The poet as seismograph presupposes fracture and the technology to measure fracture.
Of the former:
Died some, pro patria,
Non “dulce” non “et décor” . . .
Walked eye-deep in hell
Believing in old men’s lies, then unbelieving
Came home, home to a lie,
Home to old lies and new infamy;
Usury age-old and age-thick
And liars in public places.
Daring as never before, wastage as never before.
Young blood and high blood,
Fair cheeks, and fine bodies;
Fortitude as never before
Frankness as never before,
Disillusions as never told in the old days,
Hysterias, trench confessions,
Laughter out of dead bellies. (mauberley IV)
This passage fractures me most deeply in the line: “hysterias, trench confessions”. The effect of war on the poet (with “the eyes of Picasso” – Canto II) to measure the steps “walked eye-deep in hell”. The “old” (lies, poetries) implicates the invention of the new – “The age demanded an image / of its accelerated grimace” (Mauberly II) – is not different from each age requiring a new confession (Emerson) or that the poet “is the age transfigured” (Whitman) or this:
The Poets light but Lamps –
Themselves – go out –
The Wicks they stimulate –
If vital Light
Inhere as do the Suns –
Each age a Lens
The fracture not only occurs within the old / new, lies / truth, man / machine, or life / war (the prohibition of life), but between consciousness itself:
“There are two opposed ways of thinking of man: firstly, you may think of him as that toward which perception moves, as the toy of circumstance, as the plastic substance receiving impressions; secondly, you may think of him as directing a certain fluid force against circumstance, as conceiving instead of merely reflecting and observing.” (Gaudier-Brzeska)
Pound argues that impressionism, futurism (“accelerated impressionism”) and film are created by a receiving consciousness. On the other hand, expressionism, neo-cubism, imagism and vorticism are created by a conceiving consciousness. The resultant art of a conceiving consciousness is described as an “intensive art… which is concerned with the relative intensity, or relative significance of different sorts of expression…[intensive art causes] form to come into being…[and] the organization of forms is a much more energetic and creative action than the copying or imitating of light on a haystack.” (ibid)
In a fractured world, the conception of fracture is a political act. If “history is a nightmare” (joyce), then Pound rejects John Smith’s statement that “history is the memory of time”, but perhaps foregrounds Olson’s reconception that “my memory is / the history of time” (Maxmius V). In conceiving the world, the world is transfigured and must be made new. Pound’s total aesthetic, then, is lit with this political current. The image (the transfiguration of the thing) is inherently political — it does not just copy or imitate the light on the world, but makes it into his own image.
With this politic in mind, Pound lays the foundation for his disseminating circumference. The conceiving consciousness directly examines phenomena and engages in interpretation. This creates an emotion infused with energy which results in “pattern units” or “arrangement of form” or an “image” — which all contribute to the “vortex” (or “cluster of ideas). The energy-emotion is the organizer of both visual and audible (“words move in rhythm of the creative emotion”) form.
The idea of primary form and absolute rhythm directs Pound’s direct treatment — “every emotion and every phase of emotion has some toneless phrase, some rhythm phrase to express it” (Gaudier-Brzeska) and “every concept, every emotion, presents itself to the vivid consciousness in some primary form”. Through this argument, Pound can argue that because traditional form and meter impose their machinery onto the poem, that it is only a part of the “old lies”. Because there is a form and rhythm inherent in the perception of the thing itself, one must conceive of form and rhythm anew — in the relative intensity and significance of each perceiving moment in order to create a “precise rendering of the impulse.” (A Retrospect)
THEN, and this is my favorite, one should “write vers libre only when one ‘must’, only when the ‘thing’ builds up a rhythm more beautiful than that of set metres, or more real, more a part of the emotion of the thing, more germane, intimate, interpretative…” Free verse arrives (or demands arrival) from the machinery of the ‘thing’ perceived.
To allow for this arrival, one should create a machine that can withstand “the highest voltage…The better the machinery, the more precise, the stronger, the more exact will be the record of the voltage and of the various currents which have passed through it.” (Affirmations) The new machinery is to be “[austere, direct, free from emotional slither, harder, saner, and nearer the bone].” In relation to our discussion about how Pound “borrows” other texts to protest usury “CONTRA NATURUM” — his industrialization of the poem enacts a similar protest. Pound is against the aesthetic machinery of impressionism and symbolism because it does not empower the poet as an agent of history (a conceiving consciousness).
Pound argues that “The symbolists dealt in ‘association,’ that is, in a sort of allusion, almost all allegory. They degraded the symbol to the status of a word. They made it a form of metonymy…The symbolist’s symbols have a fixed value, like numbers in arithmetic, like 1,2, and 7. The imagiste’s images have a variable significance, like the signs a, b, and x in algebra…There is undoubtedly a language of form and color. It is not a symbolical or allegorical language depending on certain meanings having been ascribed, in books, to certain signs and colours…” (Gaudier-Brzeska) The old lies of symbolism ascribe a machinery of value to words, degrading, prohibiting, and imprisoning their “variable significance”, their algebraic potential to “present an intellectual and emotion complex in an instant of time.” Pound’s new poem-machine must be able to conduct the absolute rhythms and primary forms in their relative currents of intensity and potential voltage.
This new machine, then, must treat the thing directly. This is not entirely with the presupposition that reality can be directly portrayed through language (Pound’s indictment of non-ideogrammatic language in ABC of Reading shows his awareness of this impossibility) but with the presupposition that one can write non-symbolist poetry — where the “natural object is always the adequate symbol” and that the natural object does not have an ascribed value (perhaps similar to Stevens’s “first idea” in “Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction”).
To observe the world and history directly, the poet must transfigure and be transfigured (the objective and subjective image). For the poet to be a seismograph and provide “order giving vibrations”, the poet must be a conceiving agent of history and politics. Poetry must be an “intensive art” if it is to protest the prohibition of life (war, “trench confessions”). The rejection of impressionism and symbolism as passive agents in the old machinery of prohibition is, by analogy, a political act. To see with “the eyes of Picasso” is not to accept the world as it is (to record the light on haystacks), but to see both the present moment and historical moments in their “relative intensity” and “variable significance” and to reconstruct those moments into a “machinery that can stand the highest voltage”. Vers libre arises because it must — because one has conceived the fracture, because the fracture has built up a rhythm that destroys the old machinery of lies, because the poet is the direct transfiguration of fracture.