Monday, October 31, 2016

An Unlikely Pair

When I was talking about dipping into the works of William Carlos Williams the other day I forgot to mention that the other poet I've been managing to read in bits and pieces here and there has been Ezra Pound, in his case drawing upon the very fine Library of America edition. In fact, I've been reading him in chronological sequence, so it's not exactly been a 'dipping in' - though I've only got as far as the early Canzoni, which means my progress has been fitful enough to qualify as just taking in bits and pieces.

But here's the thing. Reading the pair almost side by side was a sort of accident, their works just sort of randomly catching my eye at a time when I've been having difficulty carving out any time for reading at all. Yet they were, of course, friends, quite close ones I've always assumed, especially in their respective youths. So reading them next to each other has a sort of point in itself. Yet they're just so different, partly in content, but most of all in temperament. I don't know quite why it is but there's something very likable about Williams, and that's not something you can say in any way about Pound.

It isn't the anti-Semitic, fascist Pound of the 30s I'm thinking of here, by the way. Even as a very young writer there's something about his work that suggests he was a bit of a pain, despite those features of the early poetry that are assured and often quite lyrically beguiling, regardless of the derivative nature of the verse.

I might be grossly unfair in my judgements on the respective characters of our poets - and I really must get hold of a good biography of Pound to see whether he had some saving graces that I've been missing - but at this moment they really do seem to me like the Odd Couple of twentieth century poetry.

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