Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Ezra Pound, the artistic outlaw

To mark the fifth anniversary of the 'Battle for Babylon' Poet-in-Residence turns to Ezra Pound. The following poem was written, as it says in the title, in 1915; that is during the second year of the 'war-to-end-all-wars' - to use Clemenceau's unfortunate and hapless phrase yet again. Poet-in-Residence dedicates Ezra Pound's poem to the victims of this and all other conflicts; the homeless, the wounded, the families and friends of the bereaved, the doctors, the nurses, the children, the ordinary people caught up in these dark whirlwinds.

1915: February

The smeared, leather-coated, leather-greaved engineer
Walks in front of his traction-engine
Like some figure out of the sagas,
Like Grettir or like Skarpheddin,
With a sort of majestical swagger.
And his machine lumbers after him
Like some mythological beast,
Like Grendel bewitched and in chains,
But his ill luck will make me no sagas,
Nor will you crack the riddle of his skull,
O you over-educated, over-refined literati!
Nor yet you, store-bred realists,
You multipliers of novels!
He goes, and I go.
He stays and I stay.
He is mankind and I am the arts.
We are outlaws.
This war is not our war,
Neither side is on our side:
A vicious mediaevalism,
A belly-fat commerce,
Neither is on our side:
Whores, apes, rhetoricians,
Flagellants! in a year
Black as the dies irae*.
We have about us only the unseen country road,
The unseen twigs, breaking their tips with blossom.

Ezra Pound (1885 - 1972)

*lit.trans. - day of anger

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