|EZRA POUND in his element, with fellow poets (left to right): Victor Plarr, Sturge Moore, William Butler Yeats, Wilfred Scawen Blunt, Pound, Richard Aldington, and Frank Flint, Sussex, England, January 1914|
The imposing first volume of A. David Moody’s biography of Ezra Pound, which takes us up to the publication of “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley” and the writing of the early Cantos, deserves to stand in its own right as a study of Pound’s germinal years. But no sooner has one written the word germinal than one begins to experience the desire to peep ahead at the ending or, rather, to look in the beginnings for symptoms of the terminus. I found myself doing this even with the very impressive photographs that Moody has collected. In most of them, Pound looks like a highly well-made young man, with an ironic and quizzical expression. He’s especially dashing in an extraordinary group shot taken in January 1914, where he stands in a cluster of talent (which includes W. B. Yeats and Richard Aldington) around the patriarchal figure of Wilfred Scawen Blunt. There’s no apparent sign of the obsessive crank of the declining years, barking obscenities and gibberish over Mussolini’s radio. Yet on the cover of the book, and reproduced inside, is a 1910 study from Paris, in which Pound confronts the camera with a hunched, autistic, haunted look, with a tinge of van Gogh to it.
Pound’s early life story is in some respects not unlike that of T. S. Eliot, the man who in his dedication to The Waste Land called Pound “il miglior fabbro” (which can mean either “the better writer” or “the better craftsman”). They shared the same desire to escape from provincial gentility in America to Europe and perhaps especially to England, the same struggle to convince parents and family that the effort was one worth endorsing and financing, the same quixotic belief that poetry could be made to yield a living and that poets were a special class, and the same register of annihilating shock when in the summer of 1914 the roof of the over-admired European civilization simply fell in.