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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]>
Sun, 14 Mar 1999 15:26:32 -0500
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The following review was published in today's Washington Post.... so I
thought I would send it along to all of those in the group who do not
receive the paper.  
Poet, Madman, Lover
              By Guy Davenport
              Sunday, March 14, 1999; Page X01  
              Letters in Captivity 1945-1946
              Edited by Omar Pound and Robert Spoo
              Oxford University Press. 389 pp. $35
              Reviewed by Guy Davenport
              On May 3, 1945 -- five days before the surrender of
              Nazi Germany to the Allies and the Soviet Union -- the
              60-year-old American poet Ezra Pound was arrested in
              Rapallo, Italy (where he and his wife Dorothy had lived
              since 1924) by the U.S. Counter Intelligence Corps and
              taken to their headquarters in Genoa. He was charged
              with treason for broadcasting a series of lectures on
              economics, politics, philosophy, literature, and other
              Poundian concerns by shortwave transmission to
              England and the United States. If, 54 years ago, you
              owned a shortwave radio set and were up at 3 a.m., you
              could have heard newly discovered concerti grossi by
              Antonio Vivaldi, followed by Pound talking about
              money, credit, and banking systems that thrive on one
              war after another.
              In a long deposition to the CIC in Genoa Pound tried to
              make his ideas intelligible. His agile brain had also
              thought up other plans, now that he had the ear of the
              military, as well as that (so he imagined) of Harry
              Truman. Truman, he explained, could send him to the
              Emperor of Japan, who would end the war when Pound
              showed him how grievously Japan had departed from the
              ethics of Confucius. Furthermore, after a crash course in
              Stalin's native Georgian, he would then go to Moscow to
              prevent a protracted and economically ruinous cold war
              between Russia and the western democracies.
              An honest colonel reported to J. Edgar Hoover, "Pound,
              as is known, is an extremely well educated man with a
              wide divergence of knowledge and interest. His hobbies
              are the translating of ancient documents such as Pluto
              and Confucius." The colonel had a better ear than the
              FBI, who repeatedly heard Confucius as "confusion"
              (and Celine as Staline, and "suburban garden" as "Sir
              Bourbon Garden") in their transcripts of the broadcasts.
              It would be interesting to know if Hoover assigned an
              agent to check out the writings of Pluto.
              Pound was not sent to Tokyo or Moscow. He was turned
              over to the FBI, who placed him in the U.S. Army
              Disciplinary Center outside Pisa (an army jail for
              deserters, rapists, and murderers) where he wrote The
              Pisan Cantos (the 74th through 84th sections of the epic
              poem that he'd been writing since around 1916). Here,
              after some terrible weeks in a maximum-security cage
              made of metal landing strips, Pound was eventually
              given an officer's tent. His wife, Dorothy, heroically
              managed to visit him briefly. So did Pound's mistress,
              Olga Rudge, and Pound's daughter by her, Mary. His son
              Omar, the editor of this book, at the time a private in
              U.S. Army, missed him by a day.
              Flown to Washington (November 1945), Pound was
              arraigned before a federal district court, where he
              showed the judge the $23 he had to his name and asked
              for defense counsel who had written a life of John
              Adams and could read Confucius in Chinese. The judge
              ordered a psychological evaluation (three, in fact). Thus
              began Pound's 12 and a half years at St. Elizabeth's
              Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Anacostia Heights.
              Here he wrote two more sections of his Cantos,
              translated the Chinese Odes and several Greek tragedies,
              and talked with visitors every afternoon from 2 to 4. He
              was an institutionalized scandal all these years. The
              Pisan Cantos, published by New Directions in 1948,
              won The Congressional Prize for Poetry (the only time it
              has been awarded -- after the uproar over Pound's
              getting it, its name was changed to the Bollingen Prize).
              Pound's first visitor was a family friend from
              Philadelphia bringing him a Bible. The second was the
              poet Charles Olson. The third was H.L. Mencken. Over
              the years one could see E.E. Cummings, T.S. Eliot,
              William Carlos Williams, Louis Zukofsky, and other
              luminaries making their way among the catatonics.
              The personal letter had always been one of Pound's
              ways of communicating his ideas. These letters to
              Dorothy, and hers to him, began at Pisa and continued,
              maddeningly delayed by the exigencies of the times, until
              Dorothy made her way on a refugee ship to Washington,
              where she did not miss a single day's visit. Her last
              letter is a shipboard diary, mailed upon landing in New
              They are some of the best love letters ever written, these
              150 exchanges between an English wife (maiden name,
              Shakespeare) of character, wit and indomitable
              affection, and an American husband whose hubris and
              sanity had clearly overreached boundaries of several
              sorts: moral, political and commonsensical. He was
              idiotically anti-Semitic; his economic theories sounded
              dotty to all but a coven of utopian Social Credit
              enthusiasts. His world had been swept away by four
              armies, his hero Mussolini hung by his heels in Milan,
              Hitler had shot himself, and the Japanese would soon see
              a weapon of mass destruction made possible by the
              theory of a Jewish physicist named Einstein.
              In these letters (from "Mao" -- kitten -- to "Mao") there
              is neither economics nor anti-Semitism. Anxiety as to the
              other's wellbeing (or whereabouts) is the dominant note.
              There are domestic dramas: Dorothy could not stand her
              mother-in-law (Pound brought both his parents to
              Rapallo) nor his mistress Olga. She was seeing Omar
              (raised in England) for the first time in years, and
              cautiously meeting Mary, Ezra's daughter by Olga.
              Were it not for the most meticulous and useful notes to
              any edition of letters that I am aware of, much would be
              incomprehensible (as with any family letters). Robert
              Spoo's fair and comprehensive introduction rivals the
              thoroughly helpful notes in making this a very
              reader-friendly book. The notes face the letters on
              left-hand pages. Foreign phrases are translated in
              brackets. The editing is as conscientious as editing can
              These letters exist in an uncanny way outside the
              enormous debate about Pound's poetry, his instigation of
              Modernism, his influence, or his guilt. They can stand
              instead as a poignant exchange between two of the
              millions of displaced persons, anguished and frantic, of
              World War II, all the more valuable in the record for
              being written by two of the century's most literate tragic
              Guy Davenport's most recent book is "Objects on a
              Table: Harmonious Disarray in Art & Literature."
                  Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company