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Olga Rudge and Ezra Pound - The Last Ten Years


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Anna Mancinelli (1877-1969) Caterina Bonucci (1891-1958) Felice Mastrangelo (1907-1988) Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)
Vera Stravinsky (1888-1982) Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) Sergeje Diaghilew(1872-1929) Olga Rudge (1895-1996)
Geminiano Mundic (1823-1908) Ezra Pound (1885-1972) Herta Plant (1919-2010) Lorenzo Bazzoffia (1903-1990)
Luigi Paciarelli (1879-1972) Mario Murru (1924-1973) Matteo Tantini (1984-2010) Primo Valeriani (1913-1916)


Olga Rudge and Ezra Pound - The Last Ten Years


Anne Conover
The Last Ten Years (1962–1972) (Part 1)*

‘‘The sea in which he floated’’

After his reunion with Olga, Ezra was moved to the Villa Chiara, the Casa di Cura of Dr. Giuseppe Bacigalupo, whose mother, Elfreide, had been Pound’s doctor before the war. A clear case of prostatitis had been ‘‘shamefully neglected.’’ Olga never forgave the doctors at St. Elizabeth’s for having dismissed the patient without a complete physical checkup. Yet an urologist from Genoa and Dr. Bacigalupo were both of the opinion that an operation was unnecessary at the time.

The doctor had shown Olga how to manage without a nurse. A local woman came in the mornings for two hours, a contadina they had known for more than thirty years, whom she could trust. ‘‘I made a fire[1] on the hearth, and E. read Cantos out loud until bedtime, making notes and corrections . . . most touchingly considerate, no trouble at all.’’

Ezra Pound and Olga Rudge

Ezra Pound and Olga Rudge

She kept a daily log[2], like a trained nurse, of Pound’s meals and medications:

7:15 breakfast: orange juice, few spoonsful porridge.
1:30 lunch: riso in bianco, cold chicken, gruyere cheese, banana cream w[ith] apricot.
4:00 tea: pane integrale, peanut butter, biscuit, tea.
8:00 supper: pastina in brodo, soft-boiled egg, 3 cooked apricots. (Medicines: 10g. miroton, 20g. sympatol, 1 ducolax, lucidril.)

Ezra disdained the regimen, and he jotted this random comment in Olga’s notebook: ‘‘My bestial idiocy[3] at Dadone’s [is] past any measure. . . . If he had (three years ago) . . . given me a proper large glass of castor oil, and lemon ‘on the rocks,’ i.e., plenty of ice, followed by real coffee, all these doc bills & catetere [catheters] could have been avoided. B[acigalupo] approves the model to replace leaky inner tube . . . swears he can remake normal men.’’

Olga sent a note to Dorothy Pound at the Albergo Italia, enclosing a map with instructions to reach Casa 131 if she wanted to visit her husband: ‘‘Take a taxi[4] to the ‘Eucalyptus’ . . . where the via Primavera joins the salita . . . you then will have to walk about 7 to 10 minutes (cars cannot station there). . . . [The salita] joins the Via Aurelia above the Casa di Sole.’’ The junction of the road where the eucalyptus and cedar appear to grow from one root—called ‘‘l’eucalipto’’ by the locals and taxi men— Pound mentions in Canto 76:

from il triedro to the Castellaro
the olives grey over grey holding walls.

When Ezra’s bladder infection reappeared at the end of May, the blood count was very high, and the doctors recommended an emergency procedure to prevent uremic poisoning. Dorothy, as legal guardian, was required to sign the forms. Olga noted that she ‘‘paid purely formal visits[5], one-half hour June 15th, at my request, [to] give the surgeon permission to operate.’’

The procedure took place June 19, under local anesthetic. ‘‘He has been doing well[6], yesterday was up for [the] first time,’’ Olga wrote Duncan, ‘‘takes an interest in books and newspapers. . . . All this has shown that . . . his fits of depression and not wanting to eat were not mental, or cussedness, [but] due to poison in the blood. . . . I shall not go to Siena this summer. . . . Mary can come down for a week or so every now and then and take over if necessary. . . . I intend to see this thing through. Dr. Bacigalupo . . . has known E. over 35 years and understands his kinks, doesn’t get put off by his manner . . . is very fond of E.’’

Ezra Pound and Olga Rudge

Ezra Pound and Olga Rudge

When Ezra was released from the Villa Chiara on June 30, he returned with Olga to Sant’Ambrogio, and Dorothy Pound left Rapallo with Omar the same day. Dorothy wrote, after arriving at Brunnenburg, that she was glad the operation was successful, but ‘‘I hope now they will leave[7] the poor man alone.’’ She enclosed a check ‘‘for Ezra’s keep,’’ and added, ‘‘please reimburse yourself for warm undershirt and any other expenses. We generally allow 60,000 lire a month for food.’’ She continued to send monthly checks, but kept the purse strings firmly in hand: ‘‘No money is supposed to be his ‘own’ nowadays.’’

Mary and the children came to Sant’Ambrogio while Olga returned to Siena July 22 for the nineteenth Settimana Musicale Senese. She wanted to be there for the second performance of Vivaldi’s Juditha Triumphans (about which she wrote a scholarly abstract for the Accademia Bollettino).

Lester Littlefield was still ‘‘guardian’’ of 252, calle Querini; Marianne Moore and two Bryn Mawr classmates traveling in Italy and Greece had visited him at Olga’s house that summer. Olga retained the right to use it two months of the year, and on September 25—as soon as Ezra could travel by train—she took him back to the Hidden Nest.

He was strong enough to attend a dinner on the thirtieth to celebrate his election to the Academy of American Poets hosted by the Society of Venetian Writers. While Olga remained quietly in the background, Ezra was becoming an international celebrity. An interview with photographs appeared in Time (translated from Epoca) in April 1963.

They returned to Sant’Ambrogio for Ezra’s second prostate operation at the Villa Chiara. ‘‘Dorothy was responsible[8] for the second operation— as Committee, she had to decide,’’ Olga noted bitterly; ‘‘the one chosen left him impotent.’’ But she was fair enough to acknowledge that the alternative operation might have killed him.

Ezra had recovered sufficiently to travel to Siena for the final concerts of the season at the Accademia. Olga was warmly received by the Count and former colleagues, but she appeared to feel no regret at giving up her prestigious position to care for Pound. She heard that, in her absence, Pablo Casals and his wife[9], Martita, felt they ‘‘were not treated with enough red carpet, and left in a huff.’’

The couple returned to Sant’Ambrogio at the end of August. Mary, in the States again, had gone to Boston to visit Robert Frost and to thank him for helping to secure her father’s release. She was just in time, for Frost died a week later. She also went to Brooklyn to see Marianne Moore in her apartment there—‘‘packages, books everywhere[10], the best knives too tarnished to use ’’—but to Mary’s eyes, Moore was ‘‘perfection, handsome, temperate and considerate, humorous and talented.’’

In early September, Olga and Ezra returned to Venice via Rimini. Ezra requested to see for one last time the church of San Francesco with the tomb of Sigismundo Malatesta, a monument to the fifteenth-century ruler and his mistress Isotta, central figures in Cantos 8 through 11.

On his birthday, October 30, the Cini Foundation celebrated with a publication party for the Italian translation of the Confucian Odes and, according to Olga, ‘‘a large crowd[11] were enthusiastic.’’ Later, Olga recorded that Ezra had tremendous applause when appearing on the platform at ‘‘a poetry-prize do’’ in Padua. Constant travel, which Ezra seemed to enjoy, failed to lift his deepening depression. ‘‘There were more causes than I realized[12], i.e., not physical,’’ Olga acknowledged.

Horst Tappe, the photographer who had wangled an invitation to the calle Querini to record Ezra’s life, recommended La Prairie clinic in Clarens, Switzerland, specializing in the treatment of nervous disorders. Lester Littlefield agreed that Dr. Niehaus’s treatment ‘‘gave Pope Pius some six[13] or more years of life.’’ When Olga delivered Ezra to the clinic on November 18, they shaved off his beard: ‘‘I found E. red-faced[14] like a monkey’s behind—but when the redness disappeared, [he was] still handsome, showing a likeness to Homer,’’ she remembered. ‘‘He was disintoxicated, and never had catatonic symptoms again.’’ Dorothy Pound paid the bill but complained to Olga: ‘‘Did you know when[15] you took Ezra to Montreux the prices which reign in Swiss cliniques? You should have given me warning.’’ Olga was determined to restore Ezra’s health and equilibrium, whatever the cost.

The couple remained in Venice through the winter. Mary Jane Phillips- Matz, who lived in the second house down the alley from No. 252 in the 1960s, and after 1969 just across the canal from Olga’s house, remembered the ‘‘trim, gray-haired woman[16] who . . . fed stray cats and . . . began to cosset our three toddling daughters (and the son born in 1966), serving afternoon tea and cookies, and when they were older, the elderly man who lived with her taught them to play chess.’’ The two women shared an interest in music, and both were from Ohio. ‘‘From her I learned how to serve ample meals on tiny trays that inevitably ended with poached pears or soft desserts with colorful names, ‘Spotted Dog’ or ‘Resurrection Pudding.’ The smell of burnt logs hung in the living room, as did the scent of pungent eucalyptus.’’

Phillips-Matz remembered Olga as energetic, intelligent, high-spirited, a mine of common sense, who punctuated every sentence with ‘‘Capito?’’ ‘‘She taught me to layer newspapers under sweaters and coats to keep warm, to wrap a light blanket like a kilt for extra protection during afternoon naps. I helped to mop up water from the canal that crept into the hall during an acqua alta. Her closets and mine were filled with clothes that had seen ten or even twenty seasons. She taught me a great deal about what she called, ‘making do,’ how to make a bed on steamer trunks. Loans flowed from her house to mine . . . repaid promptly on both sides. After great loss, we grieved together. After lunches at Montin’s or Cici’s, we exchanged memories of childhood visits to Mt. Chocorua.’’ Poignantly, she recalled ‘‘the day she played for the last time and put her violin away, without a trace of self-pity or regret.’’

In February 1964, four months before the seventh Festival of Two Worlds, Gian Carlo Menotti came to Venice to arrange the Italian premiere of the Last Savage. Mary Jane’s friendship with Menotti dated back to the 1950s. A decade later, she was director of public relations, general manager, and fund-raiser for the Festival. Charles Matz, who was then Mary Jane’s husband, offered to introduce Menotti to Pound. ‘‘Did you know,’’ Matz asked, ‘‘that Pound once wrote an opera?’’

‘‘You mean the libretto?’’

‘‘No, the music. . . . He used the poetry of Francois Villon, The Testament.’’

Matz took Menotti to the Hidden Nest, and as the vespers rang at Santa Maria della Salute the composer and the poet talked about music—Pound, a poet who for a time turned composer, and Menotti, a composer who often turned to poetry and drama. Olga played the tape of the BBC broadcast of Le Testament, and Menotti asked for permission to perform the opera in Spoleto in the summer of 1965.

Olga and Ezra had just settled in for another winter when Pound’s venerated friend T. S. Eliot died. Pound was the last survivor of the generation of poets and writers ranging from Yeats to Hemingway, and the death of Eliot left him ‘‘very sad and deeply stricken.’’

On sudden impulse, and after consulting Eliot’s widow, Olga purchased air tickets to attend the January 4, 1965, memorial service in Westminster Abbey. Sir Alec Guinness read from the Quartets, and other old friends delivered eulogies. After the ceremony, the couple returned to the Eliots’ flat to spend several hours alone with his widow, Valerie. After, Ezra wanted to see his Wyndham Lewis portrait at the Tate Gallery.

They were in the taxi on the way to Heathrow when Olga noticed ads for Aer Lingus, and spontaneously suggested a detour to Ireland, the home of her maternal grandparents. In Dublin, they visited Georgie Yeats, widow of ‘‘Uncle William,’’ and viewed the paintings of Jack Yeats, the poet’s father. The only literary people Ezra asked to see were Patrick Kavanagh and Austin Clarke.

Ezra Pound and Olga Rudge

Ezra Pound and Olga Rudge

Back in Venice, Pound was invited to read from the Confucian Odes at a Dante Commemorazione[17] at the Cini Foundation on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, sharing the stage with Nobel Prize winner Eugenio Montale. Caresse Crosby had invited the couple to attend a poets’ seminar at the Castello di Roccasinibalda, but Olga declined; Ezra was saving himself for the Spoleto performance of his opera in July, though she hoped their friend Gianfranco Ivancich ‘‘would bring us to you[18] for a day before returning to Rapallo.’’ She described herself as ‘‘cook and bottle washer, sec[retary], counter-irritant and soporific, all in one bottle, and sometimes I feel as if the bottle had been given a good shaking before taking.’’

Olga’s account of ‘‘Ezra Pound in Spoleto[19],’’ drafted in her notebook, gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the 1965 performance of Le Testament de Villon and the poetry week preceding it at the Festival of Two Worlds: ‘‘By genius, I mean ‘an inevitable swiftness and rightness in a given field, the trouvaille, the direct simplicity in seizing the effective means’ [a quotation borrowed from Guide to Kulchur]. Pound found all these attributes in Gian Carlo Menotti when they met to discuss . . . Le Testament de Villon.’’

The production was staged as a ballet choreographed by John Butler, with Carmen de Lavallade and other dancers, the stage bare but for a gibbet. The conductor, Herbert Handt, sang a role.

Thomas Schippers conducted a new production of Otello, and to Olga’s eyes, his wife Nonie Phipps was the undisputed ‘‘queen’’ of the Festival, sharing a box with their Venice neighbor Wally Toscanini, daughter of the conductor Arturo. Also on the program were Pierre Louys’s Chansons de Bilitis, set to the music of Claude Debussy (again, choreographed by Butler after a concept of Vera Zorina), and Abram and Isaac (from the Chester Miracle Play), staged by Rhoda Levine with music by Benjamin Britten.

‘‘First, poets of different nationalities and divergent ideological viewpoints,’’ Olga recalled, ‘‘who . . . read their own works on stage at the Caio Melisso Theatre’’ (a dramatic setting built for chamber operas on the medieval cathedral piazza). Desmond O’Grady was master of ceremonies. Charles Olson, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Allen Tate were there; Pablo Neruda (who ‘‘looked like a prosperous businessman’’), Stephen Spender (‘‘in a striped sweat shirt’’), and Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Ezra, in a light linen suit and canvas shoes, seated in Menotti’s box, read with the aid of a microphone—not his own poems, but Marianne Moore ’s translations of La Fontaine, Robert Lowell’s ‘‘imitations’’ from Dante, and his own translations of the Confucian Odes and Montanari’s Saturno.

Pound, then almost eighty, appeared ‘‘thin, slight and weak,’’ his soft voice cracking as he ‘‘reached up to the hatrack of memory.’’ He received a standing ovation. ‘‘Everything about Spoleto was fine for Ezra,’’ Olga noted, ‘‘the air, the people. Life in the Palazzo del Duomo was exceedingly pleasant. He did not find Menotti’s stairs too steep to climb, and the local bread was much to his taste. The 12 o’clock concerts in the theater across the way were a daily joy to the man who had written: ‘The magic of music is its effect on volition, a sudden clearing of the mind of rubbish and the reestablishment of a sense of proportion’.’’ After, there were unexpected meetings with old friends in the piazza: Benedetta Marinetti, Yvonne Casella, Caresse Crosby, Buckminster Fuller, John Drummond, Desmond O’Grady, Isamu Noguchi (who spoke of Brancusi and Gaudier). ‘‘In late afternoon, sitting at the window, he [Ezra] might listen to rehearsals outside the Duomo, the swallows he loved making themselves heard above the orchestra. How better could ‘an old man rest’? He rambled ’round the city at all hours, stopping for ice cream, or speculating on the Arena as a possible setting for Women of Trachis (if Menotti would write the music he wanted for it). He returned to Spoleto each time with joy.’’

After Spoleto, Caresse Crosby sent Robert Mann to meet the couple at the Rome station and to have Ezra carried on a chaise a porteur to the eagleshaped fortress of Roccasinibalda, her World Peace Center and Italian Yaddo Colony. The castello, designed by Michelangelo’s contemporary Baldassarre Peruzzi, is carved out of sheer solid rock in the Abruzzi Mountains of Rieti province. At the back, there is a hanging garden with towering cypresses and a swimming pool where, at sunset, Caresse’s guests used to gather for cocktails. The Great Hall in the north wing was a succession of large, empty spaces with coffered ceilings and huge open fireplaces. The sparsely furnished bedrooms, Olga remembered, had paneless windows that opened onto the Turano valley below, and were uninhabitable for five or six months of the year; the swooping and darting of bats interrupted her sleep. Since Roccasinibalda rises above the clouds, she felt as if she were on a floating island.

The castle was cold[20] and damp that summer, and Ezra could never find a room warm enough to suit him, though he spent long sunny hours in the courtyard, Caresse recalled. The ‘‘rambunctious, combative ’’ youth of the Twenties, who had arrived in Paris bronzed and neglige to dance a ‘‘voodoo prance’’ with her at the Boule Blanche, had become ‘‘a tired old man with listless eyes and a shock of white hair.’’ There were days when he didn’t say a word, just whispered ‘‘yes’’ or ‘‘no’’ to direct questions, and his mood swings were dramatic, ‘‘by turns, alert and energetic, despondent and apathetic.’’ Frances Steloff, owner of the Gotham Book Mart, a gathering place of the literati since the 1920s, was also in residence that summer and remembered that when photographers came, Olga refused to pose with Ezra ‘‘for reasons of propriety.’’

Caresse’s memoir, ‘‘What in the World?’’ about her life as a peace activist and co-founder with Buckminster Fuller of Citizens of the World, was soon to be published by L’Herne. She had visited Ezra at St. Elizabeth’s in February 1946, and was asked by psychiatrists to give her opinion in his sanity hearing: Was Pound completely out of his mind, or as she had known him in the 1930s? ‘‘I said truthfully[21], ‘as I had known him.’ I loved and admired him then, as I always have, never thought him a traitor.’’

Back in Venice, the calle Querini nest was not as ‘‘hidden’’ as it had been in the 1930s: ‘‘We have had a German TV crew[22] on our heads, hands and feet! . . . the director, a clumsy brute, doing a documentary for Ezra Pound’s birthday.’’ Academics, journalists, and biographers came, along with the merely curious who found Olga’s number in the telephone directory. ‘‘They ring my bell[23] and announce they are writing books that will tell ‘both sides.’ Both sides?’’ she queried. ‘‘What do they think we are? Ezra Pound is no pancake.’’

Olga kept Ezra on the move as an antidote to depression. The couple celebrated his eightieth birthday in Paris. At Samuel Beckett’s play Fin de Partie, Ezra whispered to Olga as the protagonists spoke the dialogue from trash bins, ‘‘C’est moi dans la poubelle.’’[24] They did not stay after the performance to speak to the Nobel Prize–winning author, but Beckett— not wishing to subject the old poet to a long climb up to his apartment— came himself to pay a call on Pound and stayed for more than an hour.

After nearly sixty years Natalie Barney was still holding court in her salon. A German documentary film crew recorded their visit to the rue Jacob, accompanying them around the garden and up the steps to the Temple a l’Amitie.

Barney’s birthday gift to Ezra was a long-awaited trip to Delphi. The poet George Seferis, the 1963 Nobelist, who had translated Pound’s poems into Greek, took them home to meet his beautiful wife. Ezra ‘‘saw no-one but Greek friends,’’[25] Olga recalled. Zizissimo Lorenzatos arranged a picnic on the beach near Sounio (with chilled pomegranate juice that Ezra remembered for its color). They had the place to themselves in November after the tourists had gone. With another Greek friend, they attended an outdoor exhibition of modern sculpture, including a Gaudier-Brzeska dog that ‘‘did not fill Ezra Pound with enthusiasm.’’ The highlight of the trip was the ‘‘sacred fount’’ at Delphi that Ezra had visited only in his imagination when writing The Cantos:

Castalia is the name of that fount in the hill’s fold,
the sea below . . .
Grove hath its altar
under elms, in that temple . . . (Canto 90)

After Ezra joined Olga in 1962, she had begun to throw the coins for the I Ching readings daily for both of them. In 1966, she started to record her findings in a series of blue school notebooks (‘‘to put some order into my affairs’’): ‘‘these hexagrams have always been made, usually in the morning, first thing after breakfast . . . commencing with mine, read aloud to Ezra, then his,’’ she noted. (Pound mentioned the I Ching in Canto 102—‘‘50 more years on the Changes’’—inspired by Confucius’s saying, ‘‘If many years were added to me, I would give it to the study of the Book of Changes.’’) On the flyleaf of the first notebook, he scrawled: ‘‘Olga = Courage.’’

The earliest notebooks contained only the hexagrams, but soon Olga began to record Pound’s health, diet, response to visitors, and dreams, interspersed with her own thoughts and reminiscences of childhood, family, and friends. The notebooks also included ‘‘notings down’’ that Olga happened upon when thumbing through The Cantos, Guide to Kulchur, and other (often undocumented) sources, for example: ‘‘Curiosity, that’s my advice to the young—have some curiosity,’’ and ‘‘A good deal of literature seems to spring from hate, but something vital emerges from the fragments, which is not hate ’’ (translated from the Italian). The so-called I Ching Notebooks provide a valuable record of the last ten years of the poet’s life and are closely interwoven into the text of this biography.

Ezra began suffering from severe depression again and was admitted to the Fazio Clinica delle Malattie Nervose e Mentali of the University of Genoa on March 11, and he remained there until April 16. Professor Cornelio Fazio, who examined Pound, wrote this report: ‘‘the patient was[26] . . . almost completely silent, uttering only a few words when questioned, impaired physically, often refused food. . . . Sometimes, prompted by external situations (travels, environmental modification), Mr. Pound exhibited fairly normal activity and interest. . . . Ideas of self-accusation and hypochondriacal delusions were always present. . . . These ideas and the general inhibition could probably account for the refusal of food. . . . It seemed as if the personality of the patient had always been on the autistic side . . . so that a psychotic-like situation came out permitting, and perhaps encouraging, poetic activity.’’

Pound had been under the care of a young specialist, Romolo Rossi, who prescribed Tofranil, a powerful drug that left him in what Olga described as a ‘‘catatonic state.’’ She telephoned Dr. Bacigalupo, who moved him out of the clinic.

In Olga’s view, travel was a better way to restore Ezra’s equilibrium. They went to Ravenna at the end of May to hear Antoine de Bavier conduct Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in the Church of Sant’Apollinaire. Ezra was invited again to Poetry Week in Spoleto in July, and read ‘‘most beautifully.’’[27] They heard a fine performance of the Verdi Requiem in the square before the cathedral conducted by Zubin Mehta, and Olga recalled that she had first met Mehta when he was a promising new student at the Accademia.

Later that summer, news came from Siena that Count Guido Chigi Saracini, her mentor and benefactor since the founding of the Accademia in 1932, who had furthered the careers of Mehta and many other young musical stars, was dead. At the time Olga was too preoccupied with Ezra’s care to attend the memorial service. Without revealing the depth of the mixed emotions she felt about the ‘‘zoo’’ and its master, she wrote to close friends: ‘‘He is greatly missed.[28] The Accademia is not the same without him.’’

That November, a tidal wave brought the highest water in Venetian memory; they were trapped in the house for forty-eight hours. The water soon reached the cheekbones of Gaudier-Brzeska’s Hieratic Head, and before it stopped rising it reached table height and stayed there all the next day. ‘‘But the most striking thing[29] was the dead silence.’’

In another determined effort to restore Ezra’s health, Olga checked into the Hotel Blankreuzhaus in Basel, Switzerland, in January for a consultation with Dr. Poldinger of the Psychiatrische Universitatsklinik. Dr. Poldinger prescribed antidepressant drugs[30] and reassured her that there would be an increase of the mood-lifting effect in the spring. They traveled on to Zurich, and visited the Joyces’ graves. ‘‘The other graves[31] had little Christmas trees and wreaths with candles, as is the custom there,’’ Olga remembered, ‘‘but Joyce’s name (with Nora’s) was nearly illegible, on a stone hidden in the grass.’’ The following day, Ezra sat patiently for a portrait sketch by Oskar Kokoschka at his studio in Villeneuve.

When Dorothy Pound heard they were considering an invitation to speak at the Folger Library in Washington, she wrote: ‘‘for mercy’s sake,[32] don’t take Ezra Pound into the USA.’’ In a later letter, she described Olga’s position as ‘‘rather like leading ’round a performing bear!’’[33]

An unexpected visitor from America arrived in the summer of 1967, the poet laureate of the Beat generation, Allen Ginsberg. Olga described the encounter in Spoleto: ‘‘We went . . . to Mozart’s Don Giovanni with Thomas Schippers conducting and the Henry Moore sets. During the first interval, AG chose to present himself to Ezra Pound (sitting in a stall near the gangway), stopping the flow of people behind him. . . . We had arranged to meet friends in the theater bar . . . when a group of poets (including AG) arrived to pay their respects to Ezra Pound —accompanied, naturellement, by TV. They kept muttering mantras and tagged on when Ezra Pound tried to get out of the crush and go up to congratulate Schippers backstage.’’ Ginsberg next turned up in Sant’Ambrogio. He sat under a tree in a wooden chair and sang Hare Krishna to Ezra, then went inside for the promised lunch. Ezra refused to say anything the whole afternoon until

Ginsberg commented that Paul Morand had ‘‘jazzed up’’ the French language. Olga asked, ‘‘what was that book by Morand you liked so much?’’ (which Pound had translated into English). Ezra answered ‘‘Ouvert la Nuit [Open All Night],’’ and went on eating his spaghetti. ‘‘It was like being with Prospero. There was no weight in the silence,’’ Ginsberg said. Later, Olga received this note: ‘‘Thank you for your sweetness[34] to me, while I stayed so long. I love Mr. Pound, and did not know how to leave. I hope he finds peace.’’

The same month, Olga corresponded with the British critic Cyril Con nolly, whom she had never met, protesting remarks in his article about Louis Zukovsky. Connolly had written that he could not forgive Pound for condoning the actions of the Nazis at Belsen and other concentration camps. Olga defended Ezra.[35] During the war, she said, they were cut off completely, with no news, only one radio, and when Ezra was in the Pisan camp, he had not heard about the atrocities or, she insisted, he would have written about them in The Cantos. Many of his good friends were Jews— she mentioned Luigi Franchetti (a grandson of a Rothschild), Giorgio Levi, Lonnie Mayer—and some had appeared at the Rapallo concerts. This was the beginning of a long correspondence—and friendship—with Connolly.

After years of waiting, Olga at last had her prize. One observer noted that ‘‘Miss Rudge was clearly the sea[36] in which he [Pound] floated. She cleaned, she shopped, she stoked the old stove.’’ And she appeared to enjoy every day with Ezra. ‘‘Why is it, in old age,[37] dancing seems better? We had a gramophone, dancing with Him to Vivaldi [was] His idea!’’ After many lonely Christmases past, she now could enjoy the holidays with her lover. They saw the New Year in with ‘‘His new couch, Vivaldi, rain on the roof, dinner on a tray, later chocolates and grog—hot!’’

Their daily lives[38] followed a familiar pattern: Ezra did yoga exercises before breakfast, ‘‘spontaneously.’’ Lunch at the Pensioni Montin or Cici, visits with friends, walks along the Zattere, a light supper at home (Olga strictly monitored Pound’s diet). In the evening, Ezra often read selections from The Cantos.

Along with notations about Ezra’s diet and daily activities (and eyeglasses purchased), Olga noted their current reading—a preface to C. G. Jung’s work, important to Pound because of Jung’s interest in the I Ching. In answer to Olga’s query if it made sense, Ezra replied: ‘‘the things one calls chance being a result of more laws than one knows.’’

They celebrated Olga’s April birthday with Else Bernheim and Joan Fitzgerald at Fitzgerald’s studio viewing the just completed bust of Ezra; he was pleased with it. Many old friends—and often curious strangers— found their way to the calle Querini. Mrs. Philip Barry, the playwright’s widow and Grace Kelly’s aunt, was sent to them by Caresse Crosby. The poet Paul Blackburn, who translated Provencal poets following in Pound’s tradition, brought a beautiful Andalusian goblet and pine cone. Ezra said it reminded him of an Aztec idol he saw at St. Elizabeth’s, a symbol of malefemale copulation. Boski Marcus Antheil turned up—after more than thirty years! Julien Cornell, Pound’s lawyer, arrived from Washington with his wife, and Dorothea Watts Landsburg returned to her former home on the calle Querini.

Correspondence came from an unexpected source in Ohio. Richard Hammond, who had last visited Olga in Paris in 1928, informed her that an urban renewal program was in progress in Youngstown; the building of a new post office had increased the value of her father’s Boardman property. Rentals were building up in her account, and Olga realized it might be wise to hold on to the lots. But she asked Hammond to explore the possibility of a sale: ‘‘I do not foresee[39] leaving anyone any property.’’

In July the couple traveled to Spoleto to see Menotti’s 1968 production of The Saint of Bleecker Street, which Olga pronounced ‘‘Magnificent!’’ There were concerts every evening, Thomas Schippers conducting Mozart and Vivaldi, another opportunity for Olga to have lunch with Simonetta Lippi, Schippers’s assistant. Lippi’s father had been a musician, and Simonetta shared with Olga a love of music. An enduring friendship developed, and after Lippi followed Schippers to his post as conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, she credited Olga with teaching her all she knew about managing a conductor’s busy schedule.

Menotti sent them home to Sant’Ambrogio in his chauffeur-driven car, and two days later Ezra was strong enough to walk to Monte Allegro, where they discovered their names in the old hotel registry for the year 1924.

During this era, Olga began to record Ezra’s dreams[40] in her notebook. In an early one, he saw Olga dancing in a window: ‘‘Me?’’ ‘‘Yes.’’ ‘‘Was I dancing nicely?’’ ‘‘Yes.’’ ‘‘What kind of dancing?’’ ‘‘Oh, that Ceylonese bending.’’

In another, Eustace Mullins of Staunton, Virginia, one of Pound’s acolytes at St. Elizabeth’s, starred in an unlikely Freudian drama. Ezra and the poet Hilda Doolittle, his young sweetheart, were staying with the Mullins family when Ezra learned that Mullins had raped H.D.

‘‘I said if there was any produce, he would have to support it. He might have said ‘please,’ I said. It wouldn’t have been difficult for you to use persuasion.’’

Olga: ‘‘Were you annoyed? Was she [H.D.] recognizable?’’

Ezra: ‘‘Yes, I was annoyed. Both recognizable.’’

On September 5, Olga booked the 9:12 p.m. sleeper to Paris, where they were invited to stay in M. L. Bardevant’s studio flat. After a nostalgic lunch at La Coupole, they visited Natalie Barney on the rue Jacob. The courtyard surrounding the Temple a l’Amitie was in shambles and the house appeared ‘‘derelict,’’ but Barney herself was ‘‘better than two years ago—she asked about my violin.’’ They went on to the Brancusi studio and the Gaudier-Brzeska room at the Musee d’Art Moderne, and enjoyed a superb lunch with James Laughlin and his wife, Ann, at the five-star Tour Eiffel restaurant.

Olga booked a sleeper the same night to arrive in Venice the next morning. Ezra’s only complaint was an ache in his shoulder (he would never admit pain, so Olga had to deduce it from his actions). He was also suffering from diarrhea, impossible to hide and doubly difficult for Olga, who was unable to wash the soiled clothes while traveling. She noted other physical infirmities of advanced age: he was developing a cataract, and ‘‘for the past year, Ezra Pound [has been] slightly deaf, so that conversation, when many are participating, tires him and he retires into himself with fits of needless anxiety, but never enough to keep him from doing anything which pleases him—going out to meals, theater, travel, with no special fatigue, no aches or rheumatism.’’ He endured his bete noire, a tub bath, ‘‘without tears.’’

At the year’s end, they were settled in again at the Hidden Nest. Ezra read aloud from Yeats one evening, Olga read the tarot cards the next. They discussed ‘‘oddments’’ in the news and viewed photographs of the Apollo 8 spacecraft (Olga was astonished that nothing but the crust of the earth was showing). The couple spent Christmas Eve reminiscing over old photographs discovered in a suitcase.

On the first page of the 1969 notebook, Ezra wrote this tribute to the woman he loved: ‘‘For the gift of life, sensibility and courage—those two were the opening bars of the Jannequin (Olga’s)—never admit defeat!’’

Desmond O’Grady, the poet who had been at the dock in Genoa to meet Pound in 1958, came to stay with them in Sant’Ambrogio. He read from the works of Patrick Kavanagh one peaceful evening, and on others, Ezra and O’Grady concentrated on the chessboard. But days later, while reading The Cantos, Ezra erupted angrily, following a pattern of erratic behavior that Olga was at a loss to explain.

Mary came to visit. She and Ezra took long walks to the Castellaro, and there was the appearance of a close family. But on the third day, while Mary was helping to prepare lunch, she shattered a perfume bottle Olga’s brother Arthur had given her some sixty years before on Hill Road in St. John’s Wood. It was an accident, but to Olga’s eyes it was symbolic of the basic discord between the two women.

The season persisted windy and cold, colder, coldest. Casa 131 was a contadino’s cottage, and the only warmth came from the open fireplace with pine cones to burn. Ezra’s cough persisted, and Olga attempted to cure it with the housewife’s old-fashioned remedy, chicken broth and rice. Her thoughts often returned to Hook Heath and the supportive environment of the Richards family many years before.

She wrote to Kathleen, hinting at the loss she secretly felt in giving up music to be Ezra’s companion: ‘‘remember the Hill[41] violin? You? Your father? You were always such a united family, it becomes difficult to remember which—a kindness to me, among many . . . a Hill copy of a Strad, ‘The Messiah.’ . . . I did practice all during the war, and was playing better, too. [But] I have not had time for fifteen years now to practice, and you know what a violin needs. You ought to have it . . . where would you like it to go? If I am able to get to England when it gets warmer, [I] will bring it.’’

In April, the couple returned to Venice. Ezra was suffering from stomach cramps and similar complaints of advanced age, but was able to enjoy a performance of Verdi’s Don Carlo at La Fenice. On April 13, he jotted in the notebook: ‘‘It’s her birthday. He brings nothing but good wishes and bad deeds.’’ Count Vittorio Cini, head of the foundation that bears his name, and his wife, Kiki, honored Olga on her natal day with a dinner party for nineteen. When Valerie Eliot arrived in Venice for the celebration, the Count ‘‘charmingly explained that he put Valerie on his right instead of me, because she was a ‘straniera.’ I feel myself Italian.’’

* Anne Conover; Olga Rudge and Ezra Pound, Yale University Press,
New Haven & London, 2001, pp. 227-242.

Ezra Pound and Olga Rudge - The Last Ten Years (1962–1972) (Part 2)


Principal sources: Olga Rudge – Ezra Pound daily activities not cited elsewhere are in Olga Rudge, I Ching notebooks, ORP3/YCAL; Olga Rudge – Dorothy Shakespear Pound and Olga Rudge –Littlefield correspondence, ORP2/YCAL; Olga Rudge – Ronald Duncan correspondence, HRHRC/Tex; Olga Rudge –Caresse Crosby correspondence, Morris/SIU; James Laughlin –Noel Stock, WMCC/Toledo (Ohio).
[1] ‘‘I made a fire ’’: Olga Rudge to Ronald Duncan, 29 May 1962.
[2] She kept a daily log: Olga Rudge, Research notebooks, 27 Apr 1962.
[3] ‘‘my bestial idiocy’’ (in Ezra Pound’s hand): I Ching notebooks, 1966.
[4] ‘‘Take a taxi’’: Olga Rudge to Dorothy Shakespear Pound, 30 May 1962.
[5] ‘‘paid purely formal visits’’: Olga Rudge, Research notebooks, 1962, ORP3 / YCAL.
[6] ‘‘He has been doing well’’: Olga Rudge to Ronald Duncan, 24 June 1962.
[7] ‘‘I hope now they will leave’’: Dorothy Shakespear Pound to Olga Rudge, [nd] July 1962.
[8] ‘‘Dorothy was responsible’’: Olga Rudge, I Ching notebooks, 1976.
[9]9 Pablo Casals and his wife: Ibid.
[10] ‘‘packages, books everywhere ’’: Mary de Rachewiltz to Olga Rudge, 10 Feb 1963, ORP2 / YCAL.
[11] ‘‘a large crowd’’: Olga Rudge to Caresse Crosby, 10 Feb 1963.
[12] ‘‘There were more causes than I realized’’: Olga Rudge, I Ching notebooks, 1978.
[13] ‘‘gave Pope Pius some six . . . years’’: Littlefield to Olga Rudge, 23 Aug 1963.
[14] ‘‘I found E. red-faced’’: Box 101, Research notebooks, ORP3/YCAL.
[15] ‘‘Did you know when’’: Dorothy Shakespear Pound to Olga Rudge, 4 Dec 1965.
[16] ‘‘trim, gray-haired woman’’: M. J. Phillips-Matz, ‘‘Muse Who Was Ezra’s Eyes,’’ The Guardian (Manchester), 6 Apr 1996.
[17] Dante Commemorazione: Box 101, Research notebooks, ORP3/YCAL.
[18] ‘‘would bring us to you’’: Olga Rudge to Caresse Crosby, 14 June 1965.
[19] ‘‘Ezra Pound in Spoleto’’: Olga Rudge, Box 115, Personal papers, ORP4/YCAL; see also Rome Daily American, 16 July 1965.
[20] The castle was cold: Conover, Caresse Crosby, 199.
[21] ‘‘I said truthfully’’: Caresse Crosby to Olga Rudge, 2 Oct 1965.
[22] ‘‘We have had a German TV crew’’: Olga Rudge to Caresse Crosby, 31 July 1965.
[23] ‘‘They ring my bell’’: Carpenter, A Serious Character, 897.
[24] ‘‘C’est moi dans la poubelle ’’: Olga Rudge interview, Ezra Pound: An American Odyssey (film), May–June 1981.
[25] Ezra ‘‘saw no-one but Greek friends’’: Olga Rudge, I Ching notebooks, 1980.
[26] ‘‘The patient was’’: Medical report of Prof. Cornelio Fazio, 1966, in Carpenter, A Serious Character, 891.
[27] Read ‘‘most beautifully’’: Olga Rudge to E. Heacock, 21 Aug 1966.
[28] ‘‘He is greatly missed’’: Olga Rudge to P. Heacock, 23 Aug 1966.
[29] ‘‘But the most striking thing’’: Olga Rudge to Bridson, 6 Dec 1966, ORP2/YCAL.
[30] Dr. Poldinger prescribed antidepressant drugs: Letter to Olga Rudge, 8 Mar 1967.
[31] ‘‘The other graves’’: Olga Rudge, I Ching notebooks, 1967.
[32] ‘‘For mercy’s sake ’’: Dorothy Shakespear Pound to Olga Rudge, 31 Jan 1967.
[33] ‘‘rather like leading ’round a . . . bear’’: Dorothy Shakespear Pound to Olga Rudge, 30 May 1967.
[34] ‘‘Thank you for your sweetness’’: Allen Ginsberg to Olga Rudge, 7 Nov 1967, ORP2/YCAL.
[35] Olga defended Ezra: Olga Rudge to Connolly, [nd] Nov 1967, ORP2/YCAL.
[36] ‘‘Miss Rudge was clearly the sea’’: Richard Stern, ‘‘A Memory or Two of Mr. Pound,’’ Paideuma (winter 1972).
[37] ‘‘Why is it, in old age?’’: Olga Rudge, I Ching notebooks.
[38] Their daily lives; Ezra’s comments: I Ching notebooks.
[39] ‘‘I do not foresee ’’: Olga Rudge to Hammond, 26 June 1969, ORP2/YCAL.
[40] Ezra’s dreams: I Ching notebooks, Box 101.
[41] ‘‘Remember the Hill?’’: Olga Rudge to Kathleen Richards Dale, 28 Jan 1969, ORP2/YCAL.