Much of Ezra Pound’s philosophy of poetry is encapsulated in the following:

“Poetry is a sort of inspired mathematics, which gives us equations, not for abstract figures, triangles, squares, and the like, but for the human emotions. If one has a mind which inclines to magic rather than science, one will prefer to speak of these equations as spells or incantations; it sounds more arcane, mysterious, recondite.”

-Ezra Pound

The above quotation can be mined for much Modernist philosophy of art, and can open us to an appreciation of Ezra Pound’s poetical vision. Summed up here is the path Pound treaded between mysticism and empiricism, exactitude and esotericism.

2. Inspiration and Myths

To begin with, one must examine what Pound meant by “inspiration” – more particularly, inspired mathematics – and its connection to “human emotions”.

In Pound’s work, inspiration is “delightful psychic experience” (Kellner, 23). Most of his poems are about such experiences, and the typical features of these psychic experiences are such as we find in the poem “The Tree”. The speaker of this poem finds himself suddenly transformed into a tree, and is able to “know the truth of things unseen before”. Such truth does not constitute of otherworldly knowledge, and is rather a new understanding of things previously perceived as “rank folly” by the “head”. Nevertheless, the experience of this newfound understanding is sufficiently transformative, such that it is able to put him in touch with the gods, bringing them “within/unto the hearth of their heart’s home”. The poem plays on a contrast of heart versus the head, showing how inspiration is an experience rooted in supra-rational emotion. The head reduces subjective, mythological truth to “rank folly”, and denies us the transformative experiences that gave rise to myths, the repositories of the universals of human experience.

In his critical work, Pound calls these myths “explications of mood”. Myths (and by implication, any inspired artistic experience) arise when “states of mind” take eternal forms (Kellner 25). These “explications of mood” and “states of mind” are emotions – which psychology terms, somewhat belittlingly, the “affective” content of cognition as known in psychology. Pound’s poetry is an attempt at capturing in words the shapes, so to speak, of emotional experiences. In his Imagist manifesto, he calls this “an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time”, and this ideal can be seen in poems like “The return” and “In a Station of the Metro”. Read the rest of this entry »