Ezra Pound & William Carlos Williams: Theories on the Nature of Poetry

Topics: Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Poetry Pages: 10 (3702 words) Published: October 18, 2006
Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams both comment in a theoretic way on the nature of poetry. Outline briefly their theories. Then discuss the implications their theories have for the writing and reading of poetry, and support your argument with a number of specific examples from their poems.

I have structured this essay so that the first part deals entirely with the theories and poetry of Ezra Pound and the second, entirely with the theories and poetry of William Carlos Williams. Each part will follow the same simple format; firstly I will explain briefly each respective poet's major theories with regard to the nature of poetry. I will then discuss the implications of the respective poet's theories on the writing and reading of poetry. Finally I will conclude the first and second parts of the essay with an analysis of poetry illustrating each respective poet's theories.

Much of Pound's literary theory is born out of the use of language in Eastern culture. He advocated Asian philosophy including the work of Confucius and Eastern poets such as Du Fu and Cavalcanti who have become somewhat prolific in today's literary context as a result of Pound's initial introduction. Ezra Pound is remembered for pioneering a meticulous, scientific approach to the study of poetry, in his ABC of Reading, he comments, ‘the proper method for studying poetry and good letters is the method of contemporary biologists, that is careful first-hand comparison of one ‘slide' or specimen with another.' It was this attitude that first attracted Pound to the work Ernest Fenollosa who he credited as being the first to show the merits of scientific approach to language, particularly in his ‘Essay on Chinese Written Character'. Fenollosa explained the Chinese ideograph as a means of translation illustrating how the Chinese use pictures as words, for example, ‘East' is represented by a picture of the sun being placed over a picture of a tree, as a representation of the sun on the horizon by virtue of it being almost parallel to the ground. This in Fenollosa and in turn Pound's opinion was a far more honest and accurate manner of literary depiction than our alphabet.

Pound's theory extends as he argues that it is crucial to have knowledge of all books and poems that make important technical innovations. As a development of this point, Pound shows his inspiration for being a literary historian, he feels that the works of ‘The Masters' need to be considered with scientific precision. The Masters' works are those in which discoveries materialise and should not be overlooked or underestimated simply because they do not exist in the realm of classical science or mathematics. Pound comments in How to Read, ‘people regard literature as something vastly more flabby and floating and complicated and indefinite than, let us say, mathematics. Its subject matter, the human consciousness, is more complicated than are number and space…and we could, presumably, apply to the study of literature a little of the common sense that we currently apply to physics or biology. In poetry there are simple procedures, and there are known discoveries, clearly marked…In each age one or two men of genius find something, and express it' (Polite essays).

In the next two paragraphs I will show the implications of Pound's theory on the writing and reading of poetry. Here Pound explains how he believes people should write poetry, ‘great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree' or ‘dans ce genre on n'emeut que par la clarte'. He believed that one can create ‘meaning' in poetry using three different forms. The first group is Melopoeia, this group is characterised by the way in which the words within a poem are selected for having some musical property, and the way in which the poem is audible conveys its meaning. In this way, even a foreigner who cannot understand the exact literal meaning of a specific word will theoretically be able to...

Bibliography: 1. Donald Davie, Ezra Pound: poet as a sculptor, Oxford University Press (1964)
2. Hugh Kenner, The Poetry of Ezra Pound – The Pound Era, University of California Press; 1 Pbk ed edition (September 18, 1973)
3. Ezra Pound, from ‘A Retrospect ', from ‘How to Read ' (shortloan) Gordon Press (1973)
4. Ernest Fenollosa, ‘The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry ', City Lights Publishers (June 1986)
5. Norman, Charles. Ezra Pound, Macdonald and company publishers, London (1969)
6. Ferguson, Margaret; Salter. Mary Jo; Stallworthy Jon, The Norton Anthology of Poetry 4th ed. W.W. Norton & Company (1996)
7. Randall Jarrell, ‘An Introduction to the selected Poems of William Carlos Williams ' in Poetry and Age, University Press of Florida; Expanded edition (April 9, 2001)
8. Frank Lentricchia, Modernist Quartet, Cambridge University Press (September 30, 1994)
9. J Hillis Miller, ed, William Carlos Williams: A Collection of Critical Essays
10. WC Williams, The autobiography of William Carlos Williams, MacGibbon & Kee (1968)
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