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Friday, 25 February 2011

Ezra Pound's Hodge-Podge (Robert Duncan to H.D.)


The Feast of St. Nicholas: Jan Steen, 1663-1665 (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

The very obstruction, the contention within the spirit of Pound seems to me an act of the mystery Poetry, the act shows forth under its own orders. Cantos like 90 or 91 in the Rock Drills

Light compenetrans of the spirits

Where an Aphrodite that is creptallive light, a cluster of refractions appears I take it as heritage unmixed.

And in Thrones these are the gists:

"The Temple (hieron) is not for sale"

Getting the feel of it, his soul. . .
where the rime shows the mind has been brought into melody -- and

"Food is the root.
......Feed the people."

How odd that a man shld start about from an M.A., all his life an instructor, or professor manqué (as Dante was an ambassador manqué), and come into the genius of Poetry, into the Core of the Making. It did occur to me that I would believe too readily that the divine might keep company with publicans and whores, but find it hard to believe the divine could keep company with professors and Pharisees.

The professor shows up more and more. He wants to fraternize with his students and tries slang in his discourse: "grand-dad" -- "gramp," "bumbd off," fussed about hair-cuts," "that louse G burnt the Palatine

...........and messed up the music
to speak clearly

..ἀπληστία, insatiate κακουργία
....... this is not a mere stunt to lay fines is found in hodge-podge.

There is in the Cantos themselves, in the poetics of Pound, a music, a hodge-podge. May there be a hint of magic in this stew. Before the word was in cookery, the O.E.D. tells us: it may have had to do with the shaking of things together in a pot of other than culinary purposes. (I went to look it [up] in the O.E.D. bec[au]se I suspected a fairy or sprite in Hodge; the nearest was Hodge-poker who was a devil or hob-goblin.)

I think I see now what I am after here. We follow the melody usually as poets, discovering what rimes, along an organization of feeling that is counterpart of the musician's melodic sense. But there is an urgency (is the [κακουργία?] not only a pun here but an etymology) in the genius of our time to break up the mode itself, dissolving there discords [in] the old scale and trying to set once disparate elements into a new harmonia. Pound's recalcitrant off-notes then -- if we think of this greater scale of all things toward which we are set to work -- is [sic] not only a personal insistence but also a demonstration of the genius.

You askd in your last letter your "Why do you write?" but the question you then noted was rhetorical. But why, the what is happening in Pound's work, is as much the difficulty as the ease it presents.

The parrot cage: Jan Steen, 1663-1665 (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

Robert Duncan to H.D., excerpt from private letter, 1 October 1960, in A Great Admiration: H.D./Robert Duncan: Correspondence 1950-1961, 1992; Pound passage in inset quotation from Canto XCVI, in Thrones de los Cantares XCVI-CIX


Marcia said...

Thank you for this post and the previous one(s) about Pound. These posts and my thoughts as I approach writing remind me of your wonderful class on Pound. Here, Duncan's thoughts on Hodge-Podge are so perfect. Mix it up!



"and messed up the music/ to speak clearly"


grey whiteness of cloud against shadowed
top of ridge, motionless green of leaves
in foreground, sound of wind in branches

second painting of the same
large size, and which

to listen to what, and that
is, from what “speaks”

silver of drops splashing into channel,
cormorant flapping across toward point

TC said...

Yes, mix it up, mess with the music, trust that an order will emerge from the appearance of disorder... all this plainly required courage as well as genius, daring as well as an amplitude of vision.

Here, in 1960, Duncan is struggling to come to terms with Thrones, the latest installment of the Cantos, and a rather baffling one, perhaps, from that vantage -- coming after the magisterial and resonant Rock Drill sequence.

Duncan had by this time been following Pound's work for a quarter of a century much as one follows the teachings of a master, yet always with a critical practitioner's eye informing his devotion.

The relation with EP was the original basis of Duncan's correspondence with H.D., which would go on intermittently over a period of eleven years.

His first letter to her, in January 1950, states this as credential.

"Ezra Pound has been for fifteen years now a guiding spirit -- I turn still to his work with increasing love. Two years ago I hitchhiked across the country to see him..."

He explains in a later letter that in Washington he had been put up in Dorothy Pound's tiny apartment, and spent his afternoons visiting the hospital.

He describes Pound's circumstances in the federal asylum at St. Elizabeths: "He had been, indeed, I came to learn from Dorothy [Pound], when she had arrived a year or so previously, reduced by fear and confusion to a pitiful state. He had been confined -- because he was judged both inane and criminal -- to a government ward for the criminally insane, and surrounded by the mad had been permitted only one visitor a week -- and then only for fifteen minutes. When I visited him, I found that each day it took him all of fifteen minutes to begin the conversation, those conversations that then went on for four hours. His life seeming to be in the talk; all the talk of the past; Ford Madox Ford, Wyndham Lewis... the host of voices in which he lived. Had I heard his voice long before I met him? Certainly this was the very voice that had stirrd in me when I was sixteen the sense of a community of the dead and the living that was like a stream thru human history."

Duncan relates that he had come to Washington from Berkeley with one question in particular to ask Pound:

"Had he ever considered the duplicity of powers, words? I had read of a Black Apollo. And then in our own language -- what of puns? Didn't everything hint of an ambivalence?"

He recounts some of the exchange that followed, suggesting the intensity of the conversation had brought him into a kind of mythological space, surrounded by numinous presences, "the light streaming up and down, that attend the bull-laying Mithra.

"Pound is at this level or in this person very much *either, or*.

"Yet he is not only *either, or* but also the poet of that 'godly sea,' of the So-shu, churning genius."

Anonymous said...

Every day I read Beyond The Pale I am reminded why I read Beyond The Pale, but this is still a special reminder. I couldn't find this (any of it) anywhere else.

TC said...

There are many days, Curtis, that Beyond the Pale would have probably gone a blanker shade of pale (that is, invisible) had it not been for the touching loyalty of a few generous and intelligent friends (not to mention their brilliant children and animals).

(I think you know who you are... for here you are.)



Yes, belated thanks for this recounting of Duncan (hitchhiking across the country to visit Pound there, who knew?) and all else here . . . . Blond boy asleep again under down quilt, wind in branches scratching against window as sun comes up though their leaves. . . .