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Ezra Weston Loomis Pound (30 October 1885 – 1 November 1972) was an expatriate American poet and critic, a major figure in the early modernist poetry movement, and a fascist collaborator in Italy during World War II. His works include Ripostes (1912), Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920), and the c. 23,000-line, 800-page epic poem The Cantos (1917–1968).[a]
Pound's contribution to poetry began with his role in developing Imagism, a movement derived from classical Chinese and Japanese poetry, stressing precision and economy of language. Working in London in the early 20th century as foreign editor of several American literary magazines, he helped discover and shape the work of contemporaries such as T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Robert Frost, and Ernest Hemingway. He was responsible for the 1914 serialization of Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the 1915 publication of Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", and the serialization from 1918 of Joyce's Ulysses. Hemingway wrote in 1932 that, if you were a poet born in the late 19th or early 20th century, not being influenced by Pound would be like passing through a great blizzard and not feeling its cold.[b]
Angered by the carnage of World War I, Pound blamed the war on finance capitalism, which he called "usury". He moved to Italy in 1924 and through the 1930s and 1940s promoted an economic theory known as social credit, wrote for publications owned by the British fascist Sir Oswald Mosley, embraced Benito Mussolini's fascism, and expressed support for Adolf Hitler. During World War II and the Holocaust in Italy, he made hundreds of antisemitic, paid radio broadcasts for the Italian government, including in German-occupied Italy, attacking the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt and, above all, Jews, as a result of which he was arrested in 1945 by American forces in Italy on charges of treason. He spent months in a U.S. military camp in Pisa, including three weeks in a 6-by-6-foot (1.8 by 1.8 m) outdoor steel cage. Deemed unfit to stand trial, he was incarcerated in St. Elizabeths psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C., for over 12 years.
While in custody in Italy, Pound began work on sections of The Cantos that were published as The Pisan Cantos (1948), for which he was awarded the Bollingen Prize for Poetry in 1949 by the Library of Congress, causing enormous controversy. After a campaign by his fellow writers, he was released from St. Elizabeths in 1958 and lived in Italy until his death in 1972. His political views have ensured that his life and work remain controversial.
Early life (1885–1908)
Background and early education
Pound was born in a small, two-story house in Hailey, Idaho Territory, the only child of Homer Loomis Pound (1858–1942) and Isabel Weston (1860–1948). His father had worked in Hailey since 1883 as registrar of the General Land Office. Both parents' ancestors had emigrated from England in the 17th century. On his mother's side, Pound was descended from William Wadsworth, a Puritan who emigrated to Boston on the Lion in 1632. Captain Joseph Wadsworth helped to write the Connecticut constitution. The Wadsworths married into the Westons of New York; Harding Weston and Mary Parker were Pound's maternal grandparents. After serving in the military, Harding remained unemployed, so his brother Ezra and Ezra's wife, Frances Weston (Aunt Frank), looked after his wife and daughter (Pound's mother).
On Pound's father's side, the immigrant ancestor was John Pound, a Quaker who arrived from England around 1650. Ezra's paternal grandmother was Angevine Loomis. His grandfather, Thaddeus Coleman Pound, was a Republican Congressman from Wisconsin and the 10th Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin, who made and lost a fortune in the lumber business. Their son Homer, Pound's father, worked for Thaddeus in the lumber business until Thaddeus secured him the appointment as registrar of the Hailey land office. Homer and Isabel married the following year, in 1884.
Isabel Pound was unhappy in Hailey and took Ezra with her to New York in 1887 when he was 18 months old. Her husband followed them, and in 1889 he found a job as an assayer at the Philadelphia Mint. The family moved to Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, and in 1893 bought a six-bedroom house at 166 Fernbrook Avenue, Wyncote. Pound's education began in dame schools: Miss Elliott's school in Jenkintown in 1892 and the Heathcock family's Chelten Hills School in Wyncote in 1893. Known as "Ra Pound" (pronounced "Ray"), he attended Wyncote Public School from September 1894. His first publication was on 7 November 1896 in the Jenkintown Times-Chronicle ("by E. L. Pound, Wyncote, aged 11 years"), a limerick about William Jennings Bryan, who had just lost the 1896 presidential election.[c]
In 1897, aged 12, he transferred to Cheltenham Military Academy (CMA), where he wore an American Civil War-style uniform and was taught drilling and how to shoot. The following year he made his first trip overseas, a three-month tour with his mother and Aunt Frank, who took him to England, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, and Morocco. He attended CMA until 1900, at times as a boarder, but it seems he did not graduate. He may have attended Cheltenham Township High School for the year 1900–1901.
In 1901 Pound was admitted, aged 15, to the University of Pennsylvania's College of Liberal Arts. His one distinction in his first year was in geometry, but otherwise his grades were mostly poor, including in his major, Latin; he achieved a B in English composition and a pass in English literature. In his second year he switched from the degree course to "non-degree special student status"; he wrote years later that he did this "to avoid irrelevant subjects".[d] When he was 16, he fell in love with the 15-year-old Hilda Doolittle (later known as the poet H.D.), then at Bryn Mawr College. He hand-bound 25 poems he had written for her, titled Hilda's Book, and in 1908 he asked her father, the astronomy professor Charles Doolittle, for her hand in marriage, but the professor dismissed him as "nothing but a nomad". Pound was seeing two other women at the time—Viola Baxter and Mary Moore—and dedicated a book of poetry, Personae (1909), to Moore.[e] He asked her to marry him too, but she turned him down.
His parents and Aunt Frank took him on another three-month European tour in 1902. The following year he transferred to Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, possibly because of his grades. Signed up for the Latin–Scientific course, he appears to have avoided some classes; his transcript is short of credits. He studied the Provençal dialect and read Dante and Anglo-Saxon poetry, including Beowulf and The Seafarer. After graduating with a PhB in 1905, he was awarded an MA in Romance languages in 1906 at the University of Pennsylvania and registered to write a PhD thesis on the jesters in Lope de Vega's plays. A two-year Harrison fellowship covered his tuition fees and gave him a travel grant of $500, which he used to return to Europe.
He spent three weeks in Madrid in various libraries, including in the royal palace; he was outside the palace on 31 May 1906 during the wedding and attempted assassination of King Alfonso, and he left the city for fear of being identified with the anarchists. After Spain he spent time in Paris and London, returning to the United States in July 1906, where in September his first essay, "Raphaelite Latin", was published in Book News Monthly. He took courses in English at Penn in 1907, where he fell out with just about everyone, including the department head, Felix Schelling, with silly remarks during lectures and by winding an enormous tin watch very slowly while Schelling spoke. In the spring of 1907 he learned that his fellowship would not be renewed. Schelling told him he was wasting everyone's time, and he left without finishing his doctorate.
From September 1907 Pound taught French and Spanish at Wabash College, a Presbyterian college with 345 students in Crawfordsville, Indiana, which he called "the sixth circle of hell". He was dismissed after a few months. Smoking was forbidden, but he would smoke cigarillos in his room in the same corridor as the president's office. He annoyed his landlords by entertaining friends and was asked to leave the college in January 1908 after his landladies, Ida and Belle Hall, found a woman in his room. Shocked at having been fired, he left for Europe soon after, sailing from New York in March.
A Lume Spento
Pound arrived in Gibraltar on 23 March 1908, where he earned $15 a day working as a guide for an American family there and in Spain. After stops in Seville, Grenada, and Genoa, by the end of April he was in Venice, living over a bakery near the San Vio bridge. He considered abandoning his efforts to write poetry: "by the soap-smooth stone posts where San Vio / meets with il Canal Grande / between Salviati and the house that was of Don Carlos / shd/I chuck the lot into the tide-water? / le bozze "A Lume Spento"/ / and by the column of Todero / shd/I shift to the other side / or wait 24 hours ..."
He decided instead to self-publish his first collection, the 72-page A Lume Spento ("With Tapers Quenched"), 150 copies of which were printed in July 1908. The title is from the third canto of Dante's Purgatorio, alluding to the death of Manfred, King of Sicily. Pound dedicated the book, which contained 44 poems, to the Philadelphia artist William Brooke Smith, a friend from university who had recently died of tuberculosis.
Move to London
In August 1908 Pound moved to London, carrying 60 copies of A Lume Spento. English poets such as Maurice Hewlett, Rudyard Kipling, and Alfred Tennyson had made a particular kind of Victorian verse—stirring, pompous, and propagandistic—popular. According to modernist scholar James Knapp, Pound rejected the idea of poetry as "versified moral essay"; he wanted to focus on the individual experience, the concrete rather than the abstract.
Pound at first stayed in a boarding house at 8 Duchess Street, near the British Museum Reading Room; he had met the landlady during his travels in Europe in 1906. He soon moved to Islington (12s 6d a week board and lodging), but his father sent him ₤4 and he was able to move back into central London, to 48 Langham Street, near Great Titchfield Street. The house sat across an alley from the Yorkshire Grey pub, which made an appearance in the Pisan Cantos, "concerning the landlady's doings / with a lodger unnamed / az waz near Gt Ti[t]chfield St. next door to the pub".
Pound persuaded the bookseller Elkin Mathews on Vigo Street to display A Lume Spento, and in an unsigned article on 26 November 1908, Pound reviewed it himself in the Evening Standard: "The unseizable magic of poetry is in this queer paper book; and words are no good in describing it." The following month he self-published a second collection, A Quinzaine for this Yule. It was his first book to have commercial success, and Elkin Matthews had another 100 copies printed. In January and February 1909, after the death of John Churton Collins left a vacancy, Pound lectured for an hour a week in the evenings on "The Development of Literature in Southern Europe" at the Regent Street Polytechnic. Mornings might be spent in the British Museum Reading Room, followed by lunch at the Vienna Café on Oxford Street. Ford Madox Ford described Pound as "approach[ing] with the step of a dancer, making passes with a cane at an imaginary opponent":
He would wear trousers made of green billiard cloth, a pink coat, a blue shirt, a tie hand-painted by a Japanese friend, an immense sombrero, a flaming beard cut to a point, and a single, large blue earring."
Meeting Dorothy Shakespear, Personae
At a literary salon in 1909, Pound met the novelist Olivia Shakespear and was introduced to her daughter Dorothy Shakespear, who became Pound's wife in 1914. "Listen to it—Ezra! Ezra! And a third time—Ezra!", Dorothy wrote in her diary on 16 February 1909. The critic Iris Barry described her as "carrying herself delicately with the air, always, of a young Victorian lady out skating, and a profile as clear and lovely as that of a porcelain Kuan-yin".
Through the Shakespears, Pound was introduced to the poet W. B. Yeats, Olivia Shakespear's former lover. Pound had already sent Yeats a copy of A Lume Spento, and Yeats had apparently found it "charming". Pound met the cream of London's literary circle, including George Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc, Ernest Rhys, T. E. Hulme, and F. S. Flint. He wrote to William Carlos Williams on 3 February 1909: "Am by way of falling into the crowd that does things here. London, deah old Lundon, is the place for poesy."
According to the poet Richard Aldington, "London was interested and amused by Ezra". The newspapers interviewed him, and he was mentioned in Punch magazine, which on 23 June 1909 described "Mr. Ezekiel Ton" as "the most remarkable thing in poetry since Robert Browning ... [He blends] the imagery of the unfettered West, the vocabulary of Wardour Street, and the sinister abandon of Borgiac Italy."
In April 1909 Elkin Mathews published Personae of Ezra Pound (half the poems were from A Lume Spento) and in September a further 27 poems as Exultations of Ezra Pound. Edward Thomas described Personae in English Review as "full of human passion and natural magic". Rupert Brooke was unimpressed, complaining that Pound had fallen under the influence of Walt Whitman, writing in "unmetrical sprawling lengths that, in his hands, have nothing to commend them".
In or around September, Pound moved into new rooms at Church Walk, off Kensington High Street, where he lived most of the time until 1914. He visited a friend, Walter Rummel, in Paris in March 1910 and was introduced to the American heiress and pianist Margaret Lanier Cravens. Although they had only just met, she offered to become a patron to the tune of $1,000 a year, and from then until her death in 1912 she apparently sent him money regularly.
The Spirit of Romance, Patria Mia, Canzoni
In June 1910 Pound returned for eight months to the United States; his arrival coincided with the publication in London of his first book of literary criticism, The Spirit of Romance, based on his lecture notes from the polytechnic. Patria Mia, his essays on the United States, were written at this time. He loved New York but felt alienated by the commercialism and the newcomers from Eastern and Southern Europe who were displacing the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. He found the New York Public Library Main Branch, then being built, especially offensive and, according to Paul L. Montgomery, visited the architects' offices almost every day to shout at them. It was during this period that his antisemitism became apparent; he referred in Patria Mia to the "detestable qualities" of Jews. Pound persuaded his parents to finance his passage back to Europe, and on 22 February 1911 he sailed from New York on the R.M.S. Mauretania. It was nearly 30 years—April 1939—before he visited the U.S. again.
After spending three days in London he went to Paris, where he worked on a new collection of poetry, Canzoni (1911), panned by the Westminster Gazette as "affectation combined with pedantry". He wrote later that the "stilted language" of Canzoni had reduced Ford Madox Ford to rolling on the floor with laughter. When he returned to London in August, A. R. Orage, editor of the socialist (Fabian) journal the New Age, hired him to write a weekly column. Orage appears in The Cantos (Possum is T. S. Eliot): "but the lot of 'em, Yeats, Possum and Wyndham / had no ground beneath 'em. / Orage had." Pound contributed to the New Age from 30 November 1911 to 13 January 1921, attending editorial meetings in the basement of a grimy ABC tearoom in Chancery Lane. There and at other meetings he met Arnold Bennett, Cecil Chesterton, Beatrice Hastings, S. G. Hobson, T. E. Hulme, Katherine Mansfield, and H. G. Wells.
In the New Age office in 1918, Pound met C. H. Douglas, who was developing his economic theory of social credit, which Pound found attractive. It was within this environment, not in Italy, according to Tim Redman, that Pound first encountered antisemitic ideas about "usury". Christopher Hitchens wrote in 2008: "In Douglas's program, Pound had found his true muse: a blend of folkloric Celtic twilight with a paranoid hatred of the money economy and a dire suspicion about an ancient faith."
Imagism, Poetry magazine, Ripostes
Hilda Doolittle arrived in London from Philadelphia in May 1911 with the poet Frances Gregg and Gregg's mother; when they returned in September, Doolittle stayed on. Pound introduced her to his friends, including Richard Aldington, who became her husband in 1913. Before that, the three of them lived in Church Walk, Kensington—Pound at no. 10, Aldington at no. 8, and Doolittle at no. 6—and worked daily in the British Museum Reading Room.
At the British Museum Laurence Binyon introduced Pound to the East Asian artistic and literary concepts Pound used in his later poetry, including Japanese ukiyo-e prints. The visitors' book first shows Pound in the Prints and Drawings Students' Room (known as the Print Room) on 9 February 1909, and later in 1912 and 1913, with Dorothy Shakespear, examining Chinese and Japanese art. Pound was working at the time on the poems that became Ripostes (1912), trying to move away from his earlier work. "I hadn't in 1910 made a language," he wrote years later. "I don't mean a language to use, but even a language to think in."[g]
In August 1912 Harriet Monroe hired Pound (at his suggestion) as foreign correspondent of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, a new magazine in Chicago. The first edition, published in October, featured two of his own poems, "To Whistler, American" and "Middle Aged". Also that month Stephen Swift and Co. in London published Ripostes of Ezra Pound, a collection of 25 of his poems—including a contentious translation of the 8th-century Old English poem The Seafarer—that demonstrate his shift toward minimalist language.[h]
Ripostes contains a mention of Les Imagistes: "As for the future, Les Imagistes, the descendants of the forgotten school of 1909, have that in their keeping". According to Pound, while in the British Museum tearoom one afternoon, he, Aldington, and Doolittle founded a "movement" in poetry, Imagism.[i] He edited one of Doolittle's poems and wrote "H.D. Imagiste" underneath. They agreed, Pound wrote, on three principles:
1. Direct treatment of the "thing" whether subjective or objective.
2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.
Poetry published Pound's "A Few Don'ts by an Imagist" in March 1913. The aim was clarity. Superfluous words, particularly adjectives, should be avoided, as well as expressions like "dim lands of peace", which Pound thought dulled the image by mixing the abstract with the concrete. He wrote that the natural object was always the "adequate symbol". Poets should "go in fear of abstractions" and should not "retell in mediocre verse what has already been done in good prose".
An example of Imagist poetry is Pound's "In a Station of the Metro", published in Poetry in April 1913 and inspired by an experience on the Paris Underground. "I got out of a train at, I think, La Concorde," he wrote in "How I began" in T. P.'s Weekly on 6 June 1913, "and in the jostle I saw a beautiful face, and then, turning suddenly, another and another, and then a beautiful child's face, and then another beautiful face. All that day I tried to find words for what this made me feel. ... I could get nothing but spots of colour." A year later he reduced it to its essence in the style of a Japanese haiku.
James Joyce, marriage
In the summer of 1913 Pound became literary editor of The Egoist, a journal started by the suffragette Dora Marsden of the Women's Social and Political Union. At the suggestion of W. B. Yeats, Pound encouraged James Joyce in December that year to send a contribution to The Egoist or one of the other magazines Pound worked for. Yeats, whose eyesight was failing, had rented Stone Cottage in Coleman's Hatch, Sussex, the previous month, inviting Pound to accompany him as his secretary, and it was during this visit that Yeats had introduced Pound to Joyce's Chamber Music and his "I hear an Army Charging Upon the Land". (This was the first of three winters Pound and Yeats spent at Stone Cottage, including two with Dorothy after she and Ezra married in 1914.)
In his reply to Pound, Joyce gave permission to use "I hear an Army" and enclosed Dubliners and the first chapter of his novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Pound wrote to Joyce that the novel was "damn fine stuff". Harriet Shaw Weaver accepted it for The Egoist, which serialized it from 2 February 1914, despite the printers objecting to words like "fart" and "ballocks", and fearing prosecution over Stephen Dedalus's thoughts about prostitutes. On the basis of the serialization, the publisher that had rejected Dubliners reconsidered. Joyce wrote to Yeats: "I can never thank you enough for having brought me into relation with your friend Ezra Pound who is indeed a miracle worker."
Ezra and Dorothy were married on 18 April 1914 at the Shakespears' parish church in Kensingston, despite opposition from her parents, who worried about Ezra's income. At the time he was earning ₤200 a year; Dorothy's father, Henry Hope Shakespear, had Ezra prepare a statement of his financial position. Dorothy's annual income was £50, aided by £150 from her family. Her parents eventually consented, perhaps out of fear that no other suitor was in sight. Ezra's concession to marry in church helped convince them. Afterward he and Dorothy moved into an apartment with no bathroom at 5 Holland Place Chambers, Kensington, with the newly wed H.D. and Aldington living next door.
Des Imagistes, Blast, dispute with Amy Lowell
Around this time, Pound's articles in The New Age began to make him unpopular, to the alarm of Orage. Samuel Putnam knew Pound in Paris in the 1920s and described him as stubborn, contrary, cantankerous, bossy, touchy, and "devoid of humor"; he was "an American small-towner", in Putnam's view. His attitude got him into trouble in both London and Paris. English women, with their "preponderantly derivative" minds, were inferior to American women, he wrote in The New Age. The English sense of what was right was based on respect for property, not morality. "[P]erched on the rotten shell of a crumbling empire", London had lost its energy. England's best authors—Conrad, Hudson, James, and Yeats—were not English. English writers and critics were ignorant, he wrote in 1913.
The publication of Des Imagistes (1914), edited by Pound, "confirmed the importance" of Imagism, according to Ira Nadel. Compiled at Stone Cottage, it included ten poems by Richard Aldington and others by H. D., Pound, F. S. Flint, Skipwith Cannell, John Cournos, Ford Madox Ford, James Joyce ("I Hear an Army"), Amy Lowell, Allen Upward, and William Carlos Williams.
Shortly after Les Imagistes appeared, an advertisement in The Egoist for Wyndham Lewis's new literary magazine Blast (published only twice, in 1914 and 1915) promised it would cover "Cubism, Futurism, Imagisme and all Vital Forms of Modern Art". Pound extended Imagisme to art, naming it Vorticism: "The image is a radiant node or cluster ... a VORTEX, from which, and through which, and into which, ideas are constantly rushing." "All experience rushes into this vortex," he wrote in Blast in June 1914. "All the energized past, all the past that is living and worthy to live. All MOMENTUM, which is the past bearing upon us, RACE, RACE-MEMORY, instinct charging the PLACID, NON-ENERGIZED FUTURE." The Times announced Lewis's new Rebel Arts Centre for Vorticist art at 38 Great Ormond Street.
The publication of Blast was celebrated at a dinner in the summer of 1914 attended by New England poet Amy Lowell (who won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1926), then in London to meet the Imagists. But H.D. and Aldington were moving away from Pound's understanding of the movement, as he aligned himself with Lewis's ideas. Lowell agreed to finance an annual anthology of Imagist poets, but she insisted on democracy; according to Aldington, Lowell "proposed a Boston Tea Party for Ezra" and an end to his despotic rule. Upset at Lowell, Pound began to call Imagisme "Amygism", and in July 1914 he declared the movement dead and asked the group not to call themselves Imagists. They refused, not accepting that it was Pound's invention, and Lowell eventually Anglicized the term.
World War I, meeting Eliot, Cathay, translations
When war was declared in August 1914, opportunities for literary articles were immediately reduced; Aldington writes that poems were now expected to be patriotic. Pound earned ₤42 over the next year, apparently five times less than the year before.
On 22 September 1914 T. S. Eliot traveled from Merton College, Oxford, with an introduction from Conrad Aiken, to have Pound read Eliot's unpublished "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock". Pound wrote to Harriet Monroe, editor of Poetry, on 30 September to say that Eliot—who was at Oxford on a fellowship from Harvard—had "sent in the best poem I have yet had or seen from an American". He continued: "[Eliot] has actually trained himself and modernized himself on his own. The rest of the promising young have done one or the other but never both (most of the swine neither)." Monroe was apparently disappointed when she read Prufrock, but she published it anyway, in June 1915.
Pound's collection Cathay, published in April 1915, contains 25 examples of classical Chinese poetry translated into English by Pound based on the unpublished notes of Ernest Fenollosa, an American professor who had studied Chinese poetry under Japanese scholars. In 1913 his widow, Mary McNeill Fenollosa, had given her husband's unpublished notes to Pound after Laurence Binyon introduced them. Michael Alexander saw this as the most attractive of Pound's work. According to Chinese critic Wai-lim Yip, Pound was "able to get into the central consciousness of the original author by what we may perhaps call a kind of clairvoyance".
Pound's translations from Old English, Latin, Italian, French, and Chinese were highly disputed. According to Alexander, they made him more unpopular in some circles than the treason charge. Robert Graves wrote in 1955: "[Pound] knew little Latin, yet he translated Propertius; and less Greek, but he translated Alcaeus; and still less Anglo-Saxon, yet he translated The Seafarer. I once asked Arthur Waley how much Chinese Pound knew; Waley shook his head despondently." Steven Yao, scholar of American and Asian literature, sees Cathay as a "major feat"; a work where Pound shows that translation is possible without a thorough knowledge of the source language.[j]
Pound was devastated when Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, from whom he had commissioned a sculpture of himself two years earlier, was killed in the trenches in June 1915. In response, he published Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir (1916). Gaudier-Brzeska had written to Pound in April 1915 to tell him that he kept Cathay in his pocket "to put courage in my fellows".
Canto I, resignation from Poetry
After the publication of Cathay, Pound mentioned that he was working on a long poem; in September 1915 he described it as a "cryselephantine poem of immeasurable length which will occupy me for the next four decades unless it becomes a bore". In February 1916, when Pound was 30, the poet Carl Sandburg paid tribute to him in Poetry magazine. Pound "stains darkly and touches softly", he wrote:
All talk on modern poetry, by people who know, ends with dragging in Ezra Pound somewhere. He may be named only to be cursed as wanton and mocker, poseur, trifler and vagrant. Or he may be classed as filling a niche today like that of Keats in a preceding epoch. The point is, he will be mentioned. ...
In the cool and purple meantime, Pound goes ahead producing new poems having the slogan, "Guts and Efficiency," emblazoned above his daily program of work. His genius runs to various schools and styles. He acquires traits and then throws them away. One characteristic is that he has no characteristics. He is a new roamer of the beautiful, a new fetcher of wild shapes, in each new handful of writings offered us.
In June, July, and August 1917 Pound had the first three cantos published in Poetry. He was now a regular contributor to three literary magazines. From 1917 he wrote music reviews for The New Age as William Atheling and art reviews as B. H. Dias. In May 1917 Margaret Anderson hired him as foreign editor of the Little Review. He also wrote weekly pieces for The Egoist and the Little Review; many of the latter complained about provincialism, which included the ringing of church bells. (When Pound lived near St Mary Abbots church in Kensington, he had "engaged in a fierce, guerrilla warfare of letters" about the bells with the vicar, Reverend R. E. Pennefather, according to Richard Aldington.) The volume of writing exhausted him.
A suspicion arose in June 1918 that Pound himself had written an article in The Egoist praising his own work, and it was clear from the response that he had acquired enemies. The poet F. S. Flint told The Egoist's editor that "we are all tired of Mr. Pound". British literary circles were "tired of his antics" and of him "puffing and swelling himself and his friends", Flint wrote. "His work has deteriorated from book to book; his manners have become more and more offensive; and we wish he would go back to America."
In the autumn of 1917 Pound grew more depressed. The October issue of the Little Review was seized when the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice applied the Comstock Laws to an article Wyndham Lewis had written, describing it as lewd and indecent. Around the same time, T. E. Hulme was killed by shell-fire in Flanders, and Yeats married Georgie Hyde-Lees. In 1918, after a bout of illness which was presumably the Spanish flu, Pound decided to stop writing for the Little Review; he had asked the publisher for a raise to hire a typist, the 23-year-old Iseult Gonne, causing rumors that they were having an affair, but he was turned down.
The March 1919 issue of Poetry published Pound's Poems from the Propertius Series, which appeared to be a translation of the Latin poet Sextus Propertius. In his next poetry collection in 1921, he renamed it Homage to Sextus Propertius in response to the criticism. Harriet Monroe, editor of Poetry, published a letter in April 1919 from a professor of Latin, W. G. Hale, who found "about three-score errors" in the text; he said Pound was "incredibly ignorant of Latin", that "much of what he makes his author say is unintelligible", and that "If Mr. Pound were a professor of Latin, there would be nothing left for him but suicide" (adding "I do not counsel this"). Pound replied to Monroe: "Cat-piss and porcupines!! The thing is no more a translation than my 'Altaforte' is a translation, or than Fitzgerald's Omar is a translation." His letter ended "In final commiseration". Monroe interpreted his silence after that as his resignation from Poetry magazine.
Hugh Selwyn Mauberley
By 1919 Pound felt there was no reason to stay in England. He had become "violently hostile" to England, according to Richard Aldington, feeling he was being "frozen out of everything" except The New Age, and concluding that the British were insensitive to "mental agility in any and every form". He had "muffed his changes of becoming literary director of London—to which he undoubtedly aspired," Aldington wrote in 1941, "by his own enormous conceit, folly, and bad manners."
Published by John Rodker's The Ovid Press in June 1920, Pound's poem Hugh Selwyn Mauberley marked his farewell to London, and by December the Pounds were subletting their apartment and preparing to move to France. Consisting of 18 short parts, Mauberley describes a poet whose life has become sterile and meaningless. It begins with a satirical analysis of the London literary scene before turning to social criticism, economics, and the war. Here the word usury first appears in his work. Just as Eliot denied he was Prufrock, Pound denied he was Mauberley. The critic F. R. Leavis, then director of studies in English at Downing College, Cambridge, wrote in 1932 that Mauberley is "great poetry, at once traditional and original. Mr. Pound's standing as a poet rests on it, and rests securely."
On 13 January 1921 Orage wrote in The New Age: "Mr. Pound has shaken the dust of London from his feet with not too emphatic a gesture of disgust, but, at least, without gratitude to this country. ... [He] has been an exhilarating influence for culture in England; he has left his mark upon more than one of the arts, upon literature, music, poetry and sculpture; and quite a number of men and movements owe their initiation to his self-sacrificing stimulus ..."
With all this, however, Mr. Pound, like so many others who have striven for advancement of intelligence and culture in England, has made more enemies than friends, and far more powerful enemies than friends. Much of the Press has been deliberately closed by cabal to him; his books have for some time been ignored or written down; and he himself has been compelled to live on much less than would support a navvy. His fate, as I have said, is not unusual ... Taken by and large, England hates men of culture until they are dead.[k]
Meeting Hemingway, editing The Waste Land
The Pounds settled in Paris around April 1921 and in December moved to an inexpensive ground-floor apartment at 70 bis Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs. Pound became friendly with Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger, Tristan Tzara, and others of the Dada and Surrealist movements, as well as Basil Bunting. He was introduced to Gertude Stein, who lived in Paris. She wrote years later that she liked him but did not find him amusing; he was "a village explainer, excellent if you were a village, but if you were not, not".
Ernest Hemingway, then aged 22, moved to Paris in December 1921 with his wife, Hadley Richardson, and letters of introduction from Sherwood Anderson. In February 1922 the Hemingways visited the Pounds for tea. Although Pound was 14 years older, the men became friends, living on the same street for a time and touring Italy together in 1923. Hemingway assumed the status of pupil and asked Pound to blue-ink his short stories. Pound introduced Hemingway to his contacts, including Lewis, Ford, John Peale Bishop, Malcolm Cowley, and Derek Patmore, while Hemingway tried to teach Pound to box.
Unlike Hemingway, Pound was not a drinker and preferred to spend time in salons or building furniture for his apartment and bookshelves for Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare and Company bookstore. In 1921 Pound's collection Poems 1918–1921 was published. The following year Eliot sent him the manuscript of The Waste Land, then arrived in Paris to edit it with Pound, who blue-inked it with comments like "make up yr. mind ..." and "georgian", and reduced it by about half. Eliot wrote in 1946: "I should like to think that the manuscript, with the suppressed passages, had disappeared irrecoverably; yet, on the other hand, I should wish the blue pencilling on it to be preserved as irrefutable evidence of Pound's critical genius." Eliot's dedication in The Waste Land was "For Ezra Pound il miglior fabbro (the "better craftsman", from Canto 26 of Dante's Purgatorio).
Meeting Olga Rudge, restarting The Cantos
Pound was 36 when he met the 26-year-old American violinist Olga Rudge in Paris in the summer of 1922. They were introduced at a salon hosted by the American heiress Natalie Barney at her 300-year-old house at 20 Rue Jacob, near the Boulevard Saint-Germain. The two moved in different social circles: Rudge was the daughter of a wealthy Youngstown, Ohio, steel family, living in her mother's Parisian apartment on the Right Bank, socializing with aristocrats, while Pound's friends were mostly impoverished writers of the Left Bank.
In 1922 Pound abandoned most of his earlier drafts of The Cantos and began again. The first three cantos had been published in Poetry magazine in June, July, and August 1917. Belonging to the so-called "Ur-Cantos", these became "Canto I" of the new work. The "Malatesta Cantos (Cantos IX to XII of a Long Poem)" appeared in The Criterion in July 1923, and "Two Cantos" (Canto XIII and part of Canto XII) were published in The Transatlantic Review in January 1924. In January 1925 Mountain Press published A Draft of XVI Cantos for the Beginning of a Poem of Some Length.
Birth of the children
The Pounds were unhappy in Paris. Dorothy complained about the winters and Ezra's health was poor. At one dinner in the Place de l'Odéon, a Surrealist guest high on drugs had tried to stab Pound in the back; Robert McAlmon had wrestled with the attacker, and the guests had managed to leave before the police arrived. For Pound the event underlined that their time in France was over. They decided to move to a quieter place, leaving in October 1924 for the seaside town of Rapallo in northern Italy. Hemingway wrote in a letter that Pound had "indulged in a small nervous breakdown" during the packing, leading to two days at the American Hospital of Paris. During this period the Pounds lived on Dorothy's income, supplemented by dividends from stock she had invested in.
Pregnant by Pound, Olga Rudge followed the couple to Italy, and in July 1925 she gave birth to a daughter, Maria, in a hospital in Bressanone, Tyrol. Rudge and Pound placed the baby with a German-speaking peasant woman in Gais, South Tyrol, whose own child had died and who agreed to raise Maria for 200 lire a month. Pound reportedly believed that artists ought not to have children, because in his view motherhood ruined women. According to Hadley Richardson, he took her aside before she and Hemingway left Paris for Toronto to have their child, telling her: "Well, I might as well say goodbye to you here and now because [the baby] is going to change you completely."
At the end of December 1925 Dorothy went on holiday to Egypt, returning on 1 March, and in early June Ezra realized she was pregnant. That month they left Rapallo for Paris for the premiere of Le Testament de Villon without mentioning the pregnancy to Ezra's parents, although Dorothy's mother knew about it. They stayed on in Paris; Dorothy wanted the baby to be born at the American hospital. Hemingway drove her there for the birth of a son, Omar, on 10 September 1926. Ezra signed the birth certificate the following day at the town hall and wrote to his father, "next generation (male) arrived. Both D & it appear to be doing well."
Dorothy took Omar to England, where she stayed for a year and thereafter visited him every summer. He was sent to live at first in Felpham, Sussex, with a former superintendent of Norland College, which trains nannies, and later became a boarder at Charterhouse. During the summers, when Dorothy was in England, Ezra would spend the time with Olga, whose father helped her buy a house in Venice in 1928. The arrangement meant that the children were raised very differently. Maria (later known as Mary) had a single pair of shoes, and books about Jesus and the saints, while Omar was raised to be an English gentleman.
The Exile, Dial poetry award
In 1925 a new literary magazine, This Quarter, dedicated its first issue to Pound, including tributes from Hemingway and Joyce. In Hemingway's contribution, "Homage to Ezra", he wrote that Pound "devotes perhaps one fifth of his working time to writing poetry and in this twenty per cent of effort writes a large and distinguished share of the really great poetry that has been written by any American living or dead—or any Englishman living or dead or any Irishman who ever wrote English."
With the rest of his time he tries to advance the fortunes, both material and artistic, of his friends. He defends them when they are attacked, he gets them into magazines and out of jail. He loans them money. He sells their pictures. He arranges concerts for them. He writes articles about them. He introduces them to wealthy women. He gets publishers to take their books. He sits up all night with them when they claim to be dying and he witnesses their wills. He advances them hospital expenses and dissuades them from suicide. And in the end a few of them refrain from knifing him at the first opportunity.
Against this, Richard Aldington told Amy Lowell that year that Pound had been almost forgotten in England: "as the rest of us go up, he goes down", he wrote. Pound published Cantos XVII–XIX in the winter editions of This Quarter. In March 1927 he launched his own literary magazine, The Exile, but only four issues were published. It did well in the first year, with contributions from Hemingway, E. E. Cummings, Basil Bunting, Yeats, William Carlos Williams, and Robert McAlmon; some of the poorest work in the magazine consisted of Pound's rambling editorials on Confucianism or in praise of Lenin, according to biographer J. J. Wilhelm. He continued to work on Fenollosa's manuscripts, and won the 1927 Dial poetry award for his translation of the Confucian classic Great Learning (transliterated as Ta Hio). That year his parents, Homer and Isabel, visited him in Rapallo, seeing him for the first time since 1914. By then Homer had retired, so they decided to move to Rapallo themselves. They took a small house, Villa Raggio, on a hill above the town.
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Pound's antisemitism can be traced to at least 1910, when he wrote in Patria Mia, his essays for the New Age: "The Jew alone can retain his detestable qualities, despite climatic conditions." (The sentence was removed from the 1950 edition.) In 1922 he disliked that so many Jews were contributing to The Dial, and in the 1930s, according to Frances Steloff, he refused to enter her Gotham Book Mart in New York because she was Jewish, even though she had promoted his work. When he read his poetry at Harvard in 1939, he apparently included antisemitic poems in the program because he believed there were Jews in the audience.
A friend of Pound's, the writer Lina Caico, wrote to him in March 1937 asking him to use his musical contacts to help a German-Jewish pianist in Berlin who did not have enough money to live on because of the Nuremberg Laws. Normally willing to help fellow artists, Pound replied (at length): "You hit a nice sore spot ... Let her try Rothschild and some of the bastards who are murdering 10 million anglo saxons in England." He nevertheless denied being an antisemite; he said he liked Spinoza, Montaigne, and Alexander del Mar. "What I am driving at", he wrote to Jackson Mac Low, "is that some kike might manage to pin an antisem label on me IF he neglected the mass of my writing."
Pound came to believe that World War I had been caused by finance capitalism, which he called "usury", and that the Jews had been to blame. He believed the solution lay in C. H. Douglas's idea of social credit; he had met Douglas in the New Age offices in London in 1918. Pound began using a phrase, Leihkapital (loan capital), that appeared in Hitler's Mein Kampf (1926). This was first translated into English in full in 1939, but Pound's friend Wyndham Lewis had written a book, Hitler, published by Chatto and Windus in 1931, which contained translated fragments of Mein Kampf.[l] In addition to presenting his economic ideas and antisemitism in hundreds of articles and in The Cantos, Pound wrote over 1,000 letters a year throughout the 1930s. From 1932 he wrote 180 articles for The New English Weekly, a social-credit journal founded by A. R. Orage, and 60 for Il Mare, a Rapallo newspaper. He wrote to Bill Bird about a conspiracy theory that the press in Paris was controlled by the Comité des forges. He also came under the influence of Charles Maurras, who led a right-wing, antisemitic group in France, Action Française.
In December 1932 Pound requested a meeting with Benito Mussolini after being hired to work on a film script about Italian fascism. He had asked to see him before—Olga Rudge had played privately for Mussolini on 19 February 1927—but this time he was given an audience. They met on 30 January 1933 at the Palazzo Venezia in Rome, the day Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany.
When Pound handed Mussolini a copy of A Draft of XXX Cantos, Mussolini reportedly said of a passage Pound highlighted that it was not English. Pound said: "No, it's my idea of the way a continental Jew would speak English", to which Mussolini replied "How entertaining" (divertente). Pound recorded the meeting in Canto XLI: "'Ma questo' / said the Boss, 'è divertente.'" Pound also tried to discuss an 18-point draft of his economic theories. (Daniel Swift writes that this story has been "told and retold, and in each version, the details shift".)
Pound wrote to C. H. Douglas that he had "never met anyone who seemed to get my ideas so quickly as the boss". The meeting left him feeling that he had become a person of influence, Redman writes, not just a poet but someone who had been consulted by a head of state. When he returned to Rapallo, he was greeted at the station by the town band. Immediately after the meeting he began writing The ABC of Economics and Jefferson and/or Mussolini (1935), and had the latter ready by the end of February 1933, although he had trouble finding a publisher. In 1942 he told Italy's Royal Finance Office that he had written the book for propaganda purposes in Italy's interests. He also wrote articles praising Mussolini and fascism for T. S. Eliot's literary magazine The Criterion in July 1933, the New York World Telegram in November 1933, The Chicago Tribune on 9 April 1934, and 65 articles for the British-Italian Bulletin, published by the Italian Embassy in London.
World War II
Pound's antisemitism deepened with the introduction in Italy of the racial laws in 1938,[m] preceded by the publication in July that year of the Manifesto of Race. Numerous restrictions were introduced against Jews, who were required to register. Foreign Jews were stripped of their Italian citizenship, and on 18 September 1938 Mussolini declared Judaism "an irreconcilable enemy of fascism".
When Olivia Shakespear died in October 1938 in London, Dorothy asked Ezra to organize the funeral, where he saw their 12-year-old son, Omar, for the first time in eight years. He visited Eliot and Wyndham Lewis, who produced a now-famous portrait of Pound reclining. In April 1939 Pound sailed for New York, believing he could stop America's involvement in World War II, happy to answer reporters' questions about Mussolini while he lounged on the deck of the ship in a tweed jacket. In Washington, D.C. he met senators and congressmen but was disappointed by the response. He also had lunch with the Polish ambassador, warning him not to trust the English or Winston Churchill. In June he received an honorary doctorate from Hamilton College.
When war broke out in September 1939, Pound began a letter-writing campaign to the politicians he had petitioned six months earlier. To his American publisher James Laughlin, he wrote that "Roosevelt represents Jewry" and signed off with "Heil Hitler". He began calling Roosevelt "Jewsfeldt" or "Stinky Rooosenstein". In The Japan Times he wrote: "Democracy is now currently defined in Europe as a 'country run by Jews,'" and discussed the "essential fairness of Hitler's war aims". In Meridiano di Roma, he compared Hitler and Mussolini to Confucius. In Oswald Mosley's newspaper, Action, he wrote that the English were "a slave race governed by the House of Rothschild since Waterloo". By May 1940, according to the historian Matthew Feldman, the British government regarded Pound as "a principal supplier of information to the BUF [British Union of Fascists] from abroad".
Between 23 January 1941 and 28 March 1945, Pound recorded or composed hundreds of broadcasts for Italian radio, mostly for EIAR (Radio Rome) and later for a radio station in the Salò Republic, the Nazi puppet state in northern and central Italy. Broadcast in English, and sometimes in Italian, German, and French, the EIAR program was transmitted to England, central Europe, and the United States.
According to Feldman, the Pound archives at Yale contain receipts for 195 payments from the Italian Ministry of Popular Culture from 22 April 1941 to 26 January 1944. Over 33 months, Pound received 250,000 lire (then equivalent to $12,500; $185,000 as of 2013). Styling himself "Dr Ezra Pound" (his only doctorate was the honorary one from Hamilton College), he attacked the United States, Roosevelt, Roosevelt's family, Churchill, and the Jews. He praised Hitler, recommended eugenics to "conserve the best of the race", and referred to Jews as "filth". The broadcasts were monitored by the United States Foreign Broadcast Monitoring Service, and on 26 July 1943 the United States District Court for the District of Columbia indicted Pound in absentia for treason.
On 9–10 September 1943, the German Wehrmacht occupied northern and central Italy. Hitler appointed Mussolini head of a fascist puppet state, the Italian Social Republic or Salò Republic. Pound called it the "Republic of Utopia". SS officers began concentrating Jews in transit camps before deporting them to Auschwitz-Birkenau.[n] Of the first group of 1,034 Jews to arrive in Auschwitz from Rome on 23 October 1943, 839 were gassed.
In Rome when the German occupation began, Pound borrowed hiking boots and headed north to Gais, on foot and by train, to visit his daughter, a journey of about 450 miles (720 km). It was apparently during this visit that he first told her he had a wife in Rapallo and son in England. On or around 23 November 1943, he met Fernando Mezzasoma, the new Minister of Popular Culture, in Salò. Pound wrote to Dorothy from Salò asking if she could obtain a radio confiscated from the Jews to give to Rudge, so that Rudge could help with his work.
From 1 December 1943 Pound began writing scripts for the state's new radio station. The following day he suggested to Alessandro Pavolini, secretary of the Republican Fascist Party, that book stores be legally obliged to showcase certain books, including The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (1903), a hoax document purporting to be a Jewish plan to dominate the world. "The arrest of Jews will create a wave of useless mercy," Pound wrote, "thus the need to disseminate the Protocols. The intellectuals are capable of a passion more durable than emotional, but they need to understand the reasons for a conflict." On 26 January 1945, in a script called "Corpses of Course" for the program Jerry's Front Calling, Pound wrote: "Why shouldn't there be one grand beano; wiping out Sieff and Kuhn and Loeb and Guggenheim and Stinkenfinger and the rest of the nazal bleaters?"
Arrest for treason
In May 1944 the German military, trying to secure the coast against the Allies, forced the Pounds to evacuate their seafront apartment in Rapallo. From then until the end of the war, the couple lived with Rudge in her home above Rapallo at Sant' Ambrogio. There were food shortages, no coffee, and no newspapers, telephones, or letters. According to Rudge, Ezra and Dorothy would spend their nights listening to the BBC. In addition to the radio scripts, Pound was writing for the newspaper Il Popolo di Alessandria. He wanted to write for the more reputable Corriere della Sera in Milan, but the editor regarded Pound's Italian as "incomprehensible", according to Moody.
Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, were shot by Italian partisans on 28 April 1945. Their bodies were displayed in the Piazzale Loreto in Milan, then left hanging upside down: "Thus Ben and la Clara a Milano / by the heels at Milano". On 3 May armed partisans arrived at Rudge's home to find Pound alone. He stuffed a copy of Confucius and a Chinese dictionary in his pocket before being taken to their headquarters, then to the U.S. Counter Intelligence Corps headquarters in Genoa, where he was interrogated by FBI agent Frank L. Amprin.
Pound asked to send a cable to President Truman to help negotiate peace with Japan. He wanted to make a final broadcast called "Ashes of Europe Calling", in which he would recommend peace with Japan, American management of Italy, the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, and leniency toward Germany. His requests were denied and the script was forwarded to J. Edgar Hoover. A few days later, Amprin removed over 7,000 letters, articles, and other documents from Rudge's home as evidence. On 8 May, the day Germany surrendered, Pound gave the Americans a further statement:
I am not anti-Semitic, and I distinguish between the Jewish usurer and the Jew who does an honest day's work for a living.
Hitler and Mussolini were simple men from the country. I think that Hitler was a Saint, and wanted nothing for himself. I think that he was fooled into anti-Semitism and it ruined him. That was his mistake. When you see the "mess" that Italy gets into by bumping off Mussolini, you will see why someone could believe in some of his efforts.
Later that day he told an American reporter, Edd Johnson, that Hitler was "a Jeanne d'Arc ... Like many martyrs, he held extreme views". Mussolini was "a very human, imperfect character who lost his head". On 24 May he was transferred to the United States Army Disciplinary Training Center north of Pisa, where he was placed in one of the camp's 6-by-6-foot (1.8 by 1.8 m) outdoor steel cages, with tar paper covers, lit up at night by floodlights. Engineers reinforced his cage with heavier steel the night before he arrived in case fascist sympathizers tried to break him out.
Pound lived in isolation in the heat, sleeping on the concrete, denied exercise and communication. After three weeks, he stopped eating and began to break down under the strain. Richard Sieburth wrote that Pound recorded it in Canto LXXX, where Odysseus is saved from drowning by Leucothea: "hast'ou swum in a sea of air strip / through an aeon of nothingness, / when the raft broke and the waters went over me". Medical staff moved him out of the cage the following week. On 14 and 15 June he was examined by psychiatrists, after which he was transferred to his own tent. He began to write, drafting what became known as The Pisan Cantos. The existence of two sheets of toilet paper showing the first ten lines of Canto LXXIV in pencil suggests he started it while in the cage.
United States (1945–1958)
St. Elizabeths Hospital
Pound arrived back in Washington, D.C. on 18 November 1945, two days before the start of the Nuremberg trials. Lt. Col. P. V. Holder, one of the escorting officers, wrote in an affidavit that Pound was "an intellectual 'crackpot'" who intended to conduct his own defense. Dorothy would not allow it; Pound wrote in a letter: "Tell Omar I favour a defender who has written a life of J. Adams and translated Confucius. Otherwise how CAN he know what it is about?" He was arraigned on 27 November on charges of treason,[o] and on 4 December he was placed in a locked room in the psychiatric ward of Gallinger Hospital.
Three court-appointed psychiatrists, including Winfred Overholser, superintendent of St. Elizabeths Hospital, decided that he was mentally unfit to stand trial. They found him "abnormally grandiose ... expansive and exuberant in manner, exhibiting pressure of speech, discursiveness and distractibility." A fourth psychiatrist appointed by Pound's lawyer thought he was a psychopath, as did a team of six psychiatrists later at St. Elizabeths.
On 21 December 1945, as case no. 58,102, he was transferred to Howard Hall, St. Elizabeths' maximum security ward, where he was held in a single cell with peepholes. Visitors were admitted to the waiting room for 15 minutes at a time, while patients wandered around screaming. The following January he told a psychiatrist the attendants had been kidding him about a magazine article. It may have been one that called him America's "Haw-Haw". On 3 January the American-born William Joyce, known as Lord Haw Haw, was hanged in England for his war-time broadcasts on behalf of Germany. A hearing on 13 February 1946 concluded that Pound was of "unsound mind"; he shouted in court: "I never did believe in Fascism, God damn it; I am opposed to Fascism."
Pound's lawyer, Julien Cornell, requested his release at a hearing in January 1947. As a compromise, Overholser moved him to the more comfortable Cedar Ward in St. Elizabeths, and in early 1948 he was moved to a larger room in Chestnut Ward. Tytell writes that Pound was in his element in Chestnut Ward. At last provided for, he was allowed to read, write, and receive visitor, including Dorothy for several hours a day. (In October 1946 Dorothy had been placed in charge of his "person and property".) His room had a typewriter, floor-to-ceiling book shelves, and bits of paper hanging on string from the ceiling with ideas for The Cantos. He had turned a small alcove on the ward into his living room, where he entertained friends and literary figures. Visitors included Conrad Aiken, Elizabeth Bishop, E. E. Cummings, Guy Davenport, T. S. Eliot, Achilles Fang, Edith Hamilton, Hugh Kenner, Robert Lowell, Archibald MacLeish, Marshall McLuhan, H. L. Mencken, Marianne Moore, Norman Holmes Pearson, Allen Tate, Stephen Spender, and William Carlos Williams. It reached the point where he refused to discuss any attempt to have him released.
The Pisan Cantos, Bollingen Prize
James Laughlin of New Directions had The Pisan Cantos ready for publication in 1946 and gave Pound an advance copy, but Laughlin held back, waiting for an appropriate time to publish. A group of Pound's friends—T. S. Eliot, E. E. Cummings, W. H. Auden, Allen Tate, and Joseph Cornell—met Laughlin in June 1948 to discuss how to get Pound released. They planned to have him awarded the first Bollingen Prize, a new national poetry award with $1,000 prize money donated by the Mellon family.
The awards committee consisted of 15 fellows of the Library of Congress, including several of Pound's supporters, such as Eliot, Tate, Conrad Aiken, Katherine Anne Porter, and Theodore Spencer.[p] The idea was that the Justice Department would be in an untenable position if Pound won a major award and was not released. Laughlin published The Pisan Cantos on 20 July 1948, and the following February the prize went to Pound.[q] There were two dissenting voices, Katherine Garrison Chapin and Karl Shapiro; the latter said he could not vote for an antisemite because he was Jewish himself. Pound had apparently prepared a statement—"No comment from the Bug House"—but decided instead to stay silent.
There was uproar. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette quoted critics who said that poetry cannot "convert words into maggots that eat at human dignity and still be good poetry". Robert Hillyer, a Pulitzer Prize winner and president of the Poetry Society of America, attacked the committee in The Saturday Review of Literature, telling journalists that he "never saw anything to admire in Pound, not one line". Congressman Jacob K. Javits demanded an investigation into the awards committee. It was the last time the prize was administered by the Library of Congress.
Mullins and Kasper
In hospital Pound would often decline to talk to psychiatrists with names he deemed Jewish (he called psychiatrists "kikiatrists"), and he apparently told Charles Olson: "I was a Zionist in Italy, but now I'm for pogroms, after what I've experienced in here (SLiz)." He advised visitors to read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and any visitor he happened not to like he referred to as Jewish. In November 1953 he wrote to Olivia Rossetti Agresti that Hitler was "bit by dirty Jew mania for World Domination, as yu used to point out/ this WORST of German diseases was got from yr/ idiolized and filthy biblical bastards. Adolf clear on the baccilus of kikism/ that is on nearly all the other poisons.[sic] but failed to get a vaccine against that."
According to Eric Ormsby, "[t]o the end Pound remained an anti-Semite, but now he added black Americans and civil rights protesters to his roster of well-nurtured hatreds." He struck up a friendship with Eustace Mullins, believed to be associated with the Aryan League of America, and author of the 1961 biography This Difficult Individual, Ezra Pound. Even more damaging was his friendship with John Kasper, a Ku Klux Klan member who, after Brown v. Board of Education (a 1954 United States Supreme Court decision mandating the racial desegregation of public schools), set up a Citizens' Council chapter, the Seaboard White Citizens' Council in Washington. Members had to be white, supportive of racial segregation, and believers in the divinity of Jesus. Kasper had admired Pound at university, and after he wrote to Pound in 1950, the two became friends. In 1953 Kasper opened a bookstore, "Make it New", at 169 Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village, New York, specializing in far-right material and displaying Pound's work in the window. Kasper and another Pound admirer, T. David Horton, set up a publishing imprint, Square Dollar Series, which—with Pound's cooperation—reprinted Pound's books and others he approved of.
It became increasingly clear that Pound was schooling Kasper in his pro-segregation activism. In January and February 1957 the New York Herald Tribune ran a series of articles about their relationship, after which the FBI began photographing Pound's visitors. One article alleged that some of Kasper's pamphlets had, as John Tytell put it, "a distinctly Poundian ring" to them.[r] Kasper was jailed in 1956 after a speech he made in Clinton, Tennessee, caused a riot, and he was questioned about the 1957 bombing of the Hattie Cotton School in Nashville. After Pound was discharged from hospital in 1958, the men kept in touch; Pound wrote to Kasper on 17 April 1959: "Antisemitism is a card in the enemy program, don't play it. ... They RELY ON YOUR PLAYING IT."
New Times articles
Between late 1955 and early 1957, Pound wrote at least 80 unsigned or pseudonymous articles—"often ugly", Swift notes—for the New Times of Melbourne, a newspaper connected to the social-credit movement. Noel Stock, one of Pound's correspondents and early biographers, worked for the paper and published Pound's articles there. A 24-year-old radio reporter at the time, Stock first wrote to Pound in hospital after reading the Pisan Cantos.
In the New Times in April 1956, Pound wrote: "Our Victorian forebears would have been greatly scandalized at the idea that one might not be free to study inherited racial characteristics," and "Some races are retentive, mainly of the least desirable bits of their barbaric past." There was a "Jewish-Communist plot", which he compared to syphilis. Equality was dismissed as "anti-biological nonsense". "There were no gas ovens in Italy", he wrote in April 1956; a month later he referred to the "fuss about Hitler". On 10 August 1956: "It is perfectly well known that the fuss about 'de-segregation' in the United States has been started by Jews." Instead, America needed "race pride".
Using pseudonyms, Pound sent his articles for publication directly to Stock, so that the newspaper's editor may not have realized they had all been written by Pound. Stock sent Pound copies of the published articles, which Pound would distribute to his followers. Pound contributed similar material to other publications, including Edge, which Stock founded in October 1956. Stock called Edge the magazine of the "international Poundian underground".
Pound's friends continued to try to get him out of St. Elizabeths. In 1948, in an effort to present his radio broadcasts as harmless, Olga Rudge self-published six of them (on cultural topics only) as If This Be Treason. She visited him twice, in 1952 and 1955, but could not convince him to be more assertive about his release. In 1950 she had written to Hemingway to complain that Pound's friends had not done enough. Hemingway and Rudge did not like each other. He told Dorothy in 1951 that "the person who makes least sense ...in all this is Olga Rudge". In what John Cohassey called a "controlled, teeth-gritting response", Hemingway replied to Rudge that he would pardon Pound if he could, but that Pound had "made the rather serious mistake of being a traitor to his country, and temporarily he must lie in the bed he made". He ended by saying "To be even more blunt, I have always loved Dorothy, and still do."
Four years later, shortly after he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954, Hemingway told Time magazine: "I believe this would be a good year to release poets." The poet Archibald MacLeish asked him in June 1957 to write a letter on Pound's behalf. Hemingway believed Pound would not stop making political and racist statements or forging friendships with people like Kasper, but he signed MacLeish's letter anyway and pledged $1,500 to be handed to Pound upon his release. In an interview for the Paris Review in early 1958, Hemingway said that Pound should be released and Kasper jailed.
Several publications began campaigning in 1957. Le Figaro published an appeal titled "The Lunatic at St Elizabeths". The New Republic, Esquire, and The Nation followed suit. The Nation argued that Pound was a "sick and vicious old man", but that he had rights. In 1958 MacLeish hired Thurman Arnold, a prestigious lawyer who ended up charging no fee, to file a motion to dismiss the 1945 indictment. Overholser, the hospital's superintendent, supported the application with an affidavit stating Pound was permanently and incurably insane, and that confinement served no therapeutic purpose. The motion was heard on 18 April 1958 by Chief Judge Bolitha Laws, who had committed Pound to St. Elizabeths in 1945. The Justice Department did not oppose the motion, and Pound was discharged on 7 May.
Pound and Dorothy arrived in Naples on the Christoforo Columbo on 9 July 1958, where Pound was photographed giving a fascist salute to the waiting press. When asked when he had been released from the mental hospital, he replied: "I never was. When I left the hospital I was still in America, and all America is an insane asylum." They were accompanied by a young teacher Pound had met in hospital, Marcella Spann, ostensibly acting as his secretary. The group disembarked at Genoa and three days later arrived at Schloss Brunnenburg, near Merano in South Tyrol, to live with Mary, where Pound met his grandson and granddaughter for the first time.
The women soon fell out; Canto CXIII alluded to it: "Pride, jealousy and possessiveness / 3 pains of hell." Pound was in love with Spann; he wrote about her in Canto CXIII: "The long flank, the firm breast / and to know beauty and death and despair / And to think that what has been shall be, / flowing, ever unstill." Dorothy had usually ignored his affairs, but she used her legal power over his royalties to make sure Spann was seen off, sent back to the United States.
By December 1959 Pound was mired in depression. According to the poet and editor Michael Reck, who had visited him several times at St. Elizabeths, Pound was a changed man; he said little and called his work "worthless". In a 1960 interview in Rome with Donald Hall for Paris Review, he said: "You—find me—in fragments." Pound paced up and down during the three days it took to complete the interview, never finishing a sentence, bursting with energy one minute, then sagging, and at one point seemed about to collapse. Hall said it was clear that he "doubted the value of everything he had done in his life".
Those close to him thought he was suffering from dementia, and in mid-1960 he spent time in a clinic when his weight dropped. He picked up again, but by early 1961 he had a urinary tract infection. Dorothy felt unable to look after him, so he went to live with Olga Rudge in Rapallo, then Venice; Dorothy mostly stayed in London after that with Omar. In 1961 Pound attended a meeting in Rome in honor of Oswald Mosley, who was visiting Italy. On May Day he was photographed at the head of a neo-fascist Movimento Sociale Italiano parade of 500 men wearing boots and black armbands, goose stepping, shouting antisemitic slogans, and waving swastika flags.
His health continued to decline, and his friends were dying: Wyndham Lewis in 1957, Ernest Hemingway in 1961 (Hemingway shot himself), E. E. Cummings in 1962, William Carlos Williams in 1963, T. S. Eliot in 1965. In 1963 he told an interviewer, Grazia Levi: "I spoil everything I touch. I have always blundered ... All my life I believed I knew nothing, yes, knew nothing. And so words became devoid of meaning." He attended Eliot's funeral in London and visited W. B. Yeats' widow in Dublin (Yeats had died in 1939). Two years later he visited New York, where he attended the opening of an exhibition featuring his blue-inked version of Eliot's The Waste Land. He went on to Hamilton College and received a standing ovation.
In 1966 he was admitted to the Genoa School of Medicine's psychiatric hospital for an evaluation after prostate surgery. His notes said he had psychomotor retardation, insomnia, depression, and he believed he had been "contaminated by microbes". According to a psychiatrist who treated him, Pound had previously been treated with electroconvulsive therapy. This time he was given imipramine and responded well. The doctors diagnosed bipolar disorder.
Meeting with Ginsberg, Reck, and Russell
In the restaurant of the Pensione Cici in Venice in 1967, Pound told Allen Ginsberg, the writer Michael Reck, and Peter Russell that his poems were "a lot of double talk" and made no sense, and that his writing was "a mess", "stupid and ignorant all the way through". Reck wrote about the meeting in Evergreen Review the following year. "At seventy I realized that instead of being a lunatic, I was a moron," Pound reportedly said, adding later: "I should have been able to do better."
Pound also offered a carefully worded rejection of his antisemitism, according to Reck. When Ginsberg reassured Pound that he had "shown us the way". Pound is said to have replied: "Any good I've done has been spoiled by bad intentions—the preoccupation with irrelevant and stupid things." Reck continued: "Then very slowly, with emphasis, surely conscious of Ginsberg's being Jewish: 'But the worst mistake I made was that stupid, suburban prejudice of anti-Semitism.'" In 1988 Christopher Ricks took issue with Pound's use of the word mistake, which he wrote was "scarcely commensurate with the political and spiritual monstrosity" of Pound's antisemitism.[s]
Shortly before his death in 1972, an American Academy of Arts and Sciences committee, which included Pound's friend and publisher James Laughlin, proposed that Pound be awarded the Emerson-Thoreau Medal. After a storm of protest the academy's council opposed it by 13 to 9. The sociologist Daniel Bell, who was on the committee, argued that it was important to "distinguish between those who explore hate and those who approve hate". Two weeks before he died, Pound read for a gathering of friends at a café: "re USURY / I was out of focus, taking a symptom for a cause. / The cause is AVARICE."
On his 87th birthday, on 30 October 1972, Pound was too weak to leave his bedroom. The next night he was admitted to the Civil Hospital of Venice, where he died in his sleep on 1 November of septic shock caused by complications from an intestinal blockage, with Olga Rudge at his side. Alerted by telegram, Dorothy Pound, who was living in an old people's home near Cambridge, England, requested a Protestant funeral in Venice. Telegrams were sent via U.S. embassies in Rome and London, and the American Consulate in Milan, but Rudge would not change the plans she had already made for the morning of 3 November. Omar Pound flew to Venice as soon as he could, with Peter du Sautoy of Faber & Faber, but he arrived too late. Four gondoliers dressed in black rowed Pound's body to the island cemetery Isola di San Michele, where after a Protestant service he was buried, near Diaghilev and Stravinsky, with other non-Italian Christians. Dorothy Pound died in England the following year, aged 87. Olga Rudge died in 1996, aged 100, and was buried next to Pound.
According to Samuel Putnam, critics who respected Pound's poetry were less likely to respect his prose or work as a critic; in fact, they had no respect at all for the latter. Pound's thinking seemed muddled; Richard Aldington told Putnam: "[D]on't you realize that Ezra could no more have a thought than you or I could have a child?"
Critics generally agree that Pound was a strong yet subtle lyricist, particularly in his early poetry, such as "The River Merchant's Wife". According to the Pound scholar Hugh Witemeyer, a modern style is evident as early as Ripostes. Drawing on literature from a variety of disciplines, Pound layered often confusing juxtapositions, yet led the reader to a conclusion, believing the thoughtful reader would uncover the symbolism and structure. Ignoring Victorian and Edwardian grammar and structure, he created a unique form of speech, employing odd words and jargon, avoiding verbs, and using rhetorical devices such as parataxis.
Pound's relationship to music is essential to his poetry. Although he was tone deaf and said he had the voice of a "tree toad"—Michael Ingham describes Pound's voice as "raucous, nasal [and] scratchy"—he is on a short list, according to Ingham, of poets possessed of a sense of sound, an "ear" for words, imbuing his poetry with melopoeia. His study of troubadour poetry—words written to be sung—led him to think modern poetry should be written similarly. He wrote in 1910 that "[r]hythm is the hardest quality of a man's style to counterfeit".
Twice the length of Milton's Paradise Lost and 50 times longer than T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, The Cantos (1917–1968) is Pound's 116-section, 800-page, c. 23,000-line epic poem, his life's work. It ends with Canto CXVI, the final complete section.[a] Pound said he had composed it in the form of a fugue. He described it to his father in April 1927: "Have I ever given you outline of main scheme ::: or whatever it is? Rather like or unlike subject and response and counter subject in fugue: A.A. Live man goes down into world of Dead. C.B. The 'repeat in history'. B.C. The 'magic moment' or moment of metamorphosis, bust thru from quotidien into 'divine or permanent world.' Gods., etc."
According to Massimo Bacigalupo, Pound saw The Cantos as a container for American, European, and Oriental art, philosophy, music, religion and history. Alluding to figures from history, myth and literature, it is also autobiographical. The poet Allen Tate argued in 1949 that it is "about nothing at all ... a voice but no subject". The lack of form is a common criticism. Pound saw it as his great failure; he wrote that he could not "make it cohere".
The work contains several antisemitic passages. Canto XCI/91, in the section known as Rock-Drill (1956), became notorious: "Democracies electing their sewage / till there is no clear thought about holiness / a dung flow from 1913 / and, in this, their kikery functioned, Marx, Freud / and the american beaneries / Filth under filth, / Maritain, Hutchins, / or as Benda remarked: 'La trahison'."
Rehabilitation efforts, scholarship
After the Bollingen Prize in 1949, Pound's friends made every effort to rehabiliate him. James Laughlin's New Directions published his Selected Poems, with an introduction by Eliot, and a censored selection of The Cantos. Ralph Fletcher Seymour published Patria Mia (written around 1912) to show that Pound was an American patriot. In advertisements, magazine articles, and critical introductions, Pound's friends and publishers attributed his antisemitism and fascism to mental illness.
Literary scholar Betsy Erkkila writes that no one was more important to Pound's rehabilitation than Hugh Kenner, who visited him many times in hospital. Kenner's The Poetry of Ezra Pound appeared in 1951. New Directions and Faber & Faber published Ezra Pound: Translations in 1953, introduced by Kenner, and the following year Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, introduced by Eliot. The first PhD dissertation on Pound appeared in 1948, and by 1970 there were around ten a year. Kenner's The Pound Era (1971) effectively equated Pound with modernism. Pound scholar Leon Surette regards the Kennerian approach to Pound as hagiographic. He includes in this approach Caroll F. Terrell's Paideuma: A Journal Devoted to Ezra Pound Scholarship, founded in 1972 and edited by Kenner and Eva Hesse, and Terrell's two-volume A Companion to the Cantos of Ezra Pound (1980–1984). In 1971 Terrell founded the National Poetry Foundation to focus on Pound and organized conferences on Pound in 1975, 1980, 1985, and 1990.
Following Eustace Mullins' biography, This Difficult Individual, Ezra Pound (1961), was Life of Ezra Pound (1970) by Noel Stock. A former reporter, Stock was one of the publishers of Pound's newspaper articles in the 1950s, including his antisemitism. Ronald Bush's The Genesis of Ezra Pound's Cantos (1976) became the first critical study of The Cantos. Several significant biographies appeared in the 1980s: J. J. Wilhelm's three-volume biography (1985–1994); John Tytell's Ezra Pound: The Solitary Volcano (1987); and Humphrey Carpenter's 1005-page A Serious Character (1988). A. David Moody's three-volume biography, Ezra Pound: Poet (2007–2015), combines biographical narrative with literary criticism.
Studies that examine Pound's relationships with the far right include Robert Casillo's The Genealogy of Demons (1988); Tim Redman's Ezra Pound and Italian Fascism (1999); Leon Surette's Pound in Purgatory (1999); Matthew Feldman's Ezra Pound's Fascist Propaganda, 1935–45 (2013); and Alec Marsh's John Kasper and Ezra Pound (2015).
Much of Pound's legacy lies in his advancement of the careers of some of the best-known modernist writers of the early 20th century, particulary between 1910 and 1925. In addition to T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Wyndham Lewis, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Ernest Hemingway, and Conrad Aiken, he befriended and helped Marianne Moore, Louis Zukofsky, Jacob Epstein, Basil Bunting, E. E. Cummings, Margaret Anderson, George Oppen, H.D., Richard Aldington, Charles Olson, and Ford Madox Ford.
According to Ira Nadel, Pound "overturned poetic meter, literary style, and the state of the long poem". Nadel cited the importance of Pound's editing of The Waste Land, the publication of Ulysses, and the development of Imagism.[u] Hugh Witemeyer argued that Imagism was "probably the most important single movement" in 20th-century English-language poetry, because it affected all the leading poets of Pound's generation and the two generations after him.
Beyond this, his legacy is mixed. The outrage over his collaboration was so deep that it dominated the discussion. Arthur Miller reflected this in December 1945: "A greater calamity cannot befall the art than that Ezra Pound, the Mussolini mouthpiece, should be welcomed back as an arbiter of American letters ..." Against this, Hugh Kenner argued in 1951 that, although there was no great contemporary writer less read than Pound, there was also no one "who can over and over again appeal more surely, through sheer beauty of language" to people who would otherwise rather talk about poets than read them.
Over the decades critics have argued, Redman writes, that Pound was not really a poet or not really a fascist, or that he was a fascist but his poetry is not fascistic, or that there was an evil Pound who was a fascist and a good Pound who was not. The American poet Elizabeth Bishop, one of his hospital visitors (Pound called her "Liz Bish"), reflects this confusion in her poem "Visits to St. Elizabeths" (1956): "This is the time / of the tragic man / that lies in the house of Bedlam." As the poem progresses, the tragic man, never named, becomes the talkative man; the honored man; the old, brave man; the cranky man; the cruel man; the busy man; the tedious man; the poet, the man; and, finally, the wretched man.
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