Ezra Pound: Poet: Volume III: The Tragic Years 1939-1972 - A. David Moody (2015)
PART ONE: 1939-1945
Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech
—US Constitution, 1st Amendment (1791)
Thy tongue give not too much libertie lest it
Take thee prisoner
—from copperplate MS leaf tipped into EP’s copy of Coke’s The Third Part of the Institutes of the Laws of England: concerning high treason… (London, 1648)
1: BETWEEN PARADISE & PROPAGANDA, 1939–40
Pound left New York for Genoa on 17 June 1939, first class on the ‘Conte di Savoia’, and by the 25th he was back in Rapallo. Finding that Olga Rudge had gone from Sant’Ambrogio to Siena, he protested, ‘He come bak to see her, dambit and she ain’t here’. Olga told him why, in a long, exasperated letter:
He has put her off every time she tries to get Him to consider subject of present triangle—I see no reason for a ‘marital front’ or façade—kept up (as I was told in 1924) out of respect for feelings of D’s parents, to be kept up now in same way when circumstances have changed…I dont know how a Confucian would view a woman who had not wanted children by her husband, & who then introduced another man’s child into the family as her husband’s, being given all the consideration owing to a wife—while the true child had not even legal status, & any privileges given it, or planned for it, were at the expense of its mother—i.e. an adoption that would make it over to you and implicitly to D. while I would loose every right…
Pound had in fact looked into the possibility of legally adopting his own daughter while in the United States—the attorney had sent him a copy of the Pennsylvania Statute on Adoption—and it would appear that he had done this without first discussing it with her mother, who closed her letter thus, ‘Am fed up with you & D. deciding la mia sorte between you—and then presenting me with faits accomplis.’ Before that she had asked that ‘before D. leaves [to be with Omar in August]—[He] consider the situation with her’. When Pound went down to Siena about 8 July he found Olga’s door locked against him, but they made up and he stayed with her for a fortnight. He was back in Siena for the Settimana musicale, 16–21 September, in which the entire week’s programme that year was devoted to the music of Vivaldi—a high point in their Vivaldi revival. Then they went on together to Venice for a month or so, and Mary joined them there. Pound mentioned to Dorothy that he was playing tennis with Mary on the Lido.
Possibly as a consequence of Olga’s being so fed up Ezra and Dorothy each wrote to Pound’s parents towards the end of July telling them that the supposed grandson whom they cherished was not in fact Ezra’s child. Homer wrote to Ezra, ‘A clap of Thunder out of a clear sky could not have been more startling than yours and D’s letters. For over 10 years we have been here. D. has been giving us Omar’s photos o k and it is hard to realize the truth.’ Isabel wrote, ‘Dear Son | The situation is to me amazing—one disloyalty provokes another is understandable but why continue the deception so many years one can not transfer affections.’ And Homer spoke for both, ‘there is no pleasure in our continuing here. We shall arrange to depart.’ The sharpness of the rift is reflected in Pound’s note, ‘Dear Dad, I hope you will at any rate keep up correspondence on matters of general interest.’
As things turned out the elder Pounds did not leave Rapallo. The war made it difficult, then impossible. Homer would die there early in 1942. Isabel would live on through the war into 1948, and be cared for in her last months by the granddaughter she had been denied knowledge of. Mary had been in Rapallo in April when her father was about to leave for America, sharing in the excitement, but on the day he went to board the boat in Genoa her grandparents had accompanied him, and she had gone separately with her mother to see the boat pull out ‘from some place high up where one could see the harbour’. It seemed strange to her that she could not see her grandfather whom she knew was in Rapallo, nor meet her grandmother. She had never heard of Dorothy, nor of Omar, and would learn of their existence only well on in the war. The problematic triangle with its deceptions and its complications was not resolved in 1939, and would remain a source of complications and deceptions to the end of Pound’s life, and beyond.
During Pound’s absence in America, in April, Italy had invaded and annexed Albania. Mussolini was emulating Hitler’s annexations, but he was also intent on blocking his expansion into the Balkans. Then in May Mussolini entered into an agreement with Hitler that if either country went to war the other would support it ‘with all military force’. This ‘Pact of Steel’ was made in spite of Italy’s military being ill prepared for war—it would not be ready before 1943 in Mussolini’s own estimate—and in spite also of his determination not to be drawn into the European war which he foresaw as inevitable. He was simply hoping, as Britain’s ambassador to Italy explained to prime minister Chamberlain, that the pact would put him ‘in a stronger position to restrain Hitler from moves which would involve Italy in an unwelcome and unpopular war’. But while Mussolini might have hoped the pact would make for peace, Hitler, on the day after it was sealed, was secretly briefing his generals to be ready for total war against Poland at the earliest opportunity.
By the end of June Germany’s plans to mobilize all of its now very large armed forces were ready for execution. This time the excuse for the invasion of an independent country was to be Danzig with its large German population. Danzig, now Gdansk, had been taken from Germany under the treaty of Versailles and made a free city in order to give otherwise landlocked Poland a port on the Baltic. Hitler was demanding with increasing belligerence a revision of its status, but that was just the cover for his determination to invade Poland and subject it in every way to the German Reich.
Pound was refusing to believe that anyone would go to war over Danzig. Even so late as 25 August, when Chamberlain had spoken of defending Poland, he told Dorothy that he thought London was creating a crisis unnecessarily since no one was actually attacking that country. The next day he admitted that he had ‘Mebbe been a bit callous as haven’t believed anyone wd/be ass enough to die over Danzig’. He still considered that the threat of a railway strike in Britain that evening looked ‘more like something with a meaning’. Both his letters were returned to sender because Dorothy, who had been with Omar in Annecy—‘sacrificing for one’s offspring’, as she put it—had sensibly responded to the rumours of war and to the mounting anxiety in France by packing Omar off to England and getting herself back to the relative calm of Rapallo.
Pound’s mind was on his cantos’ paradiso that summer. But first he thought he should clear up once and for all the matter of money. He had no doubt that if there were to be war then money, loan capital, would be at the bottom of it. In July he went through a copy of his ABC of Economics carefully revising it for a new edition to be published by Laughlin in America. He refined a number of his 1933 Douglasite formulations in the light of his later discovery of Gesell, and generally pruned and clarified the prose. Then on the endpaper he drafted a hopeful note dated ‘July 1939’:
Since its writing…and publication in 1933, many of the ideas here set forth have gone into action, others have been announced in state programs, not, gentle reader, because of my having written them, but because they are in the current of living thought daily more apparent to more and more people.
In the event, rather than print a new edition Laughlin imported 300 sets of sheets of Faber’s first edition and reissued that, without Pound’s note or revisions. Having revised his ABC, in intention at least, Pound plotted a definitive study. At the beginning of August he told Ronald Duncan that he was too busy to write anything for his Townsman because he had ‘29 Cantos AND that treatise on money to DO’—he wanted to make it ‘THE book on Money’, as thorough as his edition of Cavalcanti. Near the end of the month he mentioned to Dorothy that he was ‘trying to pull that book on money together’. And that is the last we hear of it. In early November, in the course of discussing a possible collaboration with a proposed new magazine, he told Douglas McPherson, the young would-be editor, ‘My economic work is done (in the main)’. It would still have to be ‘diffused, distributed, put into popular education, etc.’, but that job, he implied, could be left to Overholser whose History of Money in the United States was ‘the only American book that needs reading’. He had re-read Willis Overholser’s little book in late August, been struck by it afresh as ‘the most lucid on money I have ever seen’, and had concluded apparently that because it existed there was no call for him to go on with his own would-have-been definitive treatise.
‘My economic work is done’, he thought—if only! If only there had been no war, and he really had been able to leave the economic war to others to carry on, how different the rest of his life would have been. The war in fact had already begun when Pound made that declaration in November 1939. Hitler had begun his conquest of Poland on 1 September and completed it by the 27th, with Russia also invading at Hitler’s invitation and seizing a large slice in the east; and Great Britain and France had been formally at war with Germany since 3 September. Italy and the United States were not yet involved, and Pound was strongly of the opinion that they should not get involved. He was wanting to turn his mind away from warring. Thinking of his own decade-long offensive against economic ignorance and error in what for him was the only real and necessary war, he told McPherson that he had done his bit, that now ‘the younger generation ought to do the killing and carrying away of corpses’. ‘I’ve got my time cut out now for positive statements’, he wrote, ‘am now definitely onto questions of BELIEF.’
‘Belief’ was to be the great subject of the cantos still to be written. ‘There shd. be about 100 cantos in all’, he informed Eliot at the end of September, ‘The latter 29 will move slow, as it is roughly the paradise. Having wiped up history I shall move on to philosophy and outline the kind of religion a healthy man can BELIEVE.’ To Laughlin he wrote, ‘From 72 on we will enter the empyrean.’ In Dante’s Paradiso the empyrean is the ultimate heaven whence emanates the pure light of animating intelligence, the light that informs and shapes the natures of all things in the universe. In The Spirit of Romance Pound had described the Divine Comedy as ‘a symbol of mankind’s struggle upward out of ignorance into the clear light of philosophy’, and had implied that in that clear light ‘the laws of eternal justice’ would be revealed to the contemplative mind. He was reaching now for that paradisal vision in which the laws governing the just and good society would be so clear and compelling that they would enter into the mind as convictions, active beliefs, forming and directing the way people lived together.
In December 1939 he sought the help of the American philosopher long resident in Italy, George Santayana, whose clarity and integrity of mind he admired. Arranging to call on him at the Hotel Danieli while he was in Venice over Christmas, he explained that having got to the end of ‘money in history’ he had next to ‘tackle philosophy or my “paradiso”’, and that he was hoping for ‘sidelights’ on his ‘notes to Cavalcanti and one or two Chinese texts’. ‘Might tear up the carpet, perhaps along the line: We believe nothing that is not European,’ he added. It is likely that when they met Pound used Santayana as a sounding board for his rather scattered ideas about philosophy and religion and ‘European’ belief, touching upon Confucius and Mencius and Aristotle and Aquinas and John Scotus Erigena and Cavalcanti, upon the decline and failure of Christian belief, and upon his commitment to recovering a paradise of the mind in his cantos. Santayana, perhaps grasping at something definite to hold on to, sought enlightenment concerning the Chinese ideogram, but failed ‘to see the connection’ with Cavalcanti and the rest. Possibly feeling rather talked at as by an over-excited teacher he told Pound an anecdote about how Henry Adams, author of The Education of Henry Adams, had remarked, ‘Teach? at Harvard? | Teach? It cannot be done.’ It wasn’t though that Pound was trying to teach Santayana, it was just that when his mind was in a ferment he needed to communicate with someone who could help him sort out his ideas. To Mary, who was with Ezra and Olga in Venice, he said, ‘“A relief to talk philosophy with someone completely honest – a nice mind.”’ She had seldom seen him ‘so eager and yet so contented’.
She recalled in her memoir how they had gone one evening to see a Ginger Rogers–Fred Astaire film, and ‘All the way home from the cinema Babbo tapped and leaped and encouraged me to do likewise and “get nimble”.’ Back in the Pensione Seguso he threw off his coat and jacket and ‘leapt and tap-danced more freely’, until Olga reproved him, ‘“Caro! I refrain from practising for fear of disturbing the other guests and you bring the house down in the middle of the night”.’ ‘Babbo was mortified,’ Mary observed, but ‘it was hard for him to keep still before having fully danced out the rhythm he had absorbed’.
In the latter part of 1939 and into 1940 Pound was trying to keep his mind focused upon constructive beliefs. He read through an old Handbook of the History of Philosophy which had belonged to Dorothy’s father, and particularly marked passages affirming that mind shapes matter, that ideas animate, that an efficient intelligence creates its world. From Aristotle he had picked up the term teXne, meaning sound technique or skill in making, and he was using it to emphasize his old axiom that fine ideas were true only so far as they were made to work in the real world. The ideas he was after would be ideas-in-action. When he looked into the writings of Scotus Erigena, whose assertion that ‘authority comes from right reason’ had been a mantram for him in canto 36 and Guide to Kulchur, he was excited to find him saying ‘a lot about light that hooks up with Guido[’s] Donna mi prega’; and he would put into the Pisan Cantos Erigena’s ‘omnia, quae sunt, lumina sunt’—‘all things that are are lights’—meaning that every thing that exists is made by and composed of the universal Light. That axiom too committed him to seeking his illuminating ideas in their real-life, practical, manifestations. It meant that his ‘serene heaven of philosophy’ must exist, if at all, as a paradiso terrestre.
His interest, he told Eliot, was in ‘civilizations at their MOST’. More precisely, his interest was in what gives rise to and sustains civilizations, that is, their roots rather than their flowerings; and this, he was convinced, had to be a religion of powerfully animating and guiding beliefs. That was not a new conviction, of course. It was present in embryo in Pound’s Imagisme, with its call for poems to be seed-gestalts formed in minds ‘ever at the interpretation of this vital universe’; it was present in a more developed form in his turn to the Confucian paideuma to reform a failing Occident; then in his thinking about the intelligence of love in relation to Cavalcanti; and present again in Jefferson and/or Mussolini, in his affirmation of the civilizing force of germinal intelligence. His references now to the religious beliefs he thought viable in the mid-twentieth century tended to be brief and allusive, as in ‘Statues of Gods’, a note in Townsman in August 1939:
What we really believe is the pre-Christian element which Christianity has not stamped out. The only Christian festivals having any vitality are welded to sun festivals, the spring solstice, the Corpus and St. John’s eve, registering the turn of the sun, the crying of ‘Ligo’ in Lithuania, the people rushing down to the sea on Easter morning, the gardens of Adonis carried to Church on the Thursday.
The truly believed cults, he insisted, were those of Aphrodite and Helios—sex and the sun, in current vernacular. In a later note, under the heading ‘Religio’, he said simply,
Paganism included a certain attitude toward; a certain understanding of, coitus, which is the mysterium.
The other rites are the festivals of fecundity of the grain and the sun festivals, without revival of which religion can not return to the hearts of the people.
‘The religious man communes every time his teeth sink into a bread crust’, he declared in another note, with this further charged thought, ‘The essence of religion is the present tense.’
There was a dark underside to these positive statements. Pound was now blaming the weakening of Christian belief on ‘semitic infections’, and calling for ‘a European religion’ purged of Old Testament myths and metaphors, and purged of tolerance of ‘usury and mercantilism’. In the summer of 1939 he had drafted an article with the heading ‘European Paideuma’ which he hoped would be translated and published in Germany by Douglas Fox of Frobenius’ Institute for ‘Kulturmorphologie’ in Frankfurt. ‘What we believe is EUROPEAN’, he began, and went on to indicate what he regarded as the ‘roots’ and ‘valid elements’ in European culture—the festivals of ‘the sun, the grain, the harvest and Aphrodite’, and again ‘feasts of planting and harvest and feasts of the turn of the sun’. But against these he saw ranged the ‘semitiz[ing] forces’ of usury and a revival of the Old Testament. And only in Germany, he wrote, ‘is there enough force toward a purgation’—towards ridding European culture of its ‘semitic microbes’. The article ranged over other points in his thinking—Ovid, Erigena, amour courtois; it remarked, ‘Sound ethic we have from Confucius via Mencius’; it also allowed that Aristotle and Aquinas, by intellectualizing too far in their philosophy, ‘were largely destructive’ of belief. But there is no getting past that assigning to Germany, in 1939, the function of purging Europe of its ‘semitic microbes’. That was typical Nazi double-speak, and though Pound’s immediate context concerned impersonal cultural elements he was nonetheless using the arguments and the language of Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda, and would almost certainly have been understood in Germany to be endorsing the Nazi measures to rid Germany of its Jews in the pursuit of ‘racial purity’. His habit of identifying and confusing the practice of usury with Jews and Judaism for rhetorical effect had become so ingrained that he could at times lose all sense of the error of doing so; and now the error was bringing him near to evil. In this draft article, and in some of his correspondence around this time, his call for ‘European’ culture to be purged of ‘non-European’ ‘semitic elements’ is fearfully near to Hitler’s lethal myth of an ‘Aryan’ culture needing to be purged of Europe’s Jews. Along with that, the Nazi appropriation of sun-seeking and fertility for their own perverse ends could render suspect at that time even Pound’s longstanding and profoundly sane enthusiasm for Helios and Adonis and Aphrodite.
There is evidence of Pound’s struggling to correct himself. He wrote to Eliot on 1 February 1940, ‘I don’t think I am ready for an analysis of Christianity into its various racial components, European and non-European.’ In spite of that he did write to the Revd Henry Swabey in early March, ‘Re European belief: Neither mass nor communion are of Jew origin…and are basis of Xtn relig.’ But then in a letter to Ronald Duncan he referred to that statement, and pulled himself up: ‘what’s use my saying THAT especially as I have NOT studied the Mass.’ The rest of that letter is like a contest between two sides of Pound’s mind, one insisting ‘Christianity is (or was when real) antisemitism’, and the other retorting ‘what is the use of arguing (my arguing) with undefined terms’. He asserts, ‘Protestantism a usury politic’, but then thinks ‘No use MY going off half-cocked on large subjects whereon I have not yet arrived at conclusion’; again he asserts, ‘I doubt if ANY single ethical idea now honoured comes from JEWRY’, and then reflects, ‘BUT…I only finished my historic econ/ section a year ago, and dont want to make wild statements.’ The resolution of the contest between the closed and the open mind comes with the realization, ‘Need ALL the circumjacent intelligence for immediate things,’ meaning that it was not the time for speculation about matters he had not got to the bottom of. ‘Tempus tacendi’, he concluded wisely, time to shut up. But then he added, as if aware of how unfixed his mind was, ‘I dont know how long it will last.’
It was not in Pound’s nature to remain silent for long. He valued stillness and silence in his contemplative moments; but his mind was more often hyperactive, and eager to converse, to communicate, to teach. When in Rome, as he often was in these years, he would look up all sorts of contacts in the search for information and conversation, not always successfully. In a wry passage in a letter to Katue Kitasono in August 1940 he described a recent visit to Japan’s ‘cultural relations bureau’—he had been hoping for a meeting of minds:
After half an hour one of ’em vaguely thought I must be someone he had heard of; Fenollosa meant nothing to ’em. They thought I ought to get wise to MODERN Japan and not bother with Noh.
Well, they gave me a damn good cup of COFFEE. So I kidded ’em about disappearance of tea ceremony.
And they hoped to see me again
BUT Americans are suspect. Naturally.
Pound fared rather better on his regular visits to the Italian Institute for the Middle and Far East to look up Chinese materials. There he met a young Chinese instructor, Fengchi Yang, and tried to convert him to his view that China’s real enemy was not Japan but international usury. Yang, with his more intimate acquaintance with Japan’s invasion of China, was unimpressed, but did assist Pound with his Chinese studies, and later with his translation into Italian of two of the Confucian Four Books.
His desire to teach America was still strong, in spite of America’s not wanting to be taught by him. Just after his return he had written to Ibbotson about visiting Hamilton again to lecture to ‘the student body’ in the spring of 1940, perhaps annually. Nothing came of that notion. Then he had been proposing for some time to edit a ‘Founders series’ for Laughlin’s New Directions in order to put into circulation at a dollar a copy the gists of Jefferson and Adams and Van Buren. But at the end of November 1939 Laughlin had to tell him that such a series ‘would be a dead loss’ since ‘nobody would touch it because of your association with it’. Laughlin had been touring the country selling New Directions books to the stores and had found ‘that you are in great disfavour with your compatriots’. Most stores would not take his books, saying it was ‘because you are a Fascist’, or saying ‘youth has lost interest in you and they can’t sell them’. Laughlin could foresee that ‘These next years are going to be bleak for you because of your views and the sentiment against you.’
Laughlin still had faith in Pound’s poetry, and firmly intended New Directions to become its publisher in the United States. He wanted to take over and reprint the 1926 Personae at a dollar as ‘the best move at the moment to save your reputation’. And he did manage to take over the contract for publishing the Cantos, believing that ‘when monetary sanity does return to this earth the Cantos will be recognized as an epic of money, of the greatest world importance, in fact a sort of prophetic monument to the new age’.
But as for Pound’s idea that he should edit and Laughlin publish a weekly newsletter or monthly review in order to further communications between Europe and America, Laughlin declared with some force that ‘There could be no connection with New Directions and no hint that you were connected with it—if anybody smelt you in it, or your Italian hand, they would simply discount the whole thing as lies.’ Further, ‘I will not run an anti-semitic sheet or be in any way connected with one.’ He had already told Pound that he would not ‘print anything that can fairly be construed as an attack on the Jews’, and that he would have that stated in the contract for Cantos LII–LXXI. Now he went on,
I cannot tell you how it grieves me to see you taking up with [anti-semitism]. It is vicious and mean. I do not for one minute believe that it is solely the Jews who are responsible for the maintenance of the unjust money systems. They may have their part in it, but it is just as much, and more, the work of Anglo-Saxons and celts and goths and what have you.
Undaunted, Pound kept on at Laughlin about the need for intercommunications. After Italy entered the war in June 1940 he felt this all the more. He wanted news from abroad, he told Laughlin, ‘fer preventin me from falling into ERROR’; even more he wanted to be communicating his own news sense. In November 1940 he wrote, ‘Until the war started I had ten thousand circ[ulation] via Action, and was educatin a LOT of live Britons…men writing, andblokes speaking to large audiences’, and now that ‘English papers [were] closed for the duration’ the ‘U.S. should take advantage’ and publish him more. Laughlin had to remind him, ‘Yr hon[our’s] name is absolute mud wherever mentioned because of yr present whereabouts and known affinities.’
His ‘present whereabouts and known affinities’ were indeed problematical. From America he was perceived as un-American, even anti-American, and certainly Fascist. In Italy he was perceived as altogether American, though sympathetic to Fascism. To himself he was all-American and unwaveringly loyal to the Constitution of the United States; and as for Fascism, he saw that as right for Italy at that time, but not for a moment did he think it should supplant the democratic ideal in America. As an American in America he took his stand unequivocally with Jefferson and John Adams. But he was not in America, he was in Italy, and for the most part his devotion to America came out in the negative—in disappointed and angry criticism of it for not living up to its ideal. And it didn’t help when he invited America, in an Italian journal, to look to Fascist Italy as the effective heir to the American Revolution. In May 1939, while he was in the United States, an article over his name appeared in Meridiano di Roma, a serious journal of ideas, lamenting, first, Americans’ ignorance of their own history and Constitution, and then their ignorance about Fascist Italy. If only they would understand and uphold their own Constitution, he suggested, then 95 per cent of their prejudice against the totalitarian states would be removed. In January 1940 in another article in Meridiano di Roma he put it more strongly, declaring that American hostility to Fascism was based not just on errors about it but upon a deep-festering ignorance of American history. In April he affirmed that his revolution was the American one of 1776, and then went on to salute the Fascist revolution as its continuation, in that the Fascist state was opposed to mercantilism and usurocracy. In June 1940 he candidly suggested that the United States might learn from the l’idea statale how to be true to its own ideal. To Pound these were self-evident truths, not even paradoxes. But to others, and to his fellow Americans in particular, the contradictions were simply insupportable.
With England closed to him by the war, and America closed to him by a general prejudice against him, the only outlets Pound could find for his communications were in Japan and Italy—in Japan until September 1940, and after that only in Italy. His Japanese friend Kitasono had introduced him, in May 1939, to the editor of The Japan Times and Mail, ‘the first and oldest English language newspaper edited by Japanese in Japan’, and over sixteen months he contributed a dozen ‘Letters from Rapallo’, hoping to act as a sage medium between East and West. The editor had asked him to send ‘cultural news’—‘art, poetry, music’—and made it clear that he ‘naturally would prefer nothing which will provoke Americans in political issues—kindly stick to literary subjects’. The editor was of course aware that his paper would be scanned in the press office of the American Embassy in Tokyo for interesting items to be clipped and forwarded by diplomatic bag to the State Department in Washington. There is no evidence that Pound made any allowance for that. For him, of course, ‘literary subjects’ embraced economics and politics. So, in his second contribution to The Japan Times, after touching on a number of ‘literary subjects’—the recent deaths of Frobenius and Yeats, new poetic drama in Europe, books worth reading by ‘Orientals wanting a clear view of the west’—he declared that what most interested him, and should concern all serious writers, was the political question of ‘how people can live together in an organized or organic social system’, the great problem being economic and monetary pressures militating against the freedom of ‘the individual in the state’. Then in October 1939, with the war under way in Europe, he told the editor that he would ‘prefer to write about history for the moment, including current history’, since ‘We are having a LOAN-Capital war’, a usurers’ war, or as ‘Some say a jew war against the aryan population of Europe’, ‘and all this is subject matter for literature’, he insisted. In spite of that his contributions were restricted for some months to cultural intercommunications, such as the value to the West of Fenollosa and the Noh, and of Confucius and Mencius, and the value to the East of early Greek thought. It was not until April 1940 that he entered directly upon ‘current history’, by recommending Basil Bunting as a poet conscious of ‘the age-old infamy of the money monopoly…of attempts to starve mankind in general, by the trick of trapping and withholding the power to buy’.
Through the following months he wrote almost exclusively about the war and its economic causes. His July ‘Letter from Rapallo’ began, ‘With the Hitler interview of June 14, the continental war aims are once more made clear in their essential fairness and, for a victorious army, their mildness.’ 14 June was the day Paris fell to the German army. Mussolini had brought Italy into the war on 10 June, attempting without much success to invade France through the Alps and along the Riviera. Before that, in April and May, Hitler’s forces had occupied Denmark, invaded and defeated Norway, Holland, and Belgium, in each case, according to Hitler, to save and protect those countries from the Anglo-French alliance. Now France had fallen to the Reich. And Pound was somehow persuaded that responsibility for ‘the million dead in Poland, Flanders, Norway, etc.’ lay with the monopolists of money with their Jewish names and connections who ‘make wars for the sake of creating debts and for the sake of monopoly’. Hitler’s essentially ‘fair’ and ‘mild’ war aims, he seems to have been implying, were to defeat those warmongering financial interests and to prevent them from destroying Paris. In his next ‘Letter’ he referred to the war simply as ‘the present Anglo-Jewish war on Europe’.
Laughlin would have dismissed all that as ‘German propaganda stuff’. The likelihood is though that Pound was sincerely deluded and really believed his incredible interpretation of Hitler’s long-plotted, ruthless, and brutalconquest of Europe. He must have been blanking out the manifest realities of the war by thinking only of a sentence he had isolated from Mein Kampf, ‘The struggle against international finance and loan capital has become the most important point in the National Socialist programme: the struggle of the German nation for its independence and freedom.’ His holding on to that old claim in the face of all that Hitler had done and was doing can only mean that his usury complex was now so developed and so dominant that he was no longer capable, when considering the unwelcome war, of seeing it as it was but only as he was convinced it must be. Many years later he would reflect, ‘Telescope is totally blind to everything save the spot it is focussed on’, and would take that as illustrating his own ‘total blindness | AT moments’.
His contributions to Italian papers, mostly to Meridiano di Roma, were along the same lines as his articles for The Japan Times. The actual war, he would insist, was an Anglo-Jewish war on Europe, to make the world safe for usury; with the implication that the Axis powers had gone forth to conquer the forces of usury. That was in accord with what he had written to Odon Por while Poland was being overrun, ‘Germany is about 90% right in this shindy’,‘and Eng/stinking/land I.E. the yitts that run her, 100% wrong’. There were a few more or less lucid moments. In March 1940 in an article in Meridiano di Roma under the heading ‘Gli Ebrei e questa guerra’—the Jews and this war—he confessed that his thinking was falling short of Latin clarity and simplicity, that he was lumping together Jews considered as a race and Jews as individuals. He was still blaming the race for the fact that Britain and France and the United States were effectively governed by financial interests against the true interests of their people. At the same time he recognized that it was not only the Rothschilds and Sassoons and Monds who were immediately responsible; there were plenty of Aryan bankers and capitalists in it too, and both those Jews and those Aryans should be condemned equally. The evil was not ‘semitism’, he could see, it was ‘mercantilism’. That correction did nothing to alter the conviction that it was a usurers’ war and a war against usury. In July 1940, after the fall of France and the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk, he wrote, ‘the hecatomb of English soldiers will be the last tribute paid to the bestial superstition, the respect for gold’, and he prophesied that ‘every nation which tolerates a state of usury behind the official state will fall’, as France had fallen, and as England he was sure would soon deservedly fall. 1
Pound was drifting rather rapidly towards engaging in propaganda that could serve the Fascist interest. In early September 1939 Odon Por told Pound that he had been approached ‘re giving a more efficient turn to our propaganda’, and that ‘If you have some suggestions to make re. OUR popularity in Am. (And not Adolf’s) we are ready to listen.’ Pound declared himself ready ‘to popularize Italy and NOT Adolph’, provided Por would learn to ‘USE American history’, and would understand that he, Pound, was ‘FOR monetary reform’ as the necessary condition of world peace. He drafted a relatively mild open letter to the English, and another to Americans condemning England and telling them ‘America’s place is OUT of this damn war’. Por used neither letter, but went on discussing possible projects with Pound.
Pound was being caught up in and also himself deliberately weaving a web of connections with the propaganda services. He sought clearance from them in April or May 1940 for at least one of his articles for the Japan Times—the one published on 13 June presenting his economic interpretation of the war in Europe—and he did this although Italy was not yet at war and his communications with Japan were not subject to censorship. He seems to have been bringing himself to the notice of the Italian authorities as a potential collaborator. The clearance was given without any indication that he was regarded in that light by the officials concerned.
His Rapallo friend Ubaldo degli Uberti, a retired naval officer with literary interests and press contacts, had introduced him in the autumn of 1938 to Cornelio Di Marzio, the director of Meridiano di Roma who would serveduring the war as secretary-general of the Fascist Confederation of Professionals and Artists. Pound began corresponding with Di Marzio, ‘offering advice’, according to Redman, on ‘the effective presentation of Italian economic ideas…in foreign propaganda’; and in February 1939 Di Marzio invited him to become a regular contributor to Meridiano di Roma.
In November of that year Pound put to Di Marzio his idea for an English language review which he would edit with the aim of promoting a better appreciation of Fascism in America. It would deal in part with Italian literature, art, and music, and in part with political and economic life in Italy compared with life in America. Di Marzio suggested he approach Luciano De Feo, director of the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations, and when Pound did that his letter was sent on to the Ministry of Popular Culture, where it was considered by Luigi Villari whose field was cultural relations with the United States. Villari reported to the propaganda directorate that Pound had put forward three projects: a series of studies of America’s great early leaders whose ideas in some way bore comparison with Fascist theory, ideas which America’s current leaders were failing to honour; secondly, the English language review; and a third project, a weekly column of items selected by Pound from Italian daily papers. All three projects would bear the stamp of propaganda, Villari noted, and that would diminish their value. Moreover, for Italy to publish tendentious historical studies of the kind proposed could appear a rather inopportune intervention in America’s internal affairs. Villari entered further weighty reservations concerning Pound himself:
Signor Pound is an American poet resident in Rapallo, with a love of Italy and a strong sympathy with Fascism…He is a man of real talent and culture and is moved by the finest feelings towards us, but he has a disorderly mind and tries to take on economic and financial questions about which he has some rather fantastic notions.
In the United States Pound is well thought of as a poet but his writings on politics and economics are not taken seriously. Any initiative coming from him would not carry much weight.
Villari’s advice that Pound’s projects should not be taken up was communicated by the director general of propaganda services, Armando Koch, to Alessandro Pavolini, the minister for Popular Culture, and the poet’s proposals were dropped.
Pound did not give up. On 25 April 1940 he presented himself at the Ministry for Popular Culture in Rome asking to see Armando Koch, and was told he was away. The official who did talk to him made a note for the director general of what Pound had had to say. He had brought a proposal for the twenty-five articles he had written for the British-Italian Bulletin at the time of the Ethiopian war to be republished. He had expressed concern that because of the overwhelming domination by Jews of the north American press and publishing houses ‘our’ voice was not being heard in the United States. Evidently Pound was still wanting to promote his idea of a review, and when the official objected that it would be expensive to keep one going in America Pound had replied, ‘It wouldn’t take a lot of dimes but a lot of intelligence.’ Nothing came of this visit to the Ministry, and nothing came of a direct approach by Pound to Alessandro Pavolini in November 1940. But by then he was finding the propaganda section of Rome Radio more receptive to his offers of collaboration.
There was pressure to return to the United States. In November 1939 there had been a general notice from the Consular Service in Genoa that by order of the Department of State all US passports had to be validated by an American consular office prior to 1 January 1940. Then in May Secretary of State Cordell Hull sent a telegram to the US ambassador in Rome agreeing, even though neither Italy nor America were as yet involved in the war, ‘that in the light of your conversation with Ciano today the time has come when you should strongly urge all Americans to leave Italy at the earliest possible opportunity’. The Embassy gave out that advice and offered assistance to US citizens unable to arrange or to pay for their passage back to America. There is some evidence that Pound considered leaving then, but nothing came of it.
When Italy entered the war on 10 June 1940, Pound decided that it was time to make his will, and did so a week later, declaring Mary Rudge to be his daughter, leaving everything to her, and providing for her to be his literary executor when she reached the age of 18 years.
Then the war began to have its effect. He was warned by Odon Por and by Olga Rudge that his letters were being opened by the censor. His bank account was frozen, and his sources of income were drying up along with his sources of information. (In October he was telling Kitasono, ‘J.T. my last remaining source of information re/ the U/S. I don’t even know whether Jas/ has got out the Am/ edtn/ 52/71 Cantos.’) Payments from England had been stopped, so that he was receiving nothing for his writings from there, and Dorothy’s income was withheld. Then the banks started refusing to cash dollar cheques. His only source of income from abroad was the ‘thin line of supplies’ from his articles in The Japan Times, and with that there were frustrating complications. One payment of ¥97 should have yielded Ł450, equivalent to $20, but because of some slip yielded only Ł45 and had to be sent back for correction. Pound’s total earnings from his dozen contributions probably brought in less than Ł1000. Worth more to him were the privileges that came with being made an accredited correspondent of The Japan Times, the journalist’s card entitling him to reduced rail fares and membership of the press association.
WILL of Ezra Pound, of via Marsala 12/5 Rapallo drawn this the 17th day of June a.d. 1940.
The need to earn cash to support himself and Dorothy and Mary, and to help his parents when Homer’s pension cheques from America became casualties of the war, must have been an urgent reason behind his proposals to the Ministry of Popular Culture and to Rome Radio. He was down in Rome in early August 1940 looking for work and when a chance turned up he jumped at it eagerly. ‘De F/ asked me who cd/ translate yr/ Pol/ Econ/ Soc/’, he wrote to Odon Por, meaning that De Feo, director of the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations, was looking for someone to translate Por’s recently published Politica economia-sociale in Italia anno XVII–XVIII, and Pound had said at once, ‘EZ can’. A couple of weeks later he was in Rome again and wrote back to Olga Rudge in Siena, ‘Waaal, mebbe papa bring home the bacon | not official but sum under consideration dieci mille’—10,000 lire that would have been. However Redman records that he received only 2,500 lire for the 200-page book, Italy’s Policy of Social Economics 1939/40 by Odon Por, when it was published in Bergamo a year later.
There was no Palio in Siena that August due to the war, but there was an expectation that the war would be over in September, and then there would be a Victory Palio. Pound was encouraging Olga to think that Hitler ‘will be in London by September 15th, after which ’spose the war will die down a bit’. The battle of Britain was at its height when he wrote that on 28 August, with the Luftwaffe attempting to wipe out the Royal Air Force as a prelude to the expected invasion of England. ‘Londres delenda est’, Dorothy Pound had written in her diary on the 17th, a few days after the air battle began, adapting ancient Rome’s fulmination against Carthage—it was the Bank of England and the government that she particularly wished blasted out of existence. The German attack was indeed turned upon London from 7 September in bombing raids which continued daily through to 2 November. Dorothy, in Rapallo—Olga had made it clear that she would not be pleased if ‘His legitime’ were to be in Siena for the Scarlatti settimana musicale—was getting news of the Blitz from the radio and from Italian papers. She noted a report that the John Lewis department store in Oxford Street was in ruins, and could not imagine ‘how Churchill & co. can continue’. There was also news of Italian bombing raids in Egypt and Libya, where the Italian forces were driving back the English, and this news she supposed was good, though she felt that even worse than the Blitz would be a telegram from Alexandria—presumably she was fearing for the safety of Omar’s father. On 28 September, having heard the news of Japan’s joining the Axis in a transmission from Berlin in German, Italian, and Japanese, she exclaimed ‘Banzai!’, and reflected, ‘Japan will be the only other place to go to, or to take the children to’.
Pound meanwhile was in Siena with Olga, and Mary was with them there this year for the first time. Her mother had inspected her in Florence at the end of August after she had, to Olga’s sense, gone ‘back to the soil’ in the Tyrol for the summer, and had decided that after all she was ‘shaping nicely’ and was now sufficiently ‘pretty, well groomed, and graceful’ to be seen in Siena’s suave society. She was taken to the concerts and met the composers and musicians, and the distinguished Count Chigi, the founder and patron of the Academy of which her mother was the busy social secretary. The mornings were for study, Pound at his typewriter or reading Confucius in the original—‘seem to remember a bit more each time’—and Mary working at Greek and Latin. In the afternoon they played tennis, Pound teaching Mary ‘the correct basic movements with great perseverance’. ‘When it was not tennis, it was history or art,’ she recalled, ‘He showed me Siena stone by stone, as he had done Venice.’ And, ‘As usual, he would make me describe in writing what we had seen.’ In her memory the month was unshadowed by the war, with new things to learn and do, ‘Apfelstrudel…our great weakness’, and the highlight Scarlatti’s comic opera Il trionfo dell’onore.
Mary seems not to have registered at the time how shaken Pound was by the Three Power Pact signed in Berlin at the end of August. Japan was entering into a military alliance with Germany and Italy, and the three powers were promising to assist each other in the event of an attack by the United States. Intended to warn America to maintain its neutrality, the pact nevertheless reinforced the perception that that country was against the Axis and allied with its enemies. Evidently disturbed by this Pound returned at once to Rapallo and engaged in a flurry of arrangements to leave for America. His books and their most valued possessions—the Gaudier-Brzeska and Brancusi sculptures, the Wyndham Lewis drawings and paintings, the Dolmetsch clavichord—were to be taken care of by the degli Uberti family ‘for as long as you are gone’. Before the end of the month Ubaldo degli Uberti wrote that the books were in his son’s study in Genoa, and the rest of the property was ‘in Rome: via Chelini 16’. About 4 October Pound went from Rapallo to join Olga and Mary in Venice—‘Our last holiday in Venice’, Mary recalled. It was cold, there was an air of gloom and impending austerity, the foreigners to whom Olga usually leased her small house had all left, and ‘Babbo did not stay very long’. He went on to Rome to make the travel arrangements—it would have to be by flying-boat since surface sailings to the United States had ceased. He obtained a letter dated ‘October 9, 1940’ from the American Consul General to the Consul of Spain in Rome:
Sir and dear Colleague:
Mr. Ezra Pound, bearer of American passport No. 121, issued by the American Consulate General at Genoa, Italy, on December 9, 1937, and his wife, Mrs. Dorothy Pound, bearer of American passport No. 963, issued by the American Consulate General at Genoa, Italy, on February 17, 1937, desire to return to the United States, traveling via Spain and Lisbon.
Mr. and Mrs. Pound have made arrangements to leave Lisbon on the ‘Yankee Clipper’, on the first available date.
Any courtesy you may be able to extend to Mr. and Mrs. Pound in expediting the granting of a transit visa for Spain will be appreciated.
The fact that the original letter, with its file reference, ‘811.1—Pound, Ezra and Dorothy’, and the signature of Graham H. Kemper, American Consul General, was still among Pound’s papers after the war, must mean that it was never presented at the Spanish Consulate in Rome. There were no seats to be had on the Clippers flying from Lisbon, so Pound was told at the American Express office, or none just then. He dashed off a note to his father on Friday 11 October, ‘all vurry interestin’ = but also wearing to nerves./nothing very clear yet & several people wanting clipper passages.’ He wrote the same day to Olga, ‘I don’t think I can get you a clipper reservation until Am. Ex. has yr. passport. The Portagoos visa waits till transport from Portugal is arranged.’ To that he added, ‘He don’t want ’em to be on two sides of a blinkin ocean fer indefinite.’ Presumably he had obtained a letter from the American Consulate on behalf of Olga Rudge and her daughter Mary Rudge, and another on behalf of his parents. There had been some difficulty or delay over Mary’s passport application, and Pound had said to her that her ‘legal status and citizenship would be set right as soon as we were able to get to America’, but he did not mention that as a problem now. On the Saturday he wrote to Olga, ‘niente sino al 14 novembre’, nothing before 14 November. On the Monday, 14 October, he bought American Express dollar travellers cheques to the value of $1,390, having raised the money by selling an investment bond into which he had put his Dial award in 1928. But then on the same day he sent atelegram, ‘Non vado in America—tornerò a Rapallo’, not going America—returning Rapallo. He followed that up with a letter: ‘Thank gawd thazz over…the clippah don’t take nobody more till Decembah-middle, cause it’s behind with the mail…He ain’t been so glad about anything for a long while.’ Olga too was glad, since she had not wanted to go by the expensive Clipper ‘unless necessary’, and it still did not ‘feel like a war here’. At the end of the month he told Kitasono about the ‘great excitements’, ‘but Clipper won’t take anything except mails until Dec. 15, so am back here at the old stand/Thank god I didn’t get as far as Portugal and get STUCK there.’
Being back at the old stand meant applying again to the Ministry, this time to its Radio Department. He sent in a sample script on 9 November, offering to go down to Rome ‘at once if you telegraph, and carry on for at least six brief talks of this sort, or register ’em on discs’. In the script he dramatized his situation in a folksy idiom which he believed would get his talk over to ordinary Americans. He had been driven to the radio, he implied,
having tried at the last moment in the flurry subsequent to the three Power Pact to get ‘home’ by Clipper, and found it, i.e. Clipper, entirely full of escaping diamond merchants, secret (more or less) agents, delayed mail etc. to such degree that no simple and private Americans could find place.…
Of course this isn’t the first time I have approached (approached is the right word) the microphone. Shortly after they started short wave to America, that is several years ago, I came down here and said a few words about Major Douglas Social Credit Scheme: forget whether Bible Bill had bruk loose in Alberta. BUT the boys here didn’t tell my friends I was going to speak, so I think my audience consisted of one young lady on Broadway. Then again I came down here again last year and suggested that as it cost 30 cents per letter, it would convenience me to use the air in communicating with several etc. Well the Ministro looked at me careful and said in perlite words to the effect that: Ez, or probably he said ‘Mio Caro Signore’ if you think you can use OUR air to monkey in America’s INTERNAL politics you got another one comin’. Then by the end of SeptemBAH this year 1940 I knew so little about America that even I, with my perennial urge to utter, didn’t know what I wanted to tell brother Mencken, and the distinguished H. Fish, let alone the effete licherati. I then said NO, lemme git onto that Clipper and SEE what is doin and bigod somebody went and sold the rock of ages (i.e., Ligget and Meyer’s bond) so I could pay fer a clipper passage, which WAS NOT, and ain’t yet, at least not unless the American Express Co. is a liar. They said—and charged me telegraph costs to Lisbon—‘Nuts, not till Dec. 15’, which is, or was, no use to Ezry.
The Ministry considered the script and replied in polite form that it was not able at present to make use of his writing on their American Programs. Pound would persist, feeling the need to talk to America and needing money, and the Ministry would change its mind and grant him his ill-fated wish.
1 There was no ‘hecatomb of English soldiers’: virtually the entire BEF had been successfully evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk between 26 May and 4 June. Pound’s misinformation would have come from German reports relayed in the Italian press and radio on which he was dependent for news throughout the war. Redman notes that ‘Pound was an avid reader of Italian newspapers, reading daily Popolo d’Italia, Giornale di Genova, Regime Fascista, Gazetta Popolare, Corriere Mercantile, and Corriere della Sera’ (197–8).