Ezra Pound

By: Matthew Battles
October 30, 2009


In a wire cage in the Pisan sun at the end of the Second World War, the forces of chaos and order clashed for EZRA POUND (1885–1972) more keenly than ever. With the accusation of treason aimed squarely at him, and before the madness that had long lapped at his lyric burst its dams, Pound composed the Pisan Cantos. Perhaps it was the bounty of sunlight combining with the intractability of the cage that finally brought to a head the struggle between the Eleusinian and the Confucian, between fecundity and the fasces, between profusion and probity —

Learn of the green world what can be thy place
In scaled invention or true artistry,
Pull down thy vanity …
The green casque has outdone your elegance.

In The Gift, Lewis Hyde argues that Pound’s pernicious economic ideas had their origins in the poet’s commitment to an artistic economy — in which the plenitude of the imagination bears no mere interest but waxes comprehensively, even vegetally. That this might be the whole of economic life was Pound’s error; that something like the opposite reigns instead is our folly.


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