There is no mistaking the confidence and authority with which Heidegger and Ezra Pound delivered their opinions in the early part of the twentieth century. Their reputations were colossal, and deservedly so, but both were irreversibly damaged by their involvement with fascism. In their different ways both were extraordinarily arrogant, and after their falls from grace, humiliation must have been hard to bear. Perhaps for this reason both chose silence over apology. It seems a pity.
I am going to say a little about Ezra Pound. His intended master work, The Cantos, conceived to rival Dante’s Commedia, despite containing flashes of brilliance, is to quote his judgement of Walt Whitman, “An exceedingly great fug.” But I think there is no doubt he had a wonderful ear. His poem Hugh Selwyn Mauberley is a masterpiece, and among his many fine translations, I have this particular favourite, a version of Leopardi’s Her Monument, The Image Cut Thereon. There are five stanzas, here are the first and last, exquisitely beautiful, I think.
Such wast thou, Who art now But buried dust and rusted skeleton. Above the bones and mire, Motionless, placed in vain, Mute mirror of the flight of speeding years, Sole guard of grief Sole guard of memory Standeth this image of thy beauty sped. O mortal nature, If thou art Frail and so vile in all, How can thou reach so high with thy poor sense; Yet if thou art Noble in any part How is the noblest of thy speech and thought So lightly wrought Or to such base occasion lit and quenched.
After his years in St. Elizabeth’s Psychiatric Hospital, Pound lived out his final years in Rapallo, a greatly diminished figure. No public apology, but his intemperate broadcasts about Mussolini during the war had resulted in him facing trial for treason. In the final drafts and fragments of the wreckage that was the Cantos, there is a phrase which pierces me like a knife and I put it into a short poem, which follows:-
NOT MANY WORDS When at the end of the Cantos, in the last fragments, Pound writes "Charity I had sometimes, I could not make it run through" he nails a moral to an artistic failure. He had not much time, not many words, and there had been too many. So here we have it straight: imagination bleeding.