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Salutation -- Ezra Pound

(Poem #790) Salutation
 O generation of the thoroughly smug
        and thoroughly uncomfortable,
 I have seen fishermen picnicking in the sun,
 I have seen them with untidy families,
 I have seen their smiles full of teeth
        and heard ungainly laughter.
 And I am happier than you are,
 And they were happier than I am;
 And the fish swim in the lake
        and do not even own clothing.
-- Ezra Pound
When a writer as skilled and as unrestrained as Ezra Pound applies his
talent to the art of invective, the results are always fascinating. Pound's
magnificent contempt for the petite bourgeoisie can be irritating at times,
even offputting in its frequent self-righteousness, but equally, it can be

Today's scathing denunciation of middle-class mores is vintage Pound. The
poem starts with a deliberately provocative couplet, highlighting two
qualities which the poet most detests in his audience - self-satisfaction,
and a blind adherence to rules even at the cost of personal freedom. Next
comes a telling comparison: even lowly fishermen, "untidy" and "ungainly",
are happier with their picnic baskets and their families than are those who
tread the straight and narrow of society's demands. And most blessed of all
are the fish, who have no property and no propriety, who "swim in the lake /
and do not even own clothing".

Notice how, after the initial salutation, Pound barely addresses his targets
directly. Instead, he proceeds through comparison and contrast, eschewing
the bombast beloved of revolutionary poets before and since. The subtlety is
telling, and effective; it's what I like best about this poem. That, and the
imagery: smug society folks, fisherman laughing in the sun, and the fish,
always the fish.



"And the fish swim in the lake / and do not even own clothing" is almost
certainly a reference to the Sermon on the Mount:

"[28]And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field,
how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. [29] And yet I say unto
you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
[30] Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and
tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of
little faith?"
        -- The Bible, King James Version, the Gospel of Matthew, ch.6

[Minstrels Links]

Poems by Ezra Pound:
Poem #70, "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter"
Poem #123, "And the days are not full enough"
Poem #191, "The Garden"
Poem #319, "In a Station of the Metro"
Poem #583, "Envoi"

An extract from "The Sermon on the Mount", poem #314.


While selecting the poems to include in the Links section above, I found
myself wondering whether there were any other pieces of verse which were as
openly disdainful of their (respective) audiences as is today's poem. And
then it hit me: "Salutation" is _not_ disdainful of its readers; rather, it
invites its readers to _share_ in Pound's contempt for the purported
addressees, the "generation of the thoroughly smug / and thoroughly
uncomfortable". A skilful example of a poem saying one thing on the surface,
but conveying its _real_ meaning a layer deeper.

52 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

CynicalWays said...

what do you think this poem means? Do you think he's speaking of the
generation under him? Do you think he's trying to show his disdain for the new
generation who places so much importance on materialistic happiness? I'm just
curious what you thought.

Brian Colbert said...

Ezra Pound Poem Salutation is one of his greatest works. First off I am
going to talk about the meaning of this poem. At the beginning he says "O
Generation of the thoroughly smug and thoroughly uncomfortable"(1-2). He
defines the generation as smug which means self satisfied. Then he goes on
to say that they are thoroughly uncomfortable. I take this to mean more of
the people who go with society and don't take time to live life. In the
lines (3-4) he talks about fishermen who go picnicking in the sun with their
untidy families. This is the other people who take time out of life and
actually enjoy it. They have "untidy families" which shoes more that they
aren't always worrying about life. In lines (5-8) he goes on to say "I have
seen their smiles full of teeth and herd their ungainly laughter". This
shows more how happy they are. The very last lines (8-10) Pound says "And
the fish swim in the lake and do not even own clothing". For me it is the
very last part that they do not even own clothing that gets his message
across. The Fish are very simple and swim in the lake and live yet they
don't own clothing or have any material things like we do.

Tyler Colbert

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