“He strove to resuscitate the dead art/Of poetry; to maintain “the sublime”/In the old sense. Wrong from the start  …” –Ezra Pound, “Hugh Selwyn Mauberly”

“Adolf Hitler was a Jeanne d’Arc, a saint.” –Also Ezra Pound

An immigrant Jew, an old woman,
her tattoo peeking from under
a billowed sleeve, her face in shadow,
behind her the Statue of Liberty: she
holds up an American Beauty.

Juxtapose your rose, make it ersatz
—Williams’ broken glass—or devolve
to  H.D.s “Sea Rose,” and tell me dear Ezra
again how the traditional rose is worn
out, a trite symbol, deserving derision.

Tell me once more how we must make it flash,
poetry new in your image, a dagger’s moustache.


The poetry of Leland James has been published worldwide in over fifty journals and magazines, including The Spoon River Poetry Review, The Society of Classical Poets Journal, The South Carolina Review, New Millennium Writers, Vallum, Orbis, and Aesthetica, Leland was an International Publication Prize winner in the Atlanta Review poetry competition, winner of the Portland Pen Poetry Prize, and runners up for Society of Classical Poets, Fish International and the Welsh Poetry prizes. He received the Franklin-Christoph Merit Award for Poetry in 2008 He lives in a cabin in the woods in northern Michigan with his wife of 40 years. You may see more of his poetry at www.lelandjamespoet.com.

Featured Image: “Perfectly Pink” by Barbara Fox


Commentary by Leland James

“A Rose for Ezra Pound” is in its essence a polemic standing against the Modernists, and by implication the Post-Modernists, who have dominated poetry (particularly American poetry) since the early 1900s when the Modernist movement began. Ezra Pound was the principle spokesman and leader during the movement’s early days. The Modernists, particularly the “Imagist” variety of the Modernist movement, where the movement began, stood against nearly everything The Society of Classical Poets stands for.

“A Rose for Ezra Pound” is full of allusions, many of them meta-poetic, poetry about poetry, a well-established tradition, perhaps most famously employed by Alexander Pope in his “Essay on Criticism” (a poem about meter, published in 1711). The first allusion in “A Rose for Ezra Pound” is quite obvious: “American Beauty” at the end of the first stanza alludes to the American Beauty Rose, and in its context symbolizes the history of America’s sheltering of immigrants, particularly those abused by foreign powers. The old woman in the first stanza is ironically, perhaps sarcastically, holding up a rose for Ezra Pound, a well-known anti-Semite, to see. Even better, perhaps, offering it to him. Mocking him, forgiving him, just setting things straight, all three, you choose.

The rose was often attacked by the modernists, derided as an obsolete symbol that had no place in modern poetry. William Carlos Williams’ poem, “The Rose is Obsolete,” is a glaring example. Hilda Doolittle, who wrote under the pen name H.D.—a, alluded to in the second stanza of “A Rose for Ezra Pound—in her poem “Sea Rose” is another example. The reference to “broken glass” in the second stanza of “A Rose for Ezra Pound” alludes to Williams’ poem “Lines” in which he lifts up a piece of broken glass as an example of how modern poetry should depict and elevate concrete images and things not traditional in poetry; in this case adding an element of the man-made versus nature in modern poetry. The battle cry of the modernists was “Make it new!” The word “ersatz” in the first line of the second stanza of “A Rose for Ezra Pound” alludes to this.

The latter part of “A Rose for Ezra Pound” mocks the modernists by addressing Ezra Pound, the movement’s leader, pointing him back to the first stanza in which the rose is used as a symbol in a modern poem. The intended irony of the rose being employed as a symbol in a modern poem (the Modernists eschewed symbolism) refutes the Modernists’ prohibition against the rose in particular and symbolism in general. An additional irony is that “A Rose for Ezra Pound” is indeed “making it new,” but by using symbolism to refresh not repeat the image of the rose. The trope turns the rose to the purpose of irony and sarcasm instead of romance, while at the same time serving as a symbol of America. William Blake did something similar in “The Sick Rose,” where the sick rose was a metaphor for a turning away from God in general and for the rampant syphilis of his time in particular. Poets have been “making it new” for thousands of years.

The rhyme scheme in “A Rose for Ezra Pound” (the Modernists also eschewed rhyming in general and end-line rhymes in particular) employs slant or imperfect rhyme, exact rhyme, internal rhyme, and end-line rhyme. “Flash” in the final couplet (there is nothing a Modernist would hate more than a couplet) alludes to the Imagist’s desire to render in a poem a perfect, unadorned image, as in a photograph. The final metaphor (the Modernists also eschewed metaphor) is a final barb. It is a complex metaphor equating Ezra Pound to a dagger—in the heart of poetry—with a moustache, in keeping with the time-worn practice of drawing mustaches on posters and pictures. Pound’s own dagger-pointed mustache personalizes the dagger, pointing directly to him.


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3 Responses

  1. Wilbur Dee Case

    A Rose For Emily
    for Leland James

    Here is a rose for Emily
    compressed inside a book,
    resembling a simile
    beside a gurgling brook.

    With Homer locked up in a room
    she would not dust or sweep,
    how could she take a cloth or broom,
    to air so still and deep?

    Old Doc Heidegger dug out it
    and placed it in a glass,
    where it revived a little bit;
    its petals seen to pass.

    Though Ezra thought the rose was worn
    upon the clothes she wore,
    he never saw her near its thorn,
    nor all the swells it bore.

    Poor Hilda took it to a time
    when it was hardly fresh.
    She could not handle the sublime;
    she had to make it mesh.

    Prosaic Faulkner way down South
    in Dixie dust and dirt
    could only place, by word of mouth,
    it in a torrid hurt.

    But Mister Blake, for goodness sake,
    observed a flying worm
    that flew above it like a snake
    around an era’s squirm.

    And Señor Borges, blind at that,
    gave one to Milton’s ghost;
    while passing through a garden chat,
    he made a simple toast.

  2. Nic

    The target of this poem is odd, to say the least. I doubt any modern poet so thoroughly enjoyed the classics as Pound, a man who spent the best years of his life immersed in the Latin masters and Medieval troubadour verse. Of any poet in the modernist canon, Pound yields the greatest returns for a learned lover of classicism.


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