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Bill Wagner <[log in to unmask]>
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Ezra Pound discussion list of the University of Maine <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 17 Feb 1999 09:22:00 -0500
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Here's the review.  It's from the Feb. 5 edition of WSJ
February 5, 1999
  What Prison Taught the Poet
  The bare facts have been accessible for half a century.
  The American poet Ezra Pound, since 1924 a resident
  of Italy, was arrested in May 1945 by occupying
  American troops on account of pro-Mussolini
  broadcasts he had made over Rome Radio. A few weeks
  later he was transferred to the U.S. Army Disciplinary
  Training Center near Pisa, kept there in a cage and later
  moved to a tent. There, aged 60, he wrote the "Pisan
  Cantos," an unforeseeable segment of his magnum opus.
  In mid-November he was flown to Washington for a trial
  he was next judged unfit to stand. He would spend the
  next 12 years in St. Elizabeth's Hospital for the
  Criminally Insane.
  Whoever visited Pound at "St. Liz," as I first did in
  mid-1948, would recall the calm presence of his wife,
  Dorothy. They had been married since before World
  War I, and her Edwardian-British manner remained
  unmistakable. After decades of contagion, Ezra's
  manner, likewise, was more British than one would have
  expected. Despite what I'd have guessed from his
  hyper-American epistolary style, he was the first man I'd
  ever met who always spoke in complete sentences. What
  I first heard from his lips was a subordinate clause:
  "Since you are younger and more vigorous than
  I...perhaps you will not mind if I sit here...." That alcove
  with four chairs, at a juncture of madhouse corridors,
  might have been a drawing room, so much did Dorothy's
  presence transfigure it.
                "Ezra and Dorothy Pound: Letters
                in Captivity, 1945-46," a collection
                of the couple's letters, moves in now
                with a magnifier on the chaotic
                two-year fulcrum of events you've just
                heard tidily paraphrased. One thing
                paraphrase sweeps under the rug is
                that, from some time before Pound's
                arrest until Dorothy got to Washington
                -- a hectic 12 months -- no one
  involved really knew what was going on. Hence the
  frantic quality of all efforts at communication evident in
  this book. Italy is just putting itself back together;
  restoration of rail service from Genoa to Rome is one
  1946 event. The trans-Atlantic mail is erratic: "Four of
  yours by today's post!" writes Dorothy to Ezra on "Ap
  17.46," what has just arrived having been written in
  Washington in early March. And after endless efforts to
  schedule something useful, the ship Dorothy finally
  boards for America is two weeks getting there, with at
  one point half the passengers seasick. Yes, that was then.
  Nowadays, of course, we fly.
  So, lacking an easy sequence wherein each letter
  responds to the letter just above it, editors Omar Pound
  and Robert Spoo have had to guide us through a morass
  of cross-reference. Their book places letters on each
  right-hand page, explanations and identifications on the
  page facing it. Dorothy wrote frequently, Ezra when he
  was allowed to; from the moment he was arrested, every
  page to which he'd put pencil had to make its way past a
  (usually permissive) censor. For her part, Dorothy
  understood that the mere arrival of mail, whatever its
  content, would give him cheer. Hence ("Jan 29.46"),
  "We have a tin of peanut butter! From the sister of that
  tall Pole. She is charming; more of her anon....Yes, I
  have quite a lot of patience; & propose exercising it near
  you, as soon as possible."
  Messrs. Pound and Spoo have also supplied documents
  that clarify the legal situation and the extent to which the
  American authorities and the man they had in custody
  were perpetually at cross-purposes. It was one of
  Pound's delusions that he possessed political knowledge
  of which the U.S. government would want to avail itself,
  for instance by dispatching him to Moscow to clue Stalin
  in. That clarifies a "Cantos" detail --
  and but one point needed for Stalin
  you need not, i.e. need not take over
  the means of production;
  money to signify work done, inside
  a system
  and measured and wanted.
  He was a while realizing that all the Army wanted was
  to lock him up for trial concerning the brief broadcasts
  he'd aimed at America in the hope of persuading the
  homefolks that Mussolini wasn't the demon they'd been
  imagining. The investigations entailed delays, since a
  case for treason required locating two witnesses to the
  delivery of each broadcast, and the broadcasts had been
  delivered months or years before, and how to find
  Romans who had been in the studio on this occasion or
  that one? It's easy to see why, during preparation of the
  case, Pound had to be kept in Pisa for months: the
  months to which we owe the "Pisan Cantos."
  We learn, too, one more detail of great value,
  considering the notorious, if intermittent, anti-Semitism
  in the broadcasts. On being installed in the cage in Pisa
  (where "a tin can served for a toilet"), Pound "was
  allowed to keep his volume of Confucius and the small
  Chinese dictionary, and was given a regular-issue
  Bible." (That would be the Bible that, as he told me one
  day, he'd read clear through; he imagined he was the
  only person who had read through the Bible after
  reading Confucius.)
  Now, some two-thirds of the Bible is written in Hebrew,
  and bespeaks centuries of Jewish responses to Jewish
  plights. And possibly the most famous, and most
  cherished, passage in the "Pisan Cantos" derives from
  such responses:
  The ant's a centaur in his
  dragon world.
  Pull down thy vanity, it is not man
  Made courage, or made order,
  or made grace.
  Pull down thy vanity, I say
  pull down....
  Pull down thy vanity
  How mean thy hates
  Fostered in falsity,
  Pull down thy vanity,
  Rathe to destroy, niggard in charity,
  Pull down thy vanity,
  I say pull down.
  That ant derives from Proverbs 6:6: "Go to the ant, thou
  sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which,
  having no guide, overseer or ruler, Provideth her meat in
  the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest."
  And as for vanity, turn almost anywhere in Ecclesiastes,
  for instance 2:11: "Then I looked on all the works that
  my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had
  laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation
  of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun."
  The ant and vanity are just a few pages apart in the
  Hebrew Bible, the one seeing to necessary things, the
  other wasting its labor on vexation of spirit. What Pound
  would one day regret as "that stupid, suburban,
  anti-Semitic prejudice" may have begun to dissipate in
  the Pisan cage. I know that I once brought a Jewish
  friend to visit him at St. Elizabeth's, and they got on
  well, and the friend went back on his own another time.
  And one moral is, beware of generalizations.
  Mr. Kenner is a professor of English at the University of
  Georgia. "The Pound Era" is the best known of his
  numerous books.
hugh witemeyer wrote:
> The eagerly anticipated edition of the correspondence of Pound and Dorothy
> during the Pisan period of 1945 is apparently just out from Oxford
> University Press in New York.  Its editors are those veteran collaborators
> and superb annotators, Omar Pound and Bob Spoo.  I am told that Hugh
> Kenner reviewed the edition this month in the WALL STREET JOURNAL.  Can
> anyone tell us the issue in which that review appeared?