Ezra Pound: Poet: Volume III: The Tragic Years 1939-1972 - A. David Moody (2015)
PART ONE: 1939-1945
4: ‘TO DREAM THE REPUBLIC’, 1943–4
In September of 1943 Pound walked into his dream of a Utopian way of life in the countryside somewhere north of Rome, or so he said by way of introducing one of his economic pamphlets the following spring:
On the 10th of September last, I walked down the Via Salaria and into the Republic of Utopia, a quiet country lying eighty years east of Fara Sabina. Noticing the cheerful disposition of the inhabitants, I enquired the cause of their contentment, and I was told it was due both to their laws and to the teaching they received from their earliest school days.
They maintain (and in this they are in agreement with Aristotle and other ancient sages of East and West) that our knowledge of universals derives from our knowledge of particulars, and that thought hinges on the definitions of words.
…I was also informed that by learning how to define words these people have succeeded in defining their economic terms, with the result that various iniquities of the stock market and financial world have entirely disappeared from their country, for no one allows himself to be fooled any longer.
And they attribute their prosperity to a simple method they have of collecting taxes or, rather, their one tax, which falls on the currency itself. For on every note of 100 monetary units they are obliged, on the first of every month, to affix a stamp worth one unit. And as the government pays its expenses by the issue of new currency, it never needs to impose other taxes. And no one can hoard this currency because after 100 months it would have lost all its value. And this solves the problem of circulation.
And so the dream went on: ‘they are not compelled to make wars to please the usurers. In fact, this profession—or criminal activity—is extinct in the country of Utopia.’ There, ‘no one is obliged to work more than five hours a day’, ‘Trade has few restraints’, and ‘They attach the importance to skill in agricultural tasks that I attached in my youth to skill at tennis or football.’ After hearing ‘these very simple explanations of the happiness of these people’, the dreamer fell asleep under the Sabine stars, ‘marvelling at the great distance separating the twentieth-century world from the world of contentment’.
In truth, the distance could hardly have been greater. Pound did walk out of Rome on 10 September, heading north through the Sabine hills, but with all Italy in chaos and being drawn ever deeper into the fatalities of war. In the six weeks or so since the dismissal and arrest of Mussolini, Marshall Badoglio, as head of the Italian Government, had been playing a double game, assuring the Germans that Italy would fight on with them while secretly negotiating surrender terms with the Allies. An unconditional surrender was signed in secret on 3 September, the day of the first Allied landings in the south of Italy, in Calabria. The armistice was not declared until the evening of the 8th, a few hours before the main Allied invasion at Salerno. Hitler, anticipating Badoglio’s surrender and viewing it as a betrayal, had already ordered his commanders to seize control of Rome immediately the surrender was declared, and to occupy and hold as much of the country as they could. Most of Italy’s armed forces, given no clear orders, would be disarmed by the Germans, in effect being compelled to surrender to them and not to the Americans and the British. Italy had become overnight a country defeated by both its former enemies and its former allies, a country out of the war yet now a theatre of war, invaded, occupied, and fought over by two desperate foreign armies, neither of which would protect its people, or their homes, their cities, or their heritage, from the fury of total war. Furthermore, within the major conflict there would develop a complicated civil war, with Italian troops engaged on both sides, and also with anti-Fascist partisans hunting down Fascist loyalists and former Fascists. That was to be the actual state of the country in the twenty months between the surrender by Badoglio in September 1943 and the surrender of the German forces in May 1945.
Pound had gone down by rail from Rapallo to Rome on 5 September, being ‘only slightly delayed on the way’ by the results of Allied bombing. Apparently he was hoping to be allowed to resume broadcasting, ‘as an American etc.’, under the new regime. During August he had sent in four or five talks, as usual attacking Roosevelt and the international financiers, and these had been broadcast as by ‘Piero Mazda’ and paid for at 300 lire per talk. On the 7th he wrote to Dorothy, ‘They seem to be…about to make statement re my position.’ ‘She not give way to despair,’ he urged, and added in a postscript, ‘The war can’t last forever.’ Then came the announcement of the armistice, followed by the flight of the king and Badoglio to Brindisi in the south, and the desertion of Rome by the heads of the armed forces, along with all the senior members of the Government and the high officials of the ministries. There was no one giving orders, and a fearful uncertainty reigned in the city. Whose side was Italy now on? Would the Allies come in to take Rome and drive out the Germans? Would the Germans resist? The Allies did not seize the moment, and on the 10th German troops were rushed into Rome.
That morning Pound settled his account at the Albergo d’Italia and left with the clerk his elegant malacca cane and borsalino hat. He called on Admiral Ubaldo degli Uberti and his wife and borrowed their son’s heavy ski boots, a walking stick, a rucksack, and a detailed road map. They offered to shelter him but he would not stay. He went to the EIAR office and saw ‘Giacomo’ Barnes about ‘papers’ of some sort, but there was no one in charge, everything was in confusion. About midday he called on Naldo and Nora Naldi, seeking directions on the best way out of the city on foot. He would walk in order ‘to avoid German control, to keep free’. He told them he wanted to get up to Gais to see Mary, though that was a difficult 450 miles distant. They gave him something to eat—two black market eggs, tea, and bread—and put into his knapsack a third hard-boiled egg, a tea-bag, and the remainder of the loaf. Naldi marked his map and went with him to the corner of their street to put him on the right way. They shook hands wordlessly, and Naldi later reflected, ‘It is difficult to find the right words when things are so enormously complex.’ He watched Pound ‘go off, his stick striking the footpath regularly’.
The Via Salaria, the old salt road, goes to Rieti, about fifty miles north of Rome. That first day Pound passed an aerodrome where two soldiers told him they had no officers and were asking ‘what ought we to do?’ At Sette Bagni a group of peasants, when he said he was heading for Rieti, invited him to spend the night there with them, even though ‘there is only one room for the lot of us’. They shared with him their good bread and thick soup and heavy wine, saying ‘“money is nothing” | “no, there is nothing to pay for that bread” | “nor for the minestra”’. The next day his road passed within a couple of miles of Fara Sabina, but there were few villages on the road itself, and it may have been this night that he slept ‘under the stars’. The following night he spent ‘on a bench at Rieti’. From there he managed to get on a train going north. The trains were crowded with soldiers of the abandoned Italian army, and Pound noted how ‘the first day they kept their packs | and the second got rid of all military impedimenta’, so anxious were they to escape the German military. This collapse, ‘Lo sfacelo’, put him in mind of Hemingway’s account in A Farewell to Arms of the demoralized retreat of the Italian army in 1917, after the breakthrough of the Germans and Austrians at Caporetto, and he understood ‘why Hem had written, | that is, his values’.
He probably had to get off and on more than one train, and may have had to do more walking, hitching lifts where he could, before he reached Bologna. There he slept on a camp bed in an air-raid shelter, and passed the next night, ‘after food at the cab-driver’s friend’s trattoria’, on the railway station platform in order to get on a train to Verona. Here in the north there was some order, the Germans being now in control, and it was in Verona that the peril and absurdity of his situation came home to him. Because his map was a military map and covered with his markings and comments, he was in some danger, while being wanted for treason by the Americans, of being taken for an American spy by the Germans. He debated whether to take the next train to Milan from where he should be able to get back to Rapallo, but held firm to his original intent. On his mind was something he had to tell Mary while he still could. A train took him up the Adige valley, though he had to walk again at the end so that he arrived at Gais ‘covered in dust like a beggar’ and with swollen ankles and blistered feet.
Now Mary ‘learned that in Rapallo there was also a wife…with a son in England’, not his son. ‘“Things would be set right,”’ her father promised, ‘“If this war ever ends.”’ When he had finished unburdening himself, at three in the morning, she ‘felt no resentment, only a vague sense of pity’.
Later she would sense the inherent tragedy of their predicament, and assent to his ‘it all coheres’. That night she learnt also that her mother ‘had wanted a son. A torchbearer’, and understood why she had always felt uneasy with her, understood ‘“The impossibility of winning the mother’s affection.”’ That confirmed the commitment, implanted during her two years in her mother’s house at Sant’Ambrogio, to her father’s inner order and values: she would prove herself indeed his torchbearer, participating in his work through translation, and through study of his ideas and theories. And ‘This meant more to me than being legitimate or illegitimate,’ Mary would write, though ‘Records would have to be set straight, eventually,’ since history should not be falsified.
The next day Mary went into Bruneck to send Olga a telegram, letting her know where Pound was, and asking her to send Papiers Fayard for his blisters. The presence of the stranger out of hated Italy had been noticed by the local Nazi authorities, and Herr Bernardi, the butcher, and Herr Bacher, the woodcarver, old friends of the Marchers, appeared at their house bearing rifles and demanding to know, formally, ‘Who is this man out of Italy who says he is an American?’ It didn’t help that Pound, to establish his identity, presented his Italian journalist’s card. But what were they to make ‘of a man who was clearly not Italian, not a spy, not a Fascist, not a Jew?’ They all began to discuss politics, then economics, and Herr Bernardi became interested in what Pound was saying about the Wörgl experiment, and in what he had said in his broadcasts to America, while the sculptor in Herr Bacher became interested in the shape of Pound’s head, and thus the formal investigation was forgotten. For a few days Pound rested and looked for things to mend around the house. He repaired a staircase that had needed something doing to it for years. He visited Bacher’s studio, admired his traditional madonnas, and wondered if he should take up woodcarving, or should he offer to work in the sawmill. But Mary’s telegram had got through to Olga who sent the onionskins for the blisters, and wrote that things were calm in Rapallo, so Pound went down to Bruneck to obtain the permit he now needed to leave Gais.
The Ortskomandant, Herr Bernardi’s brother, was reluctant to allow Pound to leave. Or he should go to Berlin, ‘That was the place for such a brain, the German Rundfunk!’ To that Pound ‘merely blinked in friendly fashion’, according to Mary who was with him. They had to go on to Bozen, to apply to the provincial Gauleiter. Pound ‘was depressed and bewildered by the arrogant militaristic atmosphere’ of the occupied city, so Mary did the talking, relying on the prestige in that place of someone’s having to catch a train, and ‘By early afternoon Babbo had his permit to leave the province.’ His train had just one third-class carriage for passengers tacked on to an endless clanking chain of open freight cars carrying field guns from Germany south to the front. There were also horses on it, Mary later recalled.
Pound now entered the Socialist Republic of Italy, as northern Italy had been designated by Mussolini on 18 September, a republic of which the restored Duce was nominally head of state and head of Government, while the state and the Government were in fact totally subject to the occupying German forces. His then was a puppet regime; yet it might more exactly be regarded as a virtual regime, since he was free to dream up the ideal socialistic republic he had no power to legislate into existence. That was a republic Pound could work for.
On 12 September Mussolini had been snatched by German commandos from the mountain-top hotel in the Abruzzi where he was being held prisoner, and flown to Hitler in his East Prussia headquarters. There he was made to understand that unless he agreed to head up a government of northern Italy in alliance with Germany, then Italy, for having betrayed its ally, would suffer an even worse fate than Poland. In the hope, as he expressed it, of creating ‘a buffer between the vendetta of the betrayed Germans and the Italian population’, Mussolini bowed to the will of Hitler, who repaid him with the reflection that his weak associate was too bound to his own Italian people to be a thorough revolutionary like himself. To cancel out that bond Hitler would not allow Mussolini to set himself up in Rome or Milan, or in any major city. Forced to go into exile in his own country Mussolini, as Farrell puts it, ‘chose Salò on Lake Garda near Gardone where d’Annunzio, the poet-warrior and spiritual father of Fascism, had lived and was buried’. Mussolini did have his own way at least in the naming of his regime. Hitler wanted it to be called ‘Repubblica Fascista Italiana’, but it was officially declared to be the ‘Repubblica Sociale Italiana’ (RSI). Mussolini, by his own account, ‘did not believe in a possible resurrection of Fascism’.
He believed instead that by his fall he had been set free to return Fascism to its socialist roots, and in the process to disentangle it from Hitler’s National Socialism. He had no illusions about his situation, that he was the powerless prisoner of his SS minders who took their instructions from Hitler, and that his Italy was ‘an occupied territory and a subject people like all the others’. He wished he could put an end to the farce of the Germans pretending they were allies, but he didn’t dare. What he could still do was to think and to write how Italy might rise again; how it would be purged of the errors that had undone Fascism, especially those due to its tolerance of the monarchy, and then those due to its disastrous alliance with Nazi Germany; and how it could be recreated upon the principles of social justice as he had first meant it should be.
The notional constitution of the new republic was agreed in Verona on 14 November by the first congress of the reconstituted Fascist Party. Mussolini was not present, but he was behind what came to be known as the Verona manifesto or charter. This would commit Italy to a revolutionary struggle against capitalism and Anglo-American imperialism, and equally against Communism and Soviet imperialism. The Socialist republic would be founded upon the value of work, not the value of capital. There would be a right to private property, as the product of work; but no rights deriving from the ownership of property, and specifically no right to exploit the labour of others for private profit. Labour and capital should be equally represented on the boards of large private companies, and public services should be nationalized. The Manifesto was intended to rally the party and to win the support of urban workers; but the party was divided, its remaining members ‘more interested in recrimination and revenge than reconstruction’; and the workers no longer had faith in Mussolini. He had altogether lost the support of his people.
Pound’s faith, however, was re-invigorated by the Verona programme. He responded enthusiastically to the principle of the right to but not of property. He also proposed that a few further important principles should be included in the programme: ‘Freedom of discussion…Habeas corpus…the doctrine that money is subject to state control.’ He was eager to renew his support for Mussolini, though not as a follower, rather as a counsellor. He evidently believed that Mussolini had a renewed will to achieve a just social order, and that he could help him do it. Very likely, as his journalist friend Francesco Monotti pertinently remarked, ‘He believed in us more than we believed in ourselves.’ His conviction that he might influence the German-controlled Salò regime and re-educate its people was beyond belief.
Pound had got back to Rapallo on 23 September, and was soon writing to senior members of the regime. In one of several ‘Service Notes’—this one marked for the attention of Il Duce personally—he suggested that it would be good propaganda to make an official announcement ‘that a reform, a real monetary reform, will be put into effect for the benefit of the Italian people’. This, he urged, ‘would enhance the prestige of the Republic’ among monetary reformers everywhere, ‘In New Zealand, in Texas, etc.’ Another note, this one to be referred to ‘Offices of Communications and Interior’, was more practical. ‘Liguria is now completely cut off from all means of communication’, he wrote, meaning evidently that it was impossible for him to get directly from Rapallo to Salò. This would have been because of the Allied bombing of the railway tracks and marshalling yards. Even ‘to reach Milan from Rapallo’ it was now necessary to spend a night in Genoa. He proposed therefore that there should be ‘an autobus from Spezia to Salò via Genoa, Tortona, Piacenza, and Cremona’, in order ‘to give the Republic a new backbone’.
Alessandro Pavolini, now at Salò as Secretary of the Fascist Party, invited Pound ‘to come north if [he] could get there’. He passed on to Giacomo Barnes the news that Pound was ‘safe and sound in Rapallo’, and Barnes, who was involved in setting up an English language propaganda service to broadcast from Milan under close German supervision, wrote from Salò on 4 November to invite Pound to ‘come here for a few days toward the end of the month to help me galvanize the situation’. On the 9th Pound wrote to Pavolini that he had heard from Barnes about the reconstruction, and that if there was need for him to go up to the Lake then a place in a German truck would be preferable to one on a train. He took the opportunity of bringing to Pavolini’s notice the fact that he had been received by Mussolini in ‘anno XI’, and that since then ‘il Capo del Governo’ had not received the information—implicitly information Pound had tried to communicate—which might have been of service. He didn’t know, Pound probed, whether he, ‘il Capo’, was yet ready to listen or to receive advice which didn’t come ‘from Volpe et cie’. In a postscript Pound added that he had heard that only two of the ministry’s forty-five employees had chosen to leave Rome for Salò, and that at need he could suggest a typist and translator, one brought up in the Fascist faith, a ‘capo squadra’, who, besides Italian, had known the Pustertal dialect from infancy, wrote German well enough for office work, both wrote and spoke English, spoke French with a fine accent, was of a serious character, and more intelligent than the employees he had been used to seeing. Pavolini cordially thanked Pound for this useful information, which he had received with great pleasure, and had passed on to the Ministry of Popular Culture to whom it would also be of interest. As to his being received by ‘il Duce’, however, a communication was sent from the Ministry of Popular Culture on 22 November to inform him that ‘at this particular moment that is an impossibility’. Added by hand was a note from the head of the ministry, Fernando Mezzasoma, saying that if Pound would like to confer with him he would be glad to see him.
Pound got himself to Salò by the 23rd, when he told Dorothy that he had ‘already begun discussions’. Dorothy had to tell him about the ‘letter from Cul. Pop. postmarked Brescia saying the boss can’t possibly see you’. He was also unable to see Pavolini, but did receive a message from him, acknowledging Pound’s telegram and saluting his ‘unaltered and fervent fascist faith’. It was with Mezzasoma that Pound talked, and what he told him, according to the account he gave the FBI in 1945, was ‘that even if Italy fell I must go on with my own economic propaganda, that is, my observance of the money clause in the United States Constitution’.
He prompted Dorothy on the 26th, writing as from ‘Ministero della Cultura Popolare’, to ‘ask Andermacher and Nassano’ if it was possible for Olga to be lent one of the radios confiscated from the Jews so that she could help him in his work. The letter was in Italian, ‘uno delle radio sequestrati dagli ebrei ecc. “per aiutarmi nel mio lavoro”’. All their letters would have to be in Italian from now on, he explained, so as not to have them held up by the censor. He asked for six copies of his Italian version of Confucius, the Studio Integrale, to be sent to ‘Dott. M. Politi, qui al ministro’, here at the ministry; and he ended the letter with, ‘Tell everyone that the new government is alive.’
‘I had a very pleasant visit from Schwartz yesterday’, Dorothy had written on the 24th, ‘He works with Wm. Joyce on Calais-Bremen and may be up your way quite shortly.’ Pound wrote back on the 27th, ‘Schwartz arrived yesterday—recorded 3 this morning, one in German—to begin from Milan in a week on medium wave, later on short wave.’ In the German talk he declared, echoing his Rome Radio statement that he would say nothing incompatible with his duties as an American citizen, ‘Nein, ich spreche nicht gegen mein Vaterland,’ and he advised the Germans, rather daringly under the circumstances, to read the second part of Faust where Goethe touches upon gold and the Mephistophelian invention of paper money.
His letter of the 27th was on paper from the Office of the Prefettura. Giacchino Nicoletti, who was about to be made Prefect and who had been a journalist, had shown him the proofs of a new journal, Volontà Repubblicana, which seemed to Pound to offer ‘at last the chance of a true or real review’. Later, in three of the Pisan Cantos, Pound would recall an exceptional moment of stillness and silence with him beside the lake at Gardone, with the water ‘silent as never at Sirmio’ on the other side, and a cat walking the guard rail, and in the silence Nicoletti saying, ‘this wind out of Carrara | is soft as un terzo cielo’, and again,
in the stillness outlasting all wars
‘La Donna’ said Nicoletti
—thus consecrating the moment by reciting a sonnet he had written when young.
There was another singular moment early in December. Pound had in his hand a volume of the Confucian Odes, one of the handsome set Kitasono had given him in 1937, when he came upon three Japanese, envoys from their Embassy, and the Odes, as he told Dorothy, served as introduction. A ‘genial discussion’ followed, or, as he expressed it in a letter to Olga, ‘lunge e cordiale colloq’. In May 1945, under arrest but wishing he ‘could bring the slaughter in the Pacific to a sane and speedy end’, he would tell his interrogators that the experience yielded ‘the perception of a diplomacy based on humanity’, one which might seek peace rather than make war:
When I without credentials can meet Japanese envoys in the middle of chaos, and talk man to man because I happen to be carrying the third volume of the Confucian anthology, there is an avenue of approach NOT closed by the horrors of jungle warfare.
One must wonder though, remembering the unresponsiveness of the Japanese officials he had called on in Rome in 1940, whether Pound’s talking ‘man to man’ about the Confucian ethic would have had much effect.
A striking feature of the incident, as of much else in Pound’s behaviours at this time, is his capacity for taking no notice of the blindingly obvious. Or if that is too strong, there is at least a disconnection between the obvious reality and what is urgently real to him. It was a fine thing for him to feel that ‘If I had not handed them a copy of my Studio Integrale (Ta S’eu) I might not believe in my capacity to talk to them as a gun merchant could not.’ But Confucius is not much honoured in Japan’s traditions; and these envoys were representing a nation hell-bent on conquering China and much of South-East Asia and the Pacific. How could the Ta S’eu mean to them in their frame of mind what it meant to Pound in his? It was like his passionately advocating monetary reform while Italy was being fought over and blown up and torn apart; or his talking of Goethe on money to Hitler’s Germany. To take a different case, how could he coolly ask his wife to try to obtain a radio for the other woman, so that she could assist him in his work, when he knew how the wife resented and hated her? Then there is the seriously missing connection between the radio and its former owners, the one ‘sequestrated’ and wanted, the others given no thought.
It is likely that he would have heard in the days before it was announced over the radio on 1 December that Buffarini, Salò’s Minister of the Interior, was about to order the arrest and internment of all Jews resident in the Republic, along with ‘the immediate confiscation of their property’. He would certainly have known that in the Verona manifesto Italy’s Jews had been redefined as ‘“aliens”, to be regarded as “enemy nationals” for the duration of the war’. But he could also have heard in Salò that these anti-Jewish decrees were made to satisfy the SS, and that the Salò regime would resist implementing them where it could. Indeed, Meir Michaelis concluded, in his study of ‘German–Italian Relations and the Jewish Question in Italy, 1922–1945’, that ‘If the “Jew-lovers” of Salò’—as they seemed to the Nazis—‘had been masters in their own house, no Italian Jew would have perished in the Holocaust.’ Yet the brute reality was that from the first days of the Salò regime the Nazis had been implementing their Final Solution in the occupied Republic, rounding up all the Jews they could find and deporting them by the trainload to Auschwitz. Twenty-five Jews were caught in a raid in Merano between 16 and 18 September and deported to Auschwitz; in October there were raids in Trieste and Rome; in November in Genoa and Milan; by the end of 1943 10,000 Jews had been captured for deportation. There is no knowing what exactly the people Pound talked to at Salò in November and December of 1943 knew or suspected of their fate, and no knowing how much he knew or suspected. But enough was known in January to cause Buffarini to protest to the Germans ‘against the “illegal” deportation of Italian Jews to the East’. That protest, like all of Salò’s protests, was ineffectual, but at least it was some response to what was being done to the Jews. In Pound’s unfeeling ‘uno delle radio sequestrati dagli ebrei ecc.’ there is just no connection with the Jewish victims.
Pound’s detachment was deliberate. Compassion would do them no good, he thought, and besides, it could be demoralizing. What was needed was understanding. On 2 December he wrote to Pavolini seeking his support for a proposal he had made a few days earlier, ‘possibly his best proposal ever’, that there should be a positive law requiring every bookshop to display for three months, or permanently, certain books necessary for the development of the sense of civic responsibility. Among the more important, especially at that moment, he would place—
I Protocolli di Sion
I Doveri dell’Uomo, di Mazzini
La Politica di Aristotele
Il Testamento di Confucio
The Protocols were needed just then, he explained, because the arrest of Jews would create a wave of useless pity, ‘un’ondata di misericordia inservibile’, and intellectuals would keep on feeling that way until they understood the reasons, ‘le ragioni’, for what was being done. So he reasoned away the brutal reality of what was being done to the Jews, reasoning against pity, and against his own better knowledge.
Pound was ‘ordered to Milan tomorrow or a.s.a.p.’ on 3 December, and got there, by standing for three hours in a railway cattle truck, by 6 December. That was no way, he complained to Gilberto Bernabei, for a propaganda office to look after its human instruments. He had a letter of introduction from his friend Nino Sammartano, then Inspector of Radio, to the general manager of the new Republic of Salò radio station, Signor Daquanno. Pound was as ever eager to get to the microphone, but Daquanno took the view that the best thing would be for him to broadcast for the German network from Berlin or Paris. Pound was unwilling to do that, being committed to the Socialist Republic of Italy and to his own propaganda, and things were awkward at first. He was not provided with accommodation, whereas at Salò and Gardone he had probably been put up in ‘foresteria’, the regime’s own guest-houses. Here in cold, foggy, bomb-damaged Milan, he had to sleep ‘in a kind of corridor’ in the Prefettura for two nights at least, and was overjoyed to at last find a room with heating. Then there was a difficulty over expenses: ‘I see you refuse to pay my hotel bill,’ he wrote crossly to Sammartano, who later apologised for a bureaucratic mixup.
There was civil war in Milan. ‘Milano Caina’, he wrote in a draft which would find a place in canto 78, associating the city with the kin-killers at the bottom of Dante’s inferno—
Milano Caina / the four popes ferocious in silver | resisting.
in the fury of candles / amid the thick tempest of incense
amid ruin, destruction / maintaining.
and that week they
assassinated the federale Reseda aldo fascista.
The ‘four popes ferocious in silver | resisting’ were silver reliquaries which Pound saw on the altar of the bomb-damaged church of San Sepolcro when he looked in on 8 December. He would have known that the Fasci di combattimenti had held their first meeting in the Piazza S. Sepolcro, and were known thereafter as ‘sansepolcristi’.
Now what remained of the regime was powerless and dysfunctional. Pound was kept waiting on decisions by people in a ministry who couldn’t, as he raged to Dorothy on the 11th, ‘decide whether to decide or to undecide decisions that had already been decided’. Trying to be patient was driving him crazy, he wrote, ‘paz i en ZA dev’esser in parentela pazzIA’. At the same time he was bothered by the way the Germans were censoring everything. He reported to Sammartano that ‘the E.I.A.R. tells me that the short waves won’t be in service for ‘several months’/therefore the only possibility for transmission to the U. S. A. will be with the strictest German collaboration’. He clearly was not happy about that. As it happens a talk of his was broadcast on 10 December, but it was most probably one of the three he had recorded for Schwartz at Salò. This talk, denouncing Badoglio, Ciano, and the rest of the Italians who, in the eyes of Mussolini and of the Germans, had betrayed first the Duce and then the Axis cause, was beamed rather bizarrely to American troops in Europe and North Africa. Pound declared in 1945, ‘At Milan I refused to broadcast to American troops and no pressure was put on me.’ But he did still want to talk freely to America and was frustrated by being left hanging about doing nothing.
On Monday 13th he managed to see the man in charge of the broadcasts to American troops, Carl Goedel, and he had lunch with him the following day. Goedel was a 50-year-old German, who had been raised in Philadelphia, had served as a translator with the German army in 1914–18, and had been working since 1940 with EIAR in Rome, and now in Milan. He was close to the German authorities, yet Pound would develop a working relationship with him in 1944, the more readily perhaps because Goedel did not try to tell him what he should say or do. Instead Goedel saved him out of the immediate chaos of things in Milan by having one of his officials give him 3,000 lire, equal then to about thirty dollars, towards his expenses.
That did not ease Pound’s frustration. On the Sunday he had told Olga that he would be back for Christmas if not within the week; on the Wednesday he told Dorothy that he was wasting his time in Milan, getting nothing done; and on Saturday 18 December, as Dorothy recorded in her diary, he was back in via Marsala at 5.30. He was so discouraged by the disorder in Salò’s propaganda operation that he decided that Mary would be better off staying on in the Tyrol rather than taking up an offer from Sammartano to employ her in Salò as an interpreter. Possibly the only satisfying event in his ten days in Milan was managing to arrange a half-hour interview with Pellegrini, the Minister of Finance, and being able to present to him ‘my stamp scrip plan for financing the new Government’.
Pound was being listened to, even taken seriously, by some of Salò’s leading men. Perhaps the American’s earnest efforts to advise and to direct their operations as if they were quite real allowed them to feel that they might have some authority after all. Virtual worlds depend upon illusion. Mezzasoma, head of the Ministry of Popular Culture, recommended Pound’s proposal for a bus service between Spezia and Salò to the consideration of the Minister of Communications, and endorsed it as coming from ‘The collaborator Ezra Pound, American writer, old and proven friend of Italy to whose service he has devoted his intelligence’. In Italian, as in English, collaboratore can mean ‘a colleague, a co-worker’, as well as ‘one who works with the enemy’, and there must have been an ambiguity, a sense of Pound’s compromised situation, in the Salò officials’ way of referring to him, when circulating his missives around their ministries, as ‘the collaborator Ezra Pound’. All the same, the reality of his devotion to Mussolini’s illusory republic appears to have led them to regard him as virtually one of themselves. He was able to put his proposals and exhortations to Mussolini’s private secretary, Giovanni Dolfin, to the Chief of Staff of the Army of the Salò Republic, to the Ministers of Finance and Labour, to the Commissioners of the Confederation of Professional Men and Artists and of the National Institute of Fascist Culture, to the Mayor of Milan, and so on through the full directory of ministers and heads of department and senior officials of the phantom government.
In the mind of the American authorities, however, there was no ambiguity: quite simply, the collaborator Ezra Pound was wanted on a charge of treason and when captured was to be ‘thoroughly interrogated concerning his radio broadcasting and other activities on behalf of the Italian Government’. On 24 January 1944 the US Attorney General wrote to the Secretary of War to that effect, and the order was duly passed to the command of the US Fifth Army in Italy, together with a photograph and a passport description of the wanted ‘Dr Pound’.
That neat and simple view missed the complication that Pound, while working with the Salò government, was not working for it nor on its behalf in the sense of the indictment; but was rather working through it, and upon it, on behalf of his own agenda. He was not speaking for the new republic, he was speaking to it. His mission, as he conceived it, was to educate its people, to overcome their ignorance and to foster their intelligence, and so to bring about enlightened government. To Giovanni Gentile, president of the newly established Academy, he sent a proposal for a national education programme, with a syllabus listing Homer, Catullus, Ovid, Dante, Chaucer etc., along with some ‘readable’ historians and economists. Gentile forwarded the proposal to Il Duce, who added Plato’s Republic to the list. Encouraged by a decree issued by the Council of Ministers on 13 January 1944 which promised some of the economic reforms he had been calling for, together with a right of habeas corpus and a right of free speech, Pound sent Mezzasoma ‘a brief summary of EDUCATIONAL MATERIAL’, on this occasion listing
BROOKS ADAMS: The Law of Civilization and Decay; The New Empire
KITSON: The Bankers’ Conspiracy
OVERHOLSER: History of Money in the U.S.A.
These, Pound advised, were ‘The most useful books with which to combat the expressed opinions of the Anglo-Saxon-Jewish-Yankee press’, and to counter the opposition to economic reform bound to come ‘from the mercantileindustrialists, usurers, etc.’ He also suggested, following a 13 January decree developing the eighteen points of the Verona programme, that a translation of his own Jefferson and/or Mussolini ‘might find readers in Italy’. In fact all the books on his list would have to be translated and published in Italian, if ever the printing presses were running again. He emphasized that point: ‘Without a printing press and a microphone it is difficult to educate these people.’ The education he intended was clearly one which should make them economically literate and armed against usury, no matter that usurious banking was not among the Italian republic’s more pressing concerns. Yet Mezzasoma’s staff quite promptly forwarded Pound’s suggestions to Nino Sammartano, now in Venice as director general of the Cultural Exchange Division of the Ministry of Popular Culture, to the director general of Foreign Press and Radio, and to the Ministry of Propaganda.
Pound felt at liberty to criticize Mezzasoma’s ministry quite severely. ‘You people refuse to learn,’ he told him, ‘I am fed up…Perhaps I am wasting my time, but I am anxious to help.’ What had set him off on that day, 16 January, was an ignorant propaganda ‘note on this morning’s “Radio Journal”’, ignorant, that is, of how the Anglo-American mind would inevitably react to the socializing ‘provisions of the 13th’. ‘We are wasting time’, he went on, ‘In twenty years the Ministry has never really controlled its own printing press’, and ‘ignorance has been created, fomented and spread by the putrid Italian-Jewified plutocratic press’. Ignorance was the basic problem, from the ignorance of the uninformed young to ‘the ignorance of newspaper publishers and government officials’, all of them ‘not even aware that a monetary problem exists in Italy’. A week later he was complaining that his efforts to remedy that ignorance were being held up. ‘The material left with Nicoletti has not been printed yet’—‘Nothing will get done until I or Nicoletti or someone who understands the meaning of this war has been granted the use of a printing press.’ In a paranoid moment he hesitated to say where an article of his on money had recently appeared, ‘because one of those mysterious counter-orders to which we have become accustomed, might prevent publication of a second article’. At the end of March, writing at 4.00 a.m. after listening to London’s BBC flooding the night air, he advised transmitting to America in the small hours short speeches on the theme, ‘London lies’. ‘My own voice should probably be used for this project’, he proposed. In the same letter he accused EIAR of ‘being full of treachery’, because ‘Some of the music played over the air these days…is enough to make one sick. If this isn’t deliberate sabotage, then what is it?’ Mezzasoma may not have felt behind that last complaint the authority of Mencius’ Confucius, who ‘Through the rites of a state could see its government; through its music, the moral quality of its ruler’.
Pound’s own voice would not be used again by EIAR, nor would he have his scripts read by others. Instead he would provide odd items for others to work into their programmes if and where suitable. On 23 February, Tamburini, the Director General of the Milan radio, sent a memo to the Head of Foreign Press and Radio to the effect that
Radio Division IV in Milan has recently invited the collaborators Ezra Pound and Giacomo Barnes to join them. They will each send two or three messages per week to Milan; these messages will be of polemic nature suitable for insertion into news reports in foreign languages.
At the end of the war Tamburini told the FBI that Pound’s messages consisted of ‘comments and short news items’, and that ‘sometimes he would create slogans such as “America is running herself into debt.”’ He also said that ‘the material he furnished us with was often anti-Semitic in nature’. Parts of what Pound sent in would be used ‘in the scripts for Jerry’s Front Calling’, a programme of German-directed propaganda run by Carl Goedel and beamed at American troops in the Mediterranean theatre. Pound told his interrogators in 1945 that from September of 1944—this was following the radio station’s move from Milan to Fino Mornasco on Lake Como—he would send Goedel two copies of his material, one of them addressed to him at the German Consulate in Milan, and he supposed that was ‘for record and censorship’. Goedel, he had been told, ‘uses your stuff in his own way’.
Pound wanted it to be understood that while he worked with him, he ‘did not work for Goedel, but for the Republican Fascist Ministry of Popular Culture’; he insisted, moreover, that he was not paid by the Germans but by the Italians. Tamburini also made a point of saying that the ‘German authorities in Italy never paid Pound any money because he was receiving a regular monthly check from the Italian Ministry of Popular Culture’. It was as if he was not really contributing to German propaganda, even though his material was being used by Goedel in Jerry’s Front, so long as he was not being paid by the Germans. There was another and rather more convincing distinction whichPound maintained, this one in relation to the RSI. He would not fill out an employment application sent to him by the Ministry of Popular Culture, and he would regularly cross out the words ‘enclosed is your salary for the month’ and insert instead, ‘for services rendered’. This was to maintain the status of a free agent and not a salaried employee, and to make it clear that he was doing his own thing, not following orders. But then, ‘I always accepted the checks’, he said. At first he received ‘eight thousand lire about $80 per month’, paid by checks drawn on the Banco di Lavoro in Venice and cashable in his Rapallo bank; then a bonus raised his ‘monthly pay check to about eleven thousand lire’; but in early 1945 a general salary cut reduced it again by 10 per cent.
In Pound’s own account his main work in 1944 and 1945, the work for which he was being paid, was advising and writing for the Cultural Exchange Division of the Ministry of Popular Culture, and particularly for its publishing press, Casa Editrice delle Edizioni Popolari. Sammartano, upon being transferred to Venice to take charge of the office of Cultural Exchange, had sought Pound’s collaboration—the former Professor of Education at Rome University was evidently impressed by Pound’s determination to ‘educate these people’—and Pound had seized upon the chance of having at his disposal a printing press and a well-disposed director. It was agreed between them in January 1944 that Pound would write a series of books or pamphlets, and these six were printed over the following twelve months:
L’America, Roosevelt, e le cause della guerra presente (about March 1944)
Introduzione alla natura economica degli S. U. A. (June 1944)
Testamento di Confucio (reprint of the Italian translation of the Ta S’eu, July 1944)
Orientamenti (a collection of Pound’s Meridiano di Roma articles, September 1944)
Jefferson e Mussolini (J/M revised, adapted and translated by EP for Italian readers, December 1944)
Chiung Iung. L’Asse che non vacilla. Secondo dei libri Confuciani (Pound’s new Italian version of ‘The Unwobbling Pivot’, February 1945)
Pound also secured publication in May 1944 of a pamphlet, in Olga Rudge’s Italian, based on Kitson’s The Bankers’ Conspiracy (1933) and Industrial Depression (1905), with the title La storia di un reato (The history of a crime), the crime being of course that of the bankers whose usurpation of credit for their private profit was the perennial cause of wars.
Those were more or less the terms in which Pound’s first and second pamphlets presented yet again his economic interpretation of American history. ‘The reason for this publication, at this moment’, he wrote at the end of L’America, Roosevelt, e le cause della guerra presente, ‘is to show how the present war has its place in a series of wars provoked by the same agency: the world-wide usurocracy, or web of high finance.’ A brief prefatory note indicated that the little book would be principally concerned with the enlightened Revolution of 1776, and with the subsequent fall of America during its Civil War into the grasp of the international usurocracy. Roosevelt is mentioned, and cursed, only at the very end; and the reader is challenged to consider the bearing of this American history upon the current war.
The argument was spelt out again in Introduzione alla natura economica degli S. U. A. Sammartano, evidently approving of his first pamphlet, had asked him to do another on the economic history of the United States. Pound obliged at once, sent in his Introduzione about the end of May, and was informed by Sammartano on 5 June that the Minister had passed it for publication. It was as good an account as he had given in prose of his understanding of history, with the argument developed coolly and clearly through detailed illustration, without rage, and without anti-Semitism. It is genuinely a history lesson, and not a prosecuting polemic; nor was it propaganda in any simplesense, least of all Axis propaganda. Pound declared his personal interest at the start:
For forty years I have schooled myself, not to write an economic history of the U.S. or any other country, but to write an epic poem which begins ‘In the Dark Forest’, crosses the Purgatory of human error, and ends in the light, and ‘fra i maestri di color che sanno’. For this reason I have had to understand the NATURE of error.
The investigation led to his usual findings—findings which were still news sixty-four years on:
The trap of the banking system has always worked in the same way. Some case of abundance is used to create optimism. This optimism is exaggerated, usually with the help of propaganda. Sales increase; prices of land, or of shares, rise beyond the possibility of material revenue. The banks having favoured exaggerated loans in order to manoeuvre the increase, restrict, recall their loans, and presently panic overtakes the people.
The consequent ruin, he wrote, as it has been written again in our time, ‘has its roots in the greed for lucre, a greed which abandons all common sense and every sense of proportion, and blindly creates its own undoing’. But the lesson that history teaches is never learnt, Pound noted as he repeated it, the lesson that ‘It is idiotic to leave the pocket-book of the nation in the hands of private and, perhaps foreign, irresponsible individuals’—the lesson that in any democracy money should be democratized, socialized, and regulated for the public good, as against private profit.
There are two remarkable things about these two pamphlets, and indeed about all Pound’s Salò publications. The first is that they show him pursuing as always his own agenda even while being paid and published by the regime. More remarkable is that they show him earnestly putting his educational material into his odd Italian for the benefit of a shrinking republic whose inhabitants, one can be fairly certain, were otherwise occupied, as with surviving the severe shortages of food and of all other necessities, surviving the bombing of their towns and cities, surviving the strain of being under German occupation, and the further strain of their own internal divisions, not to mention the worry of the slow grinding advance of the Allied forces. Pound’s sublime disregard for all that must have been the correlative of his being totally possessed and driven by his imperative conviction that he alone understood the true nature of the war. He would not be distracted from the perennial war by this war of the moment. Nor would he give up on his mission to reform the Republic.
But then, after the taking of Rome by the Allies in June and of Florence in August, the Republic would give up on Pound. Very nearly the entire edition of Orientamenti would be destroyed in October or November, ‘because of its political and economic nature’; for the same reason the entire edition of Jefferson e Mussolini would be destroyed as soon as it was printed; and finally the bulk of the edition of the Chiung Iung would be ‘burned immediately after the Liberation because (“asse” being the Italian word for “axis”) the text was condemned, unread, as propaganda in favour of the Berlin–Rome–Tokyo Axis’. Thus two of his six works would be made phantom publications on account of the anxieties of Sammartano and the Salò authorities, fearful of what the oncoming Allies might make of them; and a third would be destroyed because it was taken by someone unknown to be precisely what it was not.
There were other projects and proposals which came to nothing. At the end of January 1944 Pound suggested to Mezzasoma that there should be a daily or weekly newspaper printed in Rapallo, only to be told that the paper shortage made that quite impossible. In February he wrote to Sammartano about the need for suitable propaganda material in English to be given to British and American prisoners of war, and in April he sent in his list of recommendations. There were the usual books on money and the bankers’ conspiracy—Brooks Adams, Kitson, Overholser—there were books on American history, and his own Cantos ‘because they contain history in a much more condensed form than prose, especially cantos LII/LXXI, the economic history of China [and] the Life of John Adams’; there was his Jefferson and/or Mussolini; and, less obviously, there were Wyndham Lewis’s The Apes of God, a merciless mirror held up to literary London, and Cummings’s Eimi, an idiosyncratic mirroring of Soviet Russia. It was, as Redman remarks, ‘Pound’s ideal list’, but hopelessly unrealistic. Sammartano simply told him, ‘for the moment the publication of volumes in a language other than Italian cannot be foreseen’. Later in the year Pound mentioned that he was translating an economic work by J. P. Angold, to be called Il ruolo del finanziere (The Role of the Financier), but this appears to have become an unfinished or lost work. In October he wondered if a monumental microphotographic edition of Vivaldi might be possible, or a more modest edition, or, if not that, still, he suggested, there would be publicity value in announcing that the work of preserving important literary and musical materials from wartime damage was continuing. The diminuendo suggests that he knew Salò would not be doing any kind of edition of Vivaldi.
Pound’s most ambitious unrealized project was for a series, to be published in Italian by Edizioni Popolari, of the essential classic Chinese texts. He outlined the plan in a letter to Mezzasoma dated 15 March 1944:
1. My bilingual edition of STUDIO INTEGRALE of CONFUCIUS…
2. L’Asse che non vacilla (Invariabilité dans le Milieu) to be translated from the French of Pauthier by Soldato. Work already begun yesterday.
3. Speeches by Confucius [i.e. Analects]. Soldato will continue with this and with the
4. Book of Mencius (from Pauthier’s translations).
5. Shu King 2235–719 BC That is, documents collected by Confucius, translated by Gorn Old. Necessary in order to understand on what Confucius based his deductions.
6. Odes, Anthology of ancient poetry collected by Confucius with the Latin translation of Lacharme, notes of J. Mohl 1752; published in 1830.
Pound was also ‘looking for an edition of “Spring and Autumn”’; and proposing ‘An IDEOGRAMMIC CHINESE–ITALIAN DICTIONARY to be based on what exists, but certainly to include Morrison with additions and notes by Karlgren’. He was clearly impatient to get done what could be done at once; but he was also projecting major undertakings which would have taken experts years to accomplish. Evidently he had set Giuseppe Soldato, a Rapallese writer and friend, the task of translating three of the classics from Pauthier’s French versions so as not to lose time by beginning afresh from the originals. In the event, though, L’asse che non vacilla was published in Pound’s own translation, and the other works Soldato was to translate did not materialize; nor did an Italian Shu King. Mezzasoma gave his approval for an edition of the Odes, but, hardly surprisingly, that did not materialize either. As for the dictionary, the scale of that undertaking, and the expertise required, can be measured by its having to include the seven folio volumes of Morrison, plus ‘additions and notes by Karlgren’. In the prevailing circumstances that was crying for the moon.
But then Pound intended the Confucian classics to be his founding contribution to the Republic. ‘I am absolutely convinced’, he would tell Mezzasoma in January 1945,
that in bringing to Italy a greater knowledge of the heroic doctrine of Confucius, I will bring you a gift of greater service than the Platonism that Gemisto brought you in the 14th century, which rendered you so great a service in stimulating the Renaissance.
‘The importance of the Confucian culture’, he had previously told Sammartano, was in its maintaining ‘the civic sense for the construction of an empire’. And when he sent his translation of L’asse che non vacilla to Sammartano he described the work as ‘26 chapters adapted to the moment’, implying an immediate need of the Confucian civic sense in Mussolini’s republic. In May 1945 he would declare that the Republic had flopped because it had not followed Confucian principles thoroughly enough.
Pound could be philosophical about the end of Mussolini and his Fascism because that had been his attitude for some time, if not all along. His attachment had not been simply to the man and the party, but had been rooted in the idea of social justice which he credited them with attempting to realize. That is the key to making sense of his relations with Fascism in general, and with the Salò regime in particular. In February 1944 he had declared, in a manifesto signed with four other ‘Tigullian writers’ (Giuseppe Soldato being one of them), ‘No individual will succeed Mussolini, his successor will be THE REPUBLICAN IDEA.’ Confucius had given ‘l’IDEA REPUBBLICANA’ a form which had sustained dynasties, a universal form or paideuma persisting beyond and above its particular manifestations. Pound had taken, or mistaken, Mussolini’s Fascism to be one such manifestation; but as the IDEA of a just republic would outlast his end, so Pound’s faith in that idea would endure. It had not been a faith in what is labelled ‘Fascism’, but a commitment to what he had taken, rightly and wrongly, to be the idea behind it. It was a commitment to what he was now calling a philosophy, specifically the Confucian philosophy, but with the rider that a man’s philosophy reveals itself more in his deeds than in his words.
Pound’s words were his deeds. But how could he have hoped to inculcate, all by himself, a Confucian ethic within, and via the media of, a Fascist-Socialist regime subject to Hitler’s Nazism? The simple answer, that he was mad, is altogether too simple. He was absolutely in his right mind, and he was well aware of what was happening around him. Nor was he immune to the stresses and dangers of the time. But his response to them was to hold on to and to assert all the more vehemently his visionary idea of a better state of the world. He went on believing in the impossible.