Ezra Pound: Poet: Volume III: The Tragic Years 1939-1972 - A. David Moody (2015)
PART FIVE: 1958-1972
16: ‘YOU FIND ME IN FRAGMENTS’, 1959–62
‘[T]ower is full of you,’ Pound wrote to Marcella from Brunnenburg on 6 October; and he felt ‘full of emptiness’. In the cold night, ‘pages racing thru head, the complication the four thousand entanglements and HOW one is netted’. ‘Rapallo, m’amour, ma vie’, he wrote, and ‘how it got shattered’.
In his notebook one finds, ‘one dies without saving the world | & with Seneca: no gods in this part of
heaven the sky space | MA LA BELLEZZA ESISTE’—but there IS beauty. And on 15 November,
in the labyrinth of death longer to find you
& the rivets of tyranny driven over our head
‘The portal to inquisition’ Thiers.
Tragic heart, they have played your compassion
There is no cave left in the world
there is no shelter
What flower is come in the hedge row
the white bud half open
To have seen you walk in flat shoes
& have let you go
this is agony
or seated in your flower-skirt
under elm trees
Those around him, friends who saw him, read the agony as some kind of breakdown, and were reluctant to acknowledge what was breaking him up.
Laughlin told Williams that ‘Uncle Ezry…is really sitting on the bottom of the black hole. A terrible depression and collapse of physical energy.’ This was the letter in which he mentioned that Marcella had gone back to Texas, but he made no connection between that and Pound’s depression. To Dr Overholser he wrote, ‘I am so deeply concerned over his condition…Now he is at the bottom of the pit of melancholy, and most of his talk is about dying and “losing his mind”.’
Pound was having nearly daily injections from a local doctor, possibly of vitamins, as Laughlin thought, but actually of ‘reserpine and testicular hormone’. This treatment proved ‘not successful’—indeed it could well have made his condition worse, since reserpine, an ‘antihypertensive drug’ or tranquillizer, was later found to have as its serious side-effect depression, and in some cases suicidal depression. Pound had cause enough to be depressed without that.
He entered what Dorothy called a cycle of ‘self-abasement’, or ‘self-debasement—which is another form of egotism’. He was feeling that he had betrayed his friends and botched his life’s work. He attempted to type a letter to Eliot—it was probably not sent—
Now that I am wrecked, and have struggled three days to write a page to you
That I am trying to repudiate 30 years of injustice to you, / from time of Ash Wednesday / & in Rock V 2 lines, all of Confucius 1
In Strange Gods, what I should have heeded,
you doing real criticism
and me playing a tin penny whistle
He was taking to heart Eliot’s criticism, in After Strange Gods, that his ideas of good and evil were ‘trivial and accidental’, and that his ‘Hell, for all its horrors, is a perfectly comfortable one for the modern mind to contemplate’. When Olga Rudge tried to rally him against despair, Pound replied, ‘DEEspair | the Possum says it in After Strange Gods | didn’t seem to be my trouble’. It was as if he had learnt late from Eliot the necessity of despair. And Mary, since her father was now heeding the Possum, and making everyone in the castle read After Strange Gods, ‘wrote to Mr. Eliot begging him to come and see Babbo’, and Eliot sent a comforting birthday telegram, ‘saying “You are the greatest poet alive and I owe every thing to you”—or words to that effect’.
In this new spirit of humility and penitence Pound wrote to MacLeish, ‘Forgive me for about 80% of the violent things I have said about some of your friends’—‘some of them are deplorable, and it is too late to retract ’em. Violent language is an error.’ MacLeish was knocked sideways by this: ‘Your letter frightened the living bejeezzz out of me. Gentleness—even affection—out of old Ez, says I: he’s sick!’ And he offered sane reassurance—
Don’t have your abuse of my friends on your conscience. FDR was abused by experts all his latter life and it didn’t sour him none. I think he’d have liked some of your expletives. What I want to know is where you are and if you’re warm enough and what you plan to do next and how lovely Mary is and those children and all and all.
‘Merry Christmas you Old Buzzard and God keep you,’ he signed off.
Pound had his better moments. On 24 November he had occasion to tell Laughlin, ‘don’t git euphoria. I aint feelin so much better as all THAT,’ which was at least a concession towards a lifting of the gloom. A page in the notebook dated ‘28 Nov’ balances the perennial struggle for renewal after failure against personal tragedy:
Troica Roma resurgens
These are the failures—
Aged . Ge [?] . Fasa
That the city be there in the mind
Tragic heart once given
when separation is crucifixion
& light is in meeting
A week later, in a moment of clear perception, he wrote this on the next page, but again the impersonal reflection breaks down into the personal—
Dec. 5. 4 p.m. Pax
These sudden devaluations, threats of devaluation
always more somewhere than elsewhere
keeping the nerves raw by scaring the market
sweeping away the life’s fruit
in an instant—or over a weekend
100 million dashed into slavery.
lure of the luxury traders
drugs to break courage
for the blind mice of the nations—
women starved with brutality
But the sense of awe is not vanity
The bright moment not vanity
but the awe is not vanity
before I died
I had & given
He was trying to recover his better sense of himself.
On 17 December he wrote to Marcella: ‘Ciao, cara mia. Minor tragicomedies amid the larger. Craig [La Drière] arriving…probably after dark and no means of guiding him down the salita as hour unknown.’ The next day he added, ‘woke absolutely empty in emptiness. H. J. “The private life” ref. Then empty plain and she walking in it. Then hurried self onto Cantos, shall try to make copy and revise some toward the end, putting in explanations to clarify. Must get it simplified.’ On the 20th it was, ‘M’amour, He havin a go at her cantos…AND of course what they didn’t think of is that his life started again when he got OUT of bg/hs, and all before that sort of cut off. So everything intimate is all shared with her.’ Next day the thought came to him, ‘he better stay alive’.
He had in fact been re-animated by an invitation from the Mayor of Darmstadt to be the city’s guest of honour at the première on 10 December of Eva Hesse’s translation of Women of Trachis. Mary went with him to Munich on the 8th, and on the 10th Eva Hesse took them to Darmstadt. Afterwards she gave an account of the occasion to Laughlin. Pound had worn the ‘vintage velvet jacket in which he used to attend concerts in Rapallo before the war’, and in which he was ‘an imposing figure’. He had visibly enjoyed the production, and
Just before the end he suddenly rose from his seat and made a dash for the exit…[and] suddenly appeared on the stage, where the cast were receiving their applause. A great new wave of applause set in as Ezra showed up in the spotlight, and there were long ovations—he was called back to the curtain some five or six times. He cut a very fine figure standing out there—one critic described the incident as ‘the final appearance of the real Herakles’.
When he returned to the castle on the 14th further work on Marcella’s cantos seemed possible.
On New Year’s Day Dorothy wrote to Omar that Pound was again ‘depressed and jumpy’. On 3 January she reported to A. V. Moore, who passed it on to Laughlin, that
during the night of Jan. 2 E.P. left the Castle, and returned about 8.15 am soaked to the skin, through all sorts of sweaters and a heavy coat, and was put to bed immediately, after a rubbing with alcohol and a dose of brandy, and I understand since he remains rather a handful. His physique is strong, and he is having injections, and D.P. says he complains his head is slow and hardly works at all—which worries him dreadfully.
In spite of that episode he was in an upbeat mood on the 9th: ‘Starting for Rome domani sera’—tomorrow evening—having ‘Done two days work on Fenollosa | cloud seemed to lift off my head day before yester’.
His address in Rome would be c/- Ugo Dadone, 80 via Angelo Poliziani, though he did not expect to be staying there since it was a new apartment and likely to be too small. However Dadone, who had been a general and a military attaché in the Fascist regime, and whose head, according to Mary de Rachewiltz, ‘was still too full of the Eia Eia Allalà spirit’, insisted on putting him up, and on giving him a lively time of visits to old Fascist friends, and concerts and parties.
Pound’s letters from Rome to Dorothy, who was ‘resting in Rap.…away from corrosive castle’, were full of apology and self-blame. On 11 January, his first day in Rome, he wished he had ‘not been so blind’, and was ‘sorry not to contribute more to her tranquillity’. On the 14th, he ‘had orter made a better job of a lot of things’. On the 16th he asked, ‘how much of him can she stand & when?’ ‘Difficult to get unhitched,’ he wrote on the 20th, meaning, apparently, that he couldn’t get out of Dadone’s social arrangements which he was finding a strain. The ambiguity was there again on the 22nd: ‘Mao Mao…wot has he done to get into such a tangle? Vortex that once drew together & now scatters.…very hard to get unhooked.’ His friends in Rome, he told her on the 24th, thought it good for him to circulate, and he appreciated ‘every body trying to hold my fragments together’. ‘O Mao’, he ended that letter, ‘& where to begin’, to which he added the hsin1 ideogram, renewal, and ‘she not hate any one’.
Dadone had arranged for him to have injections, starting on the 25th—‘D/e swears by his medico = who swears the stuff is quieting etc.’ What he told Mary was rather different: ‘Dadone idea is that injections will make cantos pour out without waiting to decide what to say. Their lecturers do it.’ Later, in February, he would tell Laughlin, ‘Am being shot full of chemicals which I greatly mistrust.’ All the same, whether it was the chemicals or not, he could tell Mary on the 17th, ‘have emerged from the tomb. Taken to song-writing | I ain’ nebber been a fambly man.’
He agreed to do an interview for the Paris Review series of interviews with celebrated older writers. Donald Hall, then a young American poet making his way in the literary world, secured the commission and went to talk to Pound in Rome in early March. He knew and loved Pound’s poetry; yet the prevailing preconceptions made him fear that he would be confronted by a man who talked politics more than poetry, and who would be giving arrogant fascist salutes and delivering murderous anti-Semitic diatribes. Pound answered his knock on the door of Dadone’s apartment, and ‘There was no mistaking him…the magnificent head.’ ‘But his eyes, which looked into me as we stood at the door, were watery, red, weak. “Mr. Hall”, he said, “you—find me—in fragments.”’ Hall’s memoir continues,
we sat opposite each other. Looking in his eyes, I saw the fatigue. Later I watched his eyes and mouth gather from time to time a tense strength, when he concentrated his attention on a matter gravely important. Fragments assembled themselves in half a second, turned strong, sharp, and insistent; then dissipated quickly, sank into flaccidity, depression, and silence.
That was the pattern Hall observed through the three days he spent with Pound: deep fatigue relieved by freshets of energy which might abruptly give out, or which could carry him through an evening over dinner in Crispi’s with Hall and his wife. Hall saw that Pound was lonely, and desperate for what he called normal conversation with intelligent young people. He wanted to give Hall his interview, and to give of his best; and he wanted to spend time with them, to show them something of Rome, and just to talk with normal Americans. But the fatigue was always there. To Hall it seemed ‘more than physical; it seemed abject despair, accidie, meaninglessness, abulia, waste’. The access of energy—as when after a collapse into silence his speech would become ‘newly vigorous and exact’—evidently came from ‘a fragile and courageous effort of will’. But he had lost all confidence—he had lost his centre—and now, it appeared to Hall, ‘he doubted the value of everything that he had done in his life’.
Yet something remained. Granting that he should have paid attention when Bunting had told him in the thirties that Mussolini was no good; and granting that he had been wrong to imagine that his voice alone could save constitutional government in the United States, and wrong to have used violent language; yet he felt still that his intentions at least had been good in his relations with Mussolini’s regime, and in his broadcasts. Even so, he lacked conviction, and Hall felt he was being appealed to, to grant ‘exoneration, forgiveness’. ‘“Do you think they should have shot me?”’ Pound pleaded. But all that was past history, and nothing either of them could do or say could redeem the errors and wrecks in his politics and his propaganda.
There was still some hope that he might complete his epic. Hall let him know that he was reviewing Thrones for The New Statesman, and Pound, encouraged by this, ‘read over his new Cantos and fragments’, and on the morning of their third day Hall found him ‘vigorous…and happy with plans for work…able to conceive that he could finish the Cantos’. He would have to ‘clarify obscurities |…get clearer | definite ideas or dissociations already expressed | verbal formula to control rise of brutality | principle of order vs. split atom’. Pound gave the typescripts of the new cantos to Hall to read there and then, and Hall, excited at finding a return to lyricism, told him that he was moved ‘by the acknowledgment of error or failure shining through a language that gave the lie to failure’; and that ‘these fragments were paradisal’, the completion to the Cantos’ ascent. Pound couldn’t hear enough of that, until fatigue welled up and, as it seemed to Hall, for a black quarter of an hour drowned all hope. Then Pound pulled himself together and said, ‘Let’s be going’—he wanted to show Hall the Circus Maximus.
One evening Pound attended a reception at the Chilean Embassy, and the ambassador invited him to visit Chile, offering free flights and hotels. Then, after Hall had left Rome, Pound was writing a series of letters to Ronald Duncan about a performance of Women of Trachis, giving detailed notes on how it should be spoken and sung: ‘may be the Xoros ought to be declaimed by one good voice—with the chorus moving to the thud of the words’; and, ‘sometimes a lot of syllables start same level of pitch & may relapse into speech for particularly emphatic statement’. ‘What chance of combining with the B Bloody C to get me to England?’, he asked, followed by, ‘I’ll be dead by ’61.’ In mid-March he was driven across Italy to Fonti di Tolentino to visit Leopardi’s house and garden. He was ‘not well, but better’, he told George Hartley of the Marvell Press when returning the proofs of the new edition of Gaudier-Brzeska. And he told both Dudek and Gatter that he was hoping ‘to resume human activity some time’.
One day Samuel Hynes chanced to encounter him walking in the Borghese Gardens—this was probably in April or early May when Pound had left Dadone’s and was staying in a hotel. Hynes, an American scholar who had visited Pound in St Elizabeths, was now spending some time in Rome with his wife and very young daughters—the daughters were playing nearby in the Gardens. Pound ‘hadn’t changed much’, Hynes decided,
a little thinner, perhaps, the furrows in his face more deeply scored, his eyes sunk more deeply into their sockets…a little less of the old imperial manner, and something new in its place—a quietness, the kind that comes after great trouble.
Pound sat down with him and talked about the Cantos, and about how he could not complete the work; but, Hynes thought, ‘He didn’t seem to feel that this unfinished state was a failure, not a personal one’; it was the times that had failed to provide the sought after order. ‘The problem was how to resist brainwashing, the power of the system to shape our thoughts.’ When Pound stood up to leave Hynes called his daughters to meet the great poet. The elder of the two, ‘held her hand out before her, palm down, fingers a little bent, as a princess might, greeting a duke. Pound took the waiting hand in his, bowed, and kissed it gently.’ Then he strode off, ‘a solitary erect figure, toward the Pincian Gate’.
He was sending Marcella intimate letters of love and regret, of anxiety and guilt, written in starts and fragments. On ‘a rainy easter’, he wrote, ‘I been trying to write for days, and I get more muddled’, but he managed this—
Oh, m’amour, so much beauty
quanti dolci pensier’ ,
—that was Dante’s reflection on Paolo and Francesca in their circle of hell, ‘what sweet thoughts, what longing, led them to this woful pass’—
and I did you so wrong
letting you in on all my past error
On 29 April he wrote from Zagarolo, a town outside Rome,
His trouble, he keeps gumming things up / mind stops, then rushes. 20 minutes clear, then he tangles.…
Ibsen : life a struggle with phantoms of the mind.…
Has now gummed up even Canto ms- which was for her glory, and then he
didn’t want her exposed to the furies.
He was taking apart his original draft of 115, partly so as to ‘not transmit private discouragements’, but also to remove her from it in order to protect her from scandal. ‘He having nerves as she may have gathered’, he added next day. On 12 May he typed—
dear, my dear, The beauty they have had, they have had. She conserve it.
That they mistook his release for a triumph, The whole picture of his world, which was their private world, and not very accurate as to the outside. She is not to blame for that, which is what he meant by ‘misleading her’. She couldn’t have known. He not strong enough to hold off the outside.
At the end of May Pound showed up in Rapallo ‘without so much as a toothbrush’, as Dorothy put it—she had been there for some time—then went back with Mary to pack up in Rome and return to settle in Rapallo for the summer. Dorothy reported him as bathing in the sea and doing well, though ‘his head v. wobbly & indecisive’.
On 8 June he wrote to Marcella, ‘Bless you for heroic offer 3rd and 4th inst. It takes me 6 hours to write a letter. have lost roman friends.…’ He ended, ‘Time—place—me think of something.’. The day before he had written, ‘He can’t git to Texas, he don’t see ahead…Why shdn’t I have let the day dream go on, and not rung useless alarm bells.’ And on the day after, ‘haven’t come up with an answer’; then on the 10th, ‘don’t seem to answer question: a place & a date’. A month later he told her, on 14 July, ‘leaving Rap. domattina’, tomorrow morning, ‘don’t know that anybody will hear what becomes of him or if he will have an address’. In fact he was not eating and was being taken up to Brunnenburg. ‘Sure wd. like to see a plantation,’ he wrote, ‘but keep out of
Europe Rapallo till I get to some city…I shd. have come home sooner. She is the love of his life & he thought he had killed her by misschance.’ One can just make out through the course of these letters a hopeless plotting to be together again.
Dorothy had her suspicions of that, which she shared with Moore in May: ‘Of course I suspect his intention is to recall the girl to live with him—knowing his awful persistence! much worse now his wits scatter so.’ Still, ‘Ezra is released in my custody,’ she wrote later, and that gave her a sense of being in control of the situation. She was exercising her powers by keeping close control of his literary property, on that occasion by refusing T. E. Lawrence’s brother permission to use a letter Pound had written to Lawrence. ‘Ezra is released in my custody,’ she declared, and then, as if it followed that his rights were thereby made over to her, she coolly went on, ‘and I prefer the long letter should not appear’.
Then there was the matter of Pound’s money. In Rome in February he was tied up in knots about it, had been for months. He was trying to write his own cheques drawing on his own funds, and Dorothy was telling him he could not do that, and that she had to account for every item of his expenditure ‘to Mr. Gleason’. It was not as if they were short of money—Moore had advised her that ‘you have plenty to enable EP to be kept comfortable’. But having control of his finances was a very good way of keeping him under control. There was also the longer-term consideration, that Omar’s inheritance should be kept safe. And as that included his literary property, she was packing up and sending to Omar in America all of Pound’s letters to her that she could find in the boxes that had been stored up at Sant’Ambrogio and were now at Brunnenburg, early letters between them and his letters from the DTC; also Wyndham Lewis’s drawings, which were her own, and Lewis’s letters to Pound which weren’t. Her fear, as Moore had expressed it, was that if the letters were ‘to remain at Brun Mary will doubtless make some claim as all belonging to her—and she might not part with WL’s which you wish Omar to have’.
Pound was not in a good place. In July Dorothy reported him ‘full of manias’—some of them perhaps ‘justifiable—difficult to tell—& he hardly speaks at all—wh may be wisdom learnt too late’. It was taking her up to half an hourto get him to put on a shirt to go down to eat, and then he would eat nothing. He wanted to go back to Brunnenburg, and they did that on the 15th. But there he went on ‘a hunger strike’, and Dorothy wondered if he were trying to kill himself, or was it penitence? He was taken down to a clinic run by nuns in Merano—‘a sort of rest home’, Dorothy called it—and was cared for there for a couple of weeks.
Back in the castle on 5 August he began a letter to Marcella, ‘He start again […] Was following her thru the plantations, and then crash.’ He ‘plugged up the salita’ to post that note, and continued on Sunday 7th, ‘been sufficiently coherent to do a day’s work, or approx, instead of being lugged around like a sack of meal’. He was putting the question to himself, ‘has he got what it takes to make a new start, and not merely shrivvel. With a bit more guts, or another month, he might have made Paris. Ugh…She doin’ all the work, and ready to sail.’ The questioning went beyond Marcella. Eliot was being ‘more assiduous’, and there was a new play ‘called Rhinoceros by a bloke with a name like Unesco’, and ‘There are 40 young with techniques’, and, at ‘15 minutes pas’ midnight’, he was asking, ‘Has he still got what it takes to make a come-back.’ A week later he admitted,
No, my Dear | There aren’t any new Cantos to speak of, only the ones she has copy of, which he took in his suit case, presumably to Milano for three days, and then on to Roma for 6 months | and all that happened was to get ’em more confused and shifted about. | And instead of shouting he drifted, and what he was convinced of once, he wasn’t so convinced of.
He wondered, did she feel up to re-typing the Cantos she had taken with her, ‘in triplicate, and sending him orig. and second carbon’? Marcella did that almost by return, posting the freshly typed copies to him on 30 August.
R. Murray Schafer, the Canadian composer and music-theorist, spent a few days with Pound at Brunnenburg about this time. They talked in the tower room, about Arab music, and about Le Testament which Schafer wanted to produce with the BBC. ‘Pound was a generous conversationalist,’ he recalled, ‘he listened. He asked questions. There was no monologue but an exchange of ideas—at least one flattered oneself to think so.’ Only once did he touch on ‘the renunciation theme so often recounted by other visitors of those years’, and that was when he said, ‘We’ve made a mess of the world for you people’—‘and then we returned to Arab music’. When they got on to Le Testament, Pound ‘“sang” portions’ while Schafer looked at the music, and ‘was astonished at his impeccable memory for the songs well over forty years since they had been composed.’ There was just one untoward but revealing moment. Schafer and his wife were invited to tea, and Dorothy, Mary, and Boris, were all there, and ‘Pound was sullen’—and ‘then after he reckoned we had chatted enough said in a plangent voice I shall never forget: “Schafer came here to talk music and the whole thing has degenerated into a god-damned tea-party.”’ Then he ‘sprang out of his chair with a startling athleticism’ to fetch the books in which he had marked places, ‘and for the next several hours he read poems and we talked about how they could be set to music’. There was nothing wrong with him then. As Schafer was leaving Pound handed him ‘an open brown envelope, ‘“Something to read on the train. When you get back to London give this to Tom.”’ In the envelope was ‘a neat typewritten draft’ of the final Cantos.
Michael Reck and his wife paid a visit that autumn and found a different Pound. ‘He seemed very tired, at times had difficulty finishing a sentence, at times almost whispered. “I’ve been sick, you know”, he said. “I haven’t been able to read for a year”.’ And Reck said, ‘“In any case, you are resting,”’ and ‘“No”’, came the answer, ‘“just…” his voice trailed away “…pushing”’. But as they were standing up to leave, ‘Pound rises suddenly and, with an access of vigor, kicks his chair back’, and his face ‘crinkles profoundly in a smile’ as he shakes hands in farewell.
His depression was beginning to take hold of him, however. He had the proofs of his Paris Review interview to correct, but his concentration gave out towards the end. A year later Dorothy would find the partly corrected proofs in his drawer and ask Hall to add a note ‘saying that Pound had lacked strength to complete his corrections’. Back in June, in Rapallo, he had accepted an invitation to lecture in October to students in Lund, and that had been followed by invitations from Uppsala and Copenhagen. His first thought had been to speak on ‘controversial figures, private worlds’, but the advertised topic became the anodyne ‘Technique and Language of Poetry’. When the time came the lecture tour had to be called off. As Mary explained to Pound’s Swedish publisher, ‘One day he feels very well, and one day he feels so depressed that he won’t even leave his room or talk.’
In mid-October he did manage to do a reading for a cultural society in Trento, down the Adige valley. Eveline Bates Doob, wife of a Yale professor who was in Merano for the year, met him a day or two after that when they were having tea with Mary at the castle, and wrote in her journal,
the door swung open and there he was. Tall, shaggy white beard, longish white hair, a bright yellow scarf flung jauntily around his neck and down one shoulder, piercing eyes.
He stood in the doorway and stared and said nothing for a long moment, then went to each of the visitors in turn, ‘bowed, shook hands, and what I’ll never forget, stared straight in my eyes with such glittering intensity that I couldn’t possibly turn away’. He sat down, and to break the silence Mrs Doob said they had been talking about the new English novelists and what did he think about them, but he could only mumble something she could not make out, ‘with his head down over his plate’. From then on ‘E.P. only listened. But he did listen… And he never seemed bored, or withdrawn even.’ When they were leaving ‘he shook hands (icy cold hands) quite graciously and said goodbye’. Before the end of the month, in Dorothy’s opinion, ‘the nervous breakdown [was] pretty far gone’. Scraps and fragments of writing confirm that he was sinking back into a sad and self-lacerating depression.
In December he was not eating again and was taken for X-rays, which showed ‘nothing wrong in his middle’, and some new pills seemed to help. ‘Eating a little better now,’ Dorothy reported to Moore. On the 15th Pound felt able to write to Marcella—
Ciao, Cara. wish I cd/ be with you this Xmas. Weight down to 120 lbs. yes 120, not 160 . or 180 . or cent kilos.
Got to x rays yester and feeling better. First time I got dragged up the salita for month or more.
As they say, so low, no place to go but up.
If on the loose at all in the spring, shd probably be totally so for a season, but alzo totally broke.
Ciao. sentences run smoothly, for once. as to the pull of particular words, etc.
Love, m’amour. Will stop this before it gets into a snarl . As am due back at roentgen rays place again oggi.
As can again read at least half a page di seguito, resolved to set bak, relaX . and try long term effort.
‘Love | E’, he signed off, with the initial a flourish, then wrote one word more, ‘hope’.
It would have been about this time that he sent to Agnes Bedford, by hand of one of his visitors, the ‘type-script of 7 new cantos’. DP ‘seemed to know nothing’ about them, Bedford told Omar. And Dorothy remarked to Omar that she was unable to control EP’s mail since he was in a different part of the building.
In the New Year—‘3 Jan. I think’—Pound typed a full page and more to Olga Rudge. ‘Why o could n’t I have come to you?’, he began, and answered himself, ‘block and blackout/ blackouts appear to be about ten years long, ’46/56.’ But now he was reaching out to her from his pit of depression, ‘May be still time, some how, now that I have done so much evil.’ He went on about having ‘done wrong to everybody’, to Yeats by not reading him, to the people who had stuck their necks out for him, by not showing proper gratitude at the time; to ‘Tate the poet, and the rev. Eliot’, and to Hemingway, and to Olga herself, ‘a marvel, always trying to educate him, the uneducatable’, as at Genova in 1945 when he was under arrest and being questioned there. And as to why, once back in Italy and in Rapallo, he had ‘persisted in not getting up hill at St Am/ save without announcement and missing you’, that must have been because he was ‘crazier when I got out of bughouse than when in’. ‘In fact INSIDE was where he belonged for COMFORT, and no responsibility, able to think soap bubble and be lord of creation with no fuss.’ But still, ‘for past year and a half WHY, Why , Why’, and ‘how much time he will be given, now he looks like a Tyrolese devil mask’. ‘Give the New Year a chance’, he appealed, reaching out to her again, ‘She is marvellous. and he don’t know what to do about it. At any rate he can think of her among the emparadysed spirits, and him repenting and then some.’ He ended: ‘will continue this if she can stand it. | but take this down to post now.’ One has the impression that he was coming out of a dream, recognizing that he had been caught up in a doomed romance, and painfully struggling to reconnect with a previous life.
A few days later he began a long letter to Marcella, ‘Feelin a bit more human. dunno about weight, but appetite returning.’ This was not a lover’s letter, but newsy, even chatty, all about visitors and people at the castle and one thing and another. Olga had been put out of her Sant’Ambrogio house, the thirty-year lease being up. Dadone was very ill, and was being attacked by Ramperti for having presented Pound to Ungaretti; and Dadone had not wanted Pound to be ‘mixed with group that was paintin hackenkreutzes on synagogues’; and ‘ANYHOW I am still in the DAWG house’. ‘And Mr Norman’s volume does not present me as anyone fit for you to know’. The tone is light, ‘more human’, and much less intimate. According to Dorothy’s diary, that was the day Pound got out the Fenollosa manuscripts again and was putting some order into them.
Eveline Doob was observing Pound’s behaviour through that winter. ‘We’ve been seeing him fairly regularly,’ she wrote in her journal on 2 February, ‘he’s usually present on our visits to the castle’, and he had been down with Mary and Boris to lunch with them. She noted his silences, his listening, his occasional pointed contributions. ‘No question that he follows our talk and is fully capable of being coherent’. But that day, visiting the Doobs with Dorothy and Boris, he had sat for three hours in blank silence, ‘blinking staring, SILENCE’, unresponsive to the simplest question, such as ‘“What will you have to drink, Mr Pound?”’ ‘I don’t think it’s insanity,’ she wrote, ‘it’s deep, deepening depression’, and the cause, she decided, was that he was ‘unbearably discontent with himself’. She noticed, but drew no conclusion from it, that when DP said, ‘“Shan’t we go now Ezra?”, he had stared straight ahead as if she weren’t there’, but then did get up and go with Boris after Dorothy had gone ahead to the bus. Mrs Doob thought to ‘bring a little light, joy, comfort’ to Pound by telling him in a letter that she had been reading his critical works and that it was ‘Fantastic to read the sharp, passionate, sometimes sheer genius of precision, and the excitement it communicates about the role of poetry’. On her next visit to the castle, encouraged by Mary’s telling her that Pound had seemed pleased by her letter, she talked to him about how wonderful his criticism was, and when he said nothing but listened intently she ‘was feeling inspired’, until he cut her off, saying abruptly, ‘“I think it’s time now that we call a halt to your beautiful performance.”’ Then when she was leaving,
E.P. said it was nice for me to say all the things I’d said, even if it was ‘all bunk’, and then he grabbed hold of my shoulders, stared straight in my eyes and said, ‘But don’t you see? There was something rotten behind it all!’
In her journal Mrs Doob concluded that Pound was tortured by his past errors and obsessions, and she thought of ‘his enthusiasm for fascism, his dreadful antisemitic allusions and statements, and, worst for him, the treason that he denied having committed but cannot dismiss in his own mind, it seems’. Those things ‘were terribly wrong and he knows it’, she decided, ‘God knows he knows it! He’s the prototype of the hero at the moment of tragic perception.’ That was evidently a satisfying conclusion to her reflections after that day’s experience. But for all the possible sharpness of the final insight she was not equipped to read Pound’s mind, and was simply projecting upon his words and behaviour what in her judgment he ought to be feeling. Among the things she probably did not know was the fact that Pound was in Dorothy’s custody.
Later in February Dorothy told Moore that Pound was refusing to eat, and refusing to speak or answer questions, and was always saying ‘No’ to her. He was perfectly in order physically, she thought, only there was ‘this WILL to starve himself to death presumably’. It made her very mad, she told Omar. But then, with the prospect of doing a reading for students in Milan and going on from there to Rome, Pound took ‘a turn for the better’.
Eveline Doob saw him in Rome at Dadone’s on Sunday 19 March and wrote in her journal that night, ‘Here were two frail old men, both of them ailing, forlorn, and neither of them capable, even if they had wanted, to excite anyone about the hanged demon, Il Duce.’ She asked if he had enjoyed his Milan reading, and he answered without hesitation that he had; and what did he think of Quasimodo, who had also read in Milan, and had he enjoyed hispoetry? The answers were direct: ‘I admire a man who has the courage to say what he believes’; and he had liked what Quasimodo read, ‘but I haven’t read very much and now I think I should read more of it’. Mrs Doob concluded ‘that just to be out, seeing people, after the isolation of the castle was doing him good. At least he was considerably more spirited.’
On the Monday Pound and Dadone were at a meeting where Oswald Mosley spoke in favour of a European Union. According to La Stampa Mosley’s purpose in coming to Rome was to introduce this new idea to their former Fascists. Pound was seated on the platform, and was applauded when introduced to the audience. He did not speak, but was reported in Frankfurter Rundschau as saying after the meeting that he believed the day would come for European unity.
Reports on his health varied—he was eating well, then he was not eating at all. Eveline Doob noted on 15 April, ‘Evidently he not only won’t (or can’t make himself) eat, but he’s not taking any fluids, or so little that the skin is peeling off his hands,’ and Dadone, ‘who’s been trying to get him to eat and cheer him up…says he can’t cope with him any more’. Dadone told Mary that the doctors thought Pound’s heart was failing. Mary went down to Rome at the start of May with the intention of taking him back to Brunnenburg, but when she got there and saw the state Pound was in she arranged for him to go into a clinic, the ‘Villa “I Pini”, Casa di Cura per Malati Nervosi’. Olga Rudge visited him there on 14 May, and found him confined to his bed and neither eating nor drinking. She later recalled how, after a long silence, he had said, ‘There’s an eye watching me,’ and she had feared that he was losing contact with reality; but then in the afternoon she had seen the eye of one of the attendants looking through a crack in half-open shutters and been reassured. She kept up her visits, travelling down from Siena at weekends in May, then ‘every day, twice a day’ for the first two weeks in June. On the 15th she decided with Mary that Pound was not getting any better and must be moved back to Brunnenburg. They drove him up to Merano in a hired car, with Pound ‘curled up on the back seat like a foetus’. When they reached the town that evening he was so weak that it seemed best to place him in the Martinsbrunn Casa di Cura. He would remain there until the following April, very nearly a full year.
‘He will never be himself again,’ Dorothy told Moore in early July. In early August she told Omar, ‘he might not last long’. He was now being fed intravenously. On the 11th Mary said to Eveline Doob, ‘He’s just dying,’ and she had called Olga who was arriving that evening. But the next day Mary was saying he ‘is drinking and drinking and drinking’, and cursing, which might be ‘a sign of health’. Olga, as she narrated to James Wilhelm years later, had gone immediately to the clinic and ‘found him lying in his bed, with his head turned toward the wall…clearly dying’—
But the minute I entered the room, he turned his head toward me and nodded hello. I told him that I had heard he wasn’t eating. He said nothing. I walked over and sat by the bed, undoing a packet of chocolates from his favorite store in Venice. I took a piece and held it toward him, saying, ‘Here, Ezra. Do eat’. He looked at me with blank, hopeless eyes and said nothing. I raised the piece toward his mouth, put it in, and watched him begin to chew. He chewed and chewed, and then he swallowed. The fast had been broken.
In another version Olga attributed the miracle to a jar of Chinese ginger which grandson Walter had brought from London for Pound, and after he had been given a little bit, the next day ‘E. demanded a piece of ginger, after which he asked for a ham sandwich.’
Three deaths touched him deeply about this time. He had heard of Hemingway’s in May, but it had been kept from him that it was by suicide, until one of the nuns happened to mention the fact, and then he became upset, lamenting that America destroyed its best writers. In mid-September Dag Hammarskjöld was killed when his plane mysteriously crashed in the Congo, and the news made Pound wild with despair: ‘This is the end!’, he cried. At the end of that month news came that Hilda Doolitle had died in Switzerland, and this time he was moved to assert her immortality. The letter announcing her death, from Norman Holmes Pearson with Perdita and Bryher, quoted the message of Venus speaking ‘in the winter dark’ in HD’s Sagesse. This begins, ‘arise, arise, re-animate, | O Spirit, this small ark, this little body’, and ends with an affirmation of ‘Love who redeems the lost’. Pound, in his bed, scrawled an impromptu translation of the lines into Italian, incorporating a note to Mary, ‘Translate this for Vanni or some current obit of H.D. | or I will if my signature is of use.’ Then he put into Italian HD’s ‘[to] set [the] dead pyre flaming’. To Pearson, who had been close to HD, he wrote that he had been struggling to write to him about her death, but ‘besides she isn’t @ all’. He was thinking of how he and HD had known each other over sixty years, ‘60 years unrequited devotion’, as he expressed it to Olga; and he was thinking of her continuing life in her poetry, ‘Helen in Egypt a marvel,’ he wrote to Pearson, and ‘H in Egt the real epic’. To Perdita, HD’s daughter, he wrote, ‘algae of long past sea currents are moved’.
In October Dorothy reported that Pound was both ‘more lucid’ and ‘looking old’. On the 14th, evidently writing with difficulty, he told Olga that he was ‘sitting at desk for first time’. The letter carried on over five hard to read pages, full of remorse and a sense of failure. But when Olga went up to see him she found him ‘much better than when I saw him in Rome…mind clear, not in the terrible state of anxiety and self-reproach’. ‘He can get well’, she was encouraged to think. She wrote to him positively, and told him to practise writing and let it come back gradually, not to force it.
Mary Barnard also saw Pound in the clinic that October. She had been warned that she would find him very much changed, and had imagined him aged, but he looked, as she wrote afterwards, ‘not like an old man, but like a dead man, with a fleshless head such as one might see on a slab in a morgue’. He had had a blood transfusion that morning, she was told, and was extremely fatigued. He had asked to see her when he heard that she was at Brunnenburg for a few days, but it seemed then that he had nothing to say, and Barnard began to doubt he knew who she was. Finally he did speak, ‘H.D.’s death was a great loss’, and ‘You never met her, did you?’ He was not only remembering her, but casting back to her having not followed up his giving her HD’s address more than once in the past. Evidently ‘his mind and memory were still alive,’ Barnard thought, but she had no doubt that he was on his death-bed.
There are odd scraps which appear to have been written in Martinsbrunn. One reads—
At night, now 3.15 a.m. I still get a few, damn few moments when can write cogerent sentences, i.e. I take it when mass hypnotizers’ agent is asleep. / Then the blurr returns, and I continue in basso inferno of incoherence. Paralysis, unable to write.
Telescope is totally blind to everything save the spot it is focussed on. Week’s agony to get that trope to illustrate my total blindness
When he did manage to get that image right, there must have been some positive satisfaction, even some pleasure, in the clear self-knowledge.
He was still in Martinsbrunn clinic in January 1962, but slowly improving. ‘He has been much better lately,’ Dorothy reported to Moore, ‘but yesterday was in trouble again about the urine problem’. The real problem was an enlarged prostate, and a catheter which had been inserted to assist with urination and had to be changed regularly, a beastly business, according to Olga. She went up to see him on Valentine’s Day, and was delighted to find him ‘eating, showing interest in newspapers’. A few days before he had ‘surprised Mary by being dressed and ready to go out…walked as far as the gate and back with no fatigue’. He had sent Olga a telegram, which frightened her, but it read ‘Keep hoping.’ His mind was turning to Sant’Ambrogio and the good things they had done and known together.
On 15 March Dorothy was surprised to find Olga at the clinic having lunch with Pound, and then, as she noted in her diary, talking with Mary. ‘Something is moving,’ she thought; and she wondered where would they ‘park’ him now that he was getting better. He was taking 20-minute walks, and then walking a bit longer, and staying up longer. And he was longing for Rapallo. Dorothy was apparently unaware that Olga was eagerly preparing to receive him at Sant’Ambrogio in the cottage below the church where she was now living. ‘I would be ready to receive Him in ten days or two weeks,’ she had written on 2 March, and had told him that ‘He and Mary could spend the first night or two at Villa Chiara,’ Dr Bacigalupo’s clinic, ‘see the urologist, and face the bit of a walk to Casita 131 rested’. She had given ‘Yeats’ ex-bed and bedtable a lick of paint…so if He feeling up to the simple life, glad to see Him when He likes’. At the end of March she wrote again, ‘she hoping to see Him in House of Pure affection overlooking Golfo Tigullio’. This was what she had been waiting for all her life, she had told him. And she wrote to Ronald Duncan ‘in haste—am painting, cleaning, contriving’ because ‘EP is expected here just before or after Easter’; but ‘please—don’t tell anyone else about this…The situation is extremely delicate.’ To Pound himself she wrote on 6 April, ‘as she painfully sees he hasn’t yet got unstuck’; and Pound acknowledged, ‘he hasn’t got mobilized & he don’t see how’.
Somehow it was arranged that Mary would take him to Rapallo—to stay with Olga for a month, Dorothy agreed. Mary packed up his things at the clinic on the 25th, and on the 26th, as Dorothy informed Moore the next day, ‘we brought EP here, Rapallo, without any trouble.…He ate a good lunch—and M d R delivered him over to Olga R—up outside the town. She is to take care of him for perhaps a month.’ ‘We all need a change badly,’ she added. Ten days later she let Moore know that she was ‘not in communication with them’. And at the end of the year she would tell him, ‘They have taken possession of E.P.—I can’t say much as it’s a job I can’t do myself—and as I got on E.P.’s nerves, he wouldn’t do anything I wanted.’ She was only ‘thankful that he’s not in the hands of Marcella Spann’. Olga would later note for the record, ‘when He was well enough to move, He came back to me at Sant’Ambrogio—and stayed. I gave up my job and took over.’
1 EP’s reference was to these lines in TSE’s ‘Choruses from The Rock, V’:
And they write innumerable books; being too vain and
distracted for silence: seeking every one after his
own elevation, and dodging his emptiness.
If humility and purity be not in the heart, they are not in
the home: and if they are not in the home, they are
not in the City.