Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry: Explained, HOMAGE AND LAMENT FOR EZRA POUND IN CAPTIVITY, MAY 12, 1944, by ROBERT DUNCAN



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HOMAGE AND LAMENT FOR EZRA POUND IN CAPTIVITY, MAY 12, 1944, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography


"Homage and Lament for Ezra Pound in Captivity, May 12, 1944," by Robert Duncan is a densely layered and emotionally complex poem that seeks to explore the intersection of art, morality, and the human condition, as exemplified in the figure of Ezra Pound. Written during a period when Pound was held in American custody for his controversial support for Fascist Italy, the poem grapples with the tension between the artistic genius of Pound and the moral quandary of his political affiliations.

Duncan begins with the phrase "Apprehension this spring," alluding to both the literal spring season and a period of dread and uncertainty. The imagery of leaves "still as everness" captures the uneasy quietude that nature - as a representation of the eternal - often provides in times of turmoil. Duncan seems to suggest that, just as the leaves are still despite the chaos surrounding them, the complexities of Pound's life and work endure unchanging in the midst of societal upheaval.

The analogy between the leaves and musical instruments - "violin, viola, cello and bass" - serves to highlight the themes of harmony and discord. This musical metaphor is particularly poignant given that Pound himself often sought to unify disparate elements in his own work. Duncan further weaves in celestial imagery with the mention of "Venus sea-ambulant among the boughs," invoking the goddess of love and beauty, perhaps as an allusion to the lofty, almost divine, aspirations that artists like Pound have.

The "old man" who "stumbles" and "mutters maledictions upon the hounds" likely represents Pound, burdened by the controversies that plagued him. Duncan seems to be pondering the dangers of ideological zeal, contrasting it against the serenity of art and nature. The poem questions the balance between artistic vision and ethical responsibility, drawing attention to the rift between the internal world of thought and the external realm of action.

References to "universities" and "human figures in a frieze" evoke institutions of learning and history, reminding us of the collective amnesia that allows societies to repeat mistakes. The "seas of human faces" that "go down like wolves" conjure an image of a mob mentality, where individuality is lost, possibly a reflection on how easily Pound's own individual genius was submerged by the wave of his political choices.

Duncan's use of the words "Heaven-apprehending" underscores the paradox inherent in any artistic creation; it can house both the divine and the profane. The "single window upon another scene" perhaps suggests that art offers an alternate perspective, a different way to perceive and interpret the world, and Duncan contemplates whether this "architecture to house the mind in" can redeem or at least complicate the moral failings of its creator.

The ending lines, focused on the eternal return of the "leaves," seem to both absolve and indict Pound, echoing the ambivalence that runs throughout the poem. Duncan acknowledges that Pound, like the leaves, is "still as everness returning," forever a part of the tapestry of art and history, but he leaves us with an "apprehension," a lingering unease that refuses resolution.

In sum, Duncan's poem serves as both an homage and a lament, celebrating Pound's undeniable influence on poetry while questioning the ethical dimensions of art. The poem is a meditation on the complexities of human nature, as well as the tension between the moral and the aesthetic, capturing the paradox of a figure like Pound who is both venerated and vilified.


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