“A slave is one who waits for someone else to free him.” — Ezra Pound
By Greg Johnson
One of the ongoing projects of the North American New Right is the recovery of our tradition. One does not have to go too far back before one discovers that every great European thinker and artist is a “Right Wing extremist” by today’s standards.
What is even more remarkable is the number of great 20th century figures who belong in our camp as well. And among these figures, Ezra Loomis Pound is one of the most illustrious and one of the most radical.
Pound is lauded even by his enemies as one of the giants of modernist poetry. Speaking personally, however, Pound’s poetry long stood in the way of appreciating his genius as a critic, a translator, an essayist, an economist, and a political commentator.
I like a lot of modern literature, but to my ear Pound pushes its intellectualist and reflexive characteristics to the extreme and offers very little with immediate naive and sensuous appeal. For instance, as far as I have been able to determine, he never wrote anything in danger of being set to music by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Appreciating Pound’s poetry presupposes a vast humanistic education of the sort long unavailable in American universities. Of course it doesn’t hurt to have such an education, even if one does not end up liking Pound. A good place to begin such an education is Pound himself, through reading his many volumes of essays and criticism, which I find absolutely compelling. Pound’s art is very long, and life very short. But you owe it to yourself to try. In the end, you have nothing to lose but your ignorance.
I suggest you begin where I did, with Impact: Essays on Ignorance and the Decline of American Civilization (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1960), which brings together all of Pound’s central interests, cultural, historical, artistic, political, and economic. A similar overview is provided by Selected Prose 1909-1965 (New York: New Directions, 1973). After that, read his Guide to Kulchur (New York: New Directions, 1970).
For Pound’s political views, seek out Jefferson and/or Mussolini (1935) (New York: Liveright, 1970). Then read his WWII radio broadcasts: Ezra Pound Speaking: Radio Speeches of World War II (Contributions in American Studies) (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1978).
Finally, read his economic pamphlets, reprinted below, the ideas of which are ably summarized by Carolina Hartley in “Ezra Pound on Money.”
For Pound’s views on literature, see his Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, ed. T. S. Eliot (New York: New Directions, 1968), The Spirit of Romance (New York: New Directions, 1968), and ABC of Reading (1934) (New York: New Directions, 1960).
To tackle Pound’s poetry, all you need is two books: The Library of America’s massive volume Ezra Pound: Poems and Translations (New York: Library of America, 2003), which contains everything except Pound’s magnum opus The Cantos (New York: New Directions, 1971).