It happens when I’m not paying attention. Or not careful enough attention. The other day, for instance: I was reading around in Personae because someone twanged my nerves by observing that I don’t read poetry (which is true, but not something I like to admit to) and read the following, which I rather liked:1
I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman –
I have detested you long enough.
I come to you as a grown child
Who has had a pig-headed father;
I am old enough now to make friends.
It was you that broke the new wood,
Now is the time for carving.
We have one sap and one root –
Let there be commerce between us.
Then it happens: the question both beside and to the point – irrelevant to daily living, unanswerable in literary history, and ungovernable in a tangled brain. ‘A grown child/Who has had a pig-headed father’: the grown child is presumably Ezra (ca. 191-), but who’s the father? Two options:
|Mr. Whitman||Mr. Pound|
I’m of the opinion that when you are making a pact with someone, it is not a very nice thing (or indeed a very useful thing if you wish that someone to take the pact seriously) to call them pig-headed. Of course Mr. Pound, although renowned for ferreting out, supporting, and lauding to the heavens whatever talent he found among his contemporaries (providing, of course, that you, my dear, would not properly understand it, unless you too had met Gaudier-Brzeska), was not known for being ‘nice’. Setting that for the moment aside – an alternative: Pound sees Pound as pig-headed. I spoke about this to someone who has read more Pound (and poetry) than I have, and he seemed to think this improbable.
I sputter, I stutter, I disagree. Privately, of course. Partly because I think Pound is pig-headed. It takes a certain pig-headedness to yowl about big ideas when people only care whether the trains run on time. But that is not why I disagree, really.
I disagree because I would like to think (vain dream!) that self-knowledge is possible. That’s not what I mean to say. Rather – I would like to think that a man as clever as Pound undoubtedly was would be clever enough to sense his porcinities – would have moral as well as intellectual sense. This hope reaches out of the poem, takes me by the hand and leads me towards my meaning of the poem’s sense.
But surely Pound here accepts the vast similitude, acknowledges Whitman as an influence, a forbear, a poetic father. Perhaps. An echo and my own inclinations tell me otherwise. The child is father to the man.2 I am too tired and lazy to untangle it.
* * *
I was going to write a response clever obscure & convoluted to this poem, but I lost heart after looking at just one article on JSTOR (David Simpson. ‘Pound’s Wordsworth; or Growth of a Poet’s Mind’. ELH, Vol. 45, No. 4 (Winter, 1978), pp. 660-686) which seemed to say that at first Mr. Pound did not like Wordsworth, and then he did, via Hegel.3 That was too much for me – I have lost my faith in such things.
So I’ll stick to my prejudicials and leave poor enough alone.
- That’s ‘A Pact’ from Poems of Lustra for those of you keeping score out there.
- I seldom run into Wordsworth. We nod, sometimes, as we pass each other in the library, but that’s about it.
My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
Which makes me think of two things:
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
– and –
And for the youth, quick, let us strip for himIf you want the bibliographicals, well, you know where the library is.
The thyrsus, that his watching eyes may swim
Into forgetfulness; and, for the sage,
Let spear-grass and the spiteful thistle wage
War on his temples. Do not all charms fly
At the mere touch of cold philosophy?
There was an awful rainbow once in heaven:
We know her woof, her texture; she is given
In the dull catalogue of common things.
Philosophy will clip an Angel’s wings,
Conquer all mysteries by rule and line,
Empty the haunted air, and gnomed mine –
Unweave a rainbow, as it erewhile made
The tender-person’d Lamia melt into a shade.
- ‘Have you had breakfast?’ he asked, ‘looking up articles on JSTOR at 6:58 in the morning sounds like the sort of thing you’d do if you’d forgotten to have breakfast.’