Hubris

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.

Published by davidcookpoet

I am a husband, father and grandfather. I retired from a busy working life as an adult psychiatrist in 2014. My interests are in literature, philosophy, modern jazz and horse racing. I might represent those four fields by Shakespeare, Kant, Charlie Parker and Lester Piggott. Like nearly all of us, I can identify a number of formative experiences, one of which was a psychotic episode in my first year as a psychiatrist. This reinforced an already established interest in mystical experience, and a sense of how little human beings know. My intellectual bugbear is reductive materialism, and I am surprised at the lack of moral imagination of those who promulgate such views. It seems to me they need to consider ,perhaps by exposure, just why totalitarianism is so horrific.

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