Friday, November 6, 2009

Pound's 12 years at St Elizabeth return of the gods and literary and poetic activity

He seemed the powerful impresario and had Frost and Eliot published, and reinvigorated Yeats and taken Joyce "out of the gutter"and was now in tatters.
  • He read piles of books and resumed on the Pisan Cantos,finishing what he started at the detention camp at Pisa.
  • Literary Washington in one minor case entered the walls of this opportune seclusion ,translated some Confucius and some Sophocles and published Cantos 85-95 Rock Drill 1956 and Cantos 96-109 Thrones 1959.
  • Hugh Kenner -The best talk was really the Monologue bringing home Pound's tremendous discipline considering his setting.
  • Rudd Fleming appeared to converse on Greek drama. They collaborated on a translation of Sophocles Electra published as a play by Pound and Fleming (Princeton Univ Press 1989).
  • He also wrote thousands of letters some scrawled in pencil.
  • The work he produced in his 12 years of confinement was to attempt to finish what he had started in 1907. He stated his life's mission was to bring back the gods. His early poem The Return catches a tension marked by the ambiguity of their "possible return".
  • Twelve years after his release,by the time of his death in Italy, the gods were still suspended.

When he arrived in Washington, aged 60, he must have seemed a mere wreck of the
man who, as powerful impresario, had first gotten Frost and Eliot published and
had, by their own accounts, given "new life" to Yeats and taken James Joyce "out
of the gutter." Commanding nothing now, he was reduced to requesting a vacuum
cleaner to battle the microbes he feared. He had to beg small changes in his
diet (he liked to slather bread with mayonnaise and serve it to his guests). But
Pound the writer was not slowed down. He read through chaotic piles of books,
finished the section of his Cantos he had begun in the U.S.Army's detention camp
in Pisa (The Pisan Cantos,1948), translated Confucius and some Sophocles, and
then wrote and published Cantos 85 - 95 (Rock-Drill, 1956) and Cantos 96-109
(Thrones, 1959). He also wrote thousands of letters, some of them hugely
scrawled in pencil, some of them dictated to and typed by his wife Dorothy. All
the reading and writing was done over the clatter of hospital routines and the
din of the voices of his mentally disturbed wardmates. "The best talk in St.
Liz," wrote Hugh Kenner, "was the monologue."
The city of Washington cannot
claim to have nurtured these writings, at least not in the usual way. Washington
was outside the walls of where the work happened.
In at least one minor case,
literary Washington did get inside the walls. Rudd Fleming, then a young
professor at the University of Maryland, visited Pound often to converse about
Greek drama and eventually to collaborate with him on a translation of
Sophocles' Elektra.
Finally published as a play by Pound and Fleming (Princeton
University Press, 1989), Pound's work on this project cleared the way for his
translation of The Women of Trachis (1954) and built up momentum for further
work on the cantos.
When I came to Washington Pound had three years to go.
Though I got to know Rudd Fleming, who could possibly have introduced me to
Pound, visiting him was the farthest thing from my mind. An intern on the ward
would give me occasional anecdotes, but the mere thought of a visit would have
struck fear into me. The fear would have been somewhat like the kind of fear
taught by the Hebrew Bible.
The work that Pound produced in his twelve years
of confinement was an attempt to round out and finish the work that he had begun
by 1907, when he had exiled himself. One of the ways he had stated his life's
mission was "to bring back the gods." The tentativeness and ambiguity of their
possible return is caught in the tension of his early poem, "The Return," where
the gods in present tense are in irregular, unstable meters while their past is
in metrically regular lines and the final image has no tense at all. By the time
of his death in Italy, twelve years after his release, the gods were still
suspended, the cantos unfinished. In their final fragments, he could calmly
outstare what he had failed to finish in Washington and since

..............................No man can see his own end.The gods have not returned. "They have never left us."..................................They have not returned.
(Canto 113)
I have brought the great ball of crystal;............................Who can lift it?Can you enter the great acorn of light?..............But the beauty is not the madnessTho' my errors and wrecks lie about me.And I am not a demigod,I cannot make it cohere.
(Canto 116)
The quiet flow of such lines came mostly after and seldom during St. Elizabeth's. The final third of the Pisan Cantos, written there, carry the truckloads of Pound's deep, wide, almost frantic reading. But the resulting fragments of quote and paraphrase and the footnote-like insertions are still under an astonishing mastery of formed speech, everything held together by tension. The mastery continued in the next two books of the cantos, Pound trying now for the precision of philology in one of them, and in the other for a balance between the terrible disorder perceivable within and outside of himself and the clean sanity of ancient Chinese ideograms. He got himself back to what he had started to catch 30 years earlier, sketching Confucius (the westernized name for Kung):
And Kung said, and wrote on the bo leaves:................."If a man have not order within him"He cannot spread order about him;And if a man have not order within himHis family will not act with due order;..................And if the prince have not order within himHe can not put order in his dominions...And Kung said, "Without character you will.................."be unable to play on that instrument"Or to execute the music fit for the Odes."The blossoms of the apricot.................."blow from the east to the west,"And I have tried to keep them from falling."
(Canto 13)
I cannot pretend to make wise elucidation of the cantos in Rock-Drill and Thrones. Pound demands slow, careful readers, and why not? As a teacher I used to point to a few samples and hurry on, willing to concede that the failure was more mine than Pound's.


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