Ezra Pound: Poet: Volume III: The Tragic Years 1939-1972 - A. David Moody (2015)
PART ONE: 1939-1945
5: FOR THE RESURRECTION OF ITALY, 1944-5
At a critical moment in May 1944 the German military authorities in Rapallo ordered the evacuation within twenty-four hours of all seafront apartments. They were taking measures against feared Allied landings. The Allies’ advance, which had been stalled for months at Monte Cassino and Anzio, was moving again; Rome would fall to them on 4 June, and Florence in August. Through April and May the Allies intensified their aerial bombardment of Italian cities, causing ‘huge destruction and loss of life’. Yet the Germans were determined to hold them back, and by desperate fighting in the mountainous country between Florence and Bologna would drag the war out through the winter and into the spring of 1945.
Ezra and Dorothy Pound, when they had to leave their seafront flat, were invited by Olga Rudge to share her six rooms in Casa 60, Sant’Ambrogio. They would retain the lease of the Rapallo flat, and leave some of their things there, notably the Gaudier Hieratic Head on the rooftop terrace. But much of the twenty-year accumulation of books and papers, and some furniture and other household goods, were carried down the long descent of stairs to be stored elsewhere. Some went to the house of Pound’s good friend Dr Bacigalupo; some, with the assistance of their peasant friend Baccin, to his mother’s apartment in the Villa Raggio in Cerisola, the hilly suburb behind the town; the journals and periodicals were taken by Ezra and Olga to rest on the empty shelves of the Casa del Fascio library; and the more treasured books and papers, as Mary understood from her mother, were carried by her parents, ‘in briefcases and knapsacks’, up the long salita to Sant’Ambrogio. And ‘Somewhere they found a cart with two horses’, Dorothy recalled for Hugh Kenner in 1965, ‘to haul the books and heavy things up the hill’. Dorothy would have Mary’s room, Ezra another.
Olga Rudge, in a 1977 notebook, recalled their first evening together:
To help tide over the awkwardness—the three of us forced to converse at the end of a tiring day, I thought EP & D. would like me to show that I was minding my own business—I went to my room and played the Mozart Concerto in A major, as well as I have ever done. The next morning E. told me that D. remarked, ‘I couldn’t have done that’. (D. said nothing to me, good or bad or indifferent…pointedly spoke to me as she might have to a housekeeper.) I never played—or was asked to play—again. It was the last time EP had music at Sant’Ambrogio.
Olga Rudge added, ‘After the first night DP and EP sat listening in the dark to the BBC broadcasts.’
Olga was teaching English three days a week at a school down in Rapallo, and would bring back their meagre rations, bread, ‘meat once a week, occasional fish’. Dorothy told Kenner that sometimes she had had to cook, though she had never cooked before, on principle. From her diary one gathers that so far as possible she cooked and ate and did things with Ezra alone; and that when Ezra and Olga were doing something she kept to her room. Though she was living in Olga’s house, she maintained only the most distant and frigid relations with her. And Olga seethed with resentment. ‘One solid year, Dorothy made use of me to the fullest,’ she wrote when the year was over, while ‘I worked like a slave—cooking, cleaning, finding food—which I only undertook owing to her incapacity, so that E. should not suffer.’ It seemed to her that Dorothy had behaved with ‘incredible meanness…in terror lest I have some advantage over her’. And Dorothy, when she had left Olga’s house and was with Isabel Pound, noted that her life then was ‘a mild purgatorio compared to the HELL of No. 60’.
That inferno of freezing hatred and burning resentment was covered up according to the code of behaviour they had in common, a code which held that social relations required the suppression of personal feelings. ‘We were all civilized people,’ Olga Rudge told Humphrey Carpenter in 1983. And Ezra, as the lofty apex of the two-sided triangle, with his principle of taking no account of personal feelings, would have affected to be merely diverted by their ‘asperities’. But when Olga came to read the lamenting cry ‘AOI’ in the draft of canto 81 he sent out from the Pisan prison camp, she wept unrestrainedly before her daughter, hearing in it the stress of the year when he been ‘pent up with two women who loved him, whom he loved, and who coldly hated each other’.
Life was difficult enough without all that. After the war Dorothy recalled how there had been ‘no water at Olga’s’ in the dry season; and in the cold no heating, and a ‘perpetual struggle about wood and/or charcoal’ for cooking. There had been bombers overhead most nights—‘we used to see and hear over the mountains Genoa being destroyed week after week’. Some bombs were dropped on Rapallo—the main church and a railroad bridge were badly damaged—and one morning the church of S. Giorgio at Portofino across the bay was gone from the skyline. On 14 September 1944, Pound wrote to Mezzasoma about a local treasure under threat:
In Rapallo the main plaza has been devastated by bombs, although several of the arches dating back to the fourteenth century were undamaged. It now seems that Genoa’s civil engineer has ordered them torn down, probably with good intentions, but…
The Riviera has already lost much and we do not want the plaza at Rapallo to be among the treasures lost. These old arches resisted the bombing raid and several of them are works of art…
Perhaps you can put this letter in the hands of someone who can halt the destruction. The city is so completely abandoned that I don’t know who recognizes me these days.
That feeling plea was followed by a down to earth recommendation that the same ‘someone’
…would do well also to bring a little cement and calcimine to help the people in these mountains make cisterns so that they can go on a bit longer. The main problem in these hills is the lack of water; the evacuees (myself included) drink up what little there is left.
Pound had been under pressure for some time to move to Milan in order to be on call for more radio work. In mid-May he wrote to Giorgio Almirante of the Ministry of Popular Culture, saying that he was already writing ‘every day for the radio’, but that he would ‘find the means – or at least…attempt to find the means—to get there’, that is, to Milan, ‘the minute I am convinced that my voice should be heard over the radio’. He would like to be able to go ‘occasionally by camion for two or three weeks at a time’, as he had formerly gone down to Rome, in order to record a batch of radio speeches for broadcasting. But he would need, he warned, ‘some sort of porter service’, since ‘my physical strength is not what it used to be…I can no longer lift or move heavy suitcases.’ No doubt his ability to carry heavy suitcases had just been exhausted; but what the letter really meant was that he did not want to go to Milan at all unless it was to resume broadcasting in his own voice to America. Otherwise, from his isolation in Sant’Ambrogio, he would keep on doing what he thought the world situation called for.
‘Isolation is very instructive’, he told Mezzasoma near the end of September, in a letter implying that Confucius was his consolation; but ‘not everyone’, he added, ‘can grasp a millennial text to reinforce their morale’. He was immersing himself again in the constructive element of the Confucian texts, and trying to get them published in Italian for those who might grasp them whole. For the rest, among the people of Rapallo, for example, he was trying to spread at least some key thoughts and sayings to keep up their morale. The broadsheet manifesto signed by Pound with other ‘Tigullian’ writers had contained the first of these Confucian principles: ‘Il tesoro di una nazione è la sua honestà,’ ‘a nation’s treasure is its honesty,’ or ‘Equity is the treasure of states.’ Then he had posters printed, half a metre long, to be pasted up on walls:
COSI’ VIVERE CHE I TUOI FIGLI E I LORO DISCENDENTI TI RINGRAZINO
[So live that your children and their descendants will be grateful to you]
LUCRO privato NON costituisce la prosperità
[Private PROFIT does NOT create prosperity]
L’ARCERE che manca il centro del bersaglio cerce la causa dell’errore
dentro sè stesso
[The Archer who misses the bulls-eye seeks the source of the error within himself]
La Purezza Funge Senza Termine, in tempo e in spazio senza termine
[The Light of Heaven Acts Without Limit, in time and in space without limit]
Another poster, bearing Pound’s own Blakeian slogan, was much larger, 33 cm. × 69 cm.:
Una nazione che non vuole indebitarsi fa rabbia agli usurai!
[A nation that will not go into debt puts the usurers in a rage!]
Some of these may have been posted on La voce della verità , a wall used for information and propaganda in Alessandria; and Pound urged Mezzasoma to have the radio use these and other such slogans. He regarded them as seeds of enlightenment which, if they took root in people’s minds, would clarify their understanding and direct their will. ‘Propaganda’, he told Mezzasoma, ‘should aim for the creation of a state of mind which is conducive to action.’ What he did not spell out in so many words was that his propaganda was ethical, not political nor military, and that it was designed to instigate a socially responsible reconstruction of Italy.
The only regular outlet for his propaganda through 1944 and into 1945 was an RSI newspaper published by the Federazione dei Fasci Repubblicani di Combattimento in Alessandria, an undistinguished provincial capital situated on the plain north from Genoa and south from Turin and Milan. Il Popolo di Alessandria, in its first year a single sheet printed on both sides, came out twice a week and had a circulation of around 135,000. Pound had aspired to write for the older and more prestigious newspapers, Turin’s La Stampa and Milan’s Corriere della sera, and had been recommended to the latter by Mezzasoma, but its editor deemed Pound’s Italian ‘incomprehensible’ and wouldn’t print him. Pound riposted that being able to write good Italian did not guarantee good sense. To the editor of Il Popolo di Alessandria, however, he admitted that his style was rough, and that the editor, Gaetano Cabella, might want to correct it. Cabella invited him, in January 1944, to send in ‘brief articles, both lively and polemical, on the subjects in which we have seen you to be so well versed’. Between February and August Pound contributed something to nearly every issue of the paper, forty-four items in all, and then a further sixteen between November and April 1945. A lot of these were very brief, as Cabella had stipulated, just a slogan or few column inches at a time, though he was allowed up to a full column after the paper doubled in size in September 1944.
One can read through Pound’s articles and notice only the expected subjects: economic matters—the nation’s money—the malign power of the usurers and their perennial war—the deficiencies of the intelligentsia and the consequent ignorance of the populace—the immediate need of Confucius—the need for informed action, especially on the part of writers. Thus one reads again, ‘This war did not begin in 1939. It is a phase of the thousand-year war between the usurer and whoever does an honest day’s work.’ Then, ‘Against this infamy Italy rose up, then Germany rose up, with the result’—and here there is a shocking cut to the present—‘with the result that the slaves of Judah are destroying the masterworks of Siena, Pisa, and Rome’. The following adjustment of focus is no less injurious, ‘No use being anti-Semitic while leaving their monetary system in place.’ One reads again, and wishes again that he would apply it to his own propaganda, that the professors have forgotten ‘Aristotle’s precept, that knowledge of universals comes from knowing particulars’. But then there is a concerned paragraph that does draw on his local knowledge, about sabotage of the ‘Amassi’, the system for paying the peasants a fair price for their grain and olive oil and for ensuring a fair distribution of the produce. In the end, though, one’s expectations are pretty well confirmed, and it seems just right that the last words of his final article, a citation of Gesell published on 23 April 1945, should be ‘la moneta’, money.
However, when one pays attention to a few articles that stand rather apart from those invariables of Pound’s prose, and to his correspondence with Mezzasoma, one finds a remarkable (but unremarked) change taking place in his attitude to the ‘Rivoluzione Fascista’. In February 1944, in the first of his regular contributions to Il Popolo di Alessandria, he was implicitly blaming the downfall of Fascism, not on Ciano and the others who had just been shot for having supposedly conspired to overthrow Mussolini at the time of his dismissal by the king, but on ‘I GRANDI AVVELENATORI’, the ‘great poisoners’, who had first made the Revolution necessary and had ever since undermined it.Then in March he was concerned about those who through ignorance had no faith in Fascism, and about those who had lost their faith in it. Short-sighted liberals, profiteers, and all sorts of Italians, were anti-Fascist, he suggested, simply because, not knowing how agriculture had been ruined under imperial Rome by the importation of cheap wheat from Egypt, they did not appreciate the importance of making Italy self-sufficient. ‘Italy is full of people who do not know what Fascism means,’ he told Mezzasoma, ‘They see only the riots and the strict regimentation of the system.’ He concluded, ‘The Fascist regime is only as good as its propaganda,’ meaning, presumably, that people would not support what they did not understand and could not believe in.
Then there were those who had once believed and who had become disgusted with ‘the many betrayals’. In an article which appeared near the end of May Pound wrote that he was sorry but he had to write about someone who had become so embittered by the disparity between the regime’s programme and its practice that he had reached the point of no longer believing in the efficacity of any idea, not just of the Fascist idea. There was someone else, someone who had been there for the March on Rome and the war in Spain, but who now would only curse the bad faith of those in high places whom everyone now knew to have been in bad faith. And it grieved Pound that these people would not join in the task which seemed to him to be the image of their desire. What exactly that task was he did not say just then. But a fortnight later, on 8 June, he introduced a ‘document’ apparently sent to him as a response to that article by an Italian whose credentials were that he had resisted both the dismissal of Mussolini and Badoglio’s surrender. This ‘document’ implicitly accepted the truth of what Pound had reported, and set out what the new Italian should be doing to recover his good name and prestige, beginning with this elementary requirement: ‘It is time for schools in the Repubblica Sociale Italiana to teach the young…respect for the given word, fidelity to a pact freely entered into, and a love for truth and justice.’ Pound endorsed this, associated it with the Confucian doctrine that civic order is from ethical order, and concluded with this striking statement, ‘The Italian Risorgimento was a light in the world—that light will rise again.’ The previous week he had written that whoever had not the Fascist faith, ‘una fede fascista’, was in a death-like state; but here, with the RSI’s teaching and practice in question, it was instead the Risorgimento, the nineteenth-century resurgence of Italy, that he invoked. One senses a cooling toward the Salò regime, as in that voicing of disaffection, and in the implication that the regime was failing through lack of integrity. Yet there is still an unshaken commitment to recovering the desired and prerequisite ethical order.
By November of 1944 Pound was insisting to Mezzasoma that the recovery had to be brought about, not by state propaganda, but rather by individuals studying and teaching, and that this was the task in which all who desired the renewal of Italy should join. He wanted the Ministry to launch an appeal through the press and the radio along these lines:
all men of goodwill who have a small degree of culture and those who formerly opposed the errors of the regime…those who opposed the hidden treachery and the sabotage that was carried on even before the year XXI (for example, censorship not decreed by the government but that masqueraded and pretended to be official), those who have learned something of this treachery and of the chaos that followed it, are invited to bridge the gaps of their political culture.
They were to do this by learning the facts of economics, through the study of Pound’s favoured authors; and further, by reconnecting with their cultural roots:
All scholars isolated in invaded territory as well as in the Republic are invited to reread the Greek and Latin classics so as to find therein the reason the enemy wants to suppress or diminish the studies of the sources of our culture and our political wisdom, which is our most precious heritage.
In another letter to Mezzasoma about the same time Pound added another element to the appeal to be addressed ‘to all those who could do something useful for the future of Italy’—
Study, inform yourselves, publish as much as you can and prepare in silence if you are in invaded territory, even if you are in danger; study the truth which we want to see disseminated and which the enemy fears…
We want facts; we want truth. We are against usurers and monopolists. Only an autonomous nation can resist the infamy of universal usury. Anyone who has texts useful for the enrichment of our invaded territory should study them, publish them, distribute them.
Pound was already doing his own bit for this programme, with the economic pamphlets and translations of Confucius published by Sammartano, and with a selection of the sayings of Confucius soon to appear in Il Popolo di Alessandria.
The programme was of course altogether his own, and in these and other letters he was encouraging Mezzasoma to popularize it as if it were what the regime itself stood for. In effect Pound was seeking to convert the RSI’s propaganda effort to his own ends. Still more subversively, he was calling for the reconstruction of Italy to be the work, not of the discredited Fascist Party, but of individuals of good will and active intelligence. He was looking beyond Fascism, and beyond Mussolini, to a return to the permanent ground of a good society, and to the democratic principle that ‘our cherished rights of liberty and equality depend on the active participation of an awakened electorate’. His faith in Fascism, which had been mostly a faith in Mussolini, had failed with the failure of Fascism’s revolution. But he had not lost faith and hope in the fundamental republican idea. Back in February 1944 he had stated that idea quite bluntly to Mezzasoma, ‘Enforcement of the law comes from the consent of the people.’ That, as Redman remarked, ‘is not exactly a fascist slogan’. It is rather a principle that would restore power to the people, as it had done as the basis of America’s revolution of 1776.
On 16 December 1944 a dejected Mussolini—‘cajoled’, Farrell writes, ‘by diehard Fascists such as Pavolini’—travelled from Lake Garda down to Milan to give what would prove to be his last public speech. He spoke of his vision of a socialist concord, and of those who had betrayed it. The speech had been signalled on the radio as an event of ‘exceptional importance’; the Teatro Lirico had been packed; the applause had been ‘spontaneous and deafening’; and afterwards ‘enormous crowds [had given] him a hero’s welcome’. Yet Pound made no overt reference in Il Popolo di Alessandria to this reappearance of Il Duce. 1 However he did begin an article, on 23 January, with what may well have been an indirect allusion to what Mussolini had said. ‘It is the common fate of all revolutions to be betrayed,’ he wrote, instancing the way the American revolution had ended in a victory for the usurocracy. Then he went on, now alluding fairly directly to Mussolini’s RSI programme, ‘To establish social justice, a new order based on work. Very good!’ But he evidently expected that this new phase of the Fascist revolution, if it were achieved, would be betrayed in its turn, by allowing the plutocrats back in—unless the issue of money were studied, and unless the classics were studied. He was relying on those studies, and no longer on Mussolini, to save and to continue the revolution.
In mid-November 1944 Pound had enclosed some ‘cantos’ in a letter to Mezzasoma, evidently hoping they might be ‘useful’ in some way, while fearing that they would prove ‘too crude for the refined and too complex for the simple-minded’. These cantos would have been in Italian, and it has been assumed that they were the cantos 72 and 73 notoriously not included in collected editions of The Cantos in Pound’s lifetime. However, those two cantos, we can be fairly certain, were not written, or at any rate not completed, before the end of December 1944. That makes it probable that the cantos Pound offered Mezzasoma in November were translations of previously published cantos, possibly ones he had set Mary to translating in 1942, the Malatesta sequence, or cantos 13 (‘Kung’) or 27 (‘tovarisch’). Any of those could have come within Pound’s idea of what would be useful at that moment. But whatever it was Pound sent remained unused.
Mary had concluded, when her father tore into her neatly typed translations, that he was really trying to find out how to compose cantos in ‘the voices and modes’ of Cavalcanti and Dante, and that is precisely what he was attempting in his two ‘Italian cantos’. Canto 72 is in the mode of a canto of Dante’s Inferno, and canto 73 is mostly in the mode of Cavalcanti’s ‘Ballata IX’. Pound sent both cantos to Mary, then working as a secretary in a hospital for German soldiers in Cortina, as a gift for Epiphany, 6 January 1945. But to Mezzasoma he sent only the prologue of 72, on 26 December, and a 26-line extract from that opening was the only portion of the canto published by Pound then or later. The whole of canto 73 was sent to Mezzasoma, and also to Cabella the editor of Il Popolo di Alessandria, on 9 January; and it appeared entire in La marina repubblicana on 1 February.
The fragment of 72, perhaps significantly described as its ‘conclusion’, appeared in La marina repubblicana on 15 January, headed ‘Presenza di F. T. Marinetti | di Ezra Pound’. It was prefaced by a fulsome eulogy of Pound by his friend the retired admiral Ubaldo degli Uberti who had just taken over the editorship. ‘Ezra Pound’, he wrote, ‘an American, but a friend of Fascist Italy in the highest and purest sense of the word’, and a profound poet, has raised up from the dead the spirit of his recently deceased friend Marinetti, so that the patriotic hero might encourage the living, ‘who must still fight on in the mud and destruction, to hold our heads high and not be overwhelmed’. ‘Presenza’ would indicate that Marinetti though dead is a real presence; further, when in the final line of the extract his spirit shouts ‘PRESENTE’, it is as if he were answering a military roll-call; and beyond that he might be participating in ‘the simple rite’ observed in Fascist meetings where the names of fallen comrades were called one by one and all together shouted ‘Presente!’, so as to give the dead a forceful presence among them. Mussolini’s idea was that dedicated Fascists should be made ready to follow the lead of their ‘martyrs’.
In the dialogue with Marinetti Pound, while allowing him a heroic and exemplary presence, explicitly declines to follow his lead. ‘Go make yourself a hero again’, he tells him, go on fighting Italy’s enemies if you want to; but his own chosen part will be to ‘sing of the eternal war | between light and mud’. He does promise to give Marinetti a place and a voice in his canto beyond that ‘PRESENTE’. What he has him say though, in the then unpublished lines that follow, is an inwardly reflective judging of himself and of the poet:
‘I followed vain emptiness in many ways,
show more than wisdom,
and knew not the ancient sages
nor read Confucius & Mencius
I sang war, and you wanted peace.
Both of us blind, me to the inner things
you the things of today.’
A little further on the poet passes his own judgment on Marinetti, saying that he had wanted the future too much, and
Too much eagerness shoots past the mark
He wanted to clear away too much
and now we see more destruction than he wanted.
The end of that encounter is the poet’s hearing Marinetti’s voice joining in the fierce singing from ‘a white skull on the white sand’ of Macalé in former Abyssinia and of El Alamein in Egypt, a song insisting ‘“we will return | We w i l l r e t u r n”’, to fight again in those places where Italian forces had endured decisive defeats. ‘I believe you’, the poet says, to pacify him.
The rest of the canto is dominated by the savage voice of Ezzelino da Romano, a bloody tyrant speaking as if from the hell where Dante placed him, or as if rising from the pages of Mussato’s Senecan tragedy in which he figures as a monster-begotten Terror of Italy. The voice thunders that he has risen from the earth ‘to drive out the foreigners’ who have destroyed Forlì, burned Rimini and the Tempio—‘“divine Ixotta’s” resting place’—who have brought ‘Rape and fire as far as Bagnacavallo’, and whose ‘dung flow has got to Bologna’. He goes on to honour Fascist heroes, Farinacci—a proponent of violence and of the alliance with Hitler, mistrusted by Mussolini—and a dozen generals who had fallen in the Abyssinian and Egyptian campaigns. ‘Blazing phrases without sense’ follow, until other voices break in, ‘Confusion of voices as from several transmitters’, and the poet makes out
Many birds singing in counterpoint
In the summer morning
and through their twitterings
a suave tone:
‘I was Placidia and slept beneath the gold’.
[It sounded like a note from a well tuned string.]
‘Woman’s melancholy and gentleness,’…
I began to say
But what the poet would say in response to her musical voice is prevented by Ezzelino seizing him in an iron grip and forcing him to listen only to his own fierce voice, before he turns ‘back into the night | Where the skull sings: | The regiments and the banners will return.’
This conclusion to the canto dramatizes the predicament of the poet gripped in an infernal nightmare where the voices of violence and war drown out the gentler, peaceful sounds of birdsong and Placidia. Taken as a whole, the canto represents those who would make war as being in an infernal state of mind, which the poet would escape if he could. Hastily read, it could seem to endorse Marinetti’s and Ezzelino’s singing along with the Fascist death’s head. But once register how all three are placed in the violent darkness of a Dantescan hell and the judgment goes against them. Small wonder if Pound did not send the entire canto to Mezzasoma.
The wonder then is that canto 73 should altogether lack that saving irony. After his nightmare the poet sleeps, and wakes to see and hear Dante’s heretical friend Guido Cavalcanti denouncing, in terms near to a recent speech of Mussolini’s, Roosevelt, Churchill, Eden, and their usurers’ war and ways. He is looking for the morning star or dawn of the riscossa, a word much in the mouths of Mussolini and his propagandists, and open to interpretation. It could mean the recovery, as from defeat; or liberation, as from enemy occupation; or repayment, as by revenge; or it could mean redemption, as from guilt or dishonour. In the canto Cavalcanti finds promise of riscossa in the action of a peasant girl of Rimini. She had been raped by Canadian soldiers when Rimini fell to them. When another group of Canadians, with German prisoners, ask the way to the Via Emilia she leads them into a minefield and is blown up with them—the Germans are saved. Cavalcanti, a spirit from Dante’s terzo cielo, the sphere of love, comes upon her spirit singing joyfully of love, with a German on each arm, and he celebrates her joy in dying gloriously for her country, or (in Mussolini’s phrase), nella riscossa della Patria. So Pound’s Cavalcanti, the poet of the intelligence of love, is presented perceiving a sort of suicide bomber as a redeemer of the Romagna’s and of Italy’s honour, and as a heroine leading the recovery of its Fascist spirit. ‘In the [Fascist] North the fatherland is reborn,’ he ends, making her now representative of the young who ‘wear the black’ of Pavolini’s notoriously violent Brigate Nere, Salò’s ‘volunteer force similar to the Fascist squadre of old’.
The story as a matter of fact was straight from current propaganda. Rimini had been bombarded more than any other city in Italy, from air, land, and sea—Sigismondo Malatesta’s Tempio had been seriously damaged, to Pound’s great grief—and the final battle for it in August and September 1944 was one of the most notable of the war. Rimini fell to Greek and Canadian troops on 21 September, and the battle around it ended on the 29th. The story of ‘the heroine of Rimini’ was broadcast on Milan radio that day, taken up on 1 October by Corriere della sera and other newspapers, then retold over and over again in magazines and books through the following months. It was almost certainly a fabrication. The heroine was never identified, the supposed facts were never substantiated; but that meant that the story served all the better as allegory and myth. The heroine who revenges her dishonour and thus symbolically regains her honour stands for Italy raped and dishonoured by the enemies of its revolution, and in symbol meets its need for redemption.
Pound sought to transform the propaganda into poetry by making Cavalcanti its celebrant, and by imitating the taut phrasing and rich rhyming of his canzone and ballate. The result is a powerful and effective rhetorical composition, but one in which the art serves the propaganda without bringing a properly poetic and critical intelligence to bear on it. One might well conclude that in this canto at least Pound had finally given up his voice to Fascism.
Yet there is more to the canto than that, something more deeply and more significantly challenging. Pound’s introducing Cavalcanti as the perceiver of the story manifests his own will to perceive the violent acting out of a just anger as an action of heavenly love—a will to identify Ira, the anger that destroys what it hates, with Amor, the love that animates and sustains the right ordering of things. What Pound apparently wanted, over and beyond any propagandist intent, was to have the heroine’s violence understood as the negative aspect of a positive desire for justice, and as being not against, but essentially in accord with natural law.
A will to identify the ‘Charybdis of action’ with the paradise of love lies behind a group of drafts in Italian, for a canto or cantos to follow 73, which Pound was working on in January and February 1945. The drafts were abandoned before reaching a final form, probably because of the strains and distractions of the last months of the war in Italy and in Europe, though some of the leading elements would resurface in The Pisan Cantos.
The concern evident in them was not new. An earlier fragment (headed ‘LXX…’) had declared Pound’s own action in writing radio scripts to be from love of right order. ‘Est deus in nobis’, there is a god in us, he wrote, and named the god ‘Amor’: ‘Know Mithra est Amor…| est Amor Mazda.’ Mithra was the god of the Roman legions, and ‘Piero Mazda’ a pseudonym under which Pound had written some scripts for Ranieri to broadcast immediately after the fall of Mussolini. The fragment goes on to associate his ‘putting his ideas in order’, in his propaganda, with Venus and Adonis and the rites of abundance, and then with the divine intelligence, ‘nous-amor’. That gives a stark indication of the state of mind and the preoccupation which he was attempting to work out in the drafts of January and February 1945.
One immediately striking feature, especially when one comes to them after reading 72 and 73, is how distanced the infernal war is now, and how indirectly it is noticed. Instead there are glimpses and intimations of a paradiso terrestre such as Dante enters at the summit of his Purgatorio. The actual scene is Pound’s own Sant’Ambrogio, with its hillside of olive groves, its birdsong, its salita and trace of the old Roman Aurelian Way, and with the Tyrrhenian sea below. In the fresh spring sunlight numinous presences appear, both human and divine.
An alba-like passage has the birds start up again the sweet singing that had accompanied Galla Placidia’s interrupted words in 73. With her now comes Cunizza da Romano, Ezzelino’s sister and Sordello’s lover, whom Dante placed in his terzo cielo; and with Cunizza are troubadours singing in her honour of the love which moves the gentle heart—Arnaut’s rendering of birds in spring, ‘Douz brais e criz’, and Bernart de Ventadorn’s ‘no other sight can match her image in my mind’. ‘Love overcame me,’ Cunizza says, as in Dante, and becomes a ray of light which draws the poet’s sight upward, until he sees on their thrones Gautama Buddha and Confucius, the former in an eternal dream of beauty, and Confucius ‘who gave the eternal law…and rules a lasting dynasty’. The poet comments, ‘fine thought | and fine action are two in this aspect’; and yet he would see them as connected if he could. The voice of Erigena (for whom all that exists is formed of Light) assures him that they are indeed linked, while adding that the poet is not yet in a position to see them directly.
Next to appear is Caterina Sforza, a martial woman one would not expect to meet in this celestial company. Machiavelli had diplomatic dealings with her and was deeply impressed by ‘her beauty, her greatness of soul, and the strength of her castle’. Pound has her come demanding, ‘Why do you not bear arms’, and highlights one incident in her remarkable career. When her enemies had her under siege in her castle and were threatening to hang her children from the walls if she did not surrender, Caterina defied them from the battlements, lifting her skirt and calling ‘Ne ho ancora lo stampa,’ ‘I still have the mould.’ Also recalled is her shooting those on her own side who refused to fight for her, two out of every ten. Basinio, court poet to Sigismundo Malatesta, greets her as ‘hawk-eyed lady’, and declares that in her ‘beyond love there shines forth courage’. ‘One does not live by reason | without iraand without substance’, he further comments, and concludes, ‘you are because you loved’. She changes in his sight then, much as Cunizza had changed, appearing as ‘a spark | colour of Mars…from hammered iron on the anvil’. She too, we gather, is to be seen as an illuminated spirit in the paradise of love, along with Cunizza, though in counterpoint to her.
The third major presence first appears on the salita as a barefoot girl saying ‘I am the evacuee. I am la luna |…| where I lived has just been destroyed | la sofia of the cliffs | my chapel.’ In another more developed draft she appears on the salita after the dawn vision of Cunizza and Gautama and Confucius, and, as the poet wonders that she is neither known to him nor unknown, she says, ‘my house is broken | Della Grazie is tumbled down into the sea | by the bombers | I go to Pantaleo to find rest.’ 2 Yet another draft recognizes her as the compassionate Madonna of Montallegro on Monte Rosa, where she is honoured as the help of sailors in shipwreck; it then associates her with Kuanon, the Chinese spirit of compassion, and with Lucina, the Roman goddess of childbirth. She protests that she is not ‘Sophia…hieratic/mosaic’d’; rather she is ‘the driven out one’, known also as ‘Pietà’ with her crucified son in her arms. ‘Io son l’assunta’, are her last words, I am she who has been taken up into heaven.
There is no clear indication of the relation of this composite figure of divine compassion to Cunizza and to Caterina. Pound has them meet at ‘il triedro’, which he once likened to ‘the inside corner of a cube-shape’, thus suggesting the joining together of three distinct planes or dimensions. Evidently the three are meant to form a trinity of the powers which made up Pound’s vision of paradise in the early months of 1945: refining love, active courage, and compassion. The love and the courage are both of them perceived as perfections of human nature, while the compassion, it would appear, is something driven out and still to be hoped and prayed for.
‘I thank god that soon this war will be over,’ Pound wrote to Mary on 6 March 1945. He was ‘living, per forza, poeticamente | go down to Rapallo once a week’. But ‘i forti sono partiti’, those who might stand firm were all gone, and it was a job ‘to find 3 persons to agree’—to agree, that would have been, on the second manifesto which he was then composing. Still, that was a day on which he had worked well, he told her, being ‘in the middle of a new opusculus, “Lavori e privileggi”—Angold; Gesell; etc.’
A week later he was gathering material for new cantos, and had spent a whole day ‘looking for a bit of Frobenius to attach to another from Herodotus…but cdn’t find it in Erlebte Erdteile.’ He was looking for the Soninke legend of ‘Gassir’s Lute’, which tells how the city called Wagadu fell and was rebuilt four times, falling through vanity, then through falsehood, the third time through greed, and finally through dissension; and each time it was rebuilt from the image of it in the mind and the longing for it of her children. Pound had the idea of connecting the cry for its rebuilding with the evocation in Herodotus of the wondrously planned city built by Deïoces the just ruler of Ecbatan, a city ringed by seven strong walls rising one above the other and each of a different colour.
His mind was running on images of construction and reconstruction, but not on any rebuilding of Fascism. ‘Caro Ub, non si costruisce sulla merda’, he wrote on a postcard to Degli Uberti, one doesn’t build on shit. His conviction was that one must build rather, as it is written in the Ta S’eu, with ‘the light which comes from looking straight into the heart and then acting’. Back in January he had been reading Dante’s Paradiso, and one can see in one of his copies of the poem an ideogram from the Ta S’eu set in the margin against some lines in the final canto. There Dante is declaring how his will was informed by a vision of ‘the Love that moves the sun and other stars’, and against that stands the ideogram for ‘the action resultant from the straight gaze into the heart’. It is as if Pound’s response to Dante’s ecstatic vision was to recall the Confucian principle that the empowering light is to be looked for in the individual heart.
That principle lies behind the Secondo Manifesto del Tigullio, a broadsheet dated ‘23 Marzo anno XXIII’. Pound had after all found his three other signatories in Rapallo. Their opening statement was along the lines of what Pound had been putting to Mezzasoma in the previous year, that the real enemy of the Republic was ignorance, ignorance of economics and of the classics. Then come some constructive memoranda, and it is here that one finds the Republic projected in Confucian rather than in Fascist terms. First it is asserted that the function of the system of amassi should be, as it was at the start, to guarantee a just return to the producer, and further, to pay him to cultivate his land to the utmost. Then, in parallel, it is asserted that cultivated Italians should be enabled and encouraged to increase their useful knowledge and to make it available to the collectivity. In each case what is desirable and necessary for the common good originates with the productive individual, and the function of the state is ancillary.
But all of that was of no account in these last days of the war in Europe. The end, when at last it came, came very quickly. On 18 April German forces in western Germany surrendered, and on the 21st, the Russians entered Berlin. In Italy, the Allies entered Bologna on the 21st, with the Germans retreating in disorder along the Po. During the night of the 23rd/24th the RSI’s military left Genoa heading north, leaving the city to be viciously contested for the moment by Germans, local Fascists, and partisans.
In Rapallo, ‘partigiani took over’, Dorothy noted on the 24th, and on the 26th, ‘occupation by USA’. The ‘Buffalo’ division of the US Army—enlisted black soldiers with white officers—was moving through. On the 27th, Olga Rudge’s students were let out to celebrate the liberation, and she tried to report herself to the US Army Command set up in a hotel on the waterfront, but the officers there had no time for a stray expatriate American, so she went back up to Sant’Ambrogio. The next day, a Saturday, Pound went down himself, ‘not in a spirit of surrender’ but meaning to put his expert knowledge of Italy at the disposal of the Americans, only to find they had moved on to Genoa, now abandoned by the Germans. He came across a lone black soldier ‘lookin’ fo’ his comman’’, who offered to sell him a bicycle. He walked home up the salita and went on with his translation of Mencius.
In the afternoon of that day, the 28th, Mussolini was shot near Lake Como by the Communist partisans into whose hands he had fallen, and his body, along with those of his mistress, Clara Petacci, and of sixteen other leading Fascists who had been captured with him and executed by firing squad, were taken to Milan and dumped in Piazzale Loreto in the middle of the night. On the Sunday the corpses of Mussolini, Petacci, and five others were abused by the crowd then hung upside down from the girders of a nearby petrol station. Dorothy wrote in her diary, ‘giustizati’, put to death, ‘Mussolini Benito | Pavolini Alessandro | Mezzasoma…’
The next day Olga, evidently fearing that any violence was now possible, wrote to Mary as if for the last time, ‘in case anything should happen to me’, giving her the addresses of family and friends and details of important papers and possessions. Her ‘last words’ were, ‘Take care of yourself, and try to forget the war and be happy…read EP’s works and study them well…You have always been a joy and consolation to me.’
On Monday the 30th Hitler put an end to his own life in his Berlin bunker. The German forces still in Italy surrendered on 2 May—the unconditional surrender of all German forces in Europe would follow on the 7th. By then Pound was in American custody.
On Thursday 3 May he was alone in the house at Sant’Ambrogio. Dorothy had gone down at 9.00 to the flat in via Marsala, and then to visit Isabel Pound for lunch. It was ‘very cold’, she noted. Olga was also down in Rapallo seeking information, having heard that the Americans were back. She waited an hour to see the officer in charge, but he ‘was busy with the local authorities and refused to see her’. During the morning Pound was working on his Mencius translation when there was a hammering on the door. He opened it—some say it was kicked open—and he was confronted by two men, one pointing a tommy-gun. ‘Seguici, traditore’, he was ordered, ‘traitor, come with us.’ That they should call him ‘traitor’ rather than ‘Fascist’ was interesting. Evidently they were ‘partigiani’, but the swelling numbers of partisans were mostly engaged in the caccia al fascista, the hunting down of Fascists. This pair—later denounced as ex-Fascist petty criminals, one of whom would be executed for murder and the other jailed for theft—apparently knew that Pound had been charged with treason and supposed that the Americans would be offering a reward for turning him in. Pound pocketed two of the books he had open on the table—a one-volume edition of the Confucian Four Books, and a small Chinese–English dictionary—locked the door, and handed the key to the neighbour who lived on the ground floor. She asked where they were taking him, and was told, ‘the command in Zoagli’. He was led down the salita towards Rapallo, on the way picking up a dried seed from a eucalyptus tree beside the path, and at the foot of the salita was put into a car and driven the two or three miles round the coast to Zoagli. When Olga found the door locked, and learnt where he had been taken, she immediately set out for Zoagli by the salita which goes directly down to it from the chapel of San Pantaleo along the hillside. Dorothy returned to the house about 6 in the evening to find both Ezra and Olga gone—‘EP gone away | Olg followed’, she wrote in her diary. She would leave Casa 60 when Olga returned without Pound some days later, packing all her things and arranging for them to be carried back down to via Marsala. She would move in with Isabel Pound who lived in the Villa Raggio in the Cerisola part of town.
In Zoagli Olga found Pound being guarded by armed men while a civilian, apparently the new mayor, interrogated a Fascist prisoner. When it was Pound’s turn he asked to be taken to the American command further down the coast in Chiavari. It was now one o’clock and Olga went out and begged some food from English troops stationed in the town—‘DEElicious ham sandwich’, according to Pound, and canned beer. At four o’clock he was taken to Chiavari, Olga insisting on going with him. The driver could not find the American command and instead took them to the partisan prison. There ‘the courtyard…had obviously been used for executions’, Pound later recalled. According to Olga, ‘They had been paying off old scores’ and the walls were covered in blood. Again he asked to be taken to the American command, which was in fact across the river in Lavagna. The partisan in charge, a respected member of the Resistance, said that Pound was perfectly free so far as he was concerned, and he was damned if he would give him up to the Americans, unless that was what he wanted. Pound said that was precisely what he wanted, and was then driven in an army jeep to the Allied Military Post. There a Colonel Webber had heard of Ezra Pound. He asked if they were hungry, had ‘K-ration box lunches’ given to them, and gave an order for them to be driven up to Genoa and to be delivered to the US Counter Intelligence Center there. They set out about five o’clock and arrived at the CIC about seven.
Pound was now a prisoner, and would never again be completely free.
1 It is true that on the 14th he had complained to Nicoletti, ‘Popolo di Alessandria in confusion. I don’t have an outlet. Presses stopped.’—but then his articles did go on appearing there occasionally from the end of December into April 1945.
2 The shrine of the Madonna of Monte Allegro (also known as Monte Rosa) is above Rapallo; San Pantaleo is a little church on the hillside of Sant’Ambrogio, some way along from the top of the salita; the sanctuary of the Madonna della Grazie is on the cliffs down the coast from Rapallo.