Selected by Robert Gibb
National Poetry Month 2014
Letter from the Editors
Our thanks to Robert Gibb for today's Poet's Pick!
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Don Selby & Diane Boller
Robert Gibb's Poetry Month Pick, April 11, 2014
from "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley"
by Ezra Pound (1885-1972)
These fought, in any case,
and some believing,
pro domo, in any case . . .
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,
non “dulce” non “et décor” . . .
walked eye-deep in hell
believing in old men’s lies, then unbelieving
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.
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.
There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
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.
Robert Gibb Comments:
“The news that stays new,” Pound said, presciently. I type out these lines for the second time. The first was in 1968, when I carried a copy of them in my wallet as a kind of manifesto, I’d have said, against the Vietnam War. I was agonizing in the Air Force, studying Russian, feeling complicit and part of the machine.
Pound’s bitter, severely-beautiful denunciations of that earlier war and of the public liars who backed it, waving their flags, matched my own anti-war, 1960s’ sentiments. More than that, his lines gave to such sentiments an authority and eloquence beyond that of any agitprop.
That, like most wars, these were dependent on propaganda and a wholly parochial patriotism; that they were fought by the young in the interests of the old; that the endorsements of carnage foreclose on any civilization’s claims to merit such status—paraphrased, the sentiments descend into platitudes.
To quote them is a different matter. Those “Quick eyes gone under earth’s lid” for starts. Pitch-perfect, it’s just one example of what Hayden Carruth called “the great style.” The clarity of single chiseled words. The way the line is leveled, scale-like, with the crisp rhyme of vowels at each end. The way “lid” serves double-duty and “earth” gives us mud and trenches and the battered battlefield aspect of that “green world” Pound, at Pisa, asks that we take as tutor.
These sections of the poem could, in fact, be said to constitute a free verse primer (image, catalogue, musical phrase). There’s the beauty of the scaffolding of section IV, its use of parallelism and anaphora, which seem to me to “exactly measure the slope of the balance,” to borrow from Yeats, as though he were addressing just these cadences. There’s the precision of the details in both sections, both in selection (“the natural object is always the adequate symbol”) and register, and the way they pile up into that final wreckage of statues and books, a living civilization converted to rubble. All of which interests me less than the poem’s anguish, though they compose its flesh.
About Robert Gibb:
Robert Gibb's books include The Origins of Evening, a National Poetry Series winner. Among his other awards are two NEA Fellowships and a Pushcart Prize. His most recent books are Sheet Music (Autumn House Press) and The Empty Loom (Arkansas).
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