Ezra Pound: Poet: Volume III: The Tragic Years 1939-1972 - A. David Moody (2015)
PART FOUR: ST ELIZABETHS, 1946–1958
13: ‘INDICTMENT DISMISSED’, 1956–8
Archibald MacLeish 1 went to see Pound in St Elizabeths in late November 1955. They had corresponded, but they had actually met only once before, back in their Paris days. There was little enough to bring them together. MacLeish thought Pound’s politics altogether wrong-headed; and then during the war he had worked for Roosevelt, Pound’s bête noire, and Pound had fiercely attacked him for that in one of his broadcasts, and still held it against him. Nor did Pound show much respect for MacLeish’s poetry or wider literary achievement. But MacLeish did genuinely respect and honour Pound as a poet and for his services to the arts, and that was what brought him finally to make his visit. He had written to find out if there was any way of getting Pound released from St Elizabeths so that he could have ‘some peace and quiet in which to work’. Would Pound accept ‘a medical disposition of the problem: meaning by that, a disposition based on medical opinion, as distinguished from a legal or political (whatever that might be) disposition’. Pound wouldn’t give a simple answer, telling MacLeish that he was ‘overlooking the simple and direct solution’ but leaving him to guess what that might be. He evidently believed, as he wrote to Mary, that talk of legal complications was a hoax and ‘the minute they WANT to let me out they can’. In the meantime, to the infuriation of friends such as Harry Meacham, he would spend hours helping others but ‘will not lift his hand to unlock his cell’.
MacLeish’s visit left him feeling sick and convinced that Pound must be got out. The horror of what he had seen was still vivid a year later when he was reviewing Rock-Drill in the New York Times:
Not everyone has seen Pound in the long, dim corridor inhabited by the ghosts of men who cannot be still, or who can be still too long.…When a conscious mind capable of the most complete human awareness is incarcerated among minds which are not conscious and cannot be aware, the enforced association produces a horror which is not relieved either by the intelligence of doctors or by the tact of administrators or even by the patience and kindliness of the man who suffers it. You carry the horror away with you like the smell of the ward in your clothes, and whenever afterward you think of Pound or read his lines a stale sorrow afflicts you.
Pound had to be saved from that, not only for his own sake, MacLeish told Hemingway, ‘but for the good name of the country: after ten years it was beginning to look like persecution and if he died there we’d never wash the stain out.’
Pound’s own immediate concern seemed to be to interest MacLeish in La Martinelli’s art. However he did tell Kenner after MacLeish’s visit that ‘dear Archie’ was being ‘useful and benevolent’; though he then told A. V. Moore, ‘The benevolent will not get me out on false pretences’, which led Moore to tell Eliot, ‘he insists on his own terms for a release’. All the same, he was showing interest now in the possibility of release. In his letter to Kenner he wrote hopefully of ‘a mild beginning of mild scepticism as to Ez having ever committed ANYthing whatsodam vaguely approaching treason’. And he enquired of Zukofsky, ‘what yu kno bout Thurman Arnold’, Arnold being a leading Washington lawyer who had served as an Assistant Attorney General in the Roosevelt administration and might well have been mentioned by MacLeish in connection with efforts to get him out.
In February 1956 an editorial in Life magazine noted that ‘Tokyo Rose’ 2 had recently been released, and that Nazi war criminals were being released, while Ezra Pound was still incarcerated, his room at St Elizabeths ‘a closetwhich contains a national skeleton’. Encouraged by this straw in the wind of public opinion, at the end of February Dag Hammarskjöld raised the Pound case as ‘a humanitarian problem’ in a meeting in Washington with Assistant Secretary of State Francis O. Wilcox, and then wrote him, in confidence, a long letter conceding the difficulties presented by Pound’s ideas and radio activities, yet leading up to this conclusion:
Considering various international decisions on war criminals from far worse categories than the one Mr. Pound represents, and considering his positive contributions to American letters, there seems to be, with regards to his old age and the circumstances of his legal status, forceful humanitarian reasons for a reconsideration of the case of Ezra Pound.
Hammarskjöld was advised, discreetly, ‘that action in 1956 is considered unwise’—once again it was an election year—but that an effort in 1957 ‘might well prove successful’.
Hammarskjöld showed his letter to Auden, who thought it excellent, but warned, ‘Our chief headache, I fear, may be E.P. himself: I am so afraid of his making some statement to the Press about USURY or one of his hobbyhorses.’ Hammarskjöld apparently shared that fear, as did Hemingway and others among Pound’s supporters, and this in spite of the Constitution’s First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech and of the press, which he, and no doubt all of them, would uphold. In May he sent Pound a copy of a speech he had just given on the 180th Anniversary of the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights, drawing his attention to the last page where he had said, ‘It is when we all play safe that fatality will lead us to our doom. It is in “the dark shade of courage” alone that the spell can be broken.’ The unattributed quotation is of course Pound’s characterization of Elektra, who would not be silenced. That was in the spirit of the twelfth clause of the Virginia Declaration which held ‘That the freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.’ A noble ideal nobly affirmed, but Hammarskjöld appears to have missed the irony, that here was Pound being urged by his friends to shut up, and being literally shut up by the state for having spoken his mind, his situation that of an Elektra lacking an Orestes.
Like Hammarskjöld, MacLeish had gathered ‘that it would be unwise as well as useless to approach Dept of Justice before the election’—that was ‘the consensus of opinion’ among his ‘Republican friends and political acquaintances’. He intended therefore to prepare for a serious approach to the Department in November, unless Pound told him not to. Pound did not do that, but nor was he being helpful—replying to MacLeish’s proposals, for instance, with ‘personal attacks on those [senators] whose help [he] had thought of enlisting’. ‘I am fighting feathers and losing my way’, MacLeish complained, ‘whoever offers him a hand will have his fingers broken.’ Nevertheless he persisted, and in July he asked Pound to lay aside all his arguments about Roosevelt and the war and Mussolini, and just say simply and clearly whether he wanted to be got out of St Elizabeths; or did he want rather to have people learn ‘the facts of your position over the past many years…including the Rome broadcasts’, in which case a trial would be the proper procedure and he, MacLeish, ‘should desist and withdraw’. He had been ‘assuming that the objective is to get you out of St Elizabeths’, and further assuming ‘that the best—indeed the only—way of accomplishing that objective rapidly is to persuade the Attorney General to nol pros 3 the indictment’. His own position was that he wanted to get Pound out ‘because its hurts me personally and seems to me a disgrace to the country that you are held there still after all these years’. But he was not going to do what Pound did not want done. Pound must have indicated that he could go ahead with his plan to persuade the Department of Justice to drop the indictment.
He did want to get out, and was pleased to note in August that ‘Hem is apparently telling 19 millyum readers of Look…that I should be got out’. More irritation on the part of other writers at his ‘prolonged incarceration’ would be in order, he intimated to James Dickey. At the same time he seemed to regard his release as an affair for others to attend to. He had other preoccupations. On 3 August he fired off a formal letter ‘To the President and Trustees | Hamilton College’, telling them ‘the time has come for me to return to you the Honorary Litt. D. conferred on me in 1939, this being the only form of protest left me’—apparently the college was failing ‘to teach the facts either of U.S. History past and present or any other historic truth with due vigour’. The actual parchment was where he could not get at it, he had to admit, but he trusted that the means would be found to restore it to them at some future date. The president of the College blandly replied that he was distressed to have such a letter from so distinguished an alumnus, was at a loss as to the exact nature of the college’s failings, and that an honorary degree was ‘a permanent fact’ and could not be ‘returned’. And that was the end of that brief episode. Pound’s main preoccupation at this time was finding new materials for the ongoing cantos. He had just discovered the writings of Mme de Rémusat, her son Charles François, and his son Paul, and hoped they would prove ‘CantObile’, as indeed they did, the grandson providing ‘essential facts…on frog commune’ for canto 100, his father providing anecdotes of St Anselm for that and other cantos, and Mme de Rémusat providing memories of the Napoleonic era for canto 101. Pound was also being excited by accounts of the rituals and customs of the ‘forgotten’ Na Khi kingdom of south-west China, and these he drew on in canto 101 and some later cantos. Then, whenever the weather allowed, there was the excitement of tennis after regular visiting hours, with John Chatel, one of the acolytes, recruited as a regular opponent, or he would look out for Evans, one of the hospital staff. It had been an important moment in June when he was able to play again; and there was some further unspecified relaxing of his conditions in September when this note was entered in his Clinical Record: ‘Daylight privileges on grounds in vicinity of tennis court ordered by Dr. Overholser in addition to his 9 P.M. privileges in same vicinity.’ His life in St Elizabeths was going along apparently undisturbed by talk of release.
He was even allowing it to be assumed, apparently, that he would die in St Elizabeths. When D. G. Bridson of the BBC came in December to record him reading from his cantos it was agreed that the recordings were not to be broadcast in his lifetime. Bridson at least thought he was recording Pound’s voice for posterity. And he found that Pound was anxious to make a statement, ‘for the record’, of the experiences which had led him to speak over Rome Radio. He spoke without notes, in an easygoing, eminently reasonable, amusing, and persuasive manner very far from the style of those wartime broadcasts. Bridson heard no hint of ‘paranoia or any other disturbance of the mental faculties’. It was simply ‘the considered statement of something [Pound] wanted to make generally known’. He spoke of being hassled over visas and permits in the American Consulate in Paris after the 1914 war; of the official in the Chicago call-up tribunal who had said, not to him but to an acquaintance, ‘Say, young feller, don’t you know that in this country there ain’t nobody has got any goddamned rights whatsoever?’; then there was the Prosecuting Attorney who had told him—and here Pound assumed ‘a heavy and aggressive accent’—‘All I’m interested in is bunk—seeing what you can put over’; and finally there was being told, by a Senator in Washington in 1939, ‘He [Roosevelt] has packed the Supreme Court, so they will declare anything he does constitutional.’ And the accumulation of these things had brought him to use the microphone to speak out in defence of the rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. ‘If no one protests you will lose all your liberties,’ that was what he had to say ‘for the record’. It was a defence of a sort, but not for the courtroom. His expectation was that this, along with his canto readings, would be heard posthumously.
In September 1956, as part of an Eisenhower administration Cold War propaganda initiative, an American Writers Group with William Faulkner as its chair was set up to propose ways of improving the image of the United States abroad. A range of writers were canvassed for suggestions, among them William Carlos Williams. His advice was that the best thing the President could do was ‘to see to it that Ezra Pound is released’. His ‘Free Ezra Pound!’ was then included in a questionnaire incorporating the various suggestions received, and to this there were 22 responses. On the Pound question, 10 were positively in favour, 3 were supportive with reservations; 2 were against; and 7 abstained. At the end of November fourteen members of the Group met, with the ‘Free Ezra Pound’ item last on the agenda. However, Williams was determined to raise it, and the discussion became heated. Saul Bellow, supported by Robert Hillyer, argued angrily that Pound was an anti-Semite who deserved to be punished for advocating the murder of Jews in his poetry and broadcasts. Eventually he lost his temper and strode out of the meeting. The next day Faulkner met with John Steinbeck and Donald Hall, who had participated in the meeting, to consider the Group’s interim report. Hall wanted to include the recommendation to free Pound, and Steinbeck said that would just make people mad, whereupon Faulkner turned to their secretary and said, ‘You take this down, young lady: “The government of Sweden gives the chairman of this committee its greatest award and the government of the United States keeps its best poet in jail.”’ The proposal that ‘we should free Ezra Pound’ was retained in the draft report sent out to the members of the Group on 2 January 1957. This time there was unequivocal support only from Marianne Moore, and from Malcolm Cowley who wrote, ‘There’s no doubt that…the continued imprisonment of Ezra Pound [has] done more damage to the United States in world opinion than all of us together could mend or patch.’ Others did not mind his being freed, but thought his literary eminence irrelevant (Richard Wilbur), or thought it inappropriate to include his case in the President’s programme. Two, including Saul Bellow, strongly objected. (There was apparently no comment from Williams.) At a meeting of the Group in February Faulkner walked out of the room, effectively resigning, and no report was ever issued.
MacLeish meanwhile was trying to clarify Pound’s situation. In mid-October he wrote to A. V. Moore to set out his present understanding:
(1) he is not now legally insane according to the responsible medical officer
(2) he is not however sane enough to stand trial
(3) ergo he should be released
However, in the way there was ‘the vociferous Jewish group who feel, with reason, that Pound has ben antisemitic and who would keep him in for that reason’. Moore comunicated all of that to Dorothy Pound, adding his own view that even if Pound were to be released it was unlikely he would be granted a passport.
In mid-November, the election being over, MacLeish prepared to take the first steps towards an appeal to the Attorney General. First he wanted to be sure that Overholser’s position was still what it had been when they talked about Pound in his office the previous year, and as MacLeish had reported it in his letter to Moore. Overholser, however, would now say only that ‘it is unlikely that his mental condition will in the future be such that he is able to stand trial’, and that therefore ‘it seems unnecessary…to keep the charges alive any longer’. ‘We should not bring up the question of his insanity’, he advised, nor ‘the question of release at the present time’. MacLeish understood him to be saying ‘that Pound, though unfit to stand trial, is not fit to release’, and Overholser said that was correct, but added, ‘I think it is high time that charges against Ezra Pound should be dropped, but I think that his release from the Hospital at this time would muddy the waters to an undesirable extent.’ One must deduce that he did indeed consider Pound ‘not now legally insane’, but would not say so on the record. He was attempting a rather fine distinction between his being sane and yet ‘mentally incompetent to advise with counsel and to participate in his own defense’. He was quite right of course that it would complicate matters, or ‘muddy the waters’, if it were to be admitted that Pound was actually quite sane in all other respects; and it would be a further puzzle as to why, in that case, he should not be released from St Elizabeths if the charges were to be dropped.
Anxious to keep Overholser on side, MacLeish proceeded to draft a letter simply seeking a ‘Nol Pros’ from the Attorney General. The question of release would be left to be dealt with ‘on a medical basis’. He sent the draft to Eliot who rewrote and signed it, and he secured Hemingway’s agreement. Then Frost too agreed to sign, and Guy Davenport was commissioned to carry the letter to him. ‘Eisenhower will never consent to this’, Frost told him as he waited, ‘It’s a waste of all our time’; but he did add his signature, ‘after meditating a whole ten minutes’. The letter, sent to the Attorney General on the letterhead of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, about 16 February 1957—though dated ‘January 14’—was diplomatic yet quite sharp:
Our interest in this matter is founded in part on our concern for Mr. Pound who is one of the most distinguished American writers of his generation, and in part on our concern for the country of our birth. As writers ourselves we cannot but be aware of the effect on writers and lovers of literature throughout the world of Pound’s continued incarceration at a time when certain Nazis tried and convicted of the most heinous crimes have been released and in many cases rehabilitated.
It is our understanding, based on inquiries to the medical personnel at St. Elizabeths Hospital that Pound is now unfit for trial and, in the opinion of the doctors treating him, will continue to be unfit for trial. This opinion, we believe, has been communicated to the Department of Justice. Under these circumstances the perpetuation of the charges against him seems to us unfortunate, and, indeed, indefensible. It provides occasion for criticism of American justice not only at home but abroad and it seems to us, in and of itself, unworthy of the traditions of the Republic. Concerned, as we must be, with the judgments of posterity on this unhappy affair, we cannot but regret the failure of the Department thus far to take steps to nol pros the indictment and remit the case to the medical authorities for disposition on medical grounds.
May we add that this is a personal letter to you and that we have no intention at this time of making a public statement on this matter.
The Attorney General, Herbert Brownell, acknowledged the letter, saying he had ‘asked that a review of the matter be made’, and that he would ‘communicate further when it is completed’. On 10 April the Deputy Attorney General, William Rogers, wrote to each of the signatories to say he would be willing to talk to them.
Macleish had been doing what he could to bring indirect pressure to bear. He had tried to enlist the support of the President’s brother, Dr Milton Eisenhower, an old friend now President of Johns Hopkins University, but had received the dusty answer that if Pound were to be released he should be tried, and that his standing as a poet was immaterial. Then in January, fearing that William Rogers ‘wasn’t going to do anything positive’, he had urged Hemingway to write to the undersecretary of state, Christian Herter, ‘making again the point you made so well in your letter to the Atty Gen—that it is the US which will suffer if Pound is allowed to rot in St. Elizabeths’. Herter, he knew, ‘would be listened to in Justice’. He had already spoken to him, and found him attentive, but ‘obviously worried by the possibility that, once released, Ezra might embarrass the government by shooting his face off in his usual way’. The government of course had ‘no right to keep him in an insane asylum for that reason’, but needed to be persuaded, and a page from Hemingway ‘would help a lot’. MacLeish was also hoping that Dr Gabriel Hauge, economic adviser to the President who happened to be Laughlin’s brother-in-law, would be able to put in a good word. He had been alerted to tell Brownell that the Frost–Eliot–Hemingway letter ‘would be on his desk’ on the morning of the 18th. And MacLeish made sure that Overholser was told that the letter had been sent and what was in it.
Hammarskjöld, possibly as a result of reading in the New York Times MacLeish’s eloquent paragraph about the horror of Pound’s situation, had let him know that he shared his concern and had discussed the matter ‘at a high level’, and that the Swedish Academy too was keenly interested. The two men met near the end of January in Hammarskjöld’s office at the United Nations, and a few days later Hammarskjöld wrote to Francis Wilcox, the Assistant Secretary of State with whom he had corresponded before about the Pound case, to lend his strong support, and that of the Swedish Academy, to ‘the initiative of Mr. Frost and his colleagues’. Wilcox assured him that his personal views and those of the Swedish Academy had been passed informally to the Attorney General, and that he had suggested ‘that a copy of your most recent letter be incorporated in the file containing the appeal by Mr. Frost and others’. ‘Keep up the good work’, he added by hand.
Then Kasper hit the fan. Early in January William Carlos Williams asked Pound, ‘Did you ever hear of a guy named Kasper? Your name was used along with his in a television broadcast last night. I didn’t like it.’ At the end of January and into February the New York Herald Tribune ran a series on Kasper’s activities agitating against desegregation in the South, linking him to the Ku Klux Klan and to Ezra Pound. A front page spread carried the headline, ‘SEGREGATIONIST KASPER IS EZRA POUND DISCIPLE’, with the sub-head, ‘Goes to Asylum Often to Visit Fascist Poet’. In February an article about Kasper in Look was illustrated by a photograph of Pound over the caption, ‘Ezra Pound, the insane American poet, is Kasper’s idol’.
The Tale of John Kasper
In February 1956 the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs had been considering a proposal to build a giant mental institution in Alaska. John Kasper appeared before it to express the fear that it would serve as a dumping ground for dissidents and political prisoners. The Committee Chairman told him, ‘This is the United States, Mr Kasper. We don’t have political prisoners here.’ Whereupon Kasper stated,
Mr Chairman, less than three miles from where we sit now, at St Elizabeths Hospital, America’s greatest poet of this century and, in my opinion, one of the truest patriots of our history, is being held—without trial—as a political prisoner. No trial. No habeas corpus. And he’s been there for twelve years, for his political ideas. I mean Ezra Pound.
He went on to speak of the inhuman treatment of patients in the nation’s mental hospitals, naming prefrontal lobotomy and electric shock treatment, and thence to psychiatry as a Jewish imposition upon the American people. There was uproar in the committee meeting, and it made the news in that evening’s Washington Evening Star.
In April and May Kasper was down in Alabama working with Admiral Crommelin’s Senate primaries campaign team. As a Defender of the American Constitution the Admiral was hoping to win the Democrat nomination. Kasper thought to enlist Pound’s help:
COPY COPY . Can you write some short quotable slogans. Nothing highbrow. Stuff to stick in mass-mind. Repeated over and over so they don’t forget.
And 5 minute speeches and 15 minute speeches on Segregation/ States Rights/ Mongrelization/ Separation of Races.
And JEWS: the Admiral has taken up THE Question openly and it hasn’t hurt him. The kike behind the nigger.
Pound advised, ‘dont confuse ingenuity with proclamations’, and ‘Don’t fight from confused principles’—
Fight from the original declaration of the Rights of Man.
Droits de L’homme.
Droit de faire tout ce qui ne nuit pas aux autres.
To do anything that harms not others.
But then he got onto ‘Segregation/…Mongrelization/ Separation of Races’, and affirmed ‘Nothing is more damnably harmful to everyone, white AND black than miscegenation, bastardization and mongrelization of EVERYTHING.…Blood banks an infamy also.’ Pound was giving Kasper what he wanted, a slick slogan to fix in the ‘mass-mind’ of the South the idea that cultural traditions are, literally, ‘in the blood’.
In June Kasper announced the setting up of a White Citizens’ Council in Washington DC, with its charter from the North Alabama Citizens’ Council headed by Asa E. Carter. Its stated aim was to halt the integration of schools in Washington and to restore segregation. The press reported that Negroes, including two reporters, were barred from its first meeting. Soon after it was calling itself the more ambitious Seaboard White Citizens’ Councils, with the cry, ‘Honour—Pride—Fight: Save the White.’ ‘Our movement arises’, its declaration ran, ‘from a deep-seated belief in the diverse natures of animals and plants as established by the Creator.…Nigras were not meant to be WHITE. The white race was not intended to be anything but white.’ The declaration went on to ‘damn all race-mixers’, aiming particularly at ‘the communist-led NAACP’. ‘We are an attack program,’ it concluded, ‘We proclaim action as our creed.’
In August Kasper drove down to Clinton in Tennessee where Anderson County High School was to be one of the first in the South to desegregate—twelve Negro students were to be admitted when the school year began on Monday 27th. On Saturday 25th Kasper, well-dressed in suit and tie, well-spoken and sincere, was going about the town giving out SWCC leaflets. On the Sunday evening he addressed a small crowd in front of the Courthouse, speaking against desegregation as a conspiracy of Jews and Communists to undermine the white race. The town officials asked him to leave town and when he refused had him arrested for vagrancy and inciting a riot. Monday there was a small protest outside the High School but the enrolment of the black students went ahead. On Tuesday the charges against Kasper were dismissed for want of evidence, and he then went to the school and told the principal ‘to run the negroes off or resign’. He recruited some white teenagers into a Junior White Citizens Council and organized a picket line around the school. That night he spoke in inflammatory terms to a crowd of several hundred in the Courthouse square. On the Wednesday morning there were over 100 protesting whites outside the school, black students were abused and chased, and there were walkouts by white students. A crowd of around 1,000 gathered in the square that night, and federal marshals served a court order upon Kasper, restraining him from interfering in the school integration and summoning him to a court hearing next day. In the morning a crowd of around 300 abused and threw stones at the black students, and a judge sentenced Kasper to a year in prison for contempt of court. Thursday night there were 1,500 in the square and there were speakers from several out of town segregationist organizations, including the fiery orator Asa Carter. Retired Admiral John Crommelin also spoke and declared that ‘someday a statue will be erected on this courthouse lawn to John Kasper’. On Friday night, with 2,000 in the square, the crowd was shouting ‘We want Kasper.’ A mob marched on the pro-integration mayor’s house threatening to dynamite it, and cars with blacks were stopped, shaken and tilted, and their windscreens smashed. There were no arrests. On Saturday 1 September the Clinton board of aldermen declared a state of emergency and formed an auxiliary police force armed with shotguns and teargas. The rally that night was sponsored by five white supremacist organizations, and a crowd of 3,000 was broken up by teargas grenades. On the Sunday the National Guard arrived, with seven tanks, three armoured personnel carriers, and 600 armed men who fixed bayonets and dispersed the crowd. On Monday the National Guard commander banned all outdoor public speaking and Clinton calmed down. Much of the blame for the week of violence was put upon Kasper.
The following Thursday two local citizens put up a $10,000 bond and he was bailed under a permanent injunction against further interference in desegregation. Within a fortnight he was back in jail on a charge of sedition and inciting riot. On 20 November, after a trial lasting two weeks, in which Admiral Crommelin and Judge Raulston testified on his behalf, he was acquitted and emerged vowing to continue the fight against school integration in defiance of the laws.
During the trial Kasper wrote a long letter to the editor of the ‘Negro’ Amsterdam News in New York, in reply to its article about him headlined ‘RACIST EXPOSED’. He accused the paper of falling in with ‘the red-controlled Supreme Court-NAACP’s race-hating, race-destroying schemes’, meaning its 1954 and 1955 rulings on school desegregation. Against that he invoked ‘the views on racial segregation of Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and in latter-day experience, Benjamin Gibbons of the Universal African Nationalist Movement’. He invoked Frobenius’ ‘expeditions to Africa from 1897 to 1937 to “define African culture”’, and demanded,
Is there any reason to conceal from American Negroes their African source, their rootedness in the ‘Dark Continent’? Is there any reason to deny them their common heritage of African folk myth, poetry, epic, sculpture, music and drum communication, perhaps chiefly the African genius for agriculture?
When the white man holds up his unequalled achievements in constructing free government, his mastery of technical accomplishments, his Bach and Mozart in music, his Piero della Francesca, Giotto and Brancusi in the arts, his Homer, Dante, Shakespeare and Ezra Pound in letters and so on ad infinitum, should not the Negro turn face around with his own traditions, accomplishments, his own racial genius from the land of the Congo and Balbua?
I believe it is the duty of every Negro leader to undertake the task of educating his own people to their historic facts and working from there to raise the Negro to ever higher racial accomplishment, to foster racial identity and pride, not arrogance, and teach a proper respect for all members of other races in the same manner they would demand it for themselves.
What they should specifically respect in the ‘Anglo-Saxon-Nordic white man’ was his carrying out ‘(for the benefit of ALL) a concept of free government which has given the maximum of personal liberty and the minimum of tyrannical irresponsibility’; whereas ‘your Negro race’, which has ‘fallen time and again into abject slavery’, has contributed nothing ‘to free, representative government, and the cause of free men, as embodied in our own American Constitution’. In all this there was an implicit amendment adding the words ‘and separate’ to the founding principle that ‘All men are born free and equal’. ‘We are organizing Negro Citizens’ Councils’, Kasper informed the readers of Amsterdam News, ‘The qualifications are: “Negro, 18 years of age, believe in the separation of the races as ordained by the Creator, uphold racial segregation, loyal to the United States of America, its Constitution, and believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ”.’
In August or September the Seaboard White Citizens’ Councils had produced VIRGINIANS ON GUARD! , a 34-page roneoed document which framed in the crudest racist propaganda a states’ rights proposal that Virgina should in effect reconstitute itself a segregated state. The proposal pursued into minute legalistic detail what should be done to ensure the absolute separating out of ‘Negroes’ from ‘whites’, in the state’s school system and on the public payrolls generally. Anything and any person advocating racial integration was to be purged. Jews and Communists were to be excluded from public office and to be allowed no voice in the state. It was a lawyer’s dream of absolute apartheid, brewed up by the Defenders of the American Constitution and other like-minded groups, not excluding the Ku Klux Klan. One lawyer involved was probably Robert Furniss, who worked for the National Association for the Advancement of White People, and pounded away at the school situation, as he put it, on his Washington radio programme. He had arranged the lease on Kasper’s Washington bookstore and sometimes helped out in it. He also for a time acted for the Committee for Ezra Pound, and Pound himself thought him ‘a damn good guy and honest’. Kasper’s contribution may have been the crude pages at the front and the Seaboard White Citizens’ Councils declaration at the end. He also showed a draft or drafts to Pound, who offered some advice on the presentation of the constitutional proposals, contributed a couple of long paragraphs on how the free state should manage its funding, and another on the freedom and responsibilities of the press. Pound implicitly endorsed the determination to keep out Communists and Jews, while offering no comment at all on the anti-Negro agenda. He may not have had advance sight of either Kasper’s work or the racist rant into which the states’ rights proposal descended in its latter stages. In any case, when he later sent a copy to Noel Stock in Melbourne he first tore off the crude racist material, and commented on the segregationist proposals, ‘2 points at least quotable, rest VERY local’. The ‘2 points’ would have been his own contributions on funding and the press, and all the rest it seems was too ‘local’ to be of wider concern. ‘Kasper defeated, same as South was in 1864’, he commented to Olivia Agresti in December, ‘cause mind diverted from money and taxes, customs, onto local issue having no broad and defensible theoretical basis save in nature itself.’
On 26 December Pound mentioned ‘Mr Kasper’s meteoric rise into publicity’ to Ingrid Davies, and commented that he was being ‘reported VERY inaccurately in the enraged organs of the jew press | furious that he likes afro-americans but not kikes’. In February Kasper played up to being billed as a disciple of Ezra Pound by the Herald Tribune, by featuring in his short-lived Clinton-Knox County Stars and Bars—‘A Nationalist Attack Newspaper Serving East Tennessee’—such Poundian themes as ‘local control of local purchasing power’ and the ‘infamy of interest-bearing bonds which benefit only the jew-bankers in New York and Washington’.
In the months following his acquittal in November 1956 Kasper was going about the American South speaking against desegregation as a fanatical effort by Jews and Communists ‘to subvert the existing Gentile order everywhere’. In March 1957 he was charged with criminal contempt of the federal district court ‘on grounds he violated a permanent injunction against interference with peaceful integration of Clinton High School’. After Clinton he was jailed again in Nashville and Knoxville and Tallahassee and Charlotteville, for trespass, boycotts, pickets, interference with the free operation of schools, and inciting to riot. On 10 September 1957, the first school day, one wing of a newly integrated elementary school in Nashville was dynamited—it had enrolled a single black child. Kasper was suspected but no evidence linking him, nor the KKK, nor anyone else, to the dynamiting was ever found. Later that month Pound advised David Wang,
K probably in ERROR mixing with ignorant. |…
Guard against sedition. USE the law, even when tyrants do not.
The theory of the law, the words of the law, until changed by constitutional and legal process.
Not long after that Nashville outrage Kasper was convicted on a federal charge of conspiracy and jailed for eight months in prisons in Florida and Georgia. After his release, in mid-1958, he was tried in Nashville for inciting to riot and sentenced to six months in the Davidson County workhouse. In April 1959, on a Sunday morning in Clinton, three dynamite blasts reduced Anderson County High School to rubble. No one was injured, and no one was charged.
The skeleton in the national closet
The publicity linking Pound to Kasper, and even holding him responsible for Kasper’s violent white supremacism, shocked and dismayed his well-wishers and set back their efforts to secure his release. Bo Setterlind, a Swedish poet who had visited Pound in St Elizabeths and published a poem lamenting his imprisonment there, wrote to him now asking urgently, ‘Is it true that you hate negroes and jews? | Have you ever written in your poetry that you do hate the human races mentioned?’ Pound answered, ‘NO, naturally I do not dislike africans or afro-americans…neither to the best of my knowledge does Kasper.’ As for anti-Semitism in the cantos, the local psychiatrist had looked hard for it and been ‘very puzzled’ when he was unable to find any. It was a fair answer, so far as it went, but it was hardly adequate to the Kasper problem.
Pound did regard Jews in general through a strong prejudice against their supposed racial characteristics—this is especially evident in his letters to Olivia Agresti. And this prejudice, combined with his anti-Communism, predisposed him to accept the white supremacist line that the anti-segregationist NAACP was a Jewish-Communist conspiracy out to destroy both the Afro-American and the Southern white cultures (plural). Yet he was never a white supremacist. He genuinely valued difference and variety and cared that the individual and the particular be preserved. That was why Agassiz and Frobenius mattered to him, the one because he taught the scientific method of noting the specific qualities of things; the other because he observed the specific characteristics of diverse cultures. ‘ALL study of nature <veget & animal>…is study of VARIETY’, he told John Theobald, ‘It is good that hindoos be MORE hindoo | that chinks be MORE chink | each rising to it own height and not a mélange adultère de tout.’ Further, along with wanting individuals and cultures to be more themselves, to develop their distinctive qualities, he wanted them also to be in communication with others and to learn from others. For himself, in Italy or America, it was ‘Kung AND Eleusis’. He did not go in for setting one’s own race or culture above all the rest, nor for racial or cultural apartheid.
Yet he seems not to have noticed, or not to have cared, that Kasper was doing exactly that. He could perhaps believe that Kasper, like himself, did not ‘dislike africans or afro-americans’. And he was under the illusion that he was educating and directing him. But how could he fail to see that what Kasper had taken from him, or from Agassiz and Frobenius, had become perverted into fuel for white supremacist violence against Afro-American schoolchildren. He would disclaim responsibility, to the extent of telling Harry Meacham, ‘I don’t think you can show any connection between my telling Kasper to read Confucius and Agassiz | and his present imprisonment.’ Louis Zukofsky apparently agreed with him about that, telling Giovannini that ‘E.P. is no more responsible for Kasper’s actions than Aristotle for the Hollywood production of Alexander the Great.’ Well, of course Kasper was to be held personally responsible for his actions; and there is no evidence that Pound directly encouraged or endorsed his incitements to violence in the South. ‘Guard against sedition. USE the law,’ and ‘Fight from the original declaration of the Rights of Man,’ would have been his advice. But it was advice not taken—‘obviously the heroism of a Crommelyn is much more stimulating to youth than the doctrines of moderation’, Pound remarked to Meacham, thus obliquely pointing to the Defenders of the American Constitution as the direct source of Kasper’s ‘attack program’. Archie Henderson has collected evidence to show how widespread that programme and its propaganda were at the time, and that Pound was indeed not responsible for Kasper’s embracing it. But that still does not settle the thorny question.
Pound was evidently in accord with Kasper and the Defenders and the white supremacists in general so far as their propaganda and their actions could be represented as anti-Communist and anti-Jew. But about their anti-Negro programme and attacks he had nothing to say. After Kasper’s trial in November 1956 for sedition and incitement to riot in Clinton, Pound commented to Olivia Agresti, virtually in Kasper’s own crude words, that he had ‘At least got a little publicity for the NAACP being run by kikes not by coons.’ It was as if the violence against the children and the breaking of the law had simply not registered with him. ‘I am in no position to judge particular local events,’ he explained to Meacham, ‘and do not think I have ever formed judgments on them.’ He was ‘Au dessus du conflit’, above the battle. Moreover, from his loftily detached viewpoint he somehow made out that Kasper’s apparently racist ‘attack program’ was really a programme for economic reform. ‘Kasper’s REAL ideology’, as he informed Olivia Agresti, ‘is far above ANY U.S. audience | and am not sure it is useful to spread it among those who will NOTunderstand why Lincoln was shot’, i.e. because he wanted to bring the money supply under government control and remove it from a private banking conspiracy. His own little audience apparently shared this privileged understanding, to judge by the report of David Rattray who wrote, after visiting St Elizabeths in December 1956, that John Chatel had told him
the Negro business is just a front, [Kasper] knows it’s the only way he can get the Southern farmers to vote for him, but then, when he gets the power…he can get to work on the economic program.
And Sheri Martinelli had put in, when Pound said something about New Directions suppressing ‘the truth about international finance’ for fear of ‘losing the support of the New York banks’, that therefore ‘Grandpa’s got to do it with suicide troops. Like Kasper. Kasper is your suicide troops.’ So the inside knowledge had it that Kasper was really on the attack down South for Pound’s economic reforms—as if the real meaning of the 34-page VIRGINIANS ON GUARD! was all in Pound’s paragraph on state funding.
This was the tunnel vision which had enabled Pound to see in Mussolini’s Fascism and in Hitler’s Nazism only those features which he could endorse. It had always been his habit to take notice only of people that were doingsomething that positively interested him, as he told Mary on one occasion, and not to ‘look for their iniquities etc.’ ‘May be inhuman of me,’ he confessed, with the implication that it was just one of those things that could not be altered.
Pound was sanguine about the Herald Tribune’s ‘attempt to implicate grampaw in civic disorder’. It seemed that the bad news was not being taken up by the media generally. And there were articles on his side. In April a piece in American Mercury suggested that Pound had been put away in St Elizabeths as a matter of political convenience—it called his ‘mishandled case’ a ‘miscarriage of justice’. Also in April an editorial in New Republic declared that, in spite of everything that could be said against him, ‘we would like to see the government give this old man and this eminent poet his freedom—if not as an act of justice, then as an act of largesse’. This was accompanied by an article which began by noticing that ‘the plea for Pound’s freedom runs constantly among those aware of his situation’, and ended by repeating Hemingway’s 1954 comment, ‘This would be a good year to release poets.’ Later in the year there would be more calls for his release in Esquire and The Nation. But Pound, to adapt his own phrase, held himself ‘au dessus du conflit’—he observed but did not engage in any way with the journalism swirling about ‘the case of Ezra Pound’.
He was engaged elsewhere, primarily with his cantos, then with his propaganda—this mainly in whatever little magazines were currently being edited and published by his followers. And, as always, he had his daily array of visitors to perform for, and his ever extending network of correspondents to instigate to action.
Thrones, a new sequence of fourteen cantos to follow Rock-Drill’s eleven, was under way. The governing concern was now the possibility of good government, or ‘the states of mind of people responsible for something more than their personal conduct’. For some time he had been gathering materials and drafting passages for his thrones—the opening canto, 96, had appeared in Hudson Review in April 1956, and canto 97 had appeared there in October—but the main work of composition appears to have gone on through 1957. An entry in his ‘Nursing Notes’ for 28 August of that year indicates intense and sustained mental activity:
Mr. Pound continues in his usual manner. Always well occupied even at night, seems unaware that others are sleeping and chants some strange ?! Turns his light on many times and looks through his text.…Good natured person and easy to live with.
From February to March Pound had been working on 98 and 99, with The Sacred Edict of K’ang Hsi as a primary source. In May he ‘typed up what may be the end of Canto 105’. By the end of October he had ‘96/106 “Thrones” in rough draft…and a few lines of 107’; a month later he was about to ‘start on gettin 107 in order, clean ms/ with ideograms etc.’. He was drawing on Coke’s Institutes for the last three cantos of Thrones, 107, 108, and 109, and appears to have finished taking notes from Coke in November, although he had got hold of the Second Institutes only at the end of October. At least in rough draft then, the entire volume was complete by the end of the year. And besides that, on the evidence of Marcella Spann’s files, in the fall of 1957 Pound was already drafting passages that would go into the next and final volume of cantos, Drafts and Fragments.
His favoured little magazines were now in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and in Melbourne, Australia. Voice in Belfast, and New Times, a Social Credit weekly in Melbourne, were printing his familiar economic and political instigations and explosions, most of them quite brief pieces unsigned or over a scatter of pseudonyms. He was variously ‘John Vignon (Boston, U.S.A.)’ or ‘J.V.’, ‘Washington Correspondent’,‘Paris Correspondent’,‘London Correspondent’, ‘New York Correspondent’, ‘Melville Larkin’ or ‘M.L.’, ‘M.V.’, ‘T.V.’, ‘T.G.’,‘J.T,’,‘D.E.J.’, ‘Diogenes’, ‘William Watson’, ‘John Foster’,‘Jose Boler’, ‘Xavier Baylor’, and, just once, ‘Anon’. One perhaps surprising note in these pieces is a newly unequivocal attitude towards Hitler, as in ‘Herbert Briscoe’s’ contribution to Voice in April, 1956, which begins,
‘The Twisted Cross’, B.B.C.’s tremendous indictment of Hitler, is now on U.S. television, eased off by rather long slices of a commercial. It fails only in one thing, namely that it does not in any way indicate that fraud and rascality are not a satisfactory remedy for Hitler’s brutality.
That the right idea about money, which had formerly been Hitler’s virtue in Pound’s view, was now to be attributed instead to Gottfried Feder, the source of National Socialist economic policy, was implicit in a note in New Times in May regretting that ‘All this quite proper fuss about Hitler has unfortunately diminished the number of people who might otherwise have read Feder’.
In October 1956, Noel Stock, the young enthusiast who had been inserting Pound’s pieces into New Times, set up a little magazine of his own, a monthly called (at Pound’s suggestion) Edge, and with a general dedication ‘to intelligence, in nature, in the cosmos’. Stock had secured first publication of canto 90 for Meanjin, Australia’s leading literary quarterly, and had published there a perceptive and laudatory review of Rock-Drill. He had written to Pound and been instantly enlisted as an activist and a target correspondent. Now Edge was to be, for the eight issues that it lasted, more or less under Pound’s direction. It led off with his new translations of five poems by Rimbaud; selections from David Gordon’s Mencius and Yankowski’s Richard of St. Victor; a Williams poem, ‘The High Bridge above the Tagus River at Toledo’; some unsigned ‘Observations’ and ‘Definitions’ by Pound; and a reprint of his introduction to La Martinelli. Among the definitions was this: ‘Utopia: where every man has the right to be born FREE of debt, and to be judged, in case of disagreement, by a jury capable of understanding the nature and implications of the charges against him’. Number 2 was entirely given over to a translation of Thaddeus Zielinski’s The Sibyl. Three Essays on Ancient Religion and Christianity—the argument being that in ancient paganism is to be found ‘the genuine Old Testament of our Christianity’. Pound’s own case was featured in Edge 3, in ‘“Mental Illness”: New Name for Nonconformity’, a translation of a German article which declared that he had been found insane and locked up in order to silence his political critique of America and his attempt to form a new mentality. A ‘Notebook of Thoughts in Captivity’ attributed to Mussolini took up much of number 4, along with ‘Pages of a Memoir’ by Olivia Rossetti Agresti, and ‘The Church and Usury’ by Henry Swabey—the subject Pound had put him to work on years before. Numbers 5 and 6 contained articles and notes related to Pound’s preoccupations: an ‘Examination of Scotus Erigena’ by Swabey; a review by David Gordon of Goullart’s Forgotten Kingdom about the Na Khi; an article connecting ‘Mencius, charters, and Blackstone’; Colin MacDowell on ‘Why was Lincoln shot?’; passages from the Kuan Tzu; and an eighteen-page translation by the English poet and Pound-supporter, Alan Neame, of Cocteau’s long poem Léone. Stravinsky’s The Poetics of Music, selected and with a commentary by David Gordon, filled no. 7; and most of number 8, in October 1957, was given over to a memoir by Olivia Agresti of David Lubin, agricultural reformer and founder of the institute which was the forerunner of the U. N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization. In most numbers there were ‘fillers’ by Pound, unsigned or pseudonymous. In his judgment, Edge was the best magazine going—the best since the Little Review, he raved to Brigit Patmore, which put it above Eliot’s Criterion and even his own Exile. Its vortex meant that ‘the Kulchurl cenTER is in Melbourne’, or so he declared to Peter Russell, who might have wondered where that left his own efforts to promote Pound’s ideas in England, through his Pound Press which reprinted ABC of Economics, his series of Pound’s ‘Money Pamphlets’, and his Poundian little magazine Nine. But Nine had about run its course, and Edge, in 1956, seemed the most promising prospect of the moment.
In September 1957, however, when Edge was nearly on its last number and Stock was about to sail from Melbourne for England and Brunnenburg, William Cookson, a precocious young schoolboy about to go up to Oxford, sent Pound a copy of his school magazine, of which he had been editor in his last year and in which he had reviewed Rock-Drill. Pound immediately thanked him for the review—‘the best since Stock’s’ he told him—and, perhaps not quite realizing at first that his young correspondent would no longer be editing it, began to suggest how The Trifler might continue what Edge had been doing. When he caught on to the facts of Cookson’s age and situation, he turned to directing his reading and preparing him to be his organizer and agent in England. He was to get in touch with ‘live characters’, meaning Pound’s more active correspondents—apparently Cookson already knew Ingrid Davies—and he was to look in on Sir Barry Domville, and go down to see General J. F. C. Fuller (from whom General del Valle had learnt much that was useful to him on Okinawa), in order ‘to pick up a bit of tradition’ and ‘get knowledge incarnate’. ‘Yr next reading: Coke, Second Institutes, 4th Report’, he was directed in October, ‘And probably C. D. Bowen “Lion and Throne”’, a life of Coke just out which he hadn’t yet read. 4 Later it was ‘Del Mar (apart from Science of Money…his one poor book)’. ‘The FIRST fight’, he was briefed, ‘is to clear up the chaos | and get the NEEDED (for NOW) ideas into more people’; and ‘The QUESTION to ask, but not loudly or prematurely, and which is unlikely to be answered is: why issue all money as INTEREST BEARING debt?’ Cookson somehow survived these often weekly blasts, and in 1959 founded his own literary magazine, Agenda, which he edited until his death more than forty years later, and which, always broadly Poundian, established itself as a leading magazine of poets and poetry in the Pound–Williams (and David Jones) force-field.
Besides attending to his education Pound sent Cookson a couple of ‘clarifications’ of the scandals attaching to him, as this in February 1958:
I am ‘of course’ not antisemitic. I am merely against irresponsible oligarchy, whose god is PANURGIA
and whose Anschaung is : ahj awl I’m in’erested in is BUNK; seein what you can put over
In a previous letter, Cookson having reported Admiral Sir Barry Domville’s view that ‘a number of the ills of the world’ are to be blamed on ‘Jews and Masons’, Pound had written back, ‘The enemy is IGGURANCE, not jews or masons’. Cookson would cite these remarks loyally throughout his life whenever the charge of anti-Semitism was brought up, in the hope of exculpating Pound. A more convincing clarification concerned Kasper and white supremacy. ‘Two bright sparks’, one of whom, Contini, had been ‘quite a lot in jail for fascismo or under acc[usatio]n of same’, were considering putting together ‘a special Ez issue’ of a Genevan quarterly, and Cookson was to tell them that—
their job is to get me out of quod, and not to implicate me in any MORE squabbles between uncontrollable parties…
for conversational porpoises in London / yu cd/ say I steered Kasper onto Agassiz, but he seems inclined to the Fuhrer prinZiP . Whereas E. P. is a Jeffersonian republican /
and that Wang’s advocacy of ‘Wheat in Bread’ seems nearer to Soil Association movement in Britain than to a howl for white supremacy.
The ‘uncontrollable’ Kasper had been in the news again for projecting a neo-Nazi party under the banner of ‘Wheat in Bread’, a name proposed by Pound, possibly in the naive hope of getting him onto a sounder track; and David Wang, a Han Chinese who visited Pound and corresponded with him, and who was also at that time devoted to Kasper, had declared the affiliation of his notional group to the notional ‘WHIB party’; and David Rattray, in a poisonous account in The Nation of two visits to Pound, had stated that Wang, a disciple of Pound and Kasper, ‘devotes himself to the cause of white supremacy’. Pound’s point in his letter to Cookson was that it was unlikely that Wang, ‘as grandson of a chinese high official’, would advocate white supremacy. The further implication must have been that Pound himself was not advocating white supremacy via a campaign for unadulterated wheatflour. What he would have meant, after all, could be traced back to canto 45—
with usura, sin against nature,
is thy bread ever more stale rags
is thy bread dry as paper
with no mountain wheat, no strong flour
Moreover, whatever Kasper and Wang were up to in the fall of 1957, Pound was writing (in canto 104), ‘Luigi in hill paths | chews wheat at sunrise | that grain his communion’, and affirming (in canto 106), ‘the gold light of wheat surging upward’, ‘The strength of men is in grain.’
By this time Pound was closing his letters with a red-ink seal, made for him by the sinologist William Hawley, and consisting of a transliteration of the sounds of ‘Pound’ into three ancient Chinese small seal characters which might be rendered as ‘preserve the form of active virtue’; or, combining Confucius and Richard of St Victor, as ‘keep the form of the love flowing from the heart’.
Visitors to Pound were liable to come away with conflicting impressions of the man himself. Folke Isaksson, a Swedish poet, who saw Pound twice in March 1957, wrote shortly afterwards to Dag Hammarskjöld—
I was troubled by his situation. What shocked me most was not so much the obvious appearance of degradation, the surroundings and the situation, as much as the very strength and dignity, and the health shown forth by Pound the human being, in that predicament. Simplicity, alertness and warmth—which felt like a gift.
But then in an article published in Sweden in 1958 he wrote that ‘when Pound was talking, the flow of his thoughts was broken, thus hard to catch…The old poet seemed like a puppet with half its strings, as if he himself were wandering about in his latest Cantos.’ Isaksson noticed that Pound made not a single comment on his situation, and that he acted like a free man, except that now and then his hands seemed to tell a different story. But the real prisoner, he thought, was Pound’s devoted wife, Dorothy.
John Wain, an English poet, novelist, and critic, visited Pound in August 1957 and, like Isaksson, came away ‘with an impression of Pound’s grandeur and dignity’ but also of his ‘paranoia and monomania’—
As he sat in a deckchair on the lawn, shirtless, revealing the muscular upper torso of a man twenty years his junior, and with his strange, sad little band of disciples listening carefully to every word, I felt like Edgar in the presence of Lear. ‘Conversation’ in the ordinary sense was not possible; Pound talked on and on, in connected sentences and with perfect logic and persuasiveness; but if anyone interrupted him with a question it simply threw the needle out of the groove, and he fell silent for a moment, passed his hand wearily over his eyes, and then went on talking from a different point, as if the needle had been dropped back at random. He seemed unconscious of the question except as an interruption.
Wain, on his single visit, may not have been aware that he was observing a routine performance, and that the Pound Show had been running for a decade. He could not see that Pound may have been as weary of it as he was committed to putting it on for every visitor taking him in as one of the not to be missed literary sights of the capital.
None of Pound’s dropping-by visitors would have seen him, as one ward attendant had, playing ‘Chess each evening with Jack Knight’, who had been an engineer; or fulfilling his ‘contract’ to give McNiel twelve games of chequers each week; or, again, humming and chanting in his room in the night. Even in the visiting hours there would always be elements of the scene left unmentioned or unnoticed. Reno Odlin, a frequent visitor between July 1957 and January 1958, remembered that ‘Jets kept taking off from a nearby Naval Air Station, their punctuation contributing doubtless to the jumpiness and discontinuity of the conversation. Not that one noticed any discontinuity until afterwards.’ Odlin too would come away with dissonant impressions. On one occasion,
A coloured inmate offered to wash my car. He was gently dissuaded, and encouraged to seek amusement elsewhere. Remembering the rage of the Radio Roma period, I could scarcely get over my shock at the tact and gentleness displayed.
Another of Odlin’s recollections throws a startling light upon the usual picture of the relations between Pound and devoted Dorothy:
Another day, in the back seat of my car (with the New Year, his thirteenth in captivity, he was allowed out to the Point, out of sight of the ward) he said: ‘Hell, I’m no anti-semite: [pointing to DP] she is’.
They rubbed along, with respect, affection, and absolutely no illusions. Her dislike for ‘that tiresome Paradiso’ is legendary.
My last day of all (very much en famille in the alcove) he recalled Olivia Shakepear’s words on his wedding-day: ‘I hope you are happy with Dorothy, she has a mean, narrow little soul’. Dorothy’s return thrust was delayed until he had finished the tale of her first, four-year-old’sencounter with Yeats, and her urgent question—‘Is that gentleman a clargymint?’ was the way Pound phrased it: with her immediate vigorous correction: ‘I didn’t say “gentleman”. I didn’t know there was any other kind—I hadn’t met you yet’.
Odlin refrained from mentioning that on other days in early 1958 it would be with Marcella Spann in her car that Pound would be sitting looking out at Washington from the Point.
But before we come to Miss Spann, what of Olga Rudge? The Accademia Chigiana was flourishing and she was being kept occupied with the arrangements for its distinguished visitors and the students. For its 25th anniversary in May 1956 Rubinstein came, and Zubin Mehta and Daniel Barenboim and Claudio Abbado; in 1957 there were Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and David Oistrakh and Joseph Szigeti. Olga had sought peace with Pound at the New Year, sending him a message, ‘Bear no grudge | to the Rudge’, but there had been no response. Pound was not disposed to repair the break. In August he wrote to their daughter,
Note from O, in serene mood. Has she got around to thinking of a possible modus to amity, without chains? I get on with a number of different people, but I am NOT going to climb into a box with ANYbody sittin’ on the lid…plenty of people have been divorced without recrimination or bitterness…
‘One does not want a keeper’, he ended, as if he hadn’t one already. In November he declared the break absolute: ‘I can NOT see her again. My nerves have stood a good deal, but it is separation, à l’amichevole, BUT clean cut.’
‘M’Amour, ma vie’
In April 1957 Marcella Spann, aged 24, was formally admitted to the course in ‘Ezrology’ at what she would call ‘the nation’s most unusual institution of higher learning’. The previous August she had graduated from East Texas State University with a BA in English and an M.Ed. in guidance and counselling. In graduate school she had followed Professor Vincent Miller’s thoroughly Poundian literature course and been introduced by him to Pound’s poetry. In early September, on her way to New York where she planned to spend a year out, wanting ‘to see something of the world other than Texas’, she had stopped off in Washington DC to visit the man himself. After that first meeting she wrote promising to ‘read all the books that you suggested’, and hoping that he would keep her informed ‘on all the books that educated people should know’. In New York, with his stimulus and guidance, she met people who talked about Pound and Chinese poetry and such things, and she went to museums and concerts ‘to develop appreciation’. Now in April she was back in Washington with enough money from having worked in New York as a secretary to spend three months at the Ezuversity. ‘Marcella an addition to the population,’ Pound remarked to Mary. Dorothy thought her ‘lovely, intelligent, and v. pleasant’. In the fall, so that she could continue to be ‘Pound’s most frequent visitor’, she would find work in Washington as Instructor in English at Marjorie Webster Junior College.
Her closest class-mates through the summer’s session, not all as regular in attendance, were David Horton, Sheri Martinelli, David Gordon, John Chatel who was working on his never-to-be-published novel ‘The Mind of Pierre Duval’, and Hollis Frampton who would become a leading avant-garde film-maker. In her retrospect it seemed not to have rained much that year, and the class had met mostly ‘on the green stretch of lawn attended by squirrels and blue jays, giant elms making a gentle shade’. Pound would read aloud from The Cantos and would not tell them what they were to understand. ‘Read the parts you like’, he would say, ‘The rest will come when you’re ready.’ On other matters too he would say, ‘Stick with what you know and build on that.’ That summer he also read to them the whole of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. And always he would be urging them to do something about the country’s ‘ILLITERACY’, meaning ‘a lack of awareness about money, especially the power to issue money’. Marcella felt that ‘he taught like a kind father’.
When faced in the fall with ‘the prospect of TEACHING 100 females six or 5 days a week’ she felt quite lost at first and wailed one afternoon on the lawn at St Elizabeths, ‘in a burst of tears’, that she ‘really didn’t know how to teach school’. Pound was sympathetic, indulging for a moment ‘the gloom that could gather in dark eyelashes’, then practical: she should make up a poetry anthology for her Junior College girls, that would at least take care of ‘whatto teach, and one had to start somewhere’. So the ‘Spannthology’ was conceived, or Confucius to Cummings. An Anthology of Poetry ‘edited by Ezra Pound and Marcella Spann’. It was to be a collaboration, though in truth Pound made the project very much his own, determining the selection of poems and translations, making new translations where needed, and providing the sparse notes and comments. He wrote at once to Laughlin to secure his interest in publishing the anthology; and he wrote to Cummings and Williams and other old friends whose poems he wanted to include. At the same time he immersed himself in her teaching, typing lesson plans timed to the hour, reading her students’ ‘themes’ and suggesting comments and grades, and advising on method, for example, start each lesson with a summary of the one before, like reading the minutes of the previous meeting. The first lesson was on ‘The Seafarer’, and that was the subject of the students’ first ‘theme’. The next lesson, according to Pound’s outline, was to recap on that, then tell them about Piers Plowman, a great poem of social criticism; ‘BUT the great landmark is the BRUT, by Layamon (spell him as they like)’. From Brut came Malory, some of Shakespeare, Tennyson’s Idylls, and now the recently published canto 91 (perhaps ‘needing a glossary’)—and the relevant section of that canto was to be read out and explained as a rendering of ‘race memory or…the soul’s memory of what it has passed through’. After that there should be 13 minutes left for Chaucer. One gathers from the selections and notes in the ‘Spannthology’ that Pound’s expansive idea of what could and should be taught to ‘the squawks’ (as they agreed to call Marcella’s juniors) had had to be severely pruned in the light of her experience in the classroom. Neither Brutnor canto 91 are represented in it.
By October Pound was writing to Marcella daily, even hourly, communicating what he was thinking and doing in a manner that was at once objective and intimate, drawing her into his life after visiting hours. This letter is from Tuesday 1 October—he will have been let back into the ward by Mr Newton, the chief warder, at 4.30 sharp, and is regretting his state of mind that afternoon and its effect on his conversation:
PREZICELY/ 4.50 Choozdy | having got mind onto Julia Domna* and ancient greek coinage | OUT of the hurley burley for constructive reason |
plus Mr Newton’s problem re/ Diyle and Doria ,
I git rattled and don’t come to focus | MY error. and VAST
Chatel’s tea still warm, but rather insipid.
J.D.* Unless I got muddled, the lydy got Philostratus to write life of Apollonius.
THE slowness of my head (bad as Chatel) when HEADed lickety split for something/ and the MO(or whatever)MEntUMM, preventing me from picking up…ANYthing not in direct line of trajectory !!!!! ugh!
ZAMatr of act/ hadn’t changed the calender to / inst.
AND yu ain’ got time now to play tennis/
wonder (5.17) if it is warm enough and if Evans will exist
Really shd/ NOT git entangled in minor agenda./…
6.13 NO competent animal life on tennis court/ AND mislaid Odlin’s
agendum AT that. 48 hour lag. till Toisdy/
As to whether brown bread and peaches CAN be considered adequate aid and comfort !! shd/ anyhow have mixed peaches with cottage cheese | a day of rush and MOmentum, rushing past the just bourne.
Better next time.
‘sero’/ Augustine . meaning too late.
Later he added by hand,
If you teach english I must stop fancy spelling in contagious correspondence & reserve curly cues for the outer world. Doyle instead of Dave H. confusing agenda. Will try to make Thurs less boiler factory.
Marcella regularly brought him cheese and other food—the peaches and cottage cheese were probably from her. On another occasion it was rye bread and a potent roquefort, which brought forth a Joycean explosion, ‘JHeez!’ Pound was not only regretting Marcella’s not having time for tennis now she was teaching school, but was beginning to miss her between visits and to mind her being ‘tied up with her damn SCHOOL/ at other side of district’. When she too resented the school’s demands on her time he took that to mean that she was struggling with her conscience over being forced to substitute ‘a lower activity for a higher’, the higher activity being apparently the cultivation of a ‘more luminous state of awareness’ on the lawn at ‘S. Liz’. You are ‘wasting the days of your youth in servitude due to econ pressure’, he told her, and ‘shd plan eZcape’.
He did what he could to create a refuge for her. One Wednesday morning, following a Tuesday when she had not made it to ‘S. Liz’, he began that day’s letter,
yes m’amour 6.46 a.m. ONE must INDubitably clear OUT Thursday, and leave a place where you can be QUIET after the clucks and the squawks and the cluckings and squawkings. It is extraordinary how LONG it takes me to think of the simplest things. Chatel and cattle/ O.K. I have told J.C. to come at 5.15 oggi IF the weather permits tennis and can clear him out of Toisdy/ etc. and putt the ODDment [Reno Odlin] on fried-day, et ceteraaaa , AND shorten ’em other days.
AND suspend boiler factory , et cetERa.
yester, a sqush. and fatigued with ole Coke. Tenny rate yu didn’t lose anything. Not the gt/ open spaces but a li’l tranquility needed.
Later, at 8.45, he added, ‘contemplatio, yes, produced…spiaggia, a few columns . spiaggia is a beach, some classic scenery’, and then at 10.19 this further explanatory note, ‘Must reconstruct Terracina and the Circeo/ as you don’t think Texas a suitable cite /and Brunnenburg too cold in winter’. He was apparently envisioning for her a sacred place in which her mind would be tranquil.
At the end of November he told Ingrid Davies that he had been ‘in dumps because of the cold weather’, but ‘Sheri and Marcella bring me back to life momentarily with sunshines of their so diverse presences’. Martinelli’s was a fading presence, however. Pound was fast becoming disillusioned. ‘Sheri…reportedly on water wagon for ten days’, he mentioned to Mary on 2 November. But beyond her getting foolishly drunk, as he would write later to justify his sending her away to Mexico, there was ‘the struggle to get the artist off heroin, and D’s anxiety lest I get legally encoiled in the dope racket’. And there was her mind, which ‘goes up as far as you can take it, and then DOWN to the bottom of the pozzo nero, with squalor and to a point that is not Rabelaisian but obscene’. And there was her way of ‘dumping the poubelle or ash can . 45 minutes tirade vs/ all acquaintance, before you could get up into higher air’. Even her painting, which could be ‘quattrocento’ as in the La Martinelli brochure, could also be ‘rubbish’. And in spite of being given ‘an allowance, about what I would have had to run on had I been out, and a hospital bill, and studio to paint in, rent sometimes more than of D’s flat’, she could not be relied on to turn up to save him from having to suffocate inside on the summer days when Dorothy needed a rest and he had to be notionally in the care of one or the other of them. And all this ‘in contrast to someone who goes into debt for a car so one cd/ get out of ward into air in bad weather’. That was Marcella who had acquired a blue Chevrolet in which they would sit that winter, ‘parked on the point, with his company, his food and drink, the whole of Washington D.C. in panorama below, the car heater running against the cold’.
Now it was Marcella who was figuring in the cantos he was drafting. He addressed her in one letter as ‘M’Amour, Artemis Queen of Ambracia’, and the line ‘in thy mind beauty, O Artemis’ became her recurrent motif as Pound wove her into Thrones and Drafts and Fragments as he had woven Sheri as ‘Sibylla’ and the rest into Rock-Drill. In canto 106 Artemis-Marcella is associated with Persephone, and with Circe who directed Odysseus to Persephone’s bower—Eleusinian motifs from cantos 17, 30, 39, and 47. Circe is recalled ‘coming from the house of smoothe stone’; Persephone is evoked as she was seen by the initiates at Eleusis, and in canto 81, as ‘unmasked eyes’ blazing with light, not to be probed. Then there is this new Eleusinian image of the returning abundance,
the gold light of wheat surging upward
But Persephone is seen now ‘in the cotton field’, as Marcella had worked picking cotton in Texas. This complex life-force, Circe-Persephone-Marcella, further incorporates Artemis or Diana who answers Brutus’ prayer for help (as in canto 91) by directing him to sail to Britain and found a new Troy there, thus connecting the Eleusinian mystery with the establishment of civic order—
Artemis out of Leto
Help me to neede
By Circeo, the stone eyes looking seaward
Nor could you enter her eyes by probing.
The temple shook with Apollo
As with leopards by mount’s edge,
light blazed behind her;
Gold light, in veined phylotaxis.
By hundred blue-gray over their rock-pool,
Or the king-wings in migration
And in thy mind beauty, O Artemis
Over asphodel, over broom-plant
faun’s ear a-level that blossom.
Yao and Shun ruled by jade.
Whuder ich maei lidhan
helpe me to neede
Near the canto’s close there is ‘God’s eye art ’ou’, Pound’s instigation not to surrender perception of the undying life in things. The final image is from the lawn at St Elizabeths as the light fades, ‘The sky is leaded with elm boughs’, as if one were in a sacred space.
It was an extraordinary vision for him to be constructing in his cell in that place. He was trying ‘to make a paradiso | terrestre’, ‘though it were in the halls of hell’. And Marcella was a vital element in the vision. The effort was for her, and with her—he was sharing his drafts and fragments with her as they came to him. And though we do not know what they talked of in her car through that fall and winter, we can be certain he told her what was on his mind. She was not his collaborator, yet she shared in the work in progress, if only as the catalyst which could bring his racked mind into focus so that he could see what he most needed to see and could write what he most needed to write. ‘He was happy for weeks’, Marcella would recall, when he had written ‘lines “fit for the goddess”’, such as those in canto 106.
Whatever else she had come to be for him, in enabling him to write his paradise she was meeting the deepest need of his being. When he began his letters to her with variants of ‘m’amour, ma vie’, he must have felt that, Artemis fashion, she had cut away the dead past and brought him newly alive. La Martinelli had enabled the breakthrough to Love in Rock-Drill, but then gone awry. Now Marcella was enabling him to resume the process of trying to make his paradiso, and that was what he lived for.
When out of his fit he could put this view of the matter rather ungallantly. An undated letter, probably of spring 1958, begins, ‘NO! (continuing the interrupted conversation)’, and goes on, ‘ov curse they’—meaning women, evidently—‘ought not to WORK. They shd/ adorn and go ornate’. After some rather scattered reflections upon the varieties of women, and a suggestion she bring her tennis shoes and give him a game, the weather being suitable, he added by hand,
9.42 The proper function of the female is to produce (or assist in producing) in the male a state of mind that will cause him to enjoy doing some thing useful OR interesting . if she wants to do more that is her affair.
His most enlightened idea of doing something really useful and interesting was, as it had always been, ‘to make cosmos’ in his cantos. Marcella appears to have been very happy to fulfil the role assigned to her in that process.
The St Elizabeths Cantos (2): ‘Thrones. 96–109 de los cantares’
George Kearns, in his expert guide, declared these fourteen cantos ‘largely ineffective as poetry’. Basil Bunting could pay generous tribute to the way ‘Thrones soars over what went before, the madrigal surface growing steadily more swift and lyrical’, and that may be true of the surface. Yet his earlier criticism, that the cantos ‘refer, but they do not present’, applies here far more than to what went before, and that is one reason why these cantos are indeed, at least for the common reader, ‘largely ineffective as poetry’.
Pound was not writing now for aesthetic effect. He had told Kathleen Raine that ‘after the age of forty, no man ought to give his first attention to the writing of verse’. And his St Elizabeths circle had heard him say, as Reno Odlin recorded, that his intentions in Thrones were ‘paideutic and anagogical’. That is, he was engaged in teaching a paideuma by leading the mind to perceive things anagogically. He had explained the latter term, when writing about Dante’s Paradiso in The Spirit of Romance, as the discovery of symbols ‘of mankind’s struggle upward out of ignorance into the clear light of philosophy’; and he had told his mother, ‘you might take it as leading up to a sense of things in general’. Now he was emphasizing the ‘EFFECT on the MIND’, meaning that the effect of his writing anagogically would be to involve the reader in that process. ‘The anagogic leads to unity’, he would re-affirm in his last years. In his Thrones then, from 1956 to 1958, he was writing with a philosophic agenda. He had disparaged as ‘blue china’ fit only for the mantle-shelf poetry not based on an understanding of civic life, and Thrones opens with a variation upon that—‘Aestheticisme comme politique d’église, hardly religion.’ In 105 he will cite Anselm, ‘via mind is the nearest you’ll get to it’, i.e. to a true image of the cosmos.
These cantos look and sound much like those preceding. On their surface, as Bunting remarked, they grow steadily more swift and lyrical, and one hears the characteristic rhythm of Pound’s verse. Each line is a taut unit, and the lines flow ‘in the sequence of the musical phrase’. But all that is secondary. The writing is not, as it had been up to The Pisan Cantos, a composition of immediately luminous and intelligible details, but rather a composition of anagogical symbols which at times becomes a form of verbal algebra. We might think of it, by analogy with meta-physics, as a kind of metapoetry.
For the light to shine through these ‘diafana’, as they are named at the start of 96, the reader needs to know in advance a good deal more about their sources than Pound presents. He teaches on the assumption that the well-prepared student is already familiar with the text and will be able to follow him as he leafs through it, translating a detail here and another there, and throwing in the occasional comment and aside. Here he is going through Paul the Deacon’s Latin history of the Lombards, written before 800, and printed in volume 95 of Migne’s Patrologia—
Martel father of Pippin,
Pippin of Charlemagne,
Alpaide’s son, one of ’em, not Plectrude’s
empty grave outside San Zeno, to the right as you face it.
another bloke in Milano, ‘seven Cardinals attended his funeral,’
apud Pictavium, Aquitaine, Narbonne and Proença.
Martel, that would be in the ‘thirties’
As it happens the empty grave, as Terrell’s note informs us, is not in the source. In Pound’s mind, according to David Gordon, it somehow rhymed with ‘Y Yin sent the young king into seclusion’ (85/546)—near the grave of Confucius, that may have been; and the other ‘bloke in Milano’ was apparently Mussolini, for reasons to do with his being buried in the family vault only in August 1957. How would one guess any of that; and having been told, what is one to make of it? The line of place names refers, we may need to be informed, to ‘two battles Charles Martel fought against the Saracens’ across in Gaul. After half a dozen such pages the reader is assured, ‘we are getting to the crux of one matter’, only to be confronted by a block of Latin from ‘col.1060, The Deacon, Migne’s Patrologia’; and, ‘to fully grasp the importance of this’, Wilhelm advises, ‘one must read Alexander Del Mar’s History of Monetary Systems’, where one may learn that the crux of the matter is that Justinian, as emperor of Byzantium, preserved his sovereignty by asserting his right to issue the currency. (On the other hand there is the view that he may have been doing wrong to Habdimelich, who was trying to maintain local control of local purchasing power, a thoroughly Poundian principle.) One will have to read Del Mar again to make anything of canto 97, which consists almost entirely of fragments from his writings and is scarcely intelligible without constant reference to his work.
At the end of his chapter of commentary on the first half of canto 96 Wilhelm, having filled in what Pound leaves out, sums up its half-dozen pages as ‘a tale told by many idiots with half-remembered, half-pieced-together details—all of them suspect’. ‘But’, he adds, making the best of it, ‘the quest, dark and questionable as it may be, is important because it leads to the City of Light’, by which he means Byzantium. That would mean that the ignorant reader has been required to struggle through those opaque fragments of a murky and often violent and benighted era as the approach to enlightenment. And certainly the struggling reader will at least have registered the absence of any settled order. Early on there is Cunimundus ‘inviting his wife to drink from her father’s skull’, while ‘Tiberius Constantine was distributist’, and Rothar ‘got some laws written down’ though ‘touched with the Aryan heresy’. Justinian’s regulations provoke the money sellers into thinking about bumping him off. ‘Under Antoninus’ there was a remarkable ‘23 years without war’. Altogether, Fortune rules in a dark age—‘all under the Moon is under Fortuna’, that is, all that is not formed by the light from heaven.
The latter half of the canto presents evidence of the light that was in Byzantium. But there is no Yeatsian celebration of its mosaics, and Hagia Sophia gets only an incidental mention. The source here is the book of regulations for the crafts and trades and markets of Byzantium. It is noted that ‘the idea of just price is somewhere, | the haggling somewhere’. The price of bread and the bakers’ margin of profit is set down, as are their hours, ‘and that they take due care against fire’. There are regulations for the wine-sellers and their measures, and a punishment for false measures. And so it goes on, with regulations for the perfumers, the grocers, the candle-makers, the builders, the notaries and tabularies—the latter needing to have ‘perfect style’ without which ‘might not notice punctuation and phrases | that alter the sense’; and the silversmiths and the goldsmiths; and the bankers who are commanded ‘not to file coins | nor make false ones’, and ‘If they do not notify counterfeits that come in | and from whom | shall be flogged, shaved and exiled’. The detail is perhaps excessive, though it does provide the balancing counterweight to the first half of the canto. And the point does bear some emphasis: this is the ground of Byzantine culture, the evidence that its enlightenment goes right down into the detail of its economy and daily life. Yeats and Wyndham Lewis and Eliot, ignoring this economic basis, ‘had no ground beneath ’em’, while ‘Orage had’.
As he works through The Eparch’s Book Pound’s commentary pays special attention to its language, noting particularly the refinements and precisions of its Greek. The effect is to foreground the common language as the necessary instrument of intelligent government. Indeed nothing else to do with the government of Byzantium is mentioned—it is as if all depended upon finding the right words. Canto 98 similarly emphasizes the civic function of language. Its source is The Sacred Edict (1670) of Emperor K’ang-hsi, in the version written ‘in the language of the people’ by the Salt Commissioner Wang Iu-p’uh.
Canto 99 will present a digest of that commentary, but first Pound involves the reader in his study of Wang’s ideograms. ‘Get a dictionary | and learn the meaning of words’, he urges (echoing Ford); and he observes at one point, ‘The text is somewhat exigeant, perhaps you will consider the meaning of /cheng 正 | king | From Kung’s porch 門 mên3.’ Here the dictionary gives ‘upright or constant classics’ for cheng king. However, Terrell notes, ‘Authorities differ about the meaning of these two characters in the Chinese classics,’ and suggests that Pound ‘invites the reader to consider the terms from Kung’s point of view’. John Cayley, perhaps doing that, remarks that ‘the image is of correctly aligned warp threads; here the warp of tradition and orthodoxy’. Thus the qualified student may be led into the deep structures of Confucian morality.
There are some fine inventions in Pound’s translation, as when he finds in the ideograms ‘Earth and water dye the wind in your valley |…| that his feelings have the colour of nature’; or again when in hsien ming, which connect the clear light of intelligence with the light from the sun, he finds ‘the silk cords of the sunlight, | Chords of the sunlight (Pitagora)’. For the most part however, and more especially in the lengthy moralizing of canto 99, Pound cultivates a simple and direct language ‘of the people’ in keeping with the Salt Commissioner’s intention. The History Classic, the source of cantos 52–61, was a book for the ruling class; now the entire population was to be instructed in the Confucian paideuma. Thus for education,
have masters in village schools
To teach ’em classics not hog-wash
And if your kids don’t study, that’s your fault.
Dress ’em in folderols
and feed ’em with dainties,
In the end they will sell out the homestead.
The canto goes on at what may seem excessive length with such snippets of the Edict’s traditional morality. It is all very worthy and humane, but mostly at the level of a quiet village life. ‘One village in order, | one valley will reach the four seas,’ it proposes, aiming no further than the well-behaved family in the well-ordered village. There is no Odysseus to venture forth upon those seas, and no divinity in them. For the common people all is to be practical good sense, dutiful respect, and plain living. ‘Order’ is the key word, order in the family, order in the village, and thus order in the state.
Yet from this communal wisdom, which did after all hold China together for a few thousand years, and from the Eparch’s regulations for Byzantium’s marketplace, Pound is constructing the thrones of his paradiso terrestre. Evidently some further adjustment to the reader’s preconceptions about paradise may be required. Pound’s is a paradiso terrestre with the emphasis upon the terrestrial, which means too that it exists in time. It will be then forever a work in progress, like Wagadu. One might call it a long-term project, extending throughout history; and a global project, comprehending diverse cultures and traditions. It would be a paradise for the whole people, and of the whole people, universal though constructed by the enlightened few. And those few, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, Confucius, and the others, now have their thrones not on account of their personal enlightenment, but because that enlightenment has made a positive difference to the daily lives of their people.
The following five cantos, 100 to 104, are altogether concerned with the struggle to achieve any kind of civilized order in public affairs, more particularly in France under and after Napoleon. Relatively brief and scherzo-like, they present a rapid succession of brief quotations, allusions, references, and comments, playing off one thing against another in swift discriminations and perceptions of relations. Canto 100 begins—
‘Has packed the Supreme Court
so they will declare anything he does constitutional.’
Senator Wheeler, 1939.
—and some Habsburg ploughed his imperial furrow
Not that never should, but if exceeding and
no one protest,
will lose all your liberties.
The contrast between the behaviours of President Roosevelt and the Habsburg emperor is clear, and thematically important for the whole set of cantos; but the third item can baffle readers who don’t recognize it as an abbreviation of Pound’s own protest against Roosevelt’s exceeding his powers.
The rapid and often dissonant to and fro of the better and the worse behaviours of responsible and irresponsible citizens and governors goes on throughout this set of cantos over a ground note of natural harmonies, as in ‘From ploughing of fields is justice’, and, more generally, ‘Eu zoOn’, which implies there that right living consists in working with the abundance of nature. This note can sound in an isolated observation, as ‘Shingled flakes on a moth’s wing’, or the repeat of ‘“Earth and water dye the air in your valley.”’ In 101 it becomes a distinct theme in images drawn from the landscapes of ‘Chalais, Aubeterre’ and the Na Khi, and in that form is present again in 102. One misses it in 103, where right living is not prevalent; but 104 takes it up again—
Na Khi talk made out of wind noise,
And North Khi, not to be heard amid sounds of the forest
but to fit in with them
Then there is the Na Khi ritual invocation of the life-force—
no glow such as of pine-needles burning
Without 2muan 1bpo
Wind over snow-slope agitante
So the wind that makes the lit pine-needles glow is perceived as one with the divinity whose stirring within us sets us, ‘we others’, on fire. This canto is much concerned with communication and communion, especially, as in the Ling2 ideogram, with communications between ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’, and then also with disconnections. Thus ‘Luigi in hill paths | chews wheat at sunrise, | that grain his communion’; but the Portuguese colonizers were ‘No sooner in Goa | than they started uprooting spice trees’, to establish a monopoly, ‘a common practice in business’—theirs ‘a blindness that comes from inside’.
In 104 intelligence is primarily from the senses, with the warning, ‘who try to use the mind for the senses | drive screws with a hammer’. In 105 there is the complementary recognition, ‘via mind is the nearest you’ll get to it’. That paraphrases Anselm (c.1034–1109), an Italian by birth, a Benedictine monk in France, a theologian who would ground faith in reason, and in his later years, from 1093, archbishop of Canterbury and defender of the English Church’s rights against the encroachments of King Rufus. Anselm features in the canto as a rational theologian, a man of practical insight, and a defender of liberties; and on the latter account, in Pound’s view, a forefounder of Magna Carta.
At the end of the canto there is this summary history of the times before Anselm—
For a thousand years savages against maniacs
and vice versa.
Alfred sorted out hundreds, tithings,
They probably murdered Erigena,
Athelstan gon yilden rere, after 925
Aunt Ethelfled had been literate,
Canute for alleviation of Alp tolls
Gerbert at the astrolable
better than Ptolemy,
A tenth tithe and circet of corn.
There is a jump then to the people in his own moment whom he can regard as ‘responsible for something more than their personal conduct’—
With a Crommelyn at the breech-block
or a del Valle,
This is what the swine haven’t got
That may be, and yet the swine with their villainy remain in the mind no less than those who parade as Defenders of the Constitution. ‘One is held up by the low percentage of reason which seems to operate in human affairs,’ Pound would tell Donald Hall. And that is the moral of his history, and of the preceding cantos. There are individuals ‘who have some part of the divine vision’ and who make a difference in human affairs—just there he thinks of Alfred, Erigena, Athelstan, and will note in the closing lines Anselm’s contribution to Cavalcanti. But always there is the opposition of the unenlightened, always the struggle to conceive and to create a better order in human affairs, and always the resurgent darkness. Villon too, he notes in the last line, should have read Anselm’s Proslogion in his time at the university of Paris, but in his case you wouldn’t know it from his life and work.
Looking back over the previous cantos, back to 100, it becomes apparent that they present the states of mind of a person subjected to the ordinary condition of human affairs. It is a mind with an extraordinary range of reference, able to touch it would seem on all times and traditions. And while it can discover no fixed order, only endless change under Fortuna, so it is itself unfixed, ‘as Ixion unstill, ever turning’, even as it goes on questing after a possible order.
Canto 106 takes up the theme of the order that is in and from natural process. It begins, as Terrell’s Companion observes, with ‘a sort of subject-response incantation between the Eleusinian mystery rites and the oriental wisdom that climaxed in Neoconfucianism, or “between Kung and Eleusis”.’ The Eleusinian vision of the sustaining source of civil life is the ‘subject’, with Demeter-Persephone associated also with Circe and Artemis, and also Athene. The ‘response’ to the evocation of Persephone in the autumn rite, as ‘Dis’ bride, Queen over Phlegethon’, is the statement, ‘The strength of men is in grain.’ That comes from an early Chinese work by Kuan Chung which taught the primacy and the principles of agriculture and became a major source for Confucian thought—hence ‘How to govern is from the time of Kuan Chung.’ But there is the qualification, Master Kuan ‘could guide you in some things, but not hither’, not to the vision of Demeter and Persephone. ‘Kung is the outer or public doctrine,’ Pound wrote in a note to Denis Goacher, but ‘we must keep an inner doctrine (of light)’. Here the divine light is manifest in ‘the gold light of wheat surging upward | ungathered’. There is the same ‘Gold light, in veined phyllotaxis’; in monarch butterflies, ‘king-wings in migration’; and in the flowers of asphodel, broom, marsh-marigold (‘caltha palistris’), gorse, and no doubt too in the orchid ‘herys arachnites’. In the seeing mind, in ‘God’s eye’, this is ‘That great acorn of light bulging outward’. This image of fertile light touches on the mystery which was never to be spoken of by the initiates at Eleusis, and which is only glanced at here, in the notice of Circe, daughter of the sun, who in earlier cantos initiated Odysseus into the sacred rites of the life-process. The emphasis now is on perceiving the goddess in her several forms, invoking her aid, and honouring her. A further distinction is that the canto presents an immediate perception of the light of life in its action, and not the idea of it as in Erigena and Richard of St Victor, important as that has been in the poem’s own progress. Again we have cause to reflect that its paradise is made of enlightenment in action, even at the most simple level. Thus Luigi’s ‘grain rite’, his chewing wheat at sunrise in the hill path, is the needed completion of ‘Kung’ by ‘Eleusis’.
The final three cantos, 107–9, are drawn from The Second Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England, and more especially from the seventy-seven pages in which Sir Edward Coke (1552–1634), who had served as Lord Chief Justice of England, analysed and commented upon the Magna Carta of 1225 in such a way as to make it pertinent to his own times. The barons had forced the king to grant the rights they claimed, and now it was the turn of the Commons to assert their liberties against the arbitrary powers claimed by James I and his son Charles I. Coke’s part was to set common law against the royal prerogative. For his pains he was dismissed from public office, and imprisoned for a time on a charge of treason. Charles so feared him that he prevented publication of his Second Institutes in 1628, and the work appeared posthumously in 1642 ‘by Order of the House of Commons’. Coke’s commentaries on the law, with their upholding of the rights and liberties of each and every person in society, not only helped bring on the English Revolution, but subsequently informed the thinking of John Adams and helped bring about the American Revolution. In Thrones, Coke, as the enlightened upholder of the common law which formed the effective constitution of England, and informed the declared Constitution of the United States, completes the progression from virtually lawless Lombardy, through the Eparch’s regulations in Byzantium, and the highly developed sense of social order in Confucian China, to the most advanced concept and practice of law achieved in Pound’s own tradition.
That at least is the idea of the Coke cantos. But the experience of them is something else, and the reader may be left feeling that in this case Pound might well confess, ‘my notes do not cohere’. There is a quite dazzling meta-reading by David Gordon in which he has Pound revealing ‘a migration of the real powers of government and central taxation…from the king and nobles to the whole people of the realm’; and further, ‘Upon the thirteenth century palimpsest of struggle for human rights is written a seventeenth century struggle for virtually the same rights, and herein Pound has interlarded the life, and luminous comments of Coke in order to heighten the effect of the permanence of these human rights.’ But then we must come down to the text, and to this opening of canto 107:
The azalea is grown while we sleep
Coke. Inst. 2.
to all cathedral churches to be
read 4 times in the yeare
that is certainty
mother and nurse of repose
he that holdeth by castle-guard
pays no scutage
And speaking of clarity
Milite, Coke, Edwardus
‘that light which was Sigier’
…of Berengar his heirs was this Eleanor
all the land stored with ploughs, & shall be at the least as he received it
quod custod’…vendi no debent
So that Dante’s view is quite natural;
(Tenth, Paradiso, nel Sole)
non per color, ma per lume parvente
‘Selinunt[e]’ and ‘Akagras’, the latter the old name of Agrigento, are cities in Sicily, and Gordon’s gloss is that ‘The Sicilian rose of Ciulio D’Alcamo has grown into the English azalea…reminding us that the legislative ability of Frederick II was known in the England of Henry III.’ That ‘reminder’ might be taking rather a lot for granted. ‘Coke, Inst. 2’ indicates Pound’s source; ‘20.H.3’ gives, in the style of Coke’s references, the year in which Henry III ratified Magna Carta, the twentieth of his reign; that the charter was to be read ‘to all cathedral churches’ is from Coke’s ‘Proeme’; and the lines ‘certainty | mother and nurse of repose’ is his comment at the end of the ‘Proeme’. The note about not paying ‘scutage’, from the second chapter of the commentary, is presumably an instance of the reposeful certainty. Coke is named on the title page of his Second Institutes as ‘Authore Edwardo Coke, Milite, J.C.’. Sigier is a light in the sun of Dante’s Paradiso x, from which the last line above is quoted. We may gather from Gordon that in the university of Paris he maintained against Aquinas that theology should not have authority over natural philosophy, and that thus he ‘rhymes’ with Coke’s standing for common law against divine right. At the same time the allusion elevates Coke to stand with Sigier as a light in paradise. Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III, was the daughter of Berengar, Count of Provence—the implication would be that the Provençal ethic had entered into the great charter, and so led to the sense of equity in its provision that
The keeper, so long as he hath the custody of the land of such an heir, shall keep up the houses, parks, warrens, ponds, mills, and other things pertaining to the same land, with the issues of the said land; and he shall deliver to the heir, when he cometh to his full age, all his land stored with ploughs, and all other things, at the least as he received it. All these things shall be observed in the custodies of archbishopricks, bishopricks, abbeys, priories, churches, and dignities vacant, which appertain to us; except this, that such custody shall not be sold. [In the parallel Latin text, except’ quod custod’ hujusmodi vendi non debent.]
One can get drawn into Coke: ‘That this was the common law appeareth by Glanvile, who saith’, and there follows the quotation in Latin. Over the page he tells a racy tale of one Ranulph, chaplain to King William Rufus, who offended most grievously against this law, and was committed by King Henry ‘to prison for his intolerable misdeeds, and injuries to the church, where he lived without love, and died without pity, saving of those that thought it pity, he lived so long’. But this is distraction from what Pound is making of Coke.
One can discern, with the aid of Gordon, and by referring to Coke’s text and to Dante’s, that Pound’s notes do cohere. He was not grabbing fragments at random, nor attaching to them any loose association that came into his head. But to the common reader the sense that is there will be more or less impenetrable. One more example—
Owse, Wherfe, Nid, Derwent,
Swale, Yore & Tine
A reader may take pleasure in finding these rivers of Yorkshire and Northumberland named in a canto, but to what purpose? Coke names them in connection with the regulation of salmon fishing, and Gordon comments, ‘man’s efforts to synchronize with nature’s cycles such as the spawning of salmon (“Owse, Wherfe”) then becomes the pattern of his ethical, and ergo civic achievements; his directio voluntatis becomes the directio naturae.’ That is very fine, but it is as it were in the cloud, not in the writing.
Pound began drafting a Coke canto in October 1957. At that point he had not actually read any of his work. As he told Moelwyn Merchant, a Welsh academic who visited him and who was just then reading around Shakespeare and looking into Coke in the Folger Library, he was ‘IGNORANT of Coke’ and knew him ‘only in J. Adams reference until 30 October 1957’. In mid-September he had drawn up a list of ‘various items raised in Adams cantos’ as a possible exposition of ‘COKE on PRINCIPLES’. Then on October 31 he told John Theobald, ‘G. Giov. brot 2nd Institutes yester, and I only got the full sense of clarity an hour or two ago.’ Two days later he wrote to Mary, ‘Coke “Institutes” nearest thing to Confucius in english, necessary, complementary, touches point Kung doesn’t’. He ended this letter, ‘Much better mind than Blackstone, a lecturer, Coke, Atty/General. like Kung, practice of high office, de-eggheads ’em. 72 years to get to him, exactly when needed fer Canto 107 or wotever. or 108. Parad. X’. His poetry notebooks show that he was making notes from Coke’s Institutes before 8 November, and that from that day he filled an entire notebook with notes and drafts for all three Coke cantos. It seems likely that he had them all in draft by 28 December. As Merchant observed, there was no time ‘for the digestion and assimilation of the vast quantities of matter in the Coke texts’. But then he was not too hastily composing a digest of Coke on Magna Carta, but piecing together a mosaic of fragments illustrative of his principles, and of the universal principles of equity and justice. The trouble is that Coke’s mind is thus reduced to fragments, while the fragments, when detached from their own context, can become opaque if still colourful, so that (to change the metaphor) what Pound sees in them does not shine through.
Whatever else is to be said of Thrones one thing does shine out: that in the months when the US government couldn’t make up its mind about what to do with this notorious fascist, the poet himself was absorbed in his epic subject of the struggle for individual rights and responsibilities, and for civic justice, with a profound commitment to a natural humane order that would be radically opposed to what the term ‘fascist’ stood for then and stands for now.
MacLeish gets his ‘nol pros’
Officially, there had been no change in Pound’s mental condition since the report to the Department of Justice in 1953—indeed there had been no ‘substantial change…during his more than eleven years of hospitalization’, or so Dr Overholser informed the Assistant Director of the Bureau of Prisons in March 1957. ‘In our opinion’, he therefore wrote, ‘he is still mentally incompetent to stand trial or to consult with counsel.’ There was a new diagnosis, even vaguer than the one before: ‘Psychotic Disorder, Undifferentiated’. But the ‘symptoms’ were still the same: ‘professes more or less continual fatigue’, ‘supercilious and critical attitude’, ‘decidedly egocentric’. ‘He has been doing some writing,’ Overholser conceded.
Thurman Arnold would later remove the obfuscation. The fundamental difficulty for all concerned, for the psychiatrists as for Laughlin and Cornell, had all along been that if he were to be tried Pound would insist ‘on testifying that America’s entry into the war was a conspiracy between Roosevelt and the Jews and that in opposing such a war over the Italian Broadcasting system he was saving our Constitution’. That could not be allowed, because
From the point of view of the philosophical morality of our judicial system, it would have been an injustice to Pound to try him until psychological therapy had cured him of those delusions so that he would not have insisted on testifying against himself.
In short, as the psychiatrists had virtually testified in 1946, Pound was guilty of wrong ideas, and had to be insane not to see that. Indeed, he must have been insane to broadcast them. And if, after his eleven and more years of Elizabethan therapy, he still held the same ideas then he must be incurably insane.
It could follow that he would still be classified as insane even if MacLeish’s efforts to have the indictment dropped were to succeed. In England, A. V. Moore, Dorothy Pound’s confidential adviser, and T. S. Eliot were considering the options. Moore put it to Cornell, would a successful habeas corpus application ‘clear Mr. Pound of mental incapacity?’ He was concerned that if it did, ‘the Indictment could immediately be proceeded with, and it is quite true that Mr. Pound could not stand any more legal proceedings’—so it would be best, apparently, for him not to be cleared of mental incapacity. There were other worries. He doubted ‘whether Mr. Pound would be given the freedom he desires, and probably he would not be permitted to leave the United States’. And then ‘Mrs. Pound has always the anxiety that if her husband should be released she would find the cost of his future maintenance in the U.S. too much to bear alone, and also that she does not think it practicable to get herself involved in any further legal entanglements and heavy expenses.’
Moore sent a copy of that letter to Eliot, and Cornell sent Eliot copies of his letters to Moore. ‘Taking everything into account’, Eliot told Moore, ‘If Pound is to continue to be certified as insane, I see no advantage for him or Mrs. Pound in his release from St. Elizabeth’s’. There was the ‘probability’ that he would never be granted a passport to go to Italy; and Mrs Pound had always given him to understand that they would not be able to afford a private sanatorium in America. The best to be hoped for, therefore, was that ‘Pound would still be detained in St. Elizabeth’s, but only as a lunatic and not as a man under an Indictment.’ About even that though, ‘MacLeish in his last letter to me was very depressed’, on account of the Kasper business, and because ‘the Attorney-General might fear that the spectre of Ezra’s anti-Semitism might rise again to plague him’.
Graham Greene was appalled by the attitude that Pound was probably happier where he was, and told Ronald Duncan, ‘You can use my name certainly for what it’s worth in any protest you make about Ezra Pound’s detention.’ A petition signed by Greene and Cocteau and Stravinsky was sent to the Attorney General, with no evident effect. The United States government, in its imperial pomp, could afford to file away petitions from foreign artists however distinguished their names. As Americans, Eliot and MacLeish knew that only an American initiative would have weight; and even then it would have to be a government insider who made the difference. MacLeish, a Democrat and therefore an outsider to the Republicans of the Eisenhower administration, needed Robert Frost as his front man.
Frost was in good standing with the administration. Assistant Attorney General Rogers, MacLeish knew, regarded him ‘as a fellow Republican which he very nearly is, being a [Grover] Cleveland Democrat as he puts it’. And Secretary of State John Foster Dulles thought him just the man, as ‘a prominent literary figure’ and ‘distinguished representative of the American cultural scene’, to undertake a ‘good-will’ mission to Great Britain in the spring of 1957. There Frost was to be honoured by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. He was in London in April and early May, staying at the luxurious Connaught Hotel in Mayfair close by the American Embassy. MacLeish, who had been travelling in Europe, made a point of catching up with him there and bringing in Eliot to discuss strategy. Frost said then that he was willing to go to Washington to take up Rogers’s offer to discuss the Pound case. In mid-June, when they were both back in America, MacLeish wrote prompting him to do that without delay, and Frost wrote back,
My purpose holds to help you to get Ezra loose though I won’t say my misgivings in the whole matter haven’t been increased by my talks with Eliot lately, who knows more about Ezra than anybody else and what we can hope to do for his salvation. I should hate to see Ezra die ignominiously in that wretched place where he is for a crime which if proven couldn’t have kept him all these years in prison. So you go ahead and make an appointment with the Department of Justice.
Frost did not like Pound or his poetry—‘Neither you nor I would want to take him into our family or even into our neighbourhood,’ he couldn’t help adding. His misgivings made him see it as altogether a ‘bad business’, but he would go through with it.
MacLeish arranged the meeting with Rogers for 19 July, and offered to accompany Frost. He also asked Eliot and Hemingway to provide Frost with written statements of their views so that he would go ‘fully armed’ into the meeting.
Hemingway wrote at length, that he could never regard Pound’s broadcasts ‘as anything but treasonable’, but he must have been ‘of unsound mind’ to have made them, and he was never a dangerous traitor, his influence ‘no more than that of a crackpot’; and then, ‘as one of our greatest living poets with an international reputation’, he ‘should be extended a measure of understanding and mercy’. ‘It may be’, he acknowledged, ‘that the Department of Justice will feel that to nol pros the indictment against Pound would be a very unpopular move because of his antisemitism, race-ism and his crack-pot views and contacts’—and he himself detested ‘Pound’s politics, his anti-semitism and his race-ism’. Nevertheless, he truly felt ‘it would do more harm to our country for Pound to die in confinement, than for him to be freed and sent to live with his daughter in Italy’. He ‘would be glad to contribute fifteen hundred dollars toward getting him settled with his daughter’. MacLeish had told him that Mary had said, when she talked with him at Sirmione in April, that she was eager to care for her father at Brunnenburg.
A day or so after the meeting with Rogers MacLeish reported the outcome to Hemingway and to Pound. The Department of Justice could be willing to drop the indictment, if there were a sound plan for taking care of Pound outside St Elizabeths, but only after ‘the Kasper stink has blown over’. Until then the Department would not move. The suggestion that he should be sent to Italy ‘to live with his natural daughter’ was considered to be not ‘a sound plan because it would provide a “story” for the papers and because it is feared that there may be—are—people in Italy who would like to make use of him, get him talking’. Frost and MacLeish were inclined to agree, and expected Hemingway to agree, that in spite of Pound’s wanting to go there, Italy should be out of the question because of what he might say there. If he were to be freed, he was told, his ‘future would have to be in the United States’. And Frost had an idea that the necessary plan for his care could be ‘a sound professional arrangement with your publishers’, such as had worked for himself over many years. The Department of Justice would make no commitments, ‘but the door wasn’t closed’, and MacLeish and Frost had come away, ‘on balance, encouraged’ and ‘a little more hopeful’ than they had feared. Evidently the issue was no longer a matter of law, but of political expediency. It was to be decided not on the basis of justice or of mercy, but on fears of what Pound might say and who he might associate with, on calculations about how his release might play with media commentators such as Walter Winchell and with the voting public, and on what it might do for the reputation and influence of the United States abroad.
MacLeish thought Pound should know that ‘Somebody has spread the rumour at the Department of Justice…that you and your wife would really prefer to stay on at St. Elizabeths.’ He assumed this was false, but ‘your wife ought to make that clear to the Department’. Pound thanked him ‘for yr/ noble efforts’, and exploded, ‘It is damned nonsense to say that either I or D.P. prefer me to stay in St Eliza.’ At the same time, ‘I have said that there are more IMPORTANT issues than my getting out. I wd/ rather see an honest system of money.’ Upon further reflection he wrote to Mary,
It wd/ however be timely to note resurgence of smear to effect that I don’t WANT to get out. This time it might be from people who don’t want me to get to Italy. Idea I might be let out IF confined to the U.S. // Other line was that I cd/ get out if I would LEAVE the country. Can’t please ’em all.
MacLeish passed on to Frost his impression that Pound was not disturbed ‘about not being able to go to Italy’, but was infuriated by the rumour that he did not want to leave St Elizabeths. Pound had mentioned that he had ‘offers of housing’—one of these was from Frank Lloyd Wright, to come and live with him in the house he had designed near Phoenix, Arizona. Eliot, apparently thinking him ‘nuttier than he is’, was now anxious that ‘the doctors might let Ezra go off and live somewhere down south with nobody but his wife etc. to look out for him’. ‘Does Eliot strike you as a bit timid?’, MacLeish asked.
In August and September there were significant developments quite apart from MacLeish’s discreet campaign. On 13 August Senator Richard L. Neuberger of Oregon requested the Library of Congress to provide ‘as much information as is available on the literary, political, legal and medical status of Mr. Pound’, and H. A. Sieber, a research assistant in the Legislative Reference Service, was set to work to prepare a report. The completed report would bear the date ‘March 31, 1958’, and be subsequently updated to 18 April. In an independent initiative, Representative Usher L. Burdick of North Dakota introduced in the House on 21 August a resolution which began,
Whereas Ezra Pound has been incarcerated in Saint Elizabeths Hospital for the past twelve years on the assumption that he is insane; and
Whereas many people visit him there and are convinced that he is not insane: Therefore be it
Resolved, That the Committee on the Judiciary, acting as a whole or by subcommittee, is authorized and directed to conduct a full and complete investigation and study of the sanity of Ezra Pound, in order to determine whether there is justification for his continued incarceration in Saint Elizabeths Hospital.
Burdick’s resolution was not acted upon. Instead, independently he would say, he made the same request as Senator Neuberger to the Library of Congress, and became party to Sieber’s report which he would read into the Congressional Record in late April and early May of 1958.
In September Arnold Gingrich’s Esquire published a sympathetic article by Richard Rovere, suggesting, as Pound read it, that ‘its is time to spring grampaw’; and letters appeared in the following number from, among others, Marianne Moore, Van Wyck Brooks, William Carlos Williams, and John Dos Passos, all to the effect that he should be released. The American Civil Liberties Union also responded, saying that they had been concerned for a number of years over Pound’s continued confinement, and had ‘repeatedly offered our support for a possible legal challenge’. In fact the ACLU had carefully kept its powder dry, and there was reason to think they were more interested in ‘the larger legal problem his confinement represents’ than in his particular case. Their letter on this occasion was lukewarm in its willingness ‘to cooperate in a court test of his continued confinement with anyone who is in a legal position’ to assume responsibility for the special care he might need. Unless there were such a person, they opined, ‘it would be a cruel thing to turn him out of “the sanctuary of St. Elizabeths”’.
About this time Harry Meacham, an energetic executive of Dun and Bradstreet, the mercantile agency, who was also active in the Poetry Society of Virginia and in other arts organizations, was moved by MacLeish’s ‘eloquent passage’ about the horror of Pound’s incarceration to mount his own campaign to get him out. His idea was to run ‘a letter-writing drive, by “prominent people known to be favourably disposed to Pound’s release”, and aimed at the office of the Attorney General and members of Congress’. He discussed this with Pound on one his visits, and Pound at once gave him lists of people to contact, together with suggestions of what they might say on his behalf. Meacham advised against ‘complaining of particular lies and slanders’, and Pound agreed, but wanted it said that he had used the microphone to continue his ‘19 years of effort against encroachment ON liberty’. At the same time he was less concerned with the past than with the present and the immediate future. In the same letter of ‘24 Sep 57’ he wrote, ‘On quite another line, it probably has not occurred to you that I am not raging to get back to Italy’, and he proceeded to put out a feeler towards the University of Virginia, founded by Thomas Jefferson, where ‘I wd/ be interested to carry on the job T. J. intended. i.e. he was interested in civilization’. ‘Of course, I am not out of the bughouse yet,’ he recognized—but he evidently was beginning to think of a life outside. Later that day he wrote again,
Re/ one of yr/ questions, I don’t see that it is anyone’s damn business WHAT I wd/ do IF I got out.
It is unConfucian to make plans for circumstances that cannot be calculated.
It would depend on HOW I got out.
As I always spoke as an american, FOR the constitution, etc. it wd/ be a joke of jokes to get out ON CONDITION that I return to Italy.
I would naturally prefer to go live with my daughter to staying in the bughouse.
After all Borah did say: ‘Waaaal, I’m sure I don’t know what a man like you would find to do here?’
God knows I can see PLENTY that needs doing. HERE.
Pound was eager to involve Meacham in his own campaigns for enlightenment, along with ‘yr admirable aim to eliminate captivity of yrs. truly’, but Meacham cannily held off, aware that ‘Many of his well-meaning friends had destroyed their usefulness by getting involved with the lunatic fringe.’ He meant to keep it simple: ‘not justice, but freedom’ was his aim, since ‘after all, it was a bit late to talk about justice in the Pound case’.
Meacham let MacLeish know about his campaign, and in mid-October MacLeish wrote back to put him in the picture. ‘There should be no public stir,’ he advised,
the Department of Justice is well aware that Pound cannot and should not be held longer. The problem is one of working out a disposition of the indictment (which should be nol prossed) arranging for Pound’s future and finding the right moment. The principal obstacle now is Kasper.
Pound was taking notice at last of that obstacle as he began to allow himself to think about getting out of St Elizabeths. In an undated letter to Marcella Spann he wrote, ‘E.P. can only AFFORD to receive the people likely to conduce to his getting out/ contagious fringe, the effulgences of Kasper etc./ are not to be thought of at this time.’ It must have been a relief, to MacLeish at least, that Kasper was now in jail and would be there for some time.
Frost had taken care of the problem of Pound’s future by explaining his idea of a professional arrangement to Laughlin, and obtaining his guarantee to make available $300 per month as an advance on royalties for as long as Pound lived. That, with Dorothy Pound’s own income, was reckoned sufficient to meet the costs of a private sanatorium, and, since Pound’s royalties in that year were in excess of $5,000, there was little risk that the advances would not be covered. Frost went down to Washington again to see Rogers, who was about to move up to be Attorney General, and informed him that the money for the private institution seemed assured. That was on 23 October, and he followed up on 19 November with the information that MacLeish ‘has Dr. Overholser’s consent for Pound’s transfer the minute he himself is released from holding Pound as a prisoner’. ‘I grow impatient’, Frost concluded this letter, ‘The amnesty would be a good Christmas present.’
When nothing further was heard from Rogers, MacLeish turned to Dr Overholser. Frost had ‘a firm commitment from Rogers’, he told him, ‘to nol pross if the doctors at St. Elizabeths would advise that Pound could be transferred to a private sanatorium’. Would Overholser go along with that plan? Overholser’s reaction was that ‘nothing much would be gained by moving Mr. Pound to a private institution except that, of course, the cost would be very considerable’. He then questioned, first, the assumption that Pound, if released from St Elizabeths, would need to be committed to a private institution; and then the assumption that he should be prevented from returning to Italy. ‘I know perfectly well, as you do’, he told MacLeish, ‘that he would much prefer to return to Italy.…I am sure that he would be much happier there and would, of course, be no menace to any persons or any government.’
MacLeish talked this over with Frost, and wrote back that Rogers had told Frost that the Justice Department ‘would quash the indictment IF Pound were removed to a private institution’—it would not make the first move—‘and that thereafter it would have no interest in Pound’s future except that it would frown on his leaving the United States’. MacLeish was too diplomatic to spell out the contradictoriness of this, but he was evidently wearied by it. Rogers appeared to be saying that he would drop the indictment after Pound was transferred to a private institution—yet his department had all along maintained that Pound could not be released from St Elizabeths while still under indictment, and Overholser held himself bound by that. Then there was the troubling lack of clarity about Pound’s future status. There was a covert suggestion that he need not stay long in the private institution—‘the Department would avert its face’, as Frost had put it—but what force was to be assumed in its frown? MacLeish could only ask if he might talk it over with Overholser ‘shortly after Christmas’.
He did not hide his exasperation from Meacham. Frost’s letters to Rogers were not being acknowledged, he told him on 22 December, and nor were his own, but he expected that from a Republican administration. ‘The Pound business looks cloudy from this angle,’ he wrote, ‘I am sick to death of the treatment we have been given over the past two years and I don’t know how long I shall continue to sit on my typewriter—or the typewriters of all the others who want to burst out in shrill yells.’
Back in October he had told Meacham that he was finding Pound ‘very reasonable and patient about the whole sad business’. But Pound was now telling his friends that he had had enough. Writing to Cummings from ‘Bastile of Baruchistan’ on 20 November, he said, ‘I cd/ do wiff a change of scene, tho the delights of the American florilege are a compensation.’ There was nothing qualified though about his statement to Patricia Hutchins, ‘I shd/ like to get OUT. you can, at least, squash rumours to the contrary.’ In December he tried rather desperately to enlist the support of Noigandres, a Brazilian literary magazine which had published some of his cantos in Portugese translation in 1952—
Time has come when if I had a clear official invitation from SOMEWHERE, say S. Paulo, to come and inhabit and lecture on, say Chinese, or any other LITERATURE | it might just possibly help git me out of quod, i.e. incarceration.
If your Ministero of Education cd. Express such a desire, saying they don’t regard me as political . either as asset or detriment…
at any rate worth trying.
Along with wanting to get out he was he was feeling the squalor of the ward. When Mary floated the idea of bringing his grandchildren across for him to see at Christmas—Norman Holmes Pearson had offered financial help for a visit—he put her off, saying it was the wrong time of year, ‘This ward is no fit place for the kids and out on the lawn would be the only place for them. Perhaps next spring…’
MacLeish heard from Rogers at last on 2 January 1958, offering ‘to discuss the matter with you when you are next in Washington’. He was evidently no nearer to any decisive action. ‘I am not sure whether it can be worked out or not,’ he wrote, ‘but I am certainly inclined in that direction, if it can be worked out from a legal standpoint.’ MacLeish, concluding that the Department of Justice ‘would like somehow to get the problem solved without solving it’, had already decided to shift his efforts from Rogers to the State Department. There he would argue that although the decision would have to be made by Justice it was State that was suffering because Pound’s continued incarceration hurt America’s prestige abroad. His friend and former colleague in the Roosevelt administration, Christian Herter, was now Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and agreed to intervene, but said ‘that one thing was certain: Ez couldn’t go back to Italy’. Herter promptly wrote to Dr Overholser, on 2 January, saying that he understood from MacLeish ‘that you can give the whole story so far as Saint Elizabeths is concerned’, and asking him to ‘drop in some day at your convenience as I would very much like to be fully informed in respect of this difficult individual’. MacLeish next asked Dag Hammarskjöld to let Herter know of his concerns in the matter, and also to think if there was ‘any way in which Italian representatives might suggest to the Department of State that Pound would be welcome in Italy’. He was now persuaded that ‘this is the real solution…to let him go back to his daughter in Italy’, though that ‘will be hard to arrange because Justice wants neither to act nor to let him return to Italy’.
According to an internal FBI memo from its Director J. Edgar Hoover, what the Attorney General had done when first approached on the matter in April 1957 was to set up a committee of three Assistant Attorney Generals to look into the case, ‘in view of the controversial character of Pound, he being both anti-Semitic and pro-Fascist’. Evidently the FBI’s Internal Security Division had been tasked with the investigation. In January 1958 Cornell, who appears to have been completely out of the loop, was surprised to be visited by two agents, who told him the Attorney General was considering the possibility of releasing Pound. In particular, they wanted to know ‘why the Department of Justice, at the time of Pound’s sanity hearing, had not put up a better fight’. ‘“Was he really insane”’, they asked, ‘“was he really unfit to be tried and why was he any different from the other war criminals?”’ Cornell referred them to ‘the unanimous opinion of the government’s own doctors’, but also told them on his own behalf, ‘that the situation would never have arisen if the army psychiatrists at the Pisa concentration camp had not blundered in their failure to diagnose Pound’s illness’. What the FBI reported back to the Attorney General is not known, but an internal memo did make the point that ‘the indictment against Pound on the charge of treason is still standing’.
On 27 January Representative Usher L. Burdick read into the Congressional Record ‘2 letters from the December 1957 and February 1958 issues of Esquire [which] throw much light upon this case and point to a remedy which would relieve the American Government of an embarrassment that has persisted for over a decade’. The letters followed Rovere’s conclusion in his Esquire article, that ‘It is hard to think of a good reason why Pound should not have his freedom immediately’. The first was from Professor G. Giovannini, and concerned the violation of Pound’s constitutional rights throughout the months in 1945 during which he was held a prisoner in Italy. The other letter was from T. H. Horton, and mainly put forward Pound’s defence against the charge of treason.
On 1 February Dorothy Pound wrote a formal letter to Dr Overholser, probably at Pound’s dictation or direction, and possibly at Overholser’s suggestion. The letter looks like an attempt to put down a marker. ‘If Ezra Pound were released, we plan to go to Europe,’ she wrote, ‘Financial means are available to live modestly & not be a public charge. Summer quarters are ready in Italy, & he would want mild Mediterranean climate in winter.’ To this she added the reassurance that he had ‘no political views re contemporary Italy, & would take ten years at least to develop any—hardly likely’. ‘Unlikely’, Pound had said when giving a similar reassurance to Noigandres, since ‘in ten years I will be 82’. Then at the end of February he became agitated when he learnt that Williams was intending to use one of his letters in Paterson Book V. He wrote to the editor at New Directions, ‘it may be o.k. or it may be MOSTuntimely to release it | no need to protrude my blasted nekk any FURTHER at this TIME…Bill dun’t mean no harm, but I am gittin tired of incarceration.’
Hammarskjöld found time to write to Herter, as MacLeish had requested, on 18 February. Emphasizing the international aspect, and his being personally in a position to know how alive the case remained in the minds of ‘serious and thoughtful people in the intellectual world in Europe’ whose opinion Herter would respect, he suggested that it would be both ‘a tribute to [Pound’s] great importance in Western letters and a noble humanitarian gesture if a formula could be found which put the matter entirely in the hands of his doctors and enabled him, when they find it advisable, to take up a new life with his daughter in Italy’.
On 5 March Christian Herter reported back to Hammarskjöld and MacLeish on his conversations with Overholser and Rogers. ‘The idea of getting Pound to Italy [is] definitely impracticable,’ he told them. Some compromise was possible, however, ‘in a legal way’. Provided his friends and publisher could raise the necessary funds, Pound might be transferred to ‘some inconspicuous place’, ‘with a maximum degree of freedom’, ‘where he could be visited from time to time by a recognized physician’. MacLeish, who was now down in his holiday place in Antigua, put this to Pound in mid-March:
The idea is that you and, I assume, D.P., would live in a house of your own in some quiet town with the kind of climate you like where you could be visited from time to time by a recognized medic, and where you would have ‘a maximum degree of freedom’.
And ‘The locus would have to be in the US.’ But it all depended on Pound’s ‘willingness to accept such an arrangement’, MacLeish was explicit about that.
In his reply sent on 25 March Pound was far from satisfied. What was being offered appeared to him ‘an illegal arrangement with an anonymity’, and said ‘nothing about placing my earnings in my own control’. He doubted ‘if there IS enough money for me to live on in the U.S. under the present system of taxation’; did they mean ‘a physician or a quackiatrist?’; and he had ‘never heard of a “private sanitarium” that existed save for private motive’. ‘I spose you mean well,’ Pound concluded. MacLeish thanked him for that ‘First kind word I’ve had from you since I started butting my head against this stone wall two years ago’. He patiently explained that there was nothing illegal about the proposed arrangement since it would be approved by the government and the Court; that all his earnings would be paid over to him by his publisher, only there would be a guaranteed minimum paid monthly; and that he might want to discuss the nature of the medical services with Overholser—‘you can be sure that what he has in mind is a physician, not a quack’. There is no telling whether MacLeish was consciously drawing the sting in ‘quackiatrist’; but he must have known that it was the Committee for Ezra Pound, not his publisher, who had control of his earnings, as of his person. In assuring Pound that ‘the decision is, of course, wholly yours’, he was very decently overlooking that vital, or lethal, fact. But then no one had thus far seriously addressed the question of whether Pound should be released from the Committee as well as from St Elizabeths. As things stood, MacLeish was convinced, the offer Herter had reported ‘was the best solution we can now hope for’. Privately, Pound feared that Macleish was being ‘played for a sucker’.
In February Frost had been making the most of a chance of direct access to the White House. The Poetry Society of America had awarded him its Gold Medal for Distinguished Service and a congratulatory telegram from President Eisenhower had been read out during the banquet. Frost detected the hand and influence of his old friend Sherman Adams, currently the President’s Chief of Staff, and in his letter of thanks suggested that he should be invited to ‘a meal or something’ with the President so that he could thank him in person. A telegram from the President duly followed, inviting him ‘TO AN INFORMAL STAG DINNER AT THE WHITE HOUSE IN WASHINGTON ON THE EVENING OF THURSDAY, FEBRUARY TWENTY-SEVENTH.’ Frost ‘ACCEPTED WITH GREAT PLEASURE’, but in a second telegram made it clear to Adams that ‘WHAT’S ON MY MIND WOULD BE MORE APT TO BE BROUGHT OUT IN TALKS WITH YOU SEPARATELY’. Adams, understanding his intention, invited him to lunch in the staff dining room at the White House on the 27th, and, at Frost’s prompting, arranged for Attorney General Rogers to lunch with them. The outcome of these manoeuvres was a memorandum from the Department of Justice to President Eisenhower, stating that it did not intend to oppose a motion for Pound’s release. Sherman Adams presented this to the President, who initialled it as the sign of his approval. Later Laughlin would tell Harry Meacham, what he may have learned from his brother-in-law, Eisenhower’s Chief Economic Adviser, that Adams had ‘secured the “nod” of the President so that the Dept. of Justice was instructed to drop the indictment’.
Next there was some discreet briefing of the press to prepare public opinion. On 16 March the Washington Sunday Star reported that, following a plea to the Attorney General by Robert Frost, ‘A decision is near on the twin questions of freeing poet Ezra Pound of treason charges and releasing him from St Elizabeths Hospital’—an official close to the case had said the ‘“whole matter is at boiling point”’. For the Justice Department to be publicly contemplating dropping the treason charges was a startling new development in itself; but for it to be raising expectations in this way suggested that it was now prepared to act with some urgency. The Sunday Star article also quoted Dr Overholser as saying that ‘It is perfectly possible to be mentally unfit to stand trial and yet be perfectly safe to be at large.’ A. V. Moore noticed that the case appeared to be stirring, and remarked to Pound, ‘Surely if the indictment is dismissed you should be quite free to go where you please, without supervision.’
Sieber’s Library of Congress report in its first state was released to the press on 1 April. At the beginning Sieber delicately observed that while ‘The Government’s case against Mr. Pound is fairly well-known it appears that some of the arguments…presumed to be favourable to Mr. Pound’s release from St. Elizabeths Hospital are not quite so well-known’. By the end of his report, with all due care and impartiality, he had pretty well made the case for Pound’s release. At the Attorney General’s press conference later in the day the Pound case was raised, as he must have expected it would be. Yes, he said, according to The New York Times, ‘The Justice Department is giving consideration to dropping the treason charges against Ezra Pound, the poet, with a view to letting him return to Italy.’ He was awaiting ‘a final decision by the Saint Elizabeths doctors. If they say Pound will always be mentally incompetent, [he] may then move to quash the long-standing indictment.’ ‘His “friends and supporters”, Mr. Rogers suggested, ‘could then arrange with the hospital to have him moved to Italy.’ Here was another surprising development, that Pound would after all be free to return to Italy.
Frost at once went back to Washington on the 4th to keep Rogers moving. Afterwards they would tell it as if their meeting were scripted for the movies. Frost: ‘I’ve dropped in to see what your mood is in regard to Ezra Pound.’ Rogers: ‘Our mood is your mood, Mr Frost.’ Frost: ‘Well then, let’s get him out right away.’
The Attorney General helpfully suggested that William Shaffroth, the official government ‘expediter’ in legal matters, might be able to recommend a lawyer for the defense. Shaffroth recommended Thurman Arnold, and immediately made an appointment by phone for Frost to see him. 5 Arnold’s law firm let it be known next day, 5 April, that ‘in the public interest, without a fee, following a request by Robert Frost’, it had agreed ‘to represent Mrs. Pound in Mr. Pound’s behalf’. It has been assumed that this public statement was the first either of the Pounds knew about the arrangement. However, Dorothy Pound was called to ‘Dr Overholser’s office’ on the 4th, and it is possible that he been kept informed and had put her in the picture. What is true is that she did not retain Arnold but agreed to the arrangement only after it had been fixed by Frost at the direction of the government. In any case, Pound felt able to write to Mary on the 5th, ‘things look more hopeful than they have // Overholser optimistic. BUT hold in steam of the whistle for another month or so’. On the 7th Dorothy had a ‘long talk with Thurman Arnold’, who then issued this statement:
We have been retained by Mrs. Ezra Pound to institute legal proceedings to secure Mr. Pound’s release from St. Elizabeths and to dismiss the 13-year old indictment.
We are informed that Mr. Pound’s mental condition is such that he will never be able to stand trial, although he is not a danger to himself or society.
Mrs. Pound has advised us that if Mr. Pound is released they will proceed to Italy where Mr. Pound has spent many years of his life.
Dismissal of the indictment will not prevent re-indictment and trial of Mr. Pound for treason if warranted and if, at some later time, he should recover his mental competence. There is no statute limiting the time when a person may be indicted for treason.…
It is intended that formal legal papers on behalf of Mrs. Pound will be filed in a few days.
That was speaking in two voices, one for Mrs Pound, and one for the Justice Department—and none, it might well be said, for Ezra Pound. It was only right therefore that Arnold should take no fee. He was, after all, acting ‘in the public interest’ as well as ‘in Pound’s behalf’, and while there was a real coincidence of interest, there was also bound to be some conflict. There would be a need for compromise on both sides: the Justice Department would abandon its case, but would save face; and Pound would be released, but as a non-person in law he would be unable to clear his name.
There is nothing in the record to show that Arnold consulted with Pound himself at any stage in the ensuing proceedings. And Pound appears to have accepted that he had no part to play in them except as their interested but mute object. It was certainly on his mind. ‘The standing mute included plea of NOT guilty’, he recalled in a letter to Mary on 3 April; and on the 12th he observed that, with regard to his being released to return to Italy, ‘a certain amount of optimism is justified’. And still, while others were deciding his fate, he was getting on with his life: 29 March had been ‘First day one cd/ sit out in chairs till 3 p.m.’ That day he wrote for his grandson Walter, soon to turn eleven, ‘It is IGNORANCE that is the trouble. Not one in 100,000 knows that you do not HAVE TO issue all new money as interest-bearing DEBT.’ Norman Holmes Pearson told Hilda Doolittle on 2 April that he had just seen Pound, ‘a monument of sanity’ amid the distrait and the lobotomized of St Elizabeths, and ‘full of vigor and good humour’. Robert Hughes visited with a recorder quartet led by Forrest Read, and they played Gabrieli and other early music for Pound out on the lawn for half an hour. After that Forrest Read engaged Pound in an intense discussion of Rock-Drill. As the quartet were preparing to leave, Hughes mentioned Pound’s having played the bassoon, and, as Hughes would recall, ‘at the mention of music he sped off to his room and shortly returned with a large sheet of crude butcher paper upon which he had crayoned staff lines and notes and asked me to play it for him…It was a plain, simple, singable melody.’ On 13 April Pound wrote to Dag Hammarskjöld, about the precision of Linnaeus’ Latin—Hammarskjöld had sent him an essay he had written on the Swedish naturalist—and about George Crabbe’s The Borough, Crabbe having mentioned Linnaeus. On Thursday 17th he ‘got thru a lot of work’, including typing up for Marcella’s anthology his translation of the ancient Egyptian ‘Conversations in Courtship’ from his Egyptologist son-in-law’s Italian version.
On 14 April Thurman Arnold filed his motion for the dismissal of the indictment. Preparing it had been an interesting challenge, as he reflected in his autobiography, because there was no clear legal argument for a dismissal. The problem was simply that while the Justice Department no longer wanted to keep Pound incarcerated, they didn’t know how to let him go without coming under attack for freeing ‘a notorious traitor and anti-Semite’. And yet the situation had become intolerable, both because it made the United States look bad in the eyes of the world, and because while he was kept in St Elizabeths undesirables, especially anti-Semites, would continue to flock around him. If it could have been shown that he was insane at the time of the offending broadcasts then, under the Durham Rule adopted by the Washington DC Court of Appeals at the urging of his law partner Abe Fortas in 1953, Pound could have been tried and acquitted on the ground that he could not be held responsible for what he had said. But Pound had refused that defence—presumably it was what he was refusing to sign up to in 1953 when Laughlin tried to have Mary persuade him. In any case, Arnold conceded in his retrospect, no one could reliably testify about his mental condition at the time of the broadcasts. All he could do then was to move for a dismissal on the ground of the absurdity of the situation. There was no risk in that since he knew that while the Justice Department would not itself move it was not going to oppose his motion.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
EZRA POUND, Defendant
Criminal No. 76028
MOTION TO DISMISS INDICTMENT
Comes now Ezra Pound, defendant, through his committee, Mrs. Dorothy Shakespear Pound, and moves that the indictment in the above-entitled proceeding be dismissed.
And on the grounds of the said motion, he respectfully represents:
1. [a paragraph summarising the initial proceedings to February 13, 1946]
2. The defendant has remained in confinement at Saint Elizabeths Hospital since that time, where he has been the subject of constant and intense psychiatric tests, examinations, observation and study. As a result thereof, it is the opinion and conclusion of officials at Saint Elizabeths Hospital that defendant remains mentally unfit to advise properly with counsel or to participate intelligently and reasonably in his own defense and that he is insane and mentally unfit for trial, or to comprehend the nature of the charges against him.
3. Furthermore, it is the opinion and conclusion of these same officials that defendant’s condition is permanent and incurable, that it cannot and will not respond to treatment and that trial on the charges against him will be forever impossible because of insanity.
4. Defendant is 72 years old. If the indictment against him is not dismissed he will die in Saint Elizabeths Hospital…There can be no benefit to the United States in maintaining him indefinitely in custody as a public charge because that custody cannot contribute to his recovery and defendant’s release would not prejudice the interests of the United States. The inevitable effect of failure to dismiss the indictment will be life imprisonment on account of alleged acts and events which can never be put to proof.
5. The primary alleged acts and events on which the indictment is based occurred prior to July 25, 1943. In the ensuing fifteen years memories have faded and direct evidence by the constitutionally-established minimum of two witnesses to each of the various alleged acts and events have inevitably dissipated. In all probability, therefore, the United States lacks sufficient evidence to warrant a prosecution at this time.
6. Suitable arrangements for defendant’s custody and care are otherwise available. In the event that the indictment is dismissed, Mrs. Dorothy Shakepear Pound, committee, proposes to apply for delivery of the defendant from further confinement at Saint Elizabeths Hospital to her restraint and care with bond under such terms and conditions as will be appropriate to the public good and the best interests and peace of mind of the defendant in the remaining years of his life.
7. On the issues of fact thus presented, defendant respectfully requests a hearing.
WHEREFORE, Ezra Pound, defendant, by his committee, Mrs. Dorothy Shakespear Pound, respectfully moves that the indictment be dismissed.
WILLIAM D. ROGERS
ARNOLD, FORTAS & PORTER
That the name of Thurman Arnold’s associate differed only by an initial from that of William P. Rogers, the Attorney General, might have amused, since the Justice Department had had a firm if hidden hand in drawing up the motion. And it was as well that some of these ‘issues of fact’ would go unchallenged. If Pound had indeed ‘been the subject of constant and intense psychiatric tests, examination’ etc., and of ‘treatment’ in St Elizabeths, it is surprising that there is no record of it in the St Elizabeths archive. Then there is the rather too ready shift from defendant’s being ‘mentally unfit for trial’ to a condition of unqualified and incurable ‘insanity’, with its implications for the ‘suitable arrangements for defendant’s custody and care’. However, that was all window-dressing. The nub of the matter was that there was no possibility of a successful prosecution, and that it was not in the interest of the United States to continue to keep Pound in St Elizabeths.
Attached to the motion was ‘AFFIDAVIT OF DR. WINFRED OVERHOLSER SWORN TO APRIL 14, 1958, IN SUPPORT OF MOTION TO DISMISS INDICTMENT’. This confirmed in detail paragraphs 1 to 4 and 6 of the motion, and then strongly affirmed this new opinion:
Finally, if called to testify on a hearing, I will testify and state under oath that in my opinion, from examination of Ezra Pound made in 1945, within two to three years of the crimes charged in the indictment, there is a strong probability that the commission of the crime charged was the result of insanity, and I would therefore seriously doubt that prosecution could show criminal responsibility even if it were hypothetically assumed that Ezra Pound could regain sufficient sanity to be tried.
The Durham Rule was rescinded in 1972 precisely because it was found to be vulnerable to that kind of unverifiable ‘expert opinion’. But no matter, whatever Overholser opined was going to pass unchallenged.
Also attached to the motion was a supporting ‘MEMORANDUM’ citing precedents, and, secondly, recognizing that ‘The motion presents an appeal to the discretion of the Court’ and therefore asking leave
to lodge the attached statement of Robert Frost, who, along with many other poets and writers of distinction, has sought the release of Ezra Pound for the last several years. Although his statement does not speak to the legal issues raised, it is directly relevant to the serious considerations bearing upon this Court’s exercise of its discretion.
There followed ‘STATEMENT OF ROBERT FROST’—
I am here to register my admiration for a government that can rouse in conscience to a case like this. Relief seems in sight for many of us besides the Ezra Pound in question and his faithful wife. He has countless admirers the world over who will rejoice in the news that he has hopes of freedom.…And I feel authorized to speak very specially for my friends, Archibald MacLeish, Ernest Hemingway and T. S. Eliot. None of us can bear the disgrace of our letting Ezra Pound come to his end where he is. It would leave too woeful a story in American literature. He went very wrongheaded in his egotism, but he insists it was from patriotism—love of America. He has never admitted that he went over to the enemy any more than the writers at home who have despaired of the Republic. I hate such nonsense and can only listen to it as evidence of mental disorder. But mental disorder is what we are considering. I rest the case on Dr. Overholser’s pronouncement that Ezra Pound is not too dangerous to go free in his wife’s care, and too insane ever to be tried—a very nice distinction.
Mr. Thurman Arnold admirably put this problem of a sick man being held too long in prison to see if he won’t get well enough to be tried for a prison offence. There is probably legal precedent to help toward a solution of the problem. But I should think it would have to be reached more by magnanimity than by logic and it is chiefly on magnanimity I am counting. I can see how the Department of Justice would hesitate from fear of looking more just to a great poet than it would to a mere nobody. The bigger the Department the longer it might have to take thinking things through.
The final two sentences were a way of excusing, or obliquely reproaching, the Department of Justice for having had to be dragged mulishly to this conclusion. The rest, leaving aside the dash of personal animosity towards Pound, was a decent attempt to voice a troubled American conscience. And the appeal to magnanimity was exactly what was required to break out of the legal impasse.
Arnold arranged for the motion to be heard on Friday the 18th to ensure that the presiding judge would once again be Bolitha J. Laws. The afternoon before, Marcella Spann would recall, Pound had been sitting with her in her car outside Chestnut Ward when they heard from a nearby car radio Che sarà, sarà | Whatever will be, will be, ‘and Pound listened with quiet pleasure’. The morning of the 18th, ‘Furniss fetched OP and DP to Arnold’s’—Omar had been in Washington since the 7th, had been to see Arnold on the 14th, and had had long talks with Dorothy. She would sit with Arnold at the Counsels’ table. The hearing was at 10.30, and Pound was seated at the back of the courtroom, casually dressed, according to the New York Times report, ‘in a shabby blue jacket, a tan sport shirt with the tails not tucked in and blue slacks. His pockets were full of folded envelopes and other scraps of paper.’ The hearing was soon over. Arnold, who said ‘he represented not only Mrs Pound but also “the world community of poets and writers”’, spoke briefly, chiefly about the medical findings. For the Justice Department United States Attorney Oliver Gasch told Judge Laws ‘that it would be “virtually impossible” to produce evidence of Mr. Pound’s sanity during the war years in Italy at so late a date’, and that ‘the Government thought the motion was “in the interest of justice and should be granted”’. The judge asked a few questions, then issued his ‘ORDER DISMISSING INDICTMENT’—
This cause came on for hearing on defendant’s motion to dismiss the indictment and upon consideration of the affidavit of Dr. Winfrid Overholser, the Superintendent of St. Elizabeths Hospital, and it appearing to the Court that the defendant is presently incompetent to stand trial and that there is no likelihood that this condition will in the foreseeable future improve, and it further appearing to the Court that there is available to the defense psychiatric testimony to the effect that there is a strong probability that the commission of the crimes charged was the result of insanity, and it appearing that the Government is not in a position to challenge this medical testimony, and it further appearing that the Government consents to the dismissal of this indictment, it is by the Court this 18th day of April, 1958, ORDERED that the indictment be and the same is hereby dismissed.
Bolitha J. Laws
To this the Justice Department Attorney added, ‘I consent.’
The decisive voice for Judge Laws, at the end as it had been at the start, was that of the psychiatrist with his legally unverifiable and dubiously scientific opinions. Dr Overholser had been put in the position to determine Pound’s fate when his defence chose not to defend him. The indictment had been in order, but it had needed to be challenged, and if correctly challenged should have failed. Whether through a defective grasp of the law of treason, or a lack of trust in the due process of the law, and certainly through a fear of the power of hostile opinion, and a fear also of being contaminated by Pound’s perceived guilt, or by his anti-Semitism, Cornell’s and Laughlin’s strategy ‘saved’ Pound by denying him justice, and by committing him to a sentence in St Elizabeths longer than he would have served if convicted, and, with that, to a life-sentence as a legally insane non-person. Cornell’s ‘bunk’, taken up by the psychiatrists, had stymied justice; and the operations of justice in Pound’s case had become altogether subject to prejudice and arbitrary whim. The tragic farce was brought to an end only because MacLeish and Frost accepted that justice was not to be had, and that the only way out was to accept that Pound’s was now a medical case requiring a compassionate judgment.
When Judge Laws had delivered that judgment, Mrs Pound, according to the report next day in the New York Times, walked to the back of the Court ‘and gave her husband a kiss’. The Manchester Guardian was more dramatic: ‘Mr. Pound…showed no emotion as the case began; then he seemed to brood intently; and finally he twinkled with happiness and merriment as his wife, calling him “beloved”, rushed to kiss him, and a small company of friends and admirers clustered round.’ He then went out onto the Court steps. He would say nothing to the posse of reporters, ‘except a firm “yes” when asked if he wanted to return to Italy’. He agreed to pose for the photographers, after draping over his shoulders ‘a long yellow scarf with Oriental characters on it’. In the photo he is pointing to one of the two Chinese ideograms woven into the knitted scarf in black wool, hsin4 which he would translate as ‘a man of his word’. William McNaughton, who knew the scarf well, saw this as an assertion ‘that he had never “broken the faith”—had never fled from his “post” in the bellum perenne and had never acknowledged that his broadcasts were treasonable—or even hostile—to the U.S. Constitution’. The other ideogram is hsin1 , the sign of renewal.
1 Archibald MacLeish (1892–1982), graduated from Yale 1915 (Phi Beta Kappa, Skull & Bones); LLB Harvard 1919, (edited Harvard Law Review); briefly practised law; in France 1923–8; worked on Fortune and Time; distinguished and prize-winning poet and playwright; Librarian of Congress 1939–45; assistant director Office of War Information; Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs 1944–5; Chairman of the American Delegation to the 1946 London conference which drew up the constitution of UNESCO; Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard 1949–62.
2 ‘Tokyo Rose’ was the collective name given to a dozen American-speaking women who made propaganda broadcasts from Japan during the war. In 1945 two American journalists identified Iva Toguri Aquino as Tokyo Rose and she was arrested by the US authorities in Tokyo, but no charges were brought and in October 1946 she was released. In 1948 she was re-arrested, taken to America, and there convicted on one count of ‘speaking into a microphone concerning the loss of ships’, the only evidence against her being verbal evidence from a colleague at Radio Tokyo who later said he had been coerced. Sentenced to ten years, she was released for good behaviour after serving six years. She was accorded a presidential pardon in 1977.
3 Nolle prosequi: legal term signifying ‘I will not proceed with the prosecution’.
4 He was reading it in November, and ‘found [this] entertaining item on p/ 239’: ‘An old gentleman, Mr. Pound, protested by petition to King James [against Catholics being treated as traitors] and was prosecuted in Star Chamber—Coke officiating—and punished with pillory, fine and imprisonment.’ ‘Plus ça change,’ Pound commented [18 Nov. 1957].
5 Arnold presented himself as a ‘dissenting’ lawyer, but he had been an insider in Roosevelt’s administration, serving as Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Anti-trust Division of the Department of Justice from 1938 to 1943. When Roosevelt relaxed the anti-trust laws in the interests of the war effort Arnold was moved out and made a judge in the Court of Appeals. In July 1945 he returned to private practice in Washington DC, co-founding a law firm with Abe Fortas who had also served in the Roosevelt administration.