November 7, 2010

And the papers will tell you the rest

There was a young man from the West,
He did what he could for what he thought best;
    But election came round;
    He found himself drowned,
And the papers will tell you the rest.

This limerick was published in the November 7, 1896 issue of the Jenkintown Times-Chronicle, a humorous reference to the recent Presidential election (William McKinley defeated William Jennings Bryan). The poem was attributed to an 11-year old "E. L. Pound," better known as Ezra Pound.

Putting aside that a pre-teen youngster had an impressive interest in national politics, most surprising is that Pound was using a simplistic traditional form. Granted, we can't fault a juvenile for using a juvenile form. But, keep in mind that years later, he will be hailed as one of the greatest of Modernists.

Pound was above all an aesthete who believed in art for art's sake — some may say even an elitist. Legend has it that he claimed to be the "grand-nephew" of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (which is not quite the case; their relation is very distant). Rather than showing pride for his connection to the only American poet honored in Westminster Abbey's Poet's Corner, Pound said it made him ashamed. He and other Modernists had a strong distaste for "Fireside Poets" like Longfellow, whose whole practice of poetry was teaching lessons.

*I am indebted to The Cambridge Companion to Ezra Pound, edited by Ira Bruce Nadel. The above image is of the young Ezra Pound with his mother in 1898.


  1. Obviously Pound is a largely controversial figure, literarily, politically, socially, etc. However, you may be stretching-it in your critique of 11-year-old Ezra’s “juvenile form.” I’m not sure it’s quite fair to compare a young person’s doggerel to a later, more mature style. For example, one could do this with other writers as well, including Poe, who went on to create wonderfully crafted works of long-lasting value.

    Also, it’s worth noting that Pound, a bit like Longfellow, was quite generous in assisting other writers, including James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and Ernest Hemingway, in the publication of their works.

  2. I'm sorry if you found a "critique" here. In fact, I wrote: "Granted, we can't fault a juvenile for using a juvenile form." My only point is noting the curious earliest poem of a Modernist.