(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.
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 wonderful. 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. thomas. [References] "And the fish swim in the lake / and do not even own clothing" is almost certainly a reference to the Sermon on the Mount: "And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin.  And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  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. [Afterthought] 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.