Friday, May 16, 2014

Pound on poetry and mathematics

HERE at we find an article by Carl Sandburg (1878-1967), published in POETRY Magazine in 1916, in which Sandburg offers highest praise to poet Ezra Pound (1885-1972). Sandburg includes this quote from a 1910 essay by Pound that connects poetry and mathematics.

"Poetry is a sort of inspired mathematics, which gives us equations, 
not for abstract figures, triangles, spheres and the like, but equations 
for the human emotions.  If one have a mind which inclines to magic
rather than science,  one will prefer to speak of these equations 
as spells or incantations; it sounds more arcane, mysterious, recondite."

The complete article is available here.

And, in a footnote* to the poem "In a Station of the Metro" -- found in my Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry we find a bit more of Pound's mathematical thinking. 

       In a Station of the Metro*     by Ezra Pound

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

*Of this poem Pound writes in GaudierBrzeska:  Three years ago in Paris I got out of a 'metro' train at La Concorde, and saw suddenly a beautiful face, and then another and another, and then a beautiful child's face, and then another beautiful woman, and I tried all that day to find words for what this had meant to me, and I could not find any words that seemed to me worthy, or as lovely as that sudden emotion.  And that evening . . . I was still trying and I found, suddenly, the expression.  I do not mean that I found words, but there came an equation . . . not in speech, but in little splotches of color . . .  The 'one-image poem' is a form of super-position, that is to say, it is one idea getting out of the impasse in which I had been left by my metro emotion.  I wrote a thirty-line poem and destroyed it . . . Six months later I made a poem half that length; a year later I made the following hakku-like sentence.

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