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To the End of Ezra Pound

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by Nicholas A. DeBoer

I. Biographical/Introductory

Who is he to be evil?  A toppled man.

                                    people

                      don't change.  They only stand more
                      revealed.”

                      (Olson, Maximus to Gloucester: Letter 2)

Within the infinite losses of sixteen million humans in the Great War, including T.E. Hulme & Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Ezra Pound felt a loss that echoed throughout the 20s.  Combined with his own judgment of failure as a poet and discontent with London, brought him to France in 1920 and finally, Rapallo, Italy in 1924.  His disillusion, possibly cauterized with the Great War gave birth in Pound to seek and find a new economic system.  One that wasn’t involved with the banking community, or bureaucratic has-beens seeking distinction from war.  The truth that Pound was to arrive at, was a mixed bag of economics that would lead him to fascist support and the most intense and deplorable anti-semitic ravings.

And yet, here is a person, someone fully conscious and available to analyze, digest and make sense of thousands of years of literature in such a single-bound that the only view available would be one of sickness, of messianic feelings of culture and post-October revolutionary poetry.  This, is, the Modernist Tyrant.  A story that, to be invented would be just as ludicrous as the life in question, a thin veil of insanity and asininity intermixed for eighty-seven years of life.

With Pound, it can only be an attempt to admire his poetry, for at the same interstice, guilt and a decided loss, a sense of bereavement accompanies the work, this fear of acknowledgment.  A singularity of his own fire, Pound fore-fronted a rhythmic continent of history; the double beat of womb-worthy child & parent.  People have found passion in The Cantos, a deeper imagination, an ‘acorn of light’ without lift.  It is here, a reference to the final sequence in his poem, that the catalog or canon is presented for its flourish into the 1970s.

Through him, a morality, a stipend is seared into the namesake behind that space of fragmentation, that space the arts enters at, after the Great War, a collage of movable labyrinths.  It would be a hard job to defend him and there is nothing I can or will do, to such end.  His deprivation, well-protected by friends and admirers sent him to the Bollingen Prize in 1949.  This level of esteem brought him a wider audience that was met equally by detractors.

In the preceding years, his engagement became more and more vacuous, energies turning toward summarizing and collaging entire epochs of Chinese history and the full biography of John Adams into his ‘poem of some length’.  By 1940 he had become merely a small time propagandist for the Mussolini government and his antisemitism became revealed not as a ‘suburban prejudice’ but of ‘biological racism’ most readily seen through his Rome Radio broadcasts (started in 1935, regular by 1940).

On the 2nd of May, 1945, four days after the death of Mussolini, he was picked up for treason and put inside one of the death cells and held at the United States Army Disciplinary Center north of Pisa.  Eventually, they would bring him back to America to stand trial, where he was found to be exhibiting, “extremely poor judgment as to his situation, its seriousness and the manner in which the charges are to be met. …  He is abnormally grandiose, is expansive and exuberant in manner, exhibiting pressure of speech, discursiveness and distractibility.  In our opinion, with advancing years his personality for many years abnormal, has undergone further distortion to the extent that he is now suffering from a paranoid state which renders him mentally unfit… (Surette, Eleusis, 263-4)”  Is this the case?

The literary critics of  that time appraised Pound to be morbid, disgusting, arrogantly cruel and rank with the stench of Hitler-level racism.  And they are/were right.  There has been only seldom texts here or there that have the courage to state out in the open, that a spade is a spade.  The axiom of Pound’s imprisonment was that ‘he was insane, that he was swept with the rest of the Axis’, but all the conditions are available.  His personality, seen in government cables revealed in the early 1980s, “that he had [a] personality-trait disturbance and a narcissistic personality….Nobody ever actually said he was insane.  [Pound] himself chose to plead that way” (Mitgang).

It revealed itself.  The poet and former college friend, William Carlos Williams noted, that Pound, “would come to my room to read me his poems, the very early ones…it was a painful experience.  For it was often impossible to hear the lines the way he read them…But I listened; that’s all he wanted, I imagine, from anyone.  His voice would trail off in the final lines of many of the lyrics until they were inaudible – from his intensity” (Williams, 56).  With H.D., a close friend and one time romantic partner from the University of Pennsylvania, “[Pound] forced an education on her that included the classics…even yoga, whatever his greedy mind had picked up” (Guest, 4).

It appears that he was always quite found of himself, eloquent with some, flatter-less with others, but he is there, a human, ready to do and be a something.  Either way, from 1945 to 1958, he was allowed to be free of treason and execution at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.  The revolt of world powers that would result in Time magazines coining in 1939 of World War II dictated that enough death, this time some 79 million people, would hold old friends together and that this support and love let by some of the worst of Pound’s nature.  Yet, that is that.  A conquerers history cannot be changed, but revised, revealed, seen in context when the generations dwindle.  What does remain of Ezra Pound evokes incredible interest.  824 pages, roughly 10 distinct sequences with countless companions, the most well-known is that of Carroll F Terrell’s A Companion to, which clocks in at a little over 800 pages.  The journals, papers, scholarly research and dedication to his work and his legacy is on par with carbon dating cuneiform tablets.  But, how do I describe this?

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