TIN WREATHS AND BROKEN STATUES:
EZRA POUND, COMMEMORATION AND THE CLASSICAL TEXT
“There died a myriad,/ And of the best, among them”: the deaths on active service of Modernist artists such as the sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and the poet T.E. Hulme lent a particular poignancy and ironic edge to Pound’s writing during and immediately after the First World War. Having demolished what he saw as lethally false rhetorical and iconographic traditions Pound was wary of epitaphs and heroes; he turned to satire, parody and “translation” as more fitting forms through which to record the War.
My paper draws on poems Pound wrote in London between 1915 and 1920: Cathay, Homage to Sextus Propertius, Hugh Selwyn Mauberley and the earliest Cantos. It explores the ways that Pound’s commemoration of “War, one war after another” is shaped by his reading and re-writing of classical authors, especially Homer, Pindar, Horace and Propertius. I focus on three principal themes or topoi: the need for monuments, the ambiguities of the victor’s or poet’s wreath and the “old lie” of patriotic language.
I discuss Pound’s ripostes to Classical modes and forms: his distinctive versions of epic, epinician and elegy, and especially his Horatian epode (“E.P. Ode”), in which blame for men who start wars is as prominent as homage to those who die. I acknowledge his invocations of Agamemnon and Actaeon as bringers of war but also his most moving classically-inspired tributes of remembrance: the libation and the planting of the single oar as grave-marker.
In conclusion I ask: how has Pound’s poetry contributed to, or remained separate from, the “long shadow” of the Great War in contemporary cultural memory?
Conflict from Ancient Greece to the Great War, UCL, 17-19 June 2015