Friday, June 14, 2013

Pound, on the War

So long as I'm talking about the Great War, thought the following passages by Ezra Pound give an eloquent evocation of the loss and waste of so much talent:

THE CANTOS, from Canto XVI (1930)

. . . And Henri Gaudier went to it
   and they killed him
And killed a good deal of sculpture

And ole T.E.H. went to it*
With a lot of books from the library
London Library
   And a shell buried him in a dug-out
The Library expressed its annoyance

And a bullet hit him on the elbow
gone through the fellow in front of him
And he read Kant in the Hospital in Wimbleton
   in the original
And the hospital staff didn't like it.

And Wyndham Lewis went to it
With a heavy bit of artillery,
   and the airmen came by . . . 
And cleaned out most of his company,
   and a shell lit on his tin hut
While he was out in the privy
   and he was all that was left of that outfit

. . . and Ernie Hemingway went to it
   too much in a hurry
And they buried him for four days

. . . Liste officielle des morts 5,000,000

 And again, from HUGH SELWYN MAUBERLEY (1920)

These fought in any case
and some believing . . . 
Some quick to arm

some for adventure
some from fear of weakness
some from fear of censure
some for love of slaughter, in imagination,
learning later . . . 
some in fear, learning love of slaughter

Died some, pro patria
   neither dulce nor et decor**
walked eye-deep in hell
believing old men's lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie
home to many deceits . . . 
and liars in public places

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
hysteria, trench confessions
laughter out of dead bellies.

There died a myriad
And of the best among them
For an old [expletive] gone in the teeth.
For a botched civilization . . . 

*i.e., T. E. Hulme
**this is a reference to the tag-line from Horace, dulce et decorum est pro patria mori ("it is sweet and fitting/proper to die for your country"), much-quoted early in the war but now best known through having been taken as the basis for a scathing anti-war poem by Wilfred Owen (d. in the trenches, November 1918)

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