Ezra Pound: Poet: Volume III: The Tragic Years 1939-1972 - A. David Moody (2015)
PART ONE: 1939-1945
2: A DUTIFULLY DISSIDENT EXILE, 1941
Interviewer: What did you write during those years?
Pound: Arguments, arguments and arguments. Oh, I did some of the Confucius translation.
—Paris Review interview (1962)
‘I will BUST i.e. EXPLODE if some use isn’t made of me’, Pound exclaimed in early January 1941 to Camillo Pellizi. He wanted to be a ‘Megaphone to shout out this or that to deaf americans’. Pellizi had had a hand in Pound’s writing for the British-Italian Bulletin at the time of the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, being then professor of Italian at University College, London, and ‘the boss’ of the Italian Fascists there. He had remained on friendly terms with Pound, and now at once phoned Adriano Ungaro and Gabriele Paresce, the men in charge of foreign broadcasts, to assure them that they could safely take him on. An offer followed from the Ministry of Popular Culture on 18 January inviting Pound to collaborate in transmissions to North America and Great Britain, and by the 21st he was down in Rome recording talks to be broadcast on short wave to America and medium wave to Britain. A couple of days later he told Olga, ‘made 2 discs yesterday…9 discorsi in a fortnight’.
He was doing his duty, as he saw it, his duty as an individual, as a poet, and as an American citizen. He had been told by Senator Wheeler when he was in Washington ‘trying to see if there was any way of staving off the war’, that even Senators were powerless to prevent breaches of the Constitution by the President, and he had concluded that ‘when the Senator cannot function, the duty…falls back onto the individual citizen’. That was why, he declared in a formal statement in 1958, ‘when I got hold of a microphone in Rome, I used it’. At the time, as he was campaigning to get hold of it, he said in a letter to Meridiano di Roma that poets too had a part to play in the war. ‘Whoever is unwilling to fight at this moment is no poet,’ he trumpeted—‘Chi non vuol combattere in questo momento non è poeta.’ The radio would be his weapon. As for what he was fighting for, he would say that it was for the rights and liberty of the individual person. And since, as he saw it, ‘the only defence against…tyranny lies in the education and discrimination of the individual’, he would use the Fascist radio to combat his fellow Americans’ ignorance of their own history, to confirm the widespread feeling that they should keep clear of Europe’s war, and to empower them to stand up for themselves against the violations of their Constitution.
The Italian authorities were naturally puzzled and suspicious, and nevertheless remarkably tolerant of Pound’s highly idiosyncratic broadcasting. Enquiries into his acceptability had been made when he first directly approached them about radio work in November 1940. The Washington Embassy had been telegraphed for information about the ‘well-known American writer, presently residing in San Remo’ (sic), and similar telegrams had been sent to the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, of the Interior, and of War. The replies came back only after the first set of Pound’s talks had been transmitted, those beginning on 23 January. The Ministry of the Interior had no reservations concerning Pound’s attitudes and intentions. The Embassy reported at the end of February that during his 1939 visit to America Pound had ‘displayed his friendly feelings for Fascism and granted courageous interviews’; moreover, his ‘recent broadcasts from Italy were [the] subject of vital interest and considered to be very efficacious’. They had been asked specifically about his ‘racial background’, and gave the assurance that ‘notwithstanding his Biblical name, he is of Aryan race’. A week or so after receiving that report the Inspector for Broadcasting and Television informed the Chief of Cabinet of the Ministry of Popular Culture, Celso Luciano, that he intended to ‘entrust Ezra Pound with the wording of at least five conferences per month besides the drawing up of two political notes each week’—these latter would have been for others to use. He was thinking of paying him a monthly sum because in that way ‘a greater number of conversations and political notes would be had and his useful suggestions could be used to the advantage of a greater efficiency of our propaganda for North America’. However the Ministry of War warned at the end of March that Pound might have ulterior motives—it was known that he was associated with the American Consulate in Genoa in buying English books to be sent to British subjects interned in Italy, and during a recent trip to Rome he had had ‘a long interview with the American ambassador’. On those grounds the Ministry of War judged that Pound’s offer of collaboration should be rejected, and Luciano in his turn urgently advised that no further use should be made of Pound. In spite of that, after a brief break, he was back on the air. From time to time after that ‘some high-ranking personality’ would ask, ‘What does this man want? Can we be absolutely sure that he is not using a code system in his talks? That he is not a spy?’, and Pellizi would give the assurance that so far as he could tell Pound was no spy.
The simple answer to ‘What does this man want?’ would have been, to communicate with America. His isolation irked him. In November 1940 he had sounded off about it to Ibbotson—
Is it conceivable that in any other damnd country on earth a man cd/ get thru the work I am KNOWN to have got thru and find himself at my time of life (54 not being infancy) with no means of communicatin’ wiff his com/damn/patriots save by private letter.
After his first eight talks had aired Pound wrote to Villari that he hoped they would be continued, since ‘This is my only way of communicating with my friends in the U.S. without loss of five or eight weeks’. He drafted a note to be sent from the Ministry to his friends and correspondents in America giving details of the frequencies and times of the broadcasts; but it was not his friends that he was wanting to speak to so much as the mass audience radio could reach. In Guide to Kulchur he had noted that in the radio age government could be, even must be, by radio: ‘Lenin won by Radio, Roosevelt used it, Coughlin used it as a minority weapon.’ And Mussolini and Hitler, he might well have added, used it to powerful effect. Very likely he regarded radio simply as a medium for speaking to the masses. He had never owned a personal radio until he noticed a small medium wave portable Natalie Barney had with her when she stopped over in Rapallo in March 1940, and he was so appalled, and then so taken with it, that she presented him with one. He was appalled by it as a hellish invention likely to disperse and destroy the inner life of the individual—those ‘personae now poked into every bleedin’ ’ome…smearing the mind of the peapull’ and reducing them still further into a ‘state of passivity’. It was only because he was ‘the last survivin’ monolith who did not have a radio in the ’ome’ that he had been able ‘to do 52/71’. And there was that ‘double sense of the blessedness of silence when the damn thing is turned off’. Yet ‘the devil box’ that was a menace to his own meditations could allow him to get at the minds of others, of a whole mass of others, and to make them think. He would use it ‘to induce [the auditor] to listen to historic information in order to understand Fascism and how to beat the financiers’.
Viewing radio as a dramatic medium—‘what drammer or teeyater wuz, radio is’, he remarked to his dramatist friend Ronald Duncan—Pound set out to assume a dramatic, even histrionic, persona. ‘Nothing solemn or formal will hold the American auditor’, he explained to Paresce, ‘If I don’t sound a bit cracked and disjointed, they will merely twirl the button and listen to the next comic song, dance or ballyhoolah “Soapopry”. Hence the indications of American dialects etc. in the spelling.’ After his first broadcasts he asked Ungaro, should he ‘compose scripts with calm and detail | or let the anger boil?’ He had been drafting ‘a half-dozen little speeches’ back in Rapallo, and ‘right now I “boiled” | in short such a rage as to be almost indecipherable’. Anger and rage would be one staple of his radio persona, as it had always been of his agitprop prose, but he would learn that he could not afford to let it be ‘indecipherable’ over the airwaves. In May 1941 Dorothy advised him from Rapallo (in a letter stamped by the Commissione di Censura in Rome): ‘Yr. discorso came over last night quite clear. Slowness v.g. as you have lots of matter. I think it would be better a little less loud: (not necessarily less vehement). The loudness reverberates sometimes…. I only hope some of the s. of b.’s heard it. The violence quite apparent.’ ‘I don’t so much write as I roar,’ he told Laughlin, but ‘I reckon I was a little too loud last night . makes the diaphram, diaphragm how the hell is it spelt, rattle’—that would have been the diaphragm in his microphone. Seeking guidance as from a fellow Axis propagandist he wrote to William Joyce, an Irishman broadcasting to Britain from Berlin—he became known as ‘Lord Haw-Haw’ in mockery of his forced English accent—saying he had been hearing his transmissions daily and ‘shd be glad to profit by experienced criticism’. Joyce, however, would not presume to criticize: ‘Your methods are unique,’ he told Pound, ‘nobody could imitate them successfully’. Well, said Pound, though it was a ‘New technique for Unkle Ez’, quite different from a poem since the talk ‘has to take effect NOW or never’, still ‘I think I have got my voice right at last’. The next day he confessed to Olga, the concert performer, ‘am developing prima-donnitis’. And in October Dorothy, after hearing a broadcast of his ‘This War on Youth’, told him that the word ‘youth’ had not carried well, but the talk ‘Otherwise came very clearly’, and it had been ‘a good plan to change your method every little while—gentle, suave; vituperative, desperate’. At times Pound was content to cast himself as what Gertrude Stein had called him,‘an explainer’—a ‘village explainer’ had been her actual barb.
His talks were not, are not, easy listening. In the recordings made of them by the United States Federal Communications Commission the voice is often harsh and over-insistent, and that effect is sometimes compounded by static and distortion. The voice can be made to screech or blur, and words, even whole phrases or sentences, can be lost. There is also the sense that Pound felt he must project his voice through the crackling aether and across oceans and continents to reach an unknowable audience. There is no intimacy, as if he imagined his voice issuing from loudspeakers in public places, and not from radios in families’ kitchens and living rooms. At times what is being said is nearly unintelligible and only the sustaining rhythm comes through, reminding that this was after all a poet speaking. It makes for painful listening, and the talks could never have been seductive or persuasive even at their clearest.
Pound’s most devoted listeners, possibly his only regular listeners, were the FCC monitors charged with recording and transcribing the talks, and the errors in their transcriptions—such as ‘Céline’ being heard as ‘Stalin’, ‘Lenin’ as ‘seven’, ‘to debauch its currency’ as ‘to divorce its currency’—are one indication of how such listeners as there were might have been baffled as to what Pound was on about. In mid-1941 a bank teller in Rutherford did make out ‘“Something about ol’ Doc Williams of Rutherford”,’ and when Williams heard about it he wanted to know ‘“What the hell right has he to drag me into his dirty messes?”.’ In his fury Williams ‘lashed out at’ Pound, venting all his old antipathies in an article headed ‘Ezra Pound: Lord Ga-Ga!’ He was even more infuriated when some time later the FBI called on him with questions about his association with Pound, and was he a loyal American citizen, and was he prepared to testify that the voice on their recordings was Pound’s?
The fact that Pound was talking on the radio was being noticed in America, mostly negatively. As early as April 1941 Pound was telling Ungaro, ‘I see by a Chicago rag that I am “charged with fascism” and that critics have been trying to defend me, but that the label must stick.’ At the same time Laughlin was telling Pound, ‘Yr politics have cooked yr revered goose to a point you wd. not believe.’ Later in the year he was more specific, ‘You are pretty much disliked for your orations. Yr name in general might be said to aspire but not attain to the dignity of mud.’
His name was mud with the State Department. In April all United States passports were withdrawn and had to be replaced. ‘New passports are free & time rather short to get ’em’, Pound wrote from Rome to Dorothy, ‘I think you better go to Genova and get yours. I will try to get mine in Venezia.’ Passport No. 3154 was issued to him there on 4 April 1941, valid for six months to 4 October 1941. Then on 4 June Henry H. Balch, the American Consul General in Genoa, wrote to the State Department concerning ‘Political Activities of Ezra POUND’, and suggested that ‘it may be desired to use the discretionary power of the Secretary of State to refuse Mr. Pound further passport facilities for continued residence abroad’. Someone in the State Department noted ‘Yes’ alongside that suggestion, and on 12 July a telegram was sent from the Department to the Embassy in Rome to the effect that Pound’s ‘Passport should be limited for immediate return to the United States’. This appears to have been in reaction to his broadcasts, and it meant that he was expected to ‘go home’ by early October and to remain there. It is not clear when Pound learnt about this instruction—‘Jus italicum’, an article in Meridiano di Roma in August, may have been a response to it. Then at the end of September he went down to Rome from Siena rather suddenly with the intention, his daughter gathered, of arranging to visit America. But there was to be no visit to America, ‘Things were too complicated’, she was told, ‘The officials at the American Consulate had been very nasty.’ And indeed a State Department memorandum dated 11 October 1941 by J. Wesley Jones, an official just back from Rome, reported that Pound was ‘still in Italy broadcasting his views’, and suggested that his name might be added to the ‘list of pseudo Americans living in Italy’. That may have been simply because he would not ‘go home’ on the State Department’s terms. It is likely though that Pound had attempted to make George Wadsworth, the Chargé d’Affaires, understand that his relation to his homeland was not as simple as the official mind would have it, and that the exchange of irreconcilable views had become heated.
In his ‘Jus italicum’ article Pound had made a serious attempt to square his US citizenship with his commitment to Fascist Italy. He thought it neither permissible nor possible to change nationality—for better and for worse he was and must remain an American citizen. To renounce his citizenship would be ‘il gran rifiuto’, the ultimate cowardice of denying the possibility of his country’s rebirth. However, ‘when I swear loyalty to the American constitution, as I do every time I renew my passport (even if the Consul forgets to require it), I swear fidelity to a government which does not exist’—to a Constitutional United States existing for now in the mind only. And because his own country was in such disorder he was not able to live there, and was instead self-exiled in Italy. In Italy, being alien-born, he could not claim citizenship. All that he sought was the civil status accorded in imperial Rome to aliens who came to it with a will to make themselves in some way useful. For example, he might facilitate relations between his country of origin and the one in which he was resident. In any case, he should give some positive and active proof of willingness to contribute; and in return he should be granted an exile’s right of residence and the right and possibility of doing useful and honest work. So far Pound might have been seeking no more than work and residence permits. The fact that Italy was at war, however, if not yet with the United States, put his willingness to be of use in a very different light, and Pound did indicate a readiness to join in on its side. But that did not mean ‘a divided allegiance’, he insisted, because what Italy was fighting for, in his special view of the war, was the same thing as an American loyal to the Constitution should fight for—their common enemy was the financial system which had undone the American republic and had undone the European democracies. To further justify his position Pound cited Lincoln’s saying to Congress during the Civil War, ‘I have two great enemies, the army of the South before me, and the financial set-up behind—and the latter is the worse enemy.’ That was the perennial enemy against whom he was prepared to fight alongside Fascism, as a true American and for a reformed United States.
The Chargé d’Affaires and his officials, if invited to view Pound’s case in this very special, very individual light, might well have lost patience and dismissed the argumentative patriot as a ‘pseudo American’. In his own mind, though, Pound was being true to his oath of loyalty in the only way he knew how in the situation he found himself in.
While he could not persuade the American authorities to see things in his way he was to be granted more or less all he asked for from the Italian authorities. In September 1941 Dorothy was warned by the Carabinieri in Rapallo that foreigners must not leave their residence without first notifying them and obtaining a travel permit. Pound, then in Siena, was anxious about having failed to do the right thing, and had to be calmed by Dorothy, and told ‘just apply next time you go away’. In January 1942, with the United States now at war with the Axis, he applied for permission for himself and his family to remain in Italy for the duration of the war, and this was formally granted by the Italian Supreme Command on 26 January. He applied at the same time through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Finance Ministry for exemption from the financial restrictions applied to foreigners—the family’s bank accounts and safe-deposit boxes were blocked just after America’s entry into the war in December 1941. In this matter the authorities at first granted only partial relief: the accounts were blocked again in April 1942; in September he was allowed to withdraw just 1,000 lire per month for living expenses; and the restrictions were finally lifted only in January 1943. His right to work for Rome Radio, however, appears not to have been in question.
From January through to December of 1941 Pound went down to Rome for several days each month to record his scripts and to contribute in other ways to the propaganda activities of Ente Italiano Audizione Radiofoniche (EIAR), staying always at Albergo d’Italia in Via Quattro Fontane. He was officially employed as a script writer and political and cultural commentator; in addition he freely offered suggestions and advice for broadcasts by others. ‘I got up from bed to send you two ideas,’ begins one letter to Ungaro written at 5 a.m. on an April morning. Redman, who cites that letter, concludes from his survey of the correspondence that at this time ‘Coming up with ideas and approaches for Italian propaganda dominated his thinking.’ He would take his typewriter with him to Rome so that he could work on scripts there as well as in Rapallo. In May he was turning out talks under pressure and told Dorothy, ‘Looks like he wuz to emit twice weekly’. By his own account he gave ‘between 70 and 100 talks on the radio’ in that year. His letters to Dorothy through the summer convey the excitement of being kept very busy with his talks, as well as with writing articles for Italian journals, and with being translated into Italian—Signora Olivia Rossetti Agresti’s translation of What is Money For? appeared in Meridiano di Roma in July. Part of the excitement was the feeling of being highly useful and of getting his own ideas across.
The pay, according to the files of the Ministry of Popular Culture, was 150 lire for writing each script, and a further 200 lire for recording it (350 lire would have been worth about 17 US dollars at that time). The money would come through to him, after a complicated and often retarded bureaucratic process, at the Rapallo Tax Office, but would not have to go through his recurrently frozen bank account. He reckoned that up to 1 December 1941 he had earned 16,400 lire, equal to nearly $1,000. That was evidently sufficient to support himself and Dorothy and Mary, and to help out Olga Rudge and his parents.
He was collaborating with a motley group of people at Rome Radio, many of them, according to someone who worked there, eccentrics, ‘so that Pound did not stand out’. The editor of ‘The American Hour’ was George (‘Giorgio’) Nelson Page who had renounced his American for Italian citizenship. Another contributor was an Englishman, James (‘Giacomo’) Strachey Barnes, who described himself as ‘chronicler and prophet of the Fascist Revolution’. The Princess Troubetzkoi, born Amélie Rives in Virginia and Russian by marriage, was a novelist and playwright—‘her special kind of propaganda consisted in making up optimistic sketches of life in Italy which she transmitted to Russia and to England’. Signora Agresti, born in England to the son of an Italian émigré and herself Italian by marriage, was an altogether more serious character than the rest, and a close friend of Pound’s. He was always conscious that Dante Gabriel Rossetti was her uncle and Ford Madox Ford her cousin, but she was distinguished in her own right as an economically literate intellectual who had helped set up the International Institute for Agriculture which later became the FAO. She was a committed supporter of Mussolini’s economic programme. Then there were the Fascist officials, several of whom Pound would see socially while in Rome, among them his friends Camillo Pellizi and Luigi Villari.
In the autumn and winter of 1941-2 Pound also frequented a very different circle of Fascists, one made up of idealistic younger writers and intellectuals who dreamed of a Fascism that would be true to Mussolini’s founding vision, much as Pound himself dreamed of an American democracy that would be true to its founders’ vision. He was introduced to these ‘Fascists in crisis’ or ‘dissident Fascists’, as they regarded themselves, by his friend Odon Por who must have been in sympathy with them. They met at the home of Felice Chilanti, the editor of their journal Domani which had just been suppressed by Pavolini ‘“on orders from the Duce”’. Chilanti had written an article demanding to know the reasons for the war, and extracting from Mussolini’s own writings and speeches ‘the ideology of a war for social revolution, for the overthrow of the capitalist system and the creation of a new order free from plutocrats and usurers’. Another of the group ‘had put our heated discussions of the treason of Italy’s great capitalists into an editorial protesting their enrichment at the expense of our dying soldiers at the front’. They had blamed the plutocrats, ‘the industrialists who sell the state cardboard shoes and tinfoil tanks’, for having wanted war, and for the inevitable defeat brought upon Italy ‘by the sordid souls of usurers and profiteers’. And Pavolini had said to Chilanti, ‘“We can’t understand what it is you people want”.’ What they wanted, they explained to Pound, was ‘an Italian society made up of equals’; and, in practical affairs, ‘the capacity to produce good shoes, good cloth, blankets that keep you warm, airplanes that are swift and well-made; capacity to produce merchandise without the yoke of capitalist exploitation’. And all of this was to be achieved by re-establishing Mussolini ‘in that proud ideology which he himself called “a civilization of labor”’.
Pound read their suppressed magazine, and listened, ‘attentive and friendly’, to the lively debates, occasionally saying ‘sí, sí’, ‘yes, yes’ to thoughts that were so close to his own. Once he suggested they read Confucius, and another evening he talked of Jefferson. To Chilanti, ‘The very fact that he would visit us, join us, meant that he did not like the Fascist Fascists, the real Fascists’; it meant that ‘he shared our disgust for the party hierarchs’ stupidity and criminal activities’. Then in April 1942 Chilanti and his friends were all arrested, and he was sentenced to five years confino. Pound was shocked to be told they were all in prison when he next went to visit the group, and turned back down the stairs ‘with the air of a fugitive’, or so it seemed to Signora Chilanti. He had said to her, ‘How can I bring myself to talk on the radio tomorrow night? What can I say, tomorrow?’ In spite of that his habitual haranguing of America and England did continue, but after the war Chilanti found an echo in the Pisan Cantos of the dissident conversations Pound had listened to in his apartment—
‘I would do it’ (finish off Ciano) ‘with a pinch of
said Chilanti’s 12 year old daughter
Chilanti also associated with these conversations Pound’s judgment upon the Fascist regime—
and the dog-damn wop is not, save by exception,
honest in administration any more than the briton is truthful
Jactancy, vanity, peculation to the ruin of 20 years’ labour
If Pound was forming that judgment already in 1941 and 1942 he did not share it then with his American and British listeners. Nor did he follow the example of his young Italian friends and declare himself explicitly a dissident American democrat, as he well might have done.
He did say, emphatically, in reaction to a New York critic’s saying he had ‘given himself to fascism’, that he had NOT so given himself. He had simply insisted on ‘the constructive elements in Fascism, and particular facts of the corporate state which deserved comparison with the best efforts of the Founders of the North American system’. He maintained that he was as a matter of fact defending the ‘United States heritage’ in his radio talks, that is, ‘the beliefs of Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Jackson, Van Buren and Lincoln’, and those could not be ‘laughed off as mere Fascist propaganda’. He was defending the Constitution as the basis of social justice and equity—of the state’s ‘capacity to give every man a square deal’. But he was against those who want war and who bring on war—by which he meant the loan sharks, the speculators in war material, the scarcity makers, the monopolists, and all such. He was especially against ‘Churchill and company’ as representing ‘usury…tyranny, oppression, greed, unrestricted exploitation of humanity’. And he was against Roosevelt taking the United States into Churchill’s war against Germany, that being, he still maintained, a war against an honest concept of money.
There was not much that was new in these broadcasts. In his letter to William Joyce he mentioned that he had read ‘What is Money For’ over three evenings—though Dorothy was sure ‘they did the third disc twice and omitted the first or else used it at a different hour’. Other previous writings he was drawing on included the article he had written for the Washington Capitol Daily during his 1939 visit, articles in issues of Meridiano di Roma which had been suppressed in the USA, and the ‘Mensdorff letter’ of 1928. And he kept ‘hammering on parallels between our U.S. revolution of 1776 and the Axis fight against international Leihkapital etc.’ What he was putting over was his own familiar propaganda, and his own fixed idea of the war. There is no evidence of his being subject to the dictation of the Fascist authorities. At the same time his talks were deeply coloured by what he was reading in the Axis press and hearing on the Axis radio. Moreover, in ‘hammering on the Axis fight against international Leihkapital’, and in constantly asserting that it was Jewish financiers behind Churchill and Roosevelt who were responsible for the war, Pound’s propaganda was fully in accord with a major theme of Nazi propaganda.
It becomes remarkable that Pound hardly mentions the actual events of the ongoing war. In 1941 the Italian armies in North Africa were driven back by the British and the Australians and New Zealanders, and later reinforced by the German Afrika Corps which would prolong the desert war into 1943; German armies took Yugoslavia and Greece, after the Greeks had defeated the Italian 9th army; in June Hitler launched ‘Operation Barbarossa’ against Russia and by the end of the year his armies were besieging Leningrad and attacking Moscow. These were major developments in the most devastating war Europe had ever experienced, but for Pound the real war remained the perennial economic war, the war behind the war. And his real enemy was as ever the capitalists and their financial system, characterized as ever as Semitic. In one talk he might say, ‘I propose to use the word KIKE regardless of race’, but the word is inescapably racist and the prejudice infects most if not quite all the talks.
There are odd brighter moments: ‘the idea that a man can own all that he can use’ and ‘may not own what he can’t use’; the perfectly serious and wonderfully idealistic proposal that to secure peace in the Pacific the USA should give Japan the island of Guam in exchange for ‘one set of color and sound films of the 300 best Noh dramas’, these being of greater potential value to American civilization than any material wealth; the conviction that Siena’s keeping on with its music week in 1941 regardless of the war was evidence ‘that Italy is carrying ON. La rivoluzione continua.’ Some talks were clear and cogent, such as the formal obituary for James Joyce in 1941, or the one with the title ‘Consolidation’ cited in a previous paragraph. In others the listeners would likely have been put off if not wholly alienated by the predominance of a hectoring or vituperative tone, of twisty language and out of focus perceptions, of half truths and ill-founded generalizations.
But the main effect of reading through the dozen broadcasts from 1941 included in Doob’s selection—that is, just reading them on the page, not having them grate harshly on the ear—is a dispiriting sense of the futility of the effort and the awful waste of Pound’s gifts. His profound idealism, his utopian intentions, his unshakeable vision of what makes for a good life and his uncompromising critique of what does not, his refusal to let the pressing actuality displace the deeper reality, all of this virtue is marred and undone by his blindness to the evil of Hitler’s Nazism and to the necessity of opposing it, and by his inability to recognize that Mussolini’s Fascist experiment had gone terminally wrong. And in the end, whatever he might say, the medium, the Fascist radio, was going to be the message for anyone who heard him.
Pound had not entirely lost touch with the wholly different mindset of his cantos and their striving toward a natural paradise. In a letter to Kitasono in February 1941, having mentioned that because of the war there would be no concerts that year in Rapallo—‘the foreign subscribers are gone…no pianist / no public’—he gave him this image of music persisting in a private world:
Stage, a room on the hill among the olive trees
the violinist playing the air of Mozart’s 16th violin sonata /
then a finch or some bird that escapes my ornithology tried to
counterpoint. all through in key
Of such marvellous moments Pound would build his paradise. He added, as if by way of putting ground under it, ‘this is the season when the olives fall, partly with wind or rain / hail for a few minutes today | The impatient peasant rattles a bamboo in the olive twigs to get the olives down, but this is now against the regulations as they, the olives, are supposed to give more oil if they fall by themselves.’
Two or three weeks later Pound enclosed in a letter to Kitasono these more extensive ‘Lines to go into Canto 72 or somewhere’, just to show ‘that I am not wholly absorbed in saving Europe by economics’:
Now sun rises in Ram sign.
With clack of bamboos against olive stock
We have heard the birds praising Janequin
And the black cat’s tail is exalted.
The sexton of San Pantaleo plays ‘è mobile’ on his carillon
‘Un’ e duo…che la donna è mobile’
In the hill tower (videt et urbes)
And a black head under white cherry boughs
Precedes us down the salità.
The water-bug’s mittens show on the bright rock below him.
The first line recalls how the ancient Chinese observed the seasons, as rendered from Li Ki in canto 52; while the rest is from Pound’s own immediately present world of Sant’Ambrogio. In a note sketching a possible outline for this decad he had written, ‘LXXII Erigena | 73-80 = paralleli 52-61 | [81 Usura?]’, indicating an intention to make the initial theme ‘omnia quae sunt Lumina sunt’, and to have the following cantos correspond in some way to the China cantos. The nearest correspondence would be his taking up again the leading theme of those cantos, ‘the abundance of nature | with the whole folk behind it’, only transposing it now into the terms of his own known world. That would be the implication of the Latin aside, ‘(videt et urbes)’, a phrase from the opening lines of the Odyssey where Odysseus is introduced as a wandering exile who has seen the cities and learnt the minds of men, and whose story will tell of his world as he himself has experienced it. ‘The clack of bamboos’ is the sound of the olive harvest in the groves on the hillside terraces of Sant’Ambrogio; ‘the birds praising Janequin’ would be responding to Olga Rudge’s playing his ‘Song of the birds’ on her violin there; the popular song from Rigoletto played by the sexton on his church bells would be sounding from the square tower of San Pantaleo visible half a kilometre away across the hillside; the salita is the hill path leading down to Rapallo which Pound must have walked nearly every other day; and the water-bug, seen with such clarity, could be on the stream the path crosses at its foot. These sounds and sights combine to evoke, responsively and with good humour, a local peace and abundance, such as China’s farmers celebrated in canto 53 as they sang ‘“Peace and abundance bring virtue.”’
A handful of other jottings of lines for cantos from this time try out combinations of ancient and contemporary notations of natural abundance and wisdom. One of the longer fragments invokes the Greek and Roman ‘field gods’ after Ovid’s Fasti, a calendar of country festivals and their rites:
First Jove and the earth our mother
second the sun and moon
that are the measure of time
Jove and our mother, that are the fountain of all things
Ceres and Liber third
Flora et Regibus
Flora ac Regibus Robigalia
lest blight come lest flower come not
Athene, and Cythera, of the olive, of gardens
to Jove the Vinalia
to these the wine feasts.
Lympham ac bonum eventum
without him frustrata est non cultura
and without water all things are dry these are the field gods
In another fragment the thud of the mill on the ground floor under Olga Rudge’s apartment as it crushes the olive stones is connected with Persephone, with her Tiresias ‘who even dead yet hath his mind entire’, and then with her spring blossoming. Another note—marked as a possible opening for a canto—is still more explicit about the vital function of mind in the process: sun’s ‘Fire causeth not beauty, nor the earth, but NOUS | knowing the handiwork’. That would be the knowing of a Tiresian mind fully conscious of the sustaining processes of the living world. There are also stillness of mind ‘here in Tigullio’, and ‘April birds thru the stillness’.
Stillness against his unstillness: a stillness entering the mind as it contemplates its immediate world, against its unstillness when grinding out wordy propaganda. There was a middle ground in translation. In the summer of 1941 Pound translated a novella called Moscardino written by Enrico Pea and first published in 1921. He did this, he told Laughlin, ‘fer the sake of bein’ literary amidst mundane excitements’; but he also saw it, or so he told Dorothy, as having ‘propagandist scope’. This is how Pea’s story of rural life in a region of Italy in the nineteenth century begins in Pound’s translation:
The Signora Pellegrina went into mourning at once, she put on black silk, put a black hem on her nightgowns, lowered the blinds, and lit a lamp on the wide linen-cupboard.
She was of high lineage and had come in for the shares of two sisters who had gone into convents and passed away early, but her husband had been a poor hand at guiding the domestic economy and had left little either of her good heritage or of his own. He had been honorary physician to the Confraternity of the Misericordia, and High Chamberlain of the Church of San Lorenzo; he had had, therefore, a magnificent funeral.
The Signora Pellegrina showed no sign of grief at his passing. She said: Well out of it; you are.
She then tells her three sons to divide the remnant of the estate, shuts herself in her room and turns mute. One son, being sickly and retarded, had been intended for the priesthood, to secure a stipend, but was thrown out of the seminary. A second son was ugly and ape-like. And the third, who in his youth had run away and gone venturing, and who ‘had planted the liberty tree in the town square’, couldn’t stand either of them and had fits of terrifying rage. All three hang about the house doing nothing. The third son seduces the servant girl from the mountains, marries her, and then, she being a truly beautiful woman, goes mad with jealousy, and is carried off in a strait-jacket to the asylum. At that Signora Pellegrina throws herself out of her window, a suicide, barred from the last rites. The beautiful servant will die slowly of consumption. And so the tale goes on, with a naturalism to outdo Zola; yet there is so much sympathetic imagination, and such freedom and invention in the telling that the grim events appear at times surreal, at times dreamlike or lyrical. The writing does merit Pound’s high regard.
All the same, what propaganda value could he have seen in this unedifying image of country life where the only rites and customs have to do with property and death? It is so far removed from his own paradise of natural abundance as to be hellish—and that must have been its value to his mind. Moscardino can be read as a ruthlessly clear-eyed picture of how life was in rural Italy before Mussolini, with the last inheritors of the land-owning class impoverished and degenerate, their natural impulses weak and thwarted, dragging out their feeble unproductive existences while sucking the life-blood from their peasant servants, under a moribund church and with death the dominant note. It was an Italy, one might well argue, much in need of the Fascist revolution. But the book, and the translation, do not argue, do not go in for propaganda. They operate as literature must, showing how things were, beyond argument, and allowing the reader to contemplate them in imagination, beyond argument. Translating Moscardino must have been restful for Pound’s over-excited mind.
After Moscardino he turned to translating Confucius into Italian with the assistance of Alberto Luchini, the latter putting Pound’s Italian draft into ‘real Italian’. The first chapter of the Ta Hio (which he had learnt to call Ta S’eu), the part supposed to be Confucius’ own text, appeared in Meridiano di Roma as ‘Studio integrale’ at the end of October. He told Cummings that he had ‘propsed a nedition on a Monday, and got it approved on A Tuesday, and had the first chapter of chink in the zincogaphers on Wednesday’, and thence it had gone straight into print—‘though the accompanying traduction contains one bad error | mine | one oversight also mine | and one gawdawful emendation of me colleague . me unbeknownst’. There was a still worse error. Confucius’ text was copied onto the zinc plates from Legge’s edition of The Great Learning in four blocks of ideograms just as they appeared on his pages, and these blocks were then distributed at random and in the wrong order through the two pages of Pound’s article, thus making a nonsense of the ‘bilingual edtn’ he intended.
Pound had for some time been seeking to introduce the doctrine of Confucius into Fascism as he understood it. He declared in Meridiano di Roma in May 1941 that the Ta S’eu, as the Confucian ‘digest par excellence of statal philosophy’, should naturally form part of ‘the educative program of Fascism’. ‘Fascism needs such masterworks,’ he added. Evidently his translation was intended as a constructive offering, but also as a warning. ‘Studio Integrale was done as a warning to Muss/’, he would tell Mary, ‘allusion so clear that Monotti joked: you for the confino’. And indeed the terms in which he was recommending Confucius’ doctrine were quite un-Fascistic, even anti-Fascist. The basic principle, in his account in Meridiano di Roma, was the self-responsibility of the individual: the proper running of the state depended upon the individual, the responsible individual, necessarily, but still the individual; and while the whole nation of individuals should act responsibly, still the health and welfare of the nation had to follow from the good behaviour of its individual members. This was the Confucian idea, as Pound had affirmed it when he first translated the Ta Hio in 1927, but it was rather far from the Fascist idea. For Fascism the collective, the corporate state under its leader, came first, and the individual should exist and act only in accord with the state. Putting the individual first was condemned as bourgeois heresy; the more so that the truly self-responsible individual, following his own imperatives, might well question the state’s claim to be always right—and then have to be suppressed in the interests of the state, like Chilanti’s group of dissident Fascists. It was a quixotic delusion of Pound’s, a projection onto Fascism of his own highly developed sense of individual responsibility, to imagine that Fascism valued, or could be brought to value, the individual consciousness of how things should be.
Yet, as with Quixote, the delusion did not altogether invalidate the effort. To affirm the importance of the individual person in Fascist Italy, however ineffectually, must have been worth something. And Pound had other motivations. He was concerned to foster the habit of accurate perception necessary for the right conduct of the individual and thence of the state. As he recommended the Confucian ethic he recommended also, as the cure for the disastrous human tendency to lose sight of the particular in the general case by relying on statistics and abstract categories, the ideogrammic method with its discipline of concentrating upon concrete phenomena and the precise workings of things. Beyond that, because ‘the life and thought of Confucius unfold in a world of light and flowing water’, Pound felt the Confucian universe to be in sympathy with that of Scotus Erigena, and to be a universe of light such as Cavalcanti immersed himself in before writing ‘Donna mi prega’. In 1941 he must have believed, or wanted to believe, that such enlightenment was still possible and could have effect in Mussolini’s Italy.
For Pound’s daughter Mary that year from July to December became a mostly idyllic time as she looked back on it in her memoir. Because of the war she would not be returning to the convent in Florence, and in high summer, just turned 16, she was with her foster family in the high Tyrol delighting in ‘Freedom, joyfulness and common sense after a lot of restrictions, mannerisms and artificialities’. ‘Working in the fields once more was fun,’ and ‘Young people flocked to our house and there was much singing and music and I loved dancing with the young men in their Tyrolean costumes or Alpenjäger.’ It seemed unimportant that the young men were being called up and were singing ‘Deutschland über Alles’, the Tyrol having opted for Germany.
In September she joined her mother in Siena for the music festival. She remembered their being invited often to lunch or dinner with Count Chigi, who ‘still had supplies of wine, oil, wheat and vegetables’ from his estate, and how ‘on our leaving the palazzo the butler would hand us a neatly wrapped…loaf of homemade bread’. ‘A threatening feeling of hunger seemed to be hanging over us,’ she recalled. When Pound was with them he would spend most of the day banging the typewriter. The highlight of the festival that year was Vivaldi’s oratorio Juditha Triumphans, described by Pound in one of his radio talks as ‘a musical whoop in two parts, to celebrate the retaking of Corfu from the Turks in 1715’. He heard it twice, ‘once from the top centre, and once in a box hangin’ over the orchestry, once for the whole and once for the details’. That was to be their last music festival in Siena. Her mother’s position as secretary of the Academy was in doubt, because she was an American, and the Count’s ‘world was being dispersed’ by the war.
After the uncertainty in October about Pound’s going to America, and about whether she and her mother were to go with him, Mary settled into her mother’s Casa 60 at Sant’Ambrogio. At first it was not easy. ‘I will have to pass you off as my cousin,’ her mother said. ‘It will be easier for you to get along on the Italian identity card’. She was anxious about being a foreigner, fearing ‘reports to the police’ and having their ration cards taken away. Then there was her strict regime for them both: alarm at 6.00 a.m., exercises, wash in cold water drawn from the deep well—and Mary ‘hated pulling up that endless rope with the bucket jerking against the walls and spilling’. ‘But soon I came to see the logic and the beauty of my new life: strict discipline and routine left more freedom for one’s thoughts.’
The house inside, to Mary’s sense, was white and empty, furnished with light; its four rooms had polished red brick-tile floors, and windows that looked over olive and cherry trees to the sea and the bay of Rapallo. A table and chairs, a desk, a bookcase, were of Pound’s making. In the kitchen there was an iron funnel over charcoal, though her mother preferred cooking with pine-cones, and there was a row of dark brown clay pots on the broad mantelpiece. Nowhere any junk or clutter. As Stella Bowen had observed, Olga ‘had almost no material possessions, but her well-proportioned rooms furnished with big rectangles of sunshine had a monastic air which was highly conducive to the making of music’. ‘In a sense’, Mary would reflect, ‘our life too had become a work of art: nothing superfluous, nothing wasted, nothing sloppy.’
Her mother would practise the violin all morning, while Mary continued her studies. She was having lessons twice a week in Latin and French from Father Desmond Chute, a learned and reclusive aesthete; improving her English by reading Jane Austen and Hardy and Henry James with her mother; and Pound had set her to translate Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree into Italian, and to learn to recite and translate the Odyssey a few lines at a time. Her life centred around her father’s visits, ‘for he brought with him a dimension of—no, not stillness, but magnitude, momentum’. He made her feel ‘that work, learning, was worthwhile, exciting’.
Pound walked up to Sant’Ambrogio every other day, sometimes for lunch, sometimes staying for dinner, and Mary would have two to three hours instruction from him. He would read them his radio speeches, and then read the five new lines of her next assignment from the Odyssey. And it seemed to Mary that ‘he possessed two voices: one angry, sardonic, sometimes shrill and violent for the radio speeches; one calm, harmonious, heroic for Homer, as though he were taking a deep refreshing plunge into the wine-coloured sea after a scorching battle’. There would be a moment for tea, camomile or mint, whatever one could get; and after the tisane always some Mozart or Bach or Vivaldi. Then she would walk down the hill path with her father, a time for discussion. In retrospect Mary would regret that ‘The humility and the gentleness, the fun and efficiency of Pound’s behaviour in his family circle is too often overshadowed by his public imperatives.’
One of Pound’s more enlightened public imperatives at this time was a campaign to alleviate the food shortages by increasing the cultivation of peanuts and soya beans. He began in August 1941 by obtaining some seeds in Rome and instructing Dorothy to plant them in pots of sandy earth on their rooftop terrace to see how they would do—he hoped to encourage the local peasants to grow them. Dorothy noted in her diary on 15 September that she had ‘planted peanut and soya—planted finger deep’, but there is no record of their germination. (She did note, on 11 November, ‘HLP broke hip.’)
Pound wrote an article which appeared in Meridiano di Roma on 5 October arguing with facts and figures that Italy needed arachidi to become self-sufficient in essential vegetable fats. He explained that from peanuts a butter was made different from that from cows’ milk, a butter which could be carried in a submarine for six months without going off, and which was highly nutritious—three peanut butter sandwiches made a simple meal full of proteins. Against those who said groundnuts could not be grown in Italy he set the replies to his own soundings among peasants in Viareggio and Modena and Rapallo, all of them saying positively that, yes, they did grow well there. He mentioned that in America an old Negro born in slavery, George Washington Carver, had brought wealth to three states by demonstrating the many uses to which the peanut could be put. He cited an Italian authority and a how to do it book; and he concluded by calling for the increased production of arachidi as a major contribution to the war effort.
Felice Chilanti gave an account of how Pound had tried to persuade him to grow peanuts on his terrace in Rome. On one of his last visits—this was in March 1942—Pound had noticed the pale face of Chilanti’s young daughter Tati, and had said, ‘You ought to eat a lot of butter’, and he had been told, ‘But you can’t get any butter. Italy is out of oil and butter. They are used up by the war industry.’ The next day he came back in the late afternoon, ‘handed Tati a small jar of peanut butter’ and had her taste it right away—‘Tati liked it’. Chilanti continued:
Then we went up to the terrace of my home, a large terrace alla romana. Up there, at that hour just before evening, Ezra Pound suggested we plant peanuts on the terrace, and that we convince everyone living in the centre of Rome to transform their terraces into peanut plantations. He said: ‘To get the butter, just smash the nut’….
He pointed to the terraces all round, from the Pincio to the Tiber. He moved his arm as if he were spreading seeds. We were a little surprised to take part in that strange, imaginary sowing. But planting peanuts on the terraces was, after all, one subject in the larger program to give the world a government of poetry, and ransom men from need and from the tyranny of usury.
Enrico Pea, the author of Moscardino, gave a contrasting image of Pound in late 1941. He lived in Viareggio which is on the line between Rapallo and Rome, and Pound would frequently stop off between trains to get help with translating dialect words and for conversation with a real writer who, ‘Like Confucius, [had] knocked ’round and done all sorts of jobs’ and who wrote ‘like a man who could make a good piece of mahogany furniture’. Pea kept ‘a vivid memory of what proved to be [Pound’s] last departure’:
I went along with him to the station. We found the barrier already closed, and the train beginning to move off. Pound lost no time in farewells. Taking a firm grip on the handle of his typewriter with his left hand, he took a flying leap over the barrier and jumped onto the moving train with all the ability of an American cowboy who vaults onto the back of a fleeing horse.
It is an image out of a Hollywood Western, with the Idaho Kid’s typewriter in place of the gunfighter’s Colt .45.
Among the scripts Pound was bashing out on his typewriter in the autumn of 1941 were some to be read out by one of his superiors, Prince Ranieri di San Faustino, who happened also to be a Rapallo friend. Dorothy commented on one, ‘Your talk via Ranieri yesty. p.m. v.g.—the one on Elders of Zion’. She had wanted to lend The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to ‘poor Kate who has nothing to read’, and regretted that ‘we have no spare copy’. Ezra wrote of a later talk, ‘It was my material as you divined, and Ranieri tryin’ his new american voice.’ He himself had recorded six discs the previous day. At the end of November he mentioned that ‘a lot of old discs have been used 4 times—double to America & then London’, and that he was going to record cantos 45 and 46. Ranieri was then ‘in Parigi’, that was Nazi occupied Paris; he went on to Berlin, and came back, so Ezra reported to Dorothy, ‘completely converted or bewitched or whatever’ by ‘life in Berlin / etc/’, and saying ‘our labours are appreciated’.
Pound’s labours were not being appreciated however by Dorothy’s Omar, now 15 and at boarding school in England. In October 1941 British ‘Imperial Censorship’ in Bermuda intercepted a letter sent to her via a friend in New York by her London legal adviser, Arthur Moore of Shakespear and Parkyn. The Censor’s report, headed ‘Son of American Anti-British author at Charterhouse’, copied these sentences:
‘…Omar has developed a total dislike to CHARTERHOUSE, and I feel that if he remains his health will be impaired. The trouble has I believe arisen owing to reports received of his Father’s activities…. He natirally (sic) defends his parents and in doing so gives offence to other boys whose parents are no doubt engaged in the common war effort.’
‘…He has reached the age when by pondering over your early letters he has begun to think for himself, and on the extreme views on the War which were sent to him by you (anti-British, anti-America, and pro-Fascist).’
Dorothy received the letter towards the end of November and told Ezra that Omar was suffering from ‘nervous unhappiness at school’, having no friends ‘owing to politics and your activities’. Ezra advised withdrawing Omar from the school and having him tutored privately. Dorothy thought of sending him to Ronald Duncan who was experimenting in rural economy on a farm in deepest Devon. In the event Omar remained at Charterhouse until 1943.
Dorothy listened to broadcasts from Berlin, and from time to time would copy anti-Semitic propaganda to Pound. She had noted in May that a research institute in Frankfurt-am-Main was doing ‘Work on the Jewish Question’ with reference to ‘the poisonous propensities of Jewish blood’. The question was, ‘Where and how we will dispose of the Jews’, and should it be ‘in the form of a Jewish Reserve’—Dorothy underlined ‘Reserve’ as ‘a rather quaint word?’ They should have guessed even if they did not know for certain that the Nazi ‘Reserve’ was likely to be, what it already was for the two and a quarter million Jews in Poland, a closed ghetto or a concentration camp. They could not have known yet of Hitler’s Einsatzgruppen whose special task was to exterminate all Jews in the wake of his conquering armies—over 33,000 were massacred at Kiev in September. And no one was allowed to know that the Final Solution of the Jewish Question, the total annihilation of Europe’s Jews, which Hitler had prophesied in 1939 as a concomitant of war, had been decreed at the same time as his orders for the invasion of Russia. It only remained in 1941 to find a method more efficient and less upsetting for German soldiers than shooting Jews one by one, and in September the first trials of gas chambers were carried out at Auschwitz. Pound would have known nothing about that. But he could well have heard from Gerhart Münch whom he saw in Rome at the beginning of December, ‘looking stern and teutonic’, that Jews now had to be marked out by a yellow star.
Pound was well placed to pick up news of how the fighting war was going. The Italian forces in North Africa and in Yugoslavia and Greece had been less than conquering and German forces had brushed them aside in those theatres, easily overrunning the Balkans and Greece. On the Eastern front the invading German armies were no longer having it all their own way—Dorothy had believed that the ‘Bolshies’ were beaten when Kiev fell in September,but in November and December the Soviet forces were counterattacking and Moscow did not fall. Of direct significance for Pound were the moves by the United States against the Axis and in support of Britain: on the one hand freezing German and Italian assets in America and imposing an oil embargo, and on the other agreeing common democratic principles with Britain in the Atlantic Charter. There could be no doubt which side it would take if forced to choose.
On Sunday 7 December 1941 the FCC monitors recorded a talk in which Pound argued in his impassioned way that it would be misguided of America to get into the war in order to save a British Empire already rotted from inside by ‘the Jews in London—whether they are born Jews, or have taken to Jewry by predilection’. America should rather be saving itself, starting with the problem of how it issued its money. The talk was of course pre-recorded. By the time it was broadcast by Rome Radio it was known that earlier that day Japanese carrier-borne aircraft had attacked the United States main Pacific naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and had thus effectively settled the issue of America’s involvement in the war. Formal declarations of war followed, by the United States and Britain against Japan, and by Germany and Italy against the United States. The war in Europe had gone global. Pound, as he put it in his next talk broadcast at the end of January 1942, ‘retired from the capital of the old Roman Empire to Rapallo to seek wisdom from the ancients’.
Before he left on that Sunday he sought out the American journalist Reynolds Packard, director of the United Press bureau in Rome, whom he had known from his Paris days. Earlier in the year, in May, a ‘huge lunch’ with Packard had been the highlight of a day in Rome—they had talked of Packard’s time in China, and of his bull-fighting. Now, according to Packard’s account written when he was back in America the following year, Pound said to him that ‘war between the United States and Italy was inevitable but that he intended to stay on’, and Packard ‘told him that he would be a traitor if he did so, and that now was the time for him to pipe down about the alleged glories of Fascism’. Pound apparently then said, ‘But I believe in Fascism…and I want to defend it’—this accompanied by a Fascist salute, according to Packard—and then said, ‘I tell you I want to save the American people.’ Packard couldn’t imagine how defending Fascism could be reconciled with saving the American people. ‘There was no way to reason with him,’ he concluded.