T.S. Eliot, Dante, and the European Tradition: An International Symposium
January 19th - 25th , 2008
  Promoted by:
Romualdo Del Bianco Foundation
Palazzo Coppini Via del Giglio, 10
50123 – Florence (Italy)


Author : Mr. William Malcuit

Dante, Ezra Pound, and the Poetics of Exile

Much has been made of Ezra Pound’s indebtedness to, and engagements with, Dante. In this presentation I will address this perhaps tired question of influence by approaching it from the perspective of Pound’s attempts to legitimate the poet in the modern world. As Pound wrote in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, “He strove to resuscitate the dead art / of poetry,” and these self-referential lines make clear both Pound’s sense of the state of poetry in 1920 and his conception of himself as poetry’s savior. For Pound, the fallen state of poetry is most visible by what can no longer be seen: the poet. No longer in the modern world is the poet imbued with an aura, having been reduced to simply another player on the stage of modern capitalism. Furthermore, the choices available to poets in the modern age have been reduced to two: they can either attempt to retain their public voices, and thus be subjected to the humiliations of the marketplace, or they can choose the autonomy of the margins, and its accompanying lack of an audience. Pound, however, attempts to resolve this crisis by trying to refigure the poet as someone who speaks with a public and sanctioned voice but who is at the same time free from the demands of modernity. I will argue in this presentation that this is the reason Dante holds such importance for Pound; in many ways, Dante prefigures the modern poet: in exile, committed to unpopular and unacceptable political and religious ideas, and forced to write from the margins. Dante’s political exile led to the autonomy that allowed him to lodge a wholesale critique of the society that had banished him, and in the process to become the canonical European poet. This “Dantescan” model haunts all of Pounds’ literary output, and provides a useful point of departure in rethinking the role of Dante in modern poetry.

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