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In accounts of American poetry, William Carlos Williams is a marker of the development of modernism, of the avant-garde and of a democratic art of everyday speech. However, he has become important to the literary chronology. Williams's success in addressing his present with appropriate poetic quickness remains apparent, but it is also clear that the poem is a century old. Williams's sense of his own cultural deficit may be a constant, but even his yelling shows that he was keeping up with the latest manifestos from Europe. This Is Just to Say poem's simple vocabulary, narrative economy and realism, in the sense that Williams actually ate those plums and then scrawled those lines, make it suitable for eighth grade pedagogy. For him, art could not begin without the artist's attentive imbrication with the matters of everyday life. One of his short stories, Comedy Entombed furnishes an example.
And if your kids don’t study, that’s your fault. Tell ’em. Don’t kid yourself, and don’t lie.
“Il nemico è l'ignoranza”: Ezra Pound's daughter Mary de Rachewiltz once identified this terse proposition as her father's “slogan” in the years prior to World War II. It can no less reasonably be understood as a lifelong maxim, an ideal instance of the “gists and piths” (ABCR, 92) that motivated and moved the poet, and did so long before he formulated that memorable phrase. Pound's unwobbling belief that “not knowing” is the real enemy gestures with appropriate force and emphasis to the twin functions of “to educate,” from a verb suggesting both “to bring up” (educare) and “to lead out” (educere). That is to say, it invests education with an urgency that applies equally to the family and the polity, one which may be extended without distortion to an ethical responsibility for all serious artists (aliter: “the damned and despised litterati”) (LE, 21). During the 1920s Pound concluded that “[t]he aim of state education has been (historically) to prevent people from discovering that the classics are worth reading” (SPR, 213). In response, as he became increasingly remote from the centers of culture and higher learning, his pedagogical rhetoric became increasingly concerned with the idea that “the mental life of a nation is no man's private property. The function of the teaching profession is to maintain the health of the national mind” (LE, 58).