Ezra Pound: Poet: Volume III: The Tragic Years 1939-1972 - A. David Moody (2015)
PART FOUR: ST ELIZABETHS, 1946–1958
12: THE LIFE OF THE MIND, 1950-5
‘living the life of the mind, in the midst of men whose minds had gone from them’
The shirt of Nessus
It was probably in 1950 or 1951 that Pound turned from the Elektra of Sophocles to translate the play which he regarded as its antithesis, Sophocles’ Trachiniae or Women of Trachis. In April of 1951 he exclaimed to Otto Bird, who was setting up a Great Books program at the University of Notre Dame, ‘yr/ greek ROTTEN in omitting Trachiniae/ highest point of greek consciousness/ antithesis to Electra’. ‘Elektra (Soph) | blood and savagery’, he elaborated in some notes he put together for Huntington Cairns, ‘Trachiniae | infinitely higher state of consciousness | unsurpassed in Xtn/ licherchoor, the HIGH for all gk/ consciousness.’ He would put this strikingly original view of the play more formally in a note prefixed to his version when it appeared in print in late 1953: ‘The Trachiniae presents the highest peak of Greek sensibility registered in any of the plays that have come down to us’; and to this he would add, it ‘is, at the same time, nearest the original form of the God-Dance’. In his cell, and ‘in the midst of men whose minds had gone from them’, he was invoking that ‘higher state of consciousness’, a divine or godlike state of mind, to set against, or to rise above, the ‘blood and savagery’ of the tragic pursuit of justice.
There is no lack of brute violence in Women of Trachis. Indeed the play brings to a close Herakles’ career of bloody and savage feats, most of them in the public interest, as in his getting rid of predatory monsters and tyrants, but some driven merely by his own passions and lusts. His final feat has been to sack a whole town because its king had denied him his daughter, Iole; and now he is bringing that young woman back home to be his concubine in a long looked forward to peaceful retirement. His patient wife Daianeira, fearing that Iole will take her place in Herakles’ affections, remembers a love charm she had been told would prevent that. The centaur Nessus had been carrying her across a river, had groped her and she had screamed, and on the instant Herakles had nailed the centaur with a poisoned arrow. In his death agony the centaur told Daianeira, ‘Scrape the drying blood from my wound | where the Hydra’s blood tipped that arrow |…and you’ll have a love charm so strong | that Herakles will never look at another woman | or want her more than you.’ So Daianeira applies the bloody charm to an embroidered shirt and sends it for Herakles to wear as he sacrifices to the gods in thanksgiving for the completion of his labours. It burns into him as white phosphorus would, consuming him as it had the centaur. He curses Daianeira for doing this to him, thenlearns that she had meant only to keep his love and has killed herself knowing what she has done, and that really his agony is Nessus’ revenge. His father Zeus had foretold that a dead beast would kill him; and an oracle had declared that after his last feat he would be released from trouble. Now it all makes sense, and Pound has Herakles remove ‘the mask of agony’ to reveal the appearance of ‘solar serenity, the hair golden and as electrified as possible’, as he speaks ‘the key phrase of the play’, ‘SPLENDOUR, | IT ALL COHERES’. His physical agony will end only on his pyre, yet he has risen above it in reaching an understanding of what has brought about his fate. ‘When he finds the destiny FITS’, Pound wrote to Eliot, ‘Herakles exults.’
So much in the play fits Pound’s own story that it can be read as allegory. Dorothy Pound evidently came to read it that way. Asked in 1967 ‘what it was like in her domestic situation’ she replied, ‘“You might picture the Women of Trachis.”’ So one might think of Olga Rudge as Iole, and of how Dorothy in her letters to Pound after his imprisonment in 1945 had tried to win back his love, and then kept him in St Elizabeths as if to keep him from Olga. Being shut up in St Elizabeths without hope of release would be his Shirt of Nessus, and Herakles’ words would be charged with his pain—
And now Miss Oineus
with her pretty little shifty eyes
m’la calata, [has tricked me]
has done me to beat all the furies,
got me into a snarl, clamped this net on to me
and she wove it.
But those words will be cancelled by further revelations and recognitions, and in the end Herakles will blame no one for his fate. That was the distinguishing feature of the play for Pound. ‘Everyone in the Trachiniae acts from good motives,’ he told Denis Goacher, who was to play the son of Herakles, in the BBC’s radio production in 1954, and who was responsible (with the poet Peter Whigham) for the publication of Pound’s version in England in 1956. To Michael Reck, who was in Japan attempting to transpose Pound’s version into a Noh drama, he wrote:
TRAX in antithesis to Antig/ and other Soph/ plays in that NO ONE has any evil intentions, NO bad feeling, vendetta or whatso. All of ’em trying to be nice/. BUT the tragedy moves on just the same.
As he had said to Olga Rudge, ‘Karma works.’ If St Elizabeths is to be thought of as his Shirt of Nessus, then we must try to think at the same time that, if only in flashes of impersonal clarity, he could understand and serenely accept his situation, even exult in it, as the necessary and inevitable consequence of the part he had been impelled to play in his world and time.
Denis Goacher gave no hint of Pound’s interpretation of the play in his ‘Foreword’ to the Women of Trachis. Instead he concentrated upon the ‘cruel and unnatural punishment’ of his decade-long confinement in St Elizabeths, evoking Pound’s situation as he had witnessed it in 1954:
when the weather is fine il miglior fabbro will sit under one of the chestnut trees and entertain his visitors. One passes silent, disconsolate-looking groups of patients huddled together beneath the trees; a senile negro drooling over a captured snake in a large jar; fifty or so paces, and one might be in a garden in Rapallo, for there is Pound fidgeting in his deck chair with two or three friends or disciples on the grass about him. He sits in his chair, a burly bronzed figure with flying white hair and straggling mandarin beard; he speaks slowly and gently, sometimes lying uncannily still, but more often moving restlessly as he endeavours to punch some point home. He still has bouts of tremendous energy (that is how he gets his work done), but there are days when he is almost pathologically tired. Some visitors seem quite unconscious of their ability to drain his vitality; they will sit there, as before the oracle, waiting for him to talk; and he, with his almost legendary zeal, will endeavour to enliven them and bestir their wits. He is always giving, and his patience seems inexhaustible. As four-thirty approaches, Pound will look at his watch several times; it requires little imagination to realize how the time will be spent, away from all possible company, until lunchtime the following day, or perhaps the day after.
Goacher wondered, though, ‘how many of Pound’s visitors in a year were really disturbed in their hearts by what they saw’; and he reflected that ‘The very fact that Pound was still able to produce his best work under conditions which would have crushed the will in most of us, somehow lulled our indignation, and made the situation seem less dismal than it was.’
Dr Overholser ‘took considerable umbrage at some of the things he said and intimated about the hospital’. Goacher had mentioned that the ‘“treatment”’ Pound was supposed to receive was ‘apparently, to be confined to the Hell-hole’, and that whereas ‘his senile and schizoid colleagues’ were ‘allowed into the grounds at whatever time of day they please’, Pound was allowed out for just three hours a day. Charles Norman had asked Overholser for details about ‘the case of Ezra Pound’, and as Pound’s custodian, ‘at least technically’, Overholser was wanting the biographer to know that Pound had neither complained nor had cause for complaint while he was in his care. He assured Norman that the patient had been of course ‘entitled to all the respect and sympathy that any sick person deserves’, that ‘a good deal of latitude was given to him and he went out practically daily with his visitors’, and that his own ‘personal relationships with Pound…were always most pleasant’, while ‘Pound’s attitude toward me was always friendly’. In fact, ‘having literary interests myself I visited him not infrequently and we discussed various persons and things of mutual interest’. One gets the picture of a civilized and humane existence giving no occasion for Goacher’s indignation. It was of course a partial and self-serving picture, though with some truth in it.
There was certainly more truth than in Overholser’s official reports to the Justice Department on Pound’s ‘condition and progress’. The patient’s condition was always ‘essentially unchanged’ since his admission to St Elizabeths in December 1945, and there was never any hope of improvement—indeed if there was any change it was ‘perhaps for the worse’. At the same time it remained impossible to say exactly what was wrong with him, as Overholser admitted in August 1953 to the Medical Director of the Bureau of Prisons:—
The exact category in which he should be classified diagnostically is difficult to ascertain. There is no doubt that he is mentally unsound to a degree which renders him mentally incompetent yet he does not fit well into any of the psychiatric categories. Perhaps the nearest approach would be that of Personality Trait Disturbance, Narcissistic Personality.
That was because he was ‘an extreme egocentric and, indeed his egocentricity goes to the extreme of a decidedly paranoid attitude, with particular emphasis on the outstanding nature of his abilities’. However, that was simply a finding about the predominant feature of his personality, and not a symptom of mental illness; or, as Overholser struggled with the difficulty, ‘The implication of this diagnosis in the diagnostic category is that it is without psychosis.’ In ordinary language he was telling the Justice Department that to the professional psychiatrist Pound was not insane. To evade the implications of that conclusion Overholser put away the profession’s Diagnostic andStatistical Manual and boldly asserted on his own authority, ‘In our opinion, one may be incompetent without being technically psychotic.’ As a general proposition that may well be so, but of course it was not on the basis of that opinion that Pound had been deemed unfit to stand trial and committed to St Elizabeths.
The fiction that he was mentally incompetent was being rendered even less convincing by his continuing to write and publish. ‘He does no writing and very little reading,’ Overholser blandly lied in that 1953 report. The following year a surprised Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department wrote to him,
It has now come to my attention through the press that there has recently been published a volume of poetry entitled ‘The Classic Anthology Defined by Confucius’, translated by Ezra Pound, which was enthusiastically received by the critics.
You will appreciate that this Department would be derelict in the discharge of its duties if it failed to bring to trial on such a serious charge a man who seemingly is mentally capable of translating and publishing poetry but allegedly is not mentally capable of being brought to justice.
Overholser stuck to his story. ‘The work of this translation was, so far as we can learn, substantially completed when he was admitted to the Hospital,’ he wrote back, adding for good measure, ‘and we have no evidence that he has done any productive literary work during his stay in the Hospital.’
Pound himself was keeping up that pretence, while letting it be known that it was a pretence. He would write to his correspondents ‘anonymously’, and he would contribute to his disciples’ little magazines over pseudonyms which fooled no one in the know. At the same time his new work was appearing in his own name: Women of Trachis in Hudson Review in late 1953, his translation of The Classic Anthology Defined by Confucius in 1954, and ‘Canto 85’ in Hudson Review later that year. And nonetheless, when Louis Dudek wrote the simple truth in his Canadian little magazine, in a sympathetic note seeking Pound’s release ‘without further indignity and cruelty’, Pound exploded, ‘God bloody DAMN it and save one from ones friends. // SHUT UP. | You are NOT supposed to receive ANY letters from E.P. | They are UNSIGNED/…// Please remove that page from all copies Civ/n not yet distributed’. When Dudek pointed out that it was no news to anyone ‘that he had a very large correspondence and did translations and other writing from St Liz’, Pound let a year pass before writing to him again.
Through all the years of his incarceration Pound never gave up on his teacher’s mission. He had his regular class at St Elizabeths, on the lawn under the trees or indoors in his alcove; and beyond that he taught and directed by correspondence. By February 1958 he reckoned he had had ‘300 students in 12 years, or rather in fact ten, ’cause the first two were NOT very much open to enquirers’. ‘When not in office, or in tiny minority, all one can do is educate,’ he explained to Mary. And his basic method, which he recommended to the brilliant young polymath Hugh Kenner then at the start of his teaching career, was ‘to attack IGNORANCE and drive in a few simple ideas’. His faith in the power of his few simple ideas to reform America was as strong as ever, and there were young people ready to absorb and propagate them.
‘It is becoming a daily occurrence for six or more visitors to be with Mr. Pound simultaneously,’ a nursing supervisor noted disapprovingly in October 1952 of the gathering in the screened-off alcove, and his ‘visitors bring books, briefcases etc. to these sessions. Mr Pound assumes the role of a professor lecturing to his pupils, rather than an ill patient receiving comforting visits from loved ones.’ Worse, he took left-over food from the dining room to feed his disciples, until this was mentioned in an article in The Nation in 1957 and he had to promise not to take any more.
Pound’s daughter was not impressed by the band of disciples when she visited him in 1953. She saw them ‘gobbling up hardboiled eggs which he had saved from his lunch or munching peanuts destined for the squirrels’, and she thought, ‘they should all go on hunger strike and call attention to the infamy of keeping the nation’s greatest poet locked up in an insane asylum’. It seemed to her that ‘no one had read or seen anything, certainly had not read much Pound’, that the ignorance he was fighting was in them, and that he knew it. ‘“They all need kindergarten,”’ he said. And he, she recognized, needed ‘an outside audience as an antidote to the inmates’. Also, ‘Confucius had said “make use of all men, even dolts.”’ Yet all she could see was ‘a waste of his fine mind’. If he ‘threw a new name at them they ran off with it like crazy dogs with a bone and since it was all they had in their mouths they declared themselves experts: on del Mar, Agassiz, Benton’.
She might well have been thinking in particular of young John Kasper, the most eager and rabid of Pound’s followers. Kasper started writing to Pound in 1950 when he was not yet 21, and first visited at St Elizabeths in June of that year. He had heard of Pound in Babette Deutsch’s poetry class in Columbia University’s School of General Studies. ‘We should reject his politics and respect his poetry,’ Miss Deutsch had told her students—no doubt it was understood that his politics were ‘fascist’ and ‘antisemitic’—but Kasper’s reaction had been to declare to the class that for him it was the other way round: he ‘didn’t like Pound’s poetry, but did like his politics’. One can judge what he liked, or at least what he thought Pound would like to hear, by his telling him in January 1951 that he was meeting a few Nazis in the German section of New York and that he enjoyed talking to them because ‘they keep the yitts out of their social life’. But that did not prevent him, it appears, from welcoming Jews along with Negroes and Whites to the night-time discussions and dancing in the Make It New Bookshop he opened with Paul and Lana Lett in 1953 on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village.
Kasper established himself at once as the most activist of the disciples, one who would not need to be told twice that ‘after EP. mentions a thing he wishes to hear nothing about it until it is Done’. Pound was forever calling for Confucius, Del Mar, Agassiz, Benton, to be published in cheap editions so that they could be widely taught, and in July 1951, just a year after their first meeting, Kasper began publishing a series of paperback offset reprints priced at one dollar each to do just that. The first in the ‘Square $ Series’ was Pound’s Confucius: The Unwobbling Pivot & The Great Digest, together with Fenollosa’s The Chinese Written Character. Pound’s version of the Confucian Analects followed in the fall of 1951. Alexander Del Mar’s Barbara Villiers, or a History of Monetary Crimes, and Kasper’s own selection of Gists from Agassiz, appeared in 1953; and the part of Thomas Hart Benton’s Thirty Years’ View dealing with the Bank of the United States appeared in 1954; these three carrying unattributed blurbs by Pound. ‘Basic education at a price every student can afford,’ he declared anonymously.
Make It New Bookshop issued in or about 1954 ‘a partial list of recommended reading from the permanent stock’. This was a comprehensively Poundian list of twenty-two items, each with a brief extract to point the recommendation. The first was The Constitution of the United States & The Declaration of Independence, with ‘Congress shall have power to coin money’ as the featured extract. The following half-dozen items all dealt with monetary matters: Mullins on the Federal Reserve, a critique instigated by Pound and published by Kasper & Horton; the Duke of Bedford on The Financiers Little Game; Del Mar on Monetary Crimes and Benton on the Bank of the United States; Congressman Jerry Voorhis on Debt and Danger; and Social Credit by Major Douglas, the strikingly prescient extract from this concluding with an apparently menacing reference to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Making up the middle section of the list were Pound’s translations from Confucius, his Cantos and Personae (this represented by an ‘Alfred Venison’ poem), his Jefferson and/or Mussolini and his Patria Mia, seven items in all. The remaining half-dozen items, leading up to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion at number 22, were anti-Semitic, anti-Communist, and anti-United Nations, in effect wrapping these three together as conspiracies against America’s freedom and independence. As a final grace note, the ‘Congressional Hearings on communist Subversion’ would be sent ‘free provided $1.00 in postage is forwarded’. Altogether this looks like a list designed to please Pound and assure him that his educational programme was being carried forward outside the walls of St Elizabeths.
Kasper could also play up to Pound’s anti-Semitism and go mad with it, as when writing to him, probably in 1954, ‘I had a private book burning and consigned numerous works by Freud, Reich, Einstein, Marx and other Jewish agents provocateurs to the flames of Kasper self-righteousness.’ Louis Dudek had warned Pound that Kasper was ‘a wild disrupting individual’, but Pound only replied ‘katz is katz’, implying that you can’t change a feline’s nature. As his letter goes on one gathers indirectly that in any case he wouldn’t want to change Kasper’s tendency to violent action. After a good deal of verbal violence of his own against Roosevelt and Churchill, and against the broadcaster Ed Morrow who would help bring down Senator McCarthy, he dismisses as ‘beastly blue china’ all the writers who won’t face the ‘question of honest money’ and who are ‘incapable of ANY serious approach to problem of the state’. Then he concludes gangster style, ‘nearly time to stop being purrLight re/ the 30 years of american inanity’. He had previously advised Kenner, when urging him to do as Kasper was doing and get into print books that were needed, ‘don’t try to do it all yourself. Get assistant who has INDIGNATION, ira, accensio sanguinis circum cor.’, a rush of blood in anger. Evidently Kasper possessed that virtue. And with it, as Pound admonished Kenner, Kasper alone had grasped that
95% of all useful acts can be performed or AT LEAST started within 24 hours of SEEING the need. The slicks pour millions of copies of obfuscation over the country ONCE per week. and the goddam eeeease/thetes spend 6 months constipation before lifting un mignolo [a little finger].
Though he would call Kasper ‘sqirril headed’, Pound was well pleased with him as an individual with the will and the angry energy to carry his ideas instantly into action. Far from being bothered by his acting them out with extreme prejudice, as in that ‘private book burning’, he simply accepted that that was Kasper, ‘katz is katz’. And when Kasper, after the Supreme Court ruled against school segregation in 1954 and 1955, was carrying his ideas into the quite unPoundian actions of violent white racist resistance and fiery crosses and the burning down of de-segregated schools in the South, still Pound would not disown him, to his own grave cost. That is an episode for the next chapter.
Pound expected his acolytes, several of whom had served in the war and been to college on the GI Bill of Rights, to make themselves useful according to their abilities. Don’t expect ‘all things from one person’, he would say; the job was ‘to find WHAT given individual CAN do, under IMmediate circs/ under possible future circs/’. So Eustace Mullins, ‘a slow mountain country young man’, who had seen active service in the US Air Force and who was working as a photographic aide in the Library of Congress, was assigned to use that library’s resources to investigate the Federal Reserve System, and produced a thoroughly Poundian exposé of the ‘conspiracy’ behind it. Thereafter he went rogue. Discharged by the Library of Congress for forging and circulating violently anti-Semitic material, Mullins served, as he would later put it, ‘as Special Legislative Researcher to Senator Joe McCarthy during the hectic days of the Senator’s gallant struggle against the entrenched forces of Communism in our nation’s Capitol’. The most far-out anti-Semitic conspiracy theories lay ahead. Pound had an eye for a person’s utility, but was rather too often blind or indifferent to everything else about them.
T. David Horton was a quite different sort of individual from Mullins, and different again from Kasper with whom he became associated as co-publisher of the Square $ books. His assignment was to propagate Pound’s economic ideas, and in the fall of 1950 while he was at Hamilton College on the GI Bill he duly reprinted, in a little magazine called Mood, ‘Ezra Pound on Gold, War, and National Money’ from the Capitol Daily of 9 May 1939. However, rather than acting as a fired-up propagandist he tended to follow Pound’s better example. In a brief introductory note implicitly invoking the Poundian (and Aristotelian) principle that general ideas should be ‘born from a sufficientphalanx of particulars’, he declared that he needed to know more facts before he could begin ‘to analyze E. P.’s economics’. He was equally reasonable in a letter to an Ohio paper in 1951 about ‘the difference between interest-bearing and non-interest bearing government debt’, a letter quite possibly instigated by Pound and certainly endorsed by him as ‘a very lucid note’. The idea was Pound’s, but it was presented without any of Pound’s rage. After graduating from Hamilton Horton moved down to Washington, where he worked in a naval laboratory, studied law at night school, managed somehow to be mentioned as a regular in Pound’s circle of visitors though arriving ‘latish on Sundays’, and became sole publisher of the Square $ books when Kasper went off to fight to maintain segregation. He went on to become an attorney in Battle Mountain, Nevada.
David Gordon first visited Pound in 1952. He was 23, had been in the navy, was ‘working on beginning Chinese’ while attending George Washington University, and first wrote to Pound seeking instruction ‘in music and rhythm factors’, and in how to read and translate Chinese poetry. Pound took him seriously as a budding sinologist, and had him come early on Saturdays, at one o’clock when the official visiting hour was two o’clock, so that they could have some uninterrupted time together. Pound set him to translating Mencius; and later, in 1956, had him make a selection from the four volumes of Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765–9), this to serve as an introduction for university students to the common law as the basis of the rights and liberties of the individual in England and in John Adams’s America. Gordon related to parts of Pound’s mind few others among his visitors could appreciate. His Pound was the poet of the Confucian Odes and the later cantos, and he would become a brilliant expositor of the further reaches of these challenging cantos, as well as a distinguished translator, poet, and teacher in his own right.
William MacNaughton first visited Pound in October 1953. Having fallen out with his father, Time’s Capitol Hill correspondent, he was earning his living as a taxi-driver while attending Georgetown University. He was another undergraduate studying Chinese and wanting ‘to talk about the poet’s craft’, but in his case Pound had other ideas. ‘These days’, he told him, ‘with gentleness and good humour’, ‘he found it more interesting to talk about justice, good government, and sensible economics’. So he put the young man to work getting out a four-page monthly successor to Dallam Simpson’s Four Pages, and told him it should be called Strike, to make an impact and possibly ‘get you some notice from the labor movement’. The little mag ran from June 1956 to March 1957, ten numbers, printed some of Gordon’s selections from Blackstone, and sixty-two of Pound’s anonymous ‘piths’ concerning ‘justice, good government, and sensible economics’. MacNaughton was also set to work translating Zielinski’s La Sibylle: Three Essays on Ancient Religion and Christianity, but this task was not in his line and he failed to carry it through. It had been ‘a chance for McN/ to get himself onto the map’, a disappointed Pound remarked to another correspondent, ‘but he may be a taxi driver CAN’T alter the zoological status of local fauna’. After Strike folded MacNaughton’s function in Pound’s eyes seems to have been to provide transport for Dorothy and for special visitors on his appointed days, Tuesdays and Sundays, and more especially to take care of Sheri Martinelli. Nevertheless in his life after St Elizabeths he was to make a successful career as a scholar and teacher in American universities and in the City University of Hong Kong.
One gathers from his students’ accounts that in their experience Pound talked and they listened through the visiting hours and through the long years. Michael Reck remembered Pound’s voice running on of a winter afternoon while the steam radiator sang in the alcove, his talk ‘the liveliest I have ever heard, sometimes even boisterously good-humored’, but with sadness underneath it all. He talked to entertain, and to instruct and instigate; and also because ‘keeping quiet 21 hours a day leaves the larynx in want of exercise’. There were anecdotes and stories of old friends and enemies in his London and Paris days, jokes with mimicry of voices and dialects, sustained riffs against the villainies of Roosevelt or whoever; and there were lectures on economics, and sermons on the state of the nation. MacNaughton thought that Pound was rehearsing his cantos in his conversation. He noticed that ‘entire “raps”—paragraphs and blocks of paragraphs’—would recur in his talk and ‘eventually appear in print as parts of cantos’. According to Reck though Pound was mostly teaching and preaching. ‘Like the Old Testament Ezra, Pound preached his visions constantly,’ with ‘a tendency to think that he alone could save society’, and ‘a genial assumption’ that his listeners must think as he did on contentious matters.
With young artists, however—the writers, painters, sculptors, composers who felt the need to have visited him—he ‘was not domineering’. While ‘constantly trying to explain and guide…he received contrary opinions in good grace, and they seemed to amuse him’. His attitude to those who had some right to their own opinions was Confucian: all were correct if true to their own nature. At the same time he would tell the young in general, ‘None of you have enough facts.’ And there would be instigations to action. The young Beatnik poet Diane Di Prima, after a visit to Pound in December 1955, came away feeling that he wanted her ‘single-handed to change the nature of the programming on nationwide television’. Some young enquirers, if they stayed the course, would be taught more or less formally. A Chinese student who sought his help with the Cantos visited once a week for four months in the summer of 1952, and for her and for the others who came on her day the routine was to read in advance some text set by Pound, upon which he would lecture and answer questions, and after that he would read a few pages from the Cantos and they could ask about things they did not understand. In the end she knew that she had ‘undergone an intensive period of schooling under the guidance of a vigorous and dedicated teacher of the Confucian strain…he taught me what and how to read.’
Of all Pound’s regulars Sheri Martinelli was at once the most truly individual, and the most completely a product of a specific subculture of her time—the subculture of which Ginsberg’s Howl (1956) was another expression. Most of the other regulars, though perceived as parasitical drop-outs by occasional visitors resentful of their presence, would go on to lead more or less conventional American lives. Even Kasper would end up as a car salesman in Nashville, Tennessee. Martinelli was the genuine drop-out. In the 1950s she was riding the wave of the Beat Generation, the Ginsberg and Kerouac and Ferlinghetti advance wave of the ‘liberated’ ’60s, and she would remain to the end of her life a passionate resister of convention in the way she lived and in the way she expressed herself. And with all that she would become and would remain the most profoundly influenced by Pound of all his followers. ‘Before Ez & After Ez man! The change,’ she would write in the hip idiom of the time, ‘he tuned me in clear & LOUD but it’s still me’.
For a time, La Martinelli, as Pound grandly dubbed her, would bring to him, and bring out in him, states of mind no one else could in those drear St Elizabeths years. She was older and more experienced than the young men of his ‘kindergarten’, and indeed something of a diva. Dorothy saw her as ‘the new honey-pot girl—who is lovely & charming & intelligent: with the most complete lack of morals I’ve come upon—almost ever!’
Sheri was 34 when she first visited in 1952, and had been around in Greenwich Village since the end of the war. In her Philadelphia background were an alcoholic Irish Catholic father, art school, a marriage which changed her name from Brennan to Martinelli, a daughter, and a separation when she moved to New York in 1945 leaving the child behind. Anaïs Nin took her up for a time; she painted, and supported herself modelling, mainly for Vogue; she knew the jazz scene, was a friend of Charlie Parker, absorbed his be-bop, and tried heroin. Men were drawn to her, ‘so many who’d like to say they slept with me’, she would write to Charles Bukowski, that ‘I told all of them “oh just say you did anyhow…everybody else does”’. In 1973 she recollected that, having been first ‘Made Trusting & Loving & Innocent & Ignorant’, she had been ‘having a Ball…. T/ guiltless sex of animal desire; pure simple & uncomplicated by The Falsities of Any Other Facts!’ She hadn’t known even for a split second that she was ‘Lost in Hellishness’, not until Pound ‘spoke to [her] Thoughts’.
But did he sleep with her? God knows. Torrey thought he knew and said he did, though no one who was actually there ever suggested it, and the conditions in which Pound lived made it improbable, even impossible. In any case what can be known may prove more sensational.
Pound certainly delighted in La Martinelli, and was joyfully in love with her for a time. The sexual attraction was on display for all to see. Marcella Spann recorded how, ‘Seeing Sheri approach across the lawn, he jumps out of his chair and hurries to greet La Martinelli with his most affectionate and energetic bear hug.’ One indoors visitor looked away when she came into the ward as ‘Pound embraced her and ran his hands through her hair and they talked excitedly, each interrupting the other.’ That visitor was shocked again, having taken her for one of the inmates, when, their time being up, ‘Pound threw his arms around her, hugged her, and kissed her goodbye.’ Martinelli herself wrote in her correspondence with Bukowski, ‘he read me Dante, Villon, Guido, the Kuan Tzu, the Sacred Edicts, Ovid…& lots of other things…& seduced me whilsts he read’; and again, ‘he had one hand on my breasts & one eye on me…& one hand on Ovid’s Metamorph & one eye on th’book & his mouth on mine…dear Educational Gramps’, for this was ‘“education” the way gramps meant it’, his way of speaking to her ‘Thoughts’.
That was in a letter instructing Bukowski in her ‘female point of view’. ‘As for “nymphos”…they do not exist—the animal is not made that way’, she had told him, ‘women get their message through their psyche’. She did grant that ‘they do wag their butts now ’n then when they aint certain of their psyches…I have even been caught doing it…in a loose moment… & place.’ She continued the instruction in a later letter:
girls only go to bed with males because they cannot take a delight in writing poetry/ one can have any male close enough to knock down; because males will fk ANY body/ thing/ any time anywhere/ they are mere fk hops & no earthly pleasure…& one has more than a sufficient knowledge & eggsperience with pleasure…but no earthly pleasure is equal to the spasm of the mind/ not the brain but the mind/
In another much later letter she used Pound’s own terms:
O! Telo Rigido! or how th’ dickens EP spells/ an orgasm is not ecstasy—ecstasy has power to elevate the soma weightlessly…every cell participates…The cock is a local stop…Love ‘e forma di Filosofia’
There might be a direct echo there of canto 93, and of Pound’s talking to her of Guido Cavalcanti, of the ‘Canzone d’Amore’ and ‘the intelligence of love’; but in any case Martinelli’s ‘female point of view’, though rather differently expressed, was entirely in accord with his long held view that love’s creative action took place in the mind.
The effect upon his own mind of being in love with Martinelli was written into canto 90, the first of Rock-Drill’s ‘paradiso’ cantos which he began drafting in July 1954:
furious from perception,
from under the rubble heap
from the dulled edge beyond pain,
out of Erebus, the deep-lying
from the wind under the earth
from the dulled air and the dust,
by the great flight,
from the cusp of the moon,
In her private mythology Martinelli thought of herself as Sybilla, and as Isis, the female divine principle associated with the moon. ‘Kuanon’, the compassionate, would be Pound’s addition; and the refrain, ‘m’elevasti’, is what Dante says of the light of divine love as he gazes upon Beatrice in the first canto of his Paradiso, you have raised me up into paradise. The canto goes on to enact a dionysiac rite which the lovers observed on the lawn in St Elizabeths, where they burnt olibanum obtained by MacNaughton from a Washington store:
Grove hath its altar
under elms, in that temple, in silence
myrrh and olibanum on the altar stone
and where was nothing
now is furry assemblage
and in the boughs now are voices
grey wing, black wing, black wing shot with crimson
thick smoke, purple, rising
bright flame now on the altar
the crystal funnel of air
out of Erebus, the delivered…
—and among the ‘delivered…free now, ascending’, is ‘the dark shade of courage’, Elektra, standing in perhaps for Martinelli, perhaps also for Pound himself. The canto is framed by a Latin epigraph, and by its translation: that the soul is ‘Not love but that love flows from it…And cannot ergo delight in itself | but only in the love flowing from it’. That was Richard of St Victor’s way of defining the love that has lifted Pound’s mind out of stultifying depression and opened it to contemplation of, and communion with, the vital universe. A line in canto 94 declares, ‘Beyond civic order: | l’AMOR’, and loving La Martinelli transported Pound’s mind beyond the preoccupation with civic order which dominated his relations with the other disciples, and with his visitors in general, and into its paradise. That was the strange nature of this affaire at its most lyrical and most visionary.
Along with being Pound’s spirit of love Sheri Martinelli was the artist in the St Elizabeths group, a painter of genius, Pound thought her, because able to paint the soul in contemplation as Giotto and Botticelli had done. Pound’s visitors mainly observed her sketching, developing her iconic image of him, or drawing a likeness of Dorothy. Her paintings, many of which were to be seen on the walls of his cell, were mostly visionary versions of Pound, and of herself as she figured in their shared mythology and in the St Elizabeths cantos, as Sybilla, as Isis and Kuanon, as Leucothoe, as Lux in Diafana, as Ursula Benedetta, as the Princess Ra-Set, as La Luna Regina, as Undine. Stephen Moore reports that Cummings and Rod Steiger collected her work; but Pound’s efforts to promote her, by sending out colour photographs taken by David Gordon, failed to impress Vogue or the Museum of Modern Art. He then commissioned his faithful Milanese publisher, Vanni Scheiwiller, to publish a little booklet of ten colour plates, with the title La Martinelli (1956), and sent $200 to get the job finished, and to have it done with ‘a little more lusso’. He also wrote an introduction in which he implied that hers was an art ‘which draws the soul unto itself’; and then affirmed that there was an affinity between her painting and his poetry, in that the ‘unstillness’ in her work manifested in paint ‘what is most to be prized in my writing’.
Well, he was in love. He could tell Mary, in October 1954, that Sheri was ‘the only person yet met here who can carry on a conversation at the level to which I have been accustomed’. She was ‘a mist shot with lightnings etc., in fact the meteoric life of genius when it hits one of your sex’. That was in a letter to Ingrid Davies, his intimate London correspondent, in April 1955, and in July he added, ‘Yes, La Martinelli, an act of god…let us plot the career and ubicity of a blue-jay’. He missed her between visits, and wrote messages he could not send, as these one November: ‘Thurs a.m 10.30—That she might be feeling compagnevole or even consider coming out in the rain’; and later, ‘P.M. 9.16 I dont know that you are painting another mermaid—but you might be in a pleasant state of mind. Ciao’; and the next morning, ‘Friday 7.10.a m benedictions | birds in the fog | benedictions’, this with the hsin 1 ideogram for renewal.
It has been said that Dorothy and Omar tried to put a stop to Pound’s carrying on with La Martinelli, though Pound intimated to Ingrid Davies that Dorothy showed ‘an extraordinary amount of good sense’ in the matter. ‘S.M. is not trying to kidnap me’, he wanted Mary to assure Olga Rudge, and mused, ‘Dare say D’s horse-sense shows in “What does it matter unless we all go to Europe?”’ Dorothy, who would have been well aware that jealousy was his ‘particular PHOBIA’, sensibly wrote the cheques to support La Martinelli when she moved to Washington to be near Pound, $35 a month rent for her apartment, and on one occasion at least $200 for dental treatment.
In July 1955 Martinelli was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana in Alexandria, Virginia, a felony in that state for which the penalty could be three years in prison. The charge sheet also mentioned her taking heroin. Pound, ‘longing to protect his love’—this was how she later told it to Bukowski—‘had the whole hospital upset…he was sending telegrams…writing spec. del. letters & phoning with special get-dr-op-middle-night permission…and he was writing…“2.a.m.…the moon…delecta…”’. For others Pound wrote, ‘Shd/ like to keep Sheri out of jail long enough to get some religious art.’ To that end he sent a note to Dr Overholser on 22 November, saying Martinelli was about to appear in court, and could she be appointed to teach art in St Elizabeths and be allowed to rent one of the attendants’ rooms. That scheme was simply not practical, Overholser pointed out, ‘We have no paid position, and the present state of the case would really rule out employing Miss M.’ ‘There was no question of payment to [her]’, Pound wrote back, ‘it was to be voluntary, and with the rent for the quarters paid to S.Eliz. | Difficulties… quite visible.’ The trial turned on what might have been in a small plastic vial found behind a dresser, and the jury acquitted after being out just five minutes.
According to William MacNaughton, who shared a flat with her near St Elizabeths for a time, Martinelli did use ‘marijuana, regularly, with periodic heroin “benders”’. Her own way of putting it was that she went ‘down in Spade-town…turning on’, and that she ‘HAD to EXplore her age…entirely’. Pound, anxious about the damage she was risking to both herself and her art, condemned the age. ‘The American milieu is filled with poison that did not get there by accident,’ he wrote in his introduction to the booklet of her paintings. ‘Since 1927 I have known that.’ Claud Cockburn had told him in Vienna in 1927 that the Communists ‘were definitely using dope as political weapon’, and now it was his paranoid conviction that in America drugs were being pushed in a Jewish-–Communist conspiracy as ‘a definite method of the corruption and destruction of the god damned goy’—
heroin is pushed/ and the negro attendant knows that big chews are back of it.…AND the kikes go for the WHOLE of the more sensitive section of the younger generation/ ‘all’ jazz musicians on marijuana/ which ‘is not habit forming’ and leads to heroin/ and ‘Benzedrine is harmless, they give it to aviators’/ so that after carpet bombing they will go on with some drug habit or other.
He was especially concerned about artists becoming hooked. In December 1955 he sent Noel Stock a note for his Melbourne magazine: ‘Those charming internationalists with their heroin and “derivatives” attack the most sensitive ganglia of the occident, namely the art world, from which the university students take their snobism.’ He was deeply worried for La Martinelli, lamenting to Goacher that ‘God knows the barbarians are doing all they can to kill the painter before she brings the real thing into this hell of a country.…the future hangs by a hair, and they will kill her if possible.’ A sentence someone had come across in Blake summed up his sense of the danger, ‘destroy the arts if you’d mankind destroy’. He understood also, ‘judging from local hell’, that ‘the red kikes’ were directly degrading human nature by means of heroin, that being apparently the opium derivative ‘that most kills the sex urge/ and THENCE damages ordinary affections/ normal manifestations of friendly affection, as comforting a child/ reverses all the normal magnetisms’.
Pound did have a certain amount of inside information, from Sheri Martinelli herself, and from William French, a regular visitor who was a jazz musician and whose wife was at that time hooked on heroin. Possibly it was French who told him that all jazz musicians used marijuana, and who explained that it ‘magnifies TIME, which means they can gain precision’; and Martinelli might have put in, ‘Same applies to sense of space.’ Pound could understand that ‘the temptation of artists etc/ is the increased momentary power/ or feeling of it’. But his own paranoid complex took over when he came to generalize about ‘their’ total war on ‘the TOP sensibilities’. Then he could assert, without presenting any evidence, that the drugs are ‘supplied by Dexter White and his coreligionists’. Simply because White, who had served as an important official in the Treasury and as executive director of the IMF, happened to be the son of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, and had been accused of spying for the Soviet Union, he figured when Pound’s mind was in its paranoid fit as an agent of the Jewish–Communist conspiracy against the American people.
Pound had informed himself as best he could about ‘the local hell’ in the hope of saving La Martinelli from it. But where his knowledge gave out he fell into his own mind’s hell, the blind pit where not knowing enough let feared dangers project paranoid phantasms, and give apparent substance to rumoured conspiracies. At that time a paranoid fear of Communism and ‘commie’ conspiracies was a powerful force in America; and the paranoia was more potent when the anti-Communism was combined with anti-Semitism, each reinforcing the other, each making the other seem better founded. But it was Pound’s particular responsibility as a poet, as a guardian of the language, to know fact from phantasm and to speak the truth of things. He should have known that the idea of a grand Jewish–Communist conspiracy was unproven, that it was a theory, and not to be spoken of as a fact. But in dealing with threats to the things he loved he lacked the poet’s virtue of negative capability, the ability to contemplate steadfastly things that can not be finally explained and understood, and to accept and to make allowance for uncertainties, contradictions, and error, as inevitable facts of mind. Where he feared harm to La Martinelli or to the civilizing arts he just had to have a definite enemy to attack, and in Cold War America a suspected Jewish–Communist conspiracy met his need. And the lack of substance in this phantom of the mind degraded his language when he spoke of it, as when he wrote to Olivia Agresti of ‘red kikes’. That is the language of mere negation, the language of hell. And yet it was not malice or wickedness that drove him to deploy it, but the frustrated desire for a paradisal order.
Some visitors registered the anti-Semitism and anti-Communism as a fairly constant undercurrent in Pound’s conversation. Others remarked little or none at all while they were with him. It depended, apparently, on the topic of conversation, and on the company. The English critic Al Alvarez observed the difference in 1955 when he made two visits a few days apart:
The first time I saw him alone and we talked about literature. He was witty, courteous, lucid, passionately interesting, and interested, a devotee of writing…When I went back a couple of days later, he was surrounded by his disciples and was talking politics. They were pumping him on currency reform, ‘Commy plots’ and the use of dope for political ends. His talk was rhetorical, disorganised and full of improbable theorising. At moments he gave the impression of being faintly embarrassed by his followers’ zeal. Otherwise there was little connection between this man droning on paranoiacally about usury and the dedicated, eminently intelligent man of letters I’d seen a couple of days before.
Probably Alvarez’s first visit had been by special arrangement, and his second on one of Pound’s open days. Marianne Moore, having visited on a day when ‘the young people’ were present, felt obliged to say rather fiercely to ‘fearsomely resilient Ezra’, ‘Profanity and the Jews are other quaky quicksands against which may I warn you? You have seen turtles or armadillos, possibly, when annoyed and I sometimes have to be one of them.’
Visiting times at St Elizabeths, as Dr Overholser himself informed Elizabeth Winslow in 1951 when granting her permission to visit Pound, were ‘from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM daily, and 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM, and 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM, Sundays and legal holidays’. Pound, however, used to declare only Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, as regular visiting days, reserving the other days for visits ‘only by special permission’. On his ‘regular days’ there might be as many as twenty present; on his reserved days there might be only one, or, rarely, nobody apart from Dorothy, who would be there nearly every day of the week from 1:00 to 4:00. Pound would give the impression that the special permission had to be granted by the hospital authorities, but it was actually his way of separating special visitors such as Eliot from the ordinary ones, and from the kindergarten. When passing a message to Archibald MacLeish that of course he would be glad to see him, he suggested that he be tipped off ‘that as Mon/ Wed/ Fri/ are NOT visiting days, he might by saying he is in Wash/ fer limited time, get in on one of those days, and so have uninterrupted CONverSayShun’. He divided the time on his ‘regular days’ in the same way, telling the more favoured among his visitors that the hours were 2:00 to 4:00, but that ‘the nearer to one o’clock you get here the more likelihood of uninterrupted conversation’. Evidently the hours were even more flexible than that, since he informed a Polish scholar he took seriously and was trying to help, ‘They wd/ probably let you in here even in the morning, if in transit’.
He was ‘very hungry for adult company’, as Dorothy said to MacNaughton when he had brought out a distinguished Chinese political and neo-Confucian philosopher and Pound had remarked that he was ‘somebody you can talk to’. Dr Carson Chang could talk with Pound about Thomas Jefferson, having drafted a new constitution on Jeffersonian principles for the Republic of China in 1946; and while he ‘admired the “remarkable genius” of Pound’s translations of many paragraphs in the Analects’, he would show him places where his analysis of an ideogram ‘went too far’. Pound might not agree, but he enjoyed the discussions because Chang was ‘interested in the definition of words’, and they both found their talks engaging and stimulating. That was the kind of adult conversation Pound was hungry for.
He found it again in discussing the rendering of the Pisan Cantos into Spanish with José Vasquez-Amaral. Amaral, a professor of Romance languages at Rutgers University, had been taken to visit him and Pound had enquired ‘What are you doing?’, and that had led somehow to his undertaking to translate the Cantos. He would go out to St Elizabeths with a sheaf of drafts, and Pound would say to his court, ‘Talk to yourselves, have some tea and cake, Amaral and I have some work to do.’ Then there would be intense discussion of the meanings of words and hundreds of notes would be scrawled over the drafts. Amaral told how they disagreed about the right word for cantos in Spanish. Pound insisted that it should be cantares, but Amaral said that was impossible, ‘cantar had gone out of style with the end of Spanish epic poetry in the Middle Ages’, it retained too strong a flavour of ‘tribal legend’. But that was exactly what he meant, retorted Pound. Well, challenged Amaral, ‘The legend of what tribe do the cantos tell?’, and ‘The miglior fabbro’s eyes glittered in triumphant amusement as he almost shouted: “the tribe of the human race, of Man, Amaral!”’ And Los Cantares it had to be.
With Frank Ledlie Moore, a composer with, according to Reck, an exuberant personality, Pound discussed the tonalities of Byzantine music ‘in an attempt to get at the original music of the Greek drama, and Moore composed Greek-type music for the choruses of Pound’s Women of Trachis’. Moore told Reck about ‘the day he first took the Greek-American sculptor Michael Lekakis to visit Pound’, and as they left they ‘“heard a shout and saw Pound up in his window, leaning out and singing Greek verse to us at the top of his lungs. Happy, full of happiness, and playing the part of Homer.”’ With the poet and Nobel prize winner Juan Ramón Jiménez, an exile from Franco’s Spain who was at that time a professor of Spanish language and literature at Maryland University, Pound conversed in Spanish. Jiménez struck Reck, with his ‘trim black beard and burning eyes’, as immensely ‘dignified and noble in manner’; and Dorothy said she ‘had not seen anything quite so fine before’. Pound would say to him, ‘You are an exile from your country; I am an exile in my country’; but then he would talk as if Jiménez and his wife agreed with his political views, whereas, for obvious reasons, as Señora Jiménez remarked, ‘Often we did not.’
Probably very few of his numerous ‘sane and cultured’ visitors did wholly sympathize with his political views, but they came just the same. Among the most faithful, along with Huntington Cairns, were two ‘civilized professors’ from the Catholic University of America, Craig La Drière and Giovanni Giovannini; and Rudd Fleming and his wife, ‘a highly cultured couple of enthusiasts fer kulchur and greek drama’ who ‘would bring a thermos jug of excellent Chinese tea’. Serious work was done with Fleming on Greek drama; La Drière was ‘a very sober English literature scholar’; and with Giovannini, another professor of English who wrote a study of Pound and Dante, there will have been intense discussions of the Paradiso and how it was behind the cantos he was then drafting. Just once, when no one else was present, Pound spoke to Giovannini about being caged in the DTC, ‘speaking in a subdued voice, without visible emotion, with no word of complaint’, and mostly ‘in the third person, as if the memory of the caged creature were that of another unknown to him’.
There were literary people who regarded visiting Pound as a political act, and whose ‘scruples of political conscience’ kept them away and made them discourage others from going. Kathleen Raine, an English poet who was in Washington in the winter of 1951/2, was told by Auden, who had himself visited Pound in 1948, that it was perhaps all right for her to visit since she knew nothing about politics; but her friend the surrealist poet David Gascoyne ‘backed out at the last minute from accompanying me’, and argued for several hours ‘about the moral implications of my actions’. For her, however, Pound was simply ‘the most distinguished poet and man of letters in America’, whose criticism of ‘the evils of usurious materialism’ chimed with her own spiritual values. When she entered the ward he jumped up from his deckchair in the alcove to greet her ‘with the energy of a very active man’ and the air of ‘one accustomed to receiving literary visitors, wherever he might happen to be, and eager to begin on the serious discussion of serious (i.e. literary) topics’. He wanted to know all about what was being done in England; and when she showed genuine interest, he explained his Confucian philosophy in some detail. She felt his ‘power of imparting creative enthusiasm’, and found herself thinking, ‘Why don’t I start a literary magazine?’ Afterwards she wrote,
One thing I felt most strongly in America, both in literary and non-literary circles in Washington and elsewhere: everyone is disquietingly aware [that] Ezra Pound’s presence, as an inmate of the St Elizabeth’s State Mental Home, is an implicit criticism of the American way of life, and of American justice, about which history will have much to say. His present situation lends him a status that, paradoxically, belongs to no other living poet, whether he is a traitor, or a prophet (the distinction has always been a fine one) or both, his stature is on a historic scale…I even felt that he could not be more appropriately placed, in the map of history, than where he is now. Free, he would be a lesser figure…
Raine’s lasting image was of ‘Pound’s large, vital, bearded figure, walking quickly away from us, alone down the ward, among the lunatics, in the flicker of the television set’—an image, for her, ‘rather of greatness than of pathos’.
One of the things Pound said to Kathleen Raine was that ‘after the age of forty, no man ought to give his first attention to the writing of verse’, and she took that to mean that ‘For the grown-ups there are more important issues to be considered’, such as ‘the evils of usurious materialism’. She might have been shocked into a less generous understanding if she had met young Kasper, or Mullins; or if one or two of the small group of grown-ups drawn to Pound by his political views had been of the company when she visited. Some of these were important ex-military men who probably came on his reserved days. Principal among them was Lt.-General Pedro del Valle (Ret.). He had commanded the US Marines in the heroic battle of Okinawa in June 1945, and was still intent on attacking America’s perceived enemies, chief among them the Communist conspiracy to subvert American democracy from within, and behind that the Jewish conspiracy to take over the whole world. The United Nations Organization was perceived as the front and leading agent of this joint conspiracy, and in 1953, with other retired high-ranking officers, he set up an isolationist counter-organization known as The Defenders of the American Constitution. Pound shared these endemic paranoias and fed on them, though he did not go so far as to endorse del Valle’s proposals for vigilantes and armed Minutemen to rid White Christian America of its subversives. But he became close to del Valle personally, and Dave Horton edited The Defenders’ four-page monthly, Task Force; and del Valle’s Omni Press in California took over the publication of Square $ books and put out a lot of small books which Pound would have approved of, including a reprint of Coke on Magna Carta. Del Valle’s extensive correspondence with Pound is now in the Beinecke Library at Yale, but there is no record of what they talked about in St Elizabeths.
Del Valle’s name and address is in the big address book which Pound kept in his St Elizabeths years; and so too is that of Dag Hammarskjöld, then Secretary-General of the United Nations Organization. The hardback book, with its leather corners and its worn cloth covering, also served as a visitors’ book, and its over 600 names indicates the extraordinary range and diversity of Pound’s visitors and correspondents. There are his economic and political contacts, notably Rear-Admiral John Crommelin (Ret.) and Lieutenant Colonel Eugene Pomeroy (Ret.) of The Defenders of the American Constitution, and the English Major-General J. F. C. Fuller (Ret.) who had supported OswaldMosley’s policies. There are many more literary and artistic and academic names, ranging from Julian Beck of Living Theatre, through art historian Kenneth Clark, essayist and storyteller Guy Davenport, poet James Dickey, critics Clark Emery and John J. Espey, poetry editor Rolf Fjelde, poet and translator Ramon Guthrie, independent film-maker Hollis Frampton, poets Langston Hughes and Christopher Logue, Dachine Rainer of the anarchist Libertarian Press, and on through the rest of the 600 to Louis Zukofsky. There are the names of old friends, Margaret Anderson, Agnes Bedford, Bunting, Cocteau, Mary Moore (Cross), Hemingway; and there are the names of those newly drawn to Pound through their literary interests, George Kearns, then a young soldier in Washington, and William Pratt, then in the air force there, both of whom would lecture and write about Pound in the course of professorial careers.
Louis Zukofsky on a rare visit in July 1954 brought his 10-year-old son Paul, a prodigy on the violin, to play out on the lawn the bird song from canto 75, and the opening of the Bach Partita no. 3 in E major. And the old friends talked, according to David Gordon who was present, of Pound’s new work, Women of Trachis, and Zukofsky left with him a small book of his own, Anew. They talked of a move afoot in Paris ‘to get signatures of writers and painters, including Gilson, Frye and Picasso, for Pound’s release’. They questioned, ‘How sick was Eliot, and what fire was left in Lewis?’ Pound had to go on about ‘a so-called Gesellite muddying the issue’ of stamp scrip, about ‘taxation no longer necessary, Benton and Del Mar’. But he was more concerned to resolve old disagreements, as about Fascism, saying ‘that if you put the top 25 Fascists together each one would have had a different idea and different program for the corporate state’; and about his own allegiance he said that ‘the only program he had ever AVOWED was John Adams and the American Constitution’. After Zukofsky had left, driven back into Washington by David Horton, Pound went through his poems and made notes, composing a letter to Zukofsky as he went along, generous notes responding positively to the poems, as, at p. 15, ‘I note that you have got OUT of influence of E.P. and Possum’; and after poem 24 the confirmation, ‘damn all I think yu have got yr/ own idiom’. At poem 22, a version of Catullus viii, ‘as incorrigible IMpresario’, he encouraged ‘YES, Catullus, translated. good.…CAN yu do TEN Catullus poems?’ (Zukofsky would do them all, in his own way.) As he read Pound marked certain passages, among them ‘I am like another, and another, who has | finished learning | and has just begun to learn,’ and ‘There are almost no friends | But a few birds to tell what you have done.’
In 1950 the Canadian poet and literary activist Louis Dudek (1918–2001), then a mature doctoral student at Columbia University, offered to do anything ‘in the way of legwork etc. around New York city’ that Pound might want done. Pound wrote back, ‘if loafing in 2d/hand book shops he comes on anything by Alex Del Mar, would he kindly purchase, READ and then forward, price and shippings cost will be refunded’. Dorothy added her address to the typed note, ‘3211 10th Place SE /Wash: DC’. Dudek picked up a number of Del Mar titles and sent them there, and thus began a correspondence in which he found himself being pressed to serve in Pound’s ‘propaganda machine’. He did not respond well to that, being ‘interested in doing a lot for poetry, but not for an economic or political idea’. That distinction was alien to Pound’s thinking. Live literature, he insisted, ‘has GOT to be based on understanding of LIFE’, of ‘civic life’, and not be something to go ‘on a mantle piece with the blue china’. And if Dudek couldn’t see that, was not clear, for one thing, ‘re/ prob/ monnetaria/’, then let him at least DO something useful. ‘AGENDA’, he wrote to him in March 1952, ‘grampaw can’t be bothered with anything but AGENDA.…plenty of ag/ of various kinds’, and here was one, ‘let him mobilize any N.Y. personnel to putt over Lekakis’, the Greek-American sculptor whose work Pound had become enthusiastic about on the basis of the photographs shown to him, ‘find gardens for his gods/ nemus vult aram’. But he could not let it go at that. In 1955 he was berating Dudek, now teaching at McGill in Montreal and contributing to a little magazine called CIV/n, ‘No civilization without civic sense.…You profs OUGHT to groan for shame of decadence in american letters in all dimensions save glitter of surface technique.…The pusillanimity of the present.…ABSOLUTE allergy to pivotal thought. ABSOLUTE failure in ten years to face any of the basic issues raised by E.P. over only means at his disposal.’ Then came the threat of excommunication, ‘On the whole I see no reason to communicate with anyone who hasn’t sense enough to see the point of the Sq $ series,’ the latter being in his view ‘the ONLY curricula now defined’. In November 1956 he told him again, ‘NO ONE can be considered as having a culture valid in 1957 who has not DIGESTED at least the Sq $ series.’ This was the point at which the correspondence effectively ended.
Dudek regretted that ‘Propaganda for his ideas had become more important than literary value’. While ‘very much in agreement with Pound’s general motives and significance’, he found the narrow program which he imposed on his followers ‘repugnant and absurd’. In retrospect he wrote:
From this point in the correspondence [mid-1952], the ambiguity of my devotion to Pound—a devotion which continues to this day—and the pattern of my resistance to him become increasingly clear. I believe that his narrow dogmatism was a product of his mental illness; but this illness, though devastating and tragic for him, did not penetrate very deep, it was surface mania. Behind it, within it, surrounding it, was the brilliant and generous intelligence with which I wanted to communicate.
Yet it was this intelligence, Dudek concludes, ‘that was afflicted with a mania’, and this ‘mania’ made it impossible for Dudek to serve Pound in the way either of them wanted.
Another correspondent who felt the pressure of Pound’s imperative sense of things needing to be done was Else Seel (1894–1974), a German-Canadian writer of stories and poems. She had moved in literary circles in Berlin before emigrating to Canada in or about 1927 and there marrying a trapper-prospector. From their log cabin in a small settlement on Ootsa Lake in the remote forests of British Columbia she wrote a few words of encouragement to Pound in December 1946, being troubled by a newspaper report of his year in the hell-hole of Howard Hall. He responded with interest, and over the following years up to 1953 they wrote frequently to each other and exchanged books and magazines. She opened a window onto German history and culture for him, and he energized her writing. In his second letter he asked had she read anything by Leo Frobenius, a name which meant nothing to her. So he enlightened her about the importance of Frobenius, ‘the best mind in Europe in his time’, whom he could read however only with difficulty, and whom no one would translate. Would she translate the seven volumes of Erlebte Erdteile? She would not, though she was later glad to come across some of Frobenius’ African stories and translated four of them.
‘ELSA AGENDA AGENDA,’ Pound began a letter in March 1951, ‘she just do it and not wait for six page explanation’—on this occasion she was to write to the Indian Congress for Cultural Freedom on behalf of some passing bee in his bonnet. At Christmas he informed her that it was time for her to choose some job of work and see it through to the finish—such as translating Erlebte Erdteile. In 1953 he was still at her to do the needed translation, ‘everybody sittin’ round thirty years and the job NOT getting done’. By this time she was no longer writing to him, having felt the need to free herself from his demands. In a poem in her German she wrote, ‘You always demanded more, you insatiable one. |…| How many years did I read your words? | Soaked like the dry earth rain into myself? | And slowly got to know you. | What you had done in your long life, | what you had written and thought, | it quivered in my heart | and it enlivened my nights. | A spirit was my companion, | a spirit replaced flesh and blood, | the net became hard and heavy | and enveloped me as a prisoner.’
And then there was Ingrid Davies, the ‘duchess’ of the lyric Pound wrote for Sheri Martinelli’s jazz-playing friend Charlie Parker, ‘mid dope-dolls an’ duchesses | tho’ orften I roam’. That is, the lady gave Pound to understand that she was somehow connected with a duke, and was an ‘Hon’ (or Honourable) and of the aristocracy, though she rather rebelled against its conventions and had declined to ‘come out’ as a society debutante. She was married unsatisfactorily to Richard Davies, who ‘tries to write plays’, and was herself an actress though apparently ‘resting’, and had a small daughter who may or may not have been Richard’s, and cherished a cat. Pound gathered, or speculated, that she was about 22, though she may well have been in the later twenties. It was all rather like his ‘Moeurs Contemporaines’, only with upper-class England transposed from 1918 to the 1950s.
Richard Davies was active among the English Poundians who wanted to do something to effect Pound’s release; and Ingrid was upset about Pound’s everlasting incarceration and wrote in 1954 to say so and to cheer him up. Their correspondence took fire in 1955—do you remember, she wrote in 1969, when asking what she should do with her collection of his letters, ‘when we wrote to each other every day’? She had indeed written every day for a time, sometimes two air-letters in a day; but his were less frequent, perhaps every other day. Up to April 1956 when she stopped numbering his letters there were 239, though only 35 more after that.
In the intense year or so of their relationship she poured out her heart to him, and he responded as an agony-uncle, though at times also as an impressionable wooer. She wrote as a damsel in emotional distress, not happy in her marriage, not happy about the men she knew, not happy at all about her sex life and its prospects. All the same, in March 1955 she evidently invited what he took to be an amour lointain, eliciting the response, ‘Yes, my Love, | I shall be deeelighted to be yr/ Valentine.…Jaufre Rudel having nothing on Ingrid.’ His first thought had been to educate the seeming jeune fille by putting her on to his current curriculum, starting with Agassiz, Mencius, and Blackstone’s Laws of England, though he soon realized that her light liveliness was not intellectual, and that it was sexual and emotional education that she wanted. He warned her off psychiatrists, university academics, and Judeo-Christian religion; implied that he was the one to meet all her needs; and charmed her by making her feel that she had his complete attention, and deserved it. ‘My dear super-chick’, he flattered her in August 1955, ‘YOUR velocity is about 4 times that of anyone else save possibly that of yr/ anchored correspondent.’
As Pound took up his self-appointed ‘position as granducal tutor…in the ars amatoria’ he made it axiomatic that ‘there is NO uniformity of individuals in nature’. And since ‘no two people are identical’, it followed that ‘you cant learn anything save from particular presentations of individual cases’—‘nowt to be learned save from poetry and gt/ novels or narratives’. He would imply that there was a good deal on the subject of love in his own poems and translations; but he advised, ‘start with Ovid: EST DEUS IN NOBIS AGITANTE CALESCIMUS ILLO’—a god is within us and with his stirring we take fire. Later he would tell her, ‘I can’t believe book learnin’ is necessary, the platonic gawd in his mercy having given impulses to the children of light.’ In that light he recommended dancing, in ‘half open air or open air as at Bullier and in decent climates’, because ‘You can certainly learn more in one tango than from 12 vols of Golden Bough. You can be TOLD more in one tango…Tactile, god damn it, values, and all gradations depending on the relative magnetisms, the relative fineness of perception | the number of strata of the personality engaged.’ However, Ingrid’s ‘Guy’, otherwise unidentified, did not dance, so there was further advice: ‘Too bad about Guy’s inhibitions. Find somebody you LIKE to be touched by AND notice the vibrations’—
Courtship is a graduation of caresses whereby the parties explore, and find out IF they want to go further,,, semicolon; IF going further will reward one or both of them. Tempo, as in music, the DANCE…
Still she fretted, and he assured her, while warning again that ‘generalities are NOT binding’, that
To the best of my belief, given any temperament, the female capacity for enjoyment remains fairly constant from 15 to 50…At any rate, my chick, you needn’t hurry, I shd/ think you have at least 30 years in which to locate whatever experience you ultimately decide to indulge in. Takeit easy, paZienZaaaaaaa
The next day he continued:
you still leave me a bit up in the air | re/ what you know and don’t. You are at least aware that procreation and pleasure are not necessarily linked, i.e. that the pleasure can be had without increasing the population. French peasant girl to the Virgin: ‘O toi qui a concu sans pecher, donne moi la grace de pecher sans concevoir’. The male CAN take all the precautions, but I gather that that form of courtesy has largely gone into disuse, especially among the ignorant. Mechanical devices, not always trustworthy/ chemicals viewed differently by different sects. ‘Free time’ advertised, but a later innovation, THAT is what the Maoris had by antient tradition. I personally would want to know a lot more about it before relying on anyone’s calender. Further details if requested.
‘Is it worth it?’, she evidently wrote back, and he returned,
“Is it worth it!” | there are NO universal laws, dogmas, answers. Magnificent nights without penetration. One phase of the moon when same is not desirable. Naturally one can only deduce the feelings of the co-celebrant.…There have been damsels who seem happy without penetration, there are daughters of Cythera who are merely irritated if full act is not performed. Indubitably it may be certified that some males can get a great deal of pleasure from naked contact without entering the cave of the goddess…Cara, there are no universal answers that apply in all cases. ‘Non a diletto m’a consideranza.’ Everything from the Heine to the Cavalcanti translations applies. The gamut, more varied than the 8 octaves of the piano keys.
‘One is not used to putting these things on paper’, he remarked, ‘and they are not much use until the right batteries are in rapport.’ When Ingrid wrote that she had been reading Eustace Chesser and was his book right about the female orgasm, he wrote back that he couldn’t say—
All I know is that several have expressed pleasure and satisfaction (NOT satiety) and come back for more, and some have even referred to past pleasures after considerable interval. If it warn’t a explosion it must have been a blossoming out. There are all sorts and degrees, just as all sorts of talents for music, no two people the same. Gt/ violinist one chord, with drawing of the bow over two strings at once.
In reply to some later query he thought to add, ‘The illusion of being in LOVE, at least for the DURATION of the rites, is certainly highly desirable.’
In one letter Pound looked back to what had been for him the customs of ‘the america of 1900’, customs which would, he expected, ‘sound to Ing/ like lost arcadia’—
The renouned ‘purity’, the liberty acquired by 200 to 300 years of frontier when there COULD be no chaperonage. The young trusted to enjoy themselves and stop just short of copulation. Only a ‘fast set’ at the top, VERY small, ‘vice and the red lights below’ and the free born in between, yeoman and parson and lawyer stock, the latter mostly come up from millers, maltsters, but with say 300 years ‘culture’…Govt. employees, professors, the ‘college attending’ class…and most certainly a great deal of affection and emotion unhindered, trusted because the young accepted that convention. The dance still two step and waltz, square dances going out. And the 1910/14 bunny-hug, tango etc. not yet come in. Emotional refinement, and couples when the female consented slipping from the dance room for further but wholly unfecundative caresses in the night air.
‘And not till yr/ correspondent got to england, where the males were scarce’, Pound concluded this history lesson, ‘did he pass beyond these Idylic raptures’.
By the summer of 1955 the excitement had gone out of Pound’s letters. Ingrid’s had ceased to stimulate. He quoted to her a dictionary definition, ‘Pound: an enclosure for stray animals’. He became practical: the solution to her uncertainties—she was considering divorce—would be to spend time with his daughter at Brunnenburg and work on the land in a suitably upper-class way. At the same time she should use her social advantages in the spirit of noblesse oblige, and she should mobilize her father who was better placed to act. His letters were now characterized by ‘she ought’ and ‘she might do’, as in she might be getting publicity and sales in England for La Martinelli’s art works. When her letters became infrequent he complained, ‘no correspondence FROM the Hnbl. I. Pia hence the drift toward the Publk/ meeting tone’. At the end of November he wrote frankly, ‘It is the EduCaTion that we are aiming at | the construction of the perfect secretary’—as if she were now to him simply someone to make herself useful to carry out his agenda in England. The following May he told Mary de Rachewiltz, after saying ‘one needs a corps of secretaries’, ‘Ingrid sunk, evaporated, exploded, since went on theatre tour.’
Ingrid Davies did visit Brunnenburg, though not to work on the land. She did divorce in 1957. In a late letter, in July 1959, Pound wrote to her, ‘AND of course I wd/ like to put the duchy in order, or indeed ANY township or village | E | CO | NOMicaly | and discuss the tax system with ANY available adult or hopeful pupil.’ He offered to turn on the dynamo again ‘IF you turn highbrow again in a moment of rashness’, signed himself ‘pedagicicly yrs’, and sent ‘best’ to her cats.
Not licked, merely caged
Thus Pound to his ‘DEEvoted daughter’ in August 1954, ‘I don’t even feel licked | merely caged | mebbe that’s why I’m a lunatic.’ On the other hand, as he remarked to Olivia Agresti, ‘Of course I wd/be DEAD from overwork if I hadn’t been jugged.’ He was rarely so confessional. He did confide to Mary, in January 1955, ‘haven’t been able to keep head up for more than a few minutes without head rest for the past nine years.…AND my temper gets worse with age’. Yet there was some pride in his telling her, ‘got DOWN from cento kili to below 95. In fact I think it was near 90 the last time I was weighed. At any rate nearer human form than in 1938.’ (Samuel Hynes, visiting Pound two summers back, had seen him as ‘lean’ in his loose clothes. ‘hardship had stripped him of all unnecessary flesh’.) He was delighted at being ‘let out into the air more’—allowed since August to sit out until about 8:00 o’clock in the summer evenings. And he had at last succumbed and got in a radio, as he confessed to Wyndham Lewis, ‘thinking to save eyesight or praps different rest from playing solitarie’, though he expected nothing ‘via the “air”’ but ‘slusch, goddam trype, tunes used to sing in 1895 and ROTTENLY done at that’, a ‘peril to all life above that of newts and dungworms’. However, in November 1951 he was able to tell Mary that he had ‘heard on radio Toscanini conductMAGnificently Beethoven Septuor’. And he evidently found Elder Solomon Lightfoot Michaux, an immensely popular and influential black evangelist, worth listening to as a phenomenon of American culture.
‘Elder Lightfoot’ is celebrated in canto 95, as being ‘not downhearted’ and observing ‘a design in the Process’; but a possibly tone-deaf critic has found in that abbreviation of his name evidence of anti-African-American racism. However, against that can be set the rather more solid testimony of a black artist who had been an attendant in St Elizabeths in the 1950s, and who, in a 1960s coffee house where he played chess, ‘told compelling, vivid tales of Ezra Pound and his visitors’, and who ‘said repeatedly: “There was not a racist bone in Ezra Pound’s body”.’ Pound himself remarked to Ingrid Davies in March 1955, when desegregation was a burning issue, that he took his meals ‘with colleagues, desegregation in flower’. ‘Having grown up in cordial relations with afro-derivatives’, he explained, he was not bothered by the current fuss. When an ‘afro-confrère’ asked if he remembered him in the hell-hole and wanted Pound ‘to type 12 lines on the City of God in regular metric’, Pound readily obliged, and was offered a dime in return. His relations with black prisoners in the DTC, as reflected in The Pisan Cantos, had gone well beyond cordiality as he responded to them both as victims of white capitalist inhumanity, and as exercising even while imprisoned a redemptive humanity. He appreciated a touch of that humanity in August 1954:
new black attendant this a.m. as he gives me butter for breakfast, murmurs: ‘Right forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne’, then says: ‘Who wrote that?’ which stumps me, damn if I kno/ quote familiar, and the murmur certainly intended as encouragement.
Black Americans were most needed in America as ‘a humanizing element’, he told Olivia Agresti.
He did that, however, in a paragraph which, taken as a whole, while not racist was racialist. That is, it expressed Pound’s belief in the persistence of racial characteristics as the basis of culture, in this following Agassiz rather than Frobenius, the latter having regarded not race but the determinant ideas and practices of a society as the essence of its paideuma or ethos. Between the wars Pound had followed Frobenius’ lead, but now his hope for a better society,and his fear of a worse, could be vested in what he took to be more or less fixed racial types. So he could write to Signora Agresti,
marse blackman will most certainly NOT return to africa to infect what the dirty brits have left there/ with any more occidental hogwash/ He will stay here (incidentally D’s one comfort) being human and refusing to be poured into a mould and cut to the stingkging pattern on the slicks and the weakly papers.
But his own mould and pattern turn out to be just the commonly attributed stereotype—
An occasional upsurge of African agricultural heritage as in G. W. Carver, O.Kay but also marse Blakman him LAZY | lazy as Lin Yu Tang. Thank god for it/ AS a humanizing element most needed here./…he ain’ nebber been moralized/ thank God. The pleasantness of the animal kingdom unbitched by Calvin…
Pound’s tone is positive, even celebratory, far from hostile prejudice, yet such naive racialism can be turned in an instant into demeaning or aggressive racism.
In his own turn to racism Pound’s now obsessive anti-Semitism had incorporated the stereotype of Jewish racial characteristics. He would remind others that ‘any tendency to abstract general statement is a greased slide’, and that it was ‘NO use EVER discussing package words | fascism, socialism, etc’. And then he could write to Olivia Agresti:
Pity the pore uncawnshus ‘carrier’ whether it be of bubonics, tubercles or the kikerian state of mind, the oily and spherical/ the so accurately defined by Wm Shx/ etc. Not that the chew shd/ be prejudged/ he shd/ simply be watched for racial symptoms, and not allowed to infect the mind of the non-kike.
The paragraph doesn’t get any better as it rants on, mentioning ‘the problem of issue’ and the reduction of literature ‘to mere ornament’ as consequences of ‘the kikerian state of mind’, and concluding, ‘Whether they act from intent or from nature do not permit the infection of uncontaminated areas. und so VEITER.’ The German phrase touches, all too unconsciously, the bottommost pit of the twentieth-century hell, Pound’s mind having gone so deeply wrong. He would deny that he was anti-Semitic, and Jackson MacLow, writing to him as a Jewish poet in April 1955, could write back, ‘Alright—so youre not an antisemite. I never thought you were.…But WHY do you & other well-intentioned goyim, insist on talking about “kikes” & singling out the jews among the swindlers & power-bastards???’ In Pound’s case at least the answer to MacLow’s question must be that the anti-Semitism he had deployed as a propaganda weapon, knowing it to be wrong, had gradually poisoned his mind and become a paranoid obsession. Bernard Hart, author of the elementary handbook The Psychology of Insanity (1912) from which Pound had drawn some ideas for his theory of Imagisme, would have diagnosed a psychotic ‘complex’ about Jews. In lay terms, on the subject of Jews he had lost his reason.
When a translation of Hitler’s wartime private conversations was published in 1953 Pound was eager to read them. ‘Hitler crazy as a coot,’ he told Kenner on 1 November, ‘but extremely lucid on matter of money.’ He had thought when reading the reviews in September that ‘May be [that] was the ONLY subject on which Adolf WAS clear-headed’. Now, in a letter to Olivia Agresti, he went further:
The Hitler Conversations very lucid re/ money/ unfortunately he was bit by dirty jew mania for World DOmination, as yu used to point out/ this WORST of german diseases was got from yr/ idolized and filthy biblical bastards. Adolf clear on the bacillus of kikism…but failed to get a vaccine against that.
There is the insane complex at its most twisted and deranged.
Agresti firmly insisted in reply that Hitler’s killing off all the Jews he could lay his hands on was ‘a case of criminal lunacy’, but Pound brushed that aside with ‘Yes, my Dear O.R.A. BUTTT we shd/ ask WHAT kind of bloody lunatic, and what druv him.’ He wanted to attend only to the ‘The POSITIVE lucidities which revived the whole of germany by enthusiasm’, and would have it that ‘a man’s going nuts does not free one from his preceding lucidities’. He had always made a virtue of separating ‘the CONSTRUCTIVE parts of heretical or innovative writers from their fantasies’, of accentuating the positive and ignoring the negative. At times this mental habit became a form of microscopic vision, magnifying the selected detail with great clarity; but it could also allow the isolated detail, when it did not truly represent the larger reality, to blot out the whole truth. Hitler’s lucidities about money were indeed behind Germany’s economic miracle in the 1930s; and that miracle fuelled his drive towards war and conquest, and his war brought with it his drive to exterminate the Jewish race. For Pound, though, his right idea about money eclipsed those atrocities.
When thinking back to the Fascist era, as he frequently did when writing to Olivia Agresti with whom he had shared an enthusiasm for Mussolini’s economic system, Pound would emphasize the constructive parts, but in this case without being excessively partial. He would cite Mussolini’s dictum, ‘Lo Stato è lo spirito del Popolo,’ ‘The State is the spirit of the People,’ and comment, ‘And Mussolini’s state fell when it ceased to be the italian spirit.’ His summary judgment would be, ‘TEN years construction | then ten years undermining and going wrong.’ And for his own part he would say that he had been, ‘in Italy, engaged in a very vigorous criticism of the Fascist regime, which appeared to him suited to the necessities of circumstance in that given time and place, but not for export’. He would remark that the Italian spirit was ‘individualist, anarchic’, and quote the diehard Fascist Farinacci’s complaining that ‘if you put the 25 top Fascists together each one wd/ have a DIFFERENT idea of the corporate state’. In his own writing, he declared to Agresti, ‘There is of course not a line in support of ANY kind of totalitarianism’; and again, ‘Of course there was never a word in favour of dictatorship in my writing, save as interim necessity, and M[ussolini] never suggested it as universal system.’
His own politics, Pound would insist when on the defensive, was solidly ‘John Adams and the American Constitution, with due retrospect to the Leopoldine Reforms which preceded that remarkable document’; and it was always their principles which he had upheld in his wartime broadcasts against Roosevelt’s taking America into that war. ‘The time was probably inopportune, and his methods entaild considerable risk,’ he admitted in a draft note which he hoped Mary de Rachewiltz could manage to get published in La Nazione or La Fiera, with the afterthought, ‘That is an understatement.’ But it had been his duty, he maintained to Hugh Kenner in 1953, as a ‘citizen placed in a far look-out, i.e. in position to see events & facts…to warn his compatriots’. Besides, there could be ‘No treason without evil intention’—a judge in Boston had affirmed that in the Douglas Chandler case, as he informed Olivia Agresti in August 1953, and ‘Nobody but swine like Thos Mann or Rose Benet wd/ accuse me of evil intention’.
‘I want OUT’: a log of pleas and petitions
1950: In March Olga Rudge reproached Hemingway for doing nothing about Pound’s mouldering in St Elizabeths. Dorothy Pound, she wrote, ‘refused to take responsibility of any kind’, and ‘the easy way is for E’s friends to leave him where he is and salve their consciences with tributes to his literary worth—he is simply crawling with literary parasites—none of whom, in the States at least, compromise themselves by touching on the subject of treason’. ‘It is surely time’, she challenged, ‘for his friends, if he has any, to see what can be done.’ Hemingway, who regarded her interventions as hysterical and unhelpful, replied that as a true friend of Pound he must use his head and not give way to sentiment, and the fact was that Ezra had made ‘the rather serious mistake…of being a traitor to his country, and temporarily he must lie in the bed he made’. He assured her that ‘If Ezra is released at this moment as of sound mind’, he would not be allowed to return to Rapallo, but would be tried and ‘would receive a sentence of from ten to fifteen years’. As if to explain why that would be the case, he further assured her that ‘His anti-semitism has made him very powerful enemies in the US.’
Dudley Kimball, who was experimenting at his Blue Ridge Mountain Press with printing Pound’s ideal version of the Confucian Odes, one which would include the Chinese seal text and a sound key, wanted to circulate ‘Sixteen Points’ in Pound’s defence. Pound asked him, ‘Please do NOT distribute any copies of circular until you have finished the edition of the Odes’, and indicated that he was more concerned to get the Odes into circulation and so raise the cultural level than with getting himself freed—indeed the former in his view was the likeliest way of effecting the latter.
On 15 October, Laughlin wrote to EP: ‘Cornell says he can get you outov there if you will have D. sign the papers to start the wheels chuggin.’
1951: In mid-March Pound exclaimed to Hugh Kenner, who seems to have asked why not let himself be put on trial, ‘trial yu ass | where yu getting half a million $ for preliminary legal eggspentzes??’
On 26 July Laughlin wrote to Kenner that he had just seen Pound, and that ‘he is just as unreasonable as ever. He refuses to have any step taken legally to try to get him out of hock…so I guess he will just have to sit there until he changes his mind. There is nothing any of us can do for him if he won’t allow Dorothy to sign the papers.’
In October D. D. Paige wrote to Hemingway about the distinguished Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral’s project for freeing Pound by ‘requesting an amnesty for Ezra in the name of all Nobel Prize winners’—she had been awarded the Nobel in 1945. Eliot had advised that she proceed cautiously, and Paige thought him timid. Hemingway did not agree. ‘Many people have tried with great valour and little sense to free a prisoner and had the prisoner killed due to their blind zeal,’ he warned—his own son had been killed that way in the late war. And there were practical considerations. An election year was coming up, and Paige should remember that ‘The Pound of the treasonable and anti-semitic broadcasts has been declared insane. That is his protection against the charges against him.…If he were declared sane you can be sure that the people who resent his anti-semitic broadcasts will take up the offensive against him,’ and ‘no administration is going to risk alienating the Jewish vote by freeing Pound at this time’. He insisted, ‘Please do not think my heart is cold toward Ezra when I try to make my brain as cold as possible in considering his situation’.
1952: 10 September, Wyndham Lewis wrote to EP: ‘It wearies me your remaining where you are. To take up a strategic position in a lunatic asylum is idiotic. If I don’t see you make an effort to get out soon, I shall conclude, either that your present residence has a snobbish appeal for you, or that you are timid with regard to Fate.—Ask your wife to give the signal to your horde of friends to go into battle for you.’
An open letter in three languages, dated ‘Naples, le 1er Décembre 1952’, from Gabriela Mistral (pour l’Amérique du Sud), Doris Dana (pour les États Unis d’Amérique), and Stephen Spender (pour l’Europe), as ‘Comité International en Faveur d’Ezra Pound’, solicited signatures for a petition to the President of the United States for the release of Ezra Pound from confinement in St Elizabeths Hospital, Washington, DC.
Richard Aldington and HD, reacting to Olga Rudge’s efforts to get EP out of St Elizabeths, agreed that they did not want to get involved.
The anarchist Dachine Rainer set up ‘Committee for the Liberation of Ezra Pound’ with help from W. H. Auden, Dwight Macdonald, E. E. Cummings, Marion Moorehouse [Cummings], and many others.
1953: in March Mary de Rachewiltz sailed to America with the firm intention of taking Pound home to Brunnenburg. Laughlin, when they discussed ways and means in his New York apartment, said, ‘“You are the only person who could influence him…if you can get him to sign certain papers”.’ Eliot had said to her in London in 1948, ‘“The idea that you should be sent over to persuade him to sign a statement that he is mad is a travesty”.’ In any case Pound would not have it—he would not ‘for mere impatience pretend guilt or incapacity’. She said then, ‘“Stand trial and you’ll be acquitted!”’, and to that he retorted, ‘“What’s the point in my being free if the family has to go bust and one has to pass the begging bowl around!”’ She managed to see someone in the Justice Department, and was told, ‘“Young lady…If you want a piece of good advice you better not insist that the case be reopened; you might land him in the electric chair.”’ After ten weeks in Washington she returned to Brunnenburg ‘bewildered and discouraged’, and with the firm conviction that her father’s ‘liberation must be obtained from Italy’.
In a typescript note, undated but probably dashed off after May 1953, Pound wrote:
Tha[t] they base the defense on literary prestige/ O. K.
despite the fact that one is dealing with utterly illiterate gangsters
plus the pink 4th rate writers/
one lot DONT know what is literacy and the other lot loathe it.
Then they sit round yelling for E. P. to get into some TOTALLY
useless legal tangle
that will cost $5000 a week and get NO where/
instead of getting on with the job of getting his most
important work into print as fast as possible.
There was also this general complaint: ‘Practically No curiosity as to the facts or the juridical basis, i,e, the legal as distinct from the habitual “bunk” what you can put over.’
In June Olivia Agresti wrote that John Drummond had plans to get ‘a good many prominent Italians to sign a paper expressing their hope that the U.S. Government would set free the most outstanding American poet and leader in the new trend literature has taken in the last twenty years’. She enclosed a copy of a draft petition, on which Pound commented, ‘idea of petition O.K. but NOT a petition as in their idiotic or perfidious draft/ looked as if composed by pink or “Partisan review” // all their dirtiest insinuations accepted’.
In October, Rufus King, a Washington lawyer who had been tasked by Eliot and others to look into Pound’s situation, returned a confused report of which the upshot was that there was nothing to be done for him at that time. King’s friends in the Justice Department assured him that they would not be abandoning their case ‘so long as their witnesses remain alive and available’. He went on about a presidential pardon as if it were a serious possibility, although Pound at least was well aware that with no conviction there could be no pardon; and while saying that ‘the only present escape would be via a trial’, and that he thought ‘we could win an acquittal’, King nevertheless advised that because it was felt that Pound’s nerves would not stand the strain of a trial, it was better for him to remain in St Elizabeths, horribly confined though he was ‘with a ward of depressives and a television set’. Moreover, anything that stirred up publicity would be harmful: nothing could be done until ‘it is felt that Pound has been forgotten by the great mass of the American public’. ‘It does appear to be a stalemate,’ Eliot replied, ‘All that you saytends to confirm my opinion that any steps to be taken, must be taken quietly, and in America, not elsewhere.’
In November Wyndham Lewis told Eliot that he had been shown a letter in which Pound had said, in effect, ‘It is time that a little more intelligence was used to get Grandpa out of the bughouse.’ That led him to feel that ‘If Ezra seems to wish that a major effort should be made to secure his release from prison, then a few of his friends should draw up a programme and go into action.’ An appeal might be printed, to be signed by people in all parts of the world, and sent to the President of the United States, and published with the signatures in The Times (London) and the New York Times. As ‘his two oldest friends in England’, Eliot and Lewis himself ‘could start the ball rolling’.Eliot’s response was to send King’s letter to Lewis, with his own conviction that ‘public agitation outside of the U.S for Pound’s release was not advisable’. Lewis still felt that an effort should be made to rescue Pound, since that was what he wanted, and since ‘It is most unlikely that the rescue initiative will come from America.’ He had always said that he would do whatever he could whenever Ezra gave the word, and ‘He has now done so.’ There was further debate between the two old friends, but no appeal materialized.
1954: Boris de Rachewiltz, Pound’s son-in-law, had begun to act on the idea that his liberation would have to be worked from Italy. With his training in Vatican protocol he was able to arrange in March for a professor of Portugese at Rome University, José de Piña Martins, to appeal on Vatican Radio for America to free its ‘Prometheus Bound’. The broadcast was repeated over Italian Radio the same evening, and then printed and widely circulated in June as ‘Vatican Radio Appeal for Pound’. A sustained campaign of articles, editorials, and letters, followed in the Italian press, notably ‘The Ezra Pound Case’ by Carlo Scarfoglio in Paese Sera of 16 June, and a series of articles in Rapallo’s Il Mare in the autumn. Many of these articles were aimed at, or were brought to the attention of, Clare Boothe Luce, the American ambassador in Rome, who would as a matter of course pass them on to the State Department in Washington.
Encouraged by this raising of awareness of his case in Italy Pound entertained, ‘on the purely Utopian plane’, a suggestion from Olivia Agresti that he might take up residence in a friend’s villa at Cumae. ‘D & I wd/ have to live somewhere and pay rent’, he mused, and ‘I wd/ want a place for two, plus 2 guest rooms’. Then paranoid realism cut in and he reminded himself that he would be able to enjoy the Vergilian villa at Cumae only ‘IF the Ecclesiastic and Statal authorities can get round the strangle hold the kikes and the hroosians still have on the yellowlivered yanks and pry yr/ tottering friend out of the buGGhouz.’
Dag Hammarskjöld, Secretary-General of the United Nations, had been prompted to take an interest in Pound’s situation by two young fellow Swedes, Bengt Nirje who had studied with Norman Holmes Pearson at Yale and been encouraged by him to visit Pound, and Lars Forssell who had translated a selection of Pound’s poems into Swedish. Hammarskjöld had made enquiries and become more fully aware of ‘his tragic fate’, and had at the same time been surprised that Pound’s many American visitors had ‘not found ways to address his situation…especially as there seems to be a common understanding—among those who have some knowledge of the case—that Pound is of sound mind’. In the summer and fall of 1954 the Cantos figured in his reading, and in October, delivering the main address at the opening ceremony celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Museum of Modern Art, and before an audience numbering over 2,500, he invoked Pound as an exemplary modern artist:
Modern art teaches us to see by forcing us to use our senses, our intellect, and our sensibility to follow it on its road of exploration. It makes us seers—seers like Ezra Pound when, in the first of his Pisan Cantos, he senses ‘the enormous tragedy of the dream in the peasant’s bent shoulders’. Seers—and explorers—these we must be if we are to prevail.
A measure of how undiplomatic this public recognition of Pound’s significance as a modern artist would have been in that setting is given by the contrast with Jacques Maritain’s virtually blanking him out in his A. W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts delivered in the National Gallery of Art in Washington in 1952, on a similar subject and to a similar if more select audience, and published as Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry. Maritain, a former diplomat and then an honoured philosopher at Princeton, had ranged widely over the field of modern art and poetry, and cited and quoted from several contemporary American poets, but had mentioned Pound only twice, once in a footnote, as holding dear ‘state-totalitarianism’, and once in the text as a mere name in a list of half a dozen poets.
When Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature at the end of 1954 he was interviewed by Time and featured on its cover. He used the interview as a public platform to declare, ‘Ezra Pound is a great poet, and whatever he did has been punished greatly and I believe he should be freed to go and write poems in Italy where he is loved and understood.’ The Swedish Academy had considered Pound for the prize that year, along with Camus and Claudel, and Hemingway added, ‘I believe it might well have gone to Pound…I believe this would be a good year to release poets.’
Around the same time Pound asked a professor of English at the University of Alabama, Douglas Hammond, who had been writing to him about getting him out, to obtain a copy of Hammarskjöld’s speech, and Hammond wrote to Hammarskjöld on 12 December. He told him that ‘For quite some time now, a group of English majors, faculty members in English Literature and classical languages and romance languages, have been thinking of forming an organization which would ask the Federal Government to drop its treason indictment.’ In January Hammond wrote to Dorothy Pound about the plan, telling her that he expected to secure the support of Marianne Moore, T. S. Eliot, Hugh Kenner, Archibald MacLeish, A. V. Moore, and others, for an organization which would raise funds and work quietly behind the scenes for the release of Pound, without a trial and without publicity; and that they wanted to engage Thurman Arnold who had helped defend Owen Lattimore when Senators McCarthy and McCarran were accusing him of being a Communist agent. Hammond gathered from Dorothy’s response that ‘she thought we were too much in the dark’ to do any good, and she refused to see him. Pound’s own attitude was that he had ‘no objection to a movement in his behalf “so long as nobody fakes”’. Hammond wrote again to Hammarskjöld on 3 January, and again at greater length on 7 January, even though he knew that the Secretary-General was at that moment in China engaged in important negotiations. In the 7 January letter he outlined two courses of action: one which ‘Mr Pound would probably accept’, namely that the federal government be persuaded ‘to quietly drop the charges’; the other, which Pound was very unlikely to consent to, would involve him pressing for discharge on the grounds of sanity and then pleading guilty at the ensuing trial in the expectation of ‘a nominal sentence which could and would be suspended’. ‘It is said’, Hammond claimed, ‘that T. S. Eliot endorses the plea of guilty and the trial idea.’ But Pound himself ‘wants complete exoneration and a conversion of official America to the views he expressed on Rome Radio’; and he would most certainly regard the guilty plea stratagem as faking. Either course would call for an organization supported by important names and Hammond was asking Hammarskjöld to lend his name ‘in an honorary capacity’. Pound would tell Olivia Agresti in December 1955 that Hammond had migrated to Tokyo, and that ‘A buzzard named Blum in Tokio offers Laughlin some letters for $200/ which Mr Hammond had received during some alleged efforts to circulate a quite phoney petition’.
1955: In January, in one sentence in a long letter to Wyndham Lewis, Pound vented his frustration: ‘I am gittin bloody near fed up with bein’ in jug.’
‘Hem/ has done what he can, timing it by what I take to be a fairly good understanding of obstacles’—this was on 19 March to Ingrid Davies in London, whose husband was organizing a group effort there on Pound’s behalf. On the 28th, addressing them both, he let them know that there was a conspiracy to keep him locked up because of what he knew and/or what he might get to know; and that any change in his situation would have to come from leverage‘INSIDE the locus of power’ since ‘It is in those circles that the keys to jails are kept.’
In March the CIA-sponsored American Committee for Cultural Freedom considered applying for Pound’s ‘release on probation to a private physician or…institution’, and wrote to Dr Overholser in those terms. Overholser stymied the idea.
At the end of March the Italian Premier Mario Scelba and his Foreign Minister were on an official visit to the United States, and US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and Clare Boothe Luce were present at a dinner given in his honour by the Italian ambassador. Pound’s friend Craig La Drière was at the reception. In mid-April Pound mentioned in a letter to Olivia Agresti, ‘It appears La Luce was very affable at the Scelba reception/ yes E.P. wanted in Italy (not by the police) and no need of trial because he WAS crazy when it happened, and cd/ now be released.’ Presumably that was what she was reported to have said. Pound then commented, ‘I do not much care about technicalities/ a nolle prosequi [to dismiss the charges] need give NO reasons whatever’; and later in the letter he added, ‘I don’t mind being considered eccentric, officially, so long as I am not required to say Roose was other than a dunghill.’
Archibald MacLeish wrote to Pound in August: ‘I have been told by personal friends of yours that nothing is to be done—that no solution would be acceptable to you which did not involve vilification of President Roosevelt and those who served the Republic under him. If that is so it’s so—but I’d like to hear it from you before I accept it as the truth.’ Encouraged by a friendly response from Pound, he then said he would do what he could for Pound, though ‘not exactly grata in this [Republican] Administration’, and would ‘try to instigate others who can do more’. ‘Individual action’ was what he had in mind, ‘the only kind of action that ever really counts’.
Laughlin asked Hemingway for a contribution to a pamphlet of tributes to Pound’s art to be published for his seventieth birthday. 1 Hemingway responded by way of a letter dated 27 October to Harvey Breit of the New York Times:
Will gladly pay tribute to Ezra but what I would like to do is get him the hell out of St Elizabeth’s; have him given a passport and allow him to return to Italy where he is justly valued as a poet. I believe he made bad mistakes in the war in continuing to broadcast for that sod Mussolini after we were fighting him. But I also believe he has paid for them in full and his continued confinement is a cruel and unusual punishment.
That statement was included in Ezra Pound at Seventy, but in his letter to Breit Hemingway went on, ‘If Laughlin wants to help Ezra, rather than exploit his confinement, he could spend some of his Steel earned money and his time and get him free.’ The letter was to be sent on to Laughlin, and copied to Pound. Hemingway added a ‘private and confidential’ note for Breit’s eyes only which concluded, ‘I detest the Laughlin procedure of a tribute to “Old Ez” with a list of his books in print published by Laughlin, naturally.’ Hemingway repeated his public statement for a radio seventieth birthday tribute broadcast by the Yale Broadcasting Company on 5 December, adding this time that Pound’s continued confinement was ‘contrary to the Constitution of the United States’.
In October Hammarskjöld asked Bengt Nirje, who was now working for Swedish Radio and who was in touch with Pound, to sound him out on what might be done to free him. Nirje mistakenly thought Pound was being asked to choose between the Nobel and his freedom, but when this was put to him ‘he shouted loud and clear “I want OUT”’. In fact Hammarskjöld’s concern had been from the start to save the human being, not to support the poet for the Nobel, something he had decided he could not do. In any case, as Marie-Noëlle Little observed in her account of Hammarskjöld’s efforts to free Pound, the prize ‘would not open any doors for Pound; on the contrary, it might trigger the wrong kind of publicity’, as the Bollingen award had done. But Hammarskjöld would use his position as a member of the Swedish Academy to do what he could not do as Secretary-General of the United Nations, and, with the backing of the other members of the Academy, ‘discuss the case with his friends in the State Department’. His idea, agreed with his friend W. H. Auden whose judgment he trusted, seems to have been ‘to protect Pound, if he admitted he was guilty, and then help him to relocate to Southern Europe’.
In Italy the ‘Amici di Ezra Pound’ organized by Boris and Mary de Rachewiltz were being very active in the poet’s seventieth year. The Mayor of Florence, La Pira, wrote to the US ambassador, Clare Boothe Luce, ‘in the name of the City of Dante, which is still grieving for the decree of exile passed upon its greatest poet’, asking her ‘to intercede with the authorities of his country so that the poet-prisoner may be given his liberty on his seventieth birthday’. On that day, 30 October, the titular head of the ‘Amici’, Giovanni Papini, wrote in an open letter to Ambassador Luce in Corriere della sera,
In the very moment when the chiefs of the Kremlin are sending back pardoned German war criminals, we cannot believe that the descendants of Penn and Lincoln, of Emerson and Walt Whitman, wish to be less generous than the successors of Lenin and Stalin.
Vanni Scheiwiller, Pound’s publisher in Italy, drew up a petition for clemency and secured the signatures of thirty-four Italian writers and intellectuals, several of them anti-Fascists who had suffered under Fascism, and including Ignazio Silone, Mario Praz, Alberto Moravia, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Eugenio Montale, Salvatore Quasimodo, and Vittorio Sereni. They subscribed to the conviction that Pound was substantially innocent of the crime of high treason, and therefore looked to the American authorities to withdraw the charge levelled against the illustrious poet whose cultural services to America and to the entire world were of inestimable value; and it was their wish, that once at liberty, the poet might return to the Italy he loved so well and there pass his days in peaceful work. They counted on the support of Ambassador Luce, and she did indeed communicate to the State Department ‘the feeling that seemed to exist in Italy’ concerning Pound’s incarceration, and twice ‘personally took up the matter with officials in State, and once…discussed it with the Attorney General’. But the difficulty, she explained to Charles Norman, was that ‘The campaign to free Pound was plainly based on the widely held view among Italians that Pound was innocent…of treason to his country’, and had been ‘nevertheless sentenced and sent to prison where he was being kept long after his wartime crime (if indeed he ever committed one) had been forgotten and forgiven by most Americans’. The Italian government, however, had ‘never made any official representations on the subject, no doubt because they knew the legal facts concerning Mr. Pound through their own Embassy in Washington’. Misconceived as it may have been, the campaign did find an echo in an editorial in her husband’s influential Life Magazine in February 1956, where it was declared that ‘The crimes of World War II have aged to the point of requital, parole, or forgiveness. For this reason, if no other, the arguments for quashing the indictment against Ezra Pound should be publicly considered.’
A loose sort of committee formed in London in 1955 ‘to obtain [Pound’s] release’. Denis Goacher and Peter Whigham who arranged the publication of Women of Trachis were involved; and Peter Russell who was publishing Pound’s economic tracts as ‘Money Pamphlets’; and Dryden Gilling-Smith, an undergraduate at Durham University, who reviewed those pamphlets in the Social Crediter; and Ronald Duncan, and John Drummond, and a number of others concerned for Pound’s work and welfare. Richard Davies, husband of Pound’s intimate correspondent Ingrid, acted as organizing secretary and wrote the foreword to a nine-page pamphlet, Ezra Pound, written on behalf of the committee formed to obtain his release, and ‘privately printed’ in January 1956. The pamphlet gave an account of Pound’s life and career up his present state, and concluded—
Now is not the time to weigh the truth or falsity of his beliefs—to assess the worth of credit economics—the value of the Corporate State—nor is it necessary to balance the technical ‘comfort given to the enemy’ with those motives which must be held to constitute the morality of his act. It is necessary only to remember the dedication of his life’s work, and to look at the walls of St Elizabeth’s. If we are indeed responsible for each other’s acts then we must each inescapably share a part of the guilt which attaches to the sufferings this man has endured, and to the increasingly lonely fate which awaits him.
That final sentence was doubtless well meant. Pound would probably have welcomed only the appeal to ‘those motives which must be held to constitute the morality of his act’.
The well-wishers concerned to secure Pound’s release would not have known that the Justice Department had recognized in 1950 that its indictment was ‘faulty’, and ‘that extreme difficulty would be encountered in meeting our burden of proof if Pound were declared sane and the Government forced to trial’; and that it had therefore been decided that under no circumstances should they take any action ‘to reopen sanity proceedings’, nor should they ‘takeany action looking toward dismissal of the indictment’. They would just sit tight and rely on Overholser’s opinion to keep Pound shut up in St Elizabeths indefinitely. They were not going to be moved by any appeal to justice or to mercy.
Writing and reading
Evidently Pound was waiting quite stoically for his fate to work itself out. He would not force it. He would not sign, or have his Committee sign, the papers which Laughlin insisted would obtain his release. He would not plead guilty to treason against his country, holding steadfastly to his conviction that he had acted as a dutiful citizen. And he would not say that he must have been insane when he made his broadcasts. But nor would he admit to being sane enough to stand his trial and prove himself no traitor—and that may have been evidence of sanity given his experience of Cornell and of the justice system. He had seen the course of justice perverted for his supposed benefit by his own lawyer’s ‘bunk’, and by the complaisance of the Justice Department and the judge and the jury. Moreover, he had been taught to fear the influence of those who were most vociferous for him to be condemned, and who, under cover of the treason charge, really wanted him executed for his anti-Semitism. He would say that in any case he could not afford a trial. He would also say he could not afford to go free. And he would say that of course he wanted to be set free. All angles considered, the only way out was for the charges against him to be withdrawn, but he was leaving it to others to find how that might be brought about. He neither abandoned hope, nor let his hopes be raised unduly by his well-wishers’ petitions. In fact he gave few signs of having these matters on his mind at all.
There was work to be done, and he mainly got on with it. There was his ‘Loeb’ edition of Confucius. The Great Digest & Unwobbling Pivot which Laughlin had agreed to publish. This was his previously published version of those classics but this time with the original texts from rubbings of the T’ang dynasty stone tablets on the facing page. Dr Achilles Fang, an expert sinologist whose offer of guidance Pound would soon gladly accept, expressed puzzlement at Pound’s wanting a bilingual edition. ‘Professing sinologues are too dull to appreciate his translation,’ he informed Laughlin, and ‘those who are characterless would resent the ideograms’.
But Pound, holding that ‘no civilized man wd/ want the trans without the original for comparison’, was adamant, and ‘The noble Fang’ (as he became to a grateful Pound) contributed ‘just the right note’ on the Stone-Classics to the book which appeared in December 1951.
For his edition of the Confucian Odes he was more ambitious still. Fang was again to write an introductory note, and Pound urged him to ‘HAMMER…that the bloody translator does NOT consider translation complete without the accompaniment of ideograms and sound-graph’. The original texts were to be in the Confucian era seal script, with Pound’s versions on the facing page, and beneath them on that page would be the phonetic transcript of the ideograms. The phonetic symbols had to be ‘VISIBLE simultaneously with the ideograms AND the translation’, otherwise ‘the phonetic transcript will NOT help the ignorant reader (like yr/ friend here below unsigned) to SEE what sound belongs to what ideogram (seal or other)’. When he saw Dudley Kimball’s sample layout Laughlin decided it was all too complicated for New Directions to handle, and at that point Fang interested the director of Harvard University Press in the project. The Press proposed that there should be two editions, a ‘scholar’s edition’ with all three components, and a ‘trade’ edition for the general reader with just Pound’s English versions. Contracts for both editions were signed in August 1953. The trade edition appeared reasonably promptly in September 1954, but for Pound ‘the real edition’, the only one that interested him in the least, was still to come.
There was however a fundamental problem which would lead to increasingly difficult negotiations with Fang who was now in effect his editor. It emerged when Pound was correcting the galley proofs of the trade edition that Fang had regularized the spelling of some of the Chinese names, changing ‘Wan’ to ‘Wen’ for example, and Pound expostulated, ‘NO!’,
No, my very dear ACHILLES, almost sole comfort of my declining years. The PENalty for altering a VOWEL in verse is DEATH.
You are reprieved because of yr/love of exactitude, but don’t do it again.
I am trying to teach these buzzards PROSODY, as well as respect for a few civilized chinese.
Much depended on ‘relation to vowels in the context’, he explained; although in fact, he relented, ‘apart from one Wan | no partic/ damage has been done’, and he had restored ‘the three necessary spellings/ Wan once, Hsin once, Kiang once’. The real problem was that ‘the noises made by yr/ compatriots have almost NO relation to sounds represented by barbarian alphabets’, and this meant that it was simply impossible for the phonetic transcript in the ‘scholar’s edition’ to accurately represent the syllables as they might have been sung by Confucius. Fang was licensed to adopt whatever system he thought best for the sound key, but as time passed without progress towards ‘the real edition’ Pound’s impatience grew and he began to suspect that Fang’s love of exactitude was holding things up. In February 1956 he exploded,
if you are waiting to satisfy your letch for precision Gaw Damn it/ there is NO alphabetic representation of chinese sound, let alone any fad of spelling it in amurkn alPHAbet that will fit 27 different kinds of chinkese thru 3000 years/
The poet and his expert editor were at odds, because the one cared about the precise sounds in his English version, while being relaxed about the ‘highly imperfect but useful’ representation of the sound of the Chinese, which he intended ‘MORE as a graph of the metric than as a phonetic equivalent of the MUCH disputed chinese sound’; and the other had a scholar’s care for the correct pronunciation of the Chinese. There were other reasons along with this for the delay, and in the end the project would remain unrealized. Pound would withdraw the materials from Harvard University Press in 1958, complaining bitterly that his work had been sabotaged and blocked. He would tell Fang that ‘The infinite vileness of the state of education under the rump of the present organisms for the suppression of mental life is not your fault.’
His translations from the Chinese and from the Greek appear to have preoccupied Pound’s poetic mind from his being committed to St Elizabeths in early 1946 until about March of 1953. There are two notebooks dated as of August and November 1951 with notes and drafts towards new cantos, the later of the two containing ideograms that would feature in cantos 85 and 86. Apart from that there was a long pause between the completion of The Pisan Cantos and the beginning of sustained work on the St Elizabeths cantos. ‘It has taken me nine years to blot all this out,’ he told Denis Goacher in 1954, meaning, Goacher understood, ‘being in the mad-house’. The notebooks show that once begun on the new series he worked on them without serious interruption through the following five years. In October 1954 he wrote to Mary de Rachewiltz, ‘Canto 85 in proofs’—it would appear in Hudson Review at the end of the year—‘86/7 sent to Hud/ 88 started | & then 4, further along, not quite sure what numbers, may be 91 onward’. A couple of days later he told her that he had ‘typed p.11 of 88’ that morning, ‘and there are more done for Paradiso after the end [of] “Section Rock-Drill”’. A month later, in November, he was through struggling ‘to get ms/ 85/89 in order’, those being the cantos to which the title ‘Section Rock-Drill’ specifically applied, ‘The Paradiso proper starting with 90’, though ‘the reader will have to find THAT out for himself’. He was rather pleased with the way ‘the poEM’ was growing, confident that it would give ‘a fairly good kick in the panTZ’ to the idea that it had ‘no shape or design’. He foresaw ‘A WHOLE vol/ ELEVEN or 12’, and was planning to have it set up and printed by Vanni Scheiwiller in Milan because New Directions and Faber were too slow and had not taken on the Confucian Odes. Scheiwiller did publish Section: Rock-Drill/85–95 de los cantares in September 1955, ‘All’Insegna del Pesce d’Oro, Milan’. By then Pound was fairly well on with cantos 96 and 97 of Thrones.
There is very little of St Elizabeths in the twenty-five St Elizabeths cantos. They were written in that sad institution, but they were not of it as The Pisan Cantos were both in and of the DTC. Their world is made up out of books, and so immersed is the poet in his reading and in his making that his actual world is indeed blotted out. The reader can easily forget where Pound was as he wrote them.
His chosen books, borrowed from the Library of Congress or found for him by friends, were an idiosyncratic collection, not extensive and with many out-of-the-way titles, but for Pound they did add up to a universe. First among them, as standing for the proper method of natural intelligence, were the writings of the great Swiss-American scientist Louis Agassiz (1807–73), whose ‘precise knowledge of his subject [led] to great exactitude of expression’, and who built upon Alexander von Humboldt’s ‘art of collecting and arranging a mass of isolated facts, and rising thence, by a process of induction to general ideas’. That is the method of the cantos, except that it is left to the reader to discover the general ideas in Pound’s arrangement of the details. Next on his bookshelf might be the works of Alexander Del Mar (1836–1926), who applied that method to the subject of pre-eminent importance in Pound’s view, the history of money from ancient times up to his own. Pound particularly relished his exposure of the crimes of those who usurped from the state the prerogative of issuing money. ‘America’s greatest historian’, Pound called him. Alongside Del Mar would stand Senator Thomas Hart Benton’s Thirty Years’ View (1854), for its first-hand account of the war fought out in Congress between President Jackson and the private Bank of the United States for control of the nation’s money supply. Benton supported Jackson, holding that ‘when the government becomes “the servant of the lender”, the people themselves become its slaves’. Next to Benton would stand Brooks Adams’s The Law of Civilization and Decay (1896), a study of the economic forces governing civilization, in particular ‘the driving greed of the usurer and the finance capitalist’. Adams observed the transformation of Capital through the nineteenth century as it increased its power to use the public credit for private profit, saw it growing to be independent of the productive economy and of the state, and foresaw the coming domination of the state by predatory financial interests and their imposition of an era of austerity.
A second group of works would offer ancient examples of sound economic government where the common wealth was managed for the common good. Economic Dialogues in Ancient China: Selections from the Kuan-tzu(1954), contains thirty-two essays from the writings of a prime minister of the state of Ch’i (684–645 BC), a major source for Confucius’ thought 150 years later, and for that of Mencius after him. The first essay, ‘On Shepherding the People’, advised that the good ruler ‘should fill and watch over the granaries and public storehouses…When the granaries have been filled, then the people will obey the laws and the rules of courtesy.’ From the other end of the Confucian tradition came the sixteen maxims of The Sacred Edict of Emperor K’ang-hsi, issued in 1670 and ordered to be read out once a month to all the people in every town of China. It was enlarged by his son and successor Yong-cheng in 1724, and then rendered into the everyday language of the common people by a Salt Commissioner. A typical maxim reads (in the British missionary F. W. Baller’s translation), ‘If people would regard all connected with the community as making one corporate body—if there were advantages all would enjoy them; if adversities, all share them; this would be (true) union among the people.’ Baller the missionary, while recognizing that these moral maxims had guided the people of China for generations, could see ‘no life-giving power in them’, and wrote in his Foreword that they had left the Chinese ‘still enveloped in a darkness which may be felt’ since ‘nothing but Divine motive power can raise fallen humanity’. He could recommend them only as an aid to those wishing to learn colloquial Chinese, but Pound thought their ethic made them worthy of a place in his Thrones. Alongside those Chinese guides to a just social order would stand The Eparch’s Book of Byzantium’s banking and market regulations, put together by Leo the Wise, Roman Emperor in the East (866–912), and edited in 1893, in the original Greek with Latin and French versions, as Le Livre du Prefet. That was the earliest attempt to legislate in detail for the good government of a market economy. It established a form of guild system designed to ensure fair trading conditions, and it stayed in effect ‘right down to Mustapha Kemal’.
Pound would tell an interviewer in 1960 that his thrones in the late cantos, like Dante’s in his Paradiso, were reserved for ‘the spirits of the people who have been responsible for good government’. Hence his reading into those cantos the works of Kuan I-Wu, and Confucius and Mencius, of the Emperor K’ang-hsi and the Salt Commissioner, and of Byzantium’s Leo the Wise. Pound added that his paradiso was ‘an attempt to move out from egoism and to establish some definition of an order possible or at any rate conceivable on earth’. One work in his collection of books especially relevant to this ‘attempt to move out from egoism’ and to define a just natural order would be the two-volume Loeb edition of The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, written by Philostratus in Greek for the Roman Empress Julia Domna (d. 217). Apollonius, born about the same time as Jesus of Nazareth, was an itinerant sage who would own nothing but his knowledge of men and nature, and who went about his world as far as India and Egypt and the Pillars of Hercules, practising and teaching the Pythagorean idea of the good life, and giving wise counsel to the rulers of the cities he visited. Pound especially approved his having had nothing to say of Heaven and Hell, nor of Original Sin, nor of the life after death, and his attending rather to the live universe and the cultivation of natural wisdom. Among the epistles attributed to him in volume two Pound would have read, ‘The gods are in no need of sacrifices. What then can one do in order to win their favour? One can, in my opinion, acquire wisdom, and, so far as one can, do good to such men as deserve it.’
Pound’s reading for the cantos included law books, or what served him as law books. He read in Eadmer’s life of St. Anselm how, as Archbishop of Canterbury (1093–1109), he had fought to maintain the rights of the Church against the state power of William Rufus and Henry I, and Pound saw that as a ‘pivotal point in brit/ history’ and a start towards Magna Carta and the development of the democratic idea through the succeeding centuries. He read with close attention Edward Coke on Magna Carta in his Second Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England (1628), and told Noel Stock, ‘it’s all there in Coke, and with a lucidity Blackstone never attains’, meaning that the whole history of the common law and of the charters establishing the rights and liberties of the subject was clearly argued out in Coke’s seventy-seven pages. And when he read Catherine Drinker Bowen’s life of Coke, The Lion and the Throne (1956), Pound at once set it alongside the Institutes as ‘live work’. Then for all his coolness towards Blackstone’s prose, he did regard his Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765–9) as necessary ‘For the understanding of American (U.S.) LITERATURE’, along with the works of John Adams and Jefferson.
American literature, as we ordinarily understand the term, is notably absent from his reading for the cantos in these years. There is no mention of Whitman or Henry James, let alone Melville or Thoreau, or any of his own contemporaries. As for literature in general, he was now, he told Kenner, ‘apparently focusing on Dante & Sophocles’. Beyond that, ‘EP has never made any bones about wanting a cultural renaissance with Chinese (specifically Confucian) thought in place of Greek, BUT with renewal of gk/ and lat/ studies.’ To that end he sponsored but could not sign a statement issued in 1953 by ten professors, among them Hugh Kenner, Rudd Fleming, and H. M. McLuhan, expressing alarm at ‘the neglect of the Greek and Latin classics, milleniar source of light and guide in judgment of ideas and forms in the occident’. They wanted them revived in order to maintain the life of the mind here and now and tomorrow and elsewhere. But ‘read the TEXTS and not the blithering Idiocies of people who yatter about texts’, so Pound admonished Jankowski.
He was encouraging the Polish scholar to translate Richard of [the Paris Abbey of] Saint Victor, the twelfth-century exponent of a theology at once rational and mystical. ‘What is WANTED’, he told him, ‘is an English or American translation of Richard of St. Victor’s “Benjamin Minor, sive De Contemplatione”, plus two or three chapters of the Benj. Maj. and a page of sentences from the rest of the volume. MIGNE 196. Patrologia selected by yr anonymous correspondent.’ Richard, he informed Olivia Agresti, was ‘A catholic biJAYzuss author whom a confucian CAN read, and whom Dante & Guido damn well DID read. Wd/ have improved my G[uido] C[avalcanti] notes if I had reread him in 1927’. He had ‘absorbed some R/ StV in 1909’, he told Beatrice Abbot about the same time—he had derived from him then the formative dissociation of the three stages of thought: cogitation, meditation, and contemplation. Now he had ‘dug out’ the sentence with which he would frame canto 90: ‘The human soul is not love, but love flows from it. Thus it cannot delight in itself, but only in the love flowing from it’; and with that one text, he asserted from within St Elizabeths, ‘The Church cd/ KILL the kikiatry racket’.
The St Elizabeths Cantos (1): ‘Section: Rock-Drill. 85–95 de los cantares’
In June 1955 Pound was cutting out Chinese ideograms from a printed source and pasting them onto the proof sheets of Rock-Drill. It must have been a fiddly and painstaking business—there are over a hundred ideograms in canto 85 alone—but he was evidently determined to present his readers with an extreme challenge. Here we must learn some Chinese or abandon hope. Later the challenge will extend to Byzantine Greek.
A note at the end of canto 85 indicates that it is concerned with ‘the basic principles of government’ as set forth in the Chinese ‘History Classic’, the Shu King. We are referred to Couvreur’s edition, Chou King/Les Annales de la Chine (1950), which gives the Chinese original, a transliteration for pronunciation, a rendering into French, and in double columns at the foot of the page a Latin version with some notes interspersed in French. Pound’s note claims that ‘Meaning of the ideograms is usually given in the English text’, but this rather overstates the case since the ideograms, as he would analyse them, are generally much richer and denser than his matching English (or French) terms. What Pound does not declare in that note is his conviction that ‘China [is] IN [the] ideogram’, and must be discovered there. Even the most committed reader will be lost without some serious study of the ideograms, and would be well advised besides to have digested at least certain chapters of the ‘History Classic’ before attempting to come to terms with the canto.
There will be another sterner note in the middle of canto 96, the first of Thrones, after the reader has been invited to follow Pound as he correlates some Greek with some Chinese—
If we never write anything save what is already understood, the field of understanding will never be extended. One demands the right, now and again, to write for a few people with special interests and whose curiosity reaches into greater detail.
For considerable tracts of these St Elizabeths cantos Pound was exercising his right to write for the few, and the non-specialists are in effect bidden to occupy themselves meanwhile with the tea and cake. Dag Hammarskjöld, who was disposed to welcome Rock-Drill, felt excluded—‘a locked room’ was his reaction upon attempting the volume. Al Alvarez blamed Pound’s circumstances: ‘He could hardly write of what goes on around him. So perhaps Ancient Greece and China are the best way of escaping the public ward of St. Elizabeths Hospital.’ Randall Jarrell concluded that Pound was writing for his disciples, and that in order to understand these cantos you needed to have ‘read exactly the books Pound has read, known exactly the people Pound has known, and felt about it exactly as Pound has felt’. That was an exaggeration, but it is true that the best interpreter of these cantos has been David Gordon, who read the books and knew how Pound read them, and was thus able to follow the composition of his vision of good government.
The hopeful reader begins,
Our dynasty came in because of a great sensibility.
All there by the time of Y Yin
All roots by the time of Y Yin.
Galileo indexed 1616,
Wellington’s peace after Vaterloo
Our science is from the watching of shadows;
That Queen Bess translated Ovid,
Cleopatra wrote of the currency,
Versus who scatter old records (85/543)
One can learn to say ling 2 in the required second tone, for the sound at least; then gather that ‘a great sensibility’ is Pound’s English equivalent; but to see why this ideogram is the apt introduction one must decipher it as if it were a pictogram. The top line gives the heavens above, over clouds, over the rain from heaven—3 drops which can also be read as mouths and thus as heaven’s utterance; and below on the ground men ritually invoking and enacting the heavenly word, receiving from heaven its mandate to rule the people. The English word ‘sensibility’, rooted in its own very different culture, seems only distantly related to all that. But Pound may have chosen it because the mandate of heaven, as is written in the first chapter of The Great Digest, reveals itself to ‘the straight gaze into the heart’.
Y Yin, we are unlikely to remember, had a one-line mention in canto 53: ‘Honour to YIN’. Grieve’s glossary informs us that as chief minister of Ch’eng T’ang (‘Tching Tang’ in canto 53, q.v.) Yin ‘moved T’ang to overthrow the corrupted Hsia dynasty’ in 1766 BC, thus bringing in the virtuous Shang dynasty; and that after T’ang’s death Yin passed on ‘the principles of virtuous government’ to his young successor. The ideograms giving his name signify ‘one who governs well’, and his teachings are recorded in several chapters of Chou King.
If we have Couvreur in mind or to hand, and have followed the prompts in Grieve and Terrell, we will find that the claim for ‘Our dynasty’, which was made for the coming in of the Shang dynasty, is being made again at that dynasty’s end when it has been overthrown by the Tcheou. Ling2 , which makes only rare appearances in the Confucian books, occurs in what is the likeliest source for Pound’s line, Chou King IV. xiv, 13, where the officers and officials of the defeated Shang regime are being addressed in the name of the new emperor, and are told that the Tcheou, because of their ling2 , were charged with executing the mandate of heaven, i.e. with bringing down the decadent Shang. One might reflect, isn’t that what victors tend to say, ‘God was with us!’, and isn’t it uncomfortably near to ‘Might is Right’? Or should we suppress such Western thoughts as disturbing to the mind-set of the Confucian ethos?
Pound’s response is to remark that the decadent Christian West suppressed what Galileo learnt from studying the heavens and observing the shadows on the face of the moon; and that Wellington’s peace—but what are we to make of ‘Wellington’s peace after Vaterloo’? Cookson reminds us that in canto 50 it brought in a new era of usury. But Terrell informs us that Pound’s source for this line, (and also for the Galileo line), was a work by one Captain Russell Grenfell, Unconditional Hatred (1953), in which Wellington is held to have reached a wise settlement to prevent future wars between Germany and France, as against ‘the unreasonableness of the Churchill–Roosevelt war objectives (the total destruction of Germany as a European power following “unconditional surrender”)’. ‘Wellington’s peace’, we are perhaps meant to reflect, suffered in the 1870 Franco-Prussian war a fate similar to that of Galileo’s science; and beyond that, if we are to read the line through Grenfell’s argument, would be the shadow of the unwise peace terms sought by Roosevelt and Churchill. And if we can go so far, we may find an accord between Wellington’s peace and the terms being offered by the Tcheou to the officers and officials of the defeated Shang regime in Chou King IV.xiv. They are told that while they stand condemned by heaven to total destruction all will be forgiven and they will be well rewarded if they choose to serve the new regime. So a point of rest and basis for a new beginning might be attained, which Grieve tells us is Pound’s reading of the ideogram chih3 .
That ‘Our science is from the watching of shadows’ is itself a gnomic proposition, connecting Galileo and the ancient Chinese use of the gnomon’s shadow to track the seasons, and intimating that the sun in heaven is behind what we observe on the ground. But here are also shadows without substance. Scholars have been unable to establish ‘That Queen Bess translated Ovid’—and indeed Ovid is unlikely to have been in her line of interest. Nor is it known that ‘Cleopatra wrote of the currency’. This is fantasy masquerading as fact, nice ideas but not in the historical record.
The hopeful reader might well pause at this point, to excavate the text from beneath the array of books heaping over it—Couvreur, Grieve, Terrell, Gordon, Kearns, Cookson, and Mathews’s thick Chinese–English dictionary—and to reflect, this is not reading, this is no way to perform and to experience a poem. Having Couvreur to hand is all very well, but should one have known that Grenfell was a source for a couple of lines, and must one hunt up a copy of his Unconditional Hatred? And in this canto alone there are another sixteen pages to be studied in this fashion, some of them entirely in Chinese. Kearns suggests that Pound was able to write in this way because he knew that ‘a scholarly-critical industry had grown up about his poem even before it was completed’, and that ‘the economics of American academic life’ was now one of ‘the forces shaping the cantos’. William Carlos Williams had warned years before that this was exactly what Pound, and Eliot, were doing—handing poetry over to the academics and making it an object of study removed from aesthetic experience. Study does discover a coherent composition of statement and response, of (sometimes hidden) resonant accords and contrasts, and through them a major thematic development. And the reward of intensive study of such a canto as this may well be to arrive at such a familiarity with the materials, and with Pound’s understanding of them, as to be able to read it in a state of immediate apprehension. Short of that, Pound’s readers must accept that the canto can be read in the full sense only by the few who have achieved the necessary expertise, and the rest must be content to make what sense of it they can, then move on to the cantos that are accessible to the non-expert.
The non-expert reader of 85 will mainly make out a series of Confucian maxims of good government: ‘Justice, d’urbanité, de prudence’, in Couvreur’s French—‘Perspicax qui excolit se ipsum’, in a variant of his Latin, meaning perspicacity is from self-knowledge—research, observation, training, and always Τέχνη or know-how, the skill to carry insight into action—‘Nisi cum sapientibus non regit’, cannot govern without wise advisers—‘Ling2 | / was basis of rule’—and finally ‘Sagetrieb’, Pound’s own coinage for the instinctive wisdom of a people, as gloss on the Chou King’s chiao1 , ‘teach’, meaning (in Couvreur IV.xvi, 13) that the emperor must have men about him teaching the principles which sustain the empire.
Canto 86 continues Pound’s digest of the Chou King, but now introduces motifs from European and American history, some of these familiar from earlier cantos. More of the writing is readable, though for the non-expert the canto will be again largely an exercise in exegesis. The preoccupation is still with the conditions of good government, with the emphasis now on the ruler’s responsibility towards the people and with the maintenance of peace. However complications set in as the scope widens to include l’histoire morale of European and American governance, and to set that alongside the Confucian view of China’s history. In the Chou King the difference between good governors and bad appears simple and absolute. ‘“Gentlemen from the West”,’ we are assured in canto 85, ‘“Heaven’s process is quite coherent | and its main points perfectly clear.”’ There is no such clarity in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Western affairs. Are we to range Bismarck and Talleyrand with the benevolent Tcheou emperors and ministers, the one for his ‘No more wars after ’70’, that is after he had defeated France, and the other, who had served Napoleon in his wars, for buffering the Bourbon dynasty which replaced Napoleon? Surely there was more involved in those issues of war and peace than is indicated here.
On the fourth page there is the highly problematic invocation of Edward VIII, briefly king of England, as the ‘one man’ who held off war with Nazi Germany, whether ‘to good for three years, | or to evil’. The suggestion is that he let the German ambassador know that he personally would oppose any military response to Hitler’s remilitarizing the Rhineland in breach of the Treaty of Versailles; and that he may also have revealed that the British government did not intend to react. If he did say such things, then he was not really securing three years’ peace, but rather, out of whatever blinkered motives, blindly encouraging Nazi Germany in its carefully staged preparations for total war. In any case, he had no authority to speak for Great Britain, and was behaving, one might well think, simply as a maverick individual and altogether irresponsibly, if not traitorously. The Chou King (IV.xxx, 8) sagely observes that ‘the state may be shaken and ruined because of one man’, although ‘sometimes its prosperity and tranquillity may be due to the fortunate appearance of some individual’. Pound has changed the emphasis; and in later cantos, when he asserts that ‘Edwardus’ saved the peace for three years, he drops the balancing, and properly complicating, ‘to evil’, altogether.
The partly veiled references to Mussolini do not simplify Il Duce to that extent. ‘Lost the feel of the people’ is out of Couvreur, but (in a letter to Olivia Agresti) Pound said as much of Mussolini to account for his fall. Later we read Mussolini’s resigned, ‘All, that has been, is as it should have been’, unattributed, but something he had written in his ‘Journal in Captivity’. Yet that line is followed by ‘what will they trust in now?’, with the ideogram for a man standing by his word and the Verona statement, ‘“Alla non della”’, thus suggesting that at least he had held to the idea of governing for the people.
The allusions to President Roosevelt implicitly contrast him with the good rulers of China. They had sound advisers and heeded them; but ‘HE’ talked, Woodward, one of Roosevelt’s advisers, told Pound. He did not listen, and would not hear the things Pound wanted Woodward to tell him. Consonant with that failing at the top was the quality of his Senate, ‘Eleven literates…’. And hence, one is led to conclude, the state of America in 1939.
In this field Pound is laying down opinions and judgments that are often arguable, if not downright tendentious, and which must in consequence involve the reader in debate, and may provoke dissent if not passionate disagreement. That is the nature of the five cantos of his ‘Section Rock-Drill’. Isolated among the mad in St Elizabeths he was struggling to bring his mind to focus, and these cantos are best read as a record of that struggle. His mind was filled with ideas and driven by concerns that would run on endlessly, as could happen when he was talking with his young followers, and for his very sanity he needed to compose its heteroclite contents into a formal order focused on the epic issues of individual rights and responsible sovereignty. He took the Chou King as a model, a basis; but whereas that was a record of a received and established idea of good government, rooted in its culture, his cantos were more than ever the work of a solitary, sometimes maverick, sometimes credulous, individual crusading against the prevailing culture.
He would claim, however, that his was not a merely private and idiosyncratic struggle, but that he was attempting, as a responsible member of the human race, to recover and to teach the known but forgotten roots of its more enlightened states. Thus ‘Bellum cano perenne’, he asserts at the end of canto 86, ‘I sing the perennial war’; and 87 picks it up—‘between the usurer and any man who wants to do a good job’. Resistance to usury is the underlying theme of this canto, with the emphasis on constructive natural process, from the action of the light from heaven in flora and fauna, and in the mind, and on to the making of laws. A medley of allusions and references—many of them obscure or simply private to Pound—is being pieced together, rather as if he was trying to ‘make cosmos’ of a miscellany of fragments recovered from all parts of his universe. Mencius and Aristotle and Erigena are in there with Henry James and Picabia; Alexander is mentioned by one Gollievski; Justinian’s inefficient law codes chime with Mussolini’s; there are lines in Greek from the Trachiniae, and a line from Mencius in an English demotic—‘Nowt better than share’; Dante’s Latin glosses an ideogram; and St Elizabeths’ squirrels follow somewhere’s ‘headless clay lions’. And there is one arresting image for the action of light in nature, ‘As the water-bug casts a flower on stone’. This is a canto of ‘cogitatio’, a canto of preparation for ‘meditatio, contemplatio’, though the latter states of mind are still at least two long cantos away.
The least difficult of these ‘Rock-Drill’ cantos is 88. It opens with a sustained character study—the first and only passage of narrative in these cantos—and it closes with a relatively lengthy digest of a Senate speech. Linking them is a sequence repeating and varying the motifs of the ‘Bellum perenne’, the everlasting war against the usurers. Senator Randolph ‘of Roanoke’, an often impassioned and caustic orator, had attacked, in a speech in the Senate, President John Quincy Adams’s Panama policy, and had accused his Secretary of State, Henry Clay, of fabricating a letter in order to further that policy. Clay, taking this as a personal injury, demanded satisfaction in a duel. Randolph maintained that anything said in the Senate was privileged and that he could not be held to account for his speech there. Nevertheless he accepted the challenge, as a private person answering to a private injury. Pound’s narrative, drawn from Thomas Hart Benton’s account of the affair, details Randolph’s preparations for the duel, and presents him as a responsible, humane, and honourable Southern gentleman, who, incidentally, rejects the private bank’s notes and insists on having his money in gold, the national currency. Given Pound’s extended attention to the incident, one might wonder if he saw something of himself in Randolph, in his upholding the right to privileged speech, and yet giving satisfaction to those whom he had offended in his intemperate use of it.
About mid-canto Pound returns to Benton’s Thirty Years’ View, drawing from it details of the drawn out struggle to save the currency, and the commonwealth, from private and foreign interests, and leading into Benton’s major Senate speech opposing the renewal of the Charter of the private Bank of the United States. Whereas Randolph’s fiery speech had merely given offence, Benton’s clearly reasoned argument was forensic. The Bank was ‘too great and too powerful’, he objected, and asked
To whom is this power granted?
in a remote corner, a company.
By whom directed?
By seven, by four, none by the people elected
Nor responsible to them.
Encroaching on power of States,
‘Such a power tends to subjugate government’, he observed presciently, ‘it tends to create public DEBT.’ Further, ‘It tends to beget and prolong useless wars; | aggravate inequalities; make and break fortunes’; moreover, its branches are ‘to be exempt from liability if they fail’, and ‘exempt from the regular administration of Justice’. Yet that day the Senate voted 23 to 20 against Benton.
‘To know the histories | to know good from evil,’ begins canto 89, with Chou King in ideogram as example. It then goes on at considerable length to recapitulate details from Benton’s and other histories, mainly around the theme ‘Sovreignty is in the right over coinage’. As detail is heaped upon detail it is as if Pound is bringing his mind to the ‘plenum when nothing more will go into it’. And when he breaks out at the end, ‘I want Frémont looking at mountains | or, if you like, Reck, at Lake Biwa’, the overwhelmed reader, struggling to bring the mass of facts into focus, is likely to feel some relief, as if emerging from an exam into the open air.
With canto 90 we enter quite abruptly upon another realm of discourse and an entirely altered state and mode of mind. The reader would have to be nodding off not to notice that Pound’s ‘Paradiso proper’ starts here. The four cantos 90–3 form a single extended composition, each one carrying forward the meditation upon a set of paradisal themes and motifs. Canto 95, after the interruption of the Apollonius of Tyana canto, which, with its Greek and Chinese, presents difficulties similar to the ‘Rock-Drill’ section, is a true finale to 90–3. The writing in these five cantos strikes one, after ‘Rock-Drill’s’ hammering recapitulation of the preoccupations of cantos 31–71, as a return to the form of the later Pisan cantos and a going on beyond them. There is both a recovery of the intensity and clarity of vision which makes for musical composition, and new growth in the mind of the poem. It is an advantage to ‘Know the mythologies’.
Paradise is here a state of mind illuminated by the love that animates everything in the universe. It is not a pleasure garden wherein the soul may find its rest. The essence of this love is that it is forever active and a cause of action, and that it would move the soul to make the paradise it promises. The mind’s predicament is that its capacity for illumination is limited—
For a flash,
for an hour.
then an hour,
So paradise comes in fragments, in odd moments of vision It is manifest in the luminous detail, such as ‘the room in Poitiers where one can stand | casting no shadow’, because the right proportions were known to its builders, having been preserved in masonic tradition. Again, love’s action makes the mind more active, as in this more developed image of the water-bug, ‘The water-bug’s mittens | petal the rock beneath.’
The love that in canto 90 lifts the poet’s mind ‘out of heaviness where no mind moves at all’ flowed through Sheri Martinelli, as is well attested; however, being universal, it is affirmed under names drawn from various mythologies, as ‘Kuthera δειύα | Kuthera sempiterna’, and as ‘Sibylla’, ‘Isis’, and ‘Kuanon’. Its immediate action is to open his mind again to the divinity in nature, ‘To the germinal universe of fluid force…of wood alive, of stone alive’, to the dionysiac vision of canto 2, and the chthonic rite of canto 83. There, in the grounds of St Elizabeths, he sees in the mind’s eye ‘the stone under elm…taking form in the air’, and ‘the great cats approaching…where was nothing’, and ‘in the boughs now are voices | grey wing, black wing, black wing shot with crimson’. Delivered thus ‘out of Erebus’, he is ‘free now, ascending’, in the company of ‘Tyro, Alcmene’, and ‘the dark shade of courage | Ήλέκτρα ’. ‘UBI AMOR IBI OCULUS EST’, the canto concludes, linking love and vision.
The following canto moves out from the personal to the public realm, and from the illumination of passionate experience to the light of intelligence—
that the body of light come forth
from the body of fire
And that your eyes come to the surface
from the deep wherein they were sunken
The eyes sunk in their caves, ‘pinned’ eyes in 93, were for McNaughton Sheri Martinelli’s, that being an effect of heroin. One might recall then that she was of Pound’s mind about love, as when she wrote ‘no earthly pleasure is equal to the spasm of the mind’. The eyes become those of ‘Reina’ and ‘Miss Tudor’, Queen Elizabeth I, and in their depths Drake sees ‘the splendour and wreckage’ of the defeat of the Spanish Armada to which he will be moved by her. Like Helen of Troy she is Έλέναυς, a destroyer of ships; but unlike Helen, the Virgin Queen puts forth her influence in defence of her city. Interwoven with that episode are allusions to others who enacted the intelligence of love in their works and lives: Apollonius of Tyana, Helen of Tyre, and Justinian and Theodora of Byzantium who codified its laws and constructed Hagia Sophia. Interwoven also are motifs recalling the universality of love’s action, in the holly leaf, in the moving stars, in the silkworm cocoons the peasant wives keep under their aprons ‘for Tamuz’. The central episode, drawn from Layamon’s Brut, presents the founding of Britain as a religious mystery. Unlike Actaeon, Brutus observes the hunting rite and honours ‘Artemis that is Diana’, and she, in answer to his prayer, guides him to a pleasant land. Later Merlin, like Jesus, is fathered by ‘a spirit bright’, and in the kingdom there is, ‘Over harm | Over hate | overflooding, light over light’—for instance, Athelstan’s instituting ‘before a. D. 940’ a system of justice.
The meditation upon love’s civilizing work is jarringly interrupted by this notorious outburst—
Democracies electing their sewage
till there is no clear thought about holiness
a dung flow from 1913
and in this their kikery functioned, Marx, Freud
and the american beaneries
Filth under filth,
or as Benda remarked: ‘La trahison’
Dante raged in that fashion near the summit of his paradise, damning Florence. The offence in Pound’s denunciation is of course in that one word, which can be explained, but not explained away. And it turns what would otherwise be a natural reflex into a stumbling block. The canto needs a page of reminiscences of Verona to recover its temper, and enter upon its final movement of variations upon ‘Queen Cytherea, | che ’l terzo ciel movete’, and who moves the mind to come to its ‘High City’. Near the close there is mention of ‘Jehann | (the Lorraine girl)’ who was inspired by a voice heard in the fields to lead the French resistance to the English occupiers. ‘A lost kind of experience?’, Pound asks, and answers ‘scarcely’.
A key word in that canto would be ‘protection’, as in ‘The Princess Ra-Set…has entered the protection of crystal’. And it is noteworthy that the protective powers are female: Miss Tudor, Artemis/Diana, Leucothea, Joan of Arc, and, overall, Queen Cytherea. In the following canto, which is more involved in action than in invocation, the actors are nearly all male.
This relatively brief canto 92 pivots on the assurance that while ‘Le Paradis’, to us, ‘is jagged’, ‘the Divine Mind is abundant | unceasing…unstill’. It is found in the honour of Desmond Fitzgerald, who had fought in the 1916 Dublin uprising, and who yet freed a man who had not; or in the sentinel who would not leave his post to take cover during bombardment. And it is found in the fragile wings of butterflies, and in the naming of them—‘Nymphalidae, basilarch, and lycaena, | Ausonides, euchloe, and erynnis’. The first half of the canto is made up of such manifestations of ‘the Divine Mind’. The second half begins, ‘and that the lice turn from the manifest’, and develops that theme through the consequent evils—‘usury | and the degradation of sacraments, | For 40 years I have seen this’, ‘also desensitaization’. Against that there is still ‘a little light from the borders’ such as Erigena’s, and Hilary looking at an ‘oak leaf | or holly’; and there are some more men of active honour, Delcroix, and Bottai, and Marinetti who went ‘to the fighting line’, and Drake who could not turn back when he saw the armada, having seen the light in the queen’s eye. Still the canto ends on the negative image of ‘the Portagoose uprooting spice trees, “a common” | sez Ari “custom in trade”.’ There is no point of rest in that canto.
Canto 93 builds on the preceding three cantos and completes a set of four. In form it resembles a prelude and fugue. The first half, the prelude, takes up the theme of paradise under the aspect of civility, that is, the relation of the individual to civic society. The first emphasis is on the individual: ‘“A man’s paradise is his good nature” | sd/ Kati’, he has ‘his own mind to stand by him’. But a line in Greek, Καδμου ϑυγάτηρ , daughter of Cadmus, recalls that even Odysseus with his strong mind needed Leucothea to save him. And sage ‘Apollonius made his peace with the animals’; likewise ‘the arcivesco’ had thoughtfully brought along a cornucopia of chocolates to keep young Mary happy while being taken around the churches in Rome. From this anecdote there develops a sustained sequence of reflections on the ‘sense of civility’, on its manifestations, and on the lack of it. There is also the rather complicated case of Tristan, who suffered great pains for his love of Isolde—did their love transcend the social code which it breached? ‘The suicide’ who would carry the assertion of individuality to the ultimate is a simpler case, and easily contrasted with ‘San Cristofero’s’ public service. The canto then enters into a kind of dialogue with Dante, especially with his treatise Il Convito, from which it takes, among other observations, ‘that men are naturally friendly’, and notes the mention of ‘distributive justice’. The underlying concern here is with the social responsibility of the individual, the highest degree of knowledge being ‘the moral’, which is the sphere of ‘the agenda’—‘Know agenda, | to the utmost of its virtu.’ Counter to that there is ignorance and obstruction, as of the banker who wanted Pound’s Oro e lavoro destroyed, and ‘the lit profs’ who do not discuss the relevant passages in Shakespeare and Dante, ‘in abuleia | or in total unconsciousness’.
The second part, the fugue, takes up themes from the preceding cantos, more particularly from canto 90. Where the latter was a canto of spring resurgence, this ‘cools toward autumn’, but, as in the autumn rite at Eleusis, it affirms what does not die with the year. ‘The autumn leaves blow from my hand…and the wind cools’ is the opening statement; but between those lines as counter-statement comes the now familiar ‘agitante calescemus’, ‘we grow warm [when our divinity] is aroused’. There follows an autumnal passage of prayer for compassion from spirits of love, beginning with an invocation of creative light, ‘Lux in diafana, | Creatrix’. Light and air are the keynotes of the fugue, ‘Lux in diafana’ their chord. The prayer modulates into confession, ‘J’ai eu pitié des autres. | Pas assez! Pas assez!’, and turns then to his child,
For me nothing. But that the child
walk in peace in her basilica,
The light there almost solid.
A statement of the counter-theme follows that, in ideograms but with the meaning given directly, ‘that energy is near to benevolence’, a call for constructive action. But ‘not yet…! Not yet! | do not awaken,’ is the immediate response, as if the child were the princess asleep in the enchanted wood, ‘Au bois dormant’. The call to action resumes with D’Annunzio’s ‘it is never too late to attempt the unknown’, with Ocellus’ ‘the soul’s job’, i.e. ‘to build light’, and the T’ang emperor’s motto, ‘make it new’. And yet men’s acting can be a vanity, as in Italy’s Libyan adventure, its ‘Quarta Sponda | transient as air’, or in the ‘Waste after Carthage’. To that the response is again, ‘not yet! not yet! | Do not awaken.’ Then, as if in answer to the prayer, comes ‘Flora Castalia’, the Apollonian spirit of the spring giving her assurance in the autumn rite, ‘“Air hath no petals now, | where shall come leaf on bough.”’ Other assurances follow of the drawing of love, down to Beatrice lit up with love so that Dante may enter upon his new life. ‘Such light is in sea-caves’, is the reflection, and in ‘pinned eyes, the flame rises to fade | in green air’.
‘[T]hus was it for 5 thousand years’ makes a break in the music, at once celebrating a tradition going back to Kati the Egyptian and placing it in the past. Now in the waking present there is the problematic ‘trigger-happy mind | amid stars | amid dangers; abysses | going six ways a Sunday’—one thinks of Kasper; and there are the butchering biographers with no idea of the hidden life of a mind. ‘There must be incognita’, comes the assertion, but with the unsettling question, ‘Shall two know the same in their knowing?’ Canto 90 had opened with the affirmation, ‘Beatific spirits welding together | as in one ash-tree’, and there has been a prevailing sense of love as a unifying force. Now however, as the canto works towards its close, there comes a sense of distance—
You who dare Persephone’s threshold
Beloved, do not fall apart in my hands.
Other themes intervene—of individuals and societies, of the coming forth from hell, of mental velocities and stupidities, and of the young again, ‘Without guides, having nothing but courage’—then, finally, to his ‘Beloved’—
You are tender as a marshmallow, my Love,
I cannot use you as a fulcrum.
You have stirred my mind out of dust.
That recall of the ‘m’elevasti’ passage in canto 90 comes in an altered tone, detached now, an acknowledgement of what she has done for him to soften the recognition that, now that he has come through, she is of no use for his agenda. His mind is turned now to the active universe—
Flora Castalia, your petals drift through the air,
the wind is ½ lighted with pollen
The sunlit pollen blowing in the autumn wind gives substance to that opening chord, ‘Lux in diafana, | Creatrix’. And the final thought is of Persephone who offers assurance in the dying year that the earth will flower again.
Taken together, the four cantos which culminate in that fugue amount to a preparation of the mind for its attempt ‘to make paradise’ in Thrones. Canto 94 brings a salutary reminder of what Pound meant by that. ‘Cantos are a POLITICAL implement’, he told John Theobald in 1957, with the very important addition, ‘like the Div, Com. | (vs temporal power) or Shx Hizzeries’. Canto 94 plunges us back into the realm of temporal power and moral history, the realm of those acting to make the world we live in. More specifically, it is concerned with the wisdom of law-makers and their advisers. The main part of the canto is devoted to Apollonius of Tyana. John Adams features rather elliptically at the start; notice is taken of Justinian’s codification of Roman law in the ‘Pandects’ or ‘Digest’; and Kung and Mencius and Dante are mentioned; and Antoninus who said ‘“Law rules the sea.”’ These are to have their thrones as seekers after justice and builders of light.
That is what one can make out by glancing over the canto. It is another matter to attempt to read it. The treatment of Apollonius, quite apart from the lines left in the original Greek, is provokingly bitty. His marvellous birth is touched on, with travellers’ tales of marvels seen; his advice to a king is transposed into Mencius’ Chinese; it is noted that he learnt ‘that the universe is alive’; and fragments of his wisdom are recorded. But overall his ‘sense of cosmos as living organism’—which is what mattered most to Pound—comes through only faintly, if at all. Possibly the intention is to drive the frustrated reader back to the source, and certainly one must do that if one would understand why Apollonius has his place here. At least the chapters dealing with his conversations on the question of ‘how a sovereign ought to rule’ would help make up the canto’s deficit.
Pound’s defence might well have been that he was providing a guide book. At least he claimed on one occasion that the ‘Cantos as guide book are no more obscure than a list of names in Dant. Parad.’ So when he writes in the first lines of the canto, ‘“Brederode” | (to Rush, Ap. 4. 1790)’, and later ‘J. A. to Rush | 18 ’leven’, we should probably take the reference as an instigation to seek out the ‘meritorious Biddle’s’ edition of John Adams’s Old Family Letters (1892), and there discover the clue to ‘“Brederode”’—and also what exactly was ‘mentioned in Rollin’, and that it was noted by Adams in a letter to Rush. As it happens they were discussing where George Washington acquired his wisdom—and so one would discover that hidden deep in these references is a statement of the canto’s main theme: wisdom in government.
There is more that is hidden on the canto’s first page. ‘Blue jay, my blue jay | that she should take wing in the night’, one reads, and then ‘by the Kingdom of | T’ai Wu Tzu [plus ideograms] | as mentioned in Rollin’. Members of the inner circle at St Elizabeths identifed ‘my blue jay’ as Sheri Martinelli, and explained (so Terrell records) that she was living at the time in Alexandria in Virginia, which suggested Alexander the Great, who was described by Rollin (1661–1741)—in his Ancient History of the Egyptians, Carthaginians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes and Persinas, Grecians, and Macedonians (8 vols., Philadelphia: 1892)—as having ‘a violent fiery temper’, which is roughly what the ideograms say—those ideograms having no known source but being associated by Pound (on account of their sound) with Dioces who built the city of Ecbatan—Sheri Martinelli herself vouched for that—and (as Terrell continues to inform us) Adams wrote to Rush, in September 1807, that it was ‘From Rollin I suspect Washington drew his wisdom…in the History of the Kingdom of the Medes, there are in the Character of Dejoces’ etc., etc. That is quite wonderfully beyond all exegesis, leaving the uninitiate altogether ‘locked out’ of the game.
In December 1955, shortly after the Rock-Drill volume was published in Italy, Pound thought to mention to Mary that ‘85–95 have richiami | echos | the whole thing working in fugally | and if you haven’t the earlier phrase in yr/ head, especially when it is much abbreviated.…’ That is especially the case with canto 95, which is composed in part of brief echoes of motifs from previous cantos, these following one upon another with scherzo-like rapidity—
‘In favour of the whole people’. ‘They repeat’
Van Buren unsmearing Talleyrand,
Adams to Rush before that, in 1811
And there were guilds in Byzantium.
That is to be read as a unit, and taken in at high velocity. The next unit does expand at a slower pace upon the root senses of ‘political’, before another rapid passage, a variation upon the first, these now being clearly ‘political’ echoes.
The three units together are a response to the canto’s initial passage which affirms, in Bede’s Latin, that God animates all things, from the comets to the mist weighing down the wild thyme. Adams and the rest of it are the diafana of the animating light in human affairs, though subject to the paradox stated in the first lines that Love which endures through all time is yet ‘gone as lightning’. Undaunted by that the canto builds through a fast moving succession of echoes and allusions to its main statement, ‘And there is something decent in the universe | if I can feel all this…| At the age of whatever.’ There are just a few dissonant lines—‘The immense cowardice of advertised litterati’ with ‘no voice for the Constitution, | No objection to the historic blackout’—but these hardly disturb the confident celebration of Love’s multifarious manifestations in the world.
The closing lines, in effect a bridge passage to Thrones, condense the episode in which Homer’s Odysseus, wrecked by Poseidon’s wrath, is saved by Leucothea—another instance of the Divine Mind’s being ‘abundant | unceasing | improvisatore | Omniformis’. One should not make too much of this use of the Odyssey. Pound’s nostos is not his Penelope’s bed but a just society. ‘Div Com | the main structure’, he assured Mary. ‘not Odyssey’.
Neither Pound’s wife nor his longtime companion figure in the St Elizabeths cantos. Dorothy Pound could claim as her own the Lynx song in The Pisan Cantos. Olga Rudge appeared there as a sustaining vision, as ‘La Cara’, the ‘beloved’, and as ‘a great goddess’. But in the paradiso which Pound was trying to compose in Rock-Drill and in Thrones they are no longer presences. The long years among the mad had dimmed their light in his mind. He had lost sight above all of what Olga had meant to him. In that place La Martinelli was his resident divinity.
By 1955 Dorothy Pound had moved from 10th Place to Brothers Place, a dreary block remembered by Michael Reck as ‘a jungle of wooden row houses fronted by porches with fake-Greek fluted columns’—
And somewhere down the endless row lived Mrs. Pound, in a basement. You descended four or five steps; the screen door creaked. Mrs. Pound had just one room, which contained only books, a bed, and a writing desk. She smiled (maybe a bit grimly) and did not complain. One had the impression that externals mattered little to her; what counted was the time she had with her husband.
Sometimes she did let out what she felt, as when she told Douglas Hammond in January 1955, according to his account, that she had ‘“led a hell of a life these last sixteen years, first the bloody war, and these nine years here”’. And she sent Richard Aldington, ‘without comment, a postcard of a Washington Gallery picture of “A Tired Old Woman with a book”’. Aldington found that ‘pathetic’, missing the grim strength, which Pound was better placed to appreciate. ‘There are bottomless pits like D.P. who let people think they are getting on with THEM’, he wrote to Mary, and quoted ‘S/ [Sheri] on D.P. at the Giovannini’s stating SILENTLY: “I have been invited here to dinner, I will eat my dinner, please DO NOT hold ME responsible for any of this”.’ That air of keeping herself to herself hid a cold determination to control what remained to her. One day when Mary was in Washington in the spring of 1953 Dorothy wanted to tell Pound that ‘that money to O.R. ought to go as private transaction between O.R and Jas’—she did not want to be the one to send it—and she wrote him a note instead of speaking of it when visiting, ‘because I can’t talk to you about this in front of Mary. I do not know what Mary knows—and anyway Olga would probably get it out of her if she thought Mary knew anything.’ She was of course keeping more than private information from Olga Rudge. Forty years later Sheri Martinelli, interviewed by Anne Conover for her biography of Olga Rudge, ‘quoted Dorothy as saying she liked having Ezra in St. Elizabeths: “At least I know where he’s sleeping tonight.”’
After the de Rachewiltz’s second child, Patrizia Barbara Cinzia Flavia, was born in March 1950, Pound had advised that the castle and its land should be held in trust for the children because ‘As trust it cannot be mortgaged’. He was aware that Boris was seriously overdrawn, and warned her, ‘Don’t get into debt.’ In that year the dining room ceiling in the castle came down, breaking furniture and china, and requiring repairs costing more than half a million lire. Pound had Dorothy send $100, then $720 ‘for Patrizia’s roof’.
In 1953 Mary had managed to get to America to visit her father, spending ten weeks there, March into May. Her mother had looked after the two children at Sant’Ambrogio, along with a 2-year-old, Graziella, whom Mary had rescued from a Roman orphanage. Olga delighted in being a grandmother, telling Pound, ‘This place is a Paradiso Terrestre, with those three kids running round—children necessary to complete the picture.’ Pound had expected Mary to ‘come to him straight off the boat, first things first’, and kept two days clear of visitors for her while she, following her own sense of priorities, had stopped over in New York to discuss getting him out with Laughlin and Cornell. But all was well: he wanted to hear all about ‘Boris and the children and of our efforts with the castle’, and said ‘Thank God you have taken time to produce a family and lead a sane life.’ He would not talk with her about getting out, saying, ‘“All you can do is plant a little decency in Brunnenburg.”’
Pound would watch out for her from his window every day and be ‘right behind the door when it opened, ready to go out on the lawn or…down the long corridor’ to his alcove. After Mary’s second day Dorothy was usually present, or else Omar, who agreed with his mother ‘that they should not attempt to hurry Pound’s release’. After a week the regular visitors returned, and Mary found her role was to be an observer. Her first impressions of Pound were of his boundless ‘kindness and curiosity’, and she wrote to Olga soon after her arrival, ‘he is wonderful, except for the waist line, just like Rapallo. He talked all the time for my “education”, like ten years ago.’ Then she began to feel his ‘heaviness, boredom, depression’, and the only time she saw it lift was with La Drière and Giovannini, or when Huntington Cairns visited—‘he really made a difference’. She felt the petty humiliations he was subject to, perhaps more than he did, as his having a tiny purse where he kept some coins for peanuts to feed the squirrels, and his saying when he showed her the contents, ‘“This is all I am allowed.”’ She thought then of how ‘with lordly gesture [he] would pull out a handful of coins and allow me to give them to the beggars’. She had little money for her time in America, and Pound, apparently unable to ask Dorothy for money for Mary, had to ask Laughlin to send her some, and Laughlin sent it ‘as advance on royalties’, which so angered and humiliated Pound that he tore up both letter and cheque. But the boredom was the worst horror, she recalled, that and not the noise or the stink of the ward. She returned to Italy ‘bewildered and discouraged. The legal and physical morass in which father was caught up was a nightmare.’ But Pound wrote to Olivia Agresti, ‘Yes, Mary a gt/ comfort.’
In that year the chance had come up to buy some land around the castle, but five million lire had to be found for it, to be paid in instalments. There was money from the settlement of Isabel Pound’s estate, and Pound had the first million, $1,670, sent to Boris in Rome. In December he had a further $2,600 sent, ‘on specific condition that it is to be used for the land, and nothing BUT land, and that at no time shall the land be hypothecated, or used in any way to raise money by loan’. The next year, in November, he was worrying that a cheque to meet the demand for the remaining one and a half million lire seemed not to have reached Brunnenburg, and that Boris might be forced to borrow money and get into debt. He was dreaming of maples and their yield of syrup, but the hillsides below the castle would be covered in apple orchards and vineyards.
Mary and Boris had invited her mother to Brunnenburg for Christmas of 1953, the more especially as she had got on so well with the children, but she chose to remain in Rapallo, telling Pound that she was enjoying ‘the luxury and joy of this place after the Palazzo Chigi…to look out the window first thing in the morning, to rejoice in the sight of five healthy cabbages growing below, to climb that salita in the dark, and sit on a bench with stars to look at’. The previous year, desperate to see Pound, she had booked passage from Genoa to New York on the SS Italia. She was travelling third class, but the purser, who knew about music, gathered that she was connected with the Accademia Chigiana and the Vivaldi revival and gave her a pass to the first-class salon. Arriving in New York on 9 April she had gone straight to Washington, and Caresse Crosby, with whom she stayed, took her out to St Elizabeths. Conover writes that ‘Olga was permitted three visits of three hours each’ with Dorothy ‘discreetly absent’, but that must have been three visits with Pound all to herself. After that there would have been other visitors, as when Miss Jung, the Chinese student who would be taking instruction from Pound through that summer, was introduced on her first visit to ‘Olga Rudge, who had just arrived from Siena the previous week’, also to Professor Giovannini, and ‘a young man with a British or Australian accent’. Olga was in America for just four weeks, sailing from New York back to Genoa on 7 May. On the 5th Pound wrote to Mary, ‘O. arrived in state of great serenity. Time very short…Thank heaven conditions now possible for her to visit in comfort = and out of doors when it don’t rain.’ ‘Hope to see her again soon’, he wrote when she had gone. Olga wrote to him from the SS Vulcania, ‘This one, who expected after having at last seen Him to want nothing more than to lie down and die, has accomplished the viaggio di ritorno in a most serene state of mind, resigned to going on in this vale of tears.’ She was feeling that ‘sitting on his lawn is paradise…watching His trees and His birds with Him has been the only time she felt really relaxed and contented all these years’.
They would grow out of sympathy through the three years of renewed separation that followed. ‘10 years bug house does not conduce to adaptability to directives from others—esp. if rooted in different pt. of view.’ He was accusing her now, in early 1955, of having a set of ‘idées reçues’ picked up in Paris, ‘probably same as Colette’s’, and of having been trying for thirty years to fit him into it. But he was not anyone’s private property, he asserted, wonderfully eliding his Committee and the bug house. ‘A civilization’, he went on in his imagined liberty, ‘is where each person consumes their own smoke & does what they can do best & that is their point of contact with others who have sense to want ’em to do it.’ Olga retaliated, ‘He not think she not noticing that for months he been docking letters to her of any affectionate closure.’ ‘She not to worry about his unsatisfactory character,’ he replied to that, with an affectionate closure. Still she could be sharply critical. In March she wrote, ‘Having once again gone thru all his “discorsi” and found magnificent ones—she deplores his insistence on the subject [i.e. his “anti-semitic trype”] which he drags in like King Charles’ head in Mr Dick’s memorial—For god’s sake lay off it’
When she told him in April that she was hoping to get to Washington again, he wrote back: ‘I don’t see what good yu can do in Wash/n either to yrself or to me. Have enough to do with my own nerves & don’t have to argue with my colleagues on the ward. Ziaou.’ ‘Alright’, Olga replied, ‘she won’t complicate things for him by going to Washington, but she has affairs of her own to see to—& does not want to pass up a free passage.’ Pound conceded, ‘Bene | she come in that sperrit. O Kay.’
Olga was in Washington on Tuesday 5 July, ‘in Wash’s worst heat wave, looking very elegant’, Pound reported to Olivia Agresti, ‘but the complications etc/ etc/ etc. question of timing. Hemingway understands better than she does.’ But her arguing fiercely with him about the need for urgent action to get him out of St Elizabeths was not the only complication, nor yet the main one. Sheri Martinelli, forty years later, told Anne Conover how she remembered Olga’s appearing at St Elizabeths on that Tuesday:
[Sheri] was sitting at the right hand of Pound one afternoon when Dorothy failed to appear. Then Olga came, ‘a royal presence, with marble-like, sculptured features, her back stiff and erect, professional-looking, a trained person’. Her hair was carefully ‘marcelled’ in waves, and she was wearing a lovely lavender and white summer dress, with matching lavender parasol to protect fragile skin against summer sun.
No one knew who Olga was, but Pound looked up with a ‘bad little boy’ grin, an expression that said, according to Martinelli, ‘anything can happen now’.…Olga ‘stared like a lioness’ when she saw the attractive young woman sitting close to Pound. ‘In a magnificent fury, she lifted the folded parasol over my head. I could see she was reading my face, and when she looked into my eyes she saw—“iggurance”. She waved the parasol over me, but never did bring it down.’
Olga’s presentiment that she had been displaced was confirmed by Pound’s paying her no particular attention. He wrote to Mary, ‘Oh well, your ma turned up looking quite beautiful, not to say elegant. And I have brutally gone on with writin’ a canto, I suppose 97, tho 96 aint yet tucked in, got to get from the Odyssey, thru Paul the Deacon, down to Del Mar’s marvelous account of rascality.’ That was on the Thursday, and he wrote again on the Saturday not knowing whether Olga ‘sailed yester/ or is waiting for 1 Aug/ IF you hear let me know.’ It seems that Olga had made just that one visit to St Elizabeths, and that she had seen and suffered all she needed to make her sever relations with Pound. She would not speak to him again until years later when he had been released and was back in Italy, and was near to death.
Pound’s Saturday letter to Mary began, ‘Waaal, she’za nice gal | and she wuz lookin beeeyewteeful, not only elegant | better than ever save possibly in one early foto, taken before I met her. But the WRONG time and the WRONGplace.’ And she was unteachable, and ‘she don’t stop for explanations’. There was only this oblique allusion to what had really happened, ‘she wd/ probably explode if she knew that her ally in the anti-Martinelli campaign wuz young Omar/ so fer garzache don’t MENTION that.’ If he cared at all about her hurt and her anger he wasn’t letting on. In fact Olga was close to despair, as she would tell Mary. She booked a passage to return to Italy on a cargo ship sailing from Newport News and had to climb a rope ladder over its side—‘It would have been so easy to let go’, she said.
1 The contributors to Ezra Pound at Seventy were: W. H. Auden, E. E. Cummings, T. S. Eliot, E. Hemingway, A. MacLeish, J. V. de Piña Martins, M. Moore, N. H. Pearson, E. Sitwell, S. Spender.