Ezra Pound: Poems & Essays

Instructor: Beth Kulik

Beth has taught high school English for 7 years. She has a master's degree in Education Leadership.

In the lesson, we'll discuss a brief biography of the American poet, Ezra Pound. He was a member of poetry's Imagist movement in the early-mid 1900s. We'll also read and analyze a poem and essay excerpt. This lesson will conclude with a short, five-question multiple-choice quiz.

Ezra Pound: Brief Bio

Ezra Pound

Ezra Pound (1885-1972) was an American expatriate poet who spent the majority of his adult life in London, Paris, and Italy. He was a critic of the early modernist movement in American poetry, which was partially responsible for his desire to leave the country and settle in Europe. Throughout his life in Europe, he became a huge proponent of Imagism, a more classical movement in poetry. The Imagist movement focused on and favored concise language, unembellished imagery, and a strong connection between the verbal and lyrical qualities of verse and mood. In 1945, while living in Italy, Pound was arrested for treason and extradited back to the United States where he remained until 1958 when he was freed and chose to return to his life in Italy. While imprisoned, he continued to write one of his most famous and lengthy works, called The Cantos. This large work was eventually published in 1969. Although he voiced his dislike for the modernist poetry, Pound's legacy was his part in helping to advance the careers of some of the most well-known modernist poets, including e.e. cummings and T.S. Eliot.

Poetry Analysis: 'Salutation'

Read the following poem twice. The first time you read it, simply read it for the content. The second time you read through the poem, try to determine what message the speaker is trying to convey. Also, focus on the use of imagery (remember this is an Imagist poem!).


O generation of the thoroughly smug

and thoroughly uncomfortable,

I have seen the fishermen picnicking in the sun,

I have seen them with untidy families

I have seen their smiles full of teeth

and heard ungainly laughter.

And I am happier than you are,

And they were happier than I am;

And the fish swim in the lake

and do not even own clothing.

While you read the poem, were you able to determine the speaker's message? The speaker (Pound, in this case) is trying to impart his own, personal worldviews on the readers. Remember earlier how we discussed Pound's disdain for American modernist poetry? Well, here in this poem, Pound is discussing his disdain for 'the thoroughly smug' people of the world; one can easily make the comparison between Pound's opinion of both smug people and American modernist poets. He discusses how the current generation is made up of self-righteous individuals who never once think of others. Pound describes the smiles he witnesses on fishermen picnicking, which one can infer would never been seen on the faces of arrogant men performing the same action. These men Pound describes smile and laugh while doing mundane, everyday tasks, whereas the current, entitled generation worries more about worldly possessions, like clothes; Pound concludes his poem illustrating this exact remark through the image of happy fish frolicking about in the water naked.

Before you began reading the poem, I asked you to also focus on Pound's use of imagism. We just discussed the image of the fish in the concluding two lines. What other images did you notice while you read? Two key images Pound chose to include in this poem are 'untidy families' and 'smiles full of teeth.' These two images are used to describe the same larger idea of the fishermen, yet they are contradictory images. 'Untidy families' is not a positive image; when one thinks of something as untidy, he obviously considers it to be messy. A messy family is not one that anyone envies. Contrarily, a smile full of teeth is something that everyone hopes to have. Why do you think Pound chose to describe the families of the fishermen as possessing these two characteristics? That's right! To show us, as readers, that even though something may not be good, or happy, to the naked eye, it can still be a positive attribute; a messy family is better than no family at all! The smug people Pound is describing do not think or care about families; they only think of themselves. Therefore, Pound chose these two images to describe to the reader the importance of thinking of others and looking past just the surface.

Essay Analysis: A Retrospect

In the early 1900s, Pound published a series of essays; the majority of his essays discussed his opinions and critiques on the current modernist movement in poetry. Clearly, Pound's viewpoint regarding the modernist movement was something that was very important to Pound - he left the country to get away from the movement, wrote poetry discussing his disdain for Americans, and wrote essays verbalizing his disapproval and dislike of the current teachings. An essay that speaks to the essence of Pound's disdain is titled 'A Retrospect.' Please read the following short excerpt from the essay and focus on Pound's writer's 'voice' and discussion of the importance of imagism.

'A Retrospect'

There has been so much scribbling about a new fashion in poetry, that I may perhaps be pardoned this brief recapitulation and retrospect.

In the spring or early summer of 1912, H.D. Richard Aldington and myself decided that we were agreed upon the three principles following:

1. Direct treatment of the 'thing' whether subjective or objective

2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation

3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in the sequence of a metronome.

Upon many points of taste and of predilection we differed, but agreeing upon these three positions we thought we had as much right to a group name…

This school has since been 'joined' or 'followed' by numerous people who, whatever their merits, do not show any signs of agreeing with the second specification…

Criticism is not a circumscription or a set of prohibitions. It provides fixed points of departure. It may startle a dull reader to alertness. That little of it which is good is mostly in stray phrases; or if it be an older artist helping a younger it is great measure but rules of thumb, cautions by experience.

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