Pound in Rapallo

November 1: Ezra Pound died on this day in 1972, two days after his eighty-seventh birthday. During the fourteen years which followed his release from confinement in St. Elizabeth's mental hospital, Pound did little writing. Over the last decade or so he also stopped speaking, though the silence seemed to enhance his fame and underscore the few comments he did make:

  • "I know nothing at all…. I have even forgotten the name of that Greek philosopher who said that nothing exists, and even if it did exist, it would be unknowable, and if it were knowable, it would be incommunicable."  (from an interview at age seventy-eight)
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  • "I did not enter into silence, silence captured me."  (from an interview at age eighty)
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  • "At seventy, I realized that instead of being a lunatic I was a moron."  (from comments made at age eighty-two to Allen Ginsberg)

One of Pound's last major interviews was in 1960, conducted by the American poet Donald Hall for the Paris Review. Hall found Pound warm, witty, and forthcoming, and capable of dealing with the many "pilgrims and exploiters" who knocked on his door:

Unknown visitors came—pilgrims and exploiters—including one who pitched a tent outside the house. Many would be visitors, Olga [Rudge] observed, worshiped Pound without having read his poetry; she told one such that she would procure a visit if he could recite one line of Ezra Pound's. He couldn't. Others wanted to read Pound their own poems and take his praise away with them. Others were academics looking for an imprimatur to their books on Pound. Others were promoters announcing that they had already booked a hall in London for a reading; they flashed airline tickets.

 

An acquaintance of mine, finding himself in Venice, sought out the house and knocked at the door. He expected to meet Olga Rudge and be turned away. To his astonishment the door opened to reveal Ezra Pound in bathrobe and slippers. In his confusion the young man burbled, "How are you, Mr. Pound?" Pound looked down at him for a moment out of the hauteur of his silence and then uttered a single word in the melody that sometimes resembled that of W. C. Fields. "Senile," he said. The wit belied the word.


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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