by Ezra Pound
But will you do all these things?
You, with your promises,
You, with your claims to life,
Will you see fine things perish?
Will you always take sides with the heavy;
Will you, having got the songs you ask for,
Choose only the worst, the coarsest?
Will you choose flattering tongues?
Sforza . . . Baglione!
Tyrants, were flattered by one renaissance,
And will your Demos,
Trying to match the rest, do as the rest,
The hurrying other cities,
Careless of all that’s quiet,
Seeing the flare, the glitter only?
Will you let quiet men live and contrive* among you,
Making, this one, a fane,
This one, a building;
Or this bedevilled, casual, sluggish fellow
Do, once in a life, the single perfect poem,
And let him go unstoned?
Are you alone? Others make talk and chatter about their promises,
Others have fooled me when I sought the soul.
And your white slender neighbor,
a queen of cities,
A queen ignorant, can you outstrip her;
Can you be you, say,
As Pavia’s Pavia
And not Milan swelling and being modern despite her enormous treasure?
If each Italian city is herself,
Each with a form, light, character,
To love and hate one, and be loved and hated, never a blank, a wall, a nullity;
Can you, Newark, be thus, setting a fashion
But little known in our land? The rhetoricians
Will tell you as much. Can you achieve it?
You ask for immortality, you offer a price for it, a price, a prize, an* honour?
You ask a life, a life’s skill,
bent to the shackle,
bent to implant a soul
in your thick* commerce?
Or the God’s foot
struck on your shoulder effortless,
being invoked, properly called, invited?
I throw down his ten words,
and we are immortal?
In all your hundreds of thousands who will know this;
Who will see the God’s foot, who catch the glitter,
The silvery heel of Apollo; who know the oblation
Accepted, heard in the lasting realm?
If your professors, mayors, judges . . . ? Reader, we think not . . .
Some more loud-mouthed fellow, slamming a bigger drum,
Some fellow rhyming and roaring,
Some more obsequious back,
Will receive their purple, be the town’s bard,
Be ten days hailed as immortal,
But you will die or live
By the silvery heel of Apollo.
Ezra Pound was living in England in 1916 when he received a notice about the Newark poetry competition marking the city’s 250th anniversary; this was his entry. The submission did not sit well with some members of the organizing committee, who called it “a poem of violence directed at the head, heart, and hands of Newark.” Whatever the intent, this was not the first time Pound used his pen to slight the city: a year earlier he wrote in the journal Poetry that increased investment in the arts would raise property values “even in Newark, New Jersey,” that is, “if Newark were capable of producing art, literature or the drama.”
In Pound’s verses the judges detected some merit–perhaps a challenge, perhaps even a vein of sympathy–and awarded them one of the ten lesser prizes of $50. The work went with the other winners into The Newark Anniversary Poems, published in 1917. Nor was this quite the end of Newark’s dealings with Pound. Homer Pound, the poet’s father, arranged with the Newark Sunday Call for a series of articles by Ezra on literary topics. Only one, about novelist Henry James, ever appeared.
A note on the text: The poem is given above substantially as printed in 1917, but we have altered three words on the basis of manuscript images supplied by courtesy of Yale University. These are indicated by asterisks.