Ezra Pound, Bliss Carman and Richard Hovey

By Leon Surette



Whenever Bliss Carman is mentioned in Canadian studies, Ezra Pound’s admiration for this much neglected late romantic or aesthete is mentioned as evidence of his merit. But so far as I have been able to determine, no one has made a serious effort to discover just what it might have been that Pound would have admired in Carman. No doubt this caution is attributable to the fact that Pound never says what it is that he admired in Carman. Indeed most of his comments link Carman with Richard Hovey, co-author of the Vagabondia volumes. Given that the first two volumes did not identify the authors of individual poems, Pound could not have known who wrote any particular poem he may have admired. I have found only one poem that he mentions by name, and that disparagingly: it is Hovey’s "Barney McGee" from More Songs from Vagabondia. Given no information, scholars may feel free to invent their own lists of admired poems, and that is basically what has been done. However, I shall refrain from such licence and attempt to ascertain which poems, and what features of them, Pound might have admired in the light of his own early poetic practice. Such a mode of procedure precludes such assertions as Gerald Lynch’s that "the Sappho poems…seem to have struck a chord which resonated in Pound’s early work" (11). Since no one has found any mention of this volume by Pound, and since no copy of it has survived in his library, to say that he was struck by it is to say more than we know. Of course, it is legitimate to point to stylistic and thematic resemblances, and we shall find some in the following discussion between Pound’s early work and Carman’s Sappho.

I should make it clear that I approach this subject as a Pound scholar, and not one well versed in Carman’s work and thought, still less in Carman scholarship. I make bold to offer the following discussion in the hopes that a view from the other side, as it were, might provide some fresh insights into Carman’s own work as well as his reception by one of the most celebrated of his younger contemporary poets. It should be noted at the outset that at no time does Pound give any indication that he knew Carman to be a Canadian. For Pound he was just another elder contemporary American poet—though one he remembered with more fondness and admiration than any other of that generation (slight though it was).

I also approach this subject with a view of literary modernism that is less committed to a marginalization of such late romantics or aesthetes as Carman. Approaching modernism from the perspective of Pound, I have recently argued that the putative breach between modernism and late nineteenth century aestheticism has been much overstated—most notably by Pound himself. We have come to accept Pound’s characterization of literary modernism as a shift from a vague religiosity and symbolic/allegoric rhetoric toward sceptical relativism and a poetry that is "harder and saner," that is "austere, direct, free from emotional slither" (Literary Essays 12). On such a view, poets like Carman with his unitrinian ideas are seen as antipathetic to the spirit of modernism. But it is becoming increasingly apparent that the modernist hostility was not directed at religion in general, but at Christianity in particular. A corollary of this view is that Yeats’s interest in the occult was not the anomaly New Criticism represented it as being, but rather an extreme and overt expression of a preoccupation with religious questions also found in Eliot, Pound, D.H. Lawrence, Wallace Stevens, and even the Bloomsbury writers.1

I have not seen the following letter from Pound to the New York poet, Louis Zukofsky (December 1930), cited in comments on Pound and Carman. It is striking in that he mentions Carman as a precursor of himself and Eliot, and in the same rank as Yeats:

Your problem coming after T. S [Eliot], me and bill [Williams] is very dif. from what ours was coming after Yeats and Bliss Carman. Praps best for you not to worry about it at all, and cease considering it as a problem. (Pound/Zukofsky 85)

That he gave Carman such prominence in 1930 suggests that he may well have read poetry other than that in the Vagabondia volumes, since Hovey is not linked with him this time. And the best candidate is Carman’s Sappho (1905), since Carman’s imaginative recreation of Sapphic poems is very like the kind of thing Pound himself was doing in his early verse. Unfortunately, I have not found any direct evidence that Pound read Sappho or was even aware of the volume. Pound’s penchant for translation and recreations or "homages" might be seen to derive from Carman’s practice, but Hovey was a far more active and prominent translator than Carman. On the other hand, Pound’s "invention"—to use Eliot’s term—of Chinese poetry by recreations from the word-by-word translations of Ernest Fenollosa is not unlike Carman’s recreation of Sappho’s poetry from Henry Thornton Wharton’s prose versions.2 Before examining affinities between Pound’s verse and Carman’s, it will be useful to survey Pound’s mentions of him and Hovey.

The most prominent recollection of Carman by Pound puts him in company with Hovey, and also with less familiar figures—notably Carman’s contemporary, and now forgotten, American poets, Trumbell Stickney and Frederick Wadsworth Loring. He inserts them all into a recollection of Sadakichi Hartmann in the Pisan Cantos:

     and as for the vagaries of our friend
                                                           Mr. Hartmann,
Sadakichi a few more of him,
were that conceivable, would have enriched
                      the life of Manhattan
                      or any other town or metropolis
the texts of his early stuff are probably lost
with the loss of fly-by-night periodicals
                      and our knowledge of Hovey,
                                   Stickney, Loring,
the lost legion or as Santayana has said:
They just died          They died because they
                      just couldn't stand it
and Carman "looked like a withered berry"
                                    20 years after
Whitman liked oysters
at least I think it was oysters.
                                                               (Cantos 495)

Pound recollects Hovey, Stickney, and Loring through the filter of Sadikichi Hartmann’s report on Whitman’s culinary tastes in his 1895 memoir, "Conversations with Walt Whitman." Carman is also recollected through Hartmann, but as he appeared in old age on the streets of Manhattan.3 Stickney and Loring have no connection with Hartmann of which I am aware. They were mostly forgotten in 1945, and their reputations are little stronger today. Hartmann (1867-1944) is virtually unknown. Hovey (1864-1900) is known to specialists alone. Loring (1848-1871) and Stickney (1874-1904) have sunk even further into obscurity. Except for Hartmann all of these men were poets. Hartmann was a painter, dramatist and art critic of considerable reputation and some infamy in the late nineteenth century. He too is largely forgotten. A measure of the eclipse of the poets is that none of them is represented in the Norton two volume anthology, The American Tradition in Literature.

Carman and Hovey are still mentioned in some surveys of American and modern poetry—but only as collaborators on the Vagabondia volumes: Songs from Vagabondia (1894), More Songs from Vagabondia (1896), and Last Songs from Vagabondia (1900). David Perkins devotes almost two pages to them, and their "Vagabond Theme," in A History of Modern Poetry—though he is quite dismissive:

the poems are quite conventional, often scarcely distinguishable from the boyish and swash buckling popular at the time and exemplified in England in the verse of Stevenson, Chesterton, and Noyes. Their message is summed up in Hovey’s line (from "The Faun"), "There is only the glory of living, exultant to be." (113-14)

Perkins’s low opinion of Carman and Hovey is, at least in part, a measure of the success of the modernist reform of poetic practice brought about by Pound and Eliot. Most studies of literary modernism concentrate on European influences, but we can learn something about modernism by revisiting what counted as avant garde in America when Pound and Eliot were young and impressionable.

The earliest mention of Carman or Hovey I have found is from an unpublished essay of 1909, written shortly after his arrival in London, and cited by Pound’s earliest biographer:

From this side of the Atlantic I am for the first time able to read Whitman, and from the vantage of my education and—if it be permitted a man of my scant years [he was barely 25]—my world-citizenship: I see him as America’s poet. The only Poet before the artists of the Carman-Hovey period, or better, the only one of the conventionally recognized "American Poets" who is worth reading. (cited by Norman, 33)

Here Pound registers his discovery of Whitman, and measures him against Carman and Hovey, who are regarded as determinants of a period of American verse. This is the loftiest status he ever assigns them, and it can fairly be regarded as a juvenile judgment which he puts behind him.

Apparently Harriet Monroe did not share Pound’s high opinion of Carman, for Carman’s poems were "retd. very politely" when he responded to her 1912 circular launching Poetry: a Magazine of Verse with a submission (cited by Williams, 71). Pound and Yeats also responded, with more success. Indeed, Pound became European contributing editor for Poetry, and shortly thereafter recommended that Carman be invited to submit: "a number of improvements necessary if the American side of the enterprise was to be worthy of his foreign correspondence: publication of Carman and Orrick Johns, and of a French poem in each number" (Letter of January 20, 1914. Qtd by Williams p. 93). Hovey was of course deceased by then, but Monroe did eventually publish Carman.4

In a 1915 letter to Monroe castigating other American magazines, Pound mentions Hovey in the same breath as Whitman, but unfortunately omits Carman:

Now the nasty thing about all other magazines [that is, other than Poetry], and the reason why I abominate the American magazines and why I think they should be exterminated in revenge for the damage they have done American poetry is that they specialize in two or three tones….
     There is no literature for precisely this reason, that they are all stuck into uniforms. They chase a popularity, express one or two moods, usually cheap complacency, or, elsewhere, stereotyped pity. Since the death of Whitman there has been no literary figure, save possibly the suggested sketch (Hovey). The rest are blurred into the Century Magazine. (cited by Williams, 7)

In that same year Pound floated the idea of a literary magazine on the model of the Mercure de France. He wrote to the New York lawyer and patron of Yeats and Joyce, John Quinn, seeking financial support, and enclosed a prospectus listing possible contributors, amongst them Carman—though hesitantly: "Is Bliss Carman entirely used up?" (Materer 39-42).

I have found no other references to the pair until after Pound established contact with Hartmann in December of 1926—once again with a publishing project, though this one—Exile —had a brief existence (21 Dec. 1926. Sadikichi Hatrmann Archive, University of California, Riverside). This contact led to a sporadic correspondence over the next 14 years in which they exchanged both publications and opinions. It seems to have been Hartmann who set Pound to thinking about the Vagabondia poets again after a decade of neglect. Hartmann sent Pound an historical chart of artistic achievements in March of 1937. The chart has not survived, but on the evidence of Pound’s memorial for Hartmann cited above, it must have included Whitman, Hovey and Carman.

One of the more extended recollections of the thirties—and one that I have not seen cited elsewhere—is in a February 1938 article, "Responsibility? Shucks!" It is very similar to the Pisan Canto passage written seven years later:

What does the young generation know of it? I can still get sentimental over Carman and Hovey; back in 1905 what was there native except "Songs from Vagabondia?" I wonder what young have read them. I wonder who now reads or reprints BRUNO’S CHAP BOOK. Note that Sadakichi Hartman once raised about 25 dollars for Walt Whitman. I forget whether they fed him on oysters or if it was strawberries, but they did a good turn to old Walt.
     Who could now dig up, or how, a collection of the poems Sadakichi put in the CHAP BOOK? Would anyone print them? Could I myself still read them if they were available? (Poetry and Prose 7: 303)

The "25 dollars for Walt Whitman" is presumably a reference to Hartmann’s effort in 1887 to form a Whitman Society to raise money for the poet’s support. Hartmann invested $100.00 in circulars, but—like Pound’s scheme for Eliot—it came to naught.

The Whitman feeding incident can be found in Hartmann’s "Conversation with Walt Whitman" (1895), but Pound probably got it from a Hartmann letter. It was neither oysters nor strawberries that he fed Whitman, but canned lobster! Here is Hartmann’s rendering of the incident:

We sojourned into the kitchen. Billie ["a railroad newsboy, who boarded with Whitman’s housekeeper, Mrs. Davis"] was sent out to get a can of lobster, and there was quite a dispute between the two as to what kind they wanted, one being a few cents more expensive.
     Then Whitman set the table, and I assisted him.
     Whitman (limping to the range and frying several eggs): ‘The American nation is not much at present, but will be some day the most glorious one on earth. At first the cooking must be done, the table set, before one can sit down to a square meal. We are now tuning the instruments, afterwards comes the music.’
     Then he brought out some California claret, and when Billie returned with the lobster, we sat down—several hens running in and out the half open door through which one could catch a glance of the red and green of a sunlit yard—and had a very jolly repast. (Knox 76)

The last mention of the Vagabondia poets I have found is rather closer to Perkins’ dismissal of them. It occurs in an unpublished letter to Giovanni Giovannini of 27 Feb. 1958. Pound was then editing the anthology, Confucius to Cummings, with Marcella Spann. Though he considered including Carman and Hovey, in the end neither made it into the anthology:

p.s. Marcella found a vol/ of Bliss Carman. Carman unsatis/ wonder if the Carman-Hovey (Songs from Vagabondia) contains anything/ or if in Cat? U. Bib?
     There were 2 or possibly 3 small vols/ and a couple of lines/
Barney-McGee etc. dubious value @ this date.5

The Carman volume that Marcella Spann found is not identified. Pound apparently found its contents unworthy of his anthology, but he hearkened back to the Vagabondia volumes as perhaps containing more interesting poetry than the unidentified Carman volume. At this date he cannot remember if there were two or three volumes. (There were four if one counts Echos from Vagabondia which Carman published in 1912.) And he implies that only "a couple of lines" were of interest. The one poem he does remember is "Barney-McGee," a modest Hovey poem in More Songs from Vagabondia, celebrating a puckish and charming ne’er-do-well, the eponymous Barney. Pound would not have known which man had written "Barney McGee." Oddly, he seems to regard it as outdated, rather than just mediocre—which would be my judgment. The following couplet gives an idea of the poem’s unassuming character: "Barney McGee, you’re the pick of gentility; / Nothing can phase you, you’ve such a facility." It is telling that Pound even remembered this poem.

Carman and Hovey met in New York in September of 1887 through a common friend, Thomas Meteyard. Carman was employed at the time as an editorial assistant at both the Harvard Monthly and the Harvard Advocate. Hovey was studying at Andover Theological College. They became fast friends almost immediately, and that November walked together from New York to visit Hovey’s parents in Washington. On that fateful walk they happened upon Robert Louis Stevenson and the seed of the Vagabondia volumes was planted (Miller 51-2). In subsequent summers, Hovey spent many weeks in Nova Scotia with Carman, and they saw one another regularly in New York.

Carman’s Fredericton upbringing was quite unlike Hovey’s. But Hovey’s was remarkably similar to Pound’s—though twenty years earlier. Like Pound Hovey was lucky in his early patrons. The most prominent were Thomas William Parsons, an early translator of Dante, and Thomas Davidson, a founding father of the Fabian society. Like Hovey, Pound admired Dante from his undergraduate years, and imbibed the Fabian atmosphere of the London journal, The New Age, during his London years. Carman’s taste in poetry was more classical and Greek than Medieval—following Swinburne. Of course, Pound shared that enthusiasm—perhaps inspired by Carman himself as well as by Swinburne.

Carman and Hovey were both heavily influenced by the French elocutionist François Delsarte. His influence came to them from Hovey’s wife. Fifteen years his senior, she was already a celebrated performer and devoted Delsartean when Hovey met her in 1889. She was also already married—to Edmund Russell. She left Russell for Hovey, and bore his child before being divorced. In those days it was necessary to disguise such behaviour. Accordingly the child was born in Europe, and they were married shortly thereafter. Through Hovey, Carman met Mrs. Mary Perry King, a Delsartean pupil of Mrs Russell’s. Like Hovey and Mrs. Russell, Carman and King became lovers, but Mary Perry never divorced King. After his diagnosis as tubercular in 1904, he moved in with the Kings, and lived with them for the rest of his life in a rather odd ménage à trois. Hovey had died of a heart attack after an operation for testicular cancer four years earlier. Carman published the volume he and Hovey already had in the works as Last Songs from Vagabondia in 1900. Much to his own surprise, Carman’s public success peaked with the Vagabondia volumes. When he found it difficult to get any of his poetry into print, he reluctantly published Echoes from Vagabondia (1912).6

Hovey believed that Delsarte’s theories of elocution implied a rhetoric and a poetic, and perhaps even a philosophy, and articulated the philosophy in an 1892 article, which Carman accepted in his capacity as an editor at The Independent. The article identified the fundamental principles of Delsarteanism as parallelism, opposition and succession. Parallelism "emphasises the likeness or generic quality in things, and ignores or slurs over the unlikeness or specific quality." Opposition "is the negation of parallelism. It emphasizes unlikeness and disregards likeness; it affirms the particular and denies the universal." Finally, succession "is the synthesis or reconciliation of the two. It affirms likeness and unlikeness at once, variety in unity, change not as of a broken line but as a curve, in obedience to an unchanging law" (473)7

Hovey’s view in 1892 is comparable to Ernest Fenollosa’s understanding of poetry, articulated at about the same time. Fenollosa (1853-1908) was a Harvard graduate who went to Japan in 1873 on the recommendation of Charles Eliot Norton, who also taught Carman (see Letters 204). There Fenollosa applied his Harvard understanding of language to the Chinese character, which he studied under Japanese masters. Impressed by the "Chinese" character of Pound’s Imagism, Fenollosa’s widow gave his unfinished studies of Chinese poetry and language to Pound in 1913. From them Pound generated the Chinese translations in Cathay (1915), and Lustra (1916), and a theory of poetry. The latter is found in The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry (1920):

The truth is that acts are successive, even continuous; one causes or passes into another. And though we may string ever so many clauses into a single compound sentence, motion leaks everywhere, like electricity from an exposed wire. All processes in nature are interrelated; and thus there could be no complete sentence (according to this definition) save one which it would take all time to pronounce. (Fenollosa 11)

Fenollosa confirmed and intensified a paratactic style which seems to have come naturally to Pound. He provided Pound with a justification for this "ideogrammatic" poetic, relying on paratactic juxtapositions. Fenollosa’s Harvard transcendentalism held that underlying and universal homologies, sympathies, and analogies would generate meaning without the need for explicit articulation of their relationships—just as Pound had claimed for Imagism.

Carman developed his poetic in conjunction with Mary Perry King. It is expressed in The Making of Personality (1908). He called this philosophy "Unitrinianism." It is a mixture of Lamarckianism, Santayana’s idealism, and New England transcendentalism—with a good leaven of the sort of muscularity popularized by Friedrich Ludwig Jahn and his gymnastic societies or Turnverein. Carman does not mention Jahn, but he praises physical exercise and Indian clubs in good Turnvereinian style. His views on art are very much those of his day, ones shared by Fenollosa, Hovey, Yeats, and Pound:

One who is a lover of art in any form is a devotee of a pure and ancient cult, which superstition and bigotry and the pedantic wrangling of the schools have not been able to annihilate. He is partaker in an immemorial universal religion, whose doctrines are renewed by every breath of the sweet wind of heaven, whose traditions are drawn from the twelve corners of the world, and whose invisible altars are fed by the fires of an inextinguishable ardour. (259)8

We can find much the same views in a lecture Hovey gave at Davidson’s Summer School of philosophy in Farmington, Connecticut a decade earlier—before Mrs. Russell had introduced him to Delsarteanism. For Hovey the function of poetry was

to reveal truth in that beauty which Plato declared to be "the splendour of truth," as a thing incarnate, humanized, made intelligible sacramentally to the mind of man. Therefore is all art religious and all religion, though something more, artistic." (cited by MacDonald 58)

These views were radical chic at the time, and would appear in no way unusual to readers of Emerson, Pater, Villiers de l’Isle Adam, or Maurice Maeterlinck. In short all three men are expressing standard Symbolist views of the day. Carman’s Making of Personality does not abandon these symbolist views of art, but adds the necessity of a healthy body to them.

We can find Pound expressing very similar views in a 1907 letter to Viola Jordan, though he reverses Hovey’s ranking of art and religion:

I am interested in art and ecstasy, ecstasy which I would define as the sensation of the soul in ascent, art as the expression and sole means of transmuting, of passing on that ecstasy to others.
     Religion I have defined as "Another of those numerous failures resulting from an attempt to popularize art." By which I mean that it is only now and then that religion rises to the dignity of art; or from another angle, that art includes only so much of religion as is factive, potent, exalting. (cited by Gallup 110)

There is no reason to suppose that Pound derived such views from Hovey or Carman, but all three poets were imbued with the American correlate of the Pre-Raphaelitism, Aestheticism and Symbolisme that informed contemporary European literature. The important point to take is that not much had changed in the eighteen years between Hovey’s 1889 lecture and Carman’s The Making of Personality of 1908, and the 1907 letter of the twenty-two year old Ezra Pound. The modernist revolution in poetry, painting, architecture and music was still around the corner. It is true that Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was shown in 1906, but it was the very earliest gesture in the modernist revolution. On the other side of the coin, 1907 saw the publication of A.R. Orage’s, Consciousness, Animal, Human and Divine. This was a Theosophical revision of Maurice Bucke’s 1900 work, Cosmic Consciousness. Orage was editor of The New Age, and one of the London mentors of the young Pound. Henri Bergson’s, L'Evolution créatrice was published in the same year. These works are much more representative of the interests of the first decade of the century than is Picasso’s controversial painting.

It puts Carman and Hovey in some perspective if we remember that Carman was 5 years older than Yeats, and Hovey, one year older. The cultural ambience in which they grew up was the same as Yeats’s—except, of course, that they were North Americans. Pound shared that disability. When Pound received a cash settlement from Wabash college in 1909, he set out for Europe, following in their footsteps, as they had followed in Henry James’s and Whistler’s. Of course, some things had changed in the intervening twenty years. The most salient change was in Yeats’s reputation. By 1909 he was the pre-eminent poet writing in English—a status he had not yet attained when Carman called on him in 1896. Carman was hardly in awe of Yeats—as is evident in the irreverent tone of his report of the visit to the New England poet, Louise Imogen Guiney:

Arthur Symons, whom I ran to earth in Fountain Court, Temple, took me to Yeats’ new abode. Dark alley, near midnight, silent door, loud knock, moment of silence, footsteps groping down stairs, rattle of key in lock, door opened—and there, lamp held high above his head, stands your dark Celtic velvet inspired mystic eloquent refined W. B. Y. himself, the William Blake of this smaller generation. (Letters 110-11)9

Carman seems not to have been drawn to Yeats. I have found no assessment of Yeats by Carman, and neither Donald Stephens nor Carman’s biographer, Muriel Miller, mention any. Pound, by contrast, idolized him, and immediately sought Yeats out on arriving in London—soon becoming an intimate in his circle.10

One might have thought that Hovey would have influenced Pound more as a translator than as a poet, but Pound has left no testimony whatsoever to that effect, so any influence must remain conjectural. Hovey translated Sappho, Catullus, Mallarmé, and—most extensively—Maeterlinck. It is possible that Pound and Hilda Doolittle read Maeterlinck in Hovey’s translation during their courting years (1905-7). Hovey published two series of translations of Maeterlinck’s symbolist plays—in 1895 and 1896. They were both reissued in 1902 with a Preface by Maeterlinck himself. However, other translations were available. Moreover both Pound and Doolittle could have read them in French. The fact that Doolittle lists Swedenborg and Ibsen as well as Balzac and Maeterlinck suggests that they may have been reading translations, since neither could read Swedish (Doolittle 46-7). Carman was not so interested in translation, but the translations and imitations in his Sappho volume are more suggestive of some of Pound’s poems than anything I can find in Hovey.

But since there is no direct evidence that Pound ever read Carman’s Sappho, we should begin by considering Pound’s question to Giovannini: "wonder if the Carman-Hovey (Songs from Vagabondia) contains anything"? We can begin to attempt an answer by citing the positive characterization of their poetry by Hovey’s biographer:

The success of Hovey and Carman lay in their combination of a number of attitudes and forms of expression which had hitherto stood singly: the love of nature, the joy of the open road, comradeship, physical courage, medievalism, sexual democracy, the scholar gypsy, and the vivid contrast between vital energy and mere existence. (Macdonald 143)

These features alone might be enough to account for Pound’s early admiration and persistent (if weak) interest in Carman and Hovey. Many of the poems in A Lume Spento (1908) express such attitudes: "Cino," "In Epitaphium Eius," "Na Audiart," "Villonaud for this Yule," "A Villonaud, Ballad of the Gibbet," "Mesmerism," "Fifine Answers," and "In Tempore Senectutis" are just a few that fit the pattern.

Of the Vagabondia poems, Hovey himself wrote in 1897, and in a Delsartean mode:

Poetry is thought to have something to say to strong men in the midst of the battle of life and not to be an elegant amusement for schoolgirls and dilettanti. More stress is laid on the masculine element in thought and life, and the effort is to be downright and masculine (cited by MacDonald, 147)

And in 1898:

We prefer the sort of work that a man does who lives outdoors a great deal and has a healthy mind in a healthy body, and is free from morbidness. English poetry compares with American as the song of a caged bird with that of a free one. (cited by MacDonald 146)

We can detect the same valuation of the robust in a 1912 New Age article of Pound’s:

I see…a sign in the surging crowd on Seventh Avenue (New York). A crowd pagan as ever imperial Rome was, eager, careless, with an animal vigour unlike that of any European crowd that I have ever looked at. There is none of the melancholy, the sullenness, the unhealth of the London mass, none of the worn vivacity of Paris. I do not believe it is the temper of Venice. (Patria Mia 13)

Another point of resemblance between Pound and the Vagabondia poets appears in Hovey’s Introduction to his translation of Maeterlinck’s plays where he defines symbolism in a way reminiscent of Pound’s Imagist axiom that "the natural object is always the adequate symbol":

The symbol is not invented; the thing is found to be symbolic. This, if not the final word of poetry, has always been its first word, and it promises well for the poetic quality of the literature that is to be, that the strongest of the young writers of to-day have a tendency to myth-making. (Letters 5)11

It is not improbable that Pound read Hovey’s Introduction. However, a similarity of poetic principles does not guarantee similar poetic achievement.

Donald Stephens dismisses the Vagabondia volumes in no uncertain terms. Though he concedes "an ease to the verse, a freedom in both content and style" (52, 56), he is unwilling to grant the Vagabondia poems any claim to serious attention. Given such dismissals, it is difficult to be certain just what the young Pound might have admired in them at this distance. He certainly did not share their enthusiasm for gymnastics and Indian clubs—though he was a redoubtable walker and a ferocious tennis player. But given that he never mentions any other poetry of Hovey’s or of Carman’s, we must assume that it was the Vagabondia poetry he admired.12

One finds three broad classes of poems in the three collaborative volumes—each of which can also be found in Pound’s early verse. They are: the song of the road, the drinking song, and the neo- or pseudo-pagan nature poem. A comparison of Hovey and Pound demonstrates the clear superiority of the young Pound’s poetry to that of the young Hovey. Carman fares much better in the comparison.

I have found only one of Pound’s poems which I think could have appeared in a Vagabondia volume,13 and that is "A Dawn Song," published in Muncey’s Magazine in December, 1906, and never reissued:

God hath put me here
In earth’s goodly sphere
               To sing the joy of the day,
A strong glad song,
If the road be long,
               To my fellows in the way.

So I make my song of the good glad light
               That falls from the gate of the sun,
And the clear cool wind that bloweth good
               To my brother Everyone.
                   (Collected Early Poems, 204)

"Cino" from A Lume Spento is another road poem that is more "Poundian" even though it was published only two years later than "A Dawn Song":

Bah! I have sung women in three cities,
But it is all the same;
And I will sing of the sun.

Lips, words, and you snare them,
Dreams words, and they are as jewels,
Strange spells of old deity,
Ravens, nights, allurement:
And they are not;
Having become the souls of song.
          (Collected Early Poems 10-11)

Hovey’s "Jongleurs" from More Songs from Vagabondia is similar in spirit, though rhythmically and rhetorically pale beside Pound’s juvenilia:

And the wind in the garden stoops down as it passes
To play with the hair
Of the loveliest there,
And the wander-lust catches the will in its snare;
Hill-wind and spray-lure,
Call of the heath;
Dare in the teeth
Of the balk and the failure;
The clasp and the linger
Of loosening finger,
Loth to dissever;
Thrill of the comrade heart to its fellow
Through droughts that sicken and blasts that bellow
From purple furrow to harvest yellow,
Now and forever.
How our feet itch to keep time to their measure!
How our hearts lift to the lilt of their song!
Let the world go, for a day’s royal pleasure!
Not every summer such waifs come along

Hovey seems to have poor judgment when it comes to diction and rhymes, and his rhythmical structure is frequently halting as in this poem. Pound’s ear is much better, and he is never as clumsy as Hovey in his choice of diction and rhyme.

Hovey’s drinking songs have not worn very well either— although "Stein Song" (from More Songs from Vagabondia) has given a cliché to the language:

For it’s always fair weather
When good fellows get together
With a stein on the table and a good song ringing clear.

A Lume Spento contains one drinking song, "A Villonaud: Ballad of the Gibbet." It is quite unlike Hovey’s "Stein Song":

Drink ye a skoal for the gallows tree?
François and Margot and thee and me,
Drink we the comrades merrily
That said us, "Till then" for the gallows tree!
                                           (Personae 11)

Hovey’s "Comrades" (the closing poem of Songs from Vagabondia) is perhaps more comparable to Pound’s ballad in that both poems express the same general spirit and mood of robust good fellowship, but the Hovey poem is rather lame and careless by comparison, as can be seen from the opening stanzas:

Comrades, pour the wine to-night
For the parting is with dawn
Oh, the clink of cups together,
With the daylight coming on!
Greet the morn
With a double horn,
When strong men drink together!

Carman’s Vagabondia poems are generally less robust than Hovey’s; tend more to the erotic, and are rather more polished. Carman clearly has a better ear than Hovey. A representative example of Carman’s rather genteel eroticism is "A Song for Marna":

Dame of the night of hair
Like blue smoke blown!
World yet undreamed-of-there
Lurks to be known.

Dame of the dizzy eyes,
Lure of dim quests!
World of what midnights lies
Under thy breasts!

Dame of the quench of love,
Give me to quaff!
There’s all the world’s made of
Under thy laugh.

Dame of the dare of gods,
Let the sky lower!
Time, give the world for odds,—
I choose this hour.
                        (More Songs 38)

I have been unable to find anything in Pound’s early verse that is as unaffected and direct as this little poem of Carman’s. However, if we look at the Lustra volume of 1916, we can find quite similar poems. It may even be that the simile for Marna’s hair—"Like blue smoke blown!"—is one of the "couple of lines" from Vagabondia that Pound admired. It may have contributed to a similar figure in "The Garden"—a poem first published in Poetry in April of 1913 just nine months before Pound encouraged Monroe to invite Carman to contribute to Poetry:

Like a skein of loose silk blown against a wall
She walks by the railing of a path in Kensington Gardens.
                                                                (Personae 93)

Lustra marks a turning point in Pound’s verse style. His Des Imagistes volume of 1914, had made few waves, and in any case the movement had been taken over by Amy Lowell. In this volume he eschews the Symboliste and archaic mode of his earlier poetry, and substitutes a medley of society verse modelled on the French of Laforgue and Corbière, Imagism, and Fenollosa-inspired translations of Chinese poetry. No persuasive case can be made for Carman’s influence on this development within Pound’s style.14 There is ample evidence to support the standard view that it was Ford Madox Ford’s Flaubertian prose, the notes of the sinologist, Ernest Fenollosa, and the Bergsonian theories of Hulme which generated Pound’s reformation. In any case, we know that Pound’s admiration for Carman dates to ten years earlier. Nonetheless, there are sufficient affinities between the Lustra stage of Pound’s poetic development and the practice of Carman more than two decades earlier to account for Pound’s persistent interest in the Canadian poet.

Carman’s Sappho was published in 1905, when Pound was in his twentieth year, and a graduate student in Romance studies at the University of Pennsylvania. It is quite probable that he would have bought or at least read the volume, but as I noted above, there is no evidence known to me that he did so. Nonetheless, there are affinities between Sappho and some of the Lustra poems.

For example, poem XVI in Sappho conveys a mood very like "Liu Ch’e" in Lustra. Since Carman’s poem is based on the prose translation of the Greek by Henry Thornton Wharton (Bentley 30), and Pound’s translation on the word-by-word cribs prepared by Ernest Fenollosa, it is plausible to attribute similarities to the influence of Carman on Pound. In addition, both poets are engaged in a re-creation of poems by means of an intermediary since neither had mastery of the source language. It is true that Carman’s competence in Greek was far greater than Pound’s in Chinese, but he relied on Wharton almost as much as Pound did on Fenollosa. The poems are rhythmically similar—though Pound’s line is much longer—as well as in sentiment and subject matter.

In the apple boughs the coolness
Murmurs, and the grey leaves flicker
Where sleep wanders.

In this garden all the hot noon
I await thy fluttering footfall
Through the twilight.
                                   (Sappho 22)

                    Liu Ch’e
The rustling of the silk is discontinued,
Dust drifts over the court-yard,
There is no sound of foot-fall, and the leaves
Scurry into heaps and lie still,
And she the rejoicer of the heart is beneath them:

A wet leaf that clings to the threshold.
                                (Personae 110)

Carman’s poem XVII, is also remarkably suggestive of Pound’s poem appearing on the same page as "Liu Ch’e" in Lustra:

Pale rose leaves have fallen
In the fountain water;
And soft reedy flute-notes
Pierce the sultry quiet.

But I wait and listen,
Till the trodden gravel
Tells me, all impatience,
It is Phaon’s footstep.
            (Carman 1905, 23)

                   Ts’ai Ch’i
The petals fall in the fountain,
the orange-coloured rose-leaves,
Their ochre clings to the stone.
                         (Personae 111)

Carman employs the petal image again in XXVI:

I recall thy white gown, cinctured
With a linen belt, whereon
Violets were wrought, and scented
With strange perfumes out of Egypt.

And I know thy foot was covered
With fair Lydian broidered straps;
And the petals from a rose-tree
Fell within the marble basin.
                                   (Sappho 32)

The poem which follows directly after "Ts’ai Ch’i" in Lustra is the famous, "In a Station of the Metro," which also hangs on the image of petals:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
                                        (Personae 111)

It would be excessive, if not foolish, to suggest that Carman is the Canadian fountainhead from which Imagism flowed into the fertile soil of Pound’s imagination (especially since it is an article of faith among Canadianists that the fountainhead was the Canadian landscape itself, and the fertile soil, T. E. Hulme’s imagination, not Pound’s). Nonetheless, Carman’s Sappho poems are very like this cluster of Lustra poems—and all of them are quite unlike most of the other poems found in Pound’s anthology, Des Imagistes. (Hilda Doolittle’s contributions are an exception to this observation.)

It is not just that Carman’s imagery is suggestive of Pound’s; the Sappho poems also approach the rhythmical structure of Pound’s free verse. It is true that Carman maintains a paradigm of eight syllables per line in all three of the poems cited. But the accentual pattern is very weakly marked in an effort to reproduce the quantitative verse of Sappho’s Greek. Pound, too, exploits quantity in his verse far more than most English poets—though Swinburne is an undoubted source for Pound’s early quantitative experiments. Much of Pound’s verse depends for its acoustic form on a careful attention to quantity. "Gentildonna" is case in point, though Pound uses a much longer line here than any Carman uses in Sappho:

She passed and left no quiver in the veins, who now
Moving among the trees, and clinging
                   In the air she severed,
Fanning the grass she walked on then, endures:

Grey olive leaves beneath a rain-cold sky.
                                                         (Personae 93)

The olive leaves are a recurrent feature in Carman’s Sappho—no doubt reflecting the Mediterranean flora amongst which Sappho lived. For Pound, however, olive trees are a synecdoche for the Mediterranean world of gods in the air. The divinities most frequently invoked in Sappho are Aphrodite, Hermes, and Pan—all more terrestrial than celestial. Pound exhibits the same prejudice, though it is more often minor divinities that he invokes in Lustra. The poem immediately preceding "Gentildonna,"entitled "April" is a representative example. He provides a Latin epigraph for it of a Frazerian provenance: "Nympharum membra disjecta"

Three spirits came to me
And drew me apart
To where the olive boughs
Lay stripped upon the ground:

Pale carnage beneath bright mist.
                           (Personae 92)

Carman’s generation was untouched by the anthropological and debunking Frazerian treatment of myth, and would probably have been shocked at the suggestion of the murderous frenzy of the Dionysian maenads or Bacchae in "April." The nearest thing in Sappho to such a modern, carnal view of pagan deities is XX where Dionysus appears as "that curly-headed boy from Naxos." In this poem, Carman permits the suggestion of an orgy as opposed to the one-on-one passion celebrated in most of the poems—an eroticism more acceptable to romantic sensibilities than orgies, not to speak of dismemberments:

From the ilex grove there comes soft laughter,—
My companions at their glad love-making,—
While that curly headed boy from Naxos
With his jade flute marks the purple quiet.

Of course, none of these similarities between Carman and Pound entitles us to suppose that Pound derived any of his preoccupations, prosodic forms, or subject matter from Carman. As I remarked above, there are too many alternative influences available to account for these features of Pound’s verse. In the absence of any direct evidence no one can say that Carman had any particular influence on Pound. However, one can confidently assert that in 1905 Carman was writing poetry very similar to some of Pound’s published between 1912 and 1915, and, moreover, Carman’s poetry can stand comparison to Pound’s.

But the similarities should not be exaggerated. One can just as easily find contrasting poems. Carman has a dawn poem in Sappho, which in conformity to the genre tries to catch the mood of passion spent. Pound, too, has a dawn poem in Lustra Carman’s is poem XLV:

Softer than the hill-fog to the forest
Are the loving hands of my dear lover,
When she sleeps beside me in the starlight
And her beauty drenches me with rest.

As the quiet mist enfolds the beech-trees,
Even as she dreams her arms enfold me,
Half awaking with a hundred kisses
On the scarlet lily of her mouth.
                                             (Sappho 56)

Pound’s dawn poem is much more compressed than Carman’s, and catches much better the welcome coolness after the heat of passion than does Carman. He gives his poem a Provençal title, "Alba":

As cool as the pale wet leaves
                                 of lily-of-the-valley
She lay beside me in the dawn.
                                     (Personae 112)

Pound did not learn this from Carman—nor indeed from Swinburne, or even Yeats.

Pound’s "Tempora" illustrates a strong contrast between the two in a different direction. Although Carman shows wit and irreverence in several of his Vagabondia poems, he never crossed erotic paganism with contemporary satire, as Pound frequently does in Lustra—in anticipation of that ubiquitous modernist trope Eliot dubbed "the manipulation of a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity" in his review of Joyce’s Ulysses. "Tempora" is one of the most striking such cross-overs in Lustra—though a pale foreshadowing of the later pyrotechnics of Pound and Eliot:

Io! Io! Tamuz!
The Dryad stands in my court-yard
With plaintive, querulous crying.
(Tamuz. Io! Tamuz!)
Oh, no, she is not crying: "Tamuz."
She says, "May my poems be printed this week?
The god Pan is afraid to ask you,
May my poems be printed this week?"
                                                 (Personae 113)

In conclusion, no strong claim can be made for Carman’s influence on Pound, and hence on the course of poetry in English in this century through him. On the other hand, Pound’s persistent admiration for Carman—faint and indistinct though it be—suggests that Carman’s achievement was less minor and idiosyncratic than it is often thought to be. Less idiosyncratic because our understanding of modernism now recognizes that it is more continuous with late nineteenth century aesthetic practice than the modernists themselves pretended, and than the New Critics permitted.




  1. See my own, The Birth of Modernism: Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats and the Occult (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 1993), Literary Modernism and the Occult Tradition, ed. Leon Surette and Demtres Tryphonopoulos (Orono, Me.: The National Poetry Foundation 1996), and Timothy Materer, Modernist Alchemy: Poetry and the Occult (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1995). [back]

  2. Noel Stock claims an influence of Carman’s Sapphic XXXVIII to Pound’s Doria in Poet in Exile, 8-9. [back]

  3. In his introduction to The Whitman-Hartmann Controversy, George Knox remarks: "Hartmann’s wife, Lillian Bonham records details of their encountering Carman on the street in New York and comments which Hartmann made about him afterward" (note 37, 98). I have been unable to trace this reference. It might well contain the "withered" remark, but I have no reason to suppose that Pound had access to Bonham’s memoirs. Presumably Hartmann mentioned it in a letter to Pound, but no such letter is amongst those at the Beinecke or the Rivera Library. [back]

  4. Rather surprisingly there are no letters to or from Harriet Monroe included in Letters of Bliss Carman, ed. H. Pearson Gundy. [back]

  5. Letter to Giovanni Giovannini of 27 Feb. 1958. Lilly Library. Marcella is Marcella Spann, then a muse to Pound, and his collaborator on the anthology, Confucius to Cummings (pub. 1964). Pound was still in St. Elizabeths in February of 1958, and Giovannini was teaching at the Catholic University in Washington, D.C.. Tim Redman does not list any volumes by Hovey or Carman in his catalogue of Pound’s library ("Pound’s Library: a Preliminary Catalog," Paideuma 15 [Fall and Winter, 1986]: 213-237). A boxed set of the three Vagabondia volumes was issued in 1903 "in limp suede," but it is unlikely that Pound would have been given that as an eight-year-old. On the other hand, the Vagabondia volumes were reprinted up to 1910, giving Pound lots of opportunity to purchase one or more of them as an adolescent or undergraduate. [back]

  6. He wrote to H.D.C. Lee on April 30, 1912: "I have just put together a number of miscellaneous poems to be called ‘Echoes from Vagabondia.’…I am not at all anxious to emphasize that poor old Vagabondia idea, but no one will publish anything else, so what can I do?" (Letters, 194). [back]

  7. Carman was an editor at The Independent and wrote to Hovey on Aug. 1, "The article on Delsarte in poetics is capital. Clear as a bell, and I have just read it with delight." He suggests that Hovey expand it into a larger work, which he did (Letters, 41). [back]

  8. Those who are familiar with the Poundian slogan, "make it new," might think these sentiments very much the contrary of Pound’s. But, it should be recognized that Pound’s meaning is to restore or renovate the old so as to make it usable today. Carman expressed exactly that sentiment in a letter to H. D. C. Lee of Jan. 4, 1912: "I inherited the ancient traditions to the full, and I am sure their influence was wholesome and benign; yet I could not accept them without scepticism. They all had to be broken up, discarded, and made over, before I could be happy" (Letters, 193). [back]

  9. In a letter of Jan. 15, 1892, Carman thanked F. H. Day for the loan of "Mr. Yeats’s book"—presumably his first volume of poetry, Crossways (1889). In the same letter he complains of the Blake edition that Yeats and Edwin Ellis were preparing (it was published in 1893): "I fear these editors are trying to patch out a scheme of philosophy for Blake. That would be ruinous! We must have Blake and Blake alone—a clean pure text as near the original as possible. But any exhibition of him will be unhappy" (Letters, 43). Carman’s distaste for too much specificity is shared by Pound, who also deplored Yeats’s tendency to schematize. [back]

  10. Pound’s career was founded on his friendship with Yeats—a friendship cemented by his marriage to Dorothy Shakespeare, in April of 1914, a close friend of Georgie Hyde-Lees, whom Yeats married in October of 1917. [back]

  11. Pound did not retain an admiration for Maeterlinck—if he ever had any. In a 1921 letter to Agnes Bedford, he remarked on a performance of Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisande: "Anything rather than that mush of hysteria, Scandinavia strained through Belgium plus French Schwarmerei" (Letters 231). [back]

  12. Eric Homberger (3) claims that "Vagabondia was a favourite of Pound’s," but there is little evidence to support such a claim. Gerald Lynch repeats it as gospel in his Introduction to Bliss Carman: a Reappraisal (11). I could find no explicit praise of the Vagabondia volumes, but D.M.R. Bentley cites one: in an introductory note to some W.C. Williams poems in Poetry Review 1 (Oct. 1912), 481-92 Pound remarks that he has "greatly enjoyed ‘The Songs from Vagabondia’ by Mr. Bliss Carman and the late Richard Hovey" as an exception to his observation that "no man now living in America writes anything that is of interest to the serious artist" (481; Bentley iii). [back]

  13. Lynch (11) singles out "A Rouse" from A Lume Spento as a poem evincing Pound’s admiration for Carman and Hovey. I cannot agree. It is much more in the robust manner that Pound thought was Browningesque, though it is admittedly a poem of the open road, and certainly not Whitmanesque. [back]

  14. Lynch asserts, on the testimony of Noel Stock, that "Lo the fair dead" and "Doria" are "two poems which demonstrate" the influence of Carman’s Sappho on Pound. For the first poem, I presume he has in mind "Threnos" in which the refrain "Lo the fair dead!" appears. I see no compelling reason to attribute this poem to a Carman influence. It is Arthurian rather than Greek in allusion, and contains the Swinburnian image, "the wine of lips." A better case can be made for "Doria," which is obviously Greek in mode, and is also an attempt at quantitative verse like Sappho. However, Swinburne is as likely an inspiration here as well. [back]


Works Cited


Bentley, David. "Threefold in Wonder: Bliss Carman’s Sappho: One Hundred Lyrics." Canadian Poetry 17 (Fall/Winter 1985), 29-58.

——. "Minor Poets of a Superior Order." Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents, Reviews 14 (Spring/Summer, 1984): [iii-vi].

Carman, Bliss. Letters. Ed. H. Pearson Gundy. Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 1981.

——. Sappho: One Hundred Lyrics. 1905. London: Chatto and Windus. 1930.

——. The Making of Personality. Toronto: Copp, Clark, 1908.

—— and Richard Hovey. Songs from Vagabondia, Boston: Copeland and Day, 1894.

—— and Richard Hovey. More Songs from Vagabondia. Boston: Small, Maynard and Co., 1899.

Doolittle, Hilda. End to Torment. Ed. Norman Holmes Pearson. New York: New Directions, 1979.

Fenollosa, Ernest. The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry, ed. Ezra Pound, San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1936.

Gallup, Donald. "Letters to Viola Baxter Jordan." Paideuma I.1 (Spring-Summer 1972), 107-12.

Homberger, Eric. Ezra Pound: the Critical Heritage (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972.

Hovey, Richard. "The Technic of Poetry." The Independent 44 (April 7 and 11, 1892) 473-4; 544.

Knox, George, ed. The Whitman-Hartmann Controversy: Including Conversations with Walt Whitman and Other Essays. Bern: Herbert Lang, 1976.

Lynch, Gerald, ed. Bliss Carman: a Reappraisal. Ottawa: U of Ottawa P, 1990.

Macdonald, Alan Houston. Richard Hovey: Man and Craftsman. Durham: Duke UP, 1957.

Maeterlinck, Maurice. The Plays of Maurice Maeterlinck. Trans. Richard Hovey. 1895, 1896. New York: Kraus Reprint, 1972.

Materer, Timothy, ed. The Selected Letters of Ezra Pound to John Quinn: 1915-1924. Durham: Duke UP, 1991.

Miller, Muriel. Bliss Carman: Quest and Revolt. St. John’s: Jesperson Press, 1985.

Norman, Charles. Ezra Pound. London: Macdonald, 1969.

Perkins, David. A History of Modern Poetry: from the 1890s to the High Modernist Mode, Harvard: Belknap Press, 1976.

Pound, Ezra. The Cantos. New York: New Directions, 1993.

——. Collected Early Poems of Ezra Pound. Ed. Michael King. New York: New Directions, 1976.

——. Patria Mia, London: Peter Owen, 1962. (A compilation of two series of articles, "Patria Mia" and "America: Chances and Remedies," from The New Age. The first series appeared between Sept. 5 and Nov. 14, 1912.)

——. Pound/Zukofsky: Selected Letters of Ezra Pound and Louis Zukofsky. Ed. Barry Ahearn. New York: New Directions, 1987.

——. The Letters of Ezra Pound 1907-1941 Ed. D.D. Paige London: Faber and Faber, 1951.

——. The Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. Ed. T. S. Eliot. London: Faber and Faber, 1954.

——. Personae. Revised Edition. Ed. Lea Baechler and A. Walton Litz. New York: New Directions, 1990.

——. Poetry and Prose. Ed. Lea Baechler, A. Walton Litz, and James Longenbach. 10 vols. New York: Garland Press, 1991.

Stephens, Donald. Bliss Carman, New York: Twayne, 1966.

Stock, Noel. Poet in Exile. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1964.

Williams, Ellen. Harriet Monroe and the Poetry Renaissance: the First Ten Years of Poetry, 1912-22, Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1977.