Hear Ezra Pound Read From His “Cantos,” Some of the Great Poetic Works of the 20th Century

No stu­dent of mod­ernism, no lover of mod­ern poet­ry, can avoid Ezra Pound, or the prob­lem that is Ezra Pound. Although a noto­ri­ous and enthu­si­as­tic boost­er of Mussolini’s Ital­ian state dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, Pound’s influ­ence over the shape and char­ac­ter of Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry always seems to trump his regret­table, if not par­tic­u­lar­ly sur­pris­ing, pol­i­tics. T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, H.D.—all are deeply indebt­ed to Pound. His attempts to bridge East­ern and West­ern aes­thet­ics are pro­found, and his own poet­ry, informed by his devo­tion to Chi­nese poet­ics and immer­sion in the Euro­pean canon, com­pris­es an often bril­liant, gen­er­al­ly intim­i­dat­ing body of work.

Over the course of five decades, dur­ing each of Pounds’ var­i­ous phases—as lit­er­ary impre­sario, lan­guage schol­ar, edi­tor, and deeply con­tro­ver­sial weirdo—he was hard at work on what became known as The Can­tos, a long, loose­ly con­nect­ed series of poet­ic chap­ters in Eng­lish, Chi­nese, Ital­ian that were pub­lished at var­i­ous times in var­i­ous forms. Pound’s tra­vails as the author of this long and exceed­ing­ly dif­fi­cult series may be the reward of a fool and his fol­ly (as his col­leagues thought) or the rocky, lone­ly path of genius, unap­pre­ci­at­ed in its time. I’m not sure I would rec­om­mend him as the lat­ter, but I’ve often found not only his pol­i­tics, but also his delib­er­ate obscu­ri­ty a stum­bling block. And yet, there may be no sub­sti­tute for hear­ing poet­ry read aloud, some­times best by its author, who knows every nuance. At the top, hear Pound read “Can­to I,” built of clas­si­cal mod­els on Anglo-Sax­on scaf­fold­ing. Direct­ly above, Pound reads from a chap­ter pub­lished almost ten years lat­er. His voice is more ragged and qua­ver­ing, and he rails against usury, a theme close to his often anti-Semit­ic eco­nom­ic the­o­ries. You can hear dozens more record­ings of Pound, made from 1939 to the year of his death, 1972, at the Penn Sound archive. And also over at UBUweb.

You can find more read­ings of clas­sic poems in the Poet­ry sec­tion of our Free Audio Books col­lec­tion. Oth­er works by Pound can be found in our col­lec­tion of Free eBooks.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Ernest Hem­ing­way Writes of His Fas­cist Friend Ezra Pound: “He Deserves Pun­ish­ment and Dis­grace” (1943)

Ezra Pound’s Fiery 1939 Read­ing of His Ear­ly Poem, ‘Ses­ti­na: Altaforte’

Pier Pao­lo Pasoli­ni Talks and Reads Poet­ry with Ezra Pound (1967)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (5)
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  • Alan Coady says:

    How is it that, more than any­thing else, Pound sounds like a deranged Scot­tish pri­ma­ry school head teacher?

  • brian lindberg says:

    Ezra Pound was a genius…for Alan (below)…his pro­nun­ci­a­tion was influ­enced by the years he spent with Yeats as a young man, and the time he spent with the younger Basil Bunting (lat­er des­ig­nat­ed as his “read­er” for the Can­tos) in Rapal­lo in the thirties…it’s the music that he want­ed to play.…as for his being deranged, well, Bunting once said that when he went to vis­it Pound when he was in St. Eliz­a­beth’s hos­pi­tal, he was crazy. So was Van Gogh.

  • N. Anon says:

    I would like to know more details about Ezra Pound. What he likes and dis­likes, his hob­bies, his life as a col­lege stu­dents and how he start writ­ing poems.

  • N. Anon says:

    I would like to go more deep­er into Ezra Pound’s sto­ry. And how he began to write poems as a young col­lege stu­dent.

  • Scottish Guy says:

    I agree, it’s uncan­ny. I down­loaded an mp3 of him read­ing from Hugh Sel­wyn Mauber­ley (I like to get cul­tur­al­ly pissed of a week­end) and it sounds like straight out­ta Morn­ing­side. He would have found at least one fan at Mar­cia Blane.

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