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Ezra Pound and Hilda Doolittle, Dorothy Shakespear, Olga Rudge, …


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Ezra Pound and Hilda Doolittle, Dorothy Shakespear, Olga Rudge, …

Matteo Tantini (1984-2010)
2012, oil on canvas, 21×20 cm

Ezra Pound and Hilda Doolittle, Dorothy Shakespear, Olga Rudge, …

Matteo Tantini (1984-2010)

Ezra Pound and Hilda Doolittle, Dorothy Shakespear, Olga Rudge, …




Marie-Noëlle Little
The Troubadour (1905-40)*

In 1905, after graduating from Hamilton College, Ezra Pound returned to his hometown of Wyncote to attend graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, where he took courses in Latin, Italian, Old French, and Old Spanish. He also continued to pursue his study of the troubadours – a passion that would last for the rest of his life. After being awarded a Master of Arts degree in the spring of 1906, Ezra received a fellowship to work toward a doctorate. The title of his thesis was ‘The Gracioso in the plays of Lope de Vega.’ The choice of the topic may have been his professor’s more than his own, but the profile of the gracioso increasingly described Pound himself who, as a poet, often played the part of a juggler of words, and an acerbic wit, always at the service of his knight – Poetry.

His fellowship allowing him to travel to Europe, Ezra sailed off to Gibraltar and arrived in Madrid in early May, to start his research on Lope de Vega, but eventually spent most of his time visiting the Prado Museum and exploring the region. He continued on to southern France, visited Bordeaux, Blois, and Orléans, and then arrived in Paris, where he explored the city, before ending his pilgrimage in London. This territory was not new for the young American, who was returning to some of the places he had visited in 1898, as a thirteen-year-old on his first three-month Grand Tour, with his Aunt Frank and his mother. He went back in 1902 with his aunt and parents, but this third time around, he was traveling by himself.

Hilda Doolittle

Hilda Doolittle

When Ezra finally returned to Wyncote in August of 1906, he brought back Le secret des troubadours, a strange little book by the French Rosicrucian[1] Joséphin Péladan, bought in a small bookstore in the Latin Quarter in Paris. It was popular in France, but perhaps not the best choice for his first book review in a conservative Philadelphia publication, even though Ezra did not reveal all the details about the secret practices of the troubadours’ mysterious religion. He described the book as ‘filled with the snap of brilliant conclusions,’ but one of Pound’s biographers concluded that it was ‘a typically Rosicrucian hotchpotch of Gnostic religion, occultism, and vague sexuality.’[2] It was mostly an interest in occultism and mysticism that attracted Ezra to Péladan’s story, and Ezra’s own secret, if any, was his enchantment with Europe. Although Italy and Venice were not part of his travels in 1906, this was the time the young poet fell in love with Europe and found ‘the imaginative terrain of his life.’[3]

In troubadour style, Pound courted the women in his life – those he met as a young man and, later on, the ones he really loved – with veneration and respect, wrote them letters and poems, and gave them new names. Hilda Doolittle, whom he met during his freshman year in 1901, became ‘Dryad’ because she looked and behaved like a tree-nymph. She also became his fiancée, and then his disciple and life-long friend.

After his sojourn through Europe, Ezra resumed his studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 1906, but because of misunderstandings and quarrels with some of his professors, his doctoral fellowship was not renewed at the end of the academic year, and he had to look for work. He began tutoring in the summer of 1907 for a wealthy New Jersey family near Trenton, where he met his new girlfriend-to-be, Mary Moore. After a carefree summer, Ezra left for the Midwest, to start his first teaching job as lecturer in French and Spanish at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He adjusted the best he could to this small college and small town, while some of his students had to adjust to their gifted but eccentric teacher. The young poet may not have been their best teacher, but he loved to entertain discussion and to exchange ideas. He managed, nevertheless, to meet regularly with groups of students in the evening to discuss the arts. He had similar audiences at Hamilton College and almost everywhere throughout his life, including at St. Elizabeths. Ezra also wrote poems and corresponded with both Mary and Hilda. He sent Mary two ‘Villonaud’ poems celebrating the poet Villon and a ‘Na Audiart’ poem, which was a particularly interesting and dramatic monologue inspired by the story of the knight and troubadour Bertran de Born. The French troubadour was trying to create a composite portrait of the ideal Lady, from all the women he had known and desired, including Lady Audiart, as an attempt to seduce her. So was Ezra, it seems, since he was simultaneously courting Hilda, Mary Moore, and another Mary Moore (from Crawfordsville).

Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear (1910-1912)

Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear (1910-1912)

Unfortunately, one of Ezra’s female acquaintances, a girl from a burlesque show passing through town, led to the loss of his first academic job. According to some versions of the story, he rescued the actress in a snow storm and gave her his bed for the night. His two landladies immediately alerted the President of the college, and the young teacher-poet was fired. ‘The Crawfordsville incident’ did not help Ezra when he returned home to Wyncote nor when he sought to resume his studies at the University. By then, Mary Moore of Trenton was already engaged to someone else, so Ezra begged Hilda Doolittle to follow him to Italy. But when he asked Professor Doolittle for his daughter’s hand, the indignant father put an end to their hopes for a marriage with a withering remark to Pound: ‘Why, you’re nothing but a nomad!’[4]

So, once again, in March of 1908, the young American poet sailed off to Gibraltar on a grand new voyage, ready to conquer Europe, but without Hilda Doolittle. He may not have fully realized at the time how much his European experiences would shape his life, nor did he know that he was bound for an exile that would last some thirty years – and even more, if one does not count his 1939 visit to the U.S.[5] Years later, the significance of that voyage seems to have inspired Pound to open his first Canto with the image of a ship setting sail ‘on the godly sea.’[6]

After spending some time in Spain, Ezra traveled around northern Italy as a carefree troubadour ‘moving from castle to castle, singing his songs of love for woman after woman,’[7] before finally settling down in Venice, his beloved ‘Queen of the Adriatic.’ She helped him recover from his Wabash College wounds and provided him with another summer sheltered from reality. ‘Gods float in the azure air,’ the poet later wrote in the Cantos.[8] During this idyllic summer in Ezra’s life, an ominous situation, foreboding in its synchronicity, was developing: ‘in nearby Forli, a young man named Benito Mussolini was writing angry editorials for the socialist newspaper Avanti.’[9]

Venice’s ‘Bella Epoca’ was the scene of a new beginning for the young poet whose first book of poems, A Lume Spento,[10] was published (thanks to his settlement with Wabash College). He sent a copy to William Butler Yeats, who found the book ‘charming.’ ‘A Venetian critic’ in a London newspaper echoed Yeats’s sentiments: ‘This poet seems like a minstrel of Provence at a Suburban musical evening.’[11] The critic was apparently Ezra himself. Who else would have linked Provence with musical recitals but Ezra, the self-styled troubadour? He had, in fact, become a tour manager for his friend the pianist Katherine Ruth Heyman,[12] traveling to Venice, then Paris, and soon afterward to London.

Olga Rudge

Olga Rudge

Ezra reached London in August of 1908, full of energy and already ‘seeking what giants & dragons [he] may devour.’[13] Indeed, like a cowboy with ‘whip in hand,’ wearing a sombrero or one earring, the young American poet charmed, rallied, and also annoyed many a giant and dragon. Within two years he would be known all over London. He gave up being Katherine’s tour manager in favor of arranging his own literary ‘Grand Tour,’ with visits to publishers, bookshops, and tea parties, in addition to hours of writing poetry. He had tea at the home of ‘the most charming woman in London,’ Olivia Shakespear. Her daughter Dorothy was charming as well – or rather, she was charmed by Ezra. Olivia had fallen in love, years earlier, with one of the giants, William Butler Yeats (later called the ‘Eagle’). Ezra was anxious to meet this Irish bard, whom he considered to be the greatest living poet writing in English. He soon courted both Olivia and Yeats (who no longer were lovers), and did not pay much attention to Dorothy.

When his new collection of poems, Personae, became a sensation in literary circles in the spring of 1909, Yeats declared Pound ‘a great authority on the troubadours,’ and critics praised his perfect ear for verbal music.[14] By then, Ezra had joined a new gang, the Poets’ Club.[15] The young troubadour was indeed fortunate to meet influential people, who in turn introduced him to others, in a social whirlwind that was at times hard to follow. He gave lectures on medieval Romance literature, later published in his first critical book, The Spirit of Romance, thus keeping alive his ‘temperamental sympathy’ with the troubadours.

Even though Yeats had declared, ‘There is no younger generation (of poets). E. P. is a solitary volcano,’[16] Ezra was still trying to ‘make it big’ in London. In addition to writing and publishing, he often reviewed his own works anonymously. Anxious to become financially independent, he had also started applying for jobs in the United States, where he finally returned in the summer of 1910. In New York City he tried a money-making scheme with a Frank (‘Baldy’) Bacon he knew; but things did not work out. The young troubadour was much more successful in seeing his ‘court,’ Hilda and friends from Hamilton College days, again. He also met with Witter Bynner, poetry editor for McClure’s, who was more interested in his ‘happily cuckoo troubadour’ outfit (‘one tan and one blue shoe, and a “shiny straw hat” with a ribbon adorned with “red polka dots” ’) than in his poetry.[17] The young Londoner’s poetry did not impress the newly formed Poetry Society of America either (and the feeling was mutual).

By February of 1911, Ezra was back in Europe and, by August, back in London. London was, of course, the place to be, even though Ezra was soon off to Paris, where he started working with Walter Rummel on the music of the troubadours and also on some troubadour translations. Back in London, Ezra saw Dorothy Shakespear to whom he was more or less engaged by now, but soon Hilda arrived, followed by Mary Moore. Ezra’s friend Rummel complicated things by telling Hilda about Dorothy. It would have been as impossible to separate this young troubadour’s work from his circle of friends, as it later would be to separate the Cantos from some of his politics and ideas.

Ezra’s main excuse for leaving the United States (as he wrote to his parents) had been the lack of anything new in New York for him, at least for his own work – poetry. In London, he found what he wanted, the opportunity to create a new literary movement. Ezra rallied his friends, Richard Aldington and Hilda Doolittle, who became ‘Imagistes,’ almost overnight, it seems. Others soon joined or were inspired by the movement, one of the most ardent followers being T. S. Eliot. Then, Hilda and Aldington emerged as a couple, married, and followed Ezra to Paris in the spring of 1912, where he was to work with Walter Rummel on troubadour music and do some research of his own.

Ezra’s research led him to map out what may have been even more significant for him – a long walking tour of Provence in the summer, following Justin H. Smith’s route as described in his book The Troubadours at Home, going from castle to castle, covering some twenty-five miles a day. He was finally ‘home’ again, recording some of his impressions in poetic forms: ‘I have seen the fields, pale, clear as an emerald/ Sharp peaks, high spurs, distant castles.’[18] This would be one of several such walking tours through the years to come. And much later on, in Pisa and at St. Elizabeths, the old troubadour wrote about many of those roads in his Cantos. They were his ‘secret garden.’

Dorothy Pound

Dorothy Pound

Back in London, Ezra continued to be a loyal troubadour by serving others, and also poetry. Harriet Moore started the American quarterly Poetry in 1912 with Ezra as ‘foreign correspondent,’ a position in which he flourished. Ezra sent her many poems, including his friends’ work, and the school of Imagism was officially launched in the March 1913 issue. He was very much at home in his role of editor and even more so in his new role as Yeats’s secretary (and soon, his editor!). During those years, Ezra helped many a giant and dragon – including Robert Frost, D. H. Lawrence, Wyndham Lewis, James Joyce, and T. S. Eliot – with their finances, as well as with their writing. Amy Lowell, who was also in London, soon seemed to appropriate Imagism after Pound and Lewis turned to Vorticism, a more intensive movement that included all the arts. The first issue of Blast: Review for the Great English Vortex followed, in 1914. And so did the First World War, which a year later claimed one of Ezra’s best friends, the sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. ‘There died a myriad, / And of the best, among them / . . . Charm, smiling at the good mouth, / Quick eyes gone under earth’s lid,’ Ezra later wrote.[19]

Ezra and Dorothy Shakespear married in 1914 and spent most of the war years in London, and with Yeats at his Stone Cottage in Sussex. Ezra was also the official (but unpaid) literary agent to Eliot, Lewis, and Joyce, among others. At the same time, he started exploring new territory with Japanese and then Chinese texts, poems, and translations. He published his walking tours of Provence in Poetry and started working on his ‘endless poem,’ of which Three Cantos appeared, one by one, in Poetry, in 1915.

A striking portrait by E. O. Hoppé of Ezra Pound in London in 1918 offers a perfect example of a talented photographer able to catch what others – even the Imagists – could not put into words. Pound, who had not yet committed any of his political errors, was as grandly impressive in the photograph as his reputation in the European literary world was at the time. The young poet with an eagle-like profile seems too big for the chair he is barely sitting on, his hand curved like a claw, his coat too long and spread on the floor, and his legs reaching almost outside the frame – as if he were a giant of heroic proportions. Pound, who described his own birth as that of the ‘infant Gargantua,’ had become a striking person, a passionate artist, and a poet who was larger-than-life. Although Joyce later called him ‘a miracle of ebulliency, gusto and help,’[20] Pound’s behavior had started to change around 1916. He was often tactless, imperious, irritated, or irritating (in his letters, at least). Pound, the literary critic, was also becoming a critic of society; and meeting Clifford Hugh Douglas, founder of the ‘ Social Credit’ movement, near the end of WWI, marked the beginning of his life-long quest for social and economic reform, among other ideals.

Ezra was still a troubadour at heart, however, and in 1919, he took off for another even longer walking tour of Provence with Dorothy (joined by Eliot later on). He continued working on his ‘endless rhapsody’[21] of the Cantos and, around that time, was also writing Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, a sequence of poems on the London literary scene of the time. When the poem was published in late April of 1920, the Pounds did not realize that its publication would mark their farewell to England and signal a significant departure in Pound’s life as a poet.

Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear; Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear,

Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear; Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear, Their Letters: 1909-1914, New York: New Directions Books, 1984.

The ‘solitary volcano’ that Yeats had met in 1909 finally erupted in the Paris of the Roaring Twenties, but Pound’s experience during the few years he spent there had more of an effect on others than on himself. This was no longer the Paris he had known before the war. The quintessential ‘American in Paris’ was not Ezra Pound, but George Gershwin, strolling through the streets of the Gai Paris in 1920, absorbing sounds, impressions, and moods for his famous orchestral tone poem. Paris was all music, all art, and all fashion – a much needed, joyous atmosphere after La Grande Guerre. For the French, the Roaring Twenties were Les Années Folles, the crazy years of Cocteau, Picabia, Brancusi, the Dadaists, the Surrealists, and other groups, whose company the troubadour enjoyed. What was also ‘roaring’ in Paris, besides new cars and horns ‘à la Gershwin,’ was the music: Stravinsky, Ravel, Copeland, Thomson, Satie, ‘Les Six’ (including Milhaud, Poulenc, Honneger). The premiere of George Antheil’s Ballet Mécanique even led to a riot. Meeting Antheil and working with him inhluenced Pound in his own musical compositions, as did his introduction to Olga Rudge, an American violinist.[22] Although the troubadour was not a composer, his opera, Le Testament de Villon, ‘anticipated the style of a number of modern composers who chose to learn from medieval music.’[23] In June of 1926, Pound was in Paris for the première of Le Testament de Villon, attended by Joyce, Hemingway, Eliot, and also Djuna Barnes and Virgil Thomson. A year later, when Olga Rudge tried to introduce Antheil’s music to Mussolini, she unintentionally became the link between Mussolini and Pound.

Ezra, who felt at home in the French capital, started dressing and acting like a poet, but an older, more dignified one than the young Londoner he had been, wearing a black cape and a velvet béret and carrying an ebony cane.[24] The Pounds soon moved closer to the famous cafés where Ezra spent much of his time. Sylvia Beach’s new bookstore and lending library, Shakespeare and Company, was a popular place to gather, and Sylvia used her business to help publish Joyce’s Ulysses in 1922. The other lost soul, besides Joyce, was Eliot. By the time The Waste Land was published, with its dedication ‘for E.P. /miglior fabbro/ from T.S.E. / Jan. 1923,’ Eliot was known as a saint and Pound as the best ‘craftsman’ since Arnaut Daniel.[25] Pound also met E. E. Cummings, whose poems he had promoted while in London, and who later referred to Pound as ‘the true trailblazer of an epoch.’[26] The other giant on that trail was Ernest Hemingway, and according to the legend, Hem’ taught Ezra to box while Ezra taught him to write.[27] The results were Hemingway’s prose vignettes, edited by Pound and published as in our time, and soon thereafter, a contract for Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises (published in 1926). As the literary reputations of Hemingway and others were ascending, the troubadour was tiring of Paris and preparing to move on.

Had Paris in the mid-1920s become too noisy, too distracting, or just too constricting for the American eagle of a poet? Was Paris too much of a village for the nomad and troubadour-at-heart? Or had Pound simply realized that he was not the only American in Paris? He had declared a few years earlier, that a new historical period he called ‘the Pound Era’[28] had begun. In retrospect, the opposite was true. The earlier London and Paris years, between 1908 and 1924, constituted the praiseworthy and productive ‘ Pound Era.’ The period that followed – a truly ‘ historical period’ because it ended with the Second World War – was marked by Pound’s involvement in politics and ideologies that tarnished his name and eventually led to his arrest. Those years were nevertheless devoted to composing T e Cantos, reminiscent in its epic proportions to La Légende des siècles [The Legend of the Ages] that Victor Hugo wrote in part during his twenty-year, forced political exile.

In the fall of 1924, Ezra and Dorothy Pound left Paris for Italy and chose to live on the Ligurian coast, in Rapallo, described by Yeats as ‘the thin line of broken mother-of-pearl along the water’s edge.’[29] Pound had never wanted children, but soon after he settled in Rapallo, his mistress, Olga Rudge, discreetly gave birth to their daughter Maria, in July of 1925 in northern Italy. A year later, Pound’s wife Dorothy gave birth to her son Omar in Paris. Omar was primarily raised in England by his grandmother until he went off to boarding school. Maria, raised by a Tyrolian family on a farm in the small village of Gais in the northern Alps[30] until her teenage years, visited her parents off and on. Olga moved to Venice to be closer to Pound, and later to the hills near Rapallo. A gifted violinist, she had a positive influence on Pound and inspired his work, as did the pianist Katherine Ruth Heyman, the other female musician in his life.[31]

The mid-1920s and the 1930s were, in most ways, intense and productive years for the poet, who worked on many of his Cantos and pamphlets. A regular flow of writers and friends visited Ezra and Dorothy Pound in Rapallo, some returning every year and some, such as Yeats, deciding to move there and join the colony of American and British exiles, including Pound’s parents. New disciples were attending ‘Ezuversity’ seminars, which took the form of discussions, often at Pound’s favorite restaurant around lunch time, or even after a game of tennis or a swim.[32] Among them was eighteen-year-old James Laughlin, Pound’s publisher-to-be.

Mary de Rachewiltz, daughter of Ezra Pound.

Mary de Rachewiltz, daughter of Ezra Pound.

While on the surface these appeared to be good years, something had changed in Pound’s character. Some noted that he had lost touch with reality; they found his correspondence alarming and his Cantos difficult to understand, while others were simply shocked by his behavior. John Brown, a student at Hamilton College, wondered what had happened to ‘the high priest of Imagism,’ who was now just ‘the editor of an obscure little transatlantic monthly called Exile,’[33] a literary journal that became more and more political in tone, despite Hemingway’s warnings about the dangers of mixing poetry and politics. Pound also fell under the influence of two French intellectuals with Fascist and anti-Semitic leanings: Louis-Ferdinand Céline and especially Charles Maurras.[34] Although he admired Céline mostly as a great writer, Pound later quoted several of his anti-Semitic remarks in his radio broadcasts.[35]

Pound’s meeting with Mussolini in 1933 was, of course, a catalytic event, but by then Pound was already on a singular path, drifting farther away from Joyce, Yeats, and Wyndam Lewis, and devoting more and more energy ‘to free the world from the vices of Usura or Monetary Crime’[36] and from the tides of war. Pound’s writings were often attacks, and some of his letters were angry in tone. Sadly, by the late 1930s Pound was no longer in tune with many of his old friends, although he kept attracting young poets and being himself attracted by new ideas.

If it had not been for the war, Pound might have resumed his walking tours through Provence and his work on the music of the troubadours. His favorite instrument, however, was his typewriter. He used it almost as a pistol, firing away in a fury, rattling and pounding, ignoring punctuation as much as civility, oblivious to the casualties of lost friendships and diminished respect. Like Mussolini who, a quarter of a century earlier, had been writing angry editorials for socialist newspapers, Pound wrote over one hundred articles and letters to periodicals in 1934, and even more in 1935. He wrote too much, often in a frenzy, and became impatient and intolerant. He continued writing to Mussolini and started writing to United States Congressmen and Senators. He even wrote to President Roosevelt, at first hoping to take part in the New Deal, and then trying to educate the President about Social Credit, as he had tried to do with Mussolini. Pound’s friends had encouraged him to return to America on more than one occasion in 1937 and 1938 to lecture and to visit; but when he finally sailed to New York in the spring of 1939, he was on a crusade to help stop the war, or at least to prevent Roosevelt from leading the U.S. into the war. Pound believed that America would benefit from his political insight at this critical juncture as much as England had benefited from his literary leadership two decades earlier. The difference was that Pound had remarkable talent as a poet, but not as an emissary for peace.

The one person anxiously awaiting Pound’s visit (and rarely mentioned, if at all, in Pound biographies) was James Jesus Angleton, the famous spy-to-be. At the time, Angleton was a young Yale University student, eager to make a name for himself in the literary world. He had already interviewed and photographed Pound[37] in Rapallo in 1938 and had been ‘incorporating [himself] into a sort of Ezra Pound information bureau’ ever since (as if in training for his future counterintelligence networks). Angleton not only wanted Pound to be the ‘Godfather’ of his newly launched magazine, Furioso (with its first issue to include Pound’s ‘Introductory Text-Book’), but also wanted to invite him to give a poetry reading at Yale and, with the help of Archibald MacLeish, at Harvard University.[38] Just one day before Pound’s arrival in New York, Angleton wrote to him about a ‘wide open’ field, the radio!

Maybe this will interest you. MacLeish is the innovator and he is writing about it for the first issue. The idea is that every American has a couple of ears and that the ear is half poet. That by radio a vast crowd is reached which gets the muse by flicking a button. Hence whole masses can hear and obviously enjoy poetry. The poet chooses social subjects and whatever he pleases. …The field is wide open. After MacLeish’s AIR RAID broadcast, the station received more letters from all over than ever before. From farmers and all other classes. This is good and we have only started. Please comment.[39]

Angleton was anxious to hear the ‘sage,’ but did not realize that he might have given Pound – who had heard a radio broadcast of his opera Villon in 1931 – new ideas about using the air waves for matters other than poetry and music.

During his two-month American tour, Pound stayed mostly with friends, among them the Cummings in New York and William Carlos Williams in New Jersey. Some were annoyed by his political statements, others surprised by his appearance. Expecting to see ‘a dashing bohemian in a French béret,’ they saw instead a tired-looking man holding a brown paper bag for his overnights.[40] Williams, as a physician, was also worried about his old friend’s well-being, and he was right in his diagnosis: ‘the man is sunk, in my opinion, unless he can shake the fog of fascism out of his brain.’[41]

While in Washington, Pound attended a session of Congress and had a chance to meet with Congressman George Tinkham of Massachusetts, Senator William Borah of Idaho, Under Secretary of State Christian Herter, and many other known and less known politicians; but he never made it to the White House, as his request to meet with President Roosevelt was not honored. The political troubadour had failed in his attempts to convince his country or even his friends about the need to reform the economy. Pound was also on a mission to reform education and to clean up what he called the ‘filth of the Universities,’[42] in particular, the way history was taught in America. Nevertheless, at Yale University, he was limited to the topic of modern poetry, with the excuse that economics might be ‘over-technical’ for Yale students.[43] After the visit, Angleton drove

Pound to Cambridge, where he was scheduled to give a poetry reading at Harvard University (and where he also had a chance to meet Archibald MacLeish for the first time). This was his first reading in years, since the ones for BLAST, and students listening to him reading and yelling may have thought it was a real ‘blast.’ The same was true during the recording of some of Pound’s poems, which he asked to read accompanied by kettle drums.

During his American tour, Pound was better at playing tennis and beating all of his partners at Yale, Harvard, and Hamilton. His alma mater bestowed on him an honorary degree with a long citation recognizing his achievements and saluted him at the commencement ceremony with an à propos remark:

Your Alma Mater, however, is an old lady who has not always understood where you have been going, but she has watched you with interest and pride if not always with understanding. The larger public has also been at times amazed at your political and economic as well as your artistic credo, and you have retaliated by making yourself – not unintentionally perhaps – their gadhly.[44]

After the ceremony, when another honored guest made some anti- Fascist remarks, Pound entered into a heated argument with him.

Pound sailed back to Italy on June 17, with plans to return soon, but his return trip had to be postponed because of America’s involvement in the war. Angleton kept him posted on his progress in organizing an exhibit of Pound works at the Y ale Library and in inviting him to deliver the Yale Bergen Lecture.[45] Angleton repeatedly suggested that Pound send all his manuscripts and letters to Yale, to be stored there safely.[46] Pound had also exchanged letters with Angleton’s father in Milan, and they saw each other again in Rapallo.

Pound was certainly concerned about the outbreak of the war, but because he was living in Italy, he was somewhat sheltered from it at first, and was therefore able to resume his work on the Cantos.[47] Music continued to play an important role in his relationship with Olga Rudge. The couple worked on Vivaldi concerti they had discovered and organized several concerts, which spurred on the Vivaldi revival after the war.[48] Playing tennis was also part of Ezra’s daily life, and he kept Olga informed of his victories on the courts, while commenting on the hostilities. Olga replied, ‘All the Brits running ‘round in gas masks and Him piling up tennis scores?’ and she added, ‘Whoever will be editing His epistles in the year 2000 will be surprised.’[49]

While Europe was at war, in Rapallo, Pound was Il poeta, dressed like a prince or a member of the Riviera crowd; once again, a commanding figure, seemingly larger than life:

All around people stopped moving. It was as if a siren had sounded and nobody could hear anything or even move until it had stopped. …They were all looking at a man advancing in giant strides. He was tall and broad, with a pointed beard. He had on a white suit that, large though he was, literally flowed from him. The spotless trousers wrapped around his legs as he walked, the shining coat billowed in the breeze. There was a towel tied about his waist and the fringe from it bobbed rhythmically. His hat, which was white too, had been slapped on at a dashing angle. He marched by me, swinging a cane, ignoring the awed Italians, his eyes on an interesting point in space.[50]

After looking like a revolutionary Yankee in London and a poète maudit in Paris, Pound (now a doctor of letters) finally looked like one of the respected notables in Rapallo, but he was distinctive enough that passersby would stop to look at him. And that ‘interesting point in space’ could be read as a metaphor for Pound’s obsessions – one of which was his opposition to the war, as attested by the many letters, riddled though they were with pro- Mussolini and pro– Hitler sentiments, that he wrote in those years hoping to prevent the outbreak of the conflict. Like the troubadours of the crusades, Ezra Pound had become combative in his eagerness to save the world.

* Marie-Noëlle Little; The Knight and the Troubadour - Dag Hammarskjöld and Ezra Pound,
Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, Uppsala, Sweden, 2010, pp. 25-42.


[1] The Rosicrucians are a secret society of mystics, formed in late medieval Germany.
[2] Carpenter, 67.
[3] Peter Ackroyd, Ezra Pound and His World (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1980), 117.
[4] Carpenter, 82.
[5] Pound’s exile (not counting his 1910 and 1939 visits) lasted 37 years.
[6] The Cantos of Ezra Pound ( London: Faber and Faber, 1987), 3.
[7] J. J. Wilhelm, The American Roots of Ezra Pound (New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1985), 192.
[8] The Cantos, 11.
[9] Wilhelm, American Roots, 193.
[10] ‘With Quenched Tapers’ (a citation from Dante, describing a burial ceremony).
[11] Both quotes are in Carpenter, 95.
[12] Pound had met her while he was at Hamilton College.
[13] Carpenter, 97.
[14] Michael Reck, Ezra Pound: A Close-Up (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1967), 13.
[15] Members included T. E. Hulme, F. S. Flint, and Ford Madox Ford (editor of the English Review).
[16] Carpenter, 137.
[17] Carpenter, 151.
[18] In ‘Provincia Deserta’ (Personae), quoted by James Laughlin, Pound as Wuz: Essays and Lectures on Ezra Pound (Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 1987), 79.
[19] Hugh Selwyn Mauberley. Selected Poems of Ezra Pound (New York: New Directions, 1957), 64.
[20] Louis Menand, ‘The Pound Error,’ New Yorker, June 9 & 16, 2008. 123.
[21] Carpenter, 354.
[22] Pound’s liaison with Olga Rudge grew into a lifelong relationship.
[23] Carpenter, 391. See selections from Le Testament in ‘Ego Scriptor Cantilenae: The Music of Ezra Pound,’ CD 1005-2, Other Minds, 2003.
[24] John Tytell, Ezra Pound: The Solitary Volcano (New York: Doubleday, 1987), 167.
[25] The dedication was later changed to ‘For Ezra Pound/ Il miglior fabbro’ by Eliot when the poem was reprinted. ‘Il Miglior Fabbro’ was also the title Pound had given to his chapter on Arnaut Daniel in The Spirit of Romance (and originally, Dante’s praise for Daniel). See Carpenter, 415-16.
[26] Carpenter, 402.
[27] ‘He’s teaching me to write . . . and I’m teaching him to box,’ declared Hemingway (Carpenter, 424).
[28] Tytell, 7.
[29] E. Fuller Torrey, The Roots of Treason: Ezra Pound and the Secrets of St. Elizabeths ( London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1984), 122.
[30] Like her father, the ‘infant Gargantua,’ born in a small mining town in Idaho, and her great grandfather, Thaddeus Pound, born in a log cabin and raised as a Quaker. Maria later changed her name to Mary when attending a boarding school in Florence.
[31] In a 1920 review of one of Olga’s recitals for The New Age [under the pseudonym of William Atheling], Pound’s praise for the ‘delicate firmness of her fiddling,’ echoed his description, many years earlier, of Katherine’s ‘dreaming fingers’ (Carpenter, 378).
[32] A Pound scholar attending the 2005 Pound conference in Rapallo asked to see ‘ Ezuversity’ as if it were a real university.
[33] As he wrote in ‘A Troubadour at Hamilton’ (op. cit., Prologue), Brown did not know yet that he would soon follow Pound’s footsteps, majoring in medieval studies and Romance languages, and spending time in Paris before and after the war, meeting Sylvia Beach and others. During the war he most probably also met Archibald MacLeish, and James Angleton when he was at the Offices of War Information and of Strategic Services.
[34] Céline’s famous Journey to the End of the Night (1932) was followed by several anti-Semitic and Fascist pamphlets; and Maurras was at the head of the right-wing anti-Semitic Action Française. See Tytell, 228; Carpenter, 588-89.
[35] Controversy erupted in France when Céline appeared on (and was removed from) the 2011 list of national commemorations. The 50th anniversary of one of France’s most read and translated writers will not be commemorated because of his anti-Semitism. tag/louis-ferdinand-celine/
[36] Wilhelm, American Roots, 210.
[37] Angleton gave two of his Pound photos to the F.B.I. in 1943.
[38] Angleton also mentioned waking up a friend at 2 a.m. to play Pound’s Villon on his violin in his pajamas, and saying that ‘he hadn’t played anything with such strangeness.’ Angleton to Pound, January 19, 1939 (Ezra Pound Papers, Beinecke Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT).
[39] Angleton to Pound, 19 April, 1939 (Beinecke).
[40] J. J. Wilhelm, Ezra Pound: The Tragic Years 1925-1972 (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994), 152.
[41] Williams to Laughlin, June 7, 1939 (Carpenter, 562).
[42] Carpenter, 557.
[43] Andrew Manning to Pound, April 25, 1939 (Beinecke).
[44] See full speech in C. David Heymann, Ezra Pound: The Last Rower (New York: The Viking Press, 1976), 90.
[45] The professor in charge of the Bergen Lecture had been opposed to inviting him, with the excuse that ‘Pound is crazy.’
[46] Most of them ended up at Yale, after Pound’s death.
[47] Cantos LII-LXXI were published by Faber and Faber in January, 1940.
[48] Carpenter, 520-21.
[49] Anne Conover, Olga Rudge and Ezra Pound: ‘What Thou Lovest Well . . .’ (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2001), 138. Olga and Ezra always addressed each other in the third person (which later confused the F.B.I.).
[50] Elizabeth Delehanty, ‘A Day with Ezra Pound,’ New Yorker, April 13, 1940. 92-93.



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