The Proper and Perfect Symbol

Pound spends only a sentence discussing symbols in the Credo section of “A Few Dont’s,” but his direction that “if a man use ‘symbols’ he must use them so that their symbolic function does not obtrude” was something I spent a while thinking about, both in agreement with Pound in the necessity for symbols that function as well at face value as they do in representing something else, and in doubt of his “proper and perfect” solution to the obtruding function being the “natural object.” Letting a symbol’s representative function supersede its literal role in a poem is something that I myself am guilty of having done, so I think that Pound’s encouragement to balance the two is justified. A warning to avoid the reverse situation would have been equally valid too; not elaborating enough on a symbol to make clear that it is in fact representative of something can leave a poem with dead weight that never comes to mean anything.
Pound’s use of “the natural object” as the proper and perfect symbol” to solve to unmatched literal and symbolic functions, however, did not strike me as the catch-all solution he writes it as. The person who Pound describes, to whom “a hawk is a hawk,” probably does not exist. I understand that Pound means that symbols should function in the poem equally well for the experienced reader as they do for someone for whom the symbol is just an object with no connotations, but I don’t think it would be easy to find a person who carries no connotations with a natural object – chances are that any natural object that Pound could choose has the possibility of being misconstrued by someone whose personal experiences or enculturation give them a different understanding of that object. There is also the issue of Pound’s suggestion being on the vague side – what exactly is “the natural object?” I tend to think of natural objects as being the things you find in a forest, but Pound gives us no qualifiers, which makes locating the natural object difficult.

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