Fun with select Ezra Pound verse

2022-10-09 @Literature

A small subset of Ezra Pound verse from varying periods. Many taken from Selected Poems of Ezra Pound (a New Directions Paperbook) in what I imagine the order of publication. Omitted are many of those cliché few-liners of which I’m not the greatest appreciator. Likewise, omitted (I think) any of the Chinese adaptations for similar motives. You’ll find none of the Cantos or the longer narratives here: mainly the shorter verse.


The Tree

A nod at an allegory with indirect Ovid references:

I stood still and was a tree amid the wood,
Knowing the truth of things unseen before;
Of Daphne and the laurel bow
And that god-feasting couple old
that grew elm-oak amid the wold.
'Twas not until the gods had been
Kindly entreated, and been brought within
Unto the hearth of their heart's home
That they might do this wonder thing;
Nathless I have been a tree amid the wood
And many a new thing understood
That was rank folly to my head before.

Sestina: Altaforte

Annotated version with notes

The following evokes an ancient French ruffian, Bertrans de Born, who famously held his severed head in Dante’s eighth circle of hell like a lightbearer a candle. Lots of grotesque head activity in those lower rings.

Concerning the sestina, note the intricate rotating line ending pattern to each stanza. One of many Pound’s dialogues in lyric, helps to read slowly with emphasis, like you would a theatrical excerpt.

LOQUITUR: En Betrans de Born.
    Dante Alighieri put this man in hell for that
    he was a stirrer-up of strife.
    Judge ye!
    Have I dug him up again?

The scene is his castle, Altaforte. “Papiols” is his jongleur. “The
Leopard,” the device of Richard (Cœur de Lion).


Damn it all! all this our South stinks peace.
You whoreson dog, Papiols, come! Let’s to music!
I have no life save when the swords clash.
But ah! when I see the standards gold, vair, purple, opposing
And the broad fields beneath them turn crimson,
Then howl I my heart nigh mad with rejoicing.


In hot summer have I great rejoicing
When the tempests kill the earth’s foul peace,
And the light’nings from black heav’n flash crimson,
And the fierce thunders roar me their music
And the winds shriek through the clouds mad, opposing,
And through all the riven skies God’s swords clash.


Hell grant soon we hear again the swords clash!
And the shrill neighs of destriers in battle rejoicing,
Spiked breast to spiked breast opposing!
Better one hour’s stour than a year’s peace
With fat boards, bawds, wine and frail music!
Bah! there’s no wine like the blood’s crimson!


And I love to see the sun rise blood-crimson.
And I watch his spears through the dark clash
And it fills all my heart with rejoicing
And prys wide my mouth with fast music
When I see him so scorn and defy peace,
His lone might ’gainst all darkness opposing.


The man who fears war and squats opposing
My words for stour, hath no blood of crimson
But is fit only to rot in womanish peace
Far from where worth’s won and the swords clash
For the death of such sluts I go rejoicing;
Yea, I fill all the air with my music.


Papiols, Papiols, to the music!
There’s no sound like to swords swords opposing,
No cry like the battle’s rejoicing
When our elbows and swords drip the crimson
And our charges ’gainst “The Leopard’s” rush clash.
May God damn for ever all who cry “Peace!”


And let the music of the swords make them crimson
Hell grant soon we hear again the swords clash!
Hell blot black for always the thought “Peace”!

Planh For The Young English King

Similar to Sestina: Altaforte, the elegy conforms to a particular ending pattern across select lines. From the provençal of Bertrans de Born. As much of Pound’s early work, I prefer to read like a section of a verse drama.

That is, Prince Henry Plantagenet, elder brother
to Richard Coeur de Lion.

If all the grief and woe and bitterness,
All dolour, ill and every evil chance
That ever came upon this grieving world
Were set together they would seem but light
Against the death of the young English King.
Worth lieth riven and Youth dolorous,
The world o'ershadowed, soiled and overcast,
Void of all joy and full of ire and sadness.

Grieving and sad and full of bitterness
Are left in teen the liegemen courteous,
The joglars supple and the troubadours.
O'er much hath ta'en Sir Death that deadly warrior
In taking from them the young English King,
Who made the freest hand seem covetous.
'Las! Never was nor will be in this world
The balance for this loss in ire and sadness!

O skillful Death and full of bitterness,
Well mayst thou boast that thou the best chevalier
That any folk e'er had, hast from us taken;
Sith nothing is that unto worth pertaineth
But had its life in the young English King
And better were it, should God grant his pleasure,
That he should live than many a living dastard
That doth but wound the good to ire and sadness.

From this faint world, how full of bitterness
Love takes his way and holds his joy deceitful
Sith no thing is but turneth unto anguish
And each to-day Vails less than yestere'en,
Let each man visage this young English King
That was most valiant 'mid all worthiest men!
Gone is his body fine and amorous,
Whence have we grief, discord and deepest sadness.

Him, whom it pleased for our great bitterness
To come to earth to draw us from misventure,
Who drank of death for our salvacioun,
Him do we pray as to a Lord most righteous
And humble eke, that the young English King
He please to pardon, as true pardon is,
And bid go in with honoured companions
There where there is no grief, nor shall be sadness.

An Object

This thing, that hath a code and not a core,
    Hath set acquaintance where might be affections,
    And nothing now
    Disturbeth his reflections.

Is that auto-biographical, or what could mean this mysterious thing?

The Seafarer

Annotated with notes

May I for my own self song's truth reckon,
Journey's jargon, how I in harsh days
Hardship endured oft.

See the link for the complete alliterative poem and an exemplary rendition of an older Anglo-Saxon elegy from the Exeter book. Again, read slowly and visualize the tribulations in this Boethian outcry.

The opening lines alone splendidly exhibit the antique-English register Pound knew to articulate: a major asset to the English language in general and something that I struggle to mimic in Russian to a comparable impact.


One of my favourite sets of lines to evoke time and time again. I only wish I wrote lyric of this nature.

Be in me as the eternal moods
of the bleak wind, and not
As transient things are—
gaiety of flowers.
Have me in the strong loneliness
of sunless cliffs
And of grey waters.
Let the gods speak softly of us
In days hereafter,
The shadowy flowers of Orcus
Remember Thee.


Either read the following aloud or at least vocalize in your mind to capture the musicality. Like the whole array of verse written in Pound’s antiquity register, read slowly with your best attempt at some variant of the medieval English accent. Or imagine yourself a pirate. Be sure to thrill those Rs.

Golden rose the house, in the portal I saw
thee, a marvel, carven in subtle stuff, a
portent. Life died down in the lamp and flickered,
caught at the wonder.

Crimson, frosty with dew, the roses bend where
thou afar, moving in the glamorous sun,
drinkst in life of earth, of the air, the tissue
golden about thee.

Green the ways, the breath of the fields is thine there,
open lies the land, yet the steely going
darkly hast thou dared and the dreaded aether
parted before thee.

Swift at courage thou in the shell of gold, casting
a-loose the cloak of the body, earnest
straight, then shone thine oriel and the stunned light
faded about thee.

Half the graven shoulder, the throat aflash with
strands of light inwoven about it, loveliest
of all things, frail alabaster, ah me!
swift in departing.

Clothed in goldish weft, delicately perfect,
gone as wind ! The cloth of the magical hands!
Thou a slight thing, thou in access of cunning
dar'dst to assume this?

The Return

Not immediately likable, nor of your typical cadence, but beautiful once adequately conceptualized. Imagine each stanza as a vignette contributing to one of those ancient tapestry paintings.

See, they return; ah, see the tentative
Movements, and the slow feet,
The trouble in the pace and the uncertain

See, they return, one, and by one,
With fear, as half-awakened;
As if the snow should hesitate
And murmur in the wind,
            and half turn back;
These were the "Wing'd-with-Awe,"

Gods of the wingèd shoe!
With them the silver hounds,
            sniffing the trace of air!

Haie! Haie!
    These were the swift to harry;
These the keen-scented;
These were the souls of blood.

Slow on the leash,
            pallid the leash-men!

The Garden

Another of those classics from the Imagism period, as Pound transitioned into the simpler but visually precise vocabulary. A satirical sketch of the changing times among English nobility with respect to the surrounding society.

En robe de parade. Samain

Like a skein of loose silk blown against a wall
She walks by the railing of a path in Kensington Gardens,
And she is dying piece-meal
of a sort of emotional anaemia.

And round about there is a rabble
Of the filthy, sturdy, unkillable infants of the very poor.
They shall inherit the earth.

In her is the end of breeding.
Her boredom is exquisite and excessive.
She would like some one to speak to her,
And is almost afraid that I
will commit that indiscretion.


From the same satirical family of lyric as the Garden.

O generation of the thoroughly smug
    and thoroughly uncomfortable,
I have seen 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.

Les Millwin

I’ve not grasped half the allusions, yet I smile at each rendition of this sketch. Though nothing singularly clever, the compactness of this short, autonomous and expressive lyric makes the verse memorable per the phenomenon I relate in the linked post.

The little Millwins attend the Russian Ballet.
The mauve and greenish souls of the little Millwins
Were seen lying along the upper seats
Like so many unused boas.

The turbulent and undisciplined host of art students-
The rigorous deputation from ‘Slade’-
Was before them.

With arms exalted, with fore-arms
Crossed in great futuristic X's, the art students
Exulted, they beheld the splendours of Cleopatra

And the little Millwins beheld these things;
With their large and anaemic eyes they looked out upon
this configuration.

Let us therefore mention the fact,
For it seems to us worthy of record.

The Coming of War: Actaon

An Imagist convocation. The modernist free-verse vocabulary is an acquired taste, but once appreciated, you expand your horizons to immeasurable fields of poetic expression.

An image of Lethe,
                          and the fields
Full of faint light
                       but golden,
Gray cliffs,
              and beneath them
A sea
Harsher than granite,
          unstill, never ceasing;

High forms
                with the movement of gods,
Perilous aspect;
                       And one said:
"This is Actæon."
                       Actaeon of golden greaves!

Over fair meadows,
Over the cool face of that field,
Unstill, ever moving,
Host of an ancient people,
The silent cortège.

The Lake Isle

Another satiric sketch that could as easily find it’s way into prose.

Over fair meadows,
Over the cool face of that field,
Unstill, ever moving,
Host of an ancient people,
The silent cortège.

O God, O Venus, O Mercury, patron of thieves,
Give me in due time, I beseech you, a little tobacco-shop,
With the little bright boxes
piled up neatly upon the shelves
And the loose fragment cavendish
and the shag,
And the bright Virginia
loose under the bright glass cases,
And a pair of scales
not too greasy,
And the votailles dropping in for a word or two in passing,
For a flip word, and to tidy their hair a bit.

O God, O Venus, O Mercury, patron of thieves,
Lend me a little tobacco-shop,
or install me in any profession
Save this damn'd profession of writing,
where one needs one's brains all the time.


Whether a poor translation, a decent adaptation or an admirable imitation, the brief vision powerfully encapsulates what I might imagine of a Gustave Dore engraving capturing one of Dante’s Purgatorio cantos.

I will get me to the wood
Where the gods walk garlanded in wisteria,
By the silver-blue flood move others with ivory cars.
There come forth many maidens
to gather grapes for the leopards, my friend.
For there are leopards drawing the cars.
I will walk in the glade,
I will come out of the new thicket
and accost the procession of maidens.

Greek Epigram

I have never arrived at but an inkling of the essence of this verse. That is to say, I’ve not a clue. But the lines effuse a zestful character.

Day and night are never weary,
Nor yet is God of creating
For day and night their torch-bearers
The aube and the crepuscule.

So, when I weary of praising the dawn and the sun-set,
Let me be no more counted among the immortals;
But number me amid the wearying ones,
Let me be a man as the herd,
And as the slave that is given in barter.

Sestina for Ysolt

Another Sestina, mostly fixed meter, six rotated endings to each stanza.

There comes upon me will to speak in praise
Of things most fragile in their loveliness;
Because the sky hath wept all this long day
And wrapped men's hearts within its cloak of greyness,
Because they look not down I sing the stars,
Because 'tis still mid-March I praise May's flowers.

Also I praise long hands that lie as flowers
Which though they labour not are worthy praise,
And praise deep eyes like pools wherein the stars
Gleam out reflected in their loveliness,
For whoso look on such there is no greyness
May hang about his heart on any day.

The other things that I would praise to-day?
Besides white hands and all the fragile flowers,
And by their praise dispel the evening's greyness?
I praise dim hair that worthiest is of praise
And dream upon its unbound loveliness,
And how therethrough mine eyes have seen the stars.

Yea, through that cloud mine eyes have seen the stars
That drift out slowly when night steals the day,
Through such a cloud meseems their loveliness
Surpasses that of all the other flowers.
For that one night I give all nights my praise
And love therefrom the twilight's coming greyness.

There is a stillness in this twilight greyness
Although the rain hath veiled the flow'ry stars,
They seem to listen as I weave this praise
Of what I have not seen all this grey day,
And they will tell my praise unto the flowers
When May shall bid them in in loveliness.

O ye I love, who hold this loveliness
Near to your hearts, may never any greyness
Enshroud your hearts when ye would gather flowers,
Or bind your eyes when ye would see the stars;
But alway do I give ye flowers by day,
And when day's plucked I give ye stars for praise.

But most, thou Flower, whose eyes are like the stars,
With whom my dreams bide all the live-long day,
Within thy hands would I rest all my praise.


Among the short lyric evoking the antique register, one of my preferred.

"E tuttoque to fosse a la compagnia di molti, quanto
alla vista."

Sometimes I feel thy cheek against my face
Close-pressing, soft as is the South's first breath
That all the subtle earth-things summoneth
To spring in wood-land and in meadow space.

Yea sometimes in a bustling man-filled place
Me seemeth some-wise thy hair wandereth
Across mine eyes, as mist that halloweth
The air awhile and giveth all things grace.

Or on still evenings when the rain falls close
There comes a tremor in the drops, and fast
My pulses run, knowing thy thought hath passed
That beareth thee as doth the wind a rose.

Questions, comments? Connect.