An early review of Pound’s Personae (1909)


340px-Ezra_Pound_by_EO_Hoppe_1920It’s often enlightening to read very early reviews of major writers, especially modernist writers. In 2019 we have the benefit of knowing how certain ‘ big names ‘ developed and influenced others, while the innocent reviewer of an early work has only the words on a page. A gifted reviewer may sense that a writer under review is destined for greatness, but most reviewers are hacks and care little. In the case of Ezra Pound, the anonymous review of his third collection, Personaethat appeared in The Literary Worldof August 15th1909, suggests that the reviewer was already an admirer of his first two collections, A Lume Spento(1908), which had been privately printed in Venice in a tiny edition of just 150 copies, but which Pound had persuaded the London bookseller Elkin Matthews to display in his window—and the follow up, A Quinzaine for this Yule—also in a tiny edition. A London Evening Standardreviewer described the former as ‘wild and haunting stuff, absolutely poetic, original, imaginative, passionate and spiritual’. It seems that the Literary World reviewer was of a similar mind:


No one can lay the charge of being invertebrate against Mr Pound. His poems are marked by a singular ‘ backbone ‘ and energy. He draws largely on old romance for his themes, but imbues every theme with a certain spirit of high-handed courage. The ‘ Ballad for Gloom ‘ is striking; ‘ Mesmerism ‘is a clever imitation of Robert Browning  at his jerkiest. We quote from a poem, ‘ For E.McC, that was my counter-blade  under Leonardo Terrone, Master of Fence’.


              Gone while your tastes were keen to you,

              Gone where the grey winds call to you,

              By that high-fencer, even death,

              Struck of the blade that no man parrieth;

              Such is your fence, one saith,

              One that hath known you.

              Drew you your sword most gallantly,

              Made you your pass most valiantly,

              ‘Gainst that grey fencer even death.


was a commercial success and thereafter Pound’s literary career was assured. [RR]


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