had never been interrupted and then the troubadours butt in, and this one, is it not the voice of a bank president who wants to explain his balance sheet? A Venetian Doge pipes up and gets a reply from an English lady.

So many voices crowd one other; Pound invokes them and then talks to them himself, as if to interrogate them: he verifies their intonation and expression, weighs them on his tongue, pushes them to and fro, lets them slowly melt, rejects them, or rolls the word bits in the mouth as nuts difficult to break until he finally bites into them.

And then new voices now come, lively and melancholic, the voices of dead friends and dead enemies, wise men’s and babblers’ voices… The intonation rises and falls as if obeying the change of tides, as if it contained the sea. Pound’s language surges, the waves break and silence follows; the waves hit the shore, withdraw, re-form; in-between, the jubilant cry of a sea-gull, the call of swallows…

Pound is reading. In his voice, there is the sea drawing deep breaths, but also the pull of a current, one that swells strongly and carries us away with it, the shores farther and farther away…

The longer I listen, the more intensively do I feel the sea in front of me, a sea from which voices are released and then absorbed, they rise and sink, just when they gain individual character… Odysseus has turned the keel of his ship against the waves, the mast stands and the sails are unfurled, the voyage of the cantos can start.

This is Homeric singing… but then, other voices and other times are crowding into the voice of the singer, they want to find a hearing, bring dissonances with them, want to interrupt the current of language, but are drawn into its engulfing pull. They float on its waves like shipwrecks, words call for help, are washed to the shore and then again pulled by the sea. Does the sea ever laugh at those she lets rise and sink with the tide? A wave sweeps them away and they vanish. An echo, a sound and they are forgotten.

This voice which holds us prisoner has tasted of both: memory and forgetting. It conjures and damns, calls and lets fall… remembering and forgetting seem to be mastered by the tides, they come and go like ebb and flow, remembering and forgetting are parts of this voice, they come from the same spring as speech and silence.


From: Wieland Schmied. Erinnerungen an Ezra Pound. Trans. Roxana Preda. Aachen: Rimbaud Verlag, 2002. 24-27. 


rsz schmied erinnerungen