Kim Hallows on “Ezra Pound: Political Insanity”
Malcolm Cowley concludes his 1934 edition of Exile’s Return by describing the journey back to America made by many expatriate modernist writers. He states of their experience writing abroad, “The voyage had an unexpected effect on most of them: it taught them to admire their own country, if only for its picturesque qualities” (289). Expatriate modernist poet Ezra Pound, who was a friend, editor, and patron to several of the expatriate writers Cowley describes, was not included in Cowley’s “most.” In 1945, after 37 years spent in exile, Pound was taken to America to be tried for treason because of the radio broadcast he did in which he criticized the United States World War 2 efforts (Nadel 15,16). His political involvement took precedence over his writing while he was outside of the United States; however, before he turned his back on his homeland, he helped other expatriates edit and publish their works.
Pound was born in the United States but he developed an attachment to Europe early in his life by making “five trips to Europe” as a young man (Nadel 2). After being fired from teaching in Indiana at Wabash College for letting a woman sleep in his room, Pound decided he, “wanted to be free of the inhibitions of American morality,” so he, “responded by decamping for Europe,” in 1908 (Nadel 4,5). Before expatriating himself, Pound became “lifelong” friends with William Carlos Williams, a less enthusiastic expatriate writer (Nadel 3). Williams had spent a year in Europe and believed that writing poetry in America was acceptable, while Pound disagreed (Nadel 3).
In London, Pound formed relationships with famous writers such as Ford Madox Ford, D.H Lawrence, Yeats, and James Joyce. (Nadel 5-7). “By 1912, Pound seemed to be everywhere, as poet, editor, essayist, and polemist” (Nadel 9). Pound began editing the poetry of other writers, including Robert Frost, James Joyce, and T. S. Eliot (Nadel 9-12). Pound was responsible for “organizing the move of Joyces to Paris and introducing Joyce to Sylvia Beach who would publish Ulysses in February 1922” (Nadel 10). Pound also paid to have T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock and other Observations printed (Nadel 12).
Pound moved to France in 1921, where he continued to help his fellow writers become published. There he helped Eliot with a draft of The Waste Land (Nadel 13). Pound also met famous expatriate writer Ernest Hemingway in Paris and edited his prose “in our time” (Nadel 13). In 1924 Pound moved yet again, this time to Italy, specifically Rapallo. He continued to write and help other artists, but he also became increasingly involved in the politics of World War 2, which would deter him from returning to America voluntarily as other expatriate writers would do.
Ezra Pound became a source of interest to the United States because he criticized his homeland on the radio. He was paid to do “pro-Fascist broadcasts from Italy during World War II” (O’Connor, Stone 133). Pound was a supporter of Mussolini, Hitler, Fascism, and anti-Semitism. His strong opposition to the Allies during World War II influenced the United States to charge him with treason.
Pound, “was taken to Washington to stand trial for treason in 1945, but it was decided that he was not mentally stable. He was sent to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for the Criminally Insane” (Nadel 16). Pound was released from St. Elizabeth’s in 1958 at the age of 72 because of a petition that was created in favor of his release by the writers whom he had helped in their literary careers. These included Robert Frost, Hemingway, and Eliot (Nadel 17). Hemingway was quoted in The New York Times in 1958 saying, “Will gladly pay tribute to Ezra, but what I would like to do is get him to hell out of St. Elizabeth’s” (O’Connor, Stone 133).
Pound returned to Europe in 1958 where he spent the remainder of his life fighting illnesses and experiencing the deaths of the friends he helped to become published (Nadel 18). Cowley’s expatriates were to return to the U.S., having fulfilled their desires to experience the “real culture” they could not find in America (Cowley 285). Pound was a great influence and contributor to this generation of expatriate writers, but he could not return to America with them after he had been consumed by politics. Pound would remain in exile until his death in Venice in 1972.
Cowley, Malcolm. Exile’s Return: A Literary Odyssey of the 1920’s. New York: Penguin, 1994 .
Nadel, Ira Bruce. The Cambridge Introduction to Ezra Pound. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. Print.
O’Connor, William Van, and Edward Stone. A Casebook on Ezra Pound. New York: Crowell, 1959. Print.
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