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Quotables: Ezra Pound

Ezra Pound (1885 – 1972) was no stranger to great controversy, having found himself caged by American troops in Pisa in 1945 for supporting the Italian fascists during World War II. In some ways this tragic turn events was inevitable for an artist who left America for Europe in search of an older and more orderly civilization. The author of the 120-section epic poem Cantos (composed over a half century), Pound did the literary world an immense favor in mentoring and helping to publish T.S. Eliot. In 1934 Pound published The ABC of Reading, a text on how to read literature and, by inference, how to write poetry. It is chock full of pithy observations, a selection of which are excerpted below.

  • “The Chinese still use abbreviated pictures AS pictures, that s to say, Chinese ideogram does not try to be the picture of the sound, or to be a written sign recalling the sound, but it is still a picture of the thing: of a thing in a given position or relation,..”
  • “Literature is language charged with meaning.”
  • “You…charge words with meaning mainly in three ways, called phanopoeia, melopoeia, logopoeia. You use a word to throw a visual image on to the reader’s imagination, you charge it by sound, or you use groups of words to do this.”
  • “Tests and Composition Exercises:

Let the pupils exchange composition papers and see how many words and what useless wrods have been used — how many words tat convey nothing new.

How many words that obscure the meaning.

How many words out their usual place, and whether this alteration makes the statement in any way more interesting or more energetic.

Whether a sentence is ambiguous; whether it really mean more than one thing or more than the writer intended; whether it can be read as to mean somethig different.

Whether there is something clear on paper, but ambiguous if spoken aloud.”

  • “I believe if a man will learn Greek he can get nearly ‘all of it’ in Homer…I have never read half a page of Homer without finding melodic invention…”
  • “Music rots when it gets too far from the dance. Poetry atrophies when it gets too far from music.”
  • “If a nation’s literature declines, the nation atrophies and decays.”
  • “The man of understanding can no more sit quiet and resigned while his country lets its literature decay, and lets good writing meet wit contempt, than a good doctor could sit quiet and contented whilesome ignorant child was infecting itself with tuberculosis under the impression that it was merely eating jam tarts.”
  • “From Chaucer you can learn whatever came over into the earliest English that one can read without a dictionary.”
  • “Artists are the antennae of the race.”

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