late 14c., from Latin literatura / litteratura "learning, a writing, grammar," originally "writing formed with letters," from litera / littera "letter" (see letter ()). Originally "book learning" (it replaced Old English boccræft ), the meaning "literary production or work" is first attested 1779 in Johnson's "Lives of the English Poets" (he didn't include this definition in his dictionary, however); that of "body of writings from a period or people" is first recorded 1812. Great literature is simply language charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree. [Ezra Pound, "ABC of Reading"] Meaning "the whole of the writing on a particular subject" is from 1860; sense of "printed matter generally" is from 1895. The Latin word also is the source of Spanish literatura , Italian letteratura , German Literatur .
That same passion can be heard in the recording above, made thirty years later when Pound was visiting America for the first time in 28 years. It was recorded on May 17, 1939 in the Woodberry Poetry Room at Harvard University. For dramatic effect, Pound accompanied himself on a kettledrum. To read the words of "Sestina: Altaforte" as you listen to Pound's voice, click here to open the text in a new window . And to hear all of Pound's 1939 recordings you can visit the Woodberry Poetry Room's online listening booth or go to PennSound, where you can hear those recordings and many more by Pound .