27 SEPTEMBER 1969, Page 14

BOOKS Pound revalued


Ezra Pound is now living in Venice. It seems the most appropriate habitation for the man who once said, 'Have I a country at all?' and whose restlessness prompted T. S. Eliot to note in him 'a kind of resistance to growing into any environment'. Venice was one of the first places he headed for when he was dismissed from his post at Wabash College because he was found with an act- ress in his room (it is typical of his generosity that he was only sharing his meal with her). It was in Venice that he published his first book of poems, A Lurne Spento, in 1908, and it was to Venice that he often returned for some new 'kick to the senses' or some `new perception'.

The strong Ruskinian streak in Pound, which felt that good art should be the natural blossoming of a good society, was inevitably influenced by the spectacle of the city which above all others seems to recall a time when life and art were at one. Venice, too, was associated with the lives and works of the two American expatriates whose example meant so much to Pound, Henry James and Whistler. In James he admired not only the dedication to craft and style but the concern for 'the rights of the individual against all sorts of intangible bondage'. Whistler, wrote Pound, bore 'the brunt of our America' and tried 'to wrench her impulse into art'; to that end he 'Had not one style from birth, but tried and pried/And stretched and tampered with the media'. In this homage to Whistler, written in 1912, Pound revealed the pro- gramme he had set himself.

One of Pound's favourite churches in Venice, so a friend of his told me, is S Maria dei Miracoli. It is mentioned in Canto 83 in which, following the important statement `Le Paradis n'est pas artificieP, Pound describes how Yeats could not really see Notre Dame because he was too preoccupied with the symbolic meaning which he had imposed on it:

Whereas in St Etienne or why not Dei Miracoli: mermaids, that carving, in the drenched tent there is quiet sered eyes are at rest.

The miracle is out there if we can but learn to see it. We do not have to project it on to the world around us. Paradise is not artificial. This is a central belief in Pound's vision.

And if one goes to have a closer look at `that carving' in Dei Miracoli, as I did, one can gain a revivified understanding of that vision. The fluid carvings on the many marble pillars show mermaids dividing, be- coming plants and trees, which in turn yield the features and outlines of animals and humans, the whole suggesting not a laborious unilinear evolutionary progress but rather a constant flowing and changing of organic forms—perpetual metamorphosis. This church not only calls to mind the incom- parable Canto 17, itself a poetic miracle which manages to re-enact the way Venice took form, emerging out of some elemental natural process (`and the white forest of marble, bent bough over bough'). It also reminds us of the central importance of

metamorphosis in the cantos, and helps us, perhaps, to understand why Ovid's work should be so crucial for Pound.

In Canto 2, for instance, Pound retells the story of the voyage of Dionysus to Naxos from Book 3 of the Metamorphoses, in which the god suddenly causes ivy and vines to twine and flower all over the ship while around his feet appear wild beasts in all their beauty and energy—lifeless air be- come sinewed'. The magical emergence of these forms 'out of nothing' is referred to again in Canto 90—`and where was nothing/ now is furry assemblage'—and it is related to the work of the artist architect—`the stone taking form in the air'. There is also a reference to Baucis and Philemon, again from Ovid, who were rewarded for their hospitality to the gods by being turned into trees at their death, the branches of which intertwined in a lasting embrace.

Donald Davie points out that this episode has been taken as the still centre of Ovid's work (it is indeed exactly half way through), and it returns us to Dei Miracoli where the living forms from all the elements are for- ever metamorphosing into each other, and are held forever in the stillness of marble. The cantos move from Homer's dark under- world to glimpses of a dazzling Dantesque paradise—`Gods moving in crystal . . . the light flowing, whelming the stars' (91), and at the middle of the sequence (before `Thrones' was added) is Canto 47, surely among the most beautiful pieces of poetry ever written. It brings together various re- generation myths and is itself a hymn to the procreative cycle. And this endless sequence is not seen as futile recurrence, but as miracle—the Venetian church is aptly named —and so far from being meaningless it is identical with love.

Trees die & the dream remains Not love but that love flows from it ex animo & cannot ergo delight in itself but only in the love flowing from it

That comes from one of the cantos written in St Elizabeth's mental hospital where Pound was detained from 1945 until 1958, having been found of 'unsound mind' and unfit to stand trial for the treasonable broadcasts he made for the Fascists at the end of the war. In his admirable book on Pound, Donald Davie suggests that while poetry may still show us how to evade or transcend history through myth, it will never again, after the example of Pound, show us how to understand history.

To understand a little better how Pound came to give those infamous talks, and to get the whole business in perspective, it helps to

know something about his life, and h Charles Norman's biography (Ezra Pou Macdonald 60s) is indispensable. It sho be noted that this is a reprinting of the American edition with very little revise (and in my copy some photographs repeated to the omission of others). H ever, its appearance is to be welcorn despite its necessary incompleteness, for has an astonishing story to tell.

It is the story of the birth and developm of modern poetry, for that is what Po incredible life and achievement amount From his early days studying Proven poetry at Hamilton and Romance langua at Pennsylvania (where he knew Will Carlos Williams), Pound went on to an patriate life of such activity and influe that one wonders, with Norman, where found the time and energy. Among th writers he discovered, or helped in so way, were Eliot, Joyce, Yeats, Wyndh Lewis, Robert Frost, E. E. Cumm Marianne Moore, Hemingway, and most those we think of as Imagists. It is much Norman's credit that he has managed track down so many of the meetings, vi dinner-parties, discussions, collaboran and communications, which make up background story of the development literature (and the other arts) this centu It is also to his credit that he can sen, elucidate the various movements in mod poetry in which Pound participated, manage to comment helpfully and in gently on the development of Pound's poetry. If we consider the number of m zines Pound was connected with, to say n ing of the voluminous correspondence maintained, we may wonder that he fo time to write his own poetry. It is mo% to keep coming across the warm testimoni of those who knew Pound: 'the most se tively generous of men' says Cour `magically gentle' says Cummings. encourage young writers, 'he would go any lengths of generosity and kindness' Eliot.

How then did the shaping spirit modern literature become a spokesman the destructive ideology of mid-cent Fascism? Norman has some pertinent thi to say about the connection between patriation and the dream of some order', which is so common among the m `exiles' of Pound's generation (Joyce a able exception). Pound once said : simply: I want a new civilisation', and though the crass materialism of his ho land was particularly infuriating to him, was not really satisfied with any of the E pean cultures he lived in. 'One has to k going east to keep one's mind alive' he and although in fact he has not visited Orient, he did, with the inspiration of allosa's papers, bring many fruitful eas ideas into western culture.

Unmistakably American yet citizen of where, he was trying to formulate the no of a new ideal civilisation by sifting out bringing together the deep truths which vious cultures had touched on in their %.% and most enduringly beautiful wri The tragedy was that he came to Mussolini as one of the great 'lovers ORDER', and Hitler as a saviour of civ tion, 'furious from perception'. Norma quite right to stress that Pound's inter economic theory and his obsession

usury came out of his 'concern for p‘ for the ordinary man struggling ag

economic odds'. He also felt that usury never produced a beautiful culture (, usura/hath no man a painted paradise on wall'). Much of his hatred of usury the 'cancer of the world' makes sense in conjunction with his dream of a ant and just society.

Infortunately he thought that 'only the eon's knife of Fascism' could cut out the -er. In addition he believed, following lbenius, that each race bad its own cul- I genius and this led him to oppose the erican 'melting pot' notion of society (see excellent article by Jack Stafford in the ember London Magazine). His anti- ,tism, though inexcusable, was largely a vette affair, with the Jew standing for as an almost abstract representative of force of usury (the Jewish poet Louis ofsky, whom Pound helped and encour- , testifies that he never felt a trace of -semitism in Pound). Inevitably by 5 Pound's 'ideas' came to seem more ter than perhaps they were.

is clear that during the 'thirties Pound's d became somewhat unbalanced; when cc met him once he thought he was mad.

friends testify to a growing hysteria frenzy in his manner, and clearly the 'apt to reform the twentieth century at I6els (he took to writing to heads of was taking its toll. Yeats perhaps hit right note when, in writing of Pound's rk in 1936, he spoke both of the `deliber- nobility' that it contained, and 'its direct osite, nervous obsession, nightmare, altering confusion'. In hospital, after the r. Pound jotted down in a memorandum himself 'coherent areas constantly in- has happened before to poets and n of vision.

But they didn't broadcast. Pound's undo- \■as the radio. I find it touching that in a or of 1940, not quoted by Norman, and complains to Ronald Duncan: sited friends left a goddam radio here God damn destructive and dispersive 11 of an invention. . . . And a double ,e of the blessedness of silence when the n thing is turned off.' As a result of some xplained Embassy incident Pound did not e Italy when war broke out, though it ears he tried to. Within a year he was dcasting from a Rome studio and his ssions were made sadly public. The adcasts were no doubt irresponsible—one ral of his life is that in dreams begin ponsibilities as well--but it is hard to gine that they influenced anyone or ermined anyone's morale, and the treat- nt he received after the war does seem to disproportionately harsh.

fter his release he said,. `No wonder my d hurts, all Europe fell on it. When I talk like an explosion in an art museum, you e to hunt around for the pieces'. For e years now he has hardly spoken- ence captured me'—and some people find the fragmentariness of the cantos proof Pound's inability to hold together all he gleaned on his journeyings. There are esttons from critics that his efforts are ing in failure. But as he says, 'What thou well is thy true heritage', and in one the last cantos there is still this: Persephone in the cotton-field

granite next sea wave

is for clarity

deep waters reflecting all fire

nueva lumbre,

Earth, Air, Sea...

us honour him for what he has loved. let us recognise with gratitude what he been—the indispensable regenerative for the poetry of our time.