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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Number 103: Ezra Pound "The Ballad of the Goodly Fere"

The Ballad of the Goodly Fere

Ha' we lost the goodliest fere o' all
For the priests and the gallows tree?
Aye lover he was of brawny men,
O' ships and the open sea.

When they came wi' a host to take Our Man
His smile was good to see,
"First let these go!" quo' our Goodly Fere,
"Or I'll see ye damned," says he.

Aye he sent us out through the crossed high spears
And the scorn of his laugh rang free,
"Why took ye not me when I walked about
Alone in the town?" says he.

Oh we drank his "Hale" in the good red wine
When we last made company,
No capon priest was the Goodly Fere
But a man o' men was he.

I ha' seen him drive a hundred men
Wi' a bundle o' cords swung free,
That they took the high and holy house
For their pawn and treasury.

They'll no' get him a' in a book I think
Though they write it cunningly;
No mouse of the scrolls was the Goodly Fere
But aye loved the open sea.

If they think they ha' snared our Goodly Fere
They are fools to the last degree.
"I'll go to the feast," quo' our Goodly Fere,
"Though I go to the gallows tree."

"Ye ha' seen me heal the lame and blind,
And wake the dead," says he,
"Ye shall see one thing to master all:
'Tis how a brave man dies on the tree."

A son of God was the Goodly Fere
That bade us his brothers be.
I ha' seen him cow a thousand men.
I have seen him upon the tree.

He cried no cry when they drave the nails
And the blood gushed hot and free,
The hounds of the crimson sky gave tongue
But never a cry cried he.

I ha' seen him cow a thousand men
On the hills o' Galilee,
They whined as he walked out calm between,
Wi' his eyes like the grey o' the sea,

Like the sea that brooks no voyaging
With the winds unleashed and free,
Like the sea that he cowed at Genseret
Wi' twey words spoke' suddently.

A master of men was the Goodly Fere,
A mate of the wind and sea,
If they think they ha' slain our Goodly Fere
They are fools eternally.

I ha' seen him eat o' the honey-comb
Sin' they nailed him to the tree.

--Ezra Pound

Hap Notes: This has always been one of my favorite Ezra Pound (1885-1972) poems although it's not typical of his work. It does show his knowledge of the ballad form and he knew a ponderous lot about the forms of poetry.

In the poem, "Fere" is an Old English word for "companion." The speaker is Simon Zealotes (one of the more silent of Christ's disciples) after the crucifixion. A "capon" is a castrated rooster (it's done so that they'll be more edible.) Pound wanted to write a poem about Jesus which depicted him as more of a man's man and less effeminate. The ballad form is good for the purpose and the seafaring slang is even better for it.

As dear as the poem is to me, I'll admit that in my own head I've often called the poem "Oh, Jesus was a sailin' man!" It amuses me, anyway.

Pound is a such a thorn bush of a man- all that Nazi propaganda he spewed in Italy on the radio does not sit well on the stomach of a poetry lover. He was such a racist. However, just because Ty Cobb was a miserable son-of-a-b**ch racist crank doesn't mean that he wasn't a good ball player and just because Pound was the same doesn't mean he didn't know his poetry and how to write. It's harder to accept this flaw in someone who writes, isn't it? A home run and a poem, while one can see similarities, come from a different place in the heart and brain. Therein lies the problem.

Normally I would give you a few snippets about Pound's life and go on but his profoundly difficult life makes it hard to do. I'm going to suggest you read the Wikipedia entry on him for a brief overview of what makes Pound so exasperating to talk about. You can see that here: It's a fairly succinct summation of his pros and cons.

Pound was enormously influential to poetry and there's no contemporary poet who has not wrestled with him the way Pound himself wrestled with the influence Whitman (he wrote a great poem about this.) Here it is:

A Pact

I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman -
I have detested you long enough.
I come to you as a grown child
Who has had a pig-headed father;
I am old enough now to make friends.
It was you that broke the new wood,
Now is a time for carving.
We have one sap and one root -
Let there be commerce between us.
-- Ezra Pound

Wish I could do likewise with Pound. I guess in some ways I have because here he is in all his rotten glamor. He's an unavoidable poet if you care for poetry and its roots.

Here's a good Pound quote: "Good art however "immoral" is wholly a thing of virtue. Good art can NOT be immoral. By good art I mean art that bears true witness, I mean the art that is most precise."

and another: "
When you cannot make up your mind which of two evenly balanced courses of action you should take - choose the bolder."

You can find more Pound poetry here:

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