The Fascination and Terror of Ezra Pound

In the museum of modern literature no figure commands more space than Ezra Pound. Born in 1885 and dying at the ripe age of eighty-seven in 1972, he published his first book of poems, A Lume Spento, in Venice in 1908. My packed shelves hold almost thirty volumes of his writings—the early collected poems in Personae, the final one-volume collected Cantos of 1970, Pound on The Spirit of Romance, on Kulchur, on Joyce, on the classic Noh theater of Japan and the Confucian odes; Pound on How to Read, Make it New, the ABC of Reading; Pound’s literary essays and letters, his translations from the Anglo-Saxon, Chinese, French, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Latin, love poems from ancient Egypt, Sophocles’ Women of Trachis. There are many more in general circulation.

Not in general circulation these days are the “money pamphlets” Pound wrote in Italian during the war and that were published in London by Peter Russell in 1950. An Introduction to the Economic Nature of the United States. Gold and Labour. What Is Money For? A Visiting Card. Social Credit: An Impact. America, Roosevelt, and The Causes of the Present War. These are full of fascinating material you are not likely to find elsewhere. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated after making a statement on the currency. Franklin D. Roosevelt was “a kind of malignant tumour…an unclean exponent of something less circumscribed than his own evil personal existence…. His political life ought to be brought sub judice.” Less difficult of access but definitely not in print is Jefferson and/or Mussolini: L’Idea Statale: Fascism As I Have Seen It (1935). The Government Printing Office put out the speeches in behalf of the Axis that Pound delivered before and after Pearl Harbor on the Italian radio for transmission to the United States. In 1973 Pound’s estate threatened legal action against me for quoting from these speeches in a magazine article, but they have been published by Leonard W. Doob as Ezra Pound Speaking.

The literature on Pound is enormous and swells every month. Much of it explains and justifies the Cantos by annotating them and reminds me of Joyce saying that he would be immortal because Ulysses had given the professors work for more than a century. Pound’s fellow poets from Yeats through Tate and Auden to Lowell and Jarrell were often indifferent to the Cantos. Yeats was baffled and irritated. Professors have no trouble. I write surrounded not only by reminiscences of Pound by H.D. and William Carlos Williams, by the letters exchanged with his future wife Dorothy Shakespear, by old biographies and a recent one, Dr. E. Fuller Torrey’s The Roots of Treason: Ezra Pound and the Secret of St. Elizabeth’s, by a book on Pound’s “distinguished American roots,” but by a spate of still more critical studies. The Dance of the Intellect: Studies in the Poetry of the Pound Tradition. Blossoms from the East: The China Cantos. Pound and Twentieth-Century …

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Letters

An Exchange on Ezra Pound October 9, 1986