Ezra Weston Loomis Pond (1885 – 1972) was one of the most controversial, major literary figures in the 20th century. Early in his career, Pound promoted Imagism, a modernist movement, derived from classical Chinese and Japanese poetry, that emphasized clarity, precision and economy of language.
The tree has entered my hands,
The sap has ascended my arms,
The tree has grown in my breast –
The branches grow out of me, like arms.
Tree you are,
Moss you are,
You are violets with wind above them.
A child – so high – you are,
And all this is folly to the world.
Throughout his career, Pound was devoted to advancing the art of poetry and maintaining his aesthetic standards in the midst of extreme adversity. Additionally, he strived to promote many other writers (including T.S. Eliot, James Joyce. D.H. Lawrence, Robert Frost and Ernest Hemingway).
His best-known works include Ripostes (1912), Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920) and the unfinished epic, The Cantos (1917–1969).
Pound moved to fascist Italy in 1925 and became attracted to the energy and promises of monetary reform by the dictator Benito Mussolini. During WWII he remained in Italy and broadcast a series of controversial radio commentaries that attacked Franklin Roosevelt and Jewish bankers that he (and Adolf Hitler) held responsible for the war. In May 1945 he was imprisoned by the U.S. Army in an outdoor cage (illuminated at night with floodlights) near Pisa, Italy.
Eventually judged to be mentally incompetent, Pound was committed to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. After Robert Frost led a successful effort to free him in 1958, Pound returned to Italy where he lived the rest of his life.
Ironically, while imprisoned in Italy, Pound completed the highly-acclaimed “Pisan Cantos,” that won the Bollingen Prize for Poetry in 1949.
What thou lovest well remains,
the rest is dross
What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage
Excerpt from The Pisan Cantos
In my youth–this would have been around 1965–I saw a play on television that was clearly inspired by Ezra Pound’s time in the open cage near Pisa in May 1945. The character–played by Fritz Weaver–was not named Pound. I do not remember the name of the play, and I cannot find a reference to it, even on Mr. Weaver’s IMDb page.
Does anyone else remember that play or its name?
Murray, Robert. The Good Lieutenant.
Four New Yale Playwrights. New York Crown Publishers, 1965.
A three-act play based on events in the life of poet Ezra Pound.
Synopsis: A poignant emotional confrontation between a lieutenant, who is a sensitive, civilized young man, and his prisoner, an arrogant poet of genius, reminiscent of Ezra Pound.
Premiered by the Yale University School of Drama, directed by F. Curtis Canfield, New Haven, CT, Nov. 6, 1965. A television production, directed by Glenn Jordan, appeared on the Sunday Showcase, June 5 and 7, 1966, Sept. 28, 1966, and May 30, 1967.