W. H. Marshner
A very brilliant boy with red hair, raised in gentle Philadelphia, died on All Saints Day in Venice. He had reached the age of 87. Born in 1885, Ezra Pound, like William Shakespeare, learned to write English beautifully and finely by writing numberless sonnets. He grew up in an age preoccupied by literary techniques. Cardinal Newman, Walter Pater, Henry James, Oscar Wilde cast their strong and splendid radiance over London and that light was reflected, more than anywhere else in the United States, in elegant Philadelphia in the days of Pound’s pilgrimage there. For Pater, James, and Wilde, literature and its technique were adopted simply as a religion. And it was so with many men of that day. This peculiar abdication in the face of life was quite popular then, and it destroyed many. Ezra Pound happened to possess many talents. Like most important lyric poets, he produced an irreplaceable volume in his twenties.
At 28 he published a book called Personae: lyric poetry reflecting immense vitality and immense erudition. Those qualities, possessed in spectacular form, carried him on like Yeats beyond the usual age of lyric poetry into a long career. Only old age could extinguish the fire of his genius. Three score and ten exhaust most men, and 80 weakens all but the rarest.
Pound’s gifts in any case hardly matured. He remained, always, the flammiferous boy, never the mature man. He told us nothing about the human heart. Perhaps Pound could not, because he seems to have passed straight from youth into his own peculiar kind of hell. For just as he became a man without a country, during all his adult life he was a man without a civilization. He mourned for millions who in 1914 went out to slaughter for “a bitch long in the teeth/A botched civilization.” It was the confrontation with aesthetic and political disorder, with usury and democracy, that proximately led Pound to his brilliant, erratic alienation. But ultimately, it seems, Pound’s hell stemmed from his failure to find the Church.
Those of us who have found her, mourn him, as do all men of sensitivity. But we do two things more. We pray for his soul. And we resolve to learn from his critique of the West. For we too, since the fall of Christendom, are men without a civilization. His Cantos, his masterpieces, are finished. Our prosaic, but grace-given, work goes on.