Great works: Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound (1914) by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

Poets are an odd to lot to characterise. No one quite knows what a poet is, not exactly. They can inspire reverence, awe, and even a touch of fear in the soul of the English teacher who does not exactly get on with – or even much understand (if the truth be known) – poetry. If you were introduced to a poet at a party, what would be your opening gambit? Is a poet a bit of a seer, a bit of a memorialiser of the race? Certainly was, in days gone by. Think of Homer. Think of Blake. Is he also perhaps a healer of sorts, a doctor of the soul? We are often inclined to reach for a poem at a funeral.

And what about the look of poets? Tennyson sported a tremendous, moons-of-Saturny, broad-brimmed hat, and when GF Watts, memorialiser of so many of the great Victorians, came to sculpt a full-length portrait of his old friend in the company of his faithful dog Sirius (the one that used to pull the cart containing the various brothers Tennyson around the Lincolnshire Wolds), that hat played a large part. The right hat sets off, adds mystery, gravitas. It also part-conceals. Alas, that great memorial to Tennyson now sits in a park in Lincoln, somewhat unloved.

And what of this strange portrait bust of the American poet Ezra Pound, who bounced into London, knowing no one, in 1909, yawping twenty to the dozen, and desperate to meet WB Yeats, the greatest living poet then writing in the English language? Pound soon made his mark, as poet and literary impresario.

There are so many versions of Ezra Pound. He wore so many different masks, in poetry as in life. We have on the one hand the austere magnificence of this Hieratic Head, sculpted in 1914 by a young French artist called Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. Pound was 29 years old when it was hand-carved from stone, but its look is timeless. Gaudier did about one hundred preparatory drawings for this bust, of which 10 survive. Some of them are hard, swift and geometrical. The one that turned up recently in a house in Shepherd's Bush was quite different. It had a yielding softness about it. It seemed to linger over its subject. It showed us a young man of a quite specific age.

Not so this portrait bust. In this bust, Pound could be young. He could also be old. Like a representation of some god, he is beyond the reach of all temporal considerations. That is probably what pleased him so much about it. And it pleased him a great deal. When he decamped to Italy in the 1920s, it eventually followed him to a garden in Rapallo. He loved to be in its company. As he warmed towards the idea of Mussolini, the bust's stark lineaments probably nodded sagely, in quiet approval of his growing hysteria.

In short, the bust gives solidity to his character. It makes him more and other than he ever was. It raises him to a higher level. It sets him apart from all the rest. It puts him on a level with the gods. It monumentalises and aggrandises the man, simplifying his features until they are nothing but brilliant, hard facets. It tricks him out for all eternity rather as the Emperor August was so tricked out on those Roman coins of his.

Essentially, Pound has become so much greater than himself in this Vorticist portrait bust. Pound said that he wanted the portrait to look "virile", and so it does – to a degree (from the back it looks rather like a limp penis). And yet there is much more to it than virility. It is also a carapace or helmet of sorts. It has a kind of brute, martial vigour. It marches. It is always on the front line, beating the hell out of its curvaceous Perspex shield. For poetry's sake.

About the artist: Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891-1915)

Henri Gaudier was the son of artisans from a small village near Orléans. His parents destined him for a life of commerce – but he thought differently. Art was his calling. After arriving in England in 1911, he struck up a curious, mother-and-child relationship with a Polish woman he met in a library called Zofia Zuzanna Brzeska. She was twice his age. She called him Pik, Pikus, Pipik; he called her maman, Madka, little Mamus. He tacked her surname onto the end of his. Thus was born the sculptor with the unpronounceable name. Pound tended to call him "Brzx" in his private correspondence. He was killed on the Western Front in 1915, at the age of 23.

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick