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Ezra Pound

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Ezra Pound was confined at the St. Elisabeths Mental Hospital as a political prisoner for questioning America’s war motives in Radio Rome broadcasts.

A leading poet and critic, Pound introduced the world to James Joyce, W.B. Yaetes and T.S. Eliot.

Pound commissioned Mullins to examine the power of the US baking establishment.

Pound made anti-American radio broadcasts during World War II. He was arrested as a traitor in 1945 and initially confined in Pisa. He was then sent to the U.S., where he was deemed mentally unfit to stand trial for treason. After 12 years in a Washington, D.C. mental institution, Pound returned to Italy, where he died in 1972. His poetic works include Cathay (1915, based on the transliterations of sinologist Ernest Fenollosa), Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1921) and his life’s work, The Cantos (the first part of which was published in 1925).

It is not clear if anyone in the United States ever actually heard Pound’s radio broadcasts[14], since Italian radio’s shortwave transmitters were weak and unreliable, though obviously his writings for Italian newspapers (as well as a number of pamphlets) were read in Italy. However, according to his biographer Humphrey Carpenter, the broadcasts were “a masterly performance”.[15]. Carpenter wrote “Certainly there were Americans who, in 1941, would have agreed with virtually every word Ezra said at the microphone about the United States Government, the European conflict, and the power of the Jews.”[16]. The broadcasts were monitored by the Foreign Broadcast Monitoring Service of the United States government, and transcripts, now stored in the Library of Congress, were made of them. Pound was indicted for treason by the United States government in 1943.

Written between 1940 and 1944.These two cantos, written in Italian, were not published until their posthumous inclusion in the 1987 revision of the complete text of the poet. They cover much familiar ground; Sigismondo, Dante and Cavalcanti appear, as does Pound’s linking of usury and Jews in another anti-Semitic rant aimed at Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden. In contrast with some of his earlier critical writings, Pound praises the Futurist writer Filippo Tommaso Marinetti.

In 1941 Pound began to broadcast propaganda from Rome attacking the American war effort. The broadcasts, which expressed his complete disillusionment with democratic culture, were largely personal diatribes on the proper nature and function of art and the artist in society – thus, his indictment for treason by the American government after the war was condemned by most artists and critics. The Italian government had faithfully observed Pound’s request that he not be compelled to say anything contrary to his conscience or to his duties as an American citizen; his broadcasts were misguided attempts to “save” his home-land from what he felt was a debilitating democracy rather than calls for its destruction.

Pound was returned to the United States in 1945 under indictment for treason but never stood trial. After his lawyer successfully entered a plea of insanity, Pound was committed to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. His Pisan Cantos were given the Bollingen Award in 1949, largely through the influence of Eliot, who, along with William Carlos Williams and many other prominent figures in American letters, was instrumental in having Pound’s indictment dismissed in 1958. That same year Pound was released from St. Elizabeth’s under a storm of controversy and returned immediately to Italy.


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