Erza Pound: The Wise Poet Arrested for Treason
Ezra Weston Loomis Pound, born in the rural Idaho on October 30, 1885, was a pioneer in the early Imagist movement in which poetry was characterized by succinct language and exact detail in visual images. And the man influenced such greats as Elliott, Robert Frost, James Joyce, and Ernest Hemingway. But this poet also had a dark side; he was a fervent fascist sympathizer who wrote against the United States in various anti-American fascist publications while living as an ex-patriot in Great Britain. And then he blasted America and the President of the United States in numerous radio broadcasts while living in Italy during WWII.
Consequently, he was arrested by the American forces in at the war’s end in 1945 and charged with treason. However, he was found to be mentally insane by the court after his arrival back to the States and was confined to St. Elizabeth Hospital for the criminally insane for the next twelve years of his life.
He had written 70 poetry books and published his work in 70 other publications in his lifetime, but it was while he was still in Italy imprisoned in a 6 foot by 6 foot open air cage that he began to write the most important section in his masterpiece book, The Cantos, entitled The Pisan Cantos for which he won the Bollingen Prize by the Library of Congress, a controversial move by the Library indeed. The Cantos was a lengthy poem of 116 sections that was never really finished by Pound during his 12 year long stay at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, but this small portion of Canto I amply illustrates the stark beauty of his lovely and succinct and detailed verse.
BY EZRA POUND
And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and
We set up mast and sail on that swart ship,
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, and winds from sternward
Bore us out onward with bellying canvas,
Circe’s this craft, the trim-coifed goddess.
Then sat we amidships, wind jamming the tiller,
Thus with stretched sail, we went over sea till day’s end.
Ezra Pound was not just a master of complex poetic verse, but he was also an expert linguist proficient at the classic languages of Latin and Greek and had become a professor of the Romance languages of French, Spanish, and Italian after graduation from Hamilton College with a BA in philosophy and the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his Masters Degree in the Romance languages.
On the urging of his fellow poets, Pound was released from the hospital in 1958 and set sail for Italy where he quietly lived until his death in 1972.