Ezra Pound

(30 October 1885 – 1 November 1972 / Hailey / Idaho)

Ballad for Gloom


For God, our God is a gallant foe
That playeth behind the veil.

I have loved my God as a child at heart
That seeketh deep bosoms for rest,
I have loved my God as a maid to man—
But lo, this thing is best:

To love your God as a gallant foe that plays behind the veil;
To meet your God as the night winds meet beyond Arcturus' pale.

I have played with God for a woman,
I have staked with my God for truth,
I have lost to my God as a man, clear-eyed—
His dice be not of ruth.

For I am made as a naked blade,
But hear ye this thing in sooth:

Who loseth to God as man to man
Shall win at the turn of the game.
I have drawn my blade where the lightnings meet
But the ending is the same:
Who loseth to God as the sword blades lose
Shall win at the end of the game.

For God, our God is a gallant foe that playeth behind the veil.
Whom God deigns not to overthrow hath need of triple mail.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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  • Vidal Manners (1/15/2010 6:37:00 AM)

    a moderately clever invertive meditation on the judeo-christian god concept. the language was strongly outmoded even in its time. i don't care for it, at all. of course i may be contextually put off by the vain, rambling fascist fool pound turned out to be. (Report) Reply

  • Gary Witt (3/7/2007 11:28:00 PM)

    What attracts me to this poem is not just its use of language, or its lyricism, or its meter, but also the literal meaning presented. I find the philosophy of the poet/narrator intriguing.

    It was first published in 1908 (A Lume Spento) when Pound was about 23 years old; before he went to London, before he became associated with Yeats, and before he presented his three principles of Imagism: direct treatment of the thing, no superfluous word, and musical meter rather than mere cadence. It comes at a time when some critics see Pound and his work as being nostalgic for an earlier, better era. Perhaps even a mediaeval era. This certainly shows up in Pound’s use of archaic language here.

    Indeed the notion of a gallant foe is as archaic as the language Pound is using here. It seems to me the word gallant here encompasses more than just courage, it also includes courtly manner, chivalry, and honor. God is a foe that can be trusted to treat the vanquished justly and with honor. That trust, rooted in his gallantry, may serve as the foundation for faith. He may grant our prayers because he is gallant. He may deny them because he is our foe. Moreover, the notion of God as foe has the useful purpose of explaining misfortune and calamity. These are instances in which God the foe has vanquished someone. It may even go so far as to resolve the question of evil, i.e., why would a good and righteous God tolerate evil? Answer: there is no evil; there is only God as foe.

    In this context, I think the line “For I am made as the naked blade” carries with it a great deal of significance. People are forged, just as steel is forged; a difficult process involving intense heat, dramatic changes in temperature from hot to cold and back again, and a great deal of hammering. The process resembles a fight between the smith and the metal. The word “wrought” comes to mind. Worked.

    “Who loseth to God as the sword blades lose /Shall win at the end of the game.” The one who loses becomes a blade. In addition, the person who is not forged in this manner (i.e., whom God deigns not to overthrow) is in for a real fight later on; one that will require triple mail for protection.

    We are also called upon “To love…God as a gallant foe…” Well, how does one “love” a foe? Perhaps this is a reference to Jesus’ admonition to love thy enemy as thyself. But I think an alternative reading would put this in the same context as the other uses of archaic language in the poem. A love for a gallant foe seems to imply several things: respect, honor, and a kind of attachment certainly. But also I think it entails a duty to fight, or an obligation not necessarily to accept God’s will but certainly to accept his chivalric code (which is different from the Ten Commandments, and different from Jesus’ admonition to love thy enemy or thy neighbor as thyself) . The chivalrous knight did not shirk the good fight out of chivalry or politeness. Pound seems to be saying first that we need to fight in order to grow, and second that it doesn’t matter how much we struggle against God, his will prevails (a notion which certainly makes sense) . More importantly, we can rely upon his gallantry (or grace) for whatever forgiveness may be necessary when the fight is over. The steel doesn’t cooperate with the smith so much as it is literally bent by the smith’s will. The metal has specific molecular properties that make it both malleable and resistant. And as he polishes the finished blade, the smith doesn’t curse the metal for having those properties. He doesn’t throw it away for being difficult. Indeed, what forgiveness is necessary between the smith and the finished blade?

    Perhaps we are not here in this vale of tears so much to test our mettle (even on the basis of pass-fail) , as to forge our metal.

    BTW, I think the veil that God is playing behind is our own ignorance. (Report) Reply

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