Everything is Oll Korrect!

An eclectic bibliophile's journal…

Tag: poetry

“All I Ever Want to Write About” – Dylan Thomas on Mortality

While telling a friend about a new poem he’d been working on, Dylan Thomas commented that he would use the title “Deaths and Entrances” for both the poem and the collection “because that is all I ever write about or want to write about.”* Though Thomas did, of course, write about several other topics, he did use mortality as the topic of many of his poems. His treatment of the subject, though, changes drastically over the course of his career, beginning with satire and moving through anxiety, resistance, and finally a graceful acceptance.

Thomas’s first major poem to deal with the topic of death is “After the Funeral.” Like many of Thomas’s poems, this one was inspired by an actual event, in this case the funeral of his aunt, Ann Jones. It was written gradually between February 1933 and March 1938, and because of its shift in attitude during the writing process and because it is a relatively early poem is an ideal place to start for considering Thomas’s changing treatments of mortality.

The first part to be written, roughly the first third of the poem, treats the funeral almost sarcastically, and focuses on the hypocrisy of the mourners. Thomas describes their expression of grief hyperbolically, making them appear ridiculous with their “mule praises, brays” and “salt ponds in sleeves,” and a “desolate boy,” possibly Thomas himself, “who slits his throat” in grief. Even the deceased is not treated much better, described bluntly and without any sentimentality or romanticising as “dead, humped Ann.” The satire may be interpreted as a precursor to his later rejection of the appropriateness of traditional funeral practices, but the mourners’ actions so far are more vaudevillian than anything else.

However, the tone of the poem soon changes abruptly. Even though the proceedings are “magnified out of praise” and thus inappropriate for Ann, in the very next line after the parentheses the narrator proclaims himself to be “Ann’s bard,” which has very romantic, traditional connotations, and as though the narrator viewed himself as a knight in shining armour. The style of the rest of the poem is almost Romantic, with references to nature (“meek as milk,” “ferned and foxy woods”), and more elevated language as he creates a “monumental / Argument of the hewn voice” in honour of Ann. In moving from “dead, humped Ann” to this more admiring treatment, he turns from satire to elegy, as though he changed his mind halfway through the poem on whether traditional religious ceremony is appropriate for the ugliness of death.…

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Long Thoughts on a Short Verse

The first thing most people notice when they read Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” is how amazingly short it is – just two lines, plus a title. By making the work so brief, Pound successfully denies the reader a sense of closure or fulfillment after finishing the poem, which emphasizes the work’s implication of the anonymity and listlessness of the people in the titular metro station. Although Pound certainly could have made the work longer and more developed, the work is ultimately strengthened by denying the reader any development of its central idea.

The primary result of Pound’s denial of closure in “In a Station of the Metro” is the sense that the poem is just a passing observation of a morning commuter. First, one should notice that the full poem consists of a sentence fragment. This gives the impression that the work is incomplete, that the writer has either just started or just now had the inspiration to write. This effect is significant to the poem’s theme because it implies that even the poet does not have the time or motive to fully develop what sounds like a very promising start to a work.…

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A Birthday Reflection on Ezra Pound

As you may have guessed from the length of my last post, I admire Ezra Pound.

I’ve found, though, that I’m one of a relative few. His poetry seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it affair, and I can certainly understand those who don’t care for him. Much of his poetry is difficult, his references obscure, and his politics generally right-wing but eclectic enough mostly to just throw people off, except that he vocally supported Benito Mussolini, and even those critics who appreciate, say, T.S. Eliot’s conservatism will draw a line at that.

Yet, with the sole exception of Eliot, Pound is the best poet I know of the past 400 years or so since Shakespeare. He’s also the most important, because even if one prefers some other writer of his generation, Pound very likely knew and influenced him to at least some degree. For example, a professor of mine once commented that Pound’s hand in editing Eliot’s The Waste Land is so great that one could almost call it the first Canto.…

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“For a Few Thousand Battered Books” – Ezra Pound and the First World War

This post is a revised version of an essay I wrote a few years ago; I’m posting it here in honour of Pound’s upcoming birthday. Please forgive its length – I’ll go back to my normal style shortly after this. For now, think of it as a preview of the literature-focused website I mentioned working on in last week’s post.

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Though many poets write about social, political, and economic issues, few have made such matters as integral to their work as Ezra Pound. Literary criticism would always form a large part of his prose work, like ABC of Reading, but he wrote at least as much on economics and politics, like ABC of EconomicsJefferson and/or Mussolini, and segments of Guide to Kulchur. Even in his poetry, references to historical figures like John Adams and Sigismundo Malatesta outnumber artists.

The apparent catalyst for Pound’s concern with socio-economic matters was the First World War. Prior to the war, most of his writing deals directly with encouraging a revival of the arts, and poetry in particular. After the war, beginning with Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, he began to seriously consider the war and its causes, and his conclusions on the nature of and relationship between politics, economics, and the arts would shape his poetic and prose output for the rest of his career, especially in his epic poem The Cantos.…

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