Pound, Ezra. Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. Ed. T.S. Eliot. New York, NY: New Directions
Publishing Co., 1968.
Pound's collection of literary essays is divided into three sections. The initial section of the book focuses on the art and craft of poetry, the second deals with tradition and the historical development of the poetic genre, and the final section engages the work of specific writers who were contemporaries of Pound. On several occasions throughout the collection, Pound attempts to define the nature of poetry; at one point, he claims that poetry “is a composition of words set to music” (437), while on another occasion he argues that poetry, and “good” art in general, “is a sort of energy” (49). Moreover, the difference between poetry and prose is that “poetry is more highly energized” (49) and produces “a sensation” (51) within both the reader and writer. Over and above these general definitions of poetry, Pound's collection goes to great lengths in articulating qualities of poetry one should be mindful of when both reading and writing verse. For example, in his essay “A Retrospect,” Pound calls for “direct treatment of the 'thing' whether subjective or objective,” as well as to use “no word that does not contribute to the presentation” (3). Of course, the attribute he focuses on the most throughout the book is the admonition “to compose in the sense of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome” (3). To this extent, Pound believes that traditional meters do not afford words and language the ability to express their natural cadences and rhythms. Language's ability to do so is called melopoeia, which is when “words are charged, over and above their plain meaning, with some musical property, which directs the bearing or trend of that meaning” (25). But more than directing meaning, melopoeia also distracts “the reader from the exact sense of the language” and thus creates a linkage between one's “consciousness and the unthinking sentient” (26). It is important to note that Pound does not condone divesting meaning from poetry; in fact, he argues for just the opposite when he writes: “The touchstone of an art is its precision. This precision is of “various and complicated sorts” (48). Or stated differently, Pound champions an “efficiency of expression” that enables a poet to express “something interesting in such a way that one cannot re-say it more effectively” (56). While most of his collection concentrates on what he believes poetry consists of, he occasionally addresses that which poetry should not be; specifically, Pound states that poetry is not made for entertainment (64), and to that extent, “poems are not made for after-dinner speakers” (65). In this regard, he develops an elitist conception of producing and consuming poems, as well as art in general.