An Immorality by Ezra Pound, Summary, Interpretations, and Analysis

"An Immorality" is a modernist poem by Ezra Pound that celebrates love outside societal conventions, using vivid imagery and unconventional language.

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An Immorality Poem Text

Sing we for love and idleness,
Naught else is worth the having.

Though I have been in many a land,
There is naught else in living.

And I would rather have my sweet,
Though rose-leaves die of grieving,

Than do high deeds in Hungary
To pass all men's believing.

Summary of the Poem: An Immorality

The poem "An Immorality" by Ezra Pound is a short and simple poem that expresses the speaker's preference for love and idleness over great deeds and achievements. The speaker asserts that despite having traveled to many lands, there is nothing worth having except for love and idleness. The speaker claims that they would rather have their sweet love, even if it means that rose-leaves die of grieving, than to perform great deeds in Hungary that would pass all men's believing. The poem ends with the speaker asserting the value of love and idleness, suggesting that they are more important than traditional values associated with greatness and achievement. Overall, the poem advocates for the importance of love and personal fulfillment over societal expectations and achievements..
(Related: HowEzra Pound Influenced Modernism)

Reference to Hungary

This poem is interpreted in multiple ways. Since there is sarcastic/serious reference to high deeds in Hungary and the poem was published in 1912, in his collection of 25 poems named "Riposites". Let's see what was happening in Hungary around 1912.
  • 1526: Ottoman Empire divided hungary into three parts: the Habsburgs, the Turks, and the Principality of Transylvania.
  • 1848-49: War of Independence: Hungarians revolted against the Austrian emperor.
  • 1867: Habsburgs supressed the revolution with help of the Russian Czar.
  • 1912: Serious tension with Jews living there.

Possible Interpretations

  • Poem's title "An Immorality" suggests number of things since it contradicts the message of the whole poem. Some of the possible interpretations can be:
    1. There are two speakers, one calls the whole message of the poem "an immorality" and another gives the message present in the poem. Kind of a debate.
    2. The title is used as a sarcasm to refer to popular belief at the time.
    3. The embedded contradiction is meant to stimulate thinking and questioning.
    4. Ezra Pound is the first speaker because he supported Hitler and Mussolini.
    5. Or Ezra Pound is the second narrator who is against wars fought for capitalist interests.
    6. The poem can be interpreted as an anti-war work.
    7. It can also be read as treatise on love and peace over war.

    Critical Analysis

    Ezra Pound was a highly controversial figure in literary and political circles, and his poem "An Immorality" is a prime example of the complexity of his beliefs. While some view him as a fascist and anti-Semitic, his views were not so black and white. Pound was known for being inconsistent, at times expressing anti-Semitic beliefs, but later in life regretting his involvement in it.

    Despite this, Pound was also known for his generosity, peacefulness, humanity, and civility. It is challenging to dismiss his fascist tendencies as merely a part of the contemporary zeitgeist, and his work should be considered in its historical context. In fact, it can be argued that Pound's work may need to be contextualized more so than many other writers, given the controversial nature of his views.

    While Redman's book "Ezra Pound and Italian Fascism" may seem too sympathetic, it sheds light on the fact that Pound's reputation as a fascist and a lunatic does not do him justice, even if it is not entirely undeserved. In "An Immorality," Pound's early roots of fascism can be seen, and it is clear that he held anti-liberal attitudes. These attitudes, which were the foundation of socialism, communism, and fascism, were often tied up with anti-Semitism.

    When examining the meaning behind "An Immorality," it is important to consider the title of the poem. The first narrator is the one who gives the title "An Immorality." This suggests that the first narrator views what follows as immoral. The second narrator is the one who sings of "love and idleness," which the first narrator views as immoral. However, the second narrator views love and idleness as the highest things in life. The first narrator, on the other hand, sees action and war as the opposite of this "immorality."

    It is worth noting that the poem was published in 1912, a time when there was serious tension with the Jews living in Hungary. This context offers an explanation for the poem's focus on contrasting "love and idleness" with "action and war." Although Pound was initially indifferent to politics until the mid to late 20s, he eventually embraced fascism. Pound believed that Mussolini would implement the kinds of economic reforms that he was calling for. His anti-Semitism was also inconsistent until the 30s when he saw prominent Jewish banking families as implicated in usury, which he believed was at the root of a historical dialectic responsible for major conflicts.

    In conclusion, Ezra Pound's views were complex and not easy to categorize. While his work should be considered in its historical context, his poem "An Immorality" sheds light on the early roots of his fascism. Although he romanticized action and criticized those who embraced love and idleness, his inconsistent beliefs and views on politics and anti-Semitism make his legacy a complex one. It is up to the reader to decide how to interpret Pound's work, but it is important to remember that his views were not always clear-cut.

    Stylistic Analysis

    Ezra Pound's poem "An Immorality" is a brief and powerful work that makes use of several literary devices to convey its message. Here are some of the key stylistic features of the poem:
    1. Metaphor: The poem contains an extended metaphor that compares the value of love and idleness to the value of great deeds and achievements. The metaphor helps to reinforce the poem's central message by providing a concrete image that the reader can relate to.
    2. Rhyme: The poem makes use of a simple ABAB rhyme scheme, with the first and third lines of each stanza rhyming with each other and the second and fourth lines rhyming with each other. This creates a sense of harmony and completeness within each stanza.
    3. Meter: The poem has a consistent meter of six syllables per line. This creates a sense of rhythm and balance that reinforces the poem's message.
    4. Alliteration: The poem contains several instances of alliteration, such as "Sing we for love and idleness" and "Than do high deeds in Hungary." These repetitions of initial consonant sounds create a sense of musicality and emphasize the key words and ideas of the poem.
    5. Imagery: The poem makes use of several powerful images, such as "rose-leaves die of grieving" and "high deeds in Hungary." These images create vivid pictures in the reader's mind and reinforce the contrast between the speaker's desire for love and idleness and the more traditional values associated with places like Hungary.
    6. Personification: The line "Though rose-leaves die of grieving" contains personification, as the rose-leaves are given human emotions of grief.
    7. Antithesis: The poem employs antithesis to contrast the speaker's preference for love and idleness with the traditional values of achievement and greatness. This creates a sense of tension and reinforces the central message of the poem.
    "An Immorality" is a well-crafted poem that makes use of several stylistic devices to convey its message. The poem's simplicity and brevity make it particularly powerful, as every word and image is carefully chosen to reinforce the poem's central themes.

    Possible Themes

    1. The complexity of Ezra Pound's beliefs: This highlights the fact that Pound's beliefs were not easily categorized as either fascist or anti-Semitic. The poem, with its contrasting ideas of "love and idleness" versus "action and war," also reflects this complexity.
    2. The influence of historical context: We can note that the poem was published in 1912, during a time of tension with Jews in Hungary. This context offers an explanation for the poem's focus on action and war, which may have been seen as necessary in the face of perceived threats.
    3. The dangers of romanticizing action: The poem may reflect Pound's tendency to romanticize action, which was a characteristic of fascist ideologies. The poem may therefore serve as a cautionary tale about the dangers of embracing such ideologies.
    4. The tension between individualism and collectivism: The poem's focus on "love and idleness" could be seen as reflecting a liberal, individualistic perspective, while its focus on action and war could be seen as reflecting a collectivist, authoritarian perspective. The tension between these two perspectives is a recurring theme in political philosophy.
    5. The importance of historical context in interpreting literature: Pound's work should be kept in its historical context. This could serve as a broader theme, highlighting the importance of understanding the historical context in which a work of literature was produced in order to fully appreciate its meaning.

    Brief Timeline of Ezra Pound's Life

    • 1885: Ezra Pound was born on October 30th in Hailey, Idaho.
    • 1901-1903: Pound attends the Cheltenham Military Academy in Pennsylvania.
    • 1904-1906: He studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where he meets William Carlos Williams and Hilda Doolittle (H.D.).
    • 1907: Pound travels to Europe for the first time and begins to develop an interest in literature and the arts.
    • 1908: He meets and befriends T.S. Eliot in London.
    • 1910: Pound returns to London and becomes the foreign editor of several magazines, including Poetry and The New Freewoman.
    • 1913: Pound publishes his first collection of poetry, "A Lume Spento."
    • 1914-1918: Pound serves as an ambulance driver in World War I.
    • 1920-1924: He publishes several influential works, including "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley" and "The Waste Land" (which he helped edit).
    • 1925-1939: Pound moves to Italy and becomes involved with Italian Fascism, leading to controversy and criticism.
    • 1945: Pound is arrested by the U.S. Army in Italy for his pro-fascist and anti-Semitic views and is eventually charged with treason.
    • 1946-1958: Pound is held at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. for mental evaluation and treatment.
    • 1958: Pound is released from St. Elizabeths and returns to Italy, where he lives until his death in 1972.

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  • 2 comments

    1. You can share your interpretation and post queries here!
    2. Ezra Pound was a renowned American poet and one of the key figures in the development of modernist poetry. While he is associated with various movements and styles, one of the significant contributions he made to the poetic landscape was his involvement in the Imagist movement.

      Imagism emerged in the early 20th century and was characterized by its focus on precise and vivid imagery, as well as the use of concise language. Pound, along with other poets like H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) and Richard Aldington, played a crucial role in defining and promoting Imagism.

      Pound laid out the principles of Imagism in his 1913 essay titled "A Retrospect," where he outlined the movement's objectives and aesthetics. According to Pound, Imagist poetry aimed to present a direct and concentrated experience by using clear and concrete language. He advocated for the use of "hard, clear images" that would evoke an emotional and intellectual response in the reader.

      The key tenets of Imagism…
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