The Poem as the Poet’s Attempt to Transcend Political Process

Pound insisted on making a distinction between his own feelings and ideas and those presented in the poems: “I catch the character I happen to be interested in at the moment he interests me, usually a moment of song, self-analysis, or sudden understanding or revelation. I paint my man as I conceive him.”
From Ezra Pound’s letter to William Carlos Williams (“Poetry Foundation”)

Another Bit and an Offer

I see by the morning papers
That America’s sturdy sons
Have started an investigation
Of the making of guns.

The morning paper tells me
They have asked the senate to guess
Whether Mr. Dupont* and the gun-sharks*
Have influence with the press.

I sit alone in the twilight
After my work is done
And wonder if my day’s three and eight-pence
Would count on the price of a gun.

Was I started wrong as a kiddie,
And would my old man have been smarter
To send me to work in Vickers*
Instead of being a carter?

Ezra Pound

The poem is written in the name of Alfred Venison (one of Ezra Pound’s pseudonyms). The surface structure of the poem (its obvious meaning – its “story” or what here can be called its “plot”) is, as if, written by Alfred Venison who is going through the morning papers, listening to what they are telling him, “sitting alone in the twilight” and “wonders” if his miserable pay is enough to buy a gun, and whether there was something wrong with him as a child (as soon as he as an adult doesn’t make enough), or whether his father wasn’t smart enough to make him capable of making more money.

As we see, Pound masked himself as Alfred Venison but makes him function as a subject of the annunciated. Ezra Pound himself hides behind the intonational hints of the poem and its gentle semantic cues. In the first and the second stanzas Pound emphasizes Venison’s naiveté of taking what he is reading as if you can trust that newspapers honestly give information in order to objectively inform us. The expressions “America’s sturdy sons” and “Have started an investigation” carry obvious ironic load.

But the really heavy sarcasm Pound reserves for the third and fourth stanza – when Alfred Venison “sits alone in the twilight/After his work is done/ And wonders if his working day’s three and eight-pence/ Would count on the price of a gun.”, or sincerely pondering, the poor soul – “Was he started wrong as a kiddie,/ And would his old man have been smarter/To send him to work in Vickers/Instead of being a carter?”. The role of poor people in American political process according to Ezra Pound is that instead of questioning the officially accepted “co-existence” between the extremely rich and extremely poor – the extreme inequality of society as such, those who are poor are dreaming of becoming the rich inside the same system of inequality that has made them poor – they don’t want to be the poor themselves, but in a system still consisting of the rich and the poor.

In other words, in “Another Bit and An Offer” Pound emphasizes how conformist is the position of American poor that reflects the despotic domination of those who are not only involved but define the meaning and forms of political life. In two last stanzas Pound shows that poor measure their self-respect through possession of fire-arms and becoming richer not by the logic of fairness and justice but by charitably generous decision of employers. Just because Alfred Venison had the chance to read in the newspaper about the disagreement between “America’s sturdy sons” and “Mr. Dupont and the gun-sharks” he already tends to understand his wellbeing through the fact of possessing fire-arms. That’s why US today spend as much as whole world on weapons (made for taxpayers’ money), and even its poor – their last penny for private gun ownership – what an amazing unity between the taste of the wealthy (Mr Dupont, the largest gun-powder manufacturer in the world in 30s) and regular citizens dreaming of wealth and guns.

But what’s about the disagreement between “America’s sturdy sons” and gun-makers? Why is it necessary for the sturdy sons of America to investigate “Of the making of guns” and look into whether “Mr. Dupont and the gun-sharks have influence with the press”? Can this investigation be compared with that of the financial collapse of the 2008 by the State Department with near zero results? If so, America’s sturdy sons’ investigation will be just an absurd event, like that of the investigation of Monika Lewinski’s dress (with precious dirty spots on it). This kind of mighty but empty investigations keeps politics going and generates in the masses not only “another bit” of political enthusiasm but also “offers” of a wholehearted support of this or that political party.

There are three political players in the universe described in the poem – “America’s sturdy sons”, “Mr. Dupont and gun-sharks”, and those who read “the morning papers” and “sit alone in the twilight” after a working day and dream to become rich and full of guns. Who are these three players? It is, it seems, if to take into consideration the specificity of the historical time reflected in the poem – mainly, Republican politicians but also patriotic Conservative Democrats on the one side, the wealthy and super-wealthy profit-makers on the other, and then masses of demos successfully internalized propagandistic jingoism, cult of the wealth and the desire to be the strongest in the world in wealth and weapons. The first and second categories make up the politics. The third – supports either the first or the second or both. The question is – where are in the poem the really democratically oriented people – those who are not only for a decent material life for everybody and for equality and justice, but for humanistic education, serious culture and existentially spiritual sensibility?

It is very symptomatic that Pound at the time of writing this poem didn’t find the category of progressively and culturally oriented people who could influence the political process. Ezra Pound simply didn’t see this kind of people as effective socio-cultural and a political force. May be, it is the reason Pound gave Alfred Venison the political realm of American life described in the poem (its surface semantic structure) for participation, while himself as a culturally oriented person retreated into being the anonymous creator of the work of art – a person outside political representation.

But how can we characterize Pound as a humanistic intellectual, while after WWII started he was doing radio broadcasts for a proto-fascist, Mussolini-controlled radio? Ezra Pound was personifying for himself poetic inspiration. And, confronting political process he made an ontological mistake. May be, he felt that profound criticism of one political system means non-critical – poetically inspirational embrace of its opposite. He was way too disappointed by the American democracy and he needed to keep his spiritual vitality by any price. Poetic inspiration is irrationally rational – enlightened and sublime energy – the mistake is to think that poetic inspiration even of such a talented poet as Pound is strong enough spiritual power to change the fallen reality of this world into spiritually radiant one. It is a mistake similar with that of Martin Heidegger, from which the philosopher quickly awakened. Pound’s tragic mistake doesn’t devaluate the truth of his criticism of American political process in “Another Bit and an Offer”, process which is, unfortunately, a part of American mass culture that has a power to corrupt and to secretly betray people whom, as it proclaimed itself, it is able and willing to help to become happy.

*Gun power manufacturer
*Hit men
*Department Store