Ezra Pound was arguably the finest American-born poet and a first rate Classical scholar. He happened to be born in Idaho, a state not noted for either its poets or Classicists. It was, however, a center of the American Populist Movement, which pitted the (usually family) farmer against the banks and railroads. The Populists called themselves “National-Socialists,” long before that term was heard in Europe.
Pound was born in 1885, making him less than two-years younger than his later hero, Benito Mussolini. This was at the apex of the Populist movement. The Populist Party’s platform for the 1886 election was almost entirely written by Edward Bellamy. Bellamy was a novelist-journalist, whose utopian work, Looking Backward had sold over 1 million copies in the U.S. alone.
Looking Backward is set in the year 2000, and recounts the victory of National-Socialism: the nationalization of the banks and railroads, along with a host of reforms to alleviate the lot of the working-man without invoking Marxism. The syndicalism of Georges Sorel was a major influence upon the Populists, as it was upon the one-time Socialist, Benito Mussolini.
(Mussolini had been named “Benito,” which is not an Italian name, by his anarchist father, in honor of Benito Juárez, the Mexican revolutionary responsible for the execution of Maximilian. Actually, Juárez didn’t last that long: he was disposed of by his lieutenant Díaz, who proceeded to set up a dictatorship, which was 100-times more repressive than anything envisioned by the liberal Austrian Arch-Duke, who had been tricked by Napoleon III into accepting a “crown,” which was created by the French, the Catholic Church, and the Mexican latifundiastas: huge landowners. One should remember that the Spanish Habsburgs had ruled Mexico for centuries. The Habsburg arms — the Roman Double Eagle — are to be found on the Governor’s House in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which was founded during the Habsburg era. So Maximilian, being offered the crown as Emperor of Mexico wasn’t off-the-wall.)
What happened with the Populists? Basically, William Jennings Bryan stole their rhetoric; and Theodore Roosevelt along with Taft gave support to the trade-union movement. Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech, in support of the free-silver movement, caused the Populists to support Bryan, and they shared in Bryan’s defeat. Imperialism was the impetus of the hour, as the U.S. attacked and defeated Spain, taking what remained of the Spanish Empire (and sending the Marines to the Philippines, to show them that it was merely a “change of title,” by shooting half-a-million of the “liberated”).
Oscar Wilde once commented, “When a good American dies, he goes to Paris.” Pound didn’t wait until he was dead before leaving the Land of the Free and Hopelessly Vulgar. By 1908, he was living in London. In 1920, he moved to Paris (which was less expensive); and in 1924, he moved to Italy, where he was to remain until the U.S. Army brought him back to the Land of the Victorious and Hopelessly Vulgar — in a cage! Pound was an ardent Fascist and remained one until the day of his death, well over 30 years after the Duce and his mistress, Clara Petacchi, were hung like sides of beef from the rafters of a bombed-out gas station in Milan.
Pound found in Fascist Italy both the “National-Socialism” of the Populists plus a reawakening of the “civilizing” mission of Ancient Rome, of which Pound (the Classicist) was so fond. Pound referred to his poems as “Cantos” — lyrics! — which drew upon the greatest Euro-poets, from Homer on, as their inspiration; and, in his Pisan Cantos (written while confined to a cage in Pisa after WWII, and for which he was awarded the 1949 Bollingen Prize in Poetry) incorporating inspiration from that other great High Culture: the Culture of Confusian China. What was Pound doing in a U.S. Army cage? Awaiting some decision by the U.S. government as to what to do with its most famous poet — who had regularly broadcast pro-Axis speeches from 1941 on!
In the Plutocratic-Marxist alliance of WWII, he found all he had despised since his youth: the joint determination of Bankers and Barbarians to destroy Western Civilization (which, in Pound’s view was personified in Fascist Italy, with Germany a distant second). His slim prose work Jefferson and/or Mussolini drew attention to Jefferson loathing of banks and compared the tyranny of International Finance with British Mercantilism, finding the former worse than the latter. His anti-Semitic speeches were directed solely against Jewish financial control. (Unlike most anti-Semites, he was rabid in his loathing of Jewish financial interests, but totally indifferent toward the Jews qua Jews and was quite disturbed when Mussolini sanctioned the deportation of Italian Jews, who were obviously not financiers.) He described Italian Fascism as “paternally authoritarian” and subscribed to the view that freedom was for those who’d earned it. He described the American concept of free speech as merely “license”: “Free speech, without radio free speech is zero!” was a comment he made in one of his own broadcasts.
Although manifestly guilty of treason under U.S. law, the government felt embarrassed at the prospect of trying him, so they had some medical hacks from the military certify he was insane, and committed him to St. Elizabeths, the federal asylum in Washington from 1946 until 1958, when he was allowed to leave, providing he immediately left the country. That he did, returning to Italy; his last act in the U.S. being to accord the Statue of Liberty the Roman/Fascist salute!
The first of the “Cantos” had appeared in 1917. The last (96-109: Thronos) in 1959. The Whole he considered one vast epic poem, on a Homeric scale; however, it is more an epic reflecting the maturity of an artist and Classicist, in an age which marked the decline of both. One can see in influence of Yeats (who was also markedly pro-Fascist, but died before that could produce a crisis ), Ford Maddox Ford and James Joyce were “cross pollinators” with Pound. T. S. Eliot and Ernest Hemingway [. . .] died before him; therefore, Ezra Pound became the last of the expatriate artists, a tradition that began with Henry James. Certainly some brief excerpt of his work is called for. The following is taken from one of the Pisan Cantos, written in the cage:
this breath wholly covers the mountains
it shines and divides
it nourishes by its rectitude
does no injury
overstanding the earth it fills the nine fields
Boon companion to equity
it joins with the process
lacking it, there is inanition
When the equities are gathered together
as birds alighting
it springeth up vital
If deeds be not ensheaved and garnered in the heart
there is inanition.
I selected this example, because it draws upon the High Culture of China for inspiration, and incorporates within this a Classical maxim, which even those who know no Latin should be aware of. The final phrase (“if deeds be not ensheaved and garnered in the heart / there is inanition”) is a restatement of ACTA NON VERBA! (For those denied access to a dictionary of sufficient scope, “inanition” means “emptiness, a need – like a need for food or drink.”)
So Pound combines the essence of Mandarian art with the essence of the West, affirming the Spenglerian premise that all High Cultures are “transportable.” How many full-time Western symphony orchestras does Tokyo support? EIGHT! (Pound,by the way, was a excellent bassoonist.)
Leaving aside all other considerations, Ezra Pound — Poet and Traitor — PROVES the essential unity of all Euros. From Hailey, Idaho to London, Paris, Rapallo, Rome, an asylum in Washington, D.C. back to die in his beloved Rapallo (where the aging Gore Vidal now spends most of his time), Pound showed that no part of Magna Europa is alien to any Euro. Art, like an orchid, requires a special soil, a special climate to blossom in. A poet was born in the prairies of Idaho, but his genius could not thrive in the same soil as potatoes. Even as thousands of years before, the genius of Ovid atrophied in Tomis, where Augustus had banished him (Ovid had a great influence on Pound), so the genius of Ezra (what a horrid name!) Pound, Classicist, Poet-Supreme, would have atrophied in that backwater of Magna Europa. And so the Euro had to return to the primal soil, that his genius might bloom — yes, and be driven into treason, lest greed and barbarism destroy Magna Europa. “If this be treason, let us make the most of it!” Patrick Henry admonished his colleagues. Pound made as much of it as he could.
That what he saw as a deadly threat to his Race-Culture, he put ahead of the color of his passport may be heinous or not. That is not the issue. The issue is that Hailey, Idaho could give Magna Europa one of Her greatest poets, whose greatness ensued in the main from his ability to absorb all that had gone before and say it anew — even deploying adoptive forms!
Knut Hamsun’s Growth of the Soil
Even the Military Sees Middle Americans as Nazis
Thoughts on the Spanish Civil War
Something in the Water: Epidemics & Enemies in Nineteenth-Century Europe
The Legacy of Western Colonialism
A Yankee Poet in Greenwich Village
Words, Weapons, & Rituals of the Left & a Nod to J. L. Austin