Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Toward Parnassus

ABC of Reading
ABC of Reading  

"And it is my firm conviction that a man can learn more about poetry by really knowing and examining a few of the best poems than by meandering about among a great many."(p 43)

Mount Parnassus in Greek mythology is a mountain in central Greece where the Muses lived; it is known as the mythological home of music and poetry. The ABC of Reading is Ezra Pound's iconoclastic view of stages on the way to Parnassus -- to knowing the nature and meaning of literature. Pound was there at the beginning of the Modernist movement in literature. In fact one could argue that he invented it and he both discovered and encouraged fellow writers, T. S. Eliot is a prominent example, to persevere and "make it new". This spirit permeates this book and I believe it has not diminished over the decades. My beat up copy was obtained in Madison, Wisconsin at a used book store near the University. What an appropriate setting, for this book reads like an extension of the University expanding my education in time and through imagination. There are more ideas packed into just over two hundred pages in this little book than in many much larger tomes. The ideas are at one striking and sublime. Plus there are bon mots like this-- "Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree."(p 36) --in every chapter.

This classic retains "a certain eternal and irrepressible freshness" that makes it worth reading today; both for the challenge and for the insights into the nature of poetry and literature.

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mel u said...

I first read this maybe 45 years ago. I reread it maybe two years ago. It is a mixture of brilliance and cracked ideas. It is a guide to life long learning and and attack on the received notion of what an education should be. It is kind of an Autodidacts holy text

James said...

Thanks, I agree with your assessment. The life long learning is what appeals to me. Pound was surely and eccentric genius.