Written in 1910 when Pound was only 25 years old, and later revised by the author, this critical work has long stood as an important stage in the development of Pound's poetics, and a dramatic revaluation of Europe's literary tradition. Pound surveys the course of literature from the fall of the Roman Empire through the dawn of the Renaissance, paying special attention to the Provençal poets and to Dante. Now with an introduction by Richard Sieburth, this work illuminates a great period in European literature and one of America's greatest poetic minds.
Ezra Weston Loomis Pound was an American expatriate poet, critic and intellectual who was a major figure of the Modernist movement in early-to-mid 20th century poetry.
Pound's The Cantos contains music and bears a title that could be translated as The Songs—although it never is. Pound's ear was tuned to the motz et sons of troubadour poetry where, as musicologist John Stevens has noted, "melody and poem existed in a state of the closest symbiosis, obeying the same laws and striving in their different media for the same sound-ideal - armonia."
In his essays, Pound wrote of rhythm as "the hardest quality of a man's style to counterfeit." He challenged young poets to train their ear with translation work to learn how the choice of words and the movement of the words combined. But having translated texts from 10 different languages into English, Pound found that translation did not always serve the poetry: "The grand bogies for young men who want really to learn strophe writing are Catullus and François Villon. I personally have been reduced to setting them to music as I cannot translate them." While he habitually wrote out verse rhythms as musical lines, Pound did not set his own poetry to music.
This is, to say the least, a book for a particular audience. Too loose for proper academia and too obscure of a subject to interest a general audience, I can only imagine this appealing to fans of poetry who are drawn to its more archaic periods, for heaven only knows what reason. I'm one of those fans, in no little part under the influence of the other works of Pound, so I found it to be a perfectly appealing survey delivered with Pound's distinctly opinionated perspective, which I always appreciate even when we're in disagreement. Aside from an introductory chapter on Apuleius' Golden Ass, the book covers poetry in Europe between the Troubadours up until the time just before Shakespeare, though Shakespeare himself is discussed in comparison to other poets a number of times. The chapters cover, in order: Apuleius, Arnaut Daniel, the Troubadours in general, chansons such as El Cid and The Song of Roland, more on the technique of the Troubadours, Tuscan poetry, Dante, François Villon, Lope De Vega, Camoens, and the Latin Renaissance poets. No more overview is particularly necessary; you should be able by now to tell if the book interests you or not. If it does, I recommend it, if not, rest assured you don't need to read it.
I had low expectations of this book, having the fear that Pound might ramble (though he did, but it was still eloquently stimulating), and of course, I already read newer literary criticism, especially one by Eliot, who, had done a more scientific annotation of the Anglo-Saxon tradition and modernism—but for the love of gods how I was wrong.
HOW INADEQUATE ELIOT COULD HAVE BEEN WITHOUT POUND! Aside from publishing “Prufrock” and editing The Waste Land, Pound’s earlier conceptions of the troubadours and Villon were pretty much echoed by Eliot. In a matter of time, the latter also asserted Pound’s conception of Dante and Shakespeare as the unrivaled immortals of literature. Pound was years ahead, ‘til Eliot became the critical Eliot—the shepherd of the New Critics—who said there was no third after Dante and Shakespeare.
In The Spirit of Romance, he structurally detailed and pioneered a study of great lyric poetry: Provencals, troubadours, Dante, Villon, Lope de Vega, and among others. His prose, for most part, would even shine brighter than his poems; how ironic, as he was the critic who had an utter and sheer faith to poetry more than other forms of writing. This line alone proves it:
“It is dawn at Jerusalem while midnight hovers above the Pillars of Hercules. All ages are contemporaneous. It is B.c., let us say, in Morocco. The Middle Ages are in Russia.”
Aside from that, Pound was so, so funny here—considerate not to go pedantic, hence, to be not dry; not to go philological either, hence to be not dull. He had dethroned the Victorian academic scrutiny with modern literary criticism. He really had fierce instructions done in a thorough, poetic voice; and had good points of comparison on why Milton and Whitman were inadequate to his barometer of good poetic imagination and human compassion. Aside from that, when he discussed poets and verses, he was more of living them, rather extracting and expounding phrases and stanzas. He pursued the sciences of artistic conceptions, musicality, and meaning to substantiate the beauty and glory of world literature. One couldn’t deny also that The Spirit of Romance was one of the keys in understanding his ambitious and sprawling Cantos. It is here the science behind of his bewildering and obscure allusions of his poetry, the ultimate place how he had come to know literature for him to re-shape it—TO MAKE IT NEW.
Pound lived in this book. There could be nuisances, as The Spirit of Romance had annotations to distinguish Pound’s mature look of literature years later after the first edition; but overall, this is a celestial journey under the stars. The poet being a boatman, ferried on the river silvered by the eternal light of poetry to teach and muse all night long the beauty and the significance of these poets and writers who influenced him in his poetic legacy. He would ramble, yes; but Pound knew the words right to give everyone he read a cinematic candor.
Ezra Pound is extremely knowledgeable and without a doubt an amazing poet and thinker. This book really goes into depth about Troubadours and their influences in past and present with various references to esteemed poets and philosophers. I enjoy this topic and his writing but sometimes I couldn't get through some of his chapters unless I devoted entirely all of my attention to it since there were a lot of allusions to other readings and you almost had to "read what he read"(in the words of my professor who taught a Troubadour course) in order to understand the book.
Kind of slow slog of literary criticism but it really picks up near the end around the point where he starts talking about Camoens, kind of surprised with the mediocre lead up into the troubadours and mediocre lead out of the troubadours how much fun it was to read this, really philosophically insightful and biographically insightful into the character of Pound's work, and strangely enough is probably the perfect primer into the Cantos due to the subtle and sly significance of the chapter on Camoens.
Basically useful in the sense of a quote-compendium, pieces of original or unoriginal translation dusted with catty remarks that actually did more critical work than most writers ever have. call me a reactionary but I found Pound rather entertaining!
Skipped a lot at the end, mostly interested in the troubadours.
Absolutely stunning. To think that this guy, Ezra Pound, wrote this work of such brilliance, such clarity, such depth and erudition, only at the age of 25 (!!!!) is absolutely mind-boggling.
The Cantos are great, if at times quite baffling, but to me this is the quintessential Pound book, because it is a combination of prose and poetry.
This is Pound's comprehensive survey of what he believes are the vital European poets of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The largest chapter is on Dante or "il maestro" as he is called, and this did not disappoint but already somewhat familiar with Dante, I found the chapters on Arnaut Daniel and Villon even more fascinating. Also, here we can see Pound's chapter on Lope de Vega, the Spanish playwright, that he was originally planning to study in depth for his PhD thesis, but I'm glad he focused more on his art rather than his PhD work because of the influence he had on 20th century letters. Without Pound, there may have not been Joyce's Ulysses or Eliot's The Waste Land. He also helped boost the careers of Hemingway and Frost. Wherever you look in the early 20th century, in literature, you will see some trace or vestige of Pound's presence.
But back to The Spirit of Romance. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in poetry, especially European poetry. Pound quotes stanzas and sections of certain famous poems that he has studied, and sometimes offers his own translation of them in English. Pound's approach to translation is quite controversial, as he is not entirely faithful to the original text, but what he gives us is something else, his own creative version of what the poet might have written, were he writing in English. Pound catches the feel, the ambience of the poem and translates that. This explains also the title of one of his early books of poems, Personae, which means "the masks." Each time he translates, he gets under the author's skin, dons the mask (temporarily), and writes almost in a poetic trance. And what he produces is often beautiful.
Yes Pound did go on to become an anti-Semitic pro-Mussolini fascist from the late 1920s up until the end of WWII, which is most unfortunate, but the guy was a genius, certainly a flawed genius, but someone with an incredible mind that changed poetry forever.
If anyone is thinking of taking a dive into his famous long epic poem, The Cantos, start your journey here. This is a kind of 'primer' for The Cantos, as many of the poets included in The Spirit of Romance also appear in The Cantos, either directly or just as a ghost-like presence.
I loved this book so much that it is now in my top 5 books of all time and I plan to read it again and again once every couple of years out of interest and out of respect. Go get it!!!! You won't regret it.
There's indispensable information & literary history here, but Pound glosses & summarizes too often here for it to be of much merit analytically or as a critique. For example, he assumes the reader doesn't even know the plot to The Divine Comedy & so spends the majority of his Dante chapter recapitulating that for us & the remainder essentially positing the argument that the portions of the Commedia Pound quotes should speak for themselves as to Dante's immortality & need no further elucidation. Like, what? Also Pound's insistence on translating the quoted sections of a work himself just makes this feel like a student's rhetorical / pedagogical exit examination; remember that he wrote these lectures when he was 24 or 25. So, iunno, come for the recommendations & genealogy, leave behind the rest. At this point Pound isn't even the grumpy elitist we know & love him for later on, so it's not exactly his most engaging prose work. That said, there's reading material here for a lifetime, & so I must at least recommend perusing this for that reason.