Paideuma Sighting

Nice to see an old issue of Paideuma cited by John Latta, one of our favorite bloggers — and a true library cormorant. The citation comes in a post titled “Pound au fond,” a meditation on Alice Steiner Amdur’s The Poetry of Ezra Pound (1936), a Radcliffe honors thesis published by Harvard when Amdur was 21 years old. Pound roasted the book in a letter to William Carlos Williams. Latta quotes that letter in full; he also digs out Pound’s scalding letter to Amdur, which was published in Paideuma 21.1-2 (1992).

The Paideuma text comes in two forms: a reproduction of the original typescript, and a transcript. There is also an introduction by Sebastian D. G. Knowles. To entice other library cormorants, here is an excerpt from that introduction:

In 1936, Alice Steiner Amdur completed her undergraduate thesis at Radcliffe College on The Poetry of Ezra Pound. Harvard University Press published the thesis as number 5 in a series of Radcliffe Honors Theses in English. This was of course a great honor, and the 21 year-old student sent a copy to William Carlos Williams, who liked it very much, and to Ezra Pound, who did not. …

The thesis begins as a measured appraisal of Pound’s early poetry. Short biographical chapters take the reader through the early influences of America, Provençe, and London, followed by a long and well-considered chapter on Imagism. … It is at the end of this chapter that Amdur begins to take issue with the poetry of Ezra Pound. The Cantos, she says, are “largely obscure or obscene,” the work of a “roaring madman.” The Hell Cantos, numbers 14 and 15, are neither “good poetry nor even — alas — good propaganda.” Cantos 8 through 11 are “just more talk,” “at once bewildering and disappointing.” Cantos 31 to 41 are ‘very poor.”

Reading the second half of Amdur’s thesis, one wonders what could have possibly possessed her to send Ezra Pound a copy. There is worse: Amdur compares Pound unfavorably with Eliot. … “Pound is vivid enough, but when we compare his laboriously accumulated filth with Eliot’s stark ‘That corpse you planted last year in the garden,’ we see the difference between a mind that hates and abuses and a mind that is horrified and can symbolize its horror in one unforegettable image.” Amdur’s point is well-taken by anyone who isn’t Pound.

The thesis ends, “Pound entered the service of English letters when the grate was cold. He stirred up the embers of poetry and kindled a flame that has lasted twenty years. If he seems outmoded now it is because the fire no longer needs his care, and he has run off to into the night after will-o’-the wisps.” … Ezra Pound hated that last sentence, and hated the whole thesis. It is as if Little red Riding Hood had thrown an incendiary bomb into grandmother’s house.

Pound takes six pages to lose his temper. On page 1 Amdur’s preface is “rather silly,” by page 4 she is a “Poor damn bleating little AMERICAN she sheep,” by the end Pound explodes with “IDIOT IDIOT” and “can you read?” Understanding its author to be a prisoner of the “Haaaavud” system, pound attacks the thesis as a by-product of the work of “Mathewson, “the bleating Untermud,” and the rest of the “beanery.” (Actually, only Matthiessen was at Harvard; R. P. Blackmur, though living in Boston, was a free-lance critic at the time, as was Louis Untermeyer. …) Pound reads Amdur’s thesis as he writes; his letter becomes an index, annotation by vitriolic annotation, to his disgust with university scholarship.

Does that whet your interest? The issue is still available for sale ($x.xx plus shipping; ordering info here).

Knowles, by the way, also prepared (with Scott A. Leonard) the T. S. Eliot bibliography published by the NPF as volume 2 of T. S. Eliot: Man and Poet (1992).

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