Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

Monthly Update sign up
Mailing List signup
American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
Home About Unit Index Archive Book Club Site Search
3. Utopian Promise   

10. Rhythms
in Poetry

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- HD (Hilda Doolittle)
- T. S. Eliot
- Robert Frost
- Langston Hughes
- Claude McKay
- Ezra Pound
- Carl Sandburg
- Genevieve Taggard
- Jean Toomer
- William Carlos Williams
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Ezra Pound (1885-1972)

Monkey Reaching for the Moon
[7119] Shoshan, Monkey Reaching for the Moon (c. 1910), courtesy of the print collection of Connecticut College, New London.

Ezra Pound Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
Like T. S. Eliot, with whom he enjoyed a long friendship, Ezra Pound lived his early years in the United States but spent most of his life and career elsewhere. Born in Idaho, Pound spent his formative years on the East Coast. At sixteen, he attended the University of Pennsylvania and subsequently enrolled at Hamilton College. Eventually he returned to the University of Pennsylvania to study Romance languages and literature. After a year in Italy and Spain, Pound took a teaching job at Wabash College in Indiana, but soon left for a long sojourn in Europe.

While Ezra Pound's poetry remains important, his work as a mentor, editor, and theorist of literary modernism had a greater cultural impact. When Pound arrived in London, the literary scene seemed ripe for change. Cubism was shaking the art world; Stravinsky was composing radical music; T. E. Hulme was proclaiming the advent of literary voices that were powerful, new, and strange. In the years before the outbreak of World War I, Pound moved from one short-lived literary movement to another, sometimes as a leader, sometimes as an appropriator of ideas originated by others. Imagism and vorticism especially felt the impact of his presence, energy, and personality. Intense, tightly focused, and borrowed from French experimentation at the close of the nineteenth century, imagism was supposed to spawn a new kind of European American poetry. In Pound's manifestos for the movement, imagism held to three principles: (1) "Direct treatment of the 'thing,' whether subjective or objective"; (2) "To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation"; (3) "As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in the sequence of the metronome." When imagism came under the influence of Amy Lowell, Pound nicknamed the movement "Amygism," resenting the fact that her tastes and hard work had eclipsed his own. With artist and writer Wyndham Lewis's help, Pound became the center of vorticism, which set out to produce poetry characterized by greater intensity and vigor than the imagist verse in Lowell's Poetry magazine. Both of these schools attracted their share of aspiring poets, but they remained smaller currents of modernism.

The important and abiding contribution of these hectic prewar years was the restlessness they witnessed, a deep dissatisfaction with any art that continued languidly in old forms, anything that did not "make it new." As the slaughter of millions along the Somme River, at Tannenberg, and at Verdun fostered a doubt that anything of the Belle Époque culture was worth saving, Pound and other radical experimenters seemed prophetic in their recognition that an unimaginable new era required literary voices and forms that had not been seen before.

With the publication of the manuscript of Eliot's poem The Waste Land, it has become clear just how significant Pound's influence was as an editor and arbiter of modernist taste. His editing of the poem was drastic and deft. Pound was also influential in the careers of the premier Irish modernist William Butler Yeats, the American imagist H.D., and many other modernists. Pound's most familiar poem is "In a Station of the Metro" (1916), his two-line haiku about people in the Paris subway. By his account, he worked for six months to achieve this poem, which began as more than thirty lines. Pound's most arcane and difficult works, The Cantos, are characterized by baffling shifts in time and perspective, abstruse allusions, and a cacophony of languages. He explained the nonlinear path of this modern epic as an attempt to emulate the Chinese ideogram, in which an image stands for a concept. At other times he suggested that the overall form was that of a fugue. Pound worked on The Cantos for most of his career, publishing the first in 1917. Although he never completed the project, he left a mass of stanzas which literary scholars have been decoding and annotating ever since.

Pound's later years were marked by unrest and conflict. In 1939, he visited the United States for the first time in twenty-nine years. Upon his return to Italy, he started speaking out against President Roosevelt on the radio, which continued as anti-Allied propaganda after World War II began. Eventually Pound's hatred of Jews and his enthusiasm for the Nazi agenda embarrassed even Mussolini. Indicted by the United States for treason against his country in 1943, Pound was arrested and imprisoned in Pisa when the Allied armies liberated Italy. In 1945 he was put on trial in Washington, D.C., saved from execution by means of an insanity plea, and incarcerated in St. Elizabeth's, a psychiatric hospital. In 1958, after vocal support from many American poets, including Robert Frost, Pound was released and allowed to return to Venice, where he lived until his death.

Slideshow Tool
This tool builds multimedia presentations for classrooms or assignments. Go

An online collection of 3000 artifacts for classroom use. Go

Download PDF
Download the Instructor Guide PDF for this Unit. Go


© Annenberg Foundation 2017. All rights reserved. Legal Policy