How to start talking about this book? Ezra Pound is an American poet included in the ModPo syllabus section regarding Imagism. Pound laid out the principles of Imagism in March 1913. My knowledge of Pound had been limited to this. When I saw a very brief mention of this book and its subject matter I was taken by surprise. Ezra Pound spent time in an insane asylum? I wanted to find out more.
This book is not a biography, but it does cover the period from 1945, when Pound was captured in Italy, his extradition to the U.S. to stand trial for treason, and his stay in St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C., through 1958. Pound had made many anti-American, anti-British, pro-Mussolini radio broadcasts in Italy, which resulted in the charge of treason. He never stood trial because he was found to be insane. At Age 72, the authorities said that his condition was permanent. Therefore, they said, he would never be able to stand trial and should be discharged from St. Elizabeths. He was then released, and moved back to Italy.
As the subtitle of the book indicates, The Poetry, Politics, and Madness of Ezra Pound, it was all very complicated and murky. Was he insane, or as some felt, faking it? What can be found in his life’s work, The Cantos, some of which were written before St. Elizabeths and others while he was in residence there? The author says we should not cherry-pick the Cantos to find what we’re looking for (or to find the lyrical or tender lines that appeal to us) and ignore the reprehensible. (Modern day terms such as Alt-Right and White Supremacists come to mind when one reads about Pound’s views.) But the author does quote certain lines. For instance, in a fragment sometimes numbered Canto 119, written near the end of Pound’s life, there is this:
I have tried to write Paradise
Do not move
Let the wind speak
that is paradise.
Let the Gods forgive what I
Let those I love try to forgive
what I have made.
Had he really changed? The author comes at his subject from many angles, and I cannot possibly cover them all here. I’m glad I read the book, but I don’t consider it a must-read for poetry lovers.