Ezra Pound was born October 30, 1885, in the mining town of Hailey, Idaho. When he was three years old, his father took a job with the U.S. Mint, moving the family to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On his mother’s side, Pound was distantly related to both Wadsworth and Longfellow, and he knew from a young age he wanted to be a poet himself. He attended the University of Pennsylvania, but earned his degree from Hamilton College in 1905. Shortly after graduating, Pound moved abroad to pursue a career in poetry.
A gifted poet in his own right, he was quite possibly more accomplished in his aid to fellow writers of the time. As an admirer of W.B. Yeats, Pound endeavored to meet the poet when visiting London in 1908. The two became good friends, with Yeats an appreciative recipient of Pound’s astute criticism. In 1914, Pound married Dorothy Shakespear, the daughter of Yeats’ longtime friend Olivia. Pound edited and critiqued the likes of many famous contemporaries: T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, and James Joyce, among the list of notables. Through Pound’s encouragement and assistance, relatively unknown writers at the time transformed into titans of American and British literature. Reciprocally, Pound’s peers saw in him a leader of the modernist approach to poetry. They praised his concise simplicity, directness, and precision. He is best known for his lifelong work The Cantos, which he began writing in 1915. He first published part of it in 1917, but continued composing and publishing multiple volumes for nearly five decades to come.
After living in London and Paris, Pound and his wife settled in Italy in 1924. He was there until 1945 when he was arrested for treason, after broadcasting Fascist propaganda on the radio during World War II. He was eventually tried in Washington, D.C. and acquitted, found incompetent to stand trial. He was committed to St. Elizabeth’s hospital for the criminally insane, where he stayed for over a decade. Before his extradition to Washington, he wrote what is considered by most to be his greatest and most influential work, The Pisan Cantos, published in 1948. Despite his situation, a panel including W.H. Auden, Eliot, and Robert Lowell awarded him the Library of Congress Bollingen Award for American Poetry in 1949. It was Eliot, Frost, and Ernest Hemingway who eventually helped secure Pound’s release in April 1958. He returned to Italy and continued writing and editing, though he remained somewhat reclusive for the remainder of his life. Ezra Pound died November 1, 1972 in Venice, Italy.