Sunday, October 25, 2009

Ezra Pound and the Apollo Complex

Ezra Pound's "Heather" makes use of the figure of a familiar, a supernatural spirit in the form of an animal that is linked to a person:

The black panther treads at my side,
And above my fingers
There float the petal-like flames.

The milk-white girls
Unbend from the holly-trees,
And their snow-white leopard
Watches to follow our trace.

The male is represented by black and by flames, suggesting the burning of desire and the hunting of the sexual object. The female is twice described as white and is wary of the hunter.

This is a fairly typical scenario in that it relies on standard sexual roles, but there are a few things about this poem that make it worth discussing. First, it reflects the sort of "Apollo complex" identified in other works by Ezra Pound. I use the phrase Apollo complex to refer to a man's recognition of his own sexuality and the simultaneous recognition that he must control that desire in order to control himself. This tension is a fundamental aspect of male subjectivity. Again recalling the Apollo and Daphne myth, the girls "Unbend from the holly trees," suggesting that the spark of sexual desire is rekindled as the girls transform from tree back to human form.

There is also the suggestion that the girls' familiar, the white leopard, is in some sense the hunter: "And their snow-white leopard / Watches to follow our trace." The leopard follows the panther, and can be read as a sort of snare that catches the men -- just like Daphne, chased by Apollo, turns into a tree, but ends up encircling Apollo's head in the form of a wreath.

The concept of women ensnaring men is also found in Pound's "Portrait d'une Femme," in which women are depicted as a Sargasso Sea waylaying sailors. These are more than just unattractive portraits of women (although they are that); these poems are also condemnations of the drive to pleasure in men. Sex is a dissolution of self (as seen in "Alba"). For Pound, it is better to sublimate desire into forms of control.

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