Ezra Pound: Poet: Volume III: The Tragic Years 1939-1972 - A. David Moody (2015)
PART ONE: 1939-1945
3: IN A WEB OF CONTRADICTIONS, 1942-3
On 29 January 1942 the FCC monitors listening in to Rome Radio were taken by surprise when the station announcer read out a statement before Pound’s voice came on the air and so failed to catch all of it on their recording equipment. With his next broadcast, on 3 February, they managed to record this announcement:
The Italian Radio acting in accordance with the Fascist policy of intellectual freedom and free expression of opinion by those who are qualified to hold it, following the tradition of Italian hospitality have offered Dr Ezra Pound the use of the microphone twice a week. It is understood that he will not be asked to say anything whatsoever that goes against his conscience or anything incompatible with his duties as a citizen of the United States of America.
One can imagine the fun the FCC personnel might have had with that combination of the words ‘Fascist’ and ‘freedom’, surely a glaring contradiction if ever there was one. Yet, in this case at least, there was no contradiction—Pound was to speak his own American mind quite freely in the broadcasts prefaced by that statement over the next eighteen months.
The more likely contradiction was in the second sentence, between ‘his conscience’ and ‘his duties as a citizen of the United States of America’. His conscience was telling him that it was his citizen’s duty to do everything in his power to save what was left of the true America from its misguided government. In December, while he was off the air following America’s entry into the war, he had been insisting, to Ungaro and to Di Marzio among others, that ‘my speeches on the radio must continue IN MY OWN NAME, and with my voice, and NOT anonymously’. It had evidently been suggested to him that he was putting himself in danger by so continuing, but he was adamant that so long as he said nothing ‘that can in any way prejudice the results of American military or naval (or navel) action, the armed forces of the U.S.A. or the welfare of my native country’, then it was his right and his duty to go on telling America what he was convinced it urgently needed to be told. He could not, or would not, see that the US government would naturally view his broadcasting criticism of it over an enemy’s radio as hostile to American interests and incompatible with his oath of loyalty. He had sworn, in his own strict interpretation of that oath, to uphold the Constitution, but not to be loyal to an administration which was betraying it. He might have added that it was altogether in the spirit of the American Revolution to distinguish between ‘acts against the government and acts against the oppressions of the government’. But Thomas Jefferson, who made that distinction, did so in the course of observingthat it was one rarely respected, since ‘most codes extend their definitions of treason to acts not really against one’s country’. That was the jeopardy Pound was placing himself in.
He could have played it safe had he wanted to, he defiantly declared in that first broadcast in January 1942, he had ‘a perfectly good alibi’, ‘a nice sizeable funk hole’ to hide away in, having occupation enough for some years in his work translating the Ta S’eu and Mencius and the Confucian book of Odes. But there was ‘the SITUATION’ to be faced. The President of the United States had, to his mind, ‘violated his oath of office…the oath of allegiance to the United States Constitution’—apparently by ‘criminal acts’ which had led to America’s being now at war with the Axis. And in Mencius he read, ‘the true sage seeks not repose’. So there he was at the microphone once more to inform Americans that ‘someone in charge of American destiny’ had blundered, and they were being asked to go out and die like the English for ‘gold, usury, and monopoly’. ‘That was what the war was about: gold, usury and monopoly,’ as he had tried to tell them when he was last in America, and would keep right on telling them.
He had been warned often enough, especially by Laughlin, that he was not being listened to in America. Worse, so far as he was listened to it was by monitors whose job was to gather evidence that could be used against him. It seemed obvious to an Italian writer, Romano Bilenchi, who met Pound in Rapallo in early 1942 and heard about his broadcasting, that ‘if he failed to escape after the war, the Americans would send him to the gas chamber’. Told this, Pound’s outward reaction was only ‘his usual gesture of shooing an insect away from his face’. Bilenchi—according to the account he gave a quarter of a century later—attempted to persuade Pound that his faith in Mussolini was misplaced, and that he was quite wrong about many aspects of Fascist Italy. When Pound spoke of enjoying ‘intellectual freedom and free expression of opinion’ Bilenchi retorted that in truth Italians ‘were living in a state of complete tyranny that made it impossible to speak and act freely’. (The suppression of Chilanti’s Domani would have been evidence of that.) Pound brought up the national corporations—the Fascist unions in which workers and employers, rather than serving each their own class interest, were to collaborate for the good of the state—and declared them ‘the most important invention of the century; a fusion of nationalism and socialism’. To that Bilenchi replied that in practice the national corporations ‘were void of any meaningful socialism’. Along with many other young people of his generation he had believed that Mussolini intended gradually to destroy the old power structures, but they had become disillusioned as instead he became ‘the main buttress for those structures’. I was a Fascist once, Bilenchi said, but not any more—in fact he was about to join the Communist Party. Then there was the war—Pound ‘was sure that the Italian people had wanted the war and wanted to win it’—but Bilenchi had to tell him ‘that no war had ever been less popular in Italy, that we were drawing near to a terrible catastrophe’. He tried to tell Pound ‘all the things I was seeing and hearing in the streets that proved the opposite of what he believed’. Right there in and around Rapallo people ‘were not concealing their aversion to Fascism from anyone’. Even among the Fascists themselves the war was unpopular. Pound listened to Bilenchi’s stories, was ‘pensive for a moment’, then ‘rocked back in his chair and again made the motion of waving away a bothersome insect with his hand’. ‘All of these complaints and lamentations…will stop after we’ve won the war,’ was his answer; and then the things Bilenchi had hoped for from Fascism might come about. His own faith in Mussolini appeared unshakeable.
In Carta da visita , a 62-page booklet published in Rome in December 1942, Pound wrote out a carefully considered if rather cryptic statement of his thinking. ‘LIBERTY A DUTY’, declared the epigraph, an abbreviation of a phrase of Mussolini’s which Pound was using on his letterhead, ‘Liberty is not a right but a duty’. The first paragraph, headed ‘FASCIO’, likened ‘the liberty of the individual in the ideal and fascist state’ to ‘a thousand candles together blaz[ing] with intense brightness—no-one’s candle’s light damages another’s’. That could accord with the idea of liberty mentioned in the next paragraph, the idea defined by ‘the revolutions of the [eighteenth] century…as the right to do anything that does not injure others’. However, he went on, ‘with the decadence of the democratic—or republican—state this definition has been betrayed in the interests of usurers and speculators’. Hence, he implied, ‘the following elucidatory statement’ heard on Berlin radio in August 1942: ‘the power of the state, whether it be Nazi, Fascist, or Democratic, is always the same, that is—absolute’. Rather than offering to explain how the absolute state was compatible with individual liberty, Pound then shifted from the political to the moral register. ‘We find two forces in history’, he wrote, ‘one that divides, shatters, and kills, and one that contemplates the unity of the mystery.’ The reader is left to deduce that the force which ‘divides, shatters, and kills’ is greed, the motive force of usurers and financial speculators; and that from contemplation of ‘the unity of the mystery’ with its ‘tradition of the undivided light’ comes the will to secure peace and abundance for all. Cavalcanti would be behind the latter formulation, along with Confucius and Mencius, and always the axiomatic ‘abundance of nature and the responsibility of the whole people’. One glimpses a utopian dream of a perfect state from which private greed has been banished, and which is composed altogether of free individuals each blazing brightly and all of one mind and will. Perhaps a little closer to the real world was Pound’s perception of Italians as a nation of such developed, indeed exaggerated, individualism that ‘Nothing less than the Fascist system would keep these people together.’ In an article in Meridiano di Roma he had approved ‘The Fascist idea that the state should absorb all the energies of a man without crippling the man’. He meant that the enlightened individual should want and should freely choose to work with all his force to further the aims of the totalitarian state.
While he held his own country strictly to account and found it guilty of betraying its founding principles, Pound somehow persisted in his faith that Fascist Italy, and even Nazi Germany, were promising to secure their nations’ credit for the benefit of all the people. ‘I insist on the identity of our American Revolution of 1776 with your Fascist Revolution’, he wrote in Carta da visita. Then he added this revealing gloss: ‘Two chapters in the same war against the usurers, the same who crushed Napoleon.’ We have constantly to remind ourselves that Pound’s faith in Fascism, even in the midst of that war, was a hopeful faith in it as an economic system, and that he simply elided the political and military facts. Challenged by a note in the London Sunday Times which described his admiration of the Fascist regime as a notorious ‘aberration’, he devoted one of his radio talks in April 1942 to explaining why it was no aberration. His justifications listed the Fascist achievements of draining ancient malarial swamp lands and bringing them into healthy cultivation, increasing grain yields, creating new housing and water and electricity supplies, improving the nation’s health—all the things he had written up a decade before in Jefferson and/or Mussolini. He made much of the Fascist version of representative government, whereby every worker should have a voice through his sindicato or professional corporation. He did also mention Italy’s standing up to the bullying League of Nations as a reason for admiration, though without saying the words ‘Abyssinia’ and ‘unprovoked aggression against’. And he said nothing of Italy’s then current aggressions in Europe and North Africa, but if he had it would certainly have been along the lines of ‘We are fighting for the liberty not to go into debt, i.e. the liberty not to be driven into debt.’ That conviction was the rock upon which his faith in Mussolini’s totalitarianism was founded.
In North Africa the Axis forces had the advantage over the Allies until August 1942, after which the battles went against them up to their surrender in May 1943. In July of that year the Allies would secure a foothold on Sicily and bomb Rome. On the Russian front the Germans had pushed as far as Stalingrad in the south by September 1942, but the Soviet counter-offensive forced a surrender at Stalingrad in February 1943 and continued to drive the Germans back throughout that year. In northern Europe the air forces of Germany and Britain were carrying out massive bombing raids on each others’ cities. In France, in November 1942, the Germans and Italians moved into the formerly unoccupied Vichy zone. In the summer of 1942 it became known at least to some in England and the United States, that in the wake of their conquests in Eastern Europe the Nazis were systematically carrying out mass executions of Jews. The BBC mentioned gas chambers in December 1942.
Heedless of the grim battles and the heavy bombings, of the elusive victories and mounting defeats, and of the intensifying worldwide carnage, Pound steadfastly held to his special view of the war in his broadcasts and in his articles in Meridiano di Roma. In an article which appeared in mid-January 1942, just a month or so after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had brought America into the war, he wrote that he did not feel himself to be above the conflict, but rather under it and overwhelmed by it. It could not be ignored, and had to be understood. To do that he viewed it in the light of the timeless laws of good government as condensed by Confucius, and it showed then as another phase in the war which had been ongoing in Europe and America since the founding of the Bank of England in 1694, the war of the greedy against the common good. In his radio talks during the year he would repeat tirelessly that the real enemy of civilized society was greed, avarice, usury; greed that monopolizes a nation’s credit for private gain; greed that hogs nature’s increase and breaks down the bonds and structures of social life. And in the perennial war, the real war of which this war of the moment was just a further phase, the Axis, in Pound’s view, opposed the evil of usury, while the Allies, Britain and the United States, by opposing the Axis were siding with the enemy.
It followed that the Allies must be defeated in order to defeat the power of the usurers. ‘If we don’t snatch Malta from the English’, he wrote in May 1942 when the strategically vital island was under Axis siege and bombardment, ‘there will be no justice, no future, no Europe.’ His implicit identification with the Axis war effort became explicit there, as it did again when he wrote in June 1942, ‘Intellectual work—propaganda, providing data, correlation, and whatever else contributes to the prosecution of the war and to victory should be carried out.’ He had closed his mind to the glaringly obvious fact that his war aims had nothing in common, or at least should have had nothing in common, with those of Hitler and Mussolini.
Pound would not say directly that America, his own country, was the enemy. The enemy was always the usurocracy, the conspiracy of international bankers and financiers, the ‘Jewish’ conspiracy which had Roosevelt under its thumb and which, through its control of the press and the media, kept Americans in the dark about its sinister operations. He would say repeatedly in his radio talks and in his Italian journalism that the Allied governments were the dirty agents of ‘the Jews’, and that it was ‘the Jews’ who had wanted the war and brought it on, for their own financial profit and to destroy Europe’s civilization. He would rant that the ‘Jews’ were a minority highly organized to wage war on Europe, on humanity, on European religion; and he would urge America to organize against ‘the Yidd’. So the enemy became ‘the Jews’. But he would not advocate killing Jews. ‘Don’t start a pogrom,’ he said in April 1942—to America not to Nazi Germany—‘That is, not an old style killing of small Jews’—
That system is no good whatsoever. Of course if some man had a stroke of genius and could start a pogrom UP AT THE TOP there might be something to say for it. But on the whole legal measures are preferable. The sixty Kikes who started this war might be sent to St. Helena as a measure of world prophylaxis. And some hyper-kike or non-Jewish kikes along with ’em.
All of this infected garbage had no better source than the so-called Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Hitler’s Mein Kampf, both of which Pound was reading during the war and occasionally recommending as useful reading in his talks and articles.
In the course of these infernally twisted inventions and evasions Pound would insist on the need for precision in the use of words. ‘The true definition of a single word always draws towards a better understanding of life and economics’, he wrote, thus ‘a false definition [of money] leads to the banks and usury’, while ‘the true idea leads to grain and groundnuts’. The enemy of accurate understanding, he laid it down, is ‘abstraction’ and the use of ‘generic terminology’. And this was in an article with the title, ‘L’Ebreo, patologia incarnata’, with this as its first sentence: ‘[The Jew] is not only pathological, but is the pathology itself, constituting the pathology of the race he lives among’—which was as much as to say that ‘The Jew’ is ‘a sum of morbid processes or conditions’. As a definition of the noun ‘Jew’ that would be likely to lead not just to misunderstandings but to genocide. ‘All fanaticisms come from general (abstract) statements,’ Pound would write in a letter to Santayana after the war. But while in the middle of the war he must have been so badly in need of an enemy he could attack unequivocally that he let himself be carried away from all consideration of truth and precise definition.
How far from right his mind was when it came to identifying his enemy shows in the way he dealt with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. 1 Having long been ‘put off by rumour that they were fake’, he finally read The Protocols in April 1940, and found them ‘DAMN dull, hideously written, but complete code, and absolute condensation of history of the U.S.A. for the past 50 years’. He wrote to Williams, ‘their origin is not the point/ it is their diagnosis of what has (now) happened that makes ’em educative’. And to Swabey in England he wrote, ‘You better, all of you, read the protocols, not as the emanation of any sect, but as a very brief and clear description of process.’ That was to say in effect: attend to the planned action and forget about the alleged agent. If one can read the Protocols in that way, without prejudice and ignoring the prejudicial attribution of the plot to the ‘Elders of Zion’, then there are substantial parts where a nineteenth century Machiavelli might be cynically laying out the ways of gaining and holding power in the capitalist era:
In our day the power which has replaced that of the rulers who were liberal is the power of Gold. (1.7)
The political has nothing in common with the moral. (1.11)
Our right lies in force. (1.12)
Violence must be the principle, and cunning and make-believe the rule. (1.23)
Through the Press we have gained the power to influence while remaining ourselves in the shade. (2.5)
We shall create an intensified centralization of government in order to grip in our hands all the forces of the community. (5.1)
[Our] art of directing masses and individuals by means of cleverly manipulated theory and verbiage…(5.4)
The intensification of armaments, the increase of police forces—are all essential for the completion of the aforementioned plans…there should be in all the states of the world, besides ourselves, only the masses of the proletariat, a few millionaires devoted to our interests, police and soldiers. (7.1)
Anyone reading those Protocols in the 1940s without prejudice should surely have thought, here is a blueprint for Hitler and Stalin, those being the dictatorships then seeking world domination. No hidden hand was needed to account for what was by then open for all to see. Yet Pound seems not to have seen that at all. It was American history he thought the Protocols explained. He took some words about monopoly capital to be the key, and singled out for citation in a radio talk in April 1943 just one paragraph to the effect that
We shall surround our government with a whole world of economists…Around us again will be a whole constellation of bankers, industrialists, capitalists and the main thing, millionaires, because in substance everything will be settled by the question of figures. (8.2)
That may be more or less where we are now, in the capitalist democracies; but to focus on that paragraph in Europe in 1943 must have required the narrowest possible tunnel vision.
But by then he was taking the anti-Semitic line and twisting away from clear sense and justice. He began that radio talk by turning around the charge that the Protocols are a forgery: ‘Certainly they are a forgery,’ he said, ‘and that is the one proof we have of their authenticity’—because, he went on, ‘The Jews have worked with forged documents for the past 24 hundred years.’ It is unimportant who actually concocted the Protocols, he then said, their interest being, now that ‘the program contained in them has so crushingly gone into effect’, in ‘the type of mind, or the state of mind of their author’. He might well have been paraphrasing a paragraph in Hitler’s Mein Kampf:
To what extent the whole existence of this people is based on a continuous lie is shown incomparably by the Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion, so infinitely hated by the Jews. They are based on a forgery, the Frankfurter Zeitung moans and screams every week: the best proof that they are authentic…. It is completely indifferent from what Jewish brain these disclosures originate…The best criticism applied to them is reality. Anyone who examines the historical development of the last hundred years from the standpoint of this book will at once understand the screaming of the Jewish press. For once this book has become the common property of a people, the Jewish menace may be considered as broken.
‘Is it possible to arouse any interest in verbal precision?’, Pound demanded of his microphone, and failed to question his own discourse. ‘Was there a deliberate plot?’, he wound up that talk, ‘WAS there a plot? How long had it been in existence? Does it continue, with its Lehmans, Morgenthaus, Baruchs?…With Mr Willie Wiseman, late of the British secret service, ensconced in Kuhn, Loeb and Co., to direct and rule you?’
While Pound was broadcasting in that vein the Nazis were pursuing their policy of rounding up and massacring or deporting to concentration camps every Jew they could find wherever their writ ran. Only in Italy and in zones under Italian control was that not the case. Mussolini, now cowed by Hitler, paid lip-service to German demands for Jews to be deported, but covertly countermanded the orders and encouraged resistance to the Nazi policy. For one instance, noted by Nicholas Farrell, ‘On 21 March 1943, the Italian Supreme Command in Rome issued orders to its generals in the Italian-occupied south-east of France which said: “As regards the measure proposed by Il Duce in reference to the Jews: no. 1 priority is to save Jews living in French territory occupied by our troops whatever their nationality”.’ Farrell mentions a range of particular acts by the Italian authorities in Italy, France, Yugoslavia, and Greece: refusing to deport Jews from Italy; blocking the arrest by Vichy police of 7,000 foreign Jews in Megève; refusing to deport Jews in Yugoslavia; guarding the synagogue in Athens to protect Jews from Nazi-supporting Greek students. ‘Everywhere’, Farrell wrote, ‘Italian government officials and senior army officers saved Jews from the Germans and others.’ Pound should have known that Europe’s Jews were powerless and in mortal peril, and that Fascist Italy was protecting them from the Nazi holocaust where it could, and still he persisted in broadcasting to the Allies that it was ‘the Jews’ who were the real threat they should be confronting. This was his worst error, not the treason that was not really treason, but this failure of intelligence, of judgment, and of humanity. ‘All fanaticisms come from’—or have as their modus operandi—‘general (abstract) statements’.
Pound was another person when his affections were engaged. In mid-December 1941 he wrote in a letter to di Marzio,
I am now responsible for my 83-year-old father, who a month ago broke his hip; at his age I don’t believe it will heal (and with him my 82-year-old mother). The old man has not left the house for two years; he therefore cannot leave Rapallo.
Olga has a small house in Venice, and she gets 300 a month in rent. But you already know her situation. Besides I must also provide for a ward.
The family doctor and friend who was attending to Homer, Guiseppe Bacigalupo, observed how Ezra was a most affectionate and attentive son, visiting his bedridden father every day and gladly doing for him whatever little he could. One thing was to ‘read him a few pages of Aristotle in the Loeb Classical Library, English version, to take his mind off’ the pain of his broken hip. When Homer died near the end of February 1942 Pound, ‘with red eyes’, hugged Mary up at Casa 60 and told her, ‘Il tuo nonno è morto.’ Then Olga spoke of her grandmother for the first time, ‘“The old lady has been admirable, for weeks she has nursed him all on her own.”’ Homer was buried in the Protestant section of Rapallo’s cemetery, and Pound, following a Confucian rite, placed on the body an archaic jade ring which had been given to him in his London days by Edgar Jepson. It may have been about this time that he drafted these Confucian lines:
To attract the spirits by the beauty of jade
that the music be an announcement to the air between earth and heaven
and thrice go up to the roof corner to call the departed spirit
Mary remembered how ‘For a few visits’ her father ‘just threw himself on the couch and wanted to be left in peace and listen to music.’ ‘Then he went to Rome again.’ But before doing that he called on Dr Bacigalupo to present him with a fine oil painting by Max Ernst, saying ‘You did all you could for my old father and I want this to be a keepsake from him and from me.’
In mid-March of 1942 Dorothy mentioned to Pound who was in Rome that ‘There is a rumour of a boat leaving for USA carrying some citizens aboard.’ Pound showed no interest in this rumour. Indeed, just a few days later he wrote to Uberti about recovering his personal library. Nor, it would appear, did he respond to circulars and questionnaires from American officials operating out of the Swiss Legation which was now representing American interests in Italy and who were preparing lists of US citizens interested in being repatriated. These lists were sent to the US State Department in May 1942, and in none of them is there any mention of the Pounds and the Rudges. Yet this is strange, since it is known that the Pounds received mailings concerning repatriation, and since there were lists not only of those who did wish to be repatriated, but also of those who had not replied by 2 April 1942, and even of ‘American citizens, not of Italian parentage, who were in possession of valid passports or registered on December 11, 1941’. The explanation may lie in a memorandum dated 18 June 1942, from the State Department’s Division of Foreign Activities:
On July 12, 1941 this Department instructed the American Embassy at Rome to limit Pound’s passport for immediate return to U.S. However, he refused to return home and to best of our knowledge is still residing in Italy.
…Mr. Pound should never again be granted passport facilities by this government.
Evidently if Pound had attempted to return to the USA in 1942 the State Department would have made it difficult if not impossible for him to do so. But was his name deliberately left off those lists? Dorothy Pound told A. V. Moore many years after the war, in 1955, that ‘a (reliable) friend’ had seen, ‘by accident, a list on the table of names (to go home?) & at the bottom of the page in pencil four names to be discriminated against’. She does not say whose were the four names, nor when the list was seen, and she is uncertain of the purpose of the list; but she did say that it had to do with ‘The question of the Consulate refusing us permission to go back to the USA’. She also said that the story that the Consulate had refused permission was ‘not susceptible of proof’—it was, as Pound would say, only ‘hearsay’.
That story spread in America in June 1942. Williams ‘Had a call from Time…asking for news of dear Ezra. The rumour has got about that he is trying to return to U.S. and that he is being refused entry. They say he’s starving, more or less.’ The rumour had been started by a report from Associated Press picked up by a Philadelphia paper and by others on 5 June:
Nancy Horton, American woman who returned Monday from Italy…says Ezra Pound…was refused permission to leave Italy aboard a diplomatic train carrying other Americans. Miss Horton said Pound told her that George Wadsworth, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires in Rome, had informed him that he could not return to the United States.
That was all Miss Horton had to say on the matter, or all that is on the record. There is no indication of when Pound had told her this, nor of when Wadsworth informed Pound that he could not return to the United States. One can imagine a dramatic scenario: Pound on the railway platform with the other departing Americans, Miss Horton among them, and Wadsworth telling him that he was not on the list of those authorized to get on the train, and Pound explaining to Miss Horton as she boarded why he was being left behind.
It is a fact that Wadsworth was responsible for drawing up the list of American citizens permitted to leave Italy for the USA in May 1942 on the last diplomatic train to Lisbon where a ship would take them on to America, and so he was in a position to exclude Pound. However, when Donald Hall asked Pound himself what were the circumstances of his being prevented from returning to America in 1942—this was in 1960 for his Paris Review interview—Pound replied, ‘Those circumstances were by hearsay,’ and he could not recall being directly refused permission to leave Italy in that year. Moreover, apart only from the Associated Press report, there appears to be no evidence of any sort that he did seek repatriation in 1942, and what is known indicates that he was then dug in with his extended family for the duration. A note in the Justice Department files dated 14 October 1942 states that ‘Pound refused to return home at the time the American Embassy, Consular officials and their staffs were repatriated’—this was apparently on the basis of information received from the State Department. As for the Nancy Horton report, it seems likely that Pound had been referring to his trouble with Wadsworth the previous year. That was when his passport had not been renewed, and when he had been left in no doubt that, as ‘a pseudo American’ who had apparently refused to go home when he had been directed to do so, he would be refused consular assistance and effectively prevented from returning to America.
By the end of 1942 Mary had nearly completed her translation of Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree and Pound encouraged her by talking of finding a publisher for it. He suggested she next try translating his cantos. She had the sound of his reading them in Venice in her mind’s ear, but then she had understood not a word. Now, with her limited English, she had to struggle to make out their sense and to find how it might be said in Italian. She would produce a neatly typed page and ‘invariably he set out to tear it to pieces’. In time she realized that he was wanting to find out how he would ‘express himself were he writing at this time in Italian’; and moreover, since he ‘was of the opinion that Italian poetry had steadily gone downhill since Cavalcanti and Dante’, that he was preferring ‘their voice and modes rather than the contemporary language’. If she ‘ventured: “Non si dice”, he would say: “Time they did.”’ Questions such as ‘who were Lir, Schoeney, Picasso?’, were to be kept for the salita, the hill path, and then she might get the answer, ‘“It doesn’t matter. Some bloomin’ nymph”,’ or she might be told an anecdote about Picasso and Picabia in Paris. After some weeks on canto 2 she ‘was told to try Canto 13…a much easier one’; then it was 27, starting in the middle at ‘tovarisch’ and only going back to the beginning ‘when the second half got into the flowing stage’; later ‘We switched to the Malatesta Cantos and Babbo turned up with books and documents; Yriarte’s History of Rimini and his own notes.’ And Mary was finding that ‘The more I got absorbed in the Cantos the more eager I became for further knowledge.’
For Christmas 1942 her father gave her The Complete Works of Alfred Tennyson, a book which had belonged to his grandmother Mary Weston, and 1,000 lire. Asked what she would do with the money, her only thought was, ‘“I would like to go to Rome with you.”’ She was now a published translator, a piece from Frobenius on farming in Africa having appeared in Meridiano di Roma; and other translations there were being credited to ‘M.R.’ or to ‘Mari’ or ‘Maria Rudge’. But her mother considered that more was needed for her to be considered fit to be seen with her father in Rome—dress, deportment, facial expression, table manners, grooming, all had to be polished. ‘By April it seemed I had fulfilled Mamile’s requisites and she gave me a lovely emerald ring to wear on my little finger.’ In Rome Pound was very busy with his radio work, but they would meet for lunch, and in the evenings she would go with him to dine at a restaurant or with his many friends ‘who all seemed eager to entertain and feed him’, such friends as Signora Rossetti Agresti, Ubaldo degli Uberti, the San Faustinos, the Monottis. Pound reported to Olga that the ‘Sprig looked very well in black at a dinner’ at the Monottis.
Princess Troubetzkoi, her chaperone when Pound returned to Rapallo, arranged a picnic for her in an idyllic landscape outside Rome, and made up a story about it for one of her broadcasts. On the peaceful, clear spring day, by a temple to Juno, the members of the little picnic are a local farmer who had appeared as if from nowhere; a boy, Boris, with an Italian father and a Russian mother whom Mary had just met and found, when she gave him a chance, ‘an enticing and brilliant talker’; and Mary herself, a girl with American parents brought up in Italy. And with all of them ‘understanding and liking each other’, the Princess marvelled, ‘Why wars?’ The contadino agreed, and thought ‘that Mussolini would have preferred to let his people work in peace conducting only la battaglia del grano’. In Rome that evening the sirens were sounding, and during the night Allied planes dropped propaganda leaflets urging surrender.
Mary would have liked to stay on, but her mother warned her to be back in Rapallo by 20 May to have her ration card stamped. Now ‘there were soldiers stationed along the railroad close by’ when they went down from Sant’Ambrogio to the sea to swim; and there were Allied air raids on Genoa up the coast, and occasional air-raid alarms in Rapallo itself. In one of the raids on Genoa Riccardo Degli Uberti’s studio was hit, and Pound’s Gaudier-Brzeska charcoal drawings stored there in a suitcase were nearly lost in the fire. In July Olga decided that Mary, after her 18th birthday on the 9th, ‘should go back to Gais for a month or so’. She would be safer there, and since at the alpine farm there would be more to eat she could leave behind her ration card. Olga was concerned that Ezra, driven as he was, was undernourished. His weight had already come down to 80 kilos the previous May.
Dorothy was keeping an ironic and bitter record of his afternoons with Olga and Mary up at Sant’Ambrogio: ‘EP out to lunch’, she would write in her diary on two or three days most weeks throughout 1942 and into 1943. Then another story takes over in the brief entries through two dramatic weeks in the summer of 1943: ‘July 19 Rome bombed—July 25/26 Mussolini demissioned—July 27 EP started for Rome 7.30—July 28 Fascist Party dissolved—August 3 EP back 7.30’. ‘Is it still era fascista?’, she wondered in a note to Pound on the 28th, ‘Somebody has chalked up opposite our front door abasso M. porco’. ‘I wept’, she told him. Mussolini had been deposed by a coup d’état headed by the king, partly because he could not persuade Hitler to let him make a separate peace, and all Italy wanted out of the war.
Pound had been in Rapallo on the evening of 25 July, and had just listened to what would prove to be the last broadcast in his own voice over Rome Radio, ‘when there came over the radio the announcement that Mussolini had been overthrown and Marshall Badoglio had taken over the Italian government’. That was the first shock. The following evening he was listening to the news on the BBC and heard that Ezra Pound had been indicted for treason by a Grand Jury in Washington DC. He went down to Rome to see if he could learn more from the Swiss Legation, but they could tell him nothing. A third shock was to be told while he was in Rome that he was being ‘kicked out’ of broadcasting by the Badoglio government—that would have been because the new government was anxious to make its peace with America. He was quite unprepared for this triple catastrophe—Mussolini’s sudden downfall, with its immediate consequences for himself, and on top of that his own indictment as a traitor.
Just two months before, around 10 May, his hopes for Mussolini and the Axis had still been strong in spite of the ‘bad news’ coming in of the defeat and surrender of the German and Italian forces in North Africa, and in spite too of the increasingly damaging bombing raids on Italy. Dorothy was ‘Afraid that raiding is nearing Rome, with Civ[ita] Vech[ia] last night’. ‘She not be downcast,’ was Pound’s response. He was in fact rather stimulated by the need ‘to chuck most of the discorsi not yet registered & do a new set’ of talks that would be better adapted to the changed situation. The next day, the 10th, he ‘Did 5 more discorsi’ between 8.30 and 12.30.
In the same letter he assured Dorothy that ‘oh yes | the Boss rec’d | his copies of Carta da visita | & Confucio – a month ago | but communicated | via the burocracy.’ Also on the 10th he addressed a lengthy letter to Mussolini personally, ‘Eccellenza e DUCE’, all about ‘moneta prescrittibile’, Gesell’s stamp scrip. That Pound should write to Mussolini on that subject at that moment of military crisis is sufficiently surreal; even more surreal is that his letter was taken seriously. It was sent in to Mussolini with a clarifying note from his secretariat: ‘He is an American presenting his idea to the DUCE…a project for monetary reform…to defend the lira and the country…and make the Nation 17% better off.’ Mussolini read the letter and directed his private secretary, Nicolò De Cesare, to look into this ‘moneta prescrittibile’, and to invite Pound to come and explain it to him. The invitation went to Pound at his Rome hotel, but could not be delivered because he had just returned to Rapallo. De Cesare did not pursue Pound, but he did summarize Carta da visita for Mussolini, who then directed that the Finance Ministry should be asked to think about Pound’s idea.
That was the form in which Pound was manifesting his continuing devotion to Mussolini and to Fascism in May 1943 as things were going from bad to worse for the regime and for the country. At the same time he was manifesting his continuing concern for the United States in his broadcasts, now telling his compatriots ‘that the American troops in N. Africa, all of ’em ought to go back to America: IF they can get there’; and that ‘America ought not to be makin’ war on Europe’; and that ‘Italy was and IS the United States’ natural ally’—meaning Jeffersonian America ‘was and IS’. ‘Ezra Pound speaks from Rome’, he concluded the broadcast recorded on 24 May, ‘in a regime under which liberty is considered a duty; and where one knows that economic freedom carries with it the freedom from falling into debts.’ But against that, as he declared in the set of five talks broadcast between 11 and 25 May, there was ‘economic aggression’ and ‘economic oppression’, as had been waged against Italy, and was being waged at that moment against ‘Europe’ by the ‘three outstanding aggressors’, i.e. ‘England, Russia, America’. He was very down on the alliance of convenience between those three powers.
Meanwhile in the United States the FBI was interviewing Pound’s known associates and asking if they were prepared to testify against him. The investigation had been set going in October 1942 following a note from the President to the Attorney General, Francis Biddle—
There are a number of Americans in Europe who are aiding Hitler et al on the radio. Why should we not indict them for Treason even though we might not be able to try them until after the war? I understand Ezra Pound, Best, Anderson and a few others are broadcasting over Axis microphones. F. D. R.
The Attorney General’s office at once asked the FBI to obtain transcripts of Pound’s broadcasts and a draft indictment was prepared. In February 1943 the Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, wrote to Biddle, noting that there had been numerous stories in newspapers and magazines through the previous twelve months concerning persons ‘treasonably broadcasting from Berlin or Rome’, and that Representative Celler of New York was proposing that the Articles of War be changed to permit the trial ‘in absentia’ of six such persons. That would have been, as Carpenter points out, ‘a travesty of justice’. What should rather be done, Stimson and Biddle agreed, was simply to indict the traitors ‘in absentia’, ‘leaving their trial and conviction until the successful conclusion of the war’; but at the same time, to leave no doubt that they were determined to punish the traitors, they should hit the headlines by indicting a large number of them simultaneously and by releasing for publication ‘a story which thoroughly discredits them before loyal citizens’.
The FBI had no difficulty finding old friends, old enemies, and old acquaintance willing to speak to Pound’s discredit. A tone had been set some time before by Eunice Tietjens who had been a contributor to Poetry in its early years when Pound was Harriet Monroe’s Foreign Correspondent, and whose scars from certain disagreements and quarrels with him in those years were evidently still raw. In Poetry in April 1942 she had written that, because of his ‘deliberate attempts to undermine the country of his birth through enemy propaganda’—this coming on top of his general disagreeableness—‘The time has come to put an end to the countenancing of Ezra Pound’. In the report the FBI put together in May 1943 there is much of that sort of disavowing and denouncing of Pound in the statements the agents had gathered from their interviewees, though little that would have been relevant or admissable as evidence in a treason trial.
Williams had told the agents that ‘in his opinion Dr Pound had gone completely insane as far as any sense of reason and judgment was concerned’. Many, including Laughlin, were more or less of that opinion. At the same time Williams couldn’t help letting out some of his perennial grievances and resentments against Pound. Antheil, now in Hollywood doing background music for films, was another burning to settle old scores and get his own back for wounds to his self-esteem. The wife of Professor Edward Root told the FBI about Pound’s having only one shirt with him when he stayed with them at Hamilton in 1939, and his wanting it laundered and ironed each day after his tennis—she couldn’t forgive him for treating her like a servant and was ready to testify against him for that. More seriously, ‘James Laughlin’, according to the report, ‘advised that when Pound came to the United States in 1939…Pound had had his fare to the United States paid by the Italian government.’ Asked whether ‘Pound had definitely told him’ this, he could not recall that he had, ‘but stated that he knew that Pound had no money and therefore it was impossible for Pound to come to the United States in any other manner’. The statement was as gratuitous as it was false. There were journalists and others just as ready to assert supposition as fact, and not just that his fare in 1939 had been paid by the Fascists, but that he was now willingly saying over the radio what the Fascists wanted him to say. Given that what was at issue was a capital charge, the report reveals a frightening willingness on the part of a good many loyal Americans, when under the pressure of FBI questioning, to speak of what they did not know, and to give free rein to self-serving and often petty motives. Very few were prepared to speak up for Pound’s poetry or to engage with what he had actually said in his broadcasts. Young James Jesus Angleton, recently graduated from Yale, was one of these few, though he too was prepared to testify for the prosecution.
The Grand Jury Indictment of 26 July 1943 was written in a legalese designed to allow for every possible line of investigation and prosecution:
That Ezra Pound, the defendant herein, at Rome, Italy, and other places within the Kingdom of Italy, and, as hereinafter described, in the District of Columbia, within the jurisdiction of this court, and at other places throughout the United States and elsewhere, continuously, and at all times beginning on the 11th day of December, 1941, and continuing thereafter to and including the date of the presentment and filing of this indictment, under the circumstances and conditions and in the manner and by the means hereinafter set forth, then and there being a citizen of the United States, and a person owing allegiance to the United States, in violation of his said duty of allegiance, knowingly, intentionally, wilfully, unlawfully, feloniously, traitorously, and treasonably did adhere to the enemies of the United States, to wit, the Kingdom of Italy, its counsellors, armies, navies, secret agents, representatives, and subjects, and the military allies of the said Kingdom of Italy, including the government of the German Reich and the Imperial Government of Japan, with which the United States at all times since December 11, 1941, have been at war, giving to the said enemies of the United States aid and comfort within the United States and elsewhere.
It was further specified that ‘The said defendant asserted, among other things, in substance, that citizens of the United States should not support the United States in the conduct of the said war.’ Lawyers could argue on both sides of that particular charge, but nothing in the indictment could have been brought to proof at that time. What counted was that the indictment stood as a statement of intent to prosecute.
Francis Biddle, speaking to the press as Attorney General, put the case against Pound and the seven others indicted with him in clear language:
It should be clearly understood that these indictments are based not only on the content of the propaganda statements—the lies and falsifications which were uttered—but also on the simple fact that these people have freely elected, at a time when their country is at war, to devote their services to the cause of the enemies of the United States. They have betrayed the first and foremost sacred obligation of American citizenship.
The BBC news report heard by Pound would have been based on Biddle’s statement rather than on the formal indictment.
When he was unable to learn anything more from the Swiss Legation in Rome Pound went back to Rapallo and wrote out a full statement of his situation as he understood it, addressing the letter to Francis Biddle:
I understand that I am under indictment for treason. I have done my best to get an authentic report of your statement to this effect. And I wish to place the following facts before you.
I do not believe that the simple fact of speaking over the radio, wherever placed, can in itself constitute treason. I think that must depend on what is said, and on the motives for speaking.
I obtained the concession to speak over Rome radio with the following proviso. Namely that nothing should be asked of me contrary to my conscience or contrary to my duties as an American citizen. I obtained a declaration on their part of a belief in ‘the free expression of opinion by those qualified to have an opinion’.
There was more to the effect that ‘Free speech under modern conditions becomes a mockery if it does not include the right of free speech over the radio.’ He wrote of his duty as a citizen in a democratic society to make known to the people the things that he knew and they needed to know. He declared explicitly,
I have not spoken with regard to this war, but in protest against a system which creates one war after another, in series and in system. I have not spoken to the troops, and have not suggested that the troops should mutiny or revolt.
He briefly outlined what he had tried to make better known:
The course of events following the foundation of the Bank of England should be known, and considered in sequence: the suppression of colonial paper money, especially in Pennsylvania. The similar curves following the Napoleonic wars, and our Civil War, and Versailles need more attention.
‘In fact’, he asserted, ‘all the matters on which my talks have been based [are] of importance to the American citizen; whom neither you nor I should betray either in time of war or peace.’ A final paragraph summed up his defence:
At any rate a man’s duties increase with his knowledge. A war between the U.S. and Italy is monstrous and should not have occurred. And a peace without justice is no peace but merely a prelude to future wars. Someone must take count of these things. And having taken count must act on his knowledge; admitting that his knowledge is partial and his judgment subject to error.
It was an astute defence so far as it hinged upon what was said, and more especially on his motives for speaking, since before he could be convicted of treason a deliberate intent to strengthen America’s enemies in the war, or to weaken America’s power to resist those enemies, would have to be proved. The offensive fact of his having spoken at all over Rome Radio, and the further fact that some American troops did hear at least some of his broadcasts, might be enough to make the case in the popular view; but in court it would not be so easy to establish, what Eunice Tietjens had confidently asserted, that he had deliberately attempted to undermine the country of his birth.
Pound took his letter, dated 4 August, down to the Swiss Legation in Rome and it was forwarded to the US State Department on 25 August. There was of course no reply. At the same time the Swiss Legation returned to the StateDepartment ‘Passport No. 3154, Ezra Loomis Pound, date April 4, 1941’, with a note, ‘left behind…and has expired’. Pound would later explain that after handing his passport to an official he had been kept waiting, and after half an hour he began to fear he would be arrested and had left the building. The passport, he would say, was never returned.
1 The original source of this false document was a satirical fiction, Dialogues in Hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, published in France in 1864 by Maurice Joly, ostensibly revealing a hellish plot (not by Jews) against Napoleon III. In 1868 Hermann Goedsche plagiarized Joly’s work in his novel Biarritz, his original contribution being to turn it into a revelation of a Jewish plot to take over the world. Thirty years later, OKRA, the Russian secret police, borrowed heavily from Goedsche’s novel in fabricating the Protocols, a supposed record of the deliberations of a Jewish cabal plotting world domination. OKRA’s intention had been to strengthen the hand of Tsar Nicholas II by turning Russia’s anti-Semitism against its revolutionaries. Published in St Petersburg in 1902 and translated into many languages the Protocols then served anti-Semites everywhere as proof that ‘the Jews are now a world menace’.