“Either move or be moved.” – Ezra Pound
Of all the major literary figures of the twentieth century, Ezra Pound has been one of the most controversial. He has however, also been one of modern poetry’s most important contributors.
He was born in Hailey, Idaho, on October 30, 1885.
T.S. Eliot, said about Pound – “…is more responsible for the twentieth-century revolution in poetry than is any other individual.”
Pound would write that he was: “concerned solely with language and presentation”.
His aim was clarity: a fight against abstraction and romanticism.
With regard to his poetry, he focused on
1. Direct treatment of the “thing” whether subjective or objective.
2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.
This can be seen most obviously in his poem:
In a Station of the Metro
“The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.”
These PRINCIPLES and his vivid imagery is also seen in:
These fought, in any case (from Hugh Selwyn Mauberly)
Ezra Pound was one of the expatriates, disillusioned with the world and with the sort of nationalism that had led so many countries into a devastating and senseless war. The expatriates sought to explore their own artistic work, to challenge the nature of their work, and, in many cases (certainly in the case of Pound), to “make it new.” In this poem, Pound explores his devotion to art by creating two alter-egos to review his own career and his beliefs about his own art, poetry.
The mood of this poem is negative, disillusioned. As the speaker outlines the attempt to “resuscitate the dead art/
Of poetry”, he alludes to both the temptuous travels of Odysseus and the horrors of WWI. There is a feeling of being lost. The tone is self-depracating and critical. The first stanza oulines the goals of the speaker as being “Wrong from the start”. Near the end, the second alter-ego quotes: “I was/“And I no more exist;/“Here drifted/“An hedonist.” Again, the tone is critical and the feeling left is a sense of uselessness.
The diction in this poem, as in all of Pound’s, is concrete. Despite the use of allusions, there is little symbolism developed and a lack of flowery or overly-descriptive passages. Pound, like many of the artists of the time, was a minimalist, removing all but the most necessary words from his work. He uses free verse and avoids traditional poetic diction.
Dylan Thomas was born in 1914 October 27 in Swansea. His father was an English Literature professor at the local school. Thomas was a neurotic and sickly child. He of course excelled in English and reading due to the fact that his father recited Shakespeare to him before he could read, but he was a rather undistinguished school pupil and neglected other subjects. He dropped out of school at the age of 16 to become a junior reporter for the South Wales Daily Post. He left after 18 months but continued to work as a freelance journalist for several years during which time he also decided to concentrate on his poetry full-time. It was at this period that Thomas wrote more than half of his collected poems.
In 1934 when Thomas was 20 he moved to London and published an anthology of poems entitled . It was noted for its exceptional visionary qualities. Unlike his contemporaries like T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden who focused on exhibiting social and intellectual issues, he opted for more intense lyricism and highly charged emotions. The volume won the Poets’ Corner book prize. This showered him with admirers from the London poetry world.
Two years later Thomas met a 18 year old blonde-haired, blue-eyed dancer of Irish descent in a pub. At the time she was the mistress of a painter named Augustus John. Thomas and CaitlinMacnamara engaged in an affair. on 11 July 1937 they married at the register office in Penzance. Despite the passionate love letters Thomas wrote to his wife,the marriage was turbulent, rumors of both Thomas and Macnamara were having multiple affairs. Their first child, Llewelyn Edouaurd, was born 30 January 1939.
In 1940 Thomas served as an anti-aircraft gunner but due to an ailment referred to as “an unreliable lung” he eventually managed to be classified Grade lll, which meant that he would be among the last to be called up for service. In 1941 the Thomases moved to London to find employment in the film industry, he worked with strand Films. In 1944 they left London to avoid the air raids, they eventually settled at Laugharne, in the boat house where Thomas would write many of his later poems.
In 1950 he embarked on the first of a number of tours of the USA. During these tours Thomas was invited to many parties and functions and often became drunk – going out of his way to shock people. Thomas drank before some of his readings, though it is argued he may have pretended to be more affected by it than he actually was.
Thomas’s last collection Collected Poems, 1934–1952, published when he was 38., One critic declared that “Thomas is the greatest living poet in the English language”.
Thomas arrived in New York on 20 October 1953 to undertake another tour of poetry reading and talks. He was ill and complained of chest trouble and gout . He was depressed about the trip and his health was poor. On 5 November, Thomas’s breathing became more difficult and his face turned blue. An ambulance was summoned.
Thomas was admitted to the emergency ward. He was comatose. Caitlin flew to America the following day and was taken to the hospital. Her reported first words were, “Is the bloody man dead yet?“
Thomas died at noon on 9 November. A post mortem gave the primary cause of death as pneumonia, with pressure on the brain and a fatty liver as contributing factors.
In his “ Poem in October” written on his thirtieth birthday he honours and remembers the child he once was :
“ And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s forgotten mornings……where a boy…..whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.”
In the poem’s last verse, he writes
“And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.” (iii)
The lines remind us that nature can powerfully evoke that within us which never ages, which rejoices in being alive, and is powerfully connected to the endless cycle of birth, maturation, decline, death…
A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
On the hill’s shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
To the rain wringing
Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me.
Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
With its horns through mist and the castle
Brown as owls
But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
There could I marvel
Away but the weather turned around.
It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
Streamed again a wonder of summer
Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
Through the parables
And the legends of the green chapels
And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
These were the woods the river and the sea
Where a boy
In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Still in the water and singing birds.
And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.
It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart’s truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year’s turning.
La Figlia Che Piange T. S. Eliot, 1888 – 1965
O quam te memorem virgo
Stand on the highest pavement of the stair—
Lean on a garden urn—
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair—
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise—
Fling them to the ground and turn
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:
But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair.
So I would have had him leave,
So I would have had her stand and grieve,
So he would have left
As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,
As the mind deserts the body it has used.
I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft,
Some way we both should understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile and shake of the hand.
She turned away, but with the autumn weather
Compelled my imagination many days,
Many days and many hours:
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.
And I wonder how they should have been together!
I should have lost a gesture and a pose.
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze
The troubled midnight and the noon’s repose.
Questions to consider:
The conflict between the patricians, or traditional ruling class, and the plebeians, or common people, is central to the play. At the opening of the play, the plebeians are rebelling against the patricians, whom they accuse of hoarding grain while the plebeians starve. The tribunes Brutus and Sicinius are of the plebeian class and representatives of that class. Their mistrust and dislike of Coriolanus is partly their class’s mistrust and dislike of the patrician class. In addition, Coriolanus fosters this mistrust and dislike because of the pride and contempt he displays towards the plebeians.
The patricians, equally, mistrust and scorn the plebeians. Both Menenius and Coriolanus dismiss them as fragments, incomplete people: words applied to them include “great toe?(I.i.142), “cobbled [patched] shoes?(I.i.182), and “shreds?(I.i.194). They are “dissentious rogues?(I.i.150). Menenius and Coriolanus, being patricians, are biased witnesses, but their judgments are validated by the action of the play, which is not neutral with regard to class. Shakespeare assumes that class is a predictor of intelligence, rationality, and ability to govern. The plebeians cannot be relied upon to think for themselves or stick to a decision once they have made it; they are easily manipulated by the self-serving tribunes; they are cowardly in battle; and they are unable to take any responsible role in government. Coriolanus is driven out of Rome because Brutus and Sicinius play upon the plebeians?fears that he will become a tyrant if elected consul. Repeatedly, the patricians are the voice of reason; they do not want Coriolanus to be banished; they try to give him a fair hearing when he is being condemned by the plebeians; and at the end of the play, their Volscian equivalent, the Lords, again try to give Coriolanus a fair hearing before he is hacked to death by the Conspirators.
Pride is Coriolanus’s main problematical quality, and it defines his fate. His pride partly arises from his remarkable martial qualities, but it prevents him making the necessary compromises to become a political leader. If he were not so proud, he would be viewed by the plebeians both as a war hero and a suitable consul. They would see him as they do Menenius, as “one that hath always loved the people?(I.i.41?2), rather than as “chief enemy to the people?(I.i.5?) and “a very dog to the commonalty?(I.i.23). Coriolanus’s pride leads to his offending the plebeians at every step, and prevents him from making amends to them. He even responds to his banishment with pride, insisting that it is he who banishes the Roman people, and hurling insults at them. This makes his future rehabilitation in their eyes all the more unlikely, and means that Coriolanus is permanently trapped in his stubborn resolve to reject his native land. Similarly, his pride is a factor in antagonizing Aufidius, with whom Coriolanus takes refuge in exile (“He bears himself more proudlier, / Even to my person, that I thought he would / When first I did embrace him.??IV.vii.8?0).
Different kinds of virtue
“Virtus,?valiantness or martial valor, was the most highly prized character virtue in ancient Rome at the time the play is set. It encompassed courage, boldness, heroism, and resoluteness. Coriolanus has these qualities in abundance, but it is at the expense of another more humble virtue, “pietas,?or love and respect for family, country, and gods. While “virtus?was unquestionably of more value in war time, “pietas?was vital in peace time to provide the ability to compromise and forgive that held society together.
The two virtues often find themselves in conflict in the play, and Coriolanus, by upholding “virtus?and neglecting “pietas,?cuts himself off from society and humanity in general. While the plebeians are grateful for Coriolanus’s war record, they do not value “virtus?as highly as he does. Understandably, they are more concerned with the quality of their daily lives and being listened to and treated with respect. Coriolanus cannot provide these elements ?in fact, he seems to work against them. He is too inflexible in his warrior-like stance to make the compromises necessary to making society function smoothly. In banishing him, the plebeians deliver their verdict on “virtus,?though naturally they regret their rashness when another attack on Rome is imminent. Finally, Coriolanus, under the influence of Volumnia, does set aside “virtus?and bows to the demands of “pietas?in his abandonment of the attack on Rome.
The two virtues, however, have not been reconciled; they cannot coexist in Coriolanus. It is Coriolanus’s tragedy that this allowance of humanity into his nature is fatal to him; he is aware that it will lead to his death. Aufidius, another inflexible man wedded to “virtus,?is unable to forgive Coriolanus for his betrayal of “virtus.?Aufidius is also unable to overcome his own warlike rivalry towards Coriolanus ?another aspect of “virtus??and so has him killed.
The play does not reconcile the two virtues but rather, shows ways in which they conflict. It also shows their importance changing with changing times: “virtus?is necessary for defending Rome and expanding its influence through conquest, but “pietas?is necessary for building a cohesive society. With the death of Coriolanus and the ascendancy of politicians like Menenius, Brutus, and Sicinius, the suggestion is that “virtus?has had its day and “pietas?is the more timely quality.
The past versus progress
The struggle between the patricians and the plebeians is also a struggle between the past and progress. The patricians support the ways of the past, including the traditional hierarchical system of government, whereas the people want change, including a share in government. This theme is embodied in Coriolanus himself, who is a war hero of the traditional kind at a time that has moved beyond the values he represents. Now, political skill, not immovable courage, is what is needed for Rome to progress.
An atmosphere of uncertainty pervades this play due to shifting allegiances. It is difficult to identify who is a friend and who is an enemy. On the one hand, Coriolanus is a war hero who has a claim on the people’s loyalty for his military services. On the other hand, the people dislike his pride and under the influence of the tribunes, quickly become his enemy and drive him out of Rome. This turns Coriolanus’s allegiance from Rome to his former enemies, the Volscians. Aufidius and Coriolanus are sworn enemies who become friends after Coriolanus is banished, but envy and rivalry gain ascendancy in Aufidius’s mind and he once again becomes Coriolanus’s treacherous enemy.
While such shifts come naturally to Aufidius and he is skilled at hiding them when needed, Coriolanus is of an open and guileless nature, so that everyone knows whose side he is on. As the age of martial conquest begins to give way to an age of political manoeuvring, it is no accident that Aufidius and the other politicians, Menenius, Brutus and Sicinius, survive, but Coriolanus dies.
The play’s treatment of the battles also shows how times are changing. The audience sees little actual fighting but hears a large amount of military intelligence, including an entire scene (IV.iii) featuring a Roman spying for the Volscians ?another example of changed allegiance. The days of heroic action, when allegiances were clear, are past, and have given way to the compromises, subterfuge, negotiations, alliances of convenience, and other ‘grey areas?of the political arena