Literary Criticism

In the October 1918 edition of The Little Review, Ezra Pound comments on what makes poetry good or bad in his piece titled, “Breviora.” Much of what Pound asserts mirrors the critiques of the newspaper men in “Aeolus.” The men at the press merciless mock Dan Dawson’s speech as highfalutin, poor writing, but they laud John F. Taylor’s speech as noble and awe-inspiring.

Pound states that poetry “is the statement of overwhelming emotional values”, “aims at giving a feeling precisely evaluated”, and is good or bad, “according to the quality of expression” (23). I take this to mean that it is necessary for poetry to be emotional, but the methods used to achieve the emotion must be honest, purposeful, and tightly constructed. (I should admit, though, that I had some issues understanding exactly what Pound is trying to say. Any ideas would be appreciated!) Pound holds a low opinion of “Sentimentality, sob-stuff”, which he considers to be a “false statement of values” (23). Emotion simply for the sake of emotion is a mark of poor writing; instead, the emotion must be tool to further the purpose of the writing as well as act as an honest representation of the values of the writer.

Pound is particularly hard on Tennyson and Wordsworth, the former known for his highly sentimental writing, and the latter for his Romantic pastoral pieces. According to Pound, this poetry does not have merit, and it seems as if the men at the press feel the same way. They mock Dawson’s over-the-top, pastoral descriptions of Ireland, calling him an “inflated windbag” and the poetry “bombast” (104). On the other hand, Professor MacHugh calls Taylor’s speech “the finest display of oratory I ever heard,” (116). Taylor’s speech applies to the present-day Irishmen, likening their situation with the British Empire to that of the ancient Hebrews during their enslavement in Egypt. This piece appears to fall more in line with what Pound calls good poetry, “the statement of overwhelming emotional values” (23). His speech is incredibly emotional, but not simply for the sake of causing feelings. It is purposeful, honest, and expressive.

I find it interesting that the editor of The Little Review thought to place this short piece by Pound in the same issue as Episode VII of Ulysses. They certainly fit well together, but when I first read “Aeolus,” I didn’t note the two speeches as being a really significant part of the episode. These complementary pieces show just how much thought went in to planning an issue of this periodical.

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One thought on “Literary Criticism

  1. Will Boogert

    I think you’re right about Ezra Pound’s point when you say that “the emotion must be tool to further the purpose of the writing as well as act as an honest representation of the values of the writer.” I think this is what Pound is driving at, the difference between emotion and ’emotional values’. It seems like Joyce, if he would agree with Pound on this, is having his characters support Taylor’s speech rather than the more pastoral, inflated writing of Dawson because of its value to the contemporary Irish citizen. It is not enough for the writing to be tightly crafted and well expressed–the thought being expressed must be worth expressing, and have an “overwhelming” importance to the writer. this must be why Dawson is a windbag compared to Taylor. But if this true, I wonder what “overwhelming emotional values” Joyce himself could be said to be expressing in Ulysses, or even this episode specifically.

    Reply

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