The poet conducts an investigation into the causes of the Great War - World War I - in attempting to
explain why it was that so many soldiers fought. He decides that the reasons were varied, but at its most
basic was the fact the western civilization itself was corrupt and dying, and spokesmen for it had mislead
the soldiers into believing it was a good thing to die for one's country.
ABOUT THE POET
Ezra Pound was born in 1885 in Hailey (Idaho) but his family moved to Pennsylvania when he was 18
months old. He was an only child of Quaker ancestry and, indeed, his early schooling was with the
From age 13 he attended the Cheltenham Military Academy, where he had to wear uniforms based on
those of the American Civil War. The scholars were also heavily regimented and were taught the
importance of obedience to authority.
At the age of 15 he was admitted to the University of Pennsylvania's College of Liberal Arts where he
would complete two years before moving to Hamilton College, graduating in 1905 with a Bachelor of
Pound has been described as being "clever, independent, conceited, and unpopular". Even in his early
years he had decided that he wanted to be a poet. His first publication was at the age of 11, in the
Jenkintown Times Chronicle: a limerick making fun of an American politician who had lost the
He was somewhat of a philanderer in his earlier years, simultaneously asking two women to marry him
in 1907 but eventually marrying Dorothy Shakespear in 1914.
After teaching at Wabash College for two years, he travelled abroad to Spain, Italy and London. There
he became interested in Japanese and Chinese poetry. He liked the clarity, precision and economy of
language in their poetry.
It was this which inspired him to start a movement that he called Imagism which would launch what
is now known as the Modernist movement in poetry.
He also corresponded with a host of poets in both Britain and America and was personally responsible
for promoting their work. These included such greats as W. B. Yeats, Robert Frost, James Joyce, Ernest
Hemingway and T.S. Eliot.
The poet was appalled at the death and destruction caused in the Great War where many of his friends
had died. He saw the reasons as being none other than the capitalist philosophy of the western
civilization, espoused especially by America and Great Britain.
In 1924, he moved to Italy where he became involved in Fascist politics. He was brutal in his
condemnation of the United States which he claimed was a country based on usury (profit-based money
lending) and capitalism.
He also broadcast fascist propaganda to the United States during World War II. Because of this, he was
arrested for treason when he returned to the United States in 1945.
He was eventually declared to be mentally ill and institutionalised. It was during that period that it was
decided to overlook his political past in favour of his influence in the advancement of literature.
When he was released from the mental hospital in 1958, he returned to Italy. He would die as a recluse
in 1972. He was then 77 years of age.
Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:
"came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy;
usury age-old and age-thick
and liars in public places."
- The poet really does turn it on pretty thickly here, doesn't he? But what is this reference to "age-old
usury" and why does this appear to be at the centre of the poet's argument? (10)
- Why then are the soldiers going back "home to old lies and new infamy"? (4)
- Who are the "liars in public places"? (4)
"Daring as never before, wastage as never before.
Young blood and high blood,
fair cheeks, and fine bodies;
fortitude as never before
frankness as never before,
disillusions as never told in the old days,
hysterias, trench confessions,
laughter out of dead bellies."
- Why does the poet repeat the words, "as never before"? (4)
"For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization,
Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
Quick eyes gone under earth's lid,
For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books."
- What is this "old bitch gone in the teeth", this "botched civilization"? (4)
- What is this "Charm, smiling at the good mouth"? (4)
- And the "Quick eyes gone under earth's lid"? (4)
- What do you think the poet is referring to when he speaks of "For two gross of broken statues, | For
a few thousand battered books?" (4)