Ezra Pound: Poet: Volume III: The Tragic Years 1939-1972 - A. David Moody (2015)
PART FOUR: ST ELIZABETHS, 1946–1958
11: RESILIENCE, 1947-50
On 3 February 1947, Dr Conover entered into Ezra Pound’s case notes, ‘By direction of the Superintendent, this patient was today transferred from Howard Hall 6 to Cedar Ward.’ Cedar Ward was on the second floor of Center Building, and there Pound would have an 8’ by 10’ room that could be locked by the attendant when he was out of the ward. ‘He has more freedom’ there, Dorothy told Laughlin, and ‘we can visit him for a much longer time (three times a week as before) a considerable relief’. Dr Keeney, when he examined him at the end of March, wrote into his notes,
Since his transfer out of Howard Hall, Mr. Pound has evidently made a fairly good adjustment on Cedar Ward; he spends most of his time in his room, reading and writing letters, and he receives and sends enormous amounts of mail. He does no work of any kind on the ward, is quite careless in his dress and habits, and keeps his room cluttered and disorderly with books and magazines.
Over the next two or three years the formal examinations, now three-monthly, appear to have gone on much as before, with both patient and doctors playing out their set routines. The doctors would observe Pound make his rapid entrances, collapse immediately into the histrionics of extreme fatigue, only to jump up to deliver his usual denunciations and lectures; and they for their part would let him run on, or prompt him with their usual questions, and then write down that there was no change, that he continued in good physical condition, and that there was no evidence of insanity. As for this last, ‘His insight and judgment do not appear to be impaired,’ wrote Dr Gresser in September 1948; and Dr Gonzalez wrote in July 1949, ‘No abnormal mental trends could be elicited.’ A few of the doctors noted as before that he was eccentric and egotistical, that he was arrogant, and that he treated them with contempt. He said to Dr Keeney that since his arrival in the United States he had talked with only two adults, and he made it ‘quite obvious that the examiner was not one of them’. Another time he evidently included him among ‘“people who are children and have to have everything spelled out for them, c-a-t”’. On that occasion, in March 1948, he had ‘entered the interviewing room with his shirt tail out and his fly open’. Other doctors would remark his ‘careless dress andhabits’. Dr Granatir had to ask him to put on a shirt when he came into the cold interviewing room stripped to the waist, and Dr Segal recorded in March 1949 ‘that he was not particularly neatly attired, that his pajama top which was unbuttoned revealed a rather dirty undershirt beneath’.
On that occasion the interview descended into childish farce. According to Segal’s report, ‘This patient blustered into the interview room carrying his collapsible canvas chair as is his wont. He set up the chair, slumped low down into it, placed his hands over his eyes and began to sigh in deep, wheezing fashion with every expiration.’ Asked how he felt, he kept silent for about five minutes, then said, ‘“It takes a lot of self control not to bring down chaos on a whole lot of you.”’ After another long series of ‘expiratory sighs’ he asked, ‘“Do I have to go through this goddamn business again?”’ There was another long pause, ‘in which the patient impatiently kicked his foot in the direction of’ the examiner, before he said, ‘“Another new man in search of guinea pigs. I don’t choose to talk. They told me a while ago that I wouldn’t have to go through this again.”’ More silence and sighing while the patient placed his hands over his eyes again, and the examiner silently observed him, until after about five minutes the patient peeped through his fingers, saw the examiner watching him and ‘immediately shut his eyes then said, “How much longer does this have to go on? Do I have to stay here?”’ Told that he could go, ‘he leapt to his feet, collapsed his collapsible chair and strode in hearty style out the door’. Segal concluded that evidently ‘his weakness…can be turned off and on at will’; but he did not consider what could have reduced this highly intelligent patient to such pathetic behaviour.
Pound seems to have put on his bad behaviour exclusively for the psychiatrists. The ward attendants, at least when he had been moved on from Cedar to Chestnut Ward early in 1948, (where his room was larger, 10’ by 14’), reported him as unfailingly courteous in manner and neat and clean in appearance. In June 1948 Mr Small entered in the Ward Notes,
Patient does no work, causes no trouble, visited by wife everyday | has a awful lot of company. writes a lot of litters, recieves a lot of mail. does not mix with other Patients. stays in his room . neat in dress, clean in habits. keeps his room in a mess.
In July H. S. Grant in his ‘Night Report’ observed that ‘He is very courteous & appears cheerful at all times’, and that Patient ‘sleeps very well & arises around 6:00 A.M., usually getting his morning newspaper at that time’; he further noted that ‘Even though he remains alone, he is very pleasant when other patients approach him.’ By all these accounts Pound consistently did no ward work, attended no ward amusements, kept to his room except when he had his visitors, and was clean, courteous with the attendants, and pleasant with the patients. ‘Causes no trouble’, is a frequent note, as if that was remarkable in those wards.
There was one notable episode, however, in which Pound did act like a fractious child bent on getting his own way. On 2 December 1948, Mr Langford, the charge nurse on Chestnut Ward, wrote into Pound’s case notes: ‘This patient was out for a walk today he claims it is too much for him he laid down on the ground said he just could not stand any longer. I told him it was too wet to lay on the ground.’ Dr Saul Brown examined Pound on the 3rd, and when Pound spoke of his ‘poor physical condition’ the doctor noted, ‘Actually appears quite vigorous.’ On the 6th Langford recorded,‘Patient refused to go for a walk today he said what he wanted was to go out with his wife as these walks are to much for him.’ The next day, ‘Patient was out walking today and laid down in the middle of the road said he could not take it as it was too much. He said what he wanted was to go out on the grounds with his wife but he said when you ask for water they put you in it up to your neck.’
Pound had been taken out in the ‘walking parties’ organized for the patients allowed out on the grounds when it was too chilly for them to be sitting ‘on benches on the lawn without moving about’. One must imagine what kind of shuffling ‘walking party’ the ordinarily catatonic patients would have made up. Back in June Dr Johan had noted that Pound ‘complained to the examiner that he wanted to be out on ground parole and he thought that it was very improper that so many “blithering idiots” should be allowed to walk outside and he should be so confined’. Apparently he was then allowed out, since Langford recorded on 19 June, ‘Mr Pound was visited by Mrs W. R. Winslow who sat on lawn and painted his picture’. However, as Dorothy Pound explained to T. S. Eliot when he visited Pound in November, he ‘was only allowed out of doors at the times when the other inmates of his ward were allowed to go out, under the supervision of a warder’, and ‘in consequence he was never out of doors during the winter’. Eliot was moved to write to Cornell, ‘It seems to me that it ought to be permissible for him to go out alone in the grounds with his wife, and with her responsible for his returning in due time.’ Eliot urged Cornell to take up the matter with Dr Overholser, arguing that ‘Surely he is entitled to have some fresh air daily’, and that this was something ‘which his well-being seems to me to require’. Cornell did write to Overholser, enclosing Eliot’s letter, and doctors Cruvant and Overholser discussed the matter on 2 December, when it was decided ‘to reinstitute’ the walking parties and to include Pound in them. ‘I doubt very much that this will satisfy him,’ Cruvant accurately remarked in his memorandum to Overholser, 1 ‘he braced me for ground parole privileges, [saying] that he would like to have permission to walk about the grounds for 15 or 20 minutes each day, although he very much did not want to eat in the patients’ cafeteria and preferred to take his meals on the ward’. That apparent non-sequitur suggests that Dr Cruvant was still bothered by Pound’s persistent refusal to embrace ‘communal living’. He closed his memorandum, menacingly as it might have seemed to Pound, ‘I have been thinking of directing that Mr. Pound attend the group therapy sessions in Cedar Ward.’ Overholser wrote back to Cornell on 6 December—
I have some hesitation in accepting the suggestions made by Mr. Eliot. It remains a fact that Mr. Pound is under indictment for the most serious crime in the calendar and that he has at the present time far more privileges than any other prisoner in the Hospital. He is on a quiet ward, has a room by himself and is allowed a good deal of latitude in the way he occupies himself. His wife visits him very frequently. When I found the walking parties had been suspended in the winter I saw to it that on days when the weather was good these were reinstituted, but I found that Mr. Pound refused to go on any but the first.
Overholser then stated, as if it were relevant to that refusal, that ‘He has supreme contempt for the patients on the ward’, before concluding,
I can assure you that we shall do everything within reason for the comfort of Mr. Pound, but in spite of his being a well known author, I question whether I should put myself in the position of giving unusual privileges to him over and above those which he already enjoys.
Nevertheless, on 12 July 1949 this ‘Notice’ was entered into Pound’s case notes:
Mr. Pound has the following privileges. When the ward does not go out, his wife may take him on the lawn under her custody but only in the vicinity of Locust and Chestnut benches and in view of the ward. Time limits are—1 to 4 P.M. afternoons during weekdays and on Sunday 9 to 11 in the A.M. and 1 to 4 P.M. in the afternoon Orders of Dr. Cruvant, forwarded to the ward by Supervisor Gibbons.
‘They now let me out to sit more on the grass—in comf. chair’, Pound informed Mary in September. When Mary Barnard saw him lying back in his beach chair on the lawn in October she thought ‘he was looking very well’, only she was very conscious of his being ‘in Dorothy’s custody’.
‘a awful lot of company’
Anyone wanting to visit Pound had first to seek the Superintendent’s permission, and Dr Overholser would refer the application to the patient for his yea or nay. On Paul Blackburn’s letter Pound wrote, ‘O.K. & friend’; but on Allen Ginsberg’s request to visit ‘& seek help with rhythm & measure’ there is the note, ‘D.P. regrets EP too exhausted to see any more strangers’.
Those who were approved would check in at the main office and write their names into an official book labelled ‘Ezra Pound’s Company’. Having then found the part of the building where Pound was kept they entered through a door in its outer wall and climbed the spiral stairs, all steel and dirty enamel, chipped and peeling walls, to the heavy black door of his ward, and there rang the bell. An attendant would open the door from the other side with a great jingling of keys, and let them into a long hall, wide and dark as a subway station, with benches along both sides, and alcoves lighted by barred windows where rooms might have been. There would be the smell of the place, decades of dried urine and sweat, and the oppressive smells of cabbage and other institutional foods which seemed to impregnate the very floors and walls. Pound would usually be found in an alcove blocked off with a folding screen at the end of the hall, and might bound out from there to greet the new arrival. The hallway itself would be peopled by the derelicts of St Elizabeths, many of them having been treated by ECT or lobotomy—vacantly staring imbeciles, men in slippers drifting like Homeric shades, old men lying or sitting stupidly on the benches, some muttering to themselves, some drooling, some making short senseless motions with their hands. There was always noise—loud television, radio song, sometimes the periodic, measured, scream of some hopelessly mad inmate housed at a distance. The noise and echoes reminded Ronald Duncan of a public swimming baths. When the braying television set in the corridor forced him and Pound to shout at each other even in his cell, Pound commented, ‘They try to reduce us idiots to the level of insanity outside.’
But in the summer and in good weather Pound would be outside on the lawn in a special place by a clump of elms and other trees. There his visitors could imagine themselves in a more congenial world, for the other inmates impinged less, or not at all, and the grounds were altogether beautiful, a landscape, in Olson’s view, as good as anything in America, St Elizabeths having been originally an arboretum. Lying back in his canvas chair, at ease but rarely still, Pound would entertain and instruct his small group through the allowed hours of the afternoon.
Whether inside in the alcove of the ward or out on the lawn Dorothy Pound would invariably be present, carrying her air of Henley and cucumber sandwiches, as Ronald Duncan, an Englishman, saw her. To Michael Reck, an American, her clipped speech had a British resonance, her manner a British constraint. Mary Barnard described her as ‘tall, rather slender, with quite English looks and charm and style, but pretty well on the ragged edge herself.…leading a dedicated and pretty sad existence.’ Barnard had seen her in her bare attic room. To William Carlos Williams Dorothy Pound was ‘a tall, ascetic woman for whom all who see and know her have a deep respect and affection’; and Marianne Moore paid tribute to ‘Mrs Pound’s selfless aid and devoted service to EP [which] left an ineffaceable impression of nobility—of wholesomeness & also of self-sacrifice to an important end.’ Mary Barnard did find that she could not speak freely to Pound about her visit to Italy when Dorothy was present; but only Olson, after his final breaking-off, seems to have had a bad word to say of her, for her ‘anglo-saxon fear and hate…of the Jew’.
His visitors went out to St Elizabeths to see each their own Ezra Pound, though he could surprise. One day out on the lawn Mary Barnard observed the elderly classical scholar, Edith Hamilton, ‘a stately figure in a large hat carrying an ear trumpet’, lecturing Pound ‘for a good quarter of an hour on the beauties of Gilbert Murray’s translations from the Greek’, and knowing that Pound regarded those translations as unreadable fustian, she expected him to rear up and bellow anathema, but he, ‘lying back in his chair with a blissful smile on his face…uttered not a syllable and looked more delighted every minute’. Indoors, sad patients could intrude and be shooed away, but might be indulged. Guy Davenport recorded a sighting of T. S. Eliot ‘lifting his legs to allow the imaginary vacuum cleaner of an inmate do its work around his chair, Pound having demonstrated how this was to be done’.
Some saw just what they went out to see. Conrad Aiken, who considered that it was Pound’s foolish political infatuations or obsessions which had landed him in trouble, registered only his going off at random into ‘some idée fixe—credit, usury, politics’. He was with Robert Lowell who, as Aiken put it, ‘had become used to humouring Pound’, and would get him off onto another track by saying, ‘“Tell us about such and such”’. On another occasion Lowell took Elizabeth Bishop to view Pound, and afterwards she wrote, in ‘reverential mockery or mocking reverence’ (as he assumed), ‘Visits to St. Elizabeths’, a ruthless variation upon ‘This is the house that Jack built’. Her poem builds from ‘This is the house of Bedlam’ through ‘the tragic man’, ‘the talkative man’, ‘the honored man’, ‘the old, brave man’, to ‘the cranky man’, ‘the cruel man’, ‘the tedious man’, and on to the final ‘wretched man | that lies in the house of Bedlam’. Pound’s old acquaintance Witter Bynner had his own fixed vision, seeing in his hour at St Elizabeths ‘the same great, booming boy, or so he seemed, who clutched me with a great bear-hug and cried out. “After forty years!”. Time and the beard had made little change for me in his presence.’ But then Bynner had always, ‘from my first meeting with Pound 40 years ago in New York…regarded Pound as insane’; and Dr Overholser, he told a friend, had confirmed his impression, ‘saying that insanity had always been in the man and would never be out of him’. Bynner would give this another inflection when he wrote, in a letter to the Attorney General urging Pound’s release, that he had ‘never thought him any less balanced than William Blake’.
Robert Lowell began visiting Pound when he was in Washington in 1947-8 as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. After his first visits he wrote,
He’s just like his later prose, and absolutely the most naive and simple man I’ve ever met. Still sure that the world will be alright, if people only read the right books. Pathetic and touching. Told about snatching up Confucius odes when the Communists with Tommy guns came for him. And this was all that saved his mind in the ensuing months. Then he was in a specially constructed cage—America’s number one war-criminal. Then a comparatively idyllic period with the army. Given a tent and called Uncle Ezra, and did all the writing he’s done since he was taken. Then here in something called the snake-pit with ‘a lot of imbecilic mad niggers’ which was tough. Then as he is. Every day from one to four his wife comes and sits with him and he talks politics, jumps up for chairs, gobbles saltines and more or less mad people go wandering and raging past. Very sad and silly; and yet there [is] something wonderfully honest and innocent about him and he knows & loves books & he’s absorbed in Chinese and he won’t write ‘while I’m in this cess-pool’.
Acutely observed as this is, it also reveals Lowell’s need to hold Pound off and to avoid having to engage seriously with his difficult ideas and with his present predicament. One measure of his disengagement is his mentioning that ‘comparatively idyllic period with the army’ without reflecting that those were supposed to have been the three months of violent insanity which, by rendering him incapable, had led to his being now shut up in St Elizabeths.
Other visitors were less disposed to patronize. Marianne Moore first visited Pound in early June 1949. He ‘talked brilliantly’, she told Charles Norman, only his talk was ‘full of allusions she didn’t catch immediately’, and ‘like the other visitors, she merely listened’. But when she mentioned that her work on La Fontaine’s Fables was not going well he asked to see it, and soon after advised, ‘KICK OUT this god damned french syntax, with relative clauses. WRITE the sense in plain english, PROSE, and then versify the SENSE of your prose.’ She wrote back, ‘I am quite shaken by so much kindness, sacrifice and risk taken for me—speed, patience, definiteness.’ She assured him at length that she could be trusted to let no one see the pages with his annotations, Pound having asked her to keep his communications confidential lest anyone seeing them be led to question his ‘insanity’. She would say in retrospect that her ‘cumulative impression of annual visits to EP and Mrs Pound is of fortitude & EP’s resilience of mind | & obedience to regulations.||The official admitting me said “Mr Pound is a great help to us with other inmates. It is good of you to come to see him”.||“Good of me?” I said “You have no idea of his incisive, powerful help to other writers. His discerning art is invaluable.”’ Mary Barnard also testified to that, in her case for his incisive help with her Sappho. Moreover, after her first visit to Pound in St Elizabeths she was struck by ‘the complete incongruity of the situation: that I felt as though I had got a shot in the arm, and that probably everyone who comes feels that way, and that’s why they come—to take life away instead of to bring it. Not that they don’t bring it too, but it’s the exchange that’s important—one certainly doesn’t come away depleted.’ It seemed to her that ‘the privilege is more in visiting than in being visited’. E. E. Cummings, after visiting with his wife in May 1949, wrote his guestly thank you note, ‘you & Dorothy gave Marion & me an A1 time. We both of us heartily thank you each.’
There were visitors, mainly the younger minds, who went to listen to Pound, and to learn from him, and for them he was, as he had been for young poets and editors before the war, a cultural clearing house and an instigator of intellectual life and action. Guy Davenport, writing about the 1940s in America and drawing on his own visits to St Elizabeths, recalled Pound as a diligent teacher there, ‘appalled at American ignorance’ and doing his utmost to remedy it. ‘One learned about Louis Agassiz, Leo Frobenius, Alexander del Mar, Basil Bunting, Arthur Rimbaud, Guido Cavalcanti, Confucius, Mencius, Raphael Pumpelly, and on and on’—‘such a spray of energies that we have not yet charted them all’. For Hugh Kenner, who first visited with Marshall McLuhan in June 1948 before commencing graduate work at Yale, ‘What came through…was the emphatic aphoristic clarity, of a piece with the working of the most active mind I have ever experienced, and with the rhythms of his speech, which was the speech of the Cantos. There was something there that cohered…For his speech was slow, deliberate, and built…I never heard him utter a hurried or slovenly sentence.’
Thomas Cole was still at college when he visited in June 1949—admitted, probably, because he introduced himself as editor of a little magazine called Imagi. He recalled that Pound ‘did most of the talking and always animatedly’—about ‘the contemporary poetry scene, the Greek classics, Mussolini, music, some mention of the charge of anti-Semitism in his work, languages, and the Pennsylvania countryside’ (Cole’s college was in Allentown). He was kind about the young man’s poems which in line and form followed the traditional English poets. ‘Be yourself’, he advised, ‘If you like to lie by the brook and watch the fish do so, but don’t try to be clever or difficult like others.’ Later it dawned on Cole that Pound ‘had every intention of directing me in future endeavours for the magazine and to extend my horizon in the world of ideas and the art of poetry’. He was put in touch with Dallam Simpson from Galveston, Texas, another precocious young man whose endeavours Pound was directing. Simpson had offered to edit EP’s Rome radio broadcasts, but had been advised, ‘More useful at moment monthly concentration of live thought as distinct from dead thought…go to anybody who is thinking about anything | minds alive impersonally not connected with EP etc.’. That was followed up with, ‘Suggest that he do 4 pp. monthly for live thought’, and thereupon Simpson had brought out a dozen numbers of a little magazine called Four Pages with contributions from Robert Duncan, Williams, Basil Bunting, and among the rest Pound himself, anonymously.
Huntington Cairns, 2 a regular and serious minded visitor, recorded that Pound liked to have notice of topics to be discussed so that he could get his thoughts together in advance. On one occasion he had been prepared to talk about editing Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England for the contemporary reader, but Cairns was wanting to discuss Pound’s theory that ‘only the poets who have developed new and striking techniques’ should be admitted to his anthology, and when that topic was brought up Pound said ‘he had to have notice, and would discuss it with [Cairns] next week’. He could be disconcerted by a topic, or a visitor, his mind was unprepared for. Cairns’s notes record conversations ranging from Greek philosophy to current affairs, and also coolly observe Pound’s wilder ideas and his obsessions, but without ever judging him uninteresting or insane.
In the fall of 1948 the Department of Justice informed Dr Overholser that it had been brought to its attention ‘that Mr. Pound is frequently visited by persons who are interested in poetry and in literature in general’, with the implication that these persons did not regard him as insane. To this Overholser replied, ‘I may say that I have talked with some of these literary persons themselves and they have never expressed to me any assurance that Mr. Pound is of sound mind.’ That is hardly surprising, yet Williams for one had hinted that he was, assuring Overholser after his first visit that ‘To me Ezra Pound seems about as he has always been, not any worse or any better. Certainly his cerebration has been considerably slowed up due, no doubt, to his recent experiences but the quality of his ideas has so far as I can tell undergone no change, he is interesting, amusing and even profound in many of his observations.’ But Overholser was not to be swayed. ‘It is my personal opinion’, he assured the Department of Justice,
that there has been no essential change in the condition of Ezra Pound since he was admitted to this hospital on December 21, 1945. He is extremely bombastic and opinionated, highly disorganized in his train of thought and possessed of a considerable number of extremely grandiose ideas about himself as well as ideas of persecution directed against others. It is my opinion that Ezra Pound was not mentally competent to stand trial when he was admitted and that he is not mentally competent to stand trial at this time. Furthermore, I think it highly unlikely that there will be any substantial improvement in his condition, which is a singularly deep seated one.
Overholser was very likely telling the Justice Department what it wanted to hear. Those who would have it that he was protecting Pound appear to overlook the fact that he was a Federal official answerable to that Department.
On 11 February 1948, ‘Dorothy Pound, as Committee of the person and estate of Ezra Pound, an incompetent person’, petitioned the District Court for the District of Columbia to issue a writ of habeas corpus directing Dr Winfred Overholser ‘to produce the body of Ezra Pound’, to discharge the said Ezra Pound from custody detention and restraint, and to release him ‘to the care of the petitioner, as the Committee of his person and estate’. The petition was refused without a hearing.
That was as Cornell had expected. He had warned that ‘because of the novelty of the question and the serious nature of the alleged crime, it would probably be necessary to take the case up to the higher courts’, probably right up to the United States Supreme Court. The petition he drew up was simply a restatement of the motion for bail which had been refused by the same court a year earlier, but it was meant to be the first step in a long and difficult legal process—a process which ‘should ultimately secure your husband’s release’, he assured Dorothy, ‘if the case is decided without intolerance and in accordance with legal principles’. He had filed an appeal and the ‘appelate court should reach a decision in the next two or three months’.
Dorothy’s response was to instruct him to withdraw the appeal at once. Cornell was baffled, and so too was her English legal adviser, A. V. Moore. She repeated the instruction in a professionally typed letter, ‘I must ask you to withdraw the appeal for my husband’s release.’ Cornell took that to be ‘definite and final’, withdrew the appeal, and was quietly dropped as the Committee’s attorney.
Dorothy gave no clear reason for withdrawing the appeal, and the motive remains a matter for speculation. Also unclear is whether it was her own decision as Committee, or Pound’s, or a joint decision. Back in December Cornell had urged her to think, before attempting to have Pound released, about the heavier responsibility and greater burdens she would face. He knew she was anxious to get him out, but where would they go and what would they do. ‘Your husband said yesterday that he would not want to go back to Italy before next spring. Do you share that thought?’, he asked. It seems a rather choosy thought for someone in Pound’s situation, and Dorothy’s answer was just as odd:
Dear Mr. Cornell:
Ezra should be gotten out of custody. We have been talking it over. Italy seems very unquiet just now. We should prefer not to go back there for possibly 3-4 months—but we could find somewhere in Virginia or N. Carolina to go on his release.
Difficult without knowing what conditions, or any? attached to release: local laws might need to be consulted also. I don’t count he’ll be able to earn any money. Small sums in royalties come in.
There is possible alternative of going to Spain. He speaks Spanish well.
There is a weird lack of urgency there, as well as an inability to think clearly. Cornell only compounded the uncertainties by saying that he doubted Pound would be given a new passport and allowed to leave the country. Pound’s reaction to that, according to Cornell, was to tell him that ‘if they could not go back to Italy, [he] did not care very much about being released…If he had to remain in the United States, St. Elizabeths was probably as good a place for him as any.’ Later in the year, in November, Laughlin would tell Olga Rudge, in words that sound more his own than Pound’s, that ‘Ezra for the moment does not want legal steps taken to get him out, which might lead to a trial and unfavourable newspaper publicity.’ To John Berryman, however, who visited him in ‘the “derelict” ward’ on 3 November, it seemed as if Ezra did want to get out of St Elizabeths, though ‘God knows what he wants’, he added. Eliot may have hit the mark when he told Mary de Rachewiltz, in London in April 1948, ‘I fear your father does not want to accept freedom on any terms that are possible.’ But no one seemed able to say what his impossible terms might be. Dorothy had given no clue when she first asked Cornell to withdraw the appeal at once, simply telling him that ‘My husband is not fit to appear in court and must still be kept as quiet as possible; the least thing shakes his nerves up terribly.’ Thus his ‘nerves’, which in 1946 had made her insist ‘we must try to get Ezra out of that place’, had become the reason why he must now remain in St Elizabeths. Cornell’s conclusion, as he later told A. V. Moore, was that ‘she prefers the present situation to the troubles and responsibilities which any change would bring upon her’.
Evidently unaware that a petition for habeas corpus was about to be presented, Eliot had written to Dorothy on 7 February 1948, wanting to know ‘is anything being DONE? or if not, why not?’ Was it the case, he asked, that a move to a private sanatorium was not on, ‘because of the great expense’? If that was the case, then ‘the first step is when he can be either (1) tried with a good prospect of being acquitted, or (2) released as permanently incapable but not dangerous’. That was the soundest and clearest view of how Pound could be got out of St Elizabeths that had yet been expressed. There should indeed have been a good prospect of acquittal, if only Pound were properly defended; and if he were deemed permanently incapable, then the one effective argument for his release would have been that he was not a danger to himself or to the public. Cornell seems not to have seen that, or not clearly enough; and Eliot’s good sense had no effect on Dorothy, nor on Ezra.
Laughlin kept asking them why they did not proceed with Cornell’s plan. In the summer of 1948 he saw Olga Rudge in Rapallo and was unable to satisfy her demand for an explanation of why they were doing nothing to secure Pound’s release. ‘Don’t you want him to try to get some legal wheels turning?’, he asked Pound. In November, after that year’s elections, he asked Dorothy, ‘does EP think we ought to go ahead with the legal steps Cornell wanted’, or, what were their views about obtaining his release. But then in December he wrote to Pound, ‘had a v. good conference with the Possum & Cornell’ in which Eliot ‘confirmed what you had said, that you wanted for the moment to remain where you are, and not have any troublesome steps taken, which might stir up hornets and other vermin’. This deferring to Pound’s judgment and wishes seems odd, given that he was held to be incompetent in such matters.
In his Autobiography (1951) Williams wrote that ‘Pound had refused to entertain the idea [of an attempt to have him removed from St Elizabeths for treatment under more favourable surroundings] stating that he knew he would be shot by an agent of the “international crew” the moment he stood outside the hospital gates’. Pound would say as much to Ronald Duncan, ‘I don’t want to get out to be assassinated.’ Yet those paranoid fears, which he occasionally indulged to keep up his morale, were an improbable explanation. Besides, Williams had reason to know that they were not the whole story. In October 1947 Lowell had invited him to Washington to record his poems for the Library of Congress, and he was to make his first visit to Pound in the afternoon, but lingered over lunch with Lowell and was late getting out to the hospital. It was a rushed visit. In spite of that Pound seized the moment to suggest that Williams write, as a qualified physician, to Dr Overholser asking whether Pound could be released into his charge. Williams did write a few days later, although he was fairly sure the nature of the charges would preclude any such release, and about that he was quite right. But he had been moved to act by an explicit expression of Pound’s desire to be removed from St Elizabeths at that time. As if he had forgotten that, Williams wrote in his Autobiography that he couldn’t understand how Pound could be ‘so apparently unmoved by his incarceration’, and then comforted himself with the thought ‘that much of the world’s greatest writing has waited on a removal from the world’s affairs for its doing. Concentration is what a man needs to bring his mind to harvest…we must find quietitude.’ Concentration Pound certainly mustered, but that finicky ‘quietitude’ was unlikely on the wards of St Elizabeths. It was surely in spite of his incarceration, not because of it, that Pound brought at least some of his mind to harvest in ‘the bughouse’. But he did wish, as he told Agnes Bedford in 1953, that his friends would use a little more intelligence to get him out of it.
There were some among those close to Pound who simply believed that it was best for him to remain in St. Elizabeths, ‘for his own sake’. Wyndham Lewis, who reported this in a letter to Douglass Paige in October 1948, supposed that it was because these friends—he named Eliot and ‘Mrs Pound’s London lawyer’—feared that once let out, even to a private nursing institution, he would create scandal by embarking upon some ‘violent crusade’ and undo the recovery of his reputation as a poet. That view was ‘too cold-blooded’ for Lewis. ‘If I were in E.P.’s position’, he wrote, empathizing with Pound as very few seemed willing or able to do, ‘I should feel rather strongly about the view that for my own good I had better stop in an asylum’; consequently, ‘I under all circumstances will do what lies in my power to secure his release.’
At that moment, just before the November elections, what could be done was to sign and circulate a petition for clemency, drafted by Paige, for presentation to the new president when he took office in January 1949. Lewis foresaw difficulties, not least ‘E.P.’s obstreperous intractableness’, but he wholeheartedly supported the petition while assuring Paige that he should certainly ‘not mention it in a letter to Ezra’. The petition was never presented, probably because Paige learnt that there could be no presidential pardon where there had been no conviction. Pound knew that, and Lewis too might have known it, since he had asked Dorothy in April 1947, ‘Is there hope of his receiving a pardon?’, and Pound had noted on the letter, presumably for Dorothy’s reply, ‘no pardon for crime not committed’. 3 He further noted, ‘any one of 80 or 100 people cd persuade Dept. J .to drop the case | if they weren’t all yellow.’
Olga Rudge could not understand why nothing was being done to secure Pound’s release. In March 1948 she told Ronald Duncan that she was receiving ‘at least 3 letters a week from E.’ in which he talked ‘of nothing but wishing to return to Sant’Ambrogio’. In May Duncan advised her to go to America herself ‘and drive through Laughlin’s and Dorothy’s attitude of acceptance’. There were people there, including Dorothy, he warned, ‘who relish the situation of having their own pet genius all tied up in the cage’. Olga attempted to stir up Laughlin and Eliot from Rapallo, much to their irritation, and all the more because while they recognized that she was good for Pound privately they feared that the interventions of a mistress would harm him publicly.
She wanted to publish a selection of his Rome radio broadcasts, and Pound was all in favour. He had Dorothy write to Laughlin, ‘Yesdy. Ez. said contact Olga re getting together a vol. as quickly as possible of the Discoursi, i.e. his radio talks, so that there may available evidence of what he actually said—instead of all this talk and rubbish about him.’ Olga selected four talks, the memorial to Joyce (1941), one on E. E. Cumming’s EIMI, a book about Russia, (‘e.e.cummings / examind’, 21 May 1942), one on Céline (‘A French Accent’, 11 May 1942), and one on Lewis’s Vorticist effort (‘Blast’, 16 April 1942). She also included canto 45. In the talk about Cummings there were some anti-Semitic and anti-Allies remarks, but none in the other talks in which Pound had recovered something of his better intelligence as a literary and social critic. Probably the Cummings talk was selected, and placed first, as a lightning rod to draw off the objection that she was whitewashing Pound. The title of the volume was to be a challenge: IF THIS BE TREASON. She submitted the manuscript to Cornell for his advice, and although he could see nothing dangerous in it he ‘said better not to distribute in States’. Eliot advised that such a small selection would have no legal value for Pound’s defence. And Laughlin told her, ‘It does not matter what E. said over the air. If he had only said Jesus was a good man, it would still be treason if he had been paid to do it by an enemy government, with whom we were at war.’ ‘That is the whole nub,’ he insisted, and accused her of not grasping ‘the facts of the situation’—while being himself negligently or wilfully wrong about the legal facts. Undaunted by these rebuffs, Olga had 300 copies of the booklet privately printed in Siena in January 1948 and distributed them at her own expense. Whether the booklet helped or harmed she had the satisfaction of feeling that it was at least something done, an active protest against the stifling passive acceptance of Pound’s predicament.
Later in the year she got up a formal statement, signed by the mayor and about seventy citizens of Rapallo, to the effect that the American writer Ezra Pound had lived in their town from 1923; that he had taken no part in Fascist meetings or activities there, had always been considered an American citizen, while being a friend of Italy, and a sympathizer with certain social and economic principles of Fascism; that he had retained the respect of even those among his fellow citizens who disagreed with his political opinions; and that he had always behaved correctly and never been party to any anti-Semitic acts. The mayor signed last, and wrote above his signature, ‘The statement is approved in consideration of the fact that in Rapallo the aforementioned person has always done good deeds.’ The statement was typed on one side of a large folio sheet folded to give four sides, and the signatures filled the other three sides. Olga sent the document to the US Embassy in Rome asking for it to be forwarded to the State Department. It had no evident effect.
In the background behind these ineffectual motions for Pound’s release were always uneasy considerations of his supposed insanity. ‘The first and only sign of it’ that Ronald Duncan could see when visiting him, was his ‘fear of being assassinated’, but that was not new—‘He had always imagined himself the target of some international group of bankers or warmongers.’ John Drummond wrote to Duncan that he presumed that the insanity was faked, and that he thought that ‘the “insanity” policy has been a tremendous mistake’. Olga Rudge had it explained to her by Paige, who was in Rapallo in 1948 with Pound’s permission to edit a selection of his letters. Pound had told him to tell her that ‘He cannot, absolutely cannot answer questions’, because ‘the psychiatrists examine every letter that he sends out’ and ‘he must appear witless to them’. However, as she told Eliot, she had ‘come to the conclusion NOTthat he is putting it on but that his mind IS affected. I have got either to believe that OR that he is being rather cruel to me’—this because he would not give her any answers even to the purely private things she most wanted answers about. Eliot found an equally self-concerned reason for thinking Pound insane. ‘It is possible that Ezra is pretending’, he wrote back to Olga, ‘but at the same time I believe that he is insane: that is to say, that he is irresponsible and that the opinion of Dr. Overholser and the decision of the Court were correct.’ This was because when Eliot had visited him the year before Pound had avoided all personal conversation, had been ‘not merely exaggeratedly reserved about himself: he asked no questions about myself, or betrayed any interest in my affairs. I didn’t even have occasion to tell him that my wife had died.’ John Berryman had also been struck by Pound’s impersonality and how ‘he moved away from personal subjects very quickly and as if naturally’, but it seems not to have occurred to him to take Eliot’s leap from impersonality to insanity. More likely he recognized it as a common way of warding off pity and self-pity.
Olga wanted to hear directly from Dr Overholser about Pound’s condition, and why it was that she could not get him to answer important questions. She conceded that it had always been his way to refuse ‘to face any facts which do not fit into how he would like things to be’. Her letter was answered by the assistant superintendent, Dr Samuel Silk, who readily agreed that ‘it is Mr Pound’s mental quirk not to face any facts which are not in conformity with his preconceived beliefs’, and added on his own account that ‘Because of Mr. Pound’s intelligence, he is very cleverly able to distort reality to suit his own purpose.’ As if exemplifying this he described Pound’s keeping himself apart from the other patients when taken onto the grounds, and his constantly complaining of fatigue when interviewed but showing none when alone in his room working on his manuscripts. Apparently he could not see that this might be a poet’s determined effort to maintain his individual identity and vision, and to save his mind from the disintegrative conditions of the madhouse.
Laughlin did show some appreciation of that in a letter to Hilda Doolittle around September 1948: ‘I was down to see Ezra in Washington the other day, and was pleased to find that in some ways he was considerably improved. His physical health seems good, and he is able to concentrate a good deal better. He also seems to have been able to create a kind of mental barrier between himself and his surroundings so that his own life is able to go on untroubled, and he is not too unhappy. However, his delusions…’ Cornell had told Laughlin that the delusions were worse. ‘I had not seen Ezra for about a year,’ he wrote in June, ‘and was impressed with the further deterioration of his mind. His delusions have become more clearly defined.’ And as ever Dr Overholser was at hand, ‘willing to testify that E. will never get any better’. Laughlin sent on Cornell’s letter to Olga Rudge.
In September 1948 Pound had other priorities apart from what people might be saying about his sanity. William Van O’Connor had asserted in a discussion of The Pisan Cantos in the Saturday Review of Literature that Pound had gone over to the Fascists and committed treason. Pound asked Cornell to tell the editors that this was not true. Cornell wrote that it could not be said that he was guilty of treason since there had been no trial, and gave it as his personal conviction that if he were to be tried ‘Mr. Pound would be acquitted on the ground that he was not responsible mentally for his actions.’ When he saw a copy of what Cornell had written Pound had Dorothy remonstrate, ‘EP is not interested in the question of his sanity—but in establishing that he did NOT commit treason.’
Thrown to wolves
In Willa Cather’s My Ántonia Pavel, a Russian immigrant, tells his story. He was groomsman when his friend married the belle of another village; after the wedding- feast the bridal party set out at midnight for their own village, racing in their sleds across the snowbound steppe, Pavel driving the groom and his bride in the lead; a great pack of wolves scent them and attack, picking off the sleds behind them one after another until theirs is the last and the wolves are nearly upon them—and then Pavel had thrown out the groom and his bride and saved himself.
On 9 May 1948, Laughlin wrote to his close friend Robert Fitzgerald, the translator of Homer and Virgil, and (with Dudley Fitts) of Greek tragedies:
Are you in NYC? I desire to see you. TSE also desires to see you. He particularly hopes you can dine with us…the evening of Thursday [June] the 20th to plot and plan a bit how to restore poor ole Ezpo as a bard. His fate political and physical is in the hands of doctors and lawyers, but something we can do is keep slime like Cerf and Untermeyer from getting across the propaganda that he was never a wonderful poet, an ornament to his age.
Both The Pisan Cantos and a volume collecting all the cantos including those new ones were now at last nearly ready for publication—Marion Cummings was presented with copies of both when she called on New Directions about 22 May—but publication was being delayed until 30 July while the plotting and planning went on to have the cantos received as just wonderful poetry. Their relation to ‘his fate political and physical’ was to be played down as much as possible, or at least neutralized.
Laughlin knew very well what he was up against. Back in February 1946 Bennett Cerf of Random House had declared in his column in the Saturday Review of Literature that he refused to have Pound’s poems included in Conrad Aiken’s anthology, not because the poetry was not good enough, but because ‘he was a fascist and a traitor’. His column had brought down ‘a veritable avalanche of praise and blame’, nearly 300 letters ‘equally divided’, but divided between those hostile to Pound and those hostile to censorship. Persuaded by the latter that he should allow the poems to be included, he ‘angrily’ conceded ‘that it may be wrong to confuse Pound the poet with Pound the man’. That was the distinction Laughlin hoped could be maintained to save the poetry from the untouchable Pound.
In mid-June Laughlin mentioned to Pound that ‘This Thursday a council meets on yr behalf at the request of the good parson Eliot. Cummings, Tate, Auden, Fitzgerald, Fitts and Cornell will be there and we shall mightywise deliberate and perhaps bring forth a small mechanical mouse.’ Whatever else they discussed, they would certainly have talked about managing the reception of The Pisan Cantos, and they would have talked too about the Bollingen Prize for Poetry which was to be awarded in November by a committee on which three of them—Eliot, Tate, and Auden—would be serving. Allen Tate had proposed that there should be such a prize when he was Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress in 1943, and Huntington Cairns had secured the funding for it from the Bollingen Foundation. $1,000 was to be awarded for the best volume of poetry by an American published in America during the calendar year, the awarding committee consisting of past and present Fellows in American Letters at the Library of Congress. The first award was to be made in 1948. Archibald MacLeish believed that the prize had been set up by friends of Pound with the intention of making him the first recipient and thus ‘dramatizing his situation and putting the government, and particularly the Department of Justice, in an awkward if not untenable position’. It is possible though unlikely that this was the original intention, but it may well have been an outcome which Laughlin’s ‘council’ were hoping for. In any case they could reasonably expect that the award of the prize by a group of distinguished poets, and with the backing of the Library of Congress and the Bollingen Foundation, would go far ‘to restore poor ole Ezpo as a bard’.
The Pisan Cantos were reviewed upon publication by Robert Fitzgerald. ‘We find ourselves, again, in debt to New Directions’, he began,
This publication is admirable—and far from being a simple act of piety. The poet remains in St. Elizabeths Hospital, Washington, adjudged too ill in mind to stand trial for treason; and it is easy to look for and discover in the poetry evidence of his illness. That evidence is almost certainly there in quantities strongly confirmatory for the diagnostician.
That ‘illness’, according to Laughlin’s and Cornell’s strategy, was meant to account for the Rome Radio broadcasts. But then, while it might neutralize the charge of treason, it also meant that Pound must have been insane when writing The Pisan Cantos. Laughlin had got around this difficulty when he published Pound’s Confucius as an issue of his magazine Pharos in 1947—the translation carrying the awkward date-line ‘D.T.C. Pisa; 5 October-5 November, 1945’—by advertising it as prepared ‘during the intervals of his illness’. The dust-jacket of The Pisan Cantos, however, simply stated that ‘they were composed when the poet was incarcerated in a prison camp near Pisa’. Fitzgerald was now conceding that Pound was ‘ill’ when he composed them, and then going on to find within the cantos themselves strong evidence of the ‘illness’. What he meant, it emerges, is that there is madness in the very method of the cantos, in their ‘ideogrammic method’ with its abandonment of Aristotelian logic, and its disregard of the fact that ‘it is impossible to use a logical language, like English, as if it were a picture language, like Chinese, or as if it were an abstract musical medium’. ‘Once you start thinking [in English]’, Fitzgerald asserted, ‘you are irrevocably committed to logic’, and because the Cantos don’t put things together ‘logically’ they show that Pound was not right in his mind. Moreover, because he ‘thought badly’—and here Fitzgerald turned from the cantos to the man and his fate—Pound had behaved ‘fantastically’, that is, he had made his broadcasts over Rome Radio and so ended up in St Elizabeths as incurably insane.
In spite of his thus identifying the The Pisan Cantos with the alleged insanity of the broadcasts Fitzgerald did not want to dismiss them altogether. Even as he complained that he could not make coherent sense of them, he rejoiced in the way Pound’s mastery of melodic invention weaves the plenitude of evocative detail into a shimmering web, and insisted that ‘we ought to be grateful for what we have’. ‘At their least valuation’, he concluded, ‘I submit that these Cantos in which light and air—and song—move so freely are more exhilarating poetic sketch books, “Notes from the Upper Air”, than can be found elsewhere in our literature.’
Louis Martz too, reviewing them in the Yale Review, though he found more coherence and depth than Fitzgerald, concluded that ‘It is perhaps true that The Pisan Cantos are really a brilliant note-book held together by the author’s personality, with poems scattered throughout.’ Martz did remark ‘the aging prisoner amid the ugliness of the camp’, but otherwise passed over all that actuality with its crisis and its commitments as ‘at the edge of the poetical’. A consensus was developing that The Pisan Cantos could safely be approved if they could somehow be detached from the unfortunate poet and read as harmlessly ‘poetical’. Richard Eberhart, invited by Laughlin to write something about them, was explicit: ‘An approach to the work as poetry is necessary and more rewarding, at least to me, than reading the Cantos as political, economic, or sociological manifestoes. Fifty years will remove the politics and leave the poetry.’
Many on the committee awarding the Bollingen Prize for poetry appear to have shared that view, while being very conscious that the world at large would not. They met on 18 and 19 November before the calendar year was out in order to accommodate T. S. Eliot, who was just then a visiting fellow at Princeton’s Institute of Advanced Study but about to return to England. Coincidentally, it was announced about this time that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The other members present were: Léonie Adams (current Fellow and chair), Conrad Aiken, W. H. Auden, Louise Bogan, Paul Green, Robert Lowell, Katherine Anne Porter, Karl Shapiro, Theodore Spencer, Allen Tate, Willard Thorp, and Robert Penn Warren. The fourteenth member, Katherine Garrison Chapin, wife of Francis Biddle, who as Attorney General had indicted Pound, was not present. Four works were nominated: Pound’s Pisan Cantos, Williams’s Paterson (Book Two), Randall Jarrell’s Losses, and Muriel Rukeyser’s The Green Wave. There was no vote at this time, but it was clear that the majority supported The Pisan Cantos as the best work of American poetry in that year. Questions were asked as to whether it was in the best interests of the Library of Congress, or of the Bollingen Foundation, to award the prize to a man under indictment for treason to the United States. Eliot suggested that Pound’s interests should also be taken into account, since the award might bring him undesirable publicity and ‘be exploited by the wrong elements’. Upon his advice the committee decided to think further upon these questions and to consult with the Librarian, Luther H. Evans.
After an interval the committee proceeded to an official vote by mail-in ballot. Twelve voted—Paul Green abstained, and Theodore Spencer had died in the interim. The Pisan Cantos received ten first preferences, and two second preferences, and so was clearly the winner. (Spencer was also deemed to have voted for The Pisan Cantos on the ground that he had spoken for them at the first meeting.) The committee reconvened (without Eliot) on 4 February 1949, and, before ratifying the result, ‘heard directly an opinion previously given to Miss Adams’—quite possibly by the Librarian—‘that serious harm might be done by the award [to Pound] especially with regard to all the individuals concerned, including the recipient of the prize, who would be exposed to the resources of an invidious publicity; and perhaps serious harm to the institution of the Fellows and the Prize’. The minutes of the meeting go on to record that ‘Mr. Lowell thought that the Fellows should not consider themselves, but the effects upon the Library and on Mr. Pound’.
Léonie Adams then asked Cornell to advise on whether the award might hinder Pound’s eventual release from St Elizabeths. As he knew, she wrote, it had been decided to make the award to him ‘provided the special circumstances do not make this too difficult for the Library or Mr. Pound’. She had been told by ‘those investigating the matter from the Library’s standpoint’, and also ‘by someone in a position to know a good deal unofficially about Department of Justice attitudes’, that there was ‘now some question of reviewing Mr. Pound’s case in order to determine on a legal finding of insanity, and in general it is their opinion that publicity at this time would be most unfortunate’. The ‘someone’ may have been Francis Biddle, the former Attorney General, who did let the Librarian know that he was ‘strongly against the decision’. Even so, the words in Adams’s ear would seem to have been no more than vague talk designed to confuse the committee and protect the Library, since, as Cornell said in his reply, there was no way Pound’s legal position could be affected by either the award or the resultant publicity. As for its effect on him personally, Cornell supposed ‘it could do no harm and might do much good’, for surely ‘such recognition would be welcomed by him, and might serve to support his wavering ego’.
With this assurance, but against the advice of the Librarian, the award to Pound was formally announced on 20 February. The New York Herald Tribune reported next day:
Pound’s work, the jurors held, ‘represents the highest achievement of American poetry in the year for which the award is made’. The jurors, however, explained their decision to recognize Pound’s work despite objections which might be raised against him politically. ‘The Fellows are aware’, the jurors said, ‘that objections may be made to awarding a prize to a man situated as is Mr. Pound. In their view, however, the possibility of such objection did not alter the responsibility assumed by the jury of selection.…To permit other considerations than that of poetic achievement to sway the decision would destroy the significance of the award and would in principle deny the validity of that objective perception of value on which any civilized society must rest.’
Karl Shapiro immediately went public with his dissent from that principle. He had argued, in a letter to Léonie Adams in January, that Pound could not be given the award ‘without an accompanying apology for or denunciation of his political activities’; and since there was no point in making an award ‘modified by some kind of condemnatory apology’, he thought no award should be made for 1948. Adams had agreed, and had told Shapiro that Huntington Cairns also ‘seemed to think that this would be an acceptable way out’. But Allen Tate, in a letter to Luther Evans, declared that to make no award would be a cowardly evasion of their responsibility and that to give the prize to their second choice would be disgraceful. ‘Hell will no doubt break loose’, he wrote, ‘but I don’t see how we can avoid it’—
If a democratic society is going to justify itself, it has got to maintain distinctions and standards, and allow for decisions which are above politics. Pressure groups and popular hysteria have nothing to do with intellectual standards.
Tate evidently prevailed, and his principled stand was published as the Fellows’ official position. A few days later Shapiro wrote in the Baltimore Sun, ‘I disagree vehemently with the principle embodied in the Library press release that to judge a work on other than aesthetic grounds is “to deny the objective perception of value on which any civilized society must rest”. This is not a statement of principle but an apology,’ he asserted, and one stemming ‘directly from a coterie of writers called the “new critics”’.
All hell did break loose over the following months. Albert Deutsch at once objected loudly that there was ‘something unholy’ about bestowing ‘honor in any form on the man who broadcast Fascist propaganda under the auspices of the Fascist enemy of his native land’. He denounced Lowell and Eliot in particular as ‘friends of the turncoat poet’, and condemned the committee’s decision as a disloyal political act. Dwight MacDonald, the anti-totalitarian and contrarian editor of Politics, replied that, on the contrary, the committee’s decision was ‘the brightest political act in a dark period’, precisely because ‘by some miracle’ they had been able to consider ‘Mr. Pound the poet apart from Mr. Pound the fascist, Mr. Pound the anti-Semite, Mr. Pound the traitor, Mr. Pound the funny-money crank, and all the other Mr. Pounds whose existence has properly nothing to do with the question of whether Mr. Pound the poet had or had not written the best American poetry of 1948’. For MacDonald, the fact that ‘Pound’s treason and fascism were not taken into account in honoring him as a poet’ represented the essential difference between the freedom and openness of ‘such imperfect democracy as we in the West still possess’, and the tyrannous thought-control of Soviet Communism. However, while rejoicing in the West’s freedom to discriminate and to evaluate objectively,MacDonald had no discriminating word of his own for Pound or his poetry. He confessed that he was incompetent to judge The Pisan Cantos, yet felt at liberty to say that the book was not ‘by any means free of its author’s detestable social and racial prejudices’. His exercise of his democratic freedom extended to sharing with Deutsch the ‘well-known’ view of ‘Mr. Pound the fascist, Mr. Pound the anti-Semite, Mr. Pound the traitor’ etc. In short, in his polemic he had no care for the objective facts of Pound’s case. For his purposes, the darker the poet’s reputation the brighter shone out against it the committee’s principle of ‘That objective perception of value on which any civilized society must rest’. Neither MacDonald himself nor the commentators who cited him approvingly appear to have been troubled by the contradiction between the high principle and the irresponsible practice.
William Barrett, editor of Partisan Review, agreed that the sentiments behind the committee’s affirmation of a general principle were ‘admirable’, but he was concerned about the application of the principle in the particular case. ‘It would be a pity’, he wrote in the April issue of the magazine, ‘if in the aesthetic recognition of Pound’s poetry as valuable we chose to forget about the humanly ugly attitudes of which he has been a spokesman both in his writing and in his brief and lamentable career as a broadcaster’ and as ‘a fascist and anti-semite’. Indeed, he went on, ‘some of those unfortunate attitudes that led to Pound’s downfall’ are expressed in The Pisan Cantos themselves, andhere he cited, as though they had some connection with the charge of treason, a few of the anti-Semitic lines in canto 74/439, and went on at some length about the difficulty of dissociating their ‘odious and hideous human attitude’ from ‘certain objective facts like six million Jews dead in Europe’. But could it be, he wanted to ask, that in a ‘lyrical poem’ such as he took The Pisan Cantos to be, ‘a poet’s technical accomplishment could transform material that is ugly and vicious into beautiful poetry’? Barrett appeared to think it possible to give an affirmative answer to his question, even though he had set it up in such a way as to make it appear that this ‘lyrical poem’ consisted of nothing but anti-Semitism and other such ugly and vicious matter.
Partisan Review invited ‘a number of Bollingen jurors’ to respond to Barrett’s editorial in the May issue and received replies from Auden, Shapiro, and Tate. Other contributors to the symposium were Robert Gorham Davis, Clement Greenberg, Irving Howe, and George Orwell. Of all these not one dissented from Barrett’s premise, and not one brought forward any specific evidence to support it. Indeed, there was nothing in the entire symposium to show that any of them had actually read The Pisan Cantos, let alone that they had attempted to understand them as poetry. Their common ground, unexamined but apparently needing no proof, was that The Pisan Cantos were to be characterized as anti-Semitic and fascist. And this judgment was based, it appeared, upon their general sense of Pound’s politics, more particularly upon what they knew or had heard about the wartime broadcasts. Several added they didn’t think much of the Cantos as poetry anyway, and Orwell said that he had ‘always regarded him as an entirely spurious writer’. In his view the Bollingen judges should have said firmly that ‘the opinions that [Pound] has tried to disseminate by means of his works are evil ones’. Davis, Greenberg, Howe, and Shapiro were explicit that Pound, on account of his anti-Semitism, should not have been honoured with the prize. Howe went so far as to say that ‘Pound, by virtue of his public record and utterances, is beyond the bounds of our intellectual life’—beyond the pale, in short.
The clearest and most thoughtful statement of the general view came from Karl Shapiro. He said that he had voted against Pound, in the first place and crucially, because ‘I am a Jew and cannot honor antisemites’; and secondly, because he believed ‘that the poet’s political and moral philosophy ultimately vitiates his poetry and lowers its standards as literary work’. That philosophy was ‘fascist’ he implied, and demanded to know who would deny that ‘fascism’ is ‘one of the “myths” of The Cantos’. Whether by ‘fascism’ he meant anti-Semitism or something else remained unclear. In any case, since ‘fascism’ is a crime against civilization, it followed that both Pound and his cantos should be treated as criminal. But those who had voted for Pound, he accused, had chosen to ‘disregard the mythopoeic and moral function of the artist’; though Pound himself, ‘if he had sufficient intellectual honesty…would be the first to oppose such a criterion of selection’. There at least, though he had no call to impugn Pound’s intellectual honesty when making the point, Shapiro was surely right, since Pound always had maintained that art should be in the service of life and of a just society.
Allen Tate’s response differed from the rest, in that he thought Barrett had insinuated ‘a charge of antisemitism’ against the judges, and this he took personally as a ‘cowardly and dishonourable’ accusation. He appeared to be threatening to demand satisfaction for the sake of his own ‘courage and honour’—but he entered no objection to Barrett’s insinuation that the only thing to be said about The Pisan Cantos was that they were anti-Semitic. Barrett was astonished by ‘Mr. Tate’s explosion’, and retorted that his editorial had ‘contained absolutely no allegation whatever of antisemitism on the part of the judges’. That was true enough, but some of the contributors to his symposium were now implicating the judges. Shapiro wrote that some of them ‘had come under [Pound’s] influence as impresario and teacher’, that some ‘had at some time made declarations of political reaction’, and that some ‘had engaged in the literary struggle to dissociate art from social injunction’. He named no names, except for Mr. Eliot, whose presence ‘at the meetings gave these facts a reality which perhaps inhibited open discussion’. Davis, a literary critic and professor of English at Columbia University, was prepared to name ‘Eliot, Auden, Tate and Warren’ as reactionary representatives of the ‘new criticism’. He held them responsible for ‘a complex of ideas dominant in American criticism during the forties’, ‘made explicit by Eliot in After Strange Gods and The Idea of a Christian Society; by the Southern Regionalists including Tate and Warren…and by Auden in the Herod-as-liberal speech in A Christmas Oratorio’. And ‘In this complex of ideas’, he asserted, ‘the antisemitism with which William Barrett is principally concerned has a vital part’. For him, whatever was to be said about Pound, it was the judges themselves who stood accused.
Partisan Review was written and read by the literary-political intelligentsia and did not have a wide circulation. The Saturday Review of Literature, on the other hand, enjoyed a much broader middlebrow readership, and its president and its editor, Harrison Smith and Norman Cousins, had scented an opportunity to attack the modern poetry and new criticism which a great many of its readers found difficult and intimidating. They commissioned a pair of articles from Robert Hillyer, who had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1934 for his conventional poetry, had taught at Harvard—Laughlin quit his studies there for a time in reaction to his dreadful teaching and poetry—and had been appointed at Kenyon College to counter the new critical influence of John Crowe Ransom and the Kenyon Review. His first article, under the heading ‘Treason’s Strange Fruit’, appeared in the 11 June issue, and was introduced by a flamboyantly inflammatory editorial signed by both Smith and Cousins. With a total disregard for truth they thundered,
Ezra Pound is not merely the traitor who deserts his country to impart secrets which are useful to the enemy. Ezra Pound voluntarily served the cause of the greatest anti-humanitarian and anti-cultural crusade known to history. He was no innocent abroad who was made to sing for his supper and his safety, but an open and declared enemy of democratic government in general and the American people in particular.
Hillyer then extended the attack to the Bollingen jurors, to Paul Mellon and the Bollingen Foundation, and to Carl Jung (from whose summer villa in Switzerland came the name ‘Bollingen’), and netted them all together in a supposed fascist conspiracy to strangle American democracy and its democratic poetry. ‘In the Bollingen award’, he wrote, ‘the clouds of an intellectual neo-Fascism and the new estheticism have perceptibly met.’ In his second article, ‘Poetry’s New Priesthood’, Hillyer held Eliot responsible for the scandalous award of the prize to Pound, and likened his influence upon his fellow jurors, upon the New Critics, and upon the teaching of literature in the nation’s schools and colleges, to totalitarian dictatorship. Over the following weeks more than a hundred readers’ letters were published by the Saturday Review, many agreeing with Hillyer, some finding his conspiracy theories outrageous, but only one supporting the award of the prize to The Pisan Cantos.
Norman Cousins sent Hillyer’s articles to Representative Jacob Javits of New York, who shared them with Representative James Patterson of Connecticut. Within the month they made the articles the basis of a discussion in the House, and had them reprinted in the Congressional Record. Neither had read The Pisan Cantos, but they took Hillyer’s word for it that they ‘contain obscenities to an excessive degree, and make many derogatory references to Jews and Negroes’. They were particularly aroused by Hillyer’s charge that the award was an insult to America’s war dead. ‘Pound states that Jews stimulate wars to make money, while the stupid Christians go out to fight and are slaughtered,’ they declared, and demanded rhetorically, ‘How can we tolerate these expressions, when we all realize the great contributions made in World War II by many thousands of Negroes and Jews who laid down their lives for an ideal?’ Javits warned that the dangers of fascism to American democracy were as real as the dangers of communism, and called for an investigation into the committee and the award. In those years the House Committee on Un-American Activities was very actively seeking to uncover the communist affiliations of writers and public figures, and there was a very real fear among them of the damage they could suffer from being made to appear guilty by association with known communists. However, there was to be no Congressional investigation of the alleged ‘fascist infiltration’ of the Bollingen jury. Instead, the Library Committee of Congress simply decided in mid-August that the Library would no longer award prizes for art, music, and literature.
Harrison Smith made it clear to Laughlin in mid-September that the Saturday Review’s quarry had been not Pound but the Library of Congress’s Fellows in American Literature. As with Dwight MacDonald, though their intent was the opposite of his, the more they could blacken Pound’s reputation the better he served their attack on the Fellows. The editors had wanted to destroy the power over American poetry and criticism of ‘a clique subservient to Eliot’, a clique in whose work ‘Pound’s influence and Fascist conceptions’ were plainly reflected, and whose members were among the Fellows who had so scandalously awarded the prize for poetry to Pound. By attacking them and working up a national sense of outrage, and then arousing the interest of Congress, they had succeeded, in their own estimate, in extinguishing this small group’s highly undemocratic power.
When they found themselves under attack the Fellows readily sacrificed Pound’s reputation to save their own. First Luther Evans contributed to the Saturday Review a defence of the Library’s objects and procedures in the matter of the award, and of the Fellows’ conduct in making the award. For himself, he regarded their giving the prize to The Pisan Cantos as ‘unfortunate’, and he confessed that to him ‘Mr. Pound’s book is hardly poetry at all’. But that said, he held that poetry should not have to pass a political test, and he could not and would not interfere with the Fellows’ free and expert decision. Léonie Adams, as chair of the committee, issued a statement justifying the manner in which the ballot had been conducted. Allen Tate issued a ‘personal statement’ defending himself against the charge of ‘fascism’. The Committee as a whole issued a statement defending the Fellows, their qualifications to act as jurors, and the correctness of their judging The Pisan Cantos exclusively on literary merits and in spite of their strong personal objections to Pound’s attitudes and beliefs. The statement gave no indication of exactly what they perceived to be the book’s literary merits.
Other writers rallied to the Fellows’ defence. A Hudson Review editorial denounced the Saturday Review campaign as the most ill-founded and ‘unscrupulous attempt that has been made here in recent years to discredit a group of serious writers, and serious writing in general’. Hayden Carruth, just then editor of Poetry (Chicago), saw the campaign as an attack on poetry itself, and hastened to defend the Fellows and American poetry in general from the taint of fascism and un-Americanism, while saying of Pound that he was ‘very likely a traitor’ and ‘an acknowledged fascist’. The poet John Berryman obtained seventy-four signatures, including those of many leading writers and critics, to a letter to the editors of the Saturday Review of Literature. At the outset this impressive body of America’s men of letters liberally allowed that ‘The literary and political values of the poetry of Ezra Pound offer wide latitudes of support and opposition, as all poetry does in one degree or another’, and declared that they would welcome discussion ‘in these terms’. They did not stay, however, to engage in that wide discussion. Their pressing concern was that,
Under the pretense of attacking the award of the Bollingen Prize to Ezra Pound, you sanctioned and guided a prepared attack on modern poetry and criticism, impugning not only the literary reputations but the personal characters of some of its foremost writers.…Through the technique of the smear and of ‘guilt by association’ you linked the names of T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Paul Mellon, and Carl Jung, and adumbrated a Fascist conspiracy, for which you did not produce the evidence, and by implication you included in this attack not only certain of the Fellows in American Letters of the Library of Congress, but also a larger group of unnamed writers who were participating in the ‘conspiracy’.
That was a just counterblast against what the editor of The Nation, where the letter appeared after the Saturday Review refused it, termed a ‘philistine attack on modern literature’. Yet it failed to expose and challenge the fact that it was by their association with Pound that the others were being smeared and found guilty, and that his reputation and his poetry had been first smeared and condemned, and this without the production and examination of any evidence beyond the repeatedly cited half-dozen anti-Semitic lines, the only lines out of the more than three thousand in The Pisan Cantos that those arguing over the Bollingen award appeared to know. There was after all a profound injustice in this instance of America’s more enlightened writers and critics rallying to their own defence against the paranoid prejudice Hillyer had whipped up against them while abandoning Pound to it.
It was a remarkable feature of ‘the literary battle of the year’ (as Malcolm Cowley called it) that such small regard was shown on all sides for the literary virtues of particularity and precision. The entire battle was conducted in abstractions and generalities, in rhetorical questions and assertions, with no analysis or demonstration of anything in particular. Most scandalously, there was no attempt at all to test and prove what was being alleged of Pound and The Pisan Cantos, whether for or against—none in the Bollingen jurors’ statements to justify their award, none in the arguments in Partisan Review and the Saturday Review and Poetry, and still none in Poetry’s collection The Case against ‘The Saturday Review of Literature’. It would be impossible to say from those sources whether the participants had any real knowledge of what they were all confidently asserting or assuming concerning those cantos. It would also be impossible to say exactly what they meant by ‘fascism’, the offensive word with which and against which the battle was mainly fought, since it could be intended, as by Shapiro, as a variant for ‘anti-Semitism’, or it could be used as in the Saturday Review to damn anything from Nazism to the New Criticism. And if occasionally some reference to Mussolini’s Italian Fascism was intended this was inevitably lost in the prevailing imprecision and lack of definition. Altogether, it was a battle waged in a climate of fear from which no one emerged with honour.
Pound observed the battle from St Elizabeths without being drawn into it. In February, in advance of the public announcement, he had been informed through Dr Overholser that he was to be awarded the Bollingen Prize, and Huntington Cairns had noted his excitement. Apparently he had considered issuing a statement to the press, ‘No comment from the Bug House’, but had thought better of it. By early April he had collected a box of clippings and letters concerning the award and he showed them to Cairns with some pride in the fact that most were favourable. There is no record of any sort of formal presentation of the prize. Presumably the $1,000 were paid over, but possibly not to Pound himself since Cornell had advised Léonie Adams that ‘the prize, if awarded, should be given to [Dorothy Pound] as his legal representative’.
The award brought down upon Pound much hostile attention and some very negative views of The Pisan Cantos—Malcom Cowley for one dealt quite savagely with both Pound and his cantos in his summing up of the affair in October’s New Republic. With the public at large the prize did little or nothing for his reputation either as a citizen or as a poet. Laughlin, however, was unfazed by that. In a press release accompanying the publication of the collected Cantos in 1948 he had deplored the confusion of ‘the obvious poetic value of the CANTOS…with the political issue of Pound’s past’, and had gathered statements from Tate, Eliot, Williams, Lowell, and others, testifying to the Cantos’ aesthetic value and to Pound’s good influence upon modern poetry. After the prize was awarded he made the most of it in New Directions advertisements, beginning with a full page in the April 1949 issue of Partisan Review visually associating THE PISAN CANTOS with THE BOLLINGEN AWARD ‘for the “Highest Accomplishment in American Poetry” in the past year’. That was the issue of Partisan Review in which the editor posed his awkward question about vicious attitudes in beautiful poetry, the question which Laughlin would steadfastly sidestep, holding firmly to the New Critics’ principle that the value of a poem had nothing to do with anything outside the poem itself. Archibald MacLeish would point out after Pound’s death that this treatment had heaped further injustice upon him, by denying the profound commitment of his poetry ‘to the human world, to the historical world, the moral world’.
Courage against cowardice
Nobody thinks but grandpa
He sits round all day
Whistling in the bughouse
Just to pass the time away
When his visitors had come and gone, and if the psychiatrists were not bothering him, Pound would have another twenty-one hours to get through on his own resources. Evidently he did not spend all that time in his cell, since he paid attention to other inmates and could be, as one attendant said to Marianne Moore, ‘a great help’ with them. But as a feigned madman among the genuinely mad he must have been subject to a special kind of loneliness. And he must have been shut up in his own mind, alone with his thoughts, for much of the time. He did not give way to self-pity, but he felt the loss of being so utterly out of the world his friends were free to go about in. In 1960 he would tell Donald Hall that he still suffered from ‘the cumulative isolation of not having had enough contact—fifteen years living more with ideas than with persons’.
His mind was probably not a comfortable place of confinement, being rarely still or at ease. Its ideas milled about demanding attention and expression, mostly the same old ideas insisting as ever on instant action against the world’s follies and stupidities. That at least is how it appears in the bulk of the letters Dorothy was carrying out and posting for him, apart from those to Olga Rudge and to Mary, now Baratti and soon to be de Rachewiltz when Boris revived an ancestral title. One of his most faithful and regular correspondents was Olivia Rossetti Agresti, an old friend who lived in Rome, who had been for much of her life involved in an international institute there which became the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, and who had been, like Pound, a supporter of Mussolini’s economic programme. There were shared interests and friends, but also sharp differences—and Pound was as stimulated by their differences as by what they had in common.
She was Catholic, so he would attack the Church of Rome—‘nothing cd/ be more idiotic than a religion that has put corsets on the holy mystery of fecundity’. She opposed his anti-Semitism, saying ‘I am profoundly convinced that it is wrong to foster generalisations that make a whole people or race responsible for the actions of some’, and Pound would blame the Jews for the errors of Catholicism—‘a religion hatched in slums & cut off from agriculture is a curse whether of 1000 or 3000 years’; and again, ‘The Church of Rome decayed, got steadily stupider pari passu as the jew books were put into circulation, and stupidities engrafted on the clean greek and roman ideas of the early Church’. He was particularly fierce against the Old Testament, calling it a ‘turgid mass of bloodthirsty rhetoric’; and as for the revered King James’ version, ‘that ruind english style. It prevented thought. Boobs chained to cliches / cant think. // This bug house FULL of ’em.’
That letter had begun by asking Agresti to get copies of his wartime publications, Confucio/Studio Integrale and Oro e lavoro, to two Italian writers whom he thought needed to learn from them, specifically in respect of the ‘ERRORS of the regime’. And did Villari, who was a defender of Mussolini’s policies, ‘understand the main points of Oro e Lav/ ?’ As ‘anonimo’ he sent her a note for anybody to use over their own signature as ‘from an observer of the interregnum’, recalling Mussolini’s declaration, ‘Lo Stato è lo spirito del popolo’, with the comment, ‘And Mussolini’s state fell when it ceased to be the italian spirit’. Placed as he was, he could not help living over again the part he had played in that past, and feeling he should have been heeded then, and should be heeded still. ‘If the young had started reading me 20 years ago the world wd be brighter’, he wrote in June 1947, and then later that month, ‘I shall prob/ die of stroke from rage at idiocy of people who never read the authors I recommend.’
Along with wanting to plant seeds in people’s minds as of old he was now as urgent about agricultural improvements. The yield from peanuts in the Veneto had been used for oil, he protested, ‘Got to get BUTTER idea into their blocks re/ arachidi. And into ALL of ’em: Alberi e Cisterni. Arachidi, Acero, Soja’—plant trees, dig cisterns, cultivate groundnuts, maples, soja—but ‘None of the Italian papers has yet mentioned, arachidi, soja, acero’. ‘AND [there were] these new soil treatments / tiny quantities in sprays’. Thus, as he had once envisioned on Rome’s balconies a nourishing crop of peanuts, now he dreamed of nature’s abundance being intelligently cultivated throughout Italy.
He had money on his mind, of course, especially the evil of ‘private AND irresponsible…and monopolistic issue of PUBLIC purchasing power’. The usurers would keep coming up, ‘internat/ money lenders (some of whom despite your fanatical defence of ’em are yidds, and the dirtiest sort of yidds)’. So his mind would run relentlessly along its well-worn lines, often made furious by his perception of the neglect of what needed to be done, sometimes pausing to appreciate ORA’s being a Rossetti and cousin to Ford Madox Ford, sometimes calmly sensible, as in recommending an apparently effective treatment for her adopted granddaughter’s TB. Mostly, though, in these letters he would be in his driven prose mind, combative, prejudiced, utopian, so that his way of calling for calm enlightenment was to proclaim, ‘Obviously the filth of the age is out to destroy the vita contemplativa altogether / but there is no reason to surrender to filth.’
In the spirit of not surrendering Pound was negotiating to get back into circulation all his economic writings, including those addressed to the Fascist regime. Laughlin wouldn’t touch them, and nor would Eliot, and Stanley Nott was dead, so he had to cast about for a publisher who had nothing to lose by the association. A letter to Thomson & Smith Ltd., Publishers, London W.9, dated ‘May 28, 1948’ and signed ‘D. Pound’, though obviously typed by Pound himself, was intercepted and copied by the British authorities. ‘There is E.P. economic material for almost any size volume you care to print,’ it began, and went on to mention ABC of Economics—‘the rights are in E.P.’s hands (or rather of his “committee”, namely me)’—Social Credit: An Impact, What is Money For, ‘great number of articles that appeared in Action, and others in the British Italian Bulletin, during the Abyssinian war’, Gold and Work and The Economic Nature of the U.S. ‘now translated from the Italian’, with ‘further translations pending’. Among the latter would be essays from Orientamenti, ‘some of them, particularly the later development of Gesell, are among his best’. The Revd Swabey should be consulted, ‘in E’s name rather than in mine’, as editor or selecter, and Olga Rudge could be written to for other Italian material, again in the name of E., not D. Pound. One odd thing about the letter was an uncertainty about who had published ABC of Economics and Jefferson &/or Mussolini: did Nott do the former and Faber the latter, or was it the other way round—they should telephone Eliot for the details. Thomson & Smith did not publish any of these writings, but some of them were issued in London as ‘Money Pamphlets’ by Peter Russell in 1950 and 1951.
There was one project in 1948 which got Pound’s mind off the past and concentrated it upon the immediate task of saving the American mind. When Dallam Simpson took up the suggestion that he publish a four-page little magazine Pound made the monthly Four Pages his own, laying down its editorial policy and pouring out, in over 300 communications in the nine months that it lasted, detailed advice and directions which Simpson gamely tried to keep up with. He was given a typed sheet ‘to be kept for ready and permanent reference’ setting out aims and methods, and these were repeated and reinforced in letter after letter. ‘OUR job’, as Pound saw it, consisted of ‘1. permanent basis : Confucius / Gesell (lifted to level of literature, and not petrified) // 2. current necessities, without which the US mind is merely OUT OF DATE…Fenollosa, Brooks Adams, Frobenius’. Confucius and Gesell were ‘SEED, god dammit SEED’ to be aimed at ‘the 25 intelligent readers, (desired, not yet GOT)’—the twenty-five to be ‘the best receivers AND possible transmitters’. Also, ‘Everything used apart from the Kung/Gesell shd/ be designed to HOOK the attention, NOT to tell the converted what they know.’ Pound drafted letters for Simpson to type and sign seeking contributions—thus Williams was persuaded to say what he thought of Eliot’s recent Milton lecture, and Eliot was invited (in vain) to reply. Simpson was told what to include and what to leave aside, and which issue a particular item should go into and where it should be placed in relation to the other items. He would be advised on the particular qualities of different typefaces, Caslon, Baskerville, or Didot, on the appropriate size of type to use for an item, 7 point or 6 point, and on filling up the page to avoid excess white space or ‘printer’s fat’. For this last Pound provided him with a ‘barrel-full’ of short paragraphs and one-liners, ‘fillers’, to choose from at need, all anonymous but unmistakeably his. It was in vain that he sagely advised that there should be ‘as much as possible that is NON-EP, and that wont suggest too much and too many EP associations’, since, inevitably, his ‘internal signature’ was all over most of the nine issues.
His daughter Mary in her castle Neuhaus above Gais, and Olga Rudge at Sant’Ambrogio or in Siena, were much in his thoughts. A few days after he was moved from the hell-hole to Cedar Ward he wrote to Mary, ‘winter here, very—but warm in coop’, then asked what he could do for her. ‘If cento dollars are any use’, he offered, ‘you can have ’em . dono di nozze da ME’, ‘a wedding present from ME’ even if he was legally a non-person. And if ‘la nonna’, her grandmother Isabel, ‘has sense enough to go to Gais there would be money to pay for a serva and her food’. When Mary’s first child was born, in April, he hailed ‘evivva Walther!!’, realised that he was now a grandfather, and punned, as if the child had transformed his state, ‘here begins nonn’entity’. In June his mother was taken up to Neuhaus by car—she could no longer live on her own and there was no one to care for her in Rapallo—and wrote to him, perhaps forgetting how well he had known the Salò side of the lake, ‘I regret you do not know the wonderful beauty of the road, under the rocky shore of Lago di Garda.’ He wrote back, ‘Glad to hear yr/ news & that you were getting some conversation. Mary has grand plans for yr. future.’ Then he asked Mary how much it would cost to have a comfortable chair made for her. When his mother died at Neuhaus in early February 1948 and was buried there he wanted to send money for the funeral expenses, and to commission a traditional madonna for the grave from the local woodcarver, Herr Bacher, but first he needed to have specific figures since ‘committee has to report to court all expenditures of my cash’.
Pound worried about Olga’s struggling to make ends meet and was bothered by her refusing to take money from him. In a letter to Laughlin, whom he seems to think would be seeing Olga, he wrote,
Will or (or NOTE; CAN you make clear to Olga that I wd/ like her to have leisure to play fiddle WHEN she likes/
that whatever formula gets by the legal advisors, it would be framed to GET BY, not with aim of insulting HER.
and that it is not D/ who is holding up the matter, but the red-bloody-tape.
There wd/ be no strings as to what she actually did when or IF it is possible for the royalties to be turned over to her. I shd LIKE the accounts sent to her, and for her to get all there is /
In December 1947 he wrote on the back of the envelope of a Laughlin letter to Dorothy sent from Klosters in Switzerland, ‘N.D. royalties made over to Olga || Pay to her | keep out of custody accounts || but DP approval [?because] EP incompetent.’ On the front of the envelope he added, ‘Cornell had question earlier will of E.P. | & this wd cover at least part of the intentions in that document. | no mention DP in note to OR.’ On another envelope he wrote, ‘Tell O. to for gods sake take the cash | so as not to worry EP further. | She can hold or spend | preferably spend.’ On the back of this envelope he added, ‘EP should have some freedom even from benevolent “committee”.’ These pencilled notes were evidently directions for Dorothy, who wrote more or less in those exact terms to Laughlin on 24 December 1947:
About the royalties from New Directions: EP would like you please to make over whatever is owing to him from you to Olga Rudge.…If you make over to O.R. it will save me trouble as ‘committee’ when I have to make up the custody accounts again.
Tell Olga for God’s sake to take the cash so as not to worry EP any further: she can spend or hold—preferably spend…
I feel Ezra should have some freedom to dispose of his own earnings, even from a benevolent ‘committee’. This idea of turning over to Olga is made with my full approval.…
Whatever you write to O.R. don’t mention my name in the affair.
In spite of these explicit directions Pound’s royalties from New Directions were never paid over in full to Olga Rudge.
Laughlin reported difficulties getting the money to her, and at first the royalties continued to go to the Committee, and part would be returned for forwarding to Olga. Thus in October 1949 Dorothy sent Laughlin a cheque for $450 drawn on Ezra’s Jenkintown Bank & Trust Co. account, and New Directions sent that amount in November to Olga Rudge ‘for her services as custodian and editor of EP’s musical manuscripts’. A further $300 was sent in thisway in February 1950. Later two separate royalty accounts were set up, and through one the bulk of the royalties went to ‘the committee’, while lesser amounts were paid through the other to Olga Rudge. In April 1954 the amounts would be $1,558 to the committee, and $600 to Olga.
In November 1949 Dorothy Pound as Committee for Ezra Pound petitioned the Court to allow her to draw from his account each month $100 for her own expenses and maintenance, $20 for ‘the patient’s extras’, and an allowance of $50 for Omar Pound. The Committee’s legal fees and expenses were also paid from the account, and in time these would become considerable. A depressed note, not dated but apparently of 1949 or 1950, indicates that there were moments at least when Pound felt that he was not being allowed to dispose of his earnings as he wished. ‘GODDAM/’, he typed, ‘not even $50 Xmas present for Mary. | or allowed to invest in anything of interest | such as printing sure seller’; and to this he added in pencil, ‘in hands of money lenders | might as well die’. The Committee’s accounts do show occasional payments to Mary, as $50 in October 1952, and $75 at Christmas that year.
Some time after 22 June 1949 Dorothy Pound sent Mary a copy of a document signed and sworn on that date before a Notary Public in Washington DC by Omar Pound. Omar had been demobbed from the US Army and was attending Hamilton College on the GI Bill of Rights, and about this time was a frequent visitor to Pound at St Elizabeths. The document states, ‘FOR VALUE RECEIVED, I, Omar S. Pound hereby renounce all rights and claims to proceeds (royalties or whatever) from Ezra Pound’s work in favour of Mary Baratti, of Schloss Brunnenburg, Merano, Italy and of her son Walter or subsequent issue.’ There were two provisos: ‘should the said proceeds at any time exceed twice my own income from all sources, then…the said excess shall become payable to me or to my issue, and should Mary Baratti’s line become extinct, the whole proceeds shall be payable to me, my line or assigns.’ In her covering note Dorothy wrote that the document had been ‘notarized in triplicate’ because Cornell had ‘cast some doubt as to whether E.P.’s will made in your favour in Italy, would be valid (beyond question) in the U.S. or England’, and ‘the document now puts the matter beyond question’. ‘Not that he would ever violate E.P.’s wishes in the matter,’ she wrote, although the document was not fully in accord with Pound’s testamentary wishes, which were known to her. In the event the document itself would be ignored and neither Omar nor the Committee would respect Pound’s explicit and known wishes.
Mary had mentioned in May 1948 that she and Boris had ‘a new castle’ in view, and in September she confirmed that her address was now Schloss Brunnenburg at Dorf Tirol above Merano in the Adige valley. The castle was in a semi-ruined condition and masons and carpenters had to be brought in to restore roofs and floors and stairs, and Pound had Dorothy send money, $100, $720, to help pay for the works. In January 1949 he asked her, ‘How many years’ free roof can you give for furnishing a flat? you to get furniture or rent thereafter’. Evidently, in spite of what Eliot and Laughlin had been saying in December, he was thinking of getting out of St Elizabeths and having somewhere to go to in Italy.
It appears from a letter Laughlin wrote to Heinz Henghes on 14 February 1949, that this idea of a flat in Mary’s castle did not mean that Pound had stopped thinking of Olga’s Sant’Ambrogio. ‘Do you remember Olga’s little house on the hill up above Rapallo?’ Laughlin asked, ‘There seems to be an opportunity now to buy it from the peasant who owns it for about $3000. Both Olga and Ezra have been urging me to do so—with the idea that they would continue to rent the upper floor whilst I would fix up the lower one for myself. I have always dreamed of a place down there with that wonderful view of the blue Mediterranean.’ Laughlin was free to dream as one does and to leave it at that, while Pound’s urging from St Elizabeths must have been charged with nostalgia.
Pound was probably at his most contemplative when immersed in the ideograms of the Odes, or in the Greek of Euripides and Sophocles. In the summer of 1947 he was studying the verbal music of the Odes, seeking to repair his ignorance of how they should be performed aloud. He knew that there could be no ‘real understanding of a good Chinese poem without knowledge both of the ideogram reaching the eye, and the metrical and melodic form reaching the ear or aural imagination’. But that was no simple matter, as he had recognized in his ‘Notes by a Very Ignorant Man’ appended to the 1936 edition of The Chinese Written Character:
When you have comprehended the visual significance [of the ideograms] you will not have finished. There is still the other dimension. We will remain bestially ignorant of Chinese poetry so long as we insist on reading and speaking their short words instead of taking time to sing them with observance of the sequence of vowels.
If Chinese ‘tone’ is a forbidden district, an incomprehensible mystery, vowel leadings exist for anyone who can LISTEN.
He knew of course that tone, the rising or falling inflection of the voice, was a determinant of sense—his Chinese-English Dictionary made that obvious—but he evidently felt forced to accept, as a translator into atonal English, and one who had no hope of mastering the Chinese tonal system, that it was the ‘vowel leadings’ that would yield the best approximation to the sonorities of the original. He had been aware of this ‘other dimension’ in drafting and redrafting his previous versions of the 305 Odes, but now he was teaching himself to listen to the sound of the Chinese.
Through May and June he filled nine notebooks with syllable-for-character transcriptions of all the Odes, apparently looking up in his dictionary every character in Legge’s Chinese text in order to establish its pronunciation and spelling in the Roman alphabet. This was his transcription of the first stanza of Ode 167, the poem he had translated as ‘Song of the Bowmen of Shu’ in Cathay—it reads from left to right across, [my italicized numbers here refer to Mathews’ Chinese-English Dictionary]:
One can see the rhyming and the assonance sounding across the lines and down the columns in an intricate pattern of ‘vowel leadings’, and then one can see Pound doing his best to match that pattern within the very different structures of English syntax:
Pick a fern, pick a fern,
ferns are high,
‘Home,’ I’ll say: home,
the year’s gone by,
no house, no roof,
these huns on the hoof.
Work, work, work,
that’s how it runs,
We are here
because of these huns.
The sound pattern is less intricate, though there is still much internal rhyme and assonance. More telling are the progressions of vowel notes or tones. Thus in the first line ‘ferns’ lengthens and dwells momently on the lighter and quicker ‘fern’, then the voice must rise on ‘high’; in the second line ‘home’ is repeated as ‘fern’ had been, but is a slower, fuller, sound, and the stress of ‘gone’ at the end makes the rhyme a mere echo of ‘high’. The stanza as a whole moves from the lightness and softness of ‘pick a fern’, through the drive of ‘these huns on the hoof’, to a heavy close upon the repeated ‘huns’. That word will have been suggested by the sound of ‘yün3’, the ‘Hsien yün3’ being one of the hordes that thundered on horseback into north China. But Pound probably found the suggestion of a ‘roof’ in the look of the character ‘chia1’ M594, which Mathews defines as ‘a house; a family; a home’.
To be involved in such a process of recreation must have been recreative, and as part of the process there was his listening to recover the sound of the original Chinese. At the least, this activity would have been an ‘escape from abstract yatter’ as the durations and reverberations of the well-sounded words, both the Chinese and his own, induced a more contemplative state of mind. Pound shared with the treatise on music in the Chinese Book of Rites, the conviction that while the properly sung Odes offer an experience of harmony, they also bring about harmony within the individual, and thus harmonize relations between individuals and all the way up to those between the state and heaven. That conviction attributes to the power of music exactly what is called for in the first chapter of the Ta Hio. In his own terms Pound had associated the Odes with the force in history ‘that contemplates the unity of the mystery’ and preserves ‘the tradition of the undivided light’, as against ‘the force that destroys every clearly delineated symbol, dragging man into a maze of abstract arguments’.
David Gordon remembered how Pound chanted the Chinese sounds of the Odes one ‘warm afternoon in early autumn of 1952…on the lawn of St. Elizabeths’:
Deep and resonant to soft and high, every vowel sound and consonant pitched, regulated, and rehearsed just as he was again rehearsing it. Rhythm extremely exact and tempo very slow, but always with something surprising and uplifting about it. His range of expression was operatic and yet with tremendous subtlety of intonation; and at times within the rhythm of the chanting which was so carefully done it was as though you could overhear an intense voice just out of earshot conveying the feelings of lament, praise, supplication, groaning, yearning, or a tender and nostalgic vibrato, a muted roar or delicate and warm laughter, the many voices within the voice. Each sound he would come to would be itself distinctly something in feeling and meaning from what preceded, and then there was a subtle joining together with a residue from the preceding sound to the next.
Gordon became aware of ‘the whole man and mind’ responding to the tonalities of the odes, and sensed that this many-voiced ‘singing man and the song had joined undividedly into one’. Something of that intensely contemplative musicianship can still be heard in the recording of a selection of his versions of the Odes which Pound made for Olga Rudge in his last years.
Early in 1949, about the time the Bollingen award was announced, Pound was working out a version of the Elektra of Sophocles. For a better understanding of the Greek he drew on the expertise of one of his regular visitors, Rudd Fleming, a classics professor at the University of Maryland; and Fleming was to be named as author of the translation in order to conceal the fact that Pound was sane enough to translate a Greek tragedy. In the event Pound left the final revision of the text to Fleming and turned his mind to another tragedy, Sophocles’ Trachiniae. His Elektra was forgotten until 1987, when it was performed off-Broadway in New York and found ‘viable for the contemporary theatre’. In a program note the Associate Director of the production suggested that ‘In the character of Elektra [Pound] had found a perfect mirror for himself: a woman locked up, treated as if insane, desperate to remind the world of her identity and her sanity, waiting—endlessly waiting—for a rescuer’.
While there is some truth in that suggestion, it does miss the leading concerns of both Elektra and Pound. Most important for Pound would have been Elektra’s having the courage of her convictions, her continuing to speak truth to power in spite of being punished for it, and her refusing to compromise in calling for justice to be done. Justice in this case meant the avenging of the murder of her father, Agamemnon, by Clytaemnestra her mother, and by Aegisthus her mother’s lover. At the time of the murder she had saved her young brother Orestes and had him smuggled out of the country so that, when he came of age, he should return to execute the appointed vengeance and ‘bring back the old rule of abundance’. It is for his return and that outcome that she has been impatiently waiting, and meanwhile she will not cease complaining loudly of the wrongs done to Agamemnon and his house, and the wrongs done to her by his murderers and usurpers. The Chorus advise her to stop sounding off, it will do no good; and her sister Chrysothemis does the same, telling her ‘if you don’t quit bawling | they’ll shut you up where you’ll never see daylight | in some black jail outside the country’. But Elektra retorts, ‘Need we add cowardice to all the rest of this filth?’, and the stage direction would have her ‘pause between each word’, this being for Pound ‘the key phrase for which the play exists’. But Chrysothemis keeps on at her, she should learn ‘to bend and not break | when you come up against power’, and other such nostrums. To her mind ‘EVEN JUSTICE CAN BE A PEST’, and to that Elektra replies, ‘I don’t want to go by your standards of conduct. | I’d rather die.’ When told that Orestes is dead she accepts that it is now up to her to carry out the vengeance, or at any rate to attempt it, since justice must be done. As she has said, if ‘there be no death for a death |…all duty wd end & be nothing’. All the same, holding what she thinks are her brother’s ashes, she comes near to despair and sings, ‘take me in with you | I now am nothing, make place beside thee | naught into naught, zero to zero’. But Orestes is beside her, alive and returned to do his duty, his supposed death a trick to gain access to the palace. Their joyful recognition of each other and of their common purpose is operatic, the high point of the play. The end in which justice is done then follows swiftly and post-climactically, as simply the necessary and foreknown conclusion to the plot.
Beyond the possible mirrorings of his personal drama, Pound must have seen that the real action and interest of the play is in Elektra’s states of mind and feeling; and then in how justice can be done when lawful authority has been usurped and is abused, when the people are cowed and apathetic, and the gods are silent. Her courage and her commitment to her culture’s ethos and idea of justice are exemplary, but still she needs Orestes to do the deed. Her part is to suffer and to give passionate voice to injustice—she is likened to the mythic nightingale singing out her knowledge of the violence done by Tereus. Orestes for his part must be clear-headed and unemotional about what he has to do. Pound’s notes make a clear distinction between these two aspects, between the ‘intellectual complex’ or idea of justice, and the passion for it. The idea must be got across in plain, direct statement; but in the emotional passages ‘the translation need NOT adhere to literal sense (intellectual) of the original but must be singable IN THE EMOTION of the original’. Pound carried this to the point of leaving some of the more intense passages untranslated, to be sung in the original Greek so that the emotion should be wholly that in Sophocles’ words. The great recognition scene, however, is all in translation, apart from a few isolated lines, and develops in taut, abrupt exchangesgradually revealing the siblings’ common heritage and purpose, with Elektra breaking into song as her despair is overcome by joy. At this point the idea and the emotional demand for justice fuse in ‘an intellectual and emotional complex’, and from that follows the acting out of justice. The experience of the play would confirm Pound’s longstanding conviction that the idea of order is inoperative without the emotional will to order, that for justice to be done there must be an intense and uncompromising will to see that it is done.
In Sophocles’ Elektra, unlike Euripides’, Elektra and Orestes manifest neither scruples nor remorse nor guilt. There is some recognition that justice in this case is not simple: Clytaemnestra is allowed her justification for killing the husband who sacrificed their daughter; and Elektra sees at one moment that she is being driven by the wrongs of others to commit wrong herself. Yet such refinements are swept aside in the passionate experience of injustice, and then in the equally passionate assurance that it is necessary and right to kill their mother and her lover. In this play justice is all, and the courage to demand justice.
Pound would recall Elektra in his next decad of cantos as ‘the dark shade of courage | ’Ηλέϰτρα | bowed still with the wrongs of Aegisthus’. This would suggest that it was her speaking out against those wrongs that distinguished her in his mind, and this would fit with his valuing in Greek drama a ‘rise of [a] sense of civic responsibility’. He saw his own speaking out on Rome Radio in those terms. A US Senator had told him in 1939 that Roosevelt ‘has packed the Supreme Court, so they will declare anything he does constitutional’, and he had concluded that ‘When the Senator is unable to prevent breeches of the Constitution’ then the duty to protest ‘falls back on the individual citizen’. So far, up to 1945, he might be identified with ‘the dark shade of courage’. But now, silenced in St Elizabeths by his plea and pretence of insanity, was he not to be identified rather with the compromising, cowardly, sister? There were those who saw it that way, Williams for one; and Katherine Anne Porter had written in a private letter in December 1947, ‘if ever I committed treason or any other crime, personal or political, it would infuriate me to be considered insane. I insist on being held absolutely responsible for my words and deeds.’ Pound would not have demurred—he too believed in standing by his word, and had wanted to do that in court. But then he had let himself be persuaded by his friend and his counsel, by the chorus and sister as it were, to keep mute and save his life. In the end Elektra may have offered him a discomforting mirror, though he did have other reasons for putting aside this translation.
1 Pound aimed his dissatisfaction at Laughlin: ‘call OFF whatever ass asked the Supt/ to have me pushed out to WALK | too much and at inconvenient moments’ (EP/JL 176).
2 Huntington Cairns (1904-85), by training a lawyer, was a self-taught scholar in classics, philosophy, and literary criticism; had served as a senior government official in various capacities; and was chief administrative, financial, and legal officer of the National Gallery of Art, and a trustee of Paul Mellon’s Bollingen Foundation. Sharing Paul Mellon’s sense of Washington’s need for the arts and humanities he conceived the A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts, and the Mellon funded national poetry award and Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, DC. He wrote a massive Legal Philosophy from Plato to Hegel (1949), edited a three-volume anthology The Limits of Art (vol. 1 Bollingen, 1948)—a selection of the best of the world’s literature in the original languages with English translations; and with Edith Hamilton edited The Collected Dialogues of Plato(Bollingen, 1961).
3 The woman convicted in 1949 as ‘Tokyo Rose’, after a shameful campaign against her by Walter Winchell, a gossip columnist and radio host, did receive an unconditional pardon from President Gerald Ford in 1977. She could be pardoned because she had been convicted, wrongfully.
4 This is a very simple word for word translation using Mathews’ dictionary: