Poeta sovrano? Horizons of Homer in Twentieth-Century English-Language Poetry 
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and
We set up mast and sail on that swart ship,
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, and winds from sternward
Bore us out onward with bellying canvas,
Circe’s this craft, the trim-coifed goddess.
Only in the seventh line, as we draw near the end of this opening sentence, do we find confirmation of what we may have begun to suspect: this opening is a version of the Nekuia from the Odyssey. Arnold’s call for rapidity, plainness, and simplicity find their expression in Pound’s text; the run of clauses pile up, propel us forward, as the winds do the ships, and the epithetic adjectives grant these lines an old-fashioned quality while not impeding the lines’ momentum. The Nekuia breaks off with Tiresias’ prophecy that Odysseus’ will “‘Lose all companions.’ And then Anticlea came” (1.67; 5). Here Tiresias can offer no advice, no direction or roadmap; Pound’s Nekuia promises divagations but no “predetermined plan.”  Here the fragment breaks off, reinforcing the absence of a master narrative and the lack of direction. The narrator interrupts the Homeric reverie:
In officina Wecheli, 1538, out of Homer.
And he sailed, by Sirens and thence outward and away
And unto Circe.
Circe metamorphoses into Aphrodite, and the Canto ends with a Latin tag from the Hymn to Aphrodite. The “god” (divus, literally “divine”) commanded to lie quiet turns out to be Andreas Divus, author of a sixteenth-century Latin translation of Homer.  As Cookson observes, this rather simple over-layering foreshadows swift jump cuts in later cantos; here only four elements come into play—“Greek foretime translated via Renaissance Latin into a twentieth-century form of Anglo-Saxon heroic verse.”  Pound’s approximation of Anglo-Saxon English (both diction and meter) coupled with the Latin tag descriptive of Aphrodite mark the first of many metamorphoses in the Cantos; even this translation of Divus’ Homer is a metamorphosis. The Nekuia is re-written: excerpted, condensed, and altered to new poetic ends.
The textual artifact of the Cantos records a collision of voices, at times a swirling eddy of voices inside the mind of Ezra Pound; all of these voices are captured on the page in language aiming to reproduce their melody and rhythm.  In this sense we can say that Pound has learned his lesson well from those half-pages of Homer. At the same time, and in an effort to expand upon the work of George Steiner, we can say that Canto I is more than a translation at two or three removes from Homer’s Greek; Pound begins the Cantos by performing Homer. The orality and musicality of Canto I (so manifest in recordings of Pound’s own, incantatory, readings of it) intersect with the scholarly study of performance in Homeric poetry.  Much as the Homeric Nekuia which it translates, Pound’s Canto I gives the dead a fresh voice; this invocation simultaneously re-animates the dead Greek heroes, the Homeric bard, and Anglo-Saxon bards—while translating them into a modern English approximation of Old English verse. Just as quickly as Pound “picks up” Homer, he “puts down” the page torn from his translation of Divus’ Latin translation of Homeric poetry.
“Eleanor, ἑλέναυc and ἑλέπτολιc!”
And poor old Homer blind, blind, as a bat,
Ear, ear for the sea-surge, murmur of old men’s voices: ….
The old men proceed to voice sentiments cobbled from Iliad III 155–160, where the Trojan elders voice the wisdom of Helen returning “among Grecian faces.” In the passage quoted, Eleanor of Aquitaine merges with Helen of Troy, the connection introduced by the epithet elenaos, homophonous with Eleanor. By invocation and accretion, we face a more complex over-layering: Eleanor, Helen, Browning, Aeschylus, Homer, and through it all the narrative voice of Ezra Pound.  Homer and Helen, poet and character, are both present as primordial archetypes. The topos of Homer “blind, as a bat,” recalls, in the manner of a fugue, the blind seer Tiresias in the first Canto; literal blindness, in both instances, brings insight—into Odysseus’ homecoming for Tiresias, into the wiles of the beautiful Helen (and Eleanor) for Homer. This over-layering returns, fugue-like, in the seventh canto, which begins:
Ἕλανδροc and Ἐλέπτολιc, and
poor old Homer blind,
blind as a bat,
Ear, ear for the sea-surge;
rattle of old men’s voices.
And then the phantom Rome, ….
The seventh canto recalls as it varies the second canto; spanning Homer to Pound’s early twentieth century, it traces the passion of love and poetry’s memorial power.  Blind Homer cedes to phantom Rome: omnipresent shades and antecedents. Homer’s proverbial blindness also finds its counterpart in the exquisite music; the references to “beach-groove” and “sea-surge” quoted demonstrate the rhythmic and melodic qualities Pound borrows from Homeric epic. Here Pound’s melodic invention is manifest in the echoing sea, not unlike the Homeric “the turn of the wave and the scutter of receding pebbles.”  Homer becomes now the primordial source of poetic music, of melopoeia. In the second canto, the music remains but the figure of Homer recedes; the narrator passes from Scios to Naxos, from Homer to Dionysus’ metamorphosis of sailors into fishes.  In the seventh canto, Homer remains in the background, the first among a long line of poets to withstand the ravages of devouring time.
of Englishmen and Americans
in Tacitus and in Homer, 3 orders, in Greece as in Germany
and mankind dare not yet think upon
Homer stands at the head of a continuum of political systems; three orders (or, we might say, classes) represented in Homeric society, in Tacitus’ take on ancient Rome, and in 1930’s Germany.  Second, we find Homer mentioned in Canto 80, at the beginning of a new stanza:
who followed the greek armies to Troas
so in Holland Park they rolled out to beat up Mr Leber
(restaurantier) to Monsieur Dulac’s disgust
and a navvy rolls up to me in Church St. (Kensington End) with:
Here a medical doctor, a restaurateur, and a poet/artist rub shoulders, conflating banausic and noble occupations.  The context of this passage portrays Homer as an outsider, like Mr. Leber, Dulac (addressed with the French title Monsieur), and finally Pound himself, accosted in London as being a German or “szum kind ov a furriner” (80.361; 517). Lastly, Homer is named in Canto 94 when Pound quotes a tag in Greek:
as Homer says:
not merely set stone
πράττειν ἕκαcτον … οἵ τι δύναται
ἐπὶ τὴν ναῦν ἑcπέραc ᾔδη
embarking at sunset.
Over-layering Homer and Philostratus’ Apollonius of Tyana, Pound introduces Greek phrases from the latter while attributing them to the former.  The “many shapes” of Homer and of Philostratus refers to words of Apollonius to the Smyrnaeans regarding the many and wondrous shapes of the Homeric Zeus.  The canto proceeds with “I, Philostratus” performing a Nekuia “on the mound of Achilles,” but this time “‘It was not by ditch-digging and sheep’s-guts’” (94.140–145; 652). Fittingly this second Nekuia is the last reference to Homer in the Cantos.  These last three references to Homer all portray the bard as a source of wisdom—political, medical, or theological. Not unlike Plato’s Ion, Pound’s Homer is here a revered font of technical knowledge, frequently invoked because of his archaic or foundational status.
Jauss opposes readings which find in a literary work some timeless and unchanging essence—an idea oft promulgated by the construction of literary canons or discourses of classicism. Thus I find an idea such as Werner Jaeger’s notion that Homer was the Bible of the Greeks to be of limited value; even theological understandings change over time.  As we saw at the beginning of this paper, ancient Greeks contested the values and meanings inhering in the figure of Homer and of Homeric poetry; we find similar contests staged in twentieth-century poetry. By bracketing off English-language poetry of the twentieth century we can situate Pound’s Cantos in its historical perspective. Unlike Jauss’s study of such scandalous works as Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal or Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, we cannot limit Pound to one year; sixty-odd years of poetry are synchronous with Pound’s Cantos. Thus, in what follows I will be arguing for a synchronicity of a century’s duration. I make no claims that each of the poets referred to in the balance of this paper knew or read Pound’s Cantos; this is then not so much an argument about direct literary affiliation as it is about the larger cultural reception of Homer in a span of time which overlaps, in part, and succeeds, in part, Pound’s own reception of Homer. Since the scope of twentieth-century English-language poetry is vast, thanks to the global spread of English and the proliferation of the printed word, in what follows I have relied upon a computerized search; while the full-text database “Literature Online” aims to be comprehensive, I make no claims for its being exhaustive. Searching this database for poems containing the word “Homer” published between 1900 and 2000 by poets living during that same period returns 419 entries and 543 hits.  The examples cited below, drawn from these results, I take to be indicative of this corpus of poetry.
- all of ancient Greece (where Homer stands in metonymically for the culture which produced him and his poetry);
- the beginnings of poetry (and, at times, civilization);
- the poetry of war (both its humanity and its inhumanity), especially the Iliad;
- the poetry of journeys, such as Odysseus’ in the Odyssey;
- a poetic genius, acknowledged master of the craft and the mark against which all subsequent poetry is measured (especially the musical use of language);
- an epic poet; &
- a traditional poet, employing rhythm and meter as opposed to free verse.
poet who last night remarked
how much the natives recollect their wars
beside the birthplace of the ancient
memory he came to paste
onto his suitcase between Rome
and Istanbul, Berlin, New York, a gaggle of invaders
around the nameless, dusty, unmarked shore
young Homer roamed.
The larger context of this poem recalls the Iliad, even as this specific passage of voyages recalls the Odyssey. By choosing Homer rather than a poet such as Cavafy, Broumas reduces modern Greece (indeed, all of post-classical Greece) to ancient Greece; the opening reference to Xerxes reinforces this metonymic reduction, and it is only some nine lines after those quoted that we find ourselves in twentieth-century Greece under German occupation—“The fabled / light of Athens shone / on the protruding bone” of a boy’s arm “cracked” by two Germans.  Broumas invokes Homer here, a poet who is no longer the icon of any single literary tradition (an apt choice in light of Broumas’s theme of massacres). A simpler, yet similar, invocation occurs at the beginning of the century, in Edward William Thomson’s “The Many-Mansioned House” (1909): “Ere Homer sang from shore to shore.” In a survey of the progress of world civilization, Homer stands in for all of Greece.  As a second example, consider “The Lyre Degenerate,” published in 1903 by the Canadian poet Wilfred Campbell, which opens: “Vanished the golden Homer, / Vanished the great god Pan, / Vanished the mighty mind of Greece, / The ancient visions of man.”  Homer is equated with the “mighty mind of Greece” in Campbell’s melancholic nostalgia for lost songs of greatness, and signifies all of ancient Greek literature—a lost “golden age” of poetry which Campbell, in this plea to be wakened “unto my highest, my best, / Or waken me not at all” (to quote the poem’s concluding verses), seeks to regain. While Campbell bemoans the lowered state of poetry, he evidently considers himself on a par with the great classics named in “The Lyre Degenerate,” a worthy heir and successor to the ancient Greece for which Homer stands (among other luminaries). As a third example, I offer Hugh MacDiarmid’s “England is Our Enemy,” which bookends:
From Homer to the Brothers Grimm,
From Flaubert back to Apuleius,
From Catullus to Turgenev,
All these form the glories of Europe,
Their works going together to make one whole, …. 
Homer represents ancient Greece as well as epic poetry; the pairing with the Brothers Grimm also creates a genealogy of folklore, of which Homer is the precursor. In these examples we see how the poet Homer comes to stand in for the poetic tradition and the culture which produced it.
‘Twas piracy, I swear,
Arctinus or great Homer’s self
Dreamed of your beauty rare.
Already you were Sparta’s queen
And I the Phrygian boy,
When to our future fame he fired
And sang the fall of Troy.
He fabled surely. How should towers
Crash for a woman’s face,
Or to a hair-brained headstrong lad
Kingdoms their ruin trace?
With deep sad insight sure he sang,
Life sobs the echoed truth,
You beauty’s dear illusion were
And I was flaming youth. 
In an example of over-layering of antecedents similar to Pound, Ghose’s narrator addresses Eve and sees in Homer’s Helen an incarnation of “immortal Eve,” and in himself “great Homer’s self.” Homer is here a metonymic reference to the greatness of Greek epic poetry and the “future fame” which it preserves for the ancient Greek heroes, and also a paradigm of the fabulist; this is both a positive and a negative invocation, thanks to Ghose’s idea of immortality (hinted at in this passage) which views Homeric epic in slanting Christian light.  The negative view of Homer as the beginnings of poetry is often linked to a theory of progress and advance. One early expression of this idea is in the widely circulated Ars Poetica of Horace (358–359): et idem / indignor quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus ‘It saddens me that even Homer nods’.  The nodding of Homer, the tension between the poet’s greatness and his slips, has become its own topos; one recent example is from A. R. Ammons, Glare, a book-length apocalyptic poem which observes, “if Homer can nod, I can have / narcolepsy.”  While Homer’s nods are traditionally considered the human slips of a divine poet, so overlooked for that reason, Ammons turns this topos around and wills for forgetfulness in the face of the bleak visions which haunt Glare.
You we have known from of old,
Since boyhood stammering glorious Greek was entranced
In the tale that Homer told. …
ut now shall our boyhood learn to tell a new tale,
…Deeds of this our own day…. 
Homeric epic offers a way to conceive of the Great War, and grant nobility to the soldierly sacrifice. Moving to the latter part of the century, there is less nobility in Homer’s martial music. Ted Hughes, in “Criminal Ballad” from his 1971 collection Crow mentions Homeric war poetry as an indicator of a man’s learning, fading from him as he loses consciousness and dies: “An old man pulled from under the crush of metal / Gazed towards the nearby polished shoes / And slowly forgot the deaths in Homer.”  More recently, Alicia Ostriker writes in her 1989 “The Death Ghazals”: “Heroes lay with the ash-spears through their brains / And Homer sang of them, striking the harp.”  Homer’s military epic maintains the cycle of “the clean dead refresh[ing] the ground”; Ostriker indicts this cycle, which began so long ago and continues in contemporary wars conducted in the name of religion. Lastly, Jorie Graham in “Manifest Destiny” sets the scene of the poem’s second section in a “Peach Orchard, Shiloh Battlefield” where a man and a woman have sex while on the sidelines “For the first time since Homer … whispers his open book, / spine up to the light.”  As the century progresses, poets seem less inclined to view war nobly; Dunbar’s mighty Homer leads to Ostriker’s gruesome dead and Graham’s renunciation of the death of war for the joys of life.
idling with my thoughts
Reading an old poet
while the busy world
Toil’d moil’d fuss’d and scurried
worried bought and sold
Plotted stole and quarrel’d
fought and God knows what.
I had forgotten Homer
dallying with my thoughts
Till I fell to making
these little verses…. 
The Homeric epic of journeys inspires this transport from the idyllic world of the narrator’s garden. The idea of war forms part of the background to Bridges’s poem; the coming Second World War is similarly in the background to Lawrence Durrell’s “At Epidaurus.” Praise of the ancient world and lament over modern intrusions into such places as Epidaurus (“this world which is not our world”) ends:
With the long black rifles, to bring us answers.
Useless a morality for slaves: useless
The shouting at echoes to silence them.
Most useless inhabitants of the kind blue air,
Four ragged travellers in Homer.
All causes with the great Because. 
Here Homer inspires a literal journey; the mental transport is passage back to ancient times, although such imaginative travellers are useless in the predicament of modern Greece, as Durrell acknowledges. The ways in which Homer can stand for journeys is perhaps best crystalized in John Ingram’s “Streams” (1900), a two-sonnet sequence; the second opens: “Yes! all the noblest of the tuneful train / Lov’d running waters and have sung their praise. / Xanthus and Simois in old Homer’s lays / Still rush in whirling eddies to the main.”  Physical geography is placed on the cultural map by Homer’s art, and there it remains as long as the poems endure, invitations to a reader’s own journeys across time and space.
Through which the living Homer begged his bread.”
“Neglected genius!”—that is sad indeed,
But malice better would ignore than heed,
And Shepherd’s soul, we rightly may suspect,
Prayed often for the mercy of neglect…. 
Bierce’s poem is not alone in portraying Homer as the suffering genius; indeed the quoted “Neglected genius” is a commonplace response to the translated Greek epigram quoted before it, suggesting that Bierce is here being slyly ironic. Madison Julius Cawein praises Homer for his musicality, writing in his “In Middle Spring” a horticultural excursus on literary genres:
And the lyric it hides in its heart!
And, oh, for the epic the oak-tree knows,
Sonorous as Homer in art!
And it’s ho! for the prose of the weed that grows
Green-writing Earth’s commonest part! 
Homeric sonority is not limited to the resounding sea of which Pound is so fond; here it embraces the rustle of oak trees, and becomes an organic extension of the earth. The interface of nature and poetics resurfaces in “Summer Solstice”:
the length of the vowels alone determines the measure.
Once and once only a year nature knows quantity
stretched to the limit, as in Homer’s meter. 
The equation of Homer’s poetic genius with nature demonstrates how accepted and prevalent this idea is; the great antiquity of Homeric poetry may, in some circumstances, also link it to ideas of natural perfection.