The early letters from Ezra Pound to His Parents

By Harriet Staff


Denis Donoghue writes for The New Criterion about the recent publication of Ezra Pound to His Parents, which collects letters Pound wrote to them (or those they kept, as Donoghue notes) from 1895 up to 1929. Considering the fact that "Oxford University Press is publishing W. B. Yeats’s collected letters in an edition of at least fourteen large volumes with copious scholarly apparatus," Donoghue also notes that a comparable collected edition of Pound's letters would be close to impossible: "Pound wrote far more letters than Yeats did, often a dozen a day, even in his relatively quiet times a thousand or more a year, and to scores of correspondents. I wonder that he could afford the stamps." Apparently it is New Directions which partially owns the rights to the publication of the letters:

Many years ago, New Directions adopted a policy of publishing, or making an arrangement by which another publisher would issue, Pound’s correspondence with a particular person, usually but not always a fellow writer, in a single volume. This policy has not been entirely opportunistic, the interest of marketing two participants for the price of one. Pound wrote his letters ad hominem, with an acute sense of the context in which his correspondent lived. There was always a play of mind between sender and recipient. So we have had, in separate but not uniform volumes and with diverse practices of editing, his letters to Joyce, Cummings, Wyndham Lewis, Ford Madox Hueffer (later Ford Madox Ford), William Carlos Williams, Louis Zukofsky, James Laughlin, William Watt, Dorothy Shakespear (her name before her marriage to Pound on April 20, 1914), Margaret Cravens, John Quinn, Alice Corbin Henderson, Olivia Agresti, Senator William Borah, and Senator Bronson Cutting.

Still interested in this single volume, and calling Pound an "affectionate but troubled son," Donoghue looks at the letters specifically:

Settled in London, Pound was happy to deal with his father about money and clothes, since they made it possible for him to play the toff:

I think I begin to see daylight if you can keep on the safety valve a few weeks longer. Have a vague idea I am going to be a success. Don’t mention it.

As for clothes which you so kindly mention. I presume I do need a few. A suit would I suppose be in the long run just as economical as getting a light colored vest & a few frills, but if you haven’t $20 handy I can push along for quite a while on a hat, vest & a couple of new neck ties. You might mail my blue winter underware. 2 sets. and one of the old dress-suit chest protectors, not your own. if you can’t get at the old ones. Don’t bother.

I continue to meet people who seem alive.

He was also patient with dad when the assayer needed to have references in A Lume Spento explained. “Threnos. means Death. . . . Villonaud. is a compound on name Villon. for one Francois Villon, a french poet of the XIII century, or the XII or XIV. I’m no good at dates.”

Certainly they provide early cultural context:

He made it his business over the years to get to know the new people of talent, perhaps of genius—Wyndham Lewis, T. S. Eliot, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, C. H. Douglas, and—in 1923 in Paris—George Antheil. Yeats’s genius he already knew, as well as Henry James’s and Hueffer’s, but Joyce was still out there and Ulysses had to be published, chapter by chapter in the Little Review. Meanwhile, around April 20, 1912 he wrote to his mother [Isabel, pictured above with young Ezra]:

There seems to be a certain amount of whirl with nothing in particular to be said about it. [T. E.] Hulme goes down to Cambridge to qualify for a long neglected degree, & I’m to visit him next Sunday & give a short informal discourse to a carefully segregated audience. Mr Yeats’ attic has a new carpet and new hangings, covers etc, which act as a better background to his velvet smoking jacket. [Jacob] Epstein has sculpted a very fine sun-god & done several other things worthy of note. The sun-god might have been exkavited from Babylon & not questioned as to authenticity. I’m not sure that the little jew hasn’t more real power than Rodin. . . . Dorothy & her mother & I are going to see Pavlova dance, this evening.

Sometime in January 1914 he allowed his exasperation with Mother to spill over the page:

It is rather late in the day to go in to the whole question of realism in art.

I am profoundly pained to hear that you prefer Marie Corelli to Stendhal but I can not help it.

As for Tagore, you may comfort yrself with the reflection that it was Tagore who poked my ‘contemporania’ down the Chicago gullet.—or at least read it aloud to that board of imbeciles on ‘Poetry’ & told ’em how good the stuff was.

Donoghue goes on to elucidate some of Pound's secrets: Dorothy Shakespear's son Omar, for one, who was conceived while she was on vacation in Egypt a year after marrying Pound: "As an infant, Omar was deposited—Dorothy’s word—'in a nice cradle (chosen by my mama) in a little-house-with-garden just outside Paris. Madame Collignon has two children of her own and knows all about bottles and milk and such like.'" As well, there was the patronage of the well-off Margaret Lanier Cravens, who "killed herself from a broken heart." Pound remembered her in Canto 77: "O Margaret of the seven griefs / who hast entered the lotus."

Read the entire piece here.

Originally Published: October 3rd, 2011