Two American Poets

Wallace Stevens & William Carlos Williams

From the

Collection of Alan M. Klein

From the Library of Ezra Pound

No other poet had more of an impact on Williams than Ezra Pound – in I Wanted to Write a Poem, Williams claimed “before meeting Ezra Pound is like B.C. and A.D.”113 The two men met as students at the University of Pennsylvania in 1902, and Williams humorously recalled that Pound was not impressed when he first showed him his work: “He was impressed with his own poetry; but then, I was impressed with my own poetry, too, so we got along all right.”114 Both poets paid out of pocket for the publication of their first books, which came out within a year of each other (Pound’s A Lume Spento in 1908 and Williams’s Poems in 1909, which was privately published by Williams’s father).

In the years following Williams’s failed first book, when Pound was living in Europe, his influence on Williams was particularly formative – he helped arrange a deal with his London publisher Elkin Mathews, who published Williams’s next book (The Tempers) and encouraged Harriet Monroe to include four of Williams’s poems in the June 1913 issue of the newly launched Poetry. These introductions arguably jumpstarted the young poet’s career.

But it wasn’t just Pound’s connections that proved invaluable – his modernist approach to verse, in terms of both theory and practice, showed Williams an alternative to writing in the highly structured modes of Keats and Whitman, his early heroes. Pound also encouraged Williams to read more widely, recommending poetry by Yeats and Rossetti, and books like On the Sublime, an ancient Greek treatise on poetics by Longinus, and Brooks Adams’s The Law of Civilisation and Decay (Macmillan, 1895).1

However, Williams himself believed Pound was most useful in helping him understand early on in his career “the problems faced by a writer.” Despite disagreeing on many things, the two remained lifelong friends who exchanged lively letters and always provided each other with honest feedback. In “Letter to an Australian Editor,” written in 1946 after Pound had been arrested for treason for his support of Mussolini during World War II and incarcerated in a mental institution, Williams described himself as “deeply indebted” to Pound, whom he called a “great genius.”

The following books from Pound’s library were variously inscribed to him by Williams, bear the signature of one, the other or both, and bear the blindstamp of Pound’s castle library in the Italian Tyrol: “Brunnenburg / Tirolo (Merano) / Italia.” All show the wear and tear of active reading, further evidenced by Pound’s notes and annotations in some of the volumes.

For more information on the publications in this Collection, see From the Library of Ezra Pound.