Ezra Pound – the fascist years

A review of Ezra Pound: Poet, Volume II: The Epic Years, by A. David Moody. This was also the period in which the controversial poet talked himself into madness

18 October 2014

9:00 AM

18 October 2014

9:00 AM

Ezra Pound: Poet, Volume II: The Epic Years A. David Moody

OUP, pp.421, £25, ISBN: 9780199215584

‘There are the Alps. What is there to say about them?/ They don’t make sense. Fatal glaciers, crags cranks climb, /Jumbled boulder and weed’, was Basil Bunting’s 1949 opinion of Pound’s Cantos; but as the sometime friend of Pound continued: ‘There they are, you will have to go a long way round / If you want to avoid them.’

This judgment has proved wise. Here we are in 2014, not avoiding one of the most contentious figures in 20th-century literature: poet, midwife of Eliot’s The Waste Land, economist, translator, committed Fascist, anti-Semite, avid supporter of James Joyce and Mussolini, later alleged traitor to the United States of America and — meaning he never had to stand trial for treason — patient of St Elizabeth’s psychiatric hospital, Washington DC.

In the second of a projected three-volume life of Pound, A. David Moody is a credible guide to this territory, taking us from 1921 through to 1939. Yet these are difficult years to read about. Finding himself in Europe, somewhat incongruously on the fringes of the Dada movement, Pound becomes increasingly interested in social evils. From the quiet Italian seaside town of Rapallo, he settles on ‘usury’ as the cause of all injustice — committed by the self-enriching, liberty-robbing methods of international finance — and fixes on Mussolini as the only person capable of remedying the situation. So begins his change from poet to economist.

These years of openly anti-Semitic, pro-Fascist views present Pound’s readers with a challenge — and his biographers with an even greater one if they are to avoid shielding or absolving him. Moody’s approach — ‘I have ignored speculation and hearsay’ — is to concentrate on Pound’s own writings, both published and unpublished. He divides his subject in two: the poet, capable of great sensitivity and of avoiding the retreat into the abstract that racism requires, and the propagandist, who was capable of neither. This is only seldom disingenuous, but when 1933 rolls up, the biography becomes noticeably constricted by its subject’s slide from poetry into an obsessive condemnation of usury and vicious denigration of anyone indifferent to the subject.

After Pound meets Il Duce on 30 January of that year his life becomes less varied, and Moody’s book with it. Long stretches are taken up by correspondence about monetary justice and economics inflected anti-Semitism. As fascism grows more violent, Pound becomes increasingly alienated, communicating only with his admirers, or those who at least respect him enough to take time to argue with him. Isolated, immersed in fascist-leaning daily newspapers, he talks himself into madness.

Moody’s deliberate disregard of what people in these years were writing about Pound, rather than to him, obscures another way of thinking about him: not that he was good or bad, but that he was simply ridiculous. Moody mentions — but dodges quoting — the Italian critic Mario Praz’s description of Pound’s character in 1932 as

blissful ingenuousness, typical of the autodidact and of the American who discovers the world all by himself — and in this world succeeds in preserving a very flattering opinion of himself.

By the late 1930s, arrogant and dilettantish, Pound is ‘bohemian, capricious’, with ‘flashing eyes, and a Robespierre shirt’, failing to interest any economics professors in his ideas. He remains an outsider, a Byronic ‘Englishman-in-Italy’ figure, happy to repeat unorthodox ideas about economics  while declaring Italian literature dead since Dante.

But this was not just the Italy of Mussolini; it was also that of Eugenio Montale, Salvatore Quasimodo, Carlo Bo, and even the fascist-leaning Giuseppe Ungaretti. A decade or two earlier, Pound would have been trumpeting such new poetry everywhere. The absence of such names serves to confirm Pound’s fatal narrowing.

In volume three Pound will think of this period as one ‘of men seeking good,/ doing evil’ — a partial contrition that couldn’t have come soon enough.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

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Show comments
  • Jackthesmilingblack

    “And Ezra Pound and T.S. ElliottFighting in the captain’s tower
    While Calypso’s singers laugh at them
    And fishermen hold flowers”

    • jjjj


      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Desolation Row, Dylan. And I don’t mean Dylan Thomas.

        • Paddy Kilshamus

          ‘I have heard the mermaids singing,each to each
          I do not think that they will sing to me
          I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
          Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
          When the wind blows the water white and black
          We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
          By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
          Till human voices wake us, and we drown.’

          Eliot and I don’t mean Billy

  • Pound didn’t go mad. He realised that a cartel/cabal was orchestrating and funding all sides to WW2. He persuaded Italy to surrender to the Allies. Retribution for his attempt to reveal the truth, and end the war prematurely (before the cabal was ready), was the reason they called him ‘mad’ and imprisoned him. He was clearly a genius way ahead of his time in realising the NWO was in control of events.

    • Hello_Old_Sausage


      Nothing to do with anti-semitism either

      Anti-semitism has always been used as a cover to protect the zionists

      Zionism is a political movement. It is not a religion or a race

      • jjjj

        So who will you lot turn to now? Russell Brand (who could fit the description of Pound here)? Icke? Ha ha!!!

      • jjjj

        An article that has nothing to do with Zionism and the crusty obssesives crawl out of the woodwork to emit their drek.

      • Jack

        He was an anti-Semite. He didn’t like Jewish people. That is blatantly obvious from his writing.

    • Jack

      A genius? He was a paranoid racist. I assume by ‘funding both sides’ you’re referring to the Rothschilds? What was his revelation? That some bankers are incredibly powerful and will often hedge their bets to make sure that they don’t lose money? Well, I never.

      Every generation has people who say stupidly obvious things like “the rich and powerful are the ones with all the wealth and power!” as if that is some big revelation. People like you are much more common now thanks to things like that Zeitgeist film, but no more meaningful.

      • Ezra Pound brought Italy out of the war. Chew your brain on that fact, Jack. No need for theories.

        • Jack

          And by that you mean to show therefore that he wasn’t a fascist, an anti-Semite, and a lunatic?

          Are you suggesting that Mussolini was on an unstoppable fascist rampage, that he would have conquered Europe, but Ezra convinced him to get murdered?

          • Slow down Jack. One of the most brilliant kinds that ever lived, and you’re getting all confused.

          • Jack

            OK. Explain yourself then. He brought Italy out of the war (which he never, but we’ll assume he did for now). So what? What is your point? What would chewing on that fact bring me?

          • You’re really not trying Jack. No marks for effort.

          • Jack

            It’s not difficult, just explain what actual point you are trying to make. Ezra Pound brought Italy out of the war. Therefore….?

          • Paddy Kilshamus

            I don’t know about Pound bringing Italy out of the war but his ideas developed from an interest in usury and how it destroys the natural relations between people. It is a very learned and esoteric take on the subject and he was somewhat obsessive about it, However when you look at his writings which you claim to have done you would see how he delved into the history of the opposition to central banks in the original colonies of America. Andrew Jackson and Van Buren etc. He uncovered a story, or history, that was submerged in America and Europe. To dismiss him as a raving lunatic is very wrong. The anti-semitism charge is enough to have him consigned to the outer circles of literature. Are you not curious about how and why that one accusation is sufficient for him to be written out of the history of poetry when he played a major role in it? Listen to Usura in the link I posted. Was that written by an idiot?

          • Jack

            Dismiss? You seem to be very much missing my point. He may well have ‘uncovered’ this insidious conspiracy that runs through the very foundations of Europe (that those with money rule the world, wow, big reveal!), but that does not change the fact that he was an anti-Semitic, fascist, paranoid nutcase. Only the latter is in any way questionable, and although I think he was a nutcase, I respect your opinion that he maybe wasn’t. I don’t see how you can say he wasn’t a fascist or an anti-Semite?

            People on here seem to be getting very confused about the point: “He was a fascist”

            To which the response seems to be: “But he was such a good poet, and he didn’t start out as a fascist. Plus he did some really good historical research.”

            How meaningless is that as a response?

          • Paddy Kilshamus

            The point I was making is that being a fascist and an anti-semite is toxic today for reasons which are never examined. It is acceptable to be an anti-fascist or anti-communist or anti-muslim or even anti-white oppressive imperialists etc. Why is it so evil to have the same antagonistic feelings toward usury and monopolisation by a minority group? That feeling was at the root of Fascism. Yes he was a fascist and an anti-semite but he had good reason to be so.

          • Jack

            Yes it is acceptbale to be against authoritarian ideologies. Yes it is acceptable to be against an ideology that had a loathing of usury at its root but the body of which is racist, hateful, oppressive, exclusionary and regressive. Furthermore, Fascism was loved by capitalists, who condemned usury because of a hatred of the Jewish people but used it in practice to create wealth.

            Hitler started out as a painter, but you don’t call on art as a defence of Nazism (loose analogy but you get the point). Similarly, to say that Fascism has simple, noble roots is both wrong and, even if it were correct, irrelevant. It produces nothing but evil. It is not just the left who loathe Fascism.

          • Paddy Kilshamus

            People loathe Fascism and National Socialism because it has been demonised beyond recognition. They are reacting to a caricatured distortion created by propaganda. Only when one is able to break through this evil halo it has been cloaked in is one able to make an assessment of its value. They were good for the majority in the time and context and were an extreme reaction in defense against extreme situations.I don’t how to break the spell which keeps people in the dark, maybe realising how the crimes of communism are largely ignored when objectively they were far worse and killed far more people. There is something very skewed in the version of that period we are given. We should loathe Communism.

          • Jack

            How the crimes of Communism are ignored? Are you joking? It’s common knowledge how many people Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, and their like all killed in the name of Karl Marx. Any child doing their GCSEs knows that. I loathe Communism, and Fascism, and Nazism, and I am right to do so. You complete moron, you are a frankly disgrace of a human for suggesting that Nazism is somehow misunderstood and Communism has ‘gotten away with murder’. You fascist c*nt.

            “People loathe Fascism and National Socialism because it has been demonised beyond recognition.” – That is just a disgrace.

          • Paddy Kilshamus

            Fair enough. End of discussion.

          • Just to say that Ezra Pound was a much bigger figure in history than people have ever been told. He wasn’t mad. The ‘authorities’ lock people up as ‘mental cases’ to stifle political opposition, especially highly effective opposition. Pound persuaded Mussolini to get out of the war, and to see how the world government was operating to crush the nations, lending to all of them while they destroyed each other. Of course Washington had to lock him up. Washington assassinated General Patten who had also seen through the scam of WW2. These geniuses realised what was happening at the time. That’s the significance of Ezra Pound, not right versus left, fascist versus NAZI but centralised totalitarian power versus nations and individuals.

          • Paddy Kilshamus

            Yes but the national resistance requires something akin to Fascism or National Socialism. The individual resistance is possible but if you intend to break free on a larger social scale then you would need such an organization. Obviously any national resistance would provoke the wrath we see visited upon Golden Dawn in Greece. I prefer the individual pursuit because I know what they are up against and how many movements of liberation are co-opted by the powers that be. By the way your blog is too far-out for me. Interesting but I don’t go down that path.

          • That’s OK, Paddy! Freedom does seem like a really way out idea in these days of almost total mental slavery. Drop by occasionally, and give us your thoughts. The blog is written by the readers.

          • Paddy Kilshamus

            OK Thanks. Good luck.

  • Paddy Kilshamus

    Artists are drawn to extremes when they engage in the political sphere. From an aesthetic point of view the Fascist and National Socialist vision appealed to an artist far more than the dead liberal democracy of England and America. Even today that dead system lives on like a walking corpse surviving only through crushing any opposing conception. Pound was premature in announcing its demise. His work is ignored in Academia today and the poetry courses suffer for lack of range. He committed the crime of advocating right-wing politics instead of left-wing like Stephen Spender, Laurie Lee, Christopher Isherwood, Hemingway and many other ‘progressive’ poets and writers who sang hymns to the putrefying corpse of the West.

    • jjjj

      ‘dead liberal democracy’. Yet, the liberal democracies defeated the Sparta of the day. Ho hum, I guess it’s back to the tomb Paddy boychick.

      • Paddy Kilshamus

        Stalking me now eh?

        • jjjj

          No, just filling the gaps in your education, Arminius.

          • Paddy Kilshamus

            Please, call me Herman.

          • jjjj

            Ok, Heinrich.

          • Paddy Kilshamus

            OK, Shlomo.

    • Ali

      Liberal democracy lives on because it is liberal and democratic, it allows people like you to spout childish nonsense in places like this and other people to read it and come to their own conclusions. Pound was not premature in denouncing its demise, he was an idiot for thinking fascist dictatorship was a better alternative.

      • Paddy Kilshamus

        Why not read his radio speeches and some of the Cantos? Then you may have a substantial objection to my premise.What is liberal? What is democratic? If you don’t have an understanding of the historical development and the cultural articulation of these ideas then your comment is rather like a North Korean slapping down any dissenting opinion. Don’t you want to know what he said?

  • jjjj

    I guess this thread is turning into a Fascist love fest!

  • PeterK10

    The ultimate, global crime, apparently, is to be anti-Semetic. Why is being anti-Semetic different from being anti-American or anti-British? Just who wrote the credo, “Thou shalt love all Semites”?