When I was researching Ezra Pound's poems for my song cycle Proença, I ran across his angry 1915 poem Et Faim Sallir les Loups des Boys:
Et Faim Sallir les Loups des Boys
I cling to the spar,
Washed with the cold salt ice
I cling to the spar -
Insidious modern waves, civilization, civilized hidden snares.
Cowardly editors threaten: "If I dare"
Say this or that, or speak my open mind,
Say that I hate my hates,
Say that I love my friends,
Say I believe in Lewis, spit out the later Rodin,
Say that Epstein can carve in stone,
That Brzeska can use the chisel,
Or Wadsworth paint;
Then they will have my guts;
They will cut down my wage, force me to sing their cant,
Uphold the press, and be before all a model of literary
Cowardly editors threaten,
Friends fall off at the pinch, the loveliest die.
That is the path of life, this is my forest.
For a former newspaper critic like myself, a poem that inveighs against cowardly editors not once but twice, and rants against the timidity of official taste, was too irresistible to pass up; I immediately knew I must set it to music, even if the sentiments took me outside my usual level of dissonance. Pound here champions some of his friends connected with the Vorticist movement: author and painter Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957); sculptor Jacob Epstein (1880-1959); artist and sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891-1915); and painter Edward Wadsworth (1889-1949). The title is part of a proverb from the Two Testaments of one of Pound's heroes, the poet/criminal François Villon (1431-1463): "Necessite fait gens mesprendre. Et faim saillir les loups des bois" - Necessity makes men make mistakes, and hunger brings the wolves out of the forest. The poem seems to describe the forest that hunger lured Pound into. I have inhabited it as well.
I dedicate this song to my good friend, Irish-born musicologist Bob Gilmore, in memoriam. I can't imagine anyone else who would have enjoyed the poem more, or so approved of my setting the word "Merde!" to music.
- Kyle Gann
Below: A 1913 Vorticist landscape by Pound's friend Edward Wadsworth (1889-1949):
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