THE EZRA POUND SEMINAR – A Selection of position papers


rapallo grouprsz nicholls










The T. S. Eliot Society cordially invited Ezra Pound scholars to participate in their annual meeting, which took place in Rapallo,

17-21 June 2016.

The Ezra Pound Society channelled this participation and involved itself actively in the dialogue between Eliot and Pound scholars.

The star event for us Poundians was the seminar on Pound and Eliot moderated by Prof. Peter Nicholls.

Here we present a selection of position papers discussed during the seminar.





Poetics and Orthodoxy; Poetics as Sensibility:

Tracing an Exchange between Eliot and Pound

Edward Alexander, Berkeley University



It is hard to appreciate the full import of Pound’s reply, in 1934’s “Date Line,” to Eliot’s 1928 provocation, “what does Mr. Pound believe?” (169), without seeing the shift in ground upon which Pound’s riposte hinges.  To understand Pound’s remark, “I believe the Ta Hio” (LE 86), we need to grasp the particular inflection that "believe" is given in this statement by turning to his translation of the Confucian Great Digest, and to weigh that inflection against the model of belief that Eliot frames in terms of what he calls “orthodoxy.”

Eliot’s question provides the capstone for the critique of A Draft of XXX Cantos that he builds in his 1928 review of Personae, “Isolated Superiority,” in The Dial.  The question provides an index for Eliot’s understanding of the proper function and delegation of the arts within a social order, and for the way these views inform his modeling of the normative relationships between form and content within a poem.  In short, while Eliot remarks that The Cantos are “technically… nearly flawless” (179), the philosophical scaffolding of the work is “a curious syncretism which I do not think he has ever set in order” (Erkilla 169).  So the force of Eliot’s question has to do with the status of the moral and epistemological background to The Cantos’ acknowledged technical virtuosity.  The full significance of this charge becomes clearer, however, only in light of Eliot’s account of orthodoxy as the necessary basis for culture across his prose writings, starting around the time of his conversion in 1927 and dealt with most explicitly in 1933’s After Strange Gods: A Primer of Modern Heresy.  In that work, Eliot explicitly locates Pound, along with Lawrence, Yeats and Irving Babbitt, as an exemplar of the “modern mind” he associates with these authors’ varieties of cosmopolitan liberal humanism. 

Two aspects of Eliot’s championing of orthodoxy in that work prove crucial for seeing what is at stake in his question and answer with Pound.  First, Eliot’s orthodoxy locates the religious institution in a central position within culture, and this institution is a synthesis of practical mores such as habitus and ritual with the metaphysical, epistemological and moral doctrines arrived at through the right use of reason on the part of a social group.1 Orthodoxy, “which calls for the exercise of all our conscious intelligence” (ASG 29), thus defines the doctrine that is then embodied as prescribed “tradition,” and enacted in the rituals of the church and the mores of the culture.  Second, and consequently, the divergence from orthodoxy in Eliot’s account primarily concerns the process in which culture, in the Arnoldian sense, comes to supplant the place of religion within the social order and the ways in which proponents of culture place a higher premium on affective and sensuous expression than on a coherent structure of ideas or morals advanced within the work.  These two movements are corollary: the prerogatives of the fine arts having assumed the social function formerly held by theological doctrine, as a product of collective reason’s alignment with scriptural authority, the poem’s sensuous and affective dimensions now assume a disproportionately weighted role in providing an authoritative basis for values within a culture. 

It is not surprising, then, that we get a moment like the following in Murder in the Cathedral:

Sweet and cloying through the dark air

Falls the stifling scent of despair;

The forms take shape in the dark air:

Puss-purr of leopard, footfall of padded bear. (44)

In a near-quotation of Acoetes’ description of Dionysus’ hierophanic appearance in Canto II, Eliot inverts the import of Pound’s “Sniff and pad-foot of beasts, / fur brushing my knee-skin, / Rustle of airy sheaths, / dry forms in the æther,” so that the emergence of the theos to full sensuous presence in the spoken medium of one of Pound’s more lyrically virtuosic passages is now reframed in the lamentation of the Chorus of Canterbury women as the apocalyptic sign attending God’s withdrawal from the earth, thus prefiguring the Archbishop of Canterbury’s murder.  Illustrative in its contrast is the magisterial entrance speech of Thomas Becket, both Eliot’s historical instance of orthodoxy “upheld by one man against the world” (ASG 30) and a synecdoche for the Church within the play, when he speaks of the “pattern,” beyond the immanent frame of experience, that “may subsist, for the pattern is the action / and the suffering, that the wheel may turn and still / be forever still” (22).  That pattern is at once the grammatical pattern of Thomas’ measured, parallel clauses as they frame the relation of values within action and pathos, the pattern of historical conflict defining the political schism between Henry II and the Church, and the typological pattern that will allow Thomas to assent to his assassination as an act of martyrdom fulfilling a providential will. 

“Belief” for Eliot, then, means belief in accordance with a structure or relationship of ideas to one another, so it would be easy to assume that Pound is referring to the same character of belief when he replies “I believe the Ta Hio” in “Date Line.”  Indeed, one is tempted to say that Eliot takes Pound to mean “believe” in this way, when Eliot writes of the “steamroller of Confucian rationalism” that “has flattened over the whole” (Erkilla 169) of Pound’s philosophical eclecticism in The Cantos, or of the “pneumatic philosophy and theory of corpuscular action” (ASG 42) that he focuses on in his discussion of the influence of Guido Cavalcanti on Pound’s thought in After Strange Gods.  But the essential distinction between understandings of the character of belief can be found in Pound’s comment “it seems to me desirable to establish demarcation between the known and the unknown, in at least a few specimen areas.  Until one has taken the trouble to do so I don’t see how one is to escape a certain gross clumsiness in the general Anschauung” (LE 86).  Here, Pound’s use of a term for “intuition” or “perception” most frequently associated with German Idealism both helps to elucidate and is elucidated by the “Terminology” section of his own translation of the Confucian Ta Hio.  It is crucial to see that the compound ideograms Pound (albeit often incorrectly) translates in that work serve not as subsidiary archaeological documents to be bypassed in order to arrive at the systematic exposition of ideas that follows, but are meant to be seen as the focal point for the work as a whole. 

In other words, the Confucian sensibility is thought to be directly perceptible in the graphic form of the ideographs as expressive media, i.e. as signifiers rather than signifieds, and the learning process consists in moving from the aphoristic statements that comprise the Great Digest to this direct perception.  The assumption behind this view is that “intellectual intuition,” for Kant a contradictio in adjecto only conceivable as a possible attribute of God, is not only a faculty possessed by humans but informs the Confucian tradition as a whole.  Intellectual intuition in Kant’s system is contradictory because the term by definition entails a collapse of the distinction between the sensible (to which the Kantian sense of “intuition” refers) and cognitively intelligible, the phenomenal and noumenal orders upon which Kant’s whole epistemology rests.  But for the twentieth century neo-Confucian philosopher Mou Zongsan, the affirmation of intellectual intuition as a human faculty constituted the entire basis for Chinese philosophy in its distinction from the western tradition.  Zongsan would write in Phenomenon and Noumenon, “if it is true that human beings cannot have intellectual intuition, then the whole of Chinese philosophy must collapse completely, and the thousands years of effort must be in vain.”2 Rather than seeing Confucianism, as Eliot does, as a form of rationalism, Pound’s obsession with ideogrammics as entailing a mode of intelligibility radically distinct from the predominant forms of rationality in western thought stemmed from his view that linguistic media could allow the same non- or transconceptual processes of intelligent discernment that informed the compositional structure of, say, a canzone or a Gaudier-Brzeska sculpture.

Between Eliot’s orthodoxy and Pound’s sensibility we therefore get two radically different models of the relationship between art and knowledge.  Orthodoxy requires that aesthetic composition be tempered by doctrine, as determined through a synthesis of traditional values with collective forms of rationality.  In the Poundian model, indexed in the statement “I believe the Ta Hio,” aesthetic composition could, in some sense had to, provide sufficient grounds for a culture without being delimited by rational dictates.  This difference had profound consequences for the subsequent development of both literature and literary institutions in the 20th century.  We can begin by seeing it in the distinction between the more “Eliotic” New Critical models of formalism that would shape academic thought on literature, and the movements for educational reform that one finds, for instance, in the more “Poundian” poets associated with Black Mountain College.   



1. The primary actual historical instance of such collective deliberation during Eliot’s time being the Anglican clergy’s gathering at the 1930 Lambeth Conference, discussed at some length in “Thoughts After Lambeth,” Selected Essays 1917-1932.

2. Quoted in Nicholas Bunnin, “God’s Knowledge and Ours: Kant and Mou Zongsan on Intellectual Intuition” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 40:S (2013): 47-58.




Il Miglior Fabbro”: The Influence of Pound in T. S. Eliot’s Later Prose

Seda Şen Alta, Başkent University



 While more than ninety years have passed since the publication of The Waste Land, Pound’s editing of Eliot’s poem is one of the crucial moments illustrating their relationship as friends, rival poets, and critics. Pound’s editing of The Waste Land was a climactic event of Eliot’s career. Although closely linked together, their styles of writing poetry and prose differed from each other. Yet, T.S. Eliot’s prose after Pound leaves London bears traces of Pound’s earlier essays and seems to build upon his ideas. When both poets resided in London, the literary authority shifted from Pound to Eliot after the former’s association with Blast conveyed an unpleasant image of Pound in the eyes of the readers (Zwerdling 232-233). Pound began to gradually receive rejections from other periodicals; his difficulty in fitting into this literary circle led to him being replaced by Eliot (Weintraub 366). Although he took Pound's place as the impresario of English literary modernism at the time, Eliot still advocated his mentor’s ideas by either praising his work or explicating his ideas. Some of the ideas Pound conveyed in his early essays can be seen in Eliot’s later prose: the relationship between tradition and innovation, the position of foreign languages compared to English, precision of expression, the role of colloquial speech, and the function of poetry in society. To illustrate, examples will be given from Eliot’s lectures and essays collected in On Poetry and Poets (1957) and Pound’s essays collected in Literary Essays (1968), edited by Eliot.

The modernist poetics which Pound and Eliot established drew attention to the relationship between tradition and innovation. Pound’s motto, “Make it New,” emerged from the idea that a young poet must familiarize himself with earlier writers to discover which ideas are established, while expressing what has not yet been said (“A Retrospect” 10). He gave the example of a scientist first familiarizing himself with what has already been discovered, and moving on to what has not been, which suggests progress (6). Pound’s argument stressed the importance of innovation emerging out of what is missing in past tradition. A few years later, Eliot asserted in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919) that readers take pleasure in seeing the contrast between the young poet and his predecessors:

We dwell with satisfaction upon the poet’s difference from his predecessors; we endeavor to find something that can be isolated in order to be enjoyed. Whereas if we approach a poet without this prejudice we shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously. (“Tradition and the Individual Talent” 48)

As he argues, innovation should not be the criterion to judge a younger poet, it is how he employs the underlying tradition that proves his value. Moreover, he employs Pound’s image of the scientist to draw an analogy between a chemical reaction and the role of the relationship between tradition and innovation in the creation of art (53). In this analogy, Eliot, unlike Pound, emphasizes tradition in an interaction with new ideas, not in negation, as Pound suggested in his earlier essays. Although his earlier essay is of a different opinion, in “The Social Function of Poetry” (1945) Eliot seemed to be integrating Pound’s ideas further into his own. Eliot stresses the importance of learning and studying former writers of the same language to discover the ways in which they have contributed to the development of the language so as to renew it: “Indeed, if an English poet is to learn how to use words in our time, he must devote close study to those who, in their own day, have made the language new” (22). This idea of innovation, which is crucial to the development of a language (and hence a culture) reminds the reader of the similar argument made by Pound, that of making it new, although the idea of innovation here  also allows the poet to preserve, extend, and improve existing forms of language.

         The relationship of foreign languages to English allowed Pound and Eliot to explore new ways of expression in verse written in English. Pound believed that by hearing a foreign language, one had the opportunity to “dissociate vocabulary from cadence” and to discover new rhythms and sound patterns, enabling the poet to see English from a new perspective (“A Retrospect” 5). Likewise, Eliot’s view of language, especially the role of a foreign one, fixated on discovering new ways of expression in English. Although they both seek to innovate in both using the English language and in its relationship to other languages, Eliot asserts that although not all words are familiar, sometimes one can grasp an immediate, vivid impression without understanding every word. Like Pound, he argues, there is more to poetry than just the meaning of the words. For Eliot, “language carries the essence of the culture that enables you to grasp part of the culture of that country and be immersed in it as a traveler” (24). In other words, both argue that foreign languages are crucial to innovation in English writing because they enable a new perspective for expression for both writer and reader. However Pound and Eliot also differ on the issue of language: Pound focuses on the musicality of other languages to innovate in English, whereas Eliot pays more attention to the culture in which that particular foreign language is created. This knowledge teaches the reader to appreciate poetry in all languages and educate himself.

Both poets emphasize the necessity of educating the reader in the appreciation of good poetry. Pound argues that a person should only be exposed to good literature; that is to say, literary works that use language par excellence. For both the reader and the aspiring poet, Pound maintained that training one to distinguish poetry that one admires or dislikes is the key to breaking away from the classical, traditional form of literary appreciation and the formation of a new “palette” for the reader (“The Renaissance” in LE 216). Pound believes that poetry has been destroyed; he criticizes societies in which mediocre writers are praised as a result of the poor level of taste in literature, resulting in the decay of poetry (218). Further, Pound argues that in order to achieve a Renaissance in any nation’s literature, society must first train itself to appreciate the literature of the past and that of other peoples, in such reading discovering how the innovators revolutionized literature (218). Likewise, Eliot believes that the reader must train himself to appreciate poetry. In terms of developing a taste for poetry, Eliot proposes reading poems from anthologies and poetry magazines while learning to distinguish between good and bad art (“What is Minor Poetry?” 42). However, Eliot’s proposition is that in the anthology, one would distinguish between good and bad literature by comparing and contrasting between writers, and as a result would develop his taste in literature. Thus Eliot’s argument also puts emphasis on the personal taste of the reader. Instead, in sorting good writers from bad, Pound categorizes writers into six groups, naming the most important group the “innovators” because they are the ones who discover a new mode of expression in language. Furthermore, Pound also emphasizes that the names to be placed in these categories and the categories themselves may change according to the reader and what is important to him. It is his emphasis on innovators which illustrates his ideal of a revolutionary change in literature (“How to Read” 23). On the other hand, Eliot builds upon Pound’s idea of innovators by stating that the “developers” should also be of importance, finding that insisting upon innovation would be “as unwholesome as an obstinate adherence to the idiom of our grandfathers,” and thus for Eliot, unlike Pound, a poet is not to be considered “good” only by his innovative style, but by developing already created forms of expression (“Music of Poetry” 35). Pound and Eliot both believe in the reader’s education: Pound is stricter in distinguishing between good and bad literature, whereas Eliot puts emphasis on a balance between them in the development of personal taste.

Another disagreement they had was about the use of colloquial language in poetry. Eliot argues that poetry cannot afford to lose contact with ordinary, everyday language and if there is such a boundary between poetic expression and colloquial speech, then it needs to be broken for poetry to develop alongside language. “Every revolution in poetry is apt to be, and sometimes to announce itself to be a return to common speech. […] The music of poetry, then, must be a music latent in the common speech of its time” (“Music of Poetry” 29, 31). Eliot thinks that the raw material for the poet is the common everyday speech he encounters in the streets (22-23). For him, poetry should have the function of uniting people because whoever reads the poems would relate to it in one way or the other through his own language (23). Likewise, Pound argues that art and life should work hand in hand, thus, poetry should be written from life, and not in the style of former poets. Thus he believes that art should be a truthful representation of human nature, and to achieve this, the most powerful device a poet has at hand is language. Although Pound argues for “simplicity and directness of utterance,” he disapproves of poetry written in colloquial language in “I Gather the Limbs of Osiris.” That is to say, he insists upon the difference between the use of everyday language and the more ‘dignified,’ “‘curial’” language that would function as a corrective means for the audience (Pound, Selected Prose 41). 

Pound maintains that success in art lies in the precision of the use of language to express an emotion as simple and directly as possible with the fewest number of words, as close to his reality as possible, but not in an imitation of everyday speech. (“The Serious Artist” 43). Similar to Pound’s idea of precision, in “What is a Classic?” (1944) is Eliot’s argument that in order for a classic style to be formed in literature, the structure of the language should be able to convey both the musicality of that language and the complexity of the culture of that country or people in the simplest and most direct manner (59). Thus, written in 1944, Eliot’s essay bears traces of Pound’s ideas on the importance of “the direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective” (“A Retrospect” 3).

The function of poetry in itself is another central point of discussion between the poets. For Pound, literature in general is beneficial to the public as the literature of a society reflects and represents the state-of-mind of the people, giving them a different view of existence through the medium of literature. Thus, he argues that literature does not function solely to “educate” people but to represent groups which share similar opinions, showing them that they are not alone (“How to Read” 21). In “The Social Function of Poetry” (1945), Eliot differs from Pound, stating that one of the social functions of poetry is to communicate new experience, creating a sense of awareness of an emotion that has not yet been defined. In other words, he believes that poetry should convey “a new understanding of the familiar” (“The Social Function of Poetry” 17). The true poet makes his readers share an experience, or describes for them the experience they had, but were unable to describe, and had been up to that point, unaware of its existence (20). 

The ways in which the poets structure some of the main points of modernism are strikingly different from one another. Both poets elaborate on the relationship between tradition and innovation; both emphasize comparing and contrasting English with foreign languages; both establish the importance of precision in expression. Although the main ideas they discuss in these essays are alike, their discussions differ from each other. Pound’s earlier argument about these subjects can be traced partially in Eliot’s later work, authenticating Eliot’s idea of preserving and extending literature.


Eliot, T.S. “The Music of Poetry” On Poetry and Poets. London: Faber and Faber, 1957. 26-38. Print.

-- “The Social Function of Poetry.” On Poetry and Poets. 15-25.

-- “What is a Classic?” On Poetry and Poets. 53-71.

-- “What is Minor Poetry?” On Poetry and Poets. 39-52.

-- “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” The Sacred Wood. London: Methuen, 1960. 47-59. Print.

Pound, Ezra. “A Retrospect” Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. Ed. T.S. Eliot. New York: New Directions, 1968. 3-14. Print.

-- “How to Read” Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. 15-40.

-- “The Renaissance” Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. 214-226.

-- “The Serious Artist” Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. 41-57.

-- “I Gather the Limbs of Osiris.” Selected Prose 1909-1965. Ed. William Cookson. London: Faber and Faber, 1978. 21-43. Print.

Weintraub, Stanley. The London Yankees: Portraits of American Writers and Artists in England 1894-1914. New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979. Print.

Zwerdling, Alex. Improvised Europeans: American Literary Expatriates and the Siege of London. New York: Basic Books, 1998. Print.



The Poet as Redeemer and Redeemed

Jack Baker, Durham University




        The Waste Land’s most redemptive sentiments are left implicit. Eliot’s note on the fragment from Pervigilium Veneris, ‘Quando fiam uti chelidon’, directs us to Philomela, and so suggests the poet’s own frustrated longing for transfiguration. But the original sentence runs on: "ut tacere desinam" ("that I may cease to be silent").1 This too is significant, for The Waste Land becomes a rite of passage, though which the embattled poet can finally articulate (and so rise to meet) the challenges of a fractured and alien modernity.

       The newly supple idioms of "What the Thunder said" – ("OK from / here on / I think," E.P.) – enact an aesthetic consolation, even as the psychological integuments of the road to Emmaus seem calculated to deny comfort or closure. No longer do the poem’s myriad references amplify the gulf between an aureate past and a debased present; rather, in the lyric synergies of ‘What the Thunder said’, art and life are brought finally into accord:

I sat upon the shore

Fishing, with the arid plain behind me

Shall I at least set my lands in order?     (V, 71)

These lines assimilate the urgencies of personal experience to a universal register, an effect that anticipates the finest sections of Pound’s Cantos. For in this period, Eliot and Pound were closely allied in their poetic ambitions. As I shall argue on another of the conference panels, Pound’s editing of The Waste Land manuscripts had a greater influence on his own poetic practice than is commonly acknowledged: Eliot’s refinement of an impersonal voice, embodied in the vatic figure of Tiresias, showed Pound how his own "poem containing history" might finally be realised. But whereas Pound, despite periods of struggle and strife, remained remarkably loyal to an idealised vision of poetry as embodying ‘The “magic moment” or moment of metamorphosis, bust thru from quotidien into “divine or permanent world’” (L 210), Eliot’s works are increasingly shaped by religious inhibitions. "I dare say the sweats with tears will wait," Pound observed in January 1922. They waited until The Hollow Men:

At the hour when we are

Trembling with tenderness

Lips that would kiss

Form prayers to broken stone     (III, 82)          

The near-nihilism of The Hollow Men represents an exhaustion of the already vulnerable sensibility of The Waste Land. A socially deracinated consciousness has become helplessly mired in the shadows “Between the idea / And the reality.” Eliot’s response to this impasse was to embody in subsequent poems his thirst for Christian redemption, for consolation not merely in words, but in the Word. In this, Eliot is increasingly estranged from Pound’s part-Hellenic, part-pagan intuitions. Whereas Pound casts his own poetry as extending organic energies – “Cometh from a seen form which being understood / Taketh locus and remaining in the intellect possible” (XXVI/177)2 – for Eliot, not only must the art object be rather willed into being, but so, to some extent, must the tradition upon which it draws:

Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something

Upon which to rejoice     (Ash-Wednesday, I, 87)

This is not to undermine the poetic achievement of Ash-Wednesday, which in its search for “the still point of the turning world” produces some of Eliot’s most haunting verse. In "Religion and Literature" (1935), he advocates "a literature which should be unconsciously, rather than deliberately and defiantly, Christian" and his poetry in this period steers well clear of dogma - witness the plangent economies of the Ariel poems: "let me / Resign my life for this life, my speech for that unspoken" (“Marina” 108). But in Four Quartets, in seeking to universalise a spiritual revelation that in Ash Wednesday had been ennobled by personal feeling, Eliot risks precisely the "deliberately and defiantly" proselytising verse that "Religion and Literature" warns against:

You are not here to verify,

Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity

Or carry report. You are here to kneel

Where prayer has been valid.     (“Little Gidding”, I, 202)

Whereas the subtly indeterminate imagery of Ash Wednesday gestures to epiphanies on the borders of vision, recalling Yeats’s famous observation that “man can embody truth, but he cannot know it”,3 these lines are coercive. Too often in late Eliot, we feel the poet’s finger on the scales. Even in passages rich with tactile, sensory perception – “Between melting and freezing / The soul’s sap quivers” – Eliot encounters a paradox common in literary approaches to the ineffable: it is difficult to represent the afterlife other than as an idealised version of the present, and this can make the world Eliot would renounce seem rather more attractive than the spiritual realm he would have us embrace. Consider, in contrast, Pound’s evocation of his paradiso terrestre in Canto XLVII, which reaffirms the central, Odyssean metaphor of his epic as a voyage after knowledge. It moves seamlessly between borrowed, but authentic voices, from Circe to Odysseus, allowing the poet to inhabit multiple perspectives and to synthesise discontinuous narratives. For the landscape surrounding Rapallo, more sensate and particular than Eliot’s heavily symbolic realm, is transfigured into a setting for classical myth and Eleusian mystery: the redemptive energies are a sublimation of the present, not a negation of it. Nor is the confluence of myths in Canto XLVII laboured, as Eliot’s religious symbolism can sometimes seem. Rather, the connections between past and present, image and symbol, and private and collective experience are enacted visually and musically:

And the small stars now fall from the olive branch,

Forked shadow falls dark on the terrace

More black than the floating martin

                 that has no care for your presence,

His wing-print is black on the roof tiles

And the print is gone with his cry.

So light is thy weight on Tellus

Thy notch no deeper indented

The weight less than the shadow

Yet hast thou gnawed through the mountain,

                 Scylla’s white teeth less sharp.     (XLVII/ 237-8)

This passage is aligned with the spirit of Tiresias, and its measured surety offers an illuminating contrast with Canto I. There, Tiresias’ fearsome prophecy – “Odysseus / “Shalt return through spiteful Neptune, over dark seas, / “Lose all companions” – is a fleeting rhetorical triumph, leading to anticlimax: “Lie quiet Divus. I mean, that is Andreas Divus” (I, 4-5). But here Pound is able to inhabit Tiresias’ persona without apologia or guiding speech marks. The result is not an isolated monologue, but an authentic voice in a sequence of voices, which amplifies the range and category of insights available to the poet, without sacrificing the depth of feeling that attaches to individual personae. Indeed, the compression of the lines above attests to the extent of Pound’s poetic development from the earliest Cantos. Multiple implications attach to the “small stars”: the Pleiades are re-imagined as the petals of an olive tree flower; a delicate image in which symbols of celestial permanence are made transient and local, and so drawn into the ambit of the poet’s own mortality. Daniel Pearlman observes, persuasively, that the “relation of these short-lived spring flowers to the branch is like that between the brief existence of individual men and mankind,” and this universalising symbolism, which runs parallel to the mythic associations embedded in the same chain of images, is indicative of Pound’s extraordinary facility for charging even recondite allusions with keen emotive force.4 But the final section of the canto, which adopts a first-person address, is perhaps the most striking. The “I” of the poem is still, in strictly narrative terms, Odysseus; but the conflation of Homeric wanderer and exilic American, which has been building throughout the canto, is now complete:

The light has entered the cave. Io! Io!

The light has gone down into the cave,

Splendour on splendour!

By prong have I entered these hills:

That the grass grow from my body,

That I hear the roots speaking together,

The air is new on my leaf,

The forked boughs shake with the wind.     (XLVII/238)

Canto XLVII begins in darkness, and one of its central images, of small lights floating upon water, captures the fragility of personal attempts to achieve knowledge. But now the poet has become sublimated in the very organic processes that had at first seemed to overmatch his creative powers, as the limpid images of this passage confirm the canto’s overall movement from “thou” to “I” as a movement from dark to light, and from ignorance to understanding. A progenitive oneness with Tellus, which in the Tiresias section had seemed impossible, becomes an ecstatic reality: “The air is new on my leaf, / The forked boughs shake with the wind.” The metaphorical implications of this passage are clear, aligning the poet’s craft with the redemptive organic processes it labours, like Odysseus, to apprehend.

Even in Drafts and Fragments, which register a poignant personal defeat, Pound is sustained by a numinous (his detractors would say nebulous) sense of cultural and organic energies that persist independently of his own powers of articulation: “It coheres, alright, even if my notes do not cohere.” This “live tradition” is quintessentially optimistic in a way that Eliot’s etiolated requiems never are. Geoffrey Hill’s censures are characteristically exacting: "It was the pitch of Prufrock and Other Observations that disturbed and alienated readers; it was the tone of Four Quartets that assuaged and consoled them. That is to say, Eliot’s poetry declines over thirty years from pitch into tone, and these late-published papers [Eliot’s Clark Lectures] contribute significant evidence to the history of that decline."5

        In the argot of Hill’s criticism, “pitch” and “tone” correspond, respectively, to language in which the semantic associations are carefully wrought, and language which is merely gestural. This is a damning critique of an oeuvre that, for many critics, constitutes the greatest individual achievement in 20th century verse. I do not include Hill’s criticisms because I regard the authority of his judgements as final. But when we consider that Hill has far more sympathy with Eliot’s religious convictions than with Pound’s political ones, his obvious preference for Pound’s poetics over Eliot’s (see Hill’s subtle and penetrating analysis of Pound’s ‘Envoi (1919)’) warrants further investigation.

        My own, provisional position is that the lyric amplifications of Pound’s paradiso terrestre afford a more captivating vision of human possibility than Eliot’s graceful retreat into Christian certitudes.




1 T.S. Eliot, The Poems of T.S. Eliot: Volume 1, ed. Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue (London: Faber, 2015). All references to Eliot’s verse are to this volume.

2 Ezra Pound, The Cantos of Ezra Pound (New York: New Directions, [1996]). All references to The Cantos are to this volume.

3 W.B. Yeats, The Letters of W. B. Yeats, ed. Allan Wade (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1954) 922.

4 Daniel Pearlman, The Barb of Time: On the Unity of Ezra Pound’s Cantos (New York: Oxford UP, 1969) 186.

5 Geoffrey Hill, “Dividing Legacies”, in Collected Critical Writings, ed. Kenneth Haynes (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2008) 377.






Anxieties and Pleasantries in Modernist Philia between T. S. Eliot

and Ezra Pound

Adam Cotton, Queen’s University Canada



Formal, political and religious discords characterize the tensions between Eliot and Pound, but Robert Lowell’s proleptic elegy “Ezra Pound” shows that these distances are contracting concerns that yield an inseparable poetic friendship.

Yes, there is commerce between Eliot and Pound. The mellifluous melody in Eliot’s “Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar,” which is set against the “Defunctive music under the sea,” is replete with odious anti-Semitism: “The Jew is underneath the lot” (5, 23). The echoing preposition “under” implies a ubiquitous aboveness. The juxtaposition of the expensive “cigar” and the culturally inexpensive “Baedeker” stresses further the speaker’s priggish and chubby perspective of the vacationing Jew. Pound does the same. But his tone is expansively terse: “WITH USURA / Wool comes not to market” (Canto XLV 24-5). Again, the preposition connotes its antonym: “WITH” is without.

There might also be continuity between Leo Frobenius and Pound’s paideuma and Eliot’s notion of a “historical sense” (Pound, Zwek or the Aim” 57; Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent”). That is, there must never be a sustained, and droning solitary, lyrical voice. Concerning these hostilities, and approaches to culture, there is a consensus.    

But what of the discrepant nuances in the poetry? Pound’s persona remarks in Canto XLVI:

And if you will say that this tale teaches

a lesson, or that the Reverend Eliot

has found a more natural language you who think you will

get through hell in a hurry

That day there was a cloud over Zoagli     (1-5)

Getting through hell is the salient ordeal for both poets; however, Pound’s use of the conditional “if,” and the coordinating conjunction “or,” teases Christian hermeneutical traditions of “tale[s],” “teach[ings],” and “lesson[s].” The phrase “Reverend Eliot” is acerbic as it is cynically warm-hearted.

          In Pound’s elegy for Mussolini, and the fascist “dream,” in Canto LXXIV the impasse to paradise is confronted:

Thus Ben and la Carla a Milano

                             by the heels at Milano

That maggots shd/ eat the dead bullock

DIGONOS, ∆iyovos, but the twice crucified

                             where in history will you find it?

yet say this to the Possum a bang, not a whimper,

                 with a bang not a whimper     (4-10)

Unlike the “whimper[ing]” comedy in Eliot, the comic impulse in Pound is derailed and cast toward an “enormous tragedy”—the fractured, and battered bundle of fascism (1). Pound’s cryptic reference to the inverted cross of St. Peter suggests that “Ben” is a pharmakos figure “twice.” He is the parody of the “twice” born (Sieburth 119). Il Duce has become the dying god, but there is no hope for rejuvenation after the “bang” of his crucifixion. The inverted parroting of Eliot’s phrase is unfriendly, despite the tender nicknaming of “Possum.” But does such quarreling express, as well as confirm, intellectual communion?

       The speaker in Robert Lowell’s “Ezra Pound” refuses to “enstar” the literary blacksmith (Virgil 23). Yet, he offers to buttress the corpo lasso of the poet with extemporaneous inscriptions of dialogic communion. This poem is not an “elegy,” but it is elegiac. Here are the opening lines:

Horizontal on a deckchair in the ward

of the criminal mad…. A man without shoestrings clawing

the Social Credit broadside from your table, you saying,

“… here with a black suit and black briefcase; in the brief,

an abomination, Possums’ homage to Milton.”     (1-5)

A solemnly mournful, yet ironic, bathos characterizes the action in these shapes, sighs and signs of woe. The unwinding adjective “Horizontal” shows that Pound is no longer the erect figure we see in E. O. Hoppé’s portrait of 1920. Upon viewing the photograph, we notice that Pound’s head is upturned, and his gaze looks into the viewer—imperious, intrusive and yet luridly piteous. The pose bristles with invidious smugness. But Lowell’s Pound is supine as he no longer has the nerve to proclaim that “Artists are the antennae of the race” (Pound, ABC 73).

Here, Pound is not “out of key with his time,” as the speaker laments in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley: he is out of key with everything—full stop (1). Pound will never reach the vertical again. The enervated body of the poet “on a deckchair” reflects the contrite tone towards the end of the Cantos, where Pound’s persona says that “I have tried to write Paradise . . . Let those I love try to forgive / what I have made” (Pound, “Notes for CXVII et seq” 25, 32-33). The poet’s use of ellipses adds a fading, yet palpable weight, of fatigue and dispirit, which is at odds with the process of “normal” mourning (Freud 243). This elegiac acknowledgement is a mournful celebration, but the paean proceeds. Lowell’s use of aposiopesis mimics the bathetic fall from the promise of “Paradise” to an appeal for “forgiveness” in Pound’s fragmented Canto. The image of the “man without shoestrings” suggests that he cannot die with a “bang” of suicide, but must dissolve with a “whimper” (Eliot, Hollow Men V.31; Pound, Canto LXXIV 9). The reference to the “Social Credit broadside” (Pound often wrote his Cantos on broadsheets) humiliates the poet, whose “economics, Fascist sympathies, and anti-Semitic rhetoric [often] continue to shadow the poet’s reputation” (Perloff).

 “Possum” is an ironic commemoration within an ironic commemoration. Pound elegizes Eliot the friend, but not Eliot the icon of modernism. However, the italics of “homage” intimate criticism of Eliot’s terminal views on Milton, showing that even the dead Eliot cannot escape Pound’s red pen.

  Lowell’s speaker persists in the following five lines:

Then sprung; Rapallo, and the decade gone;

And three years later, Eliot dead, you saying,

“Who’s left alive to understand my jokes?

My old brother in the arts . . . besides, he was a smash of a

Poet.”     (Lowell 6-10)

The phrase “Then sprung” corresponds ironically to the opening of The Cantos: “And then went down,” which describes Odysseus’ descent into hell (Pound, Canto I.1). If the comparison of cultural overlayering, or “ply on ply” as Pound puts it, is taken soberly, then “sprung” is an ironic synonym for “down,” despite the verb/adverb discrepancy. Yes, Pound has “sprung” up from the “ward / of the criminal mad” to his beloved Rapallo, but his endeavor to reach “Paradise” is stymied: the cultural enterprise is over. It is odd here that Lowell does not mention his own “spells in mental hospital[s],” but the omission conveys a pervasive inclusion of modernist anxiety (Notebook 13).

Just as the two poets are linguistically intimate, so are they in the hospital together, talking, doing and making a proleptic elegy. The uncompromising adjective “gone” is charged with loss, and melancholia. The commas, and semicolons, nettle the tempo into terse and telegraphic bits of information, intensifying the pace of time registered, but not lived—time used up, yet not used. The phrase “Eliot dead” denies the towering reputation of the poet, even though Pound re-christens Eliot as “Possum,” and Lowell’s speaker does not re-enact the intimate pattern of anointment. The phrase is too confined within its commas to indicate any sort of beatification. Pound’s remark, “he was a smash of a poet,” is almost a throwaway line, but it is just as melancholic as Pound’s personal question: “Who’s left alive to understand my jokes?” Pound is rendered incommunicable.

Lowell’s poem digs up, and disseminates, the intimate exchanges between the two poets. The final lines read, “You showed me your blotched, bent hands, saying, ‘Worms. / Then I talked that nonsense about Jews on the Rome / wireless, Olga knew it was shit, and still loved me’” (10-12). The act of Pound showing his decaying hands to Lowell amounts to a piano self-elegy, and is thus another elegy within an elegy. The horrifying “Worms” claim Pound’s death before his actual demise. The echoing of the melancholic self-reproach and remorse for his Ente Italiana Audizione radio broadcasts show that Lowell refuses to scatter his literary icon upon the cosmos. Instead, the poets dine upon one another in a banquet, or Eucharist, in linguistic fellowship and friendship. Pound, Eliot, and Lowell are torn asunder, but they are paradoxically decanted into each other.



Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy. Trans. C. H. Sisson. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Eliot. T. S. The Complete Poems and Plays. New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1980. Print.

---. “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” The Sacred Wood. London: Methuen & Co LTD, 1976. Print.

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Lowell, Robert. Notebook. London: Faber & Faber, 1970. Print.

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Sieburth, Richard. “Introduction.” The Pisan Cantos. By Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions, 2003. Print.

Terrell, Carroll F. A Companion to the Cantos of Ezra Pound. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. Print.

Virgil. The Eclogues and the Georgics. Trans. C. Day Lewis. Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks, 1966. Print.



Swarming the Endless Plains:

Journeys in The Cantos and The Waste Land

Jeff Grieneisen, State College of Florida



We all know that Eliot acknowledged Ezra Pound as “il miglior fabbro” (the better maker) in The Waste Land, and that Pound provided significant edits to the poem he referred to as “possibly the finest that the modern movement in English has produced.” They borrowed from one another, discussed poetics, and overall influenced each other. In a close reading of The Waste Land and Pound’s “Canto I” and “Canto XVII,” I would like to draw together thematic similarities between the works, as each represents a kind of quest, specifically, a quest that utilizes prophets to foretell the possibilities of earthly happiness or order. There are other details of similarity that help to reinforce the notion that these works, while not parroting one another, are certainly overlapping. My contention is that Eliot and Pound utilize Greek prophets so that they have deities that might answer their questions or direct them toward that ever-elusive paradiso that they seek on earth. To merely pray to a Christian God is not to seek answers, but rather to plead with a divine being who does not respond, except in some symbolic way that must be discerned from mere chance. And so the prophet, namely Tiresias, becomes essential to the works in their respective explorations of structure and order, of truth and beauty.

In Eliot’s “Waste Land,” we find what Steven Helmling calls “a rewrite of ‘Prufrock,’ but this time with Western civilization as the protagonist [that] similarly pictures a world vacillating between the comfortable narcosis of deadness and the frightening challenge of coming back to life” (139). Despite the ambivalence that Helmling attributes to Eliot, we see the reach for meaning, the search for order, and we see this through the use of clairvoyants and prophesy. As he continues, Helmling notes “the power to which the Sybil and Madame Sosostris both lay claim, the power of ‘prophesy,’ of potent utterance in a demoralized world, is a power that Eliot as poet, and The Waste Land as poem, clearly aspire to” (140). Ultimately, he claims that the aspiration and ambivalence are most evident in the footnote about Tiresias:

Tiresias of Greek legend was turned from man to woman when he interrupted two snakes in the act of copulating. He lived then as a woman for seven years, the spell broken only when he again struck those snakes, eight years later, as they copulated again. Because Tiresias had lived as both man and woman, the gods Jove and Juno put to him the task of settling a dispute; namely, does a man or woman get greater pleasure out of sex? He answered, woman, to which Juno angrily condemned him to eternal blindness. Jove then gave him the power of prophesy to overcome his lost eyesight.

As we look to the facsimile edition of The Waste Land, in Burial of the Dead, it is suggested, perhaps by Vivienne, that Eliot replace “the man with three staves” with first “King fishing” and then “fisher King” in the lines “Here is the man with the three staves, and here the Wheel, / And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card” (lines lines 51-2). That change was not taken into the final version, as appears in the Norton Anthology of American Literature (8th ed.) that is taught to so many upcoming scholars, but it shows the interest in fortune-telling through these tarot cards as a way of seeing into the future and gaining necessary insight. Ultimately, there are many stories of the Fisher King, but all include the concept of a wound to the leg (or groin) which must be healed by a magical incantation (asking the right question). As the King suffers, the land suffers, becoming a wasteland. Thus, Eliot seems to present a speaker who is much like the Fisher King—symbolically wounded and seeking that answer to restore order to the world, a way to “shore up” these fragments.

          Tiresias appears in “The Fire Sermon” as the speaker of that section:

I Tiresias, though blind, throbbing between two lives,

Old man with wrinkled female breasts, can see  

At the violet hour, the evening hour that strives  

Homeward, and brings the sailor home from the sea”     (lines 218-21).

He follows with an account of everyday, ordinary workers returning home: the typist hanging tidying up and laundry, the evening follies of a successful  businessman, a “Bradford millionaire” unable to get his wife to return his affections. Tiresias ends that segment in a parenthetical statement: “

And I Tiresias have foresuffered all

Enacted on this same divan or bed;

I who have sat by Thebes below the wall

And walked among the lowest of the dead.”     (lines 243-46)

In this way, the prophet Tiresias becomes an everyman, unlucky in love and living in a fragmented world. Indeed, the gift of prophesy might be a curse, in that sitting by Thebes has allowed him to “witness the tragedies of Oedipus and Creon” (footnote) yet without the power to change those  actions.

Of course, Tiresias retains his gift of prophesy in the underworld, and that is where we meet him in Pound’s Cantos. “Canto I” is Pound’s adaptation of Book 11 of Homer’s Odyssey. In this, Odysseus, after living for a year with Circe, herself the goddess of magic, prepares to find the way home for him and his men. The poem begins in medias res: “And then went down to the ship,” and traces the plot of Odysseus and his men loading up for the journey, including boarding sheep which they will sacrifice to Tiresias according to custom. They sail until they find the ocean flowing backward, and there enter Hades.

Pound refers to The Cantos as his search for truth and beauty and as a poem containing history, and in it, one can find a lot of autobiographical references, even as Pound sets himself up throughout the poem as Odysseus, as Kung (Confucius), as a Jeffersonian agrarian, among many other personae. “Canto I” as the beginning sets the pace for this exploration, which again is similar to Eliot’s search for order, but differs somewhat in that the search for beauty might be more elusive.  Nonetheless, Tiresias’s prophesy is necessary to help Odysseus/Pound find his way home or to find truth and beauty, and that search for truth and beauty begins in hell, as we must start at the bottom.

The character of Tiresias, the blind prophet, offers Odysseus the opportunity to see more clearly. While searching the underworld for him, Odysseus encounters fallen comrade Elpenor, who had while drunk, fallen from a rooftop of Circe’s house and broken his neck. His soul outpaced Odysseus’s ship, and there, Elpenor implored Odysseus to return and bury him properly, and to espouse his story for all to hear. This is perhaps a way of confirming the importance of tradition and custom, of things being in their proper order.

In preparation to meet Tiresias, Odysseus had prepared the sheep (the “bloody bever”). The prophesy was that Odysseus would return “through spiteful Neptune, over dark seas. / ‘Lose all companions’” (lines 66-7), and in this journey, Pound wrestles with the competing personae of himself, Homer, and Odyssey translator Andreas Divas. The Canto trails away into myth as we watch Odysseus sailing away, past Sirens, and onward. The Canto evokes the myths of Aphrodite, Diana, and the Golden Bough. The final words of “Canto I” are “so that:” and just as the poem begins mid-sentence, so does it end.

We pick up in “Canto XVII”: “So that the vines burst from my fingers” and witness a magical transformation in stark contrast to Hades. This is the poem of Venice, “marble trunks out of stillness” (line 16) “chrysophrase” (line 20)  and Zagreus, son of Zeus and Persephone, feeding his panthers. This would seem to be the paradiso that has been sought.  Of course, with a total of 116 Cantos plus fragments, we know this is not the ending. It is, however, the place where Tiresias has guided Odysseus/Pound. While Eliot ends The Waste Land with the Upinashadic chant “shantih” (“the peace which passeth understanding”), Pound has been led by Tiresias to this magical, enchanted land that, in part, recounts Jason’s voyage to Colchis in search of the Golden Fleece. It also sees Odysseus as Ulysses now, protected by gods Hermes and Athene who calm the sea for his return to Ithaca.

Within  “Canto XVII,” Pound also assumes the persona of Actaeon, a hunter Artemis turns into a stag to be devoured by his own dogs as punishment for seeing the goddess Diana bathing. Eliot also evokes this myth in “The Fire Sermon” in the lines “The sound of horns and motors” (197). In this myth, we see both ritual sacrifice, where Actaeon becomes the sacrifice, himself, which is important when seeking prophesy. Additionally, this story represents a man who becomes unrecognizable: Actaeon to his hounds, Eliot and Pound to what the world had become.

While we can in no way state that the poems are the same, examining the similarities allows a glimpse into the usage and significance of myth, particularly the concept of prophesy in the search for that which will render the world whole again.



Baym, Nina, editor. The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Vol D. New York: Norton, 2012.

Eliot. T. S. “The Waste Land.” Baym 378-91.

Helmling, Steven. "The Grin of Tiresias: Humor in The Waste Land." Twentieth Century Literature. 36.2, (1990): 137-54. Print.

Pound, Ezra. “Canto I.” Baym 328-9.