Ezra Pound: Poems

Italy (1924–45)

Birth of the children

The Pounds were unhappy in Paris; Dorothy complained about the winters and Ezra's health was poor. At a dinner a guest had randomly tried to stab him, and to Pound it underlined that their time in France was over.[80] Hemingway observed that Pound "indulged in a small nervous breakdown", leading to two days in an American hospital.[81] They decided to move to a quieter place, and chose Rapallo, Italy, a town with a population of 15,000. "Italy is my place for starting things", he told a friend.[80] During this period they lived on Dorothy's income, supplemented by dividends from stock she had invested in.[82]

Olga Rudge, pregnant with Pound's child, followed them to Italy. She showed little interest in raising a child, but may have felt that having one would maintain her connection to him. In July 1925 she gave birth to a daughter, Mary. She placed her with a German-speaking peasant woman whose own child had died, and who agreed to raise Mary for 200 lire a month.[83]

When Pound told Dorothy about the birth, she separated from him for much of that year and the next. In December 1925, she left on an extended trip to Egypt. On her return in March, Pound realized that his wife was pregnant.[84] In June, she and Pound left Rapallo for Paris for the premiere of Le Testament de Villon, without mentioning the pregnancy to his friends or parents. In September, Hemingway drove Dorothy to the American Hospital of Paris for the birth of a son, Omar Pound. In a letter to his parents in October Pound wrote, "next generation (male) arrived. Both D & it appear to be doing well".[85] Dorothy gave the baby son to her mother, Olivia, who raised him in London until he was old enough to go to boarding school. When Dorothy went to England each summer to see Omar, Pound would spend the time with Olga, whose father had bought her a house in Venice. The arrangement meant his children were raised very differently. Mary had a single pair of shoes, and books about Jesus and the saints, while Omar was raised in Kensington as an English gentleman by his sophisticated grandmother.[86]

In 1925 the literary magazine This Quarter dedicated its first issue to Pound, including tributes from Hemingway and Joyce. Pound published Cantos XVII–XIX in the winter editions. In March 1927 he launched his own literary magazine, The Exile, but only four issues were published. It did well in the first year, with contributions from Hemingway, E. E. Cummings, Basil Bunting, Yeats, William Carlos Williams and Robert McAlmon; some of the poorest work in the magazine were Pound's rambling editorials on Confucianism and or in praise of Lenin, according to biographer J. J. Wilhelm.[87] He continued to work on Fenollosa's manuscripts, and in 1928 won The Dial's poetry award for his translation of the Confucian classic Great Learning (Dà Xué, transliterated as Ta Hio).[88] That year his parents Homer and Isabel visited him in Rapallo, seeing him for the first time since 1914. By then Homer had retired, so they decided to move to Rapallo themselves. They took a small house, Villa Raggio, on a hill above the town.[89]

Pound began work on The Cantos in earnest after relocating to Italy. The poems concern good and evil, a descent into hell followed by redemption and paradise. Its hundreds of characters fall into three groupings: those who enjoy hell and stay there; those who experience a metamorphosis and want to leave; and a few who lead the rest to paradiso terrestre. Its composition was difficult and involved several false starts, and he abandoned most of his earlier drafts, beginning again in 1922.[90] The first three appear in Poetry in June–August 1917. The Malatesta Cantos appeared in The Criterion in July 1923, and two further cantos were published in The Transatlantic Review in January 1924. Pound published 90 copies in Paris in 1925 of A Draft of XVI. Cantos of Ezra Pound for the Beginning of a Poem of some Length now first made into a Book.[91]

Turn to fascism, World War II

Pound came to believe that the cause of World War I was finance capitalism, which he called "usury", that the solution lay in C.H. Douglas's idea of social credit, and that fascism was the vehicle for reform; he had met Douglas in the New Age offices and had been impressed by his ideas.[92] He gave a series of lectures on economics, and made contact with politicians in the United States on matters including education, interstate commerce and international affairs. Although Hemingway advised against it, on 30 January 1933 Pound met Benito Mussolini. Olga Rudge played for Mussolini and told him about Pound, who had earlier sent him a copy of Cantos XXX. During the meeting Pound tried to present Mussolini with a digest of his economic ideas, but Mussolini brushed them aside, though he called the Cantos "divertente" (entertaining). The meeting was recorded in Canto XLI: "'Ma questo' / said the boss, 'è divertente.'" Pound said he had "never met anyone who seemed to GET my ideas so quickly as the boss".[93]

When Olivia Shakespear died in October 1938 in London, Dorothy asked Pound to organize the funeral, where he saw their 12-year-old son Omar for the first time in eight years. He visited Eliot and Wyndham Lewis, who produced a now-famous portrait of Pound reclining. In April 1939 he sailed for New York, believing he could stop America's involvement in the World War II, happy to answer reporters' questions about Mussolini while he lounged on the deck of the ship in a tweed jacket. He traveled to Washington, D.C. where he met senators and congressmen. His daughter, Mary, said that he had acted out of a sense of responsibility, rather than megalomania; he was offered no encouragement, and was left feeling depressed and frustrated.[94]

In June 1939 he received an honorary doctorate from Hamilton College, and a week later returned to Italy from the States and began writing antisemitic material for Italian newspapers. He wrote to James Laughlin that Roosevelt represented Jewry, and signed the letter with a "Heil Hitler". He started writing for Action, a newspaper owned by the British fascist Sir Oswald Mosley, arguing that the Third Reich was the "natural civilizer of Russia".[95] After war broke out in September that year, he began a furious letter-writing campaign to the politicians he had petitioned six months earlier, arguing that the war was the result of an international banking conspiracy and that the United States should keep out of it.[96]

Radio broadcasts

– You let in the Jew and the Jew rotted your empire, and you yourselves out-jewed the Jew ... And the big Jew has rotted EVERY nation he has wormed into.

“ ” Pound radio broadcast, 15 March 1942[97]

Tytell writes that by the 1940s no American or English poet had been so active politically since William Blake. Pound wrote over a thousand letters a year during the 1930s and presented his ideas in hundreds of articles, as well as in The Cantos. Pound's greatest fear was an economic structure dependent on the armaments industry, where the profit motive would govern war and peace. He read George Santayana and The Law of Civilization and Decay by Brooks Adams, finding confirmation of the danger of the capitalist and usurer becoming dominant. He wrote in The Japan Times that "Democracy is now currently defined in Europe as a 'country run by Jews,'" and told Oswald Mosley's newspaper that the English were a slave race governed since Waterloo by the Rothschilds.[96]

Pound broadcast over Rome Radio, though the Italian government was at first reluctant, concerned that he might be a double agent. He told a friend: "It took me, I think it was, TWO years, insistence and wrangling etc., to GET HOLD of their microphone."[98] He recorded over a hundred broadcasts criticizing the United States, Roosevelt, Roosevelt's family, and the Jews, and rambling about his poetry, economics, and Chinese philosophy. The first was in January 1935, and by February 1940 he was broadcasting regularly; he traveled to Rome one week a month to pre-record the 10-minute broadcasts, for which he was paid around $17, and they were broadcast every three days. The broadcasts required the Italian government's approval, though he often changed the text in the studio. Tytell wrote that Pound's voice had assumed a "rasping, buzzing quality like the sound of a hornet stuck in a jar". The politics apart, Pound needed the money; his father's pension payments had stopped – his father died in February 1942 – and Pound had his mother and Dorothy to look after.[99]

The broadcasts were monitored by the United States Foreign Broadcast Monitoring Service listening station in Princeton University, and Pound was indicted in absentia for treason in July 1943. He answered the charge by writing a letter to Attorney General Francis Biddle, which Tytell describes as "long, reasoned, and temperate", defending his right to free speech.[100] He continued to broadcast and write under pseudonyms until April 1945, shortly before his arrest.[101]

Arrest for treason

The war years threw Pound's domestic arrangements into disarray. Olga lost possession of her house in Venice and took a small house with Mary above Rapallo at Sant' Ambrogio.[102] In 1943 Pound and Dorothy were evacuated from their apartment in Rapallo. His mother Isabel's apartment was too small, and the couple moved in with Olga. Mary, then 19 and finished with convent school, was quickly sent back to Gais in Switzerland, leaving Pound, as she would later write, "pent up with two women who loved him, whom he loved, and who coldly hated each other."[103]

Pound was in Rome early in September when Italy surrendered. He borrowed a pair of hiking boots and a knapsack and left the city, having finally decided to tell Mary about his wife and son. He walked 450 miles north, spending a night in an air raid shelter in Bologna, then took a train to Verona and walked the rest of the way. Mary almost failed to recognize him when he arrived, he was so dirty and tired. He told her everything about his other family; she later admitted she felt more pity than anger.[104]

He returned home to Rapallo, where on 3 May 1945, four days after Mussolini was shot, armed partisans arrived at the house to find Pound alone. He stuffed a copy of Confucius and a Chinese dictionary in his pocket before he was taken to their headquarters in Chiavari. He was released shortly afterwards; then with Olga gave himself up to an American military post in the nearby town of Lavagna.[106]

Pound was transferred to U.S. Counter Intelligence Corps headquarters in Genoa, where he was interrogated by Frank L. Amprin, an FBI agent assigned by J. Edgar Hoover. Pound asked to send a cable to President Truman to offer to help negotiate peace with Japan. He also asked to be allowed a final broadcast, a script called "Ashes of Europe Calling", in which he recommended peace with Japan, American management of Italy, the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, and leniency toward Germany. His requests were denied and the script was forwarded to Hoover.[106]

On 8 May, the day Germany surrendered, Pound told an American reporter, Ed Johnston, that Hitler was "a Jeanne d'Arc, a saint", and that Mussolini was an "imperfect character who lost his head".[107] On 24 May he was transferred to the United States Army Disciplinary Training Center north of Pisa, where he was placed in one of the camp's "death cells", a series of six-by-six-foot outdoor steel cages lit up at night by floodlights; engineers reinforced his cage with heavier steel for fear the fascists would try to break him out.[108] He spent three weeks in isolation in the heat, sleeping on the concrete, denied exercise and communication, except for conversations with the chaplain. After two and a half weeks he began to break down under the strain. Richard Sieburth wrote that Pound recorded it in Canto LXXX, where Odysseus is saved from drowning by Leucothea: "hast'ou swum in a sea of air strip / through an aeon of nothingness, / when the raft broke and the waters went over me." Medical staff moved him out of the cage the following week. On 14 and 15 June he was examined by psychiatrists, one of whom found symptoms of a mental breakdown, after which he was transferred to his own tent and allowed reading material. He began to write, drafting what became known as The Pisan Cantos.[106] The existence of a few sheets of toilet paper showing the beginning of Canto LXXXIV suggests he started it while in the cage.[109]

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