Pound / Cummings: The Correspondence of Ezra Pound and E. E. Cummings
Ed. Barry Ahearn. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1996.



     Sometime in 1914, S. Foster Damon loaned a copy of Ezra Pound's anthology Des Imagistes to Cummings (Kennedy, Dreams 78-79). Around this time, too, Cummings acquired a copy of Pound's Ripostes (1912, 1913). Both of these volumes contain "The Return," a poem that immediately impressed the younger poet. Even as late as the mid-1950s, Cummings still viewed his early encounter with "The Return" as a breakthrough moment, writing in his notes that the poem "made me(for better or worse)the writer I am today." He was impressed by the poem's modern treatment of a classical subject, but he noted furhter that the "inaudible poem--the visual poem,the poem for not ears but Eye--moved me more" (qtd. in Kennedy 106).
     Cummings first met Pound in July of 1921. Two years later, Cummings wrote to his mother: "I have for some years been an admirer of Pound's poetry:personally,he sometimes gives me a FatherComplex" (Selected Letters 104). In that same year, Scofield Thayer, no great fan of Pound's poetry, reported in a letter that "Cummings . . . considers Pound mad— 'getting more Idaho day by day' " (qtd. in Sutton 264). As Pound grew more fanatical, Cummings always tried to separate the failings of the man from the virtues of the poet. In 1957 Cummings wrote to Charles Norman that "not EEC but EP is the authentic 'innovator';the true trailblazer of an epoch . . . --nor shall I ever forget the thrill I experienced on first reading "The Return' " (Selected Letters 241). After meeting the raving Pound on his visit to the U.S. in 1939, Cummings wrote in his notebooks that there seemed to be two Pounds: the poet "whom M[arion] and I met in Paris;to whom Scofield Thayer years before that,introduced me—VS an incoherent bore . . . from whom,after many efforts to make him human,M & I ran away(leaving NY)" (quoted in Sawyer-Lauçanno 464). Cummings' later letters to Pound are often slyly subversive attempts to make Pound human. (See Webster 53-66.)

Further Reading:
  • Dupee, F. W. and George Stade, eds. Selected Letters of E. E. Cummings. New York: HBJ, 1969.
  • Rosenblitt, Alison. E. E. Cummings' Modernism and the Classics: Each Imperishable Stanza. Oxford / New York: Oxford UP, 2016.
  • ---. "Pretentious Scansion, Fascist Aesthetics, and a Father-complex for Joyce: E. E. Cummings on Sapphics and Ezra Pound." Cambridge Classical Journal 59 (December 2013): 178-198. 
  • Webster, Michael. "Pound Teaching Cummings, Cummings Teaching Pound." Ezra Pound and Education. Eds. Steven Yao and Michael Coyle. Orono, ME: National Poetry Foundation, 2012. 47-66.
Pound Cummings cover

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Notes: Below are a few additions and corrections to Barry Ahearn's almost uniformly excellent notes.

(42) hay shatch should read "hay shatoh" [i.e., "he has a chateau"]. And unless Cummings is making some sort of dental pun, for Cariolanus read "Coriolanus." [Cf. Dupee and Stade, Selected Letters 133.]

(47) For conceive a man,should have have anything read "conceive a man,should he have anything."

(65) damn it all, 56 worth more than the prix nobel —Pound refers to poem #56 in No Thanks, "this mind made war" (CP 440-41). Pound assumes that he is the subject of the poem extolling "this self with life / this poet." Cummings does not contradict him.

(76) Prof Chas Barbe announces war in Scribner's = Prof. Charles A. Beard. Most likely, Cummings refers to Beard's article "National Politics and the War" [Scribner’s Magazine (Feb. 1935): 70]. Historian David S. Brown writes: “Among his efforts to keep . . . wars at bay, Beard wrote the "Declaration of Policy" for American Neutrality Inc., a national organization headquartered in Washington, DC. This statement pledged the organization to 'maintain a staff for the constant study of pro-war propaganda' and proposed measures to prevent 'Government looking in the direction of war' " (199, note 18).

(156) camp mil ser should read "comp mil ser" [i.e., "compulsory military service"]. [Cf. Dupee and Stade Selected Letters 158.]

(214) late Jz —Ahearn speculates that Pound refers to Henry James, but a more likely candidate would be the recently deceased James Joyce, one of the four "men of 1914" who attempted to "write frankly what they thought." When Pound writes that "fer over 20 yr. noWHERE that 4 did or cd/ -," he apparently refers to the modernists' difficulty in publishing in establishment venues, most notably his own exclusion from the Quarterly Review after his association with Blast (cf. Materer 216-219). Pound "promoted" Cummings to this group when he declared that EIMI was the "3rd of 3 large vols" (P/C 176). (The first two volumes are Joyce's Ulysses and Wyndham Lewis' Apes of God.) Pound attempts to clarify his comment on Cummings' promotion in a following letter, where he says that Cummings is now "the ever so slightly . . . junior" member of the "once quadrumvirate" [Joyce, Pound, Eliot, Lewis] men of 1914, a group which has now been reduced to "3 items . . . the oirish item [Joyce] having passed on" (P/C 217).

(264) teacher @ Haaavud Ahearn’s note is in error. The back flap of the dust jacket to XAIPE (1950) reads: "E. E. Cummings was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1894, the son of a teacher at Harvard." Cummings' father taught Sociology at Harvard from 1891 to 1900 (Kennedy 13-14; Sawyer-Lauçanno 3, 11-12).

(296) the enclosed clipping —no doubt Harvey Breit's interview of Cummings, published in the New York Times Book Review, December 31, 1950. The quote is KOrekt —The relevant portion of Breit's interview is as follows:
Mr. Cummings, thinking on the question of belief, said, as he wandered about his room: "Pound once wrote a magnificent thing. 'What matters is not the idea a man holds, but the depth at which he holds it'."
The interview is reprinted in Breit's The Writer Observed.

(309) Old Bridge = Cummings probably refers to Florence's Ponte Vecchio rather than Venice’s “Bridge of Sighs.” Cummings refers to the crocodile atop the column in St. Mark's square in Venice in "MEMORABILIA": "believe // thou me cocodrillo— // mine eyes have seen / the glory of // the coming of / the Americans" (CP 254).

(329) Pound,pound,pound While it is true that a later section of this poem (not sent by Cummings to Pound) parodies Tennyson's "Tears, Idle Tears" (1847), this section parodies Tennyson's "Break, Break, Break" (1842). Later strophes parody T. S. Eliot's "Sweeney Among the Nightingales" (1919), and John Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale" (1819). The longer version of the poem can be found at CP 987. The cogent corona refers to Pound’s typewriter. (In the version given in Complete Poems, this line reads "on thy cold grey corona oh P.") For a discussion of this poem as forming part of a Waste Land parody, see "Tears Eliot" in Alison Rosenblitt's E. E. Cummings' Modernism and the Classics (215-222).

(363) as whoosis said to Mrs. Barbauld: sieze the damn thing and wring itz neKK. Ahearn directs the reader to letter 240 (P/C 266-267), where he correctly notes that Pound refers to a poem by John Aikin (1747-1822) addressed to his sister, Anna Letitia Barbauld (1743-1825): "Seize, seize the lyre! resume the lofty strain!" In addition, however, Pound refers to a line from Paul Verlaine's "Art Poétique" (1874, 1884): "Prends l’éloquence et tords-lui son cou!" ["Grab eloquence and wring its neck!"].

(367) myKuntry tis of Lydia pink HAM—Pound refers to lines from two Cummings poems: "next to of course god america i" (CP 267) ["my / country 'tis of centuries come and go / and are no more what of it we should worry"] and "Poem, Or Beauty Hurts Mr. Vinal" (CP 228) ["my country,'tis of // you,land of the Cluett / Shirt Boston Garter . . . / of you i / sing:land of Abraham Lincoln and Lydia E. Pinkham"].

(367) with a mu fer a upSilon Ahearn’s note says that "in later editions of the anthology, the mu was replaced by a phi" (P/C 368). More likely, the mu [ μ ] have been replaced by an upsilon [ υ ]. In a successful effort to dodge the censors, Cummings wrote "φυκ" [phi, upsilon, kappa] for "fuck" in line 23 of "Jehovah buried,Satan dead" (CP 438; cf. P/C 54-55, 66). More recent editions simply print the Anglo-Saxon obscenity.

(409) on him they shat / they shot encore —Pound quotes (with one orthographical variation) lines 9-10 of "this mind made war" (CP 440-41):
on him they shat
they shat encore
he laughed and spat
(this life could dare
In letter 33 (28 April 1935) Pound asserts that he is the subject of the poem (cf. P/C 65). On the next page he asks for permission to reprint the two lines in Charles Norman's Ezra Pound, but I cannot find them quoted in that book. In his reply, Cummings does not refer to Pound's permission request.

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