William Blake and Ezra Pound: a Comparison

Life from Perspective

The world of today is full of unhappiness because it is founded on mistaken ideals. Both William Blake and Ezra Pound would agree to this statement and they would even agree on some positive changes that could be made. Although Blake and Pound are separated by about a hundred years, their lives show strong similarities including the impact of wars, a majority of their lives spent in Europe, and of course, both used poetry to express their feelings about the world during their time. Blake was content with viewing the world as he thought it should be viewed and showing the truths he saw through poetry, illustrations, and engravings. Pound, who felt the state of the world was declining rapidly, especially in the United States ever since the time of Thomas Jefferson and Martin Van Buren, expressed himself through his poetry and fascist propaganda. Both poets saw something wrong with the world and wanted to see changes. They both felt that the problems had always been present, but it wasn't until their time that the problems had been prevalent and became worse by the actions taken in the world. Blake took a passive stance and stated his opinions through his works, while Pound took an aggressive stance and actively advocated for change through his work and other means. Their varying views on life share some similarities caused by their comparable lives as displayed through their poetry and a focus on religion in their themes conforming to the strong differences in their writing style.

William Blake was born in 1757 in London. He lived his life proclaiming that the imagination was supreme to the rationalism and materialism that he was confronted with during the eighteenth century. Blake made his living as a poet, painter, and engraver; in fact, the majority of his poems are cherished not only for the exceptional style and meaning, but also for their beautiful illustration and printing done by Blake himself. As a young boy Blake apprenticed with an engraver who exposed him to the world of Gothic art and architecture, which later had a large influence on his poetry and art. Another major influence on Blake's work was that of the wars that he saw during his life. At the age of 18, in 1775, the bloodiest war of his life, the Revolutionary War between Great Britain and the soon to be United States Started, and even though he did not actually travel to the distant American shores he could clearly see the damages that the war caused. Blake's first book of poems, Poetical Sketches, was published in 1783 and clearly showed the world as seen from a child's view, but displayed the complexities of adult experience. In Blake's "Ah! Sunflower" the child's perspective and adult meaning are very clear, the sunflower looks up to the heavens and wants to go where the sun goes, "seeking after that sweet golden clime."(Blake, "Sunflower" 3) The sunflower itself is "weary of time,"(Blake, "Sunflower" 1) or near death and is waiting until its "journey is done,"(Blake, "Sunflower" 4) and it dies. The poem is literally talking about a sunflower, a childish subject, but upon deeper inspection it actually confronts a man's desire to go to heaven upon his death.

Ezra Pound, like William Blake, was influenced greatly by events that occurred in his lifetime. Pound was born in Idaho, in 1885. Pound is most famous for leading the movement of poetry, at the age 27, called imagism. Imagism is based on several principles; it was necessary to use common speech, but to use the exact word that was required. Free verse and freedom of subject were very important, along with the clear and exact presentation of an image, are the key to imagist poetry. Along with being influenced by new and modern styles, Pound's life and poetry were altered by the war that he saw in his life. At the age of 29 Pound saw the start of World War I, especially since he had already left the "half savage country"(Pound, "Mauberley" 6) of the United States and was at the time living in London. One of Pound's most profound works is "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley" because it basically discussed his life and career for the past twelve years and deeply shows the catastrophe of World War I as it effects the literary world. The poem discusses the war in the most groteque terms "These fought... quick to arm... for adventure...for love of slaughter."( Pound, "Mauberley" 66-72) The poem also delivers Pound's retirement from the imagism and beauty that he had followed so closely for most of his poetry and illustrates a move towards the realities of the world.

Besides the influence of dramatic events in their lives, both Pound and Blake were affected by religion and religious themes and images are prevalent in most of their poetry. Although Blake believed that the world was full of unhappiness because it is founded on mistaken ideals and the belief that no one can truly understand the world until they have learned to trust their instincts and energies, he felt that religion encompassed this belief. In many of his poetic works he questions the existence of a creator. In "The Tiger" the tiger is asked "What immortal hand or eye"(Blake, "Tiger" 3) created him. But Blake did not believe in any one religion and this is displayed by his allusion to Greek mythology. In the second stanza "on what winds dare he aspire? What hand dare seize the fire?"( Blake, "Tiger" 7-8) clearly allude to the stories of Icarus and Promethius. Icarus was a man who defied the gods and built wings of wax to escape from his cell, while Promethius was a god who defied the other gods and gave man fire. Both stories depict bold actions similar to the creation of the tiger, in the speaker's mind. The speaker asks who would be bold enough to make a creature so powerful and dangerous, incredibly beautiful. The tone of the poem conveys a simple awe of the creation and a wonder of existence. Blake knows that the world is founded on mistaken ideals, so he listens to the teachings of many religions and takes what he believes from each, keeping his mind open to new ideas and always ready to trust simple instincts and energies.

Pound's views on religion are much more straightforward. Pound viewed the entire world as a morally weakening culture; his poems emphasized how materialism and corruption had set the world on a destructive path, and he felt that religion was not taught in church but was a "revelation made in the arts." In fact, he complete abandoned Christianity because he felt that its only purpose, at the time of its creation, had been to make the people slaves. In the end most of his objections to the church were based on the money that he thought should have gone to artist and scientist, not to the church. In his poem "The Logical Conclusion" his sentiments on religion are made clear. He depicts a time when there are know true thinkers or poets and everyone follows the teachings of the past, the archaic teachings of religion. "When idea from fact has parted,"(Pound, "Conclusion" 3) he shows a world without creativity and happiness and blames the worlds misfortunes on religion. He continues to show how the different religions divide the people "each in his separate book"( Pound, "Conclusion" 22) and ironically the "only the devil should look."( Pound, "Conclusion" 24) Pound plainly depicts the world as he believes it would be if religion reigned supreme over scholars, artists, and poets alike. His strong dislike of religion fueled and affected much of his poetry and even contributed to his abandonment of the modern imagist style.

The poetry of Ezra Pound and William Blake was greatly affected by their life experiences, especially the influence of war, and their strong opinions on religion coupled with dramatically different writing styles. Their writings are separated by about a hundred years. Blake wrote with simple rhyme schemes and often focused on a child's perspective of adult feelings, while Pound experimented with modernist imagism and then wrote without rhyme or meter simply to express himself. Many Readers find Pound's earlier works to be more agreeable; this is simply explained by the date they were written, before World War I. In contrast, Blake's works were first published after the Revolutionary War, the largest war of his lifetime, and they are nowhere near as influenced by war as Pound's later works. Blake's simple use of poetic devices makes his work more enjoyable to read, it is less harsh on the ears eyes and mind and deals with conflicts that everyone faces from the easily understandable view of a child and the situation complexities of an adult. Both poets saw corruption in the society of their time, Blake felt that the problems stemmed from society's way of life being founded on mistaken ideals, while Pound felt that society had failed because of greed, corruption, and materialism. Since both have a similar view of the corruption of society each offered his opinion and remedies. Pound believed that the arts were the first step towards understanding; he believed that art was the true religion of the world. Blake felt that the only way to cure the misunderstanding inherent in society, the only way to get past the materialism, is to gain a complete trust in imagination, instincts, and energies. If both of their solutions are combined, the only way to become free from the corruption of our society is to embrace the most important of inner feelings, to let the imagination run free, and to see that the arts are the one and only religion that is really needed.

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Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 8 years ago

Interesting and well written. Whitman is my favorite. I had trouble understanding Pound despite the fact that my mother's name was Pound. We always wondered if we were distant relatives but were never able to establish a relationship. T.S. Eliot, Pound's protégé, is a bit easier to follow. The "Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock" is my favorite Eliot poem. But he and Pound were too pessimistic for me. Whitman is much more upbeat.


Ted 8 years ago

This piece is pretty loose with the facts. Here's a few things to point out:

Most of Blake's poetry is not as described here, but is rather in the form of long "prophetic" mythological works that are not from a child's perspective, and in unrhymed free verse;

Pound is not most famous for his early "Imagist" work, but for his later Cantos, his immense influence on the Modernist movement and his frienships and patronage to other great writers and artists, and perhaps his later indictment for treason in WWII and subsequent commitment to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in DC;

Blake's work in NOT simple and nothing about Blake is passive (read up on Blake, please);

Blake's views on humanity's problems do not have to do with mistaken ideals but rather with faulty perception and the inability of a person to perceive the world as it is without undergoing a kind of spiritual resurrection;

etc.;

etc.;...


keithbradley profile image

keithbradley 8 years ago from Cal Poly (San Luis Obispo) Author

Ted, thanks for your input, this essay was written in high school - the ideas here have not yet matured - you obviously have clear understanding of Blake. As a comparison piece this essay says what it needs to say - the facts aren't wrong they are just limited. You might want to read this one more time, you've misread some of my points.

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