We have had the English Auden but not, so far, the Pound sterling. Xenophobic British critics have pounced with glee on Pound’s midwestern origins, as if parochiality constituted some kind of original sin. Cosmopolitan Americans like Hugh Kenner, on the other hand, have emphasised Pound’s own cosmopolitanism, as if a forged affiliation with medieval Provence, Renaissance Italy or classical China were in itself the one thing needful for salvation.
Central to both approaches is a convenient myth: that the hard-nosed Modernism of the American Pound and Eliot and the Irish Joyce and Yeats represents an absolute break with the English mainstream tradition of writers such as Hardy and Edward Thomas. Only Donald Davie, his confidently provincial Englishness cross-pollinated with transatlantic spores, has resisted half-intuitively such easy myths, finding in both Hardy and Pound an equal fascination and cultural centrality.
Peter Ackroyd’s elegant and all-too-brief biographical essay, which accompanies over a hundred well-chosen illustrations, is much more than a coffee-table book, and gives the lie to such bland assumptions. What emerges from between the lines of its judicious narrative is a Pound intricately involved with the English cultural world. No