It’s Wednesday and that means a return to the classics. As I was searching for something to write about, I went to a Google search of quotes on classic literature. What I found was Ezra Pound.
“Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree.” – Ezra Pound
I like the quote and although I knew of Pound’s name in literature, I was not familiar with his work. I looked him up only to find he felt very strongly against all the things I love in literature. He was a founder of the Imagism movement. Imagism, to quote Wikipedia, was a movement that “favored precision of imagery and clear, sharp language.” To put it simply, Pound was not a fan of overuse of adjectives and flowery prose. He found it unnecessary and lacking in style.
Pound’s idea was to use only those necessary words which adequately and perfectly defined what he wanted to say. A good example of his fine tuning of language is in his poem In a Station of the Metro. He describes the inspiration for the work as his having gotten off a train and seeing a beautiful face, and then another and another and then a beautiful child’s face and on and on.
Working with this inspiration for a year, he refined it to eliminate all excess adjectives, superfluous language and assorted things. He completed, finally, a Japanese haiku entitled In a Station of the Metro:
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough
Personally, I liked his description of his inspiration better than I liked the resulting work. While I see the brilliance in his work, I would not have gotten what he was trying to say without the explanation I found on Wiki. In this haiku, I get the feeling of a haunting occurrence due to his use of the word apparition. I do not hear or see beauty when I read ‘apparition.’ As I said, that is my personal opinion, others might feel differently.
It could be that I am a fan of works heavy in excessive adjectives. I have said several times I like H.P. Lovecraft and Anne Rice. Both are avid adjective users. They find new and wonderful uses of everyday words as well. One of my favorite Anne Rice words is preternatural. I am sure Ezra Pound would not have been a fan.
I wrote this post about Pound today to make a point. He was a brilliant man, political associations and beliefs aside, his writing was unique and succinct. It is a pleasure to read as it expanded my view of literature. I feel this way about many classic works. Although I do not necessarily like the language or way it is used, I can see its value overall. Shakespeare, while I despise the use of words thy, thou, hast and other words ending is est or ast – I find humor in the work. I find the stories entertaining and I see them for their worth. I could read them over and over. I could read Pound’s work over and over. Great literature is like that, it is worth reading and rereading for its expansion beyond what we are comfortable with accepting.