Pound is a traitorous, spunk stained groin polisher who had at least two ideas that have traveled well through the decades. He is otherwise a ball of congealed grease, dust, and hair you pull out of your brush, an utterly unusable poet. Pound was a bad writer besides. Reading him is like taking a bullet in the bidness.Eliot, however, was a terrific poet quite apart from his grouchy affectations of upper-class Royalism. The writing remains evocative, ironic, with a tangible melancholy and despair that makes one want to live life fuller than they had been. He might have gained much by having a hard one crease his private channel, but then we will never know; all I know is that Eliot's poems still get the heat to the meat.
One hears arguments in support of imperfect heroes that genius will carry their reputations above and over and far, far away from the corrosive and unforgivable aspects and deeds of their lives, a notion I take under advisement for this reason: it depends on the art they create. Pound fails this simplistic criterion for reasons more subjective than they are objectively sustainable, those being that his motivation really wasn't to create things of beauty that even the boob, the numskull, and the drooling poltroon could relate to, but rather power. Bob Perelman, poet and especially astute critic of modernism, pointed out that the difficulty of Pound, Gertrude Stein and others who operated under the assumption that their icon-smashing, perspective dashing, syntax relaxing experiments were going to be the death of the old filters and provide populations with new ways of seeing. Pound, I am sure, wanted the world to see things his way, complexly, nuanced, infinitely connected to the real roiling subject of humanity, which was godless and unguided by nothing else other the critical desire to kick a homeless man in the throat, steal the pennies off a dead uncle's eyes and, most loathsome of all, desire to rule the world for reasons no more significant than what a meal at the cornet spittoon saloon will give you.
But this was something of a bad bet--the more original his vision, the harder it was for him to make people see. So it became more about power, power embedded in a charismatic man who could, through major feats of willpower, transform the landscape, in the world and of the psyche. Readers, viewers, butchers, wives, teachers, witless dregs no longer had a choice to vote with their feet or let their tastes guide their selection; great historical forces were at play. Or at least Pound was running his mouth and sucking up to fascist powers on whom he sought common cause and a large stipend. His poetry seemed odious and thick as bales of mildewed hay, bloodless examples of what his theories were elaborating on. He was a Rush Limbaugh for those intellectuals who fancied themselves better than the rest of the population, who existed solely to annoy them, slow them down.Eliot, though, is a more slippery fucker to get a handle on. He is negative capability incarnate, the brooding and sad sack Methuselah of the generation that didn't have the patience to wait the years it usually took to be jaded, aristocratically bored, permanently and fashionably melancholic, and on the other hand a closeted racist, homophobic, Jew-baiting ass hole. Anti-semite he was, but he could make you feel his weariness, his loneliness, his sadness that the world was ending badly, becoming a fetid stew of mediocre thinking and piecemeal achievement. He was a great poet and a real pill as a human being. He is someone you would compliment for the stunning brilliance of his language and then try to slam into with your truck as he left work. He was a man you wanted to admire and then spit on. That is greatness.
If Pound's poems work for reasons other than how he wanted them work, fine, that can be explicated interestingly enough with entirely new criteria extraneous to the author's aesthetic/political agenda, but it begs the question, really. It confirms my belief that Pound was talking through his hat most of the time. In this case, based admittedly on my learned dislike of his poetry, I think he gussied up his theories in order to usurp the critical commentary he knew would follow his work: no matter what, all critics had to deal with Pound's flummoxing prose before they could render an assessment, a trick he garnered from Poe, and one deployed by Mailer, a somewhat more successful artist/philosopher/critic (though failed poet).
Eliot had better luck combining the two virtues: The Sacred Wood and some of his other critical assessments have merit as purely critical exercises, self-contained arguments that don't require Eliot's work to illustrate the point. The problem with his criticism was that it was less a system of thought than it was a nice articulation of resentments or one liners that weren't further developed. Eliot, the Royalist, the Anglo-Catholic, the anti-modern Modernist, thought himself too busy to explain himself, and reveals the conservative impatience for inclusiveness; things simply have gotten worse in our culture once alien hordes began infiltrating our borders. It seemed to him so obvious a matter of cause and effect that the relative succinctness of his views, articulated in aesthetics, needn't dwell on what everyone already knows. The criticism would be the equivalent of how he described "The Waste Land", a species of rhythmic grumbling.
It's less about what one can call his "despair" than what his operating premise has in common with the postmodern aesthetic: Eliot, the Modernist poet extraordinaire, perceives the world the universe has having any sort of definable center, any unifying moral force formally knowable by faith and good works. There is despair in the works, behind the lines--one responds to them emotionally and intellectually--and the power behind the images, the shimmering surfaces the diminished, de-concretized narrator feels estranged from, comes from a felt presence, a real personality. Eliot , though, turns the despair into a series of ideas, and makes the poetry an argument with the presence day.
There is pervasive sense of everything being utterly strange in the streets, bridges over rivers, strangeness at the beach, and we, it sounds, a heightened sense of voices, media, bombs, headlines competing for the attention of some one who realizes that they're no longer a citizen in a culture where connection to a core set of meanings, codes and authority offers them a security, but are instead consumers, buyers, economic in a corrupt system that only exploits and denudes nature, culture, god.Eliot conveys the sense of disconnection brilliantly, a modernist by his association with the period, though at heart he was very much a Christian romantic seeking to find again some of the Scripture surety to ease his passage through the world of man and his material things. There has always been this yearning for a redemption of purpose in the vaporous sphere, and much of his work, especially in criticism, argued that the metaphysical aspect could be re-established, recreated, re-imagined (the operative word) through the discipline of artistic craft. Modernists, ultimately, shared many of the same views of postmodernism with regards of the world being an clashing, noisy mess of competing, unlinked signifiers, but post modernism has given up the fight of trying to place meaning in the world, and also the idea that the world can be changed for the better. Modernists , as I take them in their shared practice and aesthetic proclamations, are all romantics, though their the angle and color of their stripes may vary. Romanticism, in fact, is an early kind of modernism: the short of it is that there is a final faith in the individual to deign the design of the world, and in turn change its shape by use of his imagination .
Eliot's poems, as well, stand up well enough without his criticism to contextualize them for a reader who might otherwise resist their surface allure. The language in both genres is clear and vivid to their respective purposes. Pound, again, to my maybe tin-ear, really sounded, in his verse, like he were trying to live up to the bright-ideas his theories contained: The Cantos sound desperate in his desire to be a genius.