The Aristotelian Crescent: Medieval Arabic Philosophy in the Poetics of Ezra Pound

The pivotal role of medieval European poetry on the aesthetics of Ezra Pound is well known: he received graduate training in Provençal and was committed to lifelong study of the Troubadours, whose innovations in poetic form he saw as precursors to Dante’s great elder contemporary, Guido Cavalcanti. Pound placed sufficient stock in Guido’s shaping role in the European poetic tradition that he undertook to publish a deluxe edition of the Rime, complete with photographic plates of manuscripts on vellum, putting more than one press out of business in the process. It was not only poetry that drove this fixation for Pound, but a conviction that medieval poets kept alight a flame of Gnostic wisdom counter to the predominating currents of Thomistic inflections of Aristotle. He saw in Cavalcanti and Arnaut Daniel the preservation of light philosophy reaching back beyond Grosseteste and Eriugena to the Presocratics and the early Neoplatonists. A tenuous but pivotal part of this hidden heritage resided in the Arabic transmission of classical texts, as well as major commentaries, especially those of Avicenna and Averroes on Aristotle’s De Anima. Scholars such as Peter Liebregts and Peter Makin have done admirable work in identifying and annotating the various citations and suggestive hints of this tradition throughout Pound’s poetry and prose. This paper seeks to establish wider aesthetic and strategic contexts for Pound’s use of medieval Arabic light philosophy: what purpose did this heritage serve for the poet who urged his peers to Make It New? How does it inflect his poetics, and how does it intersect with his personal and professional circumstances at particular points in his career? This attempt to give a broader picture to Pound’s very particular medievalism aims to give perspective on Modernist poetics, shaped in significant part by his influence.


About msbyron27

Lecturer in Modern and Contemporary British and American Literature, Department of English, University of Sydney
This entry was posted in Abstracts – Presentations (2014). Bookmark the permalink.

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