Preferred Citation: Beach, Christopher. ABC of Influence: Ezra Pound and the Remaking of American Poetic Tradition. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1992 1992.

8— Pound's Words in Their Pockets: Denise Levertov and Gary Snyder

Pound's Words in Their Pockets:
Denise Levertov and Gary Snyder

Pound  . . . stirs me into a sharper realization of my own sensibility. I learn to desire not to know what he knows but to know what I know; to emulate, not to imitate.
Denise Levertov, The Poet in the World

Pound [is] a teacher of poetic technology.
Gary Snyder, quoted by Lee Bartlett

In the last four chapters I have explored the way in which Pound's work served as a model for his two most central post-modern descendants: Charles Olson and Robert Duncan. As should now be apparent, these two poets represent radically different and often conflicting conceptions of Pound's legacy and of his value to younger writers. Although Olson's and Duncan's works form the borders within which the postwar Pound tradition operates, they by no means exhaust the creative possibilities contained in Pound's writing. In this chapter I examine in more condensed fashion the place of two younger poets in the tradition: Denise Levertov and Gary Snyder.

For different reasons, both of these writers were relative latecomers to the postwar American scene: Levertov (b. 1923) is British by birth and education and regards her move to America in 1948 and her concurrent discovery of Modernist and post-modernist American poetry as the turning point in her poetic career. Through Creeley, whom her husband, Mitch Goodman, had known at Harvard, she was introduced to the poets connected with Black Mountain—especially Duncan, with whom she established a long-lasting friendship and correspondence—and she began an intensive reading of Williams and Pound. She was soon publishing her poetry in Origin, Black Mountain Review, and the annual anthologies published by New Directions. Her contact with "new rhythms of life and speech" and her discovery of Olson's "Projective Verse" both helped her to


develop in a relatively short time from "a British Romantic with almost Victorian background" into an important figure in the Pound / Williams tradition of the 1950s and 1960s.

Snyder, seven years younger than Levertov, has spent most of his life on the West Coast. When he began his poetic career in the mid- to late 1950s he had ties with both the San Francisco Renaissance and the Beats, but he has remained relatively independent of direct affiliation with either group. Snyder was firmly defined within the Pound / Williams tradition by his appearance in Black Mountain Review no. 7 (1957)—alongside works by Zukofsky, Creeley, Ginsberg, Levertov, Dorn, Jack Kerouac, Jonathan Williams, Joel Oppenheimer, Michael McClure, and Philip Whalen. And, like many of these poets, he was also included in Donald Allen's The New American Poetry .

As poets, Levertov and Snyder are different in almost every respect; stylistically, thematically, temperamentally, and institutionally they appear to have little in common. What they do share, however, is a profound sense of affiliation with the poetic tradition I have been defining. Although neither Levertov nor Snyder experienced a personal and direct relationship to Pound, they both regard Pound and his poetic legacy as central to the development of their own practices. It is this sense of tradition and the way in which it informs their poetry that I explore in this chapter—first in terms of their work as a whole and then more specifically in readings of representative poems by each writer.

Levertov views herself not as a "woman poet" but as a writer attempting to develop an "androgynous sensibility" that will allow for a more "human" poetry transcending gender definitions.[1] While she values the work of certain female poets, most importantly H. D. and Muriel Rukeyser, most of Levertov's models and influences have been male: among the most significant are Pound, Williams, Stevens, Yeats, Shakespeare, Goethe, Rilke, Chekhov, and Neruda. Levertov's position as the only woman in this book raises the question of the overall status of

[1] Levertov, In Her Own Province, 100.


women poets within the Pound tradition. If we keep in mind the status of women in modern and American poetry generally, the Pound tradition does not appear exclusively or even unusually male centered relative to other traditions of poetic writing, most of which are, at least numerically, dominated by male authors.

The theoretical question of whether the nature of Pound's writing or his sense of tradition in some way excludes women is a more complex one. Recent feminist criticism has explored the relationship between gender and ideology and has suggested the possibility of a gender-based poetics.[2] My readings, however, do not indicate in Pound an exclusively "male" poetics or the exclusion of women from his poetic tradition, which originates in part with Sappho. Pound's espousal of the sexual theories of Remy de Gourmont in the early 1920s does indicate a tendency to view women as passive, rather than active, participants in cultural tradition, and his portrayal of women in The Cantos is open to criticism on a number of grounds. But Pound's continued association with H. D., his assistance in publishing the poems of Marianne Moore, and his later correspondence with the poet Iris Barry indicate an openness and a lack of bias in dealing with women poets.

In a poem entitled "September 1961" Levertov pays homage to the three American poets of the previous generation who were a source of inspiration for her and her peers: Pound, Williams, and H. D. It is significant that, like Duncan, Levertov celebrates her female precursor H. D. not within the context of a tradition of women's writing but within the context of American poetic Modernism, thereby also placing herself within the immediate context of postmodern contemporaries such as Duncan, Olson, and Creeley, rather than in a line of female poets. The personal occasion for Levertov's poem was a distressed note she had received from Williams, saying, "I can't describe to you what has been happening to me." Williams had been experiencing an extremely difficult period in his life and work, his illness and loss

[2] For one of the most influential discussions of poetics and gender, see Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic, 3–106. For a related discussion, see Alicia Ostriker, "The Thieves of Language."


of memory preventing him from writing or lecturing.[3] Levertov's poem stresses the interconnected life and poetry of the three forebears, all of whom had in some way withdrawn "into a painful privacy / learning to live without words" (P, 81). For her, the retreat of these "old great ones" from the poetic scene leaves the younger generation of writers alone in an alienating (urban) environment, far from the mystical union with the sea of inspiration their elders sought:

They have told us
the road leads to the sea,
and given

the language into our hands.
We hear
our footsteps each time a truck

has dazzled past us and gone
leaving us new silence.

(P, 81)

She tries to imagine what it will be like to write "without the light of their presence," with only "the words in our pockets, / obscure directions":

But for us the road
unfurls itself, we count the
words in our pockets, we wonder

how it will be without them, we don't
stop walking, we know
there is far to go, sometimes

we think the night wind carries
a smell of the sea ...

(P, 82–83)

Williams was the first of the three "great ones" to have an importance for Levertov; with the aid of Creeley's insights into the nuances of American speech patterns, Levertov was able to unlock Williams's "measure" in the late 1940s and early 1950s. An appreciation for the work of Pound and H. D. took longer to

[3] See the account of this period in Williams's life and of his note to Levertov in Paul Mariani, William Carlos Williams: A New World Naked, 764.


develop. When Levertov first arrived in the United States, she had read only "a minimal amount of Pound (anthologized in a Faber anthology)" and was much more familiar with ABC of Reading than with The Cantos .[4] Her knowledge of H. D.'s work was similarly limited to "a handful of early poems," until the 1957 publication of the poem "Sagesse" (see PW, 244–48). From Creeley and later Duncan, Levertov received her education about Pound and H. D. as well as Olson and the new poetry being generated in America. Pound in particular represented to Levertov a valuable alternative to the more "homespun" persona somewhat unfairly applied to Williams ("Buffalo Bill"), especially prior to Paterson . The crude imitations of Williams's work, poems full of precise and raw detail and written in a faintly "local" idiom, amounted to what Levertov later called the "Midwestern Common Style." Levertov found reinforced in Pound, as in H.D. and Duncan, her own rejection of merely "descriptive" or "self-expressive" poetry; in its exploration of unknown, sacred, or mythic aspects of experience the work of these poets signified an alternative not only to imitations of Williams but also to the prevailing "confessional" mode (see PW, 87–106).

Levertov's search for previously unknown sources for her poetry led her to adopt the characteristic method of poets in the Pound tradition: a synthetic use of poetic models that could be used in the juxtaposition or confrontation of apparently unreconcilable poetic traditions. It was a method that would ultimately allow her to incorporate a sense of social and political engagement into an often romantic or mystical idiom—a form of "pure poetry."

Like Duncan, Ginsberg, and Pound, Levertov increasingly frames her poetry as a reconciliation of divergent traditions: experimental Modernism, Romanticism, and religious mysticism. A list of influences on Levertov includes such diverse figures as Dante, Shakespeare, Donne, George Herbert, Hölder-

[4] Quoted in Bertholf, Byrd, and Reid, Scales of the Marvellous, 85.


lin, Goethe, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Swinburne, Hopkins, Rilke, Yeats, Stevens, Lawrence, Lorca, and Neruda, not to mention Pound, Williams, Olson, Creeley, Duncan, and Ginsberg. The related question for Levertov, as for Duncan, is how to reconcile in a single poetic voice different literary traditions and the attitudes they represent—how to accommodate social, political, and historical concerns within a basically Romantic and mystical conception of the poetic project. Predecessors such as Williams and H. D., with whom Levertov has been more commonly associated, provide important models of poetry's "engagement" with the world, but it is in poets such as Pound (and Duncan and Ginsberg) that Levertov finds the possibilities of directly political expression and of a "revolutionary" stance.

Snyder's sources differ as much from Levertov's as Olson's from Duncan's or Pound's from Williams's; nonetheless, the importance Snyder places on the poet's embrace of a usable tradition allies him with the fundamentally inclusive poetics of Levertov. In an interview with Ekbert Faas in the late 1970s, Snyder defines literary tradition in terms that revise the famous Modernist formula—Eliot's "tradition and the individual talent"—while at the same time providing an alternative to a Bloomian view of influence in post-Romantic poetry. Snyder embraces a Buddhist notion of tradition according to which an understanding of one's own nature is not seen "in purely individualistic Romantic terms":

The Romantic split between tradition and individual talent is no problem for the Buddhist. It's understood that you go to the tradition and study the lore handed down by men who have gone through the same process of meditation and study as yourself, and you respect and appreciate the accumulation of wisdom that they have brought forward. You tune that back into your study of yourself, you turn the soil over, and you actually work back and forth between absolutely naked self-examination and reference to a tradition that you respect.[5]

[5] Quoted in Faas, Towards a New American Poetics, 116.


Snyder acknowledges the value of poetic tradition, both as a source of "useful" poetic models and as an important record of the history of ideas. But rather than support either Eliot's distinction between the needs of the individual and those of the tradition or Bloom's even more pointedly antagonistic relationship between the poet and his or her "repressed" ancestry, Snyder celebrates an openly declared and respectful relationship to the works of past authors. In his introduction to the Snyder interview, Faas rightly calls attention to the way in which Snyder resembles Olson in his relationship to literary tradition. Although I agree with Faas, I locate the model for Snyder's use of tradition and sources less in Olson than in Pound.

Snyder discovered Pound while a student at Reed College (before he was exposed to the work and ideas of Olson), and by at least one account Pound was his favorite poet at that time. It was chiefly from Pound that Snyder learned how to incorporate noncanonical and often nonpoetic sources into his work and how to blend or reconcile different traditions while forming his personal canon. Snyder's notion of poetry as the "soil we go back to" in our Western (and non-Western) heritage and his sense of the "usefulness" of certain works or authors as "tools" to be used in developing "the potentialities of Western consciousness" certainly owe a great deal to Olson's poetic stance, but they are no less reformulations of Pound's seminal ideas of vortex, of krino (to choose or select the particular source from among the many available), and of the donative author. Although Pound would not have subscribed to the explicitly Buddhist terms of Snyder's understanding of influence and tradition, he would have fully concurred with the substance of Snyder's assertions. Snyder clearly recapitulates Pound's gesture (also that of Duncan and to some extent that of Olson) of using hand-selected authors and texts as "materials" out of which to construct a new paideuma .

Snyder's notion of tradition also shares with that of Pound a sense of the delicate balance that must be maintained between poetry's social function and its craft. On the one hand, Snyder, like Creeley and Ginsberg before him, is attracted to Pound's


conception that poets are "the antennae of the race." Snyder interprets Pound's phrase to mean that poets function as "an early warning system" that can stand far enough outside the "cause-and-effect network of a society in time" to identify potential problems that society may face. Yet equally important to Snyder's sense of the Poundian legacy is the idea of craft or techne . Snyder acknowledges the importance of Pound to his own technique of composition, calling him an important "teacher of poetic technology." This Poundian sense of craft manifests itself in Snyder's translations of the Chinese poet Han-Shan, in his technique of using words and images as exact markers of a "trail" of experience (riprapping), and in the idea of the poem as a highly energized "knot of turbulence."[6]

Following Olson, Creeley, and Ginsberg, Snyder reads Pound within an American lineage that includes Walt Whitman, Robinson Jeffers, and Kenneth Rexroth. Like Olson, too, Snyder rejects the European models he sees as constituting the canonical "Christian" tradition. To Whitman, Pound, Jeffers, Rexroth, Olson, and Ginsberg, among others, Snyder adds alternative sources such as "the Greek anthology, the Romans, the Medieval Chinese."[7] Although he later revises his absolute stand on European models in listing Hopkins, Yeats, and Blake as central to his reading, Snyder makes less active use of them than he does of American and Eastern sources. He claims to regard two of the central poets of Western culture—Dante and Milton—not as literary precursors but as "exercise[s] in cultural history."[8] If in this respect he sides more with Olson's sense of cultural relativism than with Pound's embrace of a Western literary and stylistic tradition, Snyder's poetry resembles Pound's in drawing on a fusion of "the Anglo-Saxon or Germanic derived aspects of the English language" and on techniques adapted from an "understanding and ear for Chinese poetry."[9] Like Pound's ideogram-

[6] Snyder, The Real Work, 71.

[7] Snyder, "From Anthropologist to Informant," 112.

[8] In Faas, Towards a New American Poetics, 117.

[9] Ibid., 104.


matic method and Duncan's grand collage, Snyder's technique foregrounds an eclecticism of sources. But Snyder's web of intertextual connections is less literary than the similarly adopted intertexts of Pound, Duncan, or even Ginsberg; a typical Snyder poem may juxtapose discourses even more various than those of The Cantos . Snyder mixes in his poems historical and literary texts of both Western and non-Western origin; political, social, and mythic structures; and discussions of biology and ecology.

Levertov and Snyder vary widely in their incorporation of Pound's practice into their poetic texts: Levertov looks to Pound's understanding of the musical qualities of poetic language, his involvement with the mythic, and his historicism, whereas Snyder is drawn to Pound's ideogrammatic method and social and economic critiques. Nevertheless, the two share a common inheritance from Pound. They attend closely to the visual and aural properties of language and to the deeply rooted areas of somatic and mythic energy that poetry contains. They both establish their poetics firmly within the Imagist / Objectivist legacy of the postmodern Pound tradition. At the same time, each revises the postmodern gestures of Olson and Duncan by developing alternative versions of Pound's historical poetics.

Pound's prose writings serve as a guide to poetic technique for Levertov, particularly in their emphasis on the importance of sound and musical structure. In a 1964 interview, Levertov identifies the role of Pound's influence in her movement away from a conception of the poem as purely visual image and toward the idea that sound, or melopoiea, can best convey the poem's meaning and emotion:

I think the visual image is terribly important, but it must be accompanied by the melopoeia, and melopoeia of a distinctly expressive kind, not just the musical over and aboveness that Pound speaks of in his definition in How to Read . Something closer to onomatopoeia, actually . . . the way the form arises from the sound of the words. It's not a matter of purely connotative precision. . . . It's that thing Pound speaks of, quoting Dante, about words being buttery or shaggy. If one is speaking about something fine, thin, and sharp, one


has to choose the words that have the finest, thinnest, lightest, sharpest sound, and not the words that have round, dark, warm, thick sounds.[10]

Pound's directives in ABC of Reading and elsewhere ("The way to learn the music of verse is to listen to it," or "Poetry atrophies when it gets too far from music") bring Levertov back, as she puts it, to "an examination of my own poetic conscience" and reinforce "the hope or intention of discovering the innate form of an experience, what Gerard Manley Hopkins called the inscape of it" (PW, 250).

Much of the terminology Levertov evokes in her discussion of sound in poetry is drawn directly from Pound's critical vocabulary and from the tradition of poetics that descended from him to the postmodern generation. In "The Origins of a Poem" (1968), Levertov invokes Duncan's phraseology to discuss the musical potential of poetry, but it is really to a more generalized conception of the Pound tradition that she refers:

The poet's task is to hold in trust the knowledge that language, as Robert Duncan has declared, is not a set of counters to be manipulated, but a Power. And only in this knowledge does he arrive at music, at that quality of song within which speech is not the result of manipulations of euphonious parts but of an attention, at once to the organic relationships of experienced phenomena, and to the latent harmony and counterpoint of language itself as it is identified with those phenomena. Writing poetry is a process of discovery, revealing inherent music, the music of correspondence, the music of inscape.    (PW, 54)

The phrases "song within speech," "latent harmony and counterpoint of language," and "inherent music" are all based on Poundian concepts, as are the poetic tenets of "attention," "process," and "discovery." In a later essay about the importance of the line break in poetry, Levertov again evokes Pound's notion of "melos" in the poem: more specifically that found in its "pitch-patterns" and "significant, expressive melody."[11]

[10] Levertov, Interview with Walter Sutton, 328–29.

[11] Levertov, In Her Own Province, 73–75.


The second phase of Levertov's engagement with Pound's writing was her reading of The Cantos. Initially, Levertov distrusts the form of Pound's epic, whose "chaotic" structure seems "at variance with Pound the critic's emphasis on clarity, on communication, and at the same time on music" (PW, 252). While she can appreciate the "lyric sections" of The Cantos, the rest seems to be only "connectives" or "dross." Levertov is first impressed by the mythic, mystical, and visionary moments in Pound's poem. In "A Vision," one of her own poems from the 1967 volume The Sorrow Dance, Levertov celebrates Pound's visionary sensibility. The poem begins with an epigraph of Pound from Spinoza: "The intellectual love of a thing is the understanding of its perfections." Levertov herself identifies this poem as an instance in which the mythic "arises from within the poet and poem rather than being deliberately sought" (PW, 82). Pound, like Duncan, Olson, and David Jones, is an example for Levertov of a poet who does not merely write "academic set-pieces on mythological themes" but "in whom [mythological] scholarship is an extension of intuitive knowledge" (PW, 82). Levertov's "vision" in the poem, that of two angels each overwhelmed by the iridescent beauty of the other, is at once a highly personal dream and a testament to Pound's belief in the force of "intellectual love" and "right reason." Although the overall feeling evoked by the poem is not particularly Poundian, its registers of both visual and aural imagery are reminiscent of the language of The Cantos : lines like "Blue and green glowed the wingfeathers" and "leapt up among blues and greens strong-shafted" clearly illustrate Levertov's desire to synthesize melopoeic and phanopoeic elements to achieve a total effect of sensory and spiritual attention. In lines such as "flame petallings, cream-gold grainfeather glitterings," Levertov goes beyond a controlled Poundian diction toward a mode of Hopkinsian exuberance (P, 223–24). Even the form of the poem, with its frequent enjambments and its overtures to a kind of "sprung rhythm" within an essentially free-verse form, expresses her attempt at a reconciliation of an Imagist / Objectivist mode with a Romantic and mystical legacy.


In moving toward a more political poetry, and the more inclusive form that such a poetry entails, Levertov enters her third, and final, phase of engagement with Pound, which involves a greater understanding of the overall structure of The Cantos . Along with other poets of the 1960s who are drawn to the balance of lyric and didactic moments in Pound's epic—the "interpenetration" of private and public worlds it represents—Levertov begins to see the virtue of Pound's mosaic method: "I begin to apprehend the poetry of history, that flickers both in the olive leaves and in the voices speaking of trade; in the ant and the lynx, the sensuous imagination and the dry implications of document, in legislation and song and all the fabric of news that stays news" (PW , 253).

This commentary on Pound's Cantos can also be read as a key to Levertov's own work. The sense of a "poetry of history" she discovers in Pound allows her to capture the movements of the "sensuous imagination" while remaining, as the title of Levertov's first collection of essays indicates, "in the world."

The only book in which Levertov sustains her political voice throughout—To Stay Alive (1971)—is also her most striking example of work in a Poundian vein. The long poetic sequence "Staying Alive" that makes up most of the volume is strikingly different in both typographical form and overall conception from the shorter "lyric" poems constituting the bulk of her earlier work. As Lorrie Smith comments, "Recurring themes and words reverberate like Poundian subject rhymes to give the poems structure and coherence. . . . Like Leaves of Grass, Paterson and The Cantos, Levertov's is a 'poem including history' as well as a poem included and inscribed in history: Levertov's personal case history is inseparable from and representative of the public events in which she is immersed."[12]

Smith argues that most of Levertov's writing prior to To Stay Alive was based on a late-Romantic poetics amalgamating notions of Keats's "negative capability," Emerson's sense of "organic form," and "Williams' mediation between the 'spirit of

[12] Smith, "Song of Experience," 222.


here-and-now' and a 'supernatural' realm of values.' "[13] Smith traces in the development of Levertov's work a fusion of "poetry and revolution" that she attributes primarily to Levertov's involvement in the 1960s with left-wing politics. I concur with much of Smith's argument, but I would place greater emphasis on the role played by Pound and the Pound tradition in the development of Levertov's political poetics. I also argue that Pound's influence allows Levertov to negotiate the opposing and often contradictory claims made by the desire for aesthetic beauty and the need for political expression.

In her essay "On the Edge of Darkness: What Is Political Poetry?" (1973) Levertov includes Pound's famous definition of epic as "a poem including history."[14] Like Olson and Duncan, Levertov is at pains to reconcile her respect for Pound's inclusion of historical and political material in The Cantos with her distaste for the actual manifestation of his political ideas. In another essay she identifies Pound more clearly as a "political" poet, comparing his support of Mussolini with Neruda's admiration for Stalin. Though she later was "considerably less forbearing" toward Pound's advocacy of fascist thought, Levertov is still willing in the early 1970s "to forgive [Pound] . . . a man of such brilliant intelligence in certain areas, for what can only seem like stupidity in continuing to cling to that belief in the face of so much contrary evidence."[15]

Levertov's leniency toward Pound's politics may stem from her belief in the fundamental sincerity and integrity of his poetic thought and writing. She values Pound's ideogrammatic notion

[13] Ibid., 214.

[14] Levertov, Light Up the Cave , 115.

[15] Ibid., 132. In an essay of 197Z she writes, "Racist and rightist views are abhorrent to me—but I look on these when they occur in Pound as an aberration; and who among us does not have some kind of aberration? And all the evidence points to Ezra Pound's personal dealings with whoever came into contact with him as being marked by kindness and probity. Moreover, his Fascist affiliations seem to me to have been made originally not in support of brute authoritarianism and cynical contempt of the individual, but because he mistakenly supposed the economic changes he correctly saw as necessary for a decent life would be made under Fascism" (PW , 249-50).


of integrity as "man standing by his word" and sees Pound's work as informed by a "Confucian justice" that provides a sense of "just measure, awareness, disdain of fakery" (PW , 249). The emphasis in Pound's nonpoetic writings on "knowledge, accuracy, [and] clarity" is also important to her, though, like Duncan, she finds missing in Pound's statements an experience of the unconscious impulse she regards as an important source of her poetry. Finally, she sees in Pound's work a sense of the interrelationship of life experience and artistic creation. " 'The serious artist,' Pound says, 'will want to present as much of life as he knows.'. . . [Pound] stirs me into a sharper realization of my own sensibility." Despite Pound's lists of "essential reading," he teaches in his prose and poetry "not to accept received ideas without question, but to derive my own from concrete detail, observed and felt, from my individual experience" (PW , 251).

Levertov's preface to To Stay Alive makes Pound's Cantos and Williams's Paterson the implicit models for the form of the book. The poems in it depict "the artist as explorer in language of the experience of his or her life" and serve not as " 'confessional' autobiography, but as a document of some historical value, a record of one person's inner / outer experience of America during the 60's and the beginning of the 70's" (SA , 107). As in The Cantos, poetic material in the book becomes reusable; quotations and poems from this and other books recur in different combinations. The poems are also more allusive than most of Levertov's other work; she includes in To Stay Alive explanatory notes for quotes from various poets and other writers.

A reading of Part IV of the book's central section, "Staying Alive," demonstrates most clearly Levertov's adaptation of Pound's ideas and techniques. The sections of Part IV form a meditation on the relationship of the events of our daily lives to the process of history and on the possibility of reconciling even tragic personal events with the need to continue writing poetry that can enable political, social, and spiritual revolution. After a voyage in Part III to Europe and her native England—an attempt to escape the "fever" of an "anxious," strife-torn America at the height of the Vietnam War and antiwar demonstrations—


Levertov returns in Part IV to face the "tunnel of daily life." In Part III, Levertov had found an oasis in Italy; in this part her involvement with the more lyrical sections of The Cantos and their evocation of a mythically beautiful Mediterranean landscape is reflected in a language of calm translucence, which contrasts with the surrounding descriptions of political life in America. "Silver summer light of Trieste early morning," Part III begins, "(a silver almost gold / almost grey)" (SA , 166). During her stay in Italy, each movement toward peaceful and seemingly transcendent imagery is undercut by the insistent questionings of Levertov's conscience:

Cop-out, am I,
or merely,
     as the day fades

     (and Amerika
     far away
     tosses in fever)

on holiday?

(SA, 167)

Such interruptions of her tranquil "holiday" return her thoughts to the pressing questions at hand and to a more engaged poetic voice. Levertov displays here a sense of the incongruity between personal and political levels in her poem; she differs from Pound in the realization that lyrical moments of aesthetic appreciation cannot be easily assimilated into an engaged political vision. Unlike Pound, who can simultaneously affirm a mystical, transcendent poetic vision and engage in political or social commentary, Levertov must choose between one mode of writing, thinking, and experiencing and the other. As the short, tentative lines in which she poses her question indicate even on a formal level, Levertov lacks a unifying vision of moral, political, and aesthetic perfection such as that which forms the basis of Pound's Cantos . The confused and elliptical syntax of the passage, the punctuation, and the parentheses bracketing out the now distant reality of American political life all indicate a profound sense of uncertainty.


Without a firm ethical structure such as that of sincerity or right reason and without a single evil such as usura to blame for all society's ills, Levertov must establish a sense of value through other means. Lacking a sense of her own "righteousness," she wavers between a desire for "oblivion" and a "hunger for revelation"; any lapse into what appears to be the realm of pure aestheticism—an expression of the "sensuous imagination"—becomes a source of guilt that destroys her immediate pleasure. Returning to England after Italy introduces another tension, this time between the "gentleness" of the "private life" still possible in England and the "anxious Amerika" of "present history." Levertov finally reconciles this conflict in the last section of Part III, deciding that the only solution is to find the "fiery stillness" that lies deep inside her own being, as in a "well." Levertov's descent into this deep well of spiritual strength is a nekuia "into [her] own depth as into a poem."

Levertov's meditation on the role of the individual in "present history" continues in Part IV. The final section, called simply "Report," begins with a discussion of the suicides of two friends:

Judy ignored the world outside herself,
Grandin was flooded by it.
There is no suicide in our time
unrelated to history, to whether
each before death had listened to the living, heard
the cry, 'Dare to struggle,
             dare to win.'
heard and not listened, listened and turned away.

(SA , 188)

Levertov's statement that "there is no suicide in our time / unrelated to history" reintroduces in a new context the theme of "present history." Here we have a sense of history very different from that of Modernists like Pound: it is the process of the individual taking "political" action, even within the limited realm of interpersonal solidarity, that defines history. Both "ignoring the world outside," as Levertov is herself inclined to do in her desire for "oblivion," and allowing the injustices of the world to overwhelm us are paths to suicide, to death. By under-


standing "history" as her "inner / outer experience of America" at a given moment in time, Levertov can come to a meaningful understanding of events—one that allows her both to help others and to strengthen herself.

Levertov moves between the personal and interpersonal levels of activity and awareness: from the attempt to interpret the suicides of others, to thoughts of her own struggle with the political rage and despair she feels, and finally to an acknowledgment of the heroic actions of her friends who are active war resisters. She prefers to speak not in the persona of Kali, the Hindu goddess of rage (one that Duncan had suggested), but in her own voice, quoting her final statement from Part II of the poem: " 'There comes / a time / when only anger / is love' " (SA , 188). Once again, she refuses to opt for the more mythical or "literary" solution of using a persona and thereby reasserts her own place as poet and individual in "present history." Levertov's attempt to find forms of "love" as well as "anger" in her immediate world leads her to an epiphanic vision beginning with a quote from the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky and proceeding through a series of direct and indirect allusions:

     must be
               started quite anew,
when you've changed it,
                          the singing can start up'
but he too
took his own life. Perhaps he was waiting,
not with that waiting that is itself a
                          transforming    energy—

                 breaks stone to reveal
                 STONE  in stone!'—but waiting
to set all things right, (to 'rearrange all mysteries
                       in a new light')
before beginning to live? Not understanding
only conjunctions
                   of song's
                       raging music


                    with patient courage
                    will make     a new life:

(SA, 189)

Pound's presence is certainly suggested here, if not explicitly rendered. In rapid succession Levertov alludes to an inscription on a painting by the ancient Chinese artist Tao Chi ("Stone / breaks stone . . ."), she juxtaposes the phrases "set all things right" and "rearranging all mysteries in a new light" (evoking respectively Pound's notions of right reason and of the coherent splendor associated with the Eleusinian mysteries), and she rephrases Pound's "make it new." Taken as a whole, the passage reflects Levertov's affirmation of poets like Pound whose lives reflect both intense suffering and "patient courage," both the power of "song" and the "transforming energy" to make active use of that music, that poetry. Pound is one of the writers who, as Levertov expresses it in her essay "Anne Sexton: Light Up the Cave," display both "endurance" and "love for their work." Pound certainly struggled with the same need Levertov feels to combine "song's raging music with patient courage" to "make a new life," even though he ultimately failed to accomplish his goal. Levertov has no answers either, or only incomplete ones. Rejecting the alternatives of "waiting for demolition and reconstruction" and "learning as a preparation for life," she moves through a series of metaphors for her own poetic use of "transforming energy": "recharge my batteries," "get my head together," "knit idiom with idiom." Finally, Levertov settles on what will serve, for the moment at least, as a source of strength; again it is her own words, rather than those of Kali, that she chooses: "When the pulse rhythms/of revolution and poetry / mesh, / then the singing begins" (SA, 190).

Levertov's poetic diary ends, as the title of the final section suggests, with a "report": the "official" news of the invasion of Laos. "I have no virtue," she writes, "but to praise you who believe life is possible." Levertov ends by praising the Vietnamese people—the "you" of her apostrophe—thus finding a poetic "virtue" despite the closure-denying ellipses that end the poem (SA, 190). Levertov's notion of virtue as an affirmation of life is


an echo of Pound's virtù, yet it no longer contains the same sense of artistic certainty and spiritual harmony evoked by Pound's term.

Gary Snyder's poetry can be characterized, according to Charles Molesworth, by a "sensory attention . . . and [a] sincerity lodged in the sensory realm" that are in keeping with the Imagist and Objectivist legacy of Pound.[16] Snyder's description of his own craft clearly delineates Poundian tenets such as compression, directness, and the ellipsis of unnecessary words and phrases; Snyder's notion of "sharpening the utterance down to a point where a very precise, very swift message is generated, an energy is transmitted," reminds us immediately of Pound's formulation of the image as a "vortex or cluster of fused ideas . . . endowed with energy" (SP, 375).

Snyder adapts other techniques that link his work with that of other poets in the Pound tradition: the use of tone leading as a musical and organizational device; the organization of pieces of knowledge, information, or experience into larger ideogrammatic units; and the attention to the visual appearance of the poem on the page. Snyder's explanation of his use of textual space makes clear his debt to both Pound and Olson: "The placement of the line on the page, the horizontal spaces and the vertical spaces are all scoring for how it is to be read and how it is to be timed. Space means time. The marginal indentations are more an indication of voice emphasis, breath emphasis—and, as Pound might have called it, logopoeia, some of the dances of ideas that are working within your syntactic field."[17]

Snyder's interest in poetic scoring reflects the combined influence of Pound's notion of logopoeia and Olson's breath-oriented practice; both predecessors contribute to Snyder's sense of the poem as a spatial field and a transcription of the oral impulse. As Thomas Parkinson observes, Snyder shares with other poets of the Pound tradition a belief in "the poem as an indicator of

[16] Molesworth, Gary Snyder's Vision, I2–13.

[17] Snyder, The Real Work, 31.


physical weight."[18] Like Olson, Duncan, or Ginsberg, Snyder views as part of the final form of the poem the "struggle" of its process and as part of that process the vicissitudes of the speaking voice.

The stylistic influence of Pound on Snyder's early poetry is almost immediately evident in his use of sound and images. Pound's presence is clear in the melody of lines and phrases such as "Pines, under pines," "Thick frost on the pine bough," "in sunlight on spiderweb," and "Pressure of sun on the rockslide"; in word combinations such as "drum-thump," "rock-fat," and "hill-flesh"; in precise image clusters such as "Rain soaks the tan stubble / Fields full of ducks" ("Hunting," poem 3); and in more sustained passages such as this one from poem 4 of "Logging":

Cliff by Tomales Bay
Seal's slick head
              head shoulders breasts
              glowing in night saltwater
Skitter of fish, and above, behind the pines
Bear grunts, walking the Pole-star.

(MT, 6)

Aside from the fact that he has transposed the scene from Pound's mythically ambiguous locale to the precise land and seascape of Tomales Bay, Snyder's description parallels fairly closely the language and imagery of the beginning of Pound's Canto II. Pound's lines, "Seal sports in the spray-whited circles of cliff-wash / sleek head, daughter of Lir" are a clear intertext for the first three lines of the quote; the walking and grunting bear can be related to the lynxes, panthers, leopards, and other "beasts" of Pound's poem (all engaged in the activities of sniffing, crouching, walking, and eating); the image of "glowing in night salt-water" picks up the various movements and colors of waves and water in this and other early Cantos; and the alliterative and onomatopoeic effects of "seal's slick head" and "skitter of fish" are strongly suggestive of similar effects throughout the early Cantos.

[18] Parkinson, "The Poetry of Gary Snyder," 52–53.


Snyder also provides various kinds of internal rhyme (moving from "cliff" to "slick" to "skitter" to "fish") and effects of assonance and consonance that simulate the sonic density of Pound's writing. And the progression of vowels of a line such as "glowing in night saltwater" is a striking example of Poundian tone leading. Despite all these continuities with Pound's method, however, Snyder's use of Pound is not in the form of imitation or direct quotation; the style of the passage is not identical to Pound's. The most noticeable differences are the less mythopoeic and more naturalized vision of nature ("Bear grunts") and the more extreme parataxis of Snyder's descriptive language ("head shoulders breasts").

In addition to these linguistic and stylistic influences of Pound's writing, Snyder demonstrates throughout his work the impact of Pound's mythopoeic poetry as a means of achieving a more universal cultural framework. Snyder, like Pound and Olson, is a historian and an archaeologist as well as a poet; he is interested in exploring a history of ideas, in comparing cognitive and cultural states as they function across temporal, national, ethnic, and racial boundaries. Snyder's collection of mainly nonpoetic writings, Earth House Hold, can be viewed in the tradition of Pound's Guide to Kulchur as an attempt to make the way for a regeneration of Western culture. Snyder's early volume of poems Myths and Texts is a cultural amalgam reminiscent of Pound's attempt to introduce cultural and historical artifacts into The Cantos, and his long poem Mountains and Rivers Without End displays certain continuities with Pound's epic in its attempt at all-inclusive form.[19] Like Pound, Snyder uses his own brand of Kulturmorphologie to challenge the widely accepted views of history, society, and community. But he differs

[19] Woon-Ping Chin Holaday compares the structure of Mountains and Rivers Without End with that of Pound's epic: "As with Pound's Cantos, Snyder's poem revolves around the dramatic structure of a journey, but whereas Pound's is a periplum surveying all cultures and histories objectively, Snyder's has the specific mission of a pilgrim's wandering through the universe in search of the Truth and dedicated to the salvation of all sentient beings" ("Formlessness and Form," 44).


most radically from Pound when he espouses a form of "cultural primitivism," the attempt to derive environmental and social roots from a prehistoric epoch. Claiming that "Pound was never able to get back earlier than the Early Bronze Age" and that Olson "at least gets back to the Pleistocene," Snyder himself favors a return to even deeper roots: those of the "upper Paleolithic" (MT, viii).

Snyder's first two books—Riprap (1959) and Myths and Texts (1960)—are extremely divergent in style and content, and they emphasize different aspects of Pound's influence. The poems in Riprap exemplify an awareness of Pound's Imagist or Objectivist practice, and like Pound's early poems and translations they contain moments of contemplation or meditation on the object world. Myths and Texts is marked to a greater extent by the influence of Pound's Cantos; its three series of fragmentary poems, entitled "Logging," "Hunting," and "Burning," gather together a network of allusions and images through a method strongly influenced by Pound's ideogrammatic configurations.

Although Myths and Texts was not published until 1960, the poems in it were written between 1952 and 1956, thereby making the book an apprentice work for Snyder. Nevertheless, this impressive group of early poems marks Snyder from the first as an important poet in the Poundian idiom. In a sense, these short, dialogic poems function as mini-Cantos, each one developing recurring themes and images that mythologize Snyder's life experience during those years much as parts of The Cantos did Pound's. Snyder writes in the introduction to the book, "I tried to make my life as a hobo and worker, the questions of history and philosophy in my head, and the glimpses of the roots of religion I'd seen through meditation, peyote, and 'secret frantic rituals' into one whole thing" (MT, vii). Snyder's attempt to make the various levels of his experience into "one whole thing" reenacts Pound's desire to "make it cohere" in The Cantos, but the means by which Snyder achieves this—yogic meditation, mind-altering drugs, and religious rituals—represent an entirely different orientation from that of his predecessor.


On the level of poetic structure Snyder's poems exhibit Poundian juxtaposition, ideogrammatic linkages, collage effects, and the interplay of different voices. Often juxtaposed elements or ideograms are used, as in The Cantos, to express some social or economic critique or to stress the necessity of humankind's connection with nature as a means of salvaging a society in grave danger of self-annihilation. The first poem of the book is a characteristic example of Snyder's technique. He alternates allusions to Walden and Buddhist philosophy, and a quote from an anthropology text, with the experience of his own life in San Francisco and as a logger in the Pacific Northwest.

Snyder argues, as does Pound, that poetry is a framework of ideas within which to live, a personal mythology. Yet Snyder differentiates his own "mythological way" from that of Pound. Where Pound uses the ideogrammatic method in The Cantos to create idiosyncratic and often obscure connections between allusions and quotations, connections that can be made only by a reader initiated into the texts and ideas that constitute Pound's own learning, Snyder sees the interrelation of elements in his poetry as one guided by the Buddhist doctrine of "interconnectedness" or "interdependent origination." Influenced as he is by Pound's example, Snyder is nevertheless quick to see the formal problem posed by the unwieldly ideogrammatic structure of The Cantos . He seeks to avoid in his own work what he views as Pound's mistake: allowing long sections of his epic to become boring in their obscurity and their lack of musical and imagistic interest. For Snyder, the universal consciousness that speaks through images must make clear the connections between seemingly fragmentary poetic moments: "The ideogrammatic method is intended as a method of communication in the sense of juxtaposing apparently unrelated things automatically."[20]

A clear example of Snyder's use of the ideogrammatic method can be found in Myths and Texts . The second poem in "Logging" is constructed around the juxtaposition of three images of logging as a destructive force. The first is a quote from Exodus:

[20] Quoted in Faas, Towards a New American Poetics, 133–34.


"But ye shall destroy their altars, / break their images, and cut down their groves." The second and third complete the ideogram, bringing together in a Poundian manner ancient Chinese history and contemporary Western experience:

The ancient forests of China logged
          and the hills slipped into the Yellow Sea.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
San Francisco 2 x 4s
          were the woods around Seattle

(MT, 3–4)

The alternative to this ideogram of human destruction is another complex of images presented in the preceding poem; stylistically and imagistically, this ideogrammatic rendering of cyclical growth and regeneration is reminiscent of Pound's sense of natural law or process:

Green comes out of the ground
Birds squabble
Young girls run mad with the pine bough

(MT, 3)

As in the passage from poem 3 of "Hunting" quoted previously, Snyder's lines suggest Pound while avoiding direct imitation of him. "Birds squabble," like "Bear grunts" in the previous example, is a register of nature imagery reflecting Snyder's own experience as a hiker, hobo, and logger in the Pacific Northwest, rather than Pound's more pseudomythological version.

In the last section of Myths and Texts, "Burning," Snyder takes on the persona of a shaman seeking personal, social, and ecological enlightenment. In the following passage from poem 14, toward the end of the book, his vision finally coincides with the righting of nature he seeks:

Gaps between seedlings, the right year,
Green shoots in the marshes
Creeks in the proper directions
Hills in proportion,
Astrologers, go-between present
          a marriage has been.

(MT, 50)


This process of spiritual and natural rebirth is made possible, as in Pound's Cantos, by a voyage, or nekuia, of the poet-hero, during which he undergoes an Ovidian and Poundian metamorphosis, taking the form of various birds, salmon, and a sea lion in a movement from the sea to the reborn land ("Hunting," poem 9). The Poundian collage continues in sections of "Burning" (poems 9, 12, and 13), though the end result of Snyder's apocalypse is of a different order from Pound's vision of "paradise" in the final Cantos. Here it is not so much a sense of certainty or right reason that prevails as it is a life wisdom comprising an amalgam of political, sexual, environmental, poetic, and spiritual elements. In one instance ("Burning," poem 7), Snyder's ideogrammatic sequence based on the female breast as an embodiment of the life force balances Pound's method with a sensual and philosophical framework that is entirely Snyder's own:

Face in the crook of her neck
             felt throb of vein
Smooth skin, her cool breasts
All naked in the dawn

sing forth from every bough"
          where are they now
And dreamt I saw the Duke of Chou

The Mother whose body is the Universe
Whose breasts are the Sun and Moon
             the statue of Prajna
From Java: the quiet smile,
The naked breasts.

(MT, 43)

In an attempt to evoke a sense of archetypal female and procreative presence Snyder juxtaposes a sensual description of his lover's body, a quotation from a Middle English lyric about the coming of spring, and a reference to a statue of a Javanese deity. Like Duncan, Snyder uses Pound's allusive technique to render a different version of feminine beauty and power.

In poem 7 of "Logging," Snyder displays another aspect of the influence of Pound's Cantos as he launches a brief but


trenchant economic critique of the life of loggers in the early part of the century. The critique, which continues throughout "Logging," makes increasingly explicit the connection between the violent and uncaring destruction of the forests and the eventual destruction of the loggers themselves, who suffer in their economic struggle to survive. Sherman Paul comments on a Poundian scorn in Snyder's recognition of the "social fact that the spoliation of nature contributes to the spoliation of men."[21] In poem 14 of "Logging," Snyder is incensed by the lack of foresight and spirituality in Western and Christian civilization. The pine trees are "Cut down to make room for the suburbs / Bulldozed by Luther and Weyerhauser / Crosscut and chainsaw" (MT, 15).

Snyder's linking of economic, social, and spiritual factors in the spoliation of society is certainly consistent with Pound's overarching commentary in The Cantos . But Snyder's commentary on a local situation is part of a larger realm of concerns, many of which lie outside of, or serve as alternatives to, those addressed by Pound's Modernist project: Buddhist ideology as an alternative to all Western religious norms; Amerindian mythology as an alternative to Caucasian mythological systems; ecologically based theories of the planet and human species as alternatives to socioeconomic, political, and historical ones; and cultural primitivism as an alternative to a traditional understanding of Western history. Snyder and Levertov both represent a later phase of poetic postmodernism than that enacted by Olson in the early 1950s. Neither Levertov nor Snyder presents a poetics formulated primarily as a challenge to Modernist historicism in the way Olson does; instead, they are part of what Andreas Huyssen considers the postmodernism of the 1970s, which is less a decentering or deconstruction of the past than a "multi-faceted and diverse search for . . . an alternative past which, in many of its more radical manifestations, questions the

[21] Paul, "From Lookout to Ashram," 14.


fundamental orientation of Western societies toward future growth and toward unlimited progress."[22]

Huyssen lists among the various forms such a search has taken "the feminist interest in women's history" and "the ecological search for alternatives in our relationship with nature," both of which "point to the vital need not to abandon history and the past to tradition-mongering neo-conservatives bent on reestablishing the norms of earlier industrial capitalism." He elaborates:

There is indeed an alternative search for tradition and history going on today which manifests itself in the concern with cultural formations not dominated by logocentric and technocratic thought, in the decentering of traditional notions of identity, in the search for women's history, in the rejection of centralisms, mainstreams, and melting pots of all kinds, and in the great value put on difference and otherness.[23]

I concur with Huyssen's analysis as it applies to American poetry, but I locate the development of an alternative "radical" postmodernism in the late 1950s and the 1960s, rather than in the 1970s. The ecological and intercultural program Snyder has developed from the 1950s to the present and Levertov's sense of "present history" as a personal solution to the unique political and social circumstances of the late 1960s represent a "recuperation and reconstitution of history" that is neither completely incompatible with the avant-gardist postmodern tradition represented by Olson nor a return to the traditional or conservative notions of history and the past represented by more reactionary strains of postmodernism.[24] As is evident in the next chapter on Olson's student Edward Dorn, these explorations of alternative poetic postmodernisms continue to take new forms that challenge and revitalize the legacy of the Pound tradition.

[22] Huyssen, After the Great Divide, 171.

[23] Ibid., 172.

[24] As I have argued in earlier chapters, it is a misunderstanding of Olson's project to suggest that he totally rejects the past or history, although his rhetoric sometimes goes further in that direction than that of Snyder or Levertov.


8— Pound's Words in Their Pockets: Denise Levertov and Gary Snyder

Preferred Citation: Beach, Christopher. ABC of Influence: Ezra Pound and the Remaking of American Poetic Tradition. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1992 1992.