This is a farewell, to modernity.

Most people date this as 1919, and then concentrate on the longer Poems Pound Wrote. Pound was a genius, and like such, he knew his limitations. His deliberate use of spellings that predate orthography makes one think that he was writing 400 years earlier. He saw affinity there: though modern, he hated what modernity had done to the flower of his generation, by then pushing up daisies.


Go, dumb-born book,
Tell her that sang me once that song of Lawes:
Hadst thou but song
As thou hast subjects known,
Then were there cause in thee that should condone
Even my faults that heavy upon me lie
And build her glories their longevity.

Tell her that sheds
Such treasure in the air,
Recking naught else but that her graces give
Life to the moment,
I would bid them live
As roses might, in magic amber laid,
Red overwrought with orange and all made
One substance and one colour
Braving time.

Tell her that goes
With song upon her lips
But sings not out the song, nor knows
The maker of it, some other mouth,
May be as fair as hers,
Might, in new ages, gain her worshippers,
When our two dusts with Waller’s shall be laid,
Siftings on siftings in oblivion,
Till change hath broken down
All things save Beauty alone.

Ezra Pound, 1919

The modern project was one of the Victorians. Logical positivism, the clockwork universe of Newton, and the succor of religion carefully separated from the needs of empire and business (the two were not necessarily the same) had worked. The old division between the civil magistrate — preferably a king, conscripted into that role — and the church that crowned him had survived the French Revolution and the depredations of the Jacobites. But at the end of the first war the radicals took control, and logic was left behind.

Pound, reading this from a 100 years hence, knows this, and is left only with beauty. He is as Joyce, confusing the ephemeral infatuations of youth with true beauty. But he is looking for more: truth undiluted, in the knowledge that the muses are but servants.

His side — the romantics, the traditionalists — made bad alliances. They have been politically incorrect since the bombing of Hiroshima. But the other side had as their Muse Mayakovsky.

Ay, But Can Ye?

Wi a jaup the darg-day map’s owre-pentit –
I jibbled colour frae a tea-gless;
Ashets o jellyteen presentit
To me the gret sea’s camshach cheek-bleds.
A tin fish, ilka scale a mou –
I’ve read the cries o a new warld through’t.
But you
Wi denty thrapple
Can ye wheeple
Nocturnes frae a rone-pipe flute?

Vladamir Mayavosky,
Translated into Scots by Edwin Morgan

Scots-English glossary

jaup – splash, slap
darg-day – work-day
owre-pentit – painted over
jibbled – dribbled, splashed
gless – glass
ashets – dishes
jellyteen – gelatine
camshach – crooked
cheek-bleds – cheek-bones
ilka – each
mou – mouth
denty – dainty
thrapple – windpipe
wheeple – whistle feebly
rone-pipe – spout for rainwater

Trust me, the English Translations are worse.