Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear
Any reader even peripherally interested in the work and life of Ezra Pound will take delight in Omar Pound and A. Walton Litz's masterful selection and editing of Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear: Their Letters, 1909-1914. To hear the authentic voices of the letters is to meet again but anew the youthful Pound. The facts of Pound's growth as an artist and critic during these years are not altered, but a new perception of the inner workings of his mind and personality is gained. More important, the volume serves as a concise but fully detailed picture of the social and cultural life of late Edwardian and early Georgian England, ...view middle of the document...
His ruse worked; as Olivia and Dorothy showed more and more of Pound's work to Yeats, the more entrenched Pound became in London's literary circles. By January of 1913, Pound reports that Yeats said, "[Pound's] criticism was much more valuable than Sturge Moore's: I should hope so!!!" That winter of 1913-1914, Pound was living with Yeats at Stone Cottage, where he nominally served as the great poet's secretary. Already he believed that Yeats had more to learn from him than he from Yeats.
The most fruitful work to come from the Stone Cottage sessions resulted from the vogue for things Oriental that was sweeping Europe during those pre-World War I years. The most specific influence came from Ernest Fenollosa's manuscripts of Chinese poetry and Nō dramas, of which Mrs. Fenollosa made Pound the literary executor in December, 1913. The manuscripts' emphasis on verbal spareness that relied on the strength of the image to carry meaning influenced Yeats's poetry, his plays, and his critical theory. For Pound, the manuscripts led directly to his concept of Imagism and Des Imagistes, an anthology which he edited in 1914.
During these years, Pound also had been lecturing for money, publishing poetry and criticism in important English journals, publishing yearly books, and serving as European editor for Harriet Monroe's Chicago-based Poetry. He was attracting increasingly important reviews, the most important of which the editors of this volume have reproduced. It was also during this period that Pound became involved with the avant-garde writer and artist Wyndham Lewis and the modernist sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, whom both Pound and Olivia Shakespear encouraged by their purchases. The editors have enriched the letters with reproductions of a number of these Gaudier-Brzeska pieces.
Two other stages of Pound's development emphasized by this collection relate to his poetic theories and ideas. The first is his idea of how artistic creative energy is developed. A year before the first issue of Lewis' magazine Blast and its Vorticist manifesto, Pound objected to Dorothy's wasting time at traditional female busywork, saying, "Energy depends on its own ability to make a vortex - genius même." Leisure activities which require complete concentration (such as chess or tennis), Pound suggests, can, perhaps subconsciously, contribute to an energy explosion in the field of one's true gift. Other activities, such as Dorothy's embroidery, dissipate the energy. Second, these letters support the theory that Pound, at this early stage of this development, already was thinking of subjects and techniques by which a long, modern poem could be written: The foundations for the Cantos were being laid. Here in the letters one sees a young poet on the verge of breaking with his immediate traditions, never quite as sure of himself as he blustered in public.
One also sees a more humanly faceted...