The ambivalence of Pound’s response to his poetic forefather Walt Whitman reflects his complex sense of his American literary heritage. As he was well aware, whatever he might say in explanation of Whitman would also in some measure define himself. While Pound recognized the authentic American eloquence of Whitman’s "barbaric yawp," the self-conscious craftsman in him winced at the "exceeding great stench" of Whitman’s "crudity," "an exceedingly nauseating pill" which he parodically exemplified as "Lo! Behold, I eat watermelons."
In his 1909 essay "What I Feel About Walt Whitman," his distaste for Whitman’s expansive self-singing struggles with an even more powerful conviction that Whitman "is America. . . . He does ‘chant the crucial stage’ and he is the ‘voice triumphant.’" In the end, Pound subordinates the superficial quarrel with Whitman’s poetic means to the profound bond of their common origin and message. Whitman is to America "what Dante is to Italy"; "the vital part of my message, taken from the sap and fibre of America, is the same as his"; "It is a great thing, reading a man to know, not ‘His Tricks are not as yet my Tricks, but I can easily make them mine’ but ‘His message is my message. We will see that men hear it.’"
From A Guide to Ezra Pound’s Selected Poems. Copyright © 1982, 1983 by Christine Froula.