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Ezra Pound: His Metric and Poetry
by [?]

The metres and the use of language are unfamiliar. There are certain traces of modern influence. We cannot agree with Mr. Scott-James that among these are “W. E. Henley, Kipling, Chatterton, and especially Walt Whitman”–least of all Walt Whitman. Probably there are only two: Yeats and Browning. Yeats in “La Fraisne,” in “Personae,” for instance, in the attitude and somewhat in the vocabulary:

I wrapped my tears in an ellum leaf
And left them under a stone,
And now men call me mad because I have thrown
All folly from me, putting it aside
To leave the old barren ways of men …

For Browning, Mr. Pound has always professed strong admiration (see “Mesmerism” in “Personae”); there are traces of him in “Cino” and “Famam Librosque Cano,” in the same volume. But it is more profitable to comment upon the variety of metres and the original use of language.

Ezra Pound has been fathered with vers libre in English, with all its vices and virtues. The term is a loose one–any verse is called “free” by people whose ears are not accustomed to it–in the second place, Pound’s use of this medium has shown the temperance of the artist, and his belief in it as a vehicle is not that of the fanatic. He has said himself that when one has the proper material for a sonnet, one should use the sonnet form; but that it happens very rarely to any poet to find himself in possession of just the block of stuff which can perfectly be modelled into the sonnet. It is true that up to very recently it was impossible to get free verse printed in any periodical except those in which Pound had influence; and that now it is possible to print free verse (second, third, or tenth-rate) in almost any American magazine. Who is responsible for the bad free verse is a question of no importance, inasmuch as its authors would have written bad verse in any form; Pound has at least the right to be judged by the success or failure of his own. Pound’s vers libre is such as is only possible for a poet who has worked tirelessly with rigid forms and different systems of metric. His “Canzoni” are in a way aside from his direct line of progress; they are much more nearly studies in mediaeval appreciation than any of his other verse; but they are interesting, apart from their merit, as showing the poet at work with the most intricate Provencal forms–so intricate that the pattern cannot be exhibited without quoting an entire poem. (M. Jean de Bosschere, whose French is translated in the “Egoist,” has already called attention to the fact that Pound was the first writer in English to use five Provencal forms.) Quotation will show, however, the great variety of rhythm which Pound manages to introduce into the ordinary iambic pentameter:

Thy gracious ways,
O lady of my heart, have
O’er all my thought their golden glamour cast;
As amber torch-flames, where strange men-at-arms
Tread softly ‘neath the damask shield of night,
Rise from the flowing steel in part reflected,
So on my mailed thought that with thee goeth,
Though dark the way, a golden glamour falleth.

Within the iambic limits, there are no two lines in the whole poem that have an identical rhythm.

We turn from this to a poem in “Exultations,” the “Night Litany”:

O God, what great kindness
have we done in times past
and forgotten it,
That thou givest this wonder unto us,
O God of waters?

O God of the night
What great sorrow
Cometh unto us,
That thou thus repayest us
Before the time of its coming?

There is evident, and more strongly in certain later poems, a tendency toward quantitative measure. Such a “freedom” as this lays so heavy a burden upon every word in a line that it becomes impossible to write like Shelley, leaving blanks for the adjectives, or like Swinburne, whose adjectives are practically blanks. Other poets have manipulated a great variety of metres and forms; but few have studied the forms and metres which they use so carefully as has Pound. His ballad of the “Goodly Fere” shows great knowledge of the ballad form: