Follow Harriet on Twitter
I may regret this
I tried to capture Pound’s Canto LXXIII (73) but the spirit of Ez must have been thwarting me because neither scanning nor capturing from the web would work. But there is a readable translation on the web, done by an Australian—the canto is written in Italian. The web site gives what seems like a good walk through the history of this poem.
The poem is eerie in that it seems too current in its motifs. A spirit has a dream wherein a horseman appears, and the horseman recounts a story about an Italian girl (the point is reiterated that she’s plump) who leads Canadian soldiers into a minefield and is blown up along with them. Which also allows some German prisoners to go free. A poem about suicide bombing, which sings the glory of it (at least the ghost sings the glory)—this sounds prescient.
Pound may have been of troubled mind when he wrote the poem—his family was in danger, houses in his village had been bombed, civilians had been killed. Of course, errant bombs and “collateral damage” amd retribution have been thorns in the paw of the current war.
I was reminded of the poem again when I read the article about Levertov and Duncan. (I’d deprecated Pound’s war poetry in a previous post where I’d made the rather obvious observation that most poets were on the left, which was not met kindly.) I find myself in agreement with Duncan’s assertions, which can be sketched in broad strokes as something like: poetry written as an act of protest against war risks being sentimental (which is the same as being propaganda.) Our best (anti, it goes without saying, because who is for?) war poetry is about the experience of war itself.
My theory: it is difficult not to talk down to the reader, who thinks war is just as awful as you do, poet. Easier it is to write a poem about peace, or getting a big car, or convincing a virgin to screw you, or your own inevitable and in all likelihood grisly death. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t set ourselves difficult goals in writing poems, or try to write poetry that makes something happen. But maybe we shouldn’t inflate our expectation of our efforts’ being any good.
At the same time…I like Levertov’s poetry better than Duncan’s.