A Few Don’ts (2)

July 31, 2018

O young man, in thy youth - Manuel Laval

RHYTHM AND RHYME:

Let the candidate fill his mind with the finest cadences he can discover, preferably in a foreign language [This is for rhythm, his vocabulary must of course be found in his native tongue], so that the meaning of the words may be less likely to divert his attention from the movement; e.g. Saxon charms, Hebridean Folk Songs, the verse of Dante, and the lyrics of Shakespeare—if he can dissociate the vocabulary from the cadence. Let him dissect the lyrics of Goethe coldly into their component sound values, syllables long and short, stressed and unstressed, into vowels and consonants.

It is not necessary that a poem should rely on its music, but if it does rely on its music that music must be such as will delight the expert.

Let the neophyte know assonance and alliteration, rhyme immediate and delayed, simple and polyphonic, as a musician would expect to know harmony and counterpoint and all the minutiae of his craft. No time is too great to give to these matters or to any one of them, even if the artist seldom have need of them.

Don’t imagine that a thing will “go” in verse just because it’s too dull to go in prose.

Don’t be “viewy” – leave that to the writers of pretty little philosophic essays. Don’t be descriptive; remember that the painter can describe a landscape much better than you can, and that he has to know a deal more about it.

When Shakespeare talks of the “Dawn in russet mantle clad” he presents something which the painter does not present. There is in this line of his nothing that one can call description; he presents.

Consider the way of the scientists rather than the way of an advertising agent for a new soap.

The scientist does not expect to be acclaimed as a great scientist until he has discovered something. He begins by learning what has been discovered already. He goes from that point onward. He does not bank on being a charming fellow personally. He does not expect his friends to applaud the results of his freshman class work. Freshmen in poetry are unfortunately not confined to a definite and recognizable class room. They are “all over the shop.” Is it any wonder “the public is indifferent to poetry?”

Don’t chop your stuff into separate iambs. Don’t make each line stop dead at the end and then begin every next line with a heave.

Let the beginning of the next line catch the rise of the rhythm wave, unless you want a definite longish pause.

In short, behave as a musician, a good musician, when dealing with that phase of your art which has exact parallels in music. The same laws govern, and you are bound by no others.

Naturally, your rhythmic structure should not destroy the shape of your words, or their natural sound, or their meaning. It is improbable that, at the start, you will he able to get a rhythm-structure strong enough to affect them very much, though you may fall a victim to all sorts of false stopping due to line ends, and caesurae.

The Musician can rely on pitch and the volume of the orchestra. You cannot. The term harmony is misapplied in poetry; it refers to simultaneous sounds of different pitch. There is, however, in the best verse a sort of residue of sound which remains in the ear of the hearer and acts more or less as an organ-base.

A rhyme must have in it some slight element of surprise if it is to give pleasure, it need not be bizarre or curious, but it must be well used if used at all.

Vide further Vildrac and Duhamel’s notes on rhyme in “Technique Poétique.”

That part of your poetry which strikes upon the imaginative eye of the reader will lose nothing by translation into a foreign tongue; that which appeals to the ear can reach only those who take it in the original.

Consider the definiteness of Dante’s presentation, as compared with Milton’s rhetoric. Read as much of Wordsworth as does not seem too unutterably dull.

If you want the gist of the matter go to Sappho, Catullus, Villon, Heine when he is in the vein, Gautier when he is not too frigid; or, if you have not the tongues, seek out the leisurely Chaucer. Good prose will do you no harm, and there is good discipline to be had by trying to write it.

Translation is likewise good training, if you find that your original matter “wobbles” when you try to rewrite it. The meaning of the poem to be translated cannot “wobble.”

If you are using a symmetrical form, don’t put in what you want to say and then fill up the remaining vacuums with slush.

Don’t mess up the perception of one sense by trying to define it in terms of another. This is usually only the result of being too lazy to find the exact word. To this clause there are possibly exceptions.

The first three simple prescriptions will throw out nine-tenths of all the bad poetry now accepted as standard and classic; and will prevent you from many a crime of production.

“. . . Mais d’abord il faut ětre un poète,” as MM. Duhamel and Vildrac have said at the end of their little book, “Notes sur la Technique Poétique.”

Since March 1913, Ford Madox Hueffer has pointed out that Wordsworth was so intent on the ordinary or plain word that he never thought of hunting for le mot juste.

John Butler Yeats has handled or man-handled Wordsworth and the Victorians, and his criticism, contained in letters to his son, is now printed and available.

I do not like writing about art, my first, at least I think it was my first essay on the subject, was a protest against it.

Ezra Pound
Pavannes and Divagations

A Few Don’ts

July 28, 2018

sitting in the rain

LANGUAGE:

Use no superfluous word, no adjective which does not reveal something.

Don’t use such an expression as “dim lands of peace.” It dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. It comes from the writer’s not realizing that the natural object is always the adequate symbol.

Go in fear of abstractions. Do not retell in mediocre verse what has already been done in good prose. Don’t think any intelligent person is going to be deceived when you try to shirk all the difficulties of the unspeakably difficult art of good prose by chopping your composition into line lengths.

What the expert is tired of today the public will be tired of tomorrow.

Don’t imagine that the art of poetry is any simpler than the art of music, or that you can please the expert before you have spent at least as much effort on the art of verse as an average piano teacher spends on the art of music.

Be influenced by as many great artists as you can, but have the decency either to acknowledge the debt outright, or to try to conceal it.

Don’t allow “influence” to mean merely that you mop up the particular decorative vocabulary of some one or two poets whom you happen to admire. A Turkish war correspondent was recently caught red-handed babbling in his despatches of “dove-grey” hills, or else it was “pearl-pale,” I cannot remember.

Use either no ornament or good ornament.

Ezra Pound
Pavannes and Divagations

a cent

My pawing over the ancients and semi-ancients has been one struggle to find out what has been done, once for all, better than it can ever be done again, and to find out what remains for us to do, and plenty does remain, for if we still feel the same emotions as those which launched the thousand ships, it is quite certain that we come on these feelings differently, through different nuances, by different intellectual gradations. Each age has its own abounding gifts yet only some ages transmute them into matter of duration. No good poetry is ever written in a manner twenty years old, for to write in such a manner shows conclusively that the writer thinks from books, convention and cliché, and not from life, yet a man feeling the divorce of life and his art may naturally try to resurrect a forgotten mode if he finds in that mode some leaven, or if he think he sees in it some element lacking in contemporary art which might unite that art again to its sustenance, life.

Ezra Pound
Pavannes and Divagations

ours are visions

April 3, 2017

Diary 3rd April

I met an old friend at the railway station a couple of years ago. I hadn’t seen him for a long time, and was shocked by how much he’d aged. I suppose I’d retained this mental image of him at age eighteen (of us both, in fact)? We’d been at school together. Close friends. But now, abruptly, we were two very different people.

Sometime after this, I encountered his older sister Christine in the street. It was on one of my then frequent visits to London. She’d metamorphosed from a slinky beauty to a dumpy duplicate of her mother. She looked so very careworn. I couldn’t help wondering what she saw when she looked at me?

Our faces contain as much of farce as of tragedy, or so it seems.

Christine, once vivacious and charming, had become sluggish and contemplative – nothing like the girl who’d allowed my hand beneath her pleated skirt and into her knickers.

Ah, all these breathless faces from the past belong in some old picture book, not here. We’re all racing towards the discourtesy of death, and should know better than to recall vulnerable girlish sighs from half a lifetime ago.

#

We are the golden men, who shall the people save:
For only ours are visions, perfect and divine.
For we alone are drunken of the last, best wine;
And very Truth our souls hath flooded, wave on wave.

(Lionel Johnson, Munster: AD 1534)

Does anyone read Johnson nowadays? I s’pose there’s one or two: the odd, geriatric Fenian, perhaps?

Ezra Pound described him as “a traditionalist of traditionalists”. Oxford scholar, Catholic, member of the Irish Literary Society, and the Rhymers’ Club, Johnson enjoyed a drink – but then who doesn’t? He was interestingly eccentric.

#

For Plato knowledge was the soul recollecting its previous incarnations. Plato and Jung have much in common, especially archetypes and the collective unconscious.

prague-castle-archive

And the good writer chooses his words for their ‘meaning,’ but that meaning is not a set, cut-off thing like the move of knight or pawn on a chess-board. It comes up with roots, with associations, with how and where the word is familiarly used, or where it has been used brilliantly or memorably.

Ezra Pound
ABC of Reading

amadeo-de-souza-cardoso-coty

With its unusual contemporaneity, (Frank) O’Hara’s poetry is a good example of what Ezra Pound meant when he said “literature is news that STAYS news.” It’s not hard to imagine that O’Hara would have been thrilled by the unusual afterlife his poetry has enjoyed in the 50 years since his death. Despite his notoriously casual attitude toward collecting and publishing his work, O’Hara always had one eye on posterity. “How am I to become a legend, my dear?” he asks in “Meditations in an Emergency.” He was convinced that inferior work would eventually vanish – “It’ll slip into oblivion without my help,” he once said, explaining why he declined to bash poetry he didn’t like. At the same time, as one can see in poems such as “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island,” which eerily looks ahead to his poetry’s posthumous life, O’Hara felt that truly great art finds a way to survive as it reaches down through time, altering and being altered by successive generations of readers, the words of the dead forever being “modified in the guts of the living,” as Auden said in his elegy for Yeats.

Andrew Epstein
Also a Poet

great unread poem…

September 10, 2016

reading3

This summer I plan to tackle poetry’s “great unread poem”: Ezra Pound’s The Cantos. The list of poets, seemingly influenced by this “great unread poem,” is long and distinguished. Sisson, Davie, Zukosfsky, and Olson, to name just a few. My motivation: to be properly influenced, to finally become a Poundian. Though making it new and out-pounding Pound is not on the agenda. As of now, I am familiar with cantos 1, 2, 3, 13, 45, 81 and 116. That’s about it for me. Tackling 120 Cantos in search of Davie’s proverbial “water spouts” (for instance, “Pull down thy Vanity” section of Canto 81) would be impossible even in a summer six months long. So I will be turning to one of my favorite poets, Thom Gunn, whose brief selection of cantos in Ezra Pound: Poems Selected by Thom Gunn will suffice. As per Gunn’s advice I will be armed with commentaries and Christine Froula’s A Guide to Ezra Pound’s Selected Poems.

Raza Ali Hasan
Essay for “Summer Reading Recommendations”
The Academy of American Poets

Canto LXXXI

August 19, 2015

Ezra Pound, Canto I…

August 5, 2015

Poundscantos

Does anyone read poetry today?

Obviously some people do. I read and write poetry myself. But the number of people reading verse nowadays is small. We are true minority in the world of letters.

What about reading Ezra Pound?

What…?

I can almost hear the collective gasp. Pound? The anti-Semite fascist? The madman who turned bewildering obscurities into verse? Are you serious…?

Well, yes, I am. Pound, it’s true, held some pretty unpleasant views. He attacked the Jewish people; frequently partook of nonsensical and aggressive condemnations of usury (he saw Jew and usury as synonymous terms); he thought Benito Mussolini to be the proverbial bee’s knees! And he was undoubtedly a fascist and a great supporter of the one party state, but most of his poetry – and that’s what’s important to me – wasn’t (isn’t) fascist poetry.

Perhaps for many the problem lies in the complexity of the Cantos?

Pound started composing them in 1915, and these were first published by Harriet Monroe in Poetry magazine, and in 1925 they were compiled into A Draft of XVI Cantos. Pound’s early cantos met with less than favorable public opinion, a problem that would prove to be ongoing. Even his editor, Monroe wrote that she “read two or three pages…and then took sick.” Not a particularly auspicious birthing for one of the greatest works of 20th century literature!

Ron Bush in the “The Ur-Cantos” (The Ezra Pound Encyclopedia. Ed. Demetres Tryphonopoulos and Stephen J. Adams.), has this to say on the subject:

“By the time Ezra Pound published his first collected volume of cantos (A Draft of XVI Cantos of Ezra Pound) he had been redrafting the poem’s opening for ten years. Manuscripts and typescripts of fragments of a set of Cantos 1-5 dating from 1915 can be found at the Beinecke Library and contain some material never finally incorporated into later cantos (for example, sections on The Mahabharata’s “Vyasa’s Wood” and the Cynewulf episode from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle).

“Pound worked up the bulk of these drafts into the Three Cantos (sometimes called the Ur-Cantos) he published in Poetry for June, July, and August 1917, then tinkered with the texts in versions that appeared in the American edition of Lustra (1917) and in the magazine Future for February, March and April 1918. Between October 1919 and January 1924 Pound went on to publish small press or magazine versions of individual cantos that closely correspond to the canonical cantos 4-13. It was not until shortly before the publication of A Draft of XVI Cantos, however, that he recast the first three poems into their final (or near final) form.”

Ummm. And I’ve probably already lost you, poor reader, such a chronology is bewildering to say the least, isn’t it? So let’s take a quick look at what eventually became the “first” Canto:

Canto I
And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and
We set up mast and sail on that swart ship,
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, so winds from sternward
Bore us out onward with bellying canvas,
Circe’s this craft, the trim-coifed goddess.
Then sat we amidships, wind jamming the tiller,
Thus with stretched sail, we went over sea till day’s end.
Sun to his slumber, shadows o’er all the ocean,
Came we then to the bounds of deepest water,
To the Kimmerian lands, and peopled cities
Covered with close-webbed mist, unpierced ever
With glitter of sun-rays
Nor with stars stretched, nor looking back from heaven
Swartest night stretched over wretched men there.
The ocean flowing backward, came we then to the place
Aforesaid by Circe.
Here did they rites, Perimedes and Eurylochus,
And drawing sword from my hip
I dug the ell-square pitkin;
Poured we libations unto each the dead,
First mead and then sweet wine, water mixed with white flour.
Then prayed I many a prayer to the sickly death’s-head;
As set in Ithaca, sterile bulls of the best
For sacrifice, heaping the pyre with goods,
A sheep to Tiresias only, black and a bell-sheep.
Dark blood flowed in the fosse,
Souls out of Erebus, cadaverous dead, of brides
Of youths and at the old who had borne much;
Souls stained with recent tears, girls tender,
Men many, mauled with bronze lance heads,
Battle spoil, bearing yet dreory arms,
These many crowded about me; with shouting,
Pallor upon me, cried to my men for more beasts;
Slaughtered the heards, sheep slain of bronze;
Poured ointment, cried to the gods,
To Pluto the strong, and praised Proserpine;
Unsheathed the narrow sword,
I sat to keep off the impetuous impotent dead,
Till I should hear Tiresias.
But first Elpenor came, our friend Elpenor,
Unburied, cast on the wide earth,
Limbs that we left in the house of Circe,
Unwept, unwrapped in sepulchre, since toils urged other.
Pitiful spirit. And I cried in hurried speech:
“Elpenor, how art thou come to this dark coast?
Cam’st thou afoot, outstripping seamen?”

And he in heavy speech:
“Ill fate and abundant wine. I slept in Circe’s ingle.
Going down the long ladder unguarded,
I fell against the buttress,
Shattered the nape-nerve, the soul sought Avernus.
But thou, O King, I bid remember me, unwept, unburied,
Heap up mine arms, be tomb by sea-bord, and inscribed:
A man of no fortune, and with a name to come.
And set my oar up, that I swung mid fellows.”

And Anticlea came, whom I beat off, and then Tiresias Theban,
Holding his golden wand, knew me, and spoke first:
“A second time? why? man of ill star,
Facing the sunless dead and this joyless region?
Stand from the fosse, leave me my bloody bever
For soothsay.”
And I stepped back,
And he stong with the blood, said then: “Odysseus
Shalt return through spiteful Neptune, over dark seas,
Lose all companions.” And then Anticlea came.
Lie quiet Divus. I mean, that is Andreas Divus,
In officina Wecheli, 1538, out of Homer.
And he sailed, by Sirens and thence outward and away
And unto Circe.
Venerandam,
In the Creatan’s phrase, with the golden crown, Aphrodite,
Cypri munimenta sortita est, mirthful, orichalchi, with golden
Girdles and breast bands, thou with dark eyelids
Bearing the golden bough of Argicida. So that:

Our journey through history begins with this loose translation from Homer’s Odyssey – in fact a translation of a translation, because Pound worked from a Renaissance translation of the Odyssey, by Andreas Divus, published in 1538. The hero Odysseus journeys to Hades to communicate with the shade of Tiresias (who was, you’ll remember, a Theban prophet blinded, perhaps, by the Goddess Athena after he saw her naked!). Odysseus (like Pound) seeks knowledge. The knowledge he acquires from the dead is supernatural and forbidden to mankind.

Odysseus uses mystical, holy rites to call forth the shades of the dead. The unmourned, unburied Elpenor appears (he, you’ll recall, got pissed-up one night and fell from the roof of Circe’s palace). He wants Odysseus to return to Circe’s Island and carry out the rituals of burial and mourning for him…This to prevent his soul remaining in limbo.

Pound is calling up the ghosts of his past as well as the shades of Homer and Andreas Divus – not to mention the shades of Odysseus’ past. Thus Pound uses the story of Odysseus to tell us the story of himself. The free verse of Canto 1 begins and ends mid-sentence. It was Pound’s view that the Nekuia, the journey down to the realm of the dead was manifestly older than the rest of Homer’s narrative. It was something borrowed from an earlier age. Thus the oldest verse we have in a western language, has a fragment more ancient still, a fragment that celebrates the oldest of human concerns: the rights of the dead.

So this Canto in its opening communicates with dead masters: Homer, for one, Andreas Divus, for another; the ancient seafarer (Odysseus) makes a third. The archaic qualities of the verse, oldest Greek melded with oldest English via the cauldron of Renaissance Latin is studied and deliberate. “Its rush of narrative is pre-syntactic; its first verb has no subject, its first adverb (forth) works like a verb, and no Flaubertian subordinates conceal the simplest narrative connective, “and”.’

Pound in this first Canto displays his glorious vision of European poetry, as “a rich multi-lingual organism which develops in time but keeps all time simultaneous, and is preserved for us in strings of letters.”

The Canto ends with an evocation of Aphrodite. This hymn taken from “Hymni Deorum” appended to Divus’ book. “Cypria munimenta sortita est” translates as “The citadels of Cyprus were her appointed realm. We should make an offering to the Goddess, a “golden bough”. Why should we do this? “So that…”

And we are left to decide for ourselves. To make up our own minds. The essence of all ancient Greek philosophy…

L’Art

October 29, 2009

Green arsenic smeared on an egg-white cloth,
Crushed strawberries! Come, let us feast our eyes.

Ezra Pound