Monday, March 15, 2010

Famam Librosque Cano

Today, we take a break from book reviews and look at an early poem of Ezra Pound. Its title translates to “I sing of fame and books”: the opening line of the Aeneid (“armam virumque cano”) translates to “I sing of arms and a man”.

Famam Librosque Cano *
by Ezra Pound

Your song?
Oh! The little mothers
Will sing them in the twilight
And when the night
Shrinketh the kiss of the dawn
That loves and kills,
What times the swallow fills
Her note, the little rabbit folk
That some call children,
Such as are up and wide,
Will laugh your verses to each other,
Pulling on their shoes for the day’s business,
Serious child business that the world
Laughs at, and grows stale;
Such is the tale
- Part of it - of thy song-life.


A book is known by them that read
That same. Thy public in my screed
Is listened. Well! Some score years hence
Behold mine audience,
As we had seem him yesterday.

Scrawny, be-spectacled, out at heels,
Such an one as the world feels
As sort of curse against its guzzling
And its age-lasting wallow for red greed
And yet; full speed
Though it should run for its own getting,
Will turn aside to sneer at
’Cause he hath
No coin, no will to snatch the aftermath
Of Mammon
Such an one as women draw away from
For the tobacco ashes scattered on his coat
And sit his throat
Shows razor’s unfamiliarity
And three days’ beard;

Such an one picking a ragged
Backless copy from the stall,
Too cheap for cataloguing,

‘Ah-eh! the strange rare name …
Ah-eh He must be rare if even I have not …’
And lost mid-page
Such age
As his pardons the habit,
He analyses form and thought to see
How I ’scaped immortality.

The first verse is a scoff at cradlesongs and forgettable, entertaining verses that, no doubt, brought their writers ephemeral fame and fortune. Then “behold mine audience” - clearly the audience of weightier poems. In the later verses, the poet is describing his discovery and rehabilitation in future times by his target audience - impecunious, unkempt yet rapt readers of poems (e.g. a penniless student/starving writer living in the Latin Quarter of Paris, like Rimbaud, but only anachronistically).

Without analyzing the irregular rate of rhyming, I particularly like the line “And its age-lasting wallow for red greed // And yet; full speed” (speaking of the world that scoffs at the poor reader in passing as it turns).

(* this poem is from Umbra on Internet Archive.)

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