Pound Punning on Talbot

CloisterWalkLacock-NT
(Lacock Abbey cloisters: National Trust)

On 30 September 1920, in a letter to his father Homer, Ezra Pound reported that he and his wife Dorothy had spent four days at Lacock Abbey, ‘14th century cloisters , charter of Henry III left there in 1225 still in the tower room, etc. Family name Talbot, vide works of Wm. Shx. et al. Got a little tennis, etc.’[1]

Talbot-2

In October 1945, Pound sent two extracts from the Pisan Cantos to Dorothy, one of them from ‘To watch a while from the tower’ to ‘attic rafters’.[2] ‘“My aunt took me there a couple of times”, Dorothy told Hugh Kenner in 1965, “and once Ezra and I crawled over the roof to a turret to see a copy of the Magna Charta, kept there in a glass case. Cousin Charles left the place to his niece, a Scotswoman named Maud Gilchrist-Clark on condition she take the name Maud Talbot.”’

The emblem of the Talbot family was a dog: Kenner mentioned that Omar Pound possessed ‘a beautiful gold seal of the Talbots’, once owned by Dorothy’s father, ‘their dog emblem both as handle and in imprint.’[3]

Maud Gilchrist-Clark needed to sell some valuable possessions to raise the funds necessary to maintain the property (‘more pictures gone to pay taxes’ and, in 1944, she presented the Lacock copy of the Magna Charta to the British Museum. She gave the abbey to the National Trust in the same year.

Talbot

Canto 80 is always, for me, the English canto, certainly in its last two-thirds. Of the lines just quoted, Donald Davie writes that here is part of what Pound loved in Dorothy, and that his ‘feelings for and about England were, right to the end, not much less tormented than any English reader’s can be.’ He adds that, ‘the English reader who does not understand that the punning on “Talbot” is painful and all but hysterical, like the punning of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, does not understand Pound at all.’[4]

‘All but hysterical’? Yes, perhaps, it’s like the riff on similar-sounding words that we play with just a little too long; and, certainly, some of those rhymes, almost doggerel-like, are unusual for Pound in the context of the Cantos. Yet, rhyme, particularly simple, declarative monosyllables, often serves as a mnemonic device. Rhymed poetry is generally easier to recall than unrhymed. And here? Out and doubt, nation’s and patience, slide and hide, the tangle of Talbots and tall butts, left it and cleft it. But then the whole canto is ‘about’ memory, as is the whole Pisan sequence (to pause at that boundary).

Pound had lived through an extraordinary twenty years, more, since he left England, first for Paris, then Rapallo. Yet England, his time in England, was ineradicable, inescapable. He arrived in 1908, young, derivative, inexperienced; he left as the author of Cathay, Homage to Sextus Propertius, Hugh Selwyn Mauberley and the early Cantos. He had met and married Dorothy Shakespear in London. He was centrally involved in Imagism and Vorticism. He had known, encouraged or learned from almost every writer of importance then at work there, spending three winters in Ashdown Forest with Yeats, consulting with Ford over the latter’s Collected Poems and his book on Henry James, close to Wyndham Lewis and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. How could England not have lodged in his body and mind, impossible of removal?

In early 1946, Dorothy wrote to him from Rapallo and mentioned a book by Douglas Goldring – this was South Lodge: Reminiscences of Violet Hunt, Ford Madox Ford and the English Review Circle (1943). His biography of Ford would not emerge for a couple more years. In April, Pound wrote to Eileen Lane Kinney from St Elizabeths: ‘Weeping over Goldring’s memoir “South Lodge.”’ He said it brought back his ‘jeunesse, 1908-1920 à Londres. An honest book in a flurried world.’[5] And Charles Olson recorded: ‘Goldring’s SOUTH LODGE, on Yeats, Pound, Ford. P: “It was the high period of my life . . . . (or something like that, a sort of apology for his sentimentality about it, as he is reading it).’[6]

The copy of the Magna Charta given by Maud Talbot to the British Museum was sent to Washington as part of an exhibition while both Pound and Dorothy were there. It was not then ‘still there if you climb over attic rafters’. Its still being there was, perhaps, the crucial point: continuity, a fixed point, however specific or even personal, in a world—quite literally, to a considerable extent—blown to pieces: ‘and God knows what is left of our London/ my London, your London’. Earlier in the sequence, the poet identified himself ‘As a lone ant from a broken ant-hill/ from the wreckage of Europe, ego scriptor’ (76/458) and in the same canto, asked: ‘and who’s dead, and who isn’t/ and will the world ever take up its course again?’ (76/453).

Unanswerable questions – or answers that won’t keep still for the space of a single heartbeat. Pound’s own final answer was, essentially, silence.

 

References

[1] Ezra Pound to His Parents: Letters 1895–1929, edited by Mary de Rachewiltz, David Moody and Joanna Moody (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 471. Pound must be referring to Henry VI, Part I, which features Lord Talbot, afterwards Earl of Shrewsbury, and his son, John.

[2] Omar Pound and Robert Spoo, editors, Ezra and Dorothy Pound: Letters in Captivity, 1945-1946 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999)101, 100-101fn.2.

[3] Hugh Kenner, ‘D. P. Remembered’ (1973), reprinted in Mazes (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995), 292-293. The essay mentions ‘a magnificent old abbey in Yorkshire’, when Wiltshire is meant. I assume this error was also in the original Paideuma piece but can’t lay hands on my copy just now to check that. The Talbot Magna Charta was not the original 1215 version but that of 1225, technically ‘An Exemplification of Henry III’s reissue of Magna Carta, 1225’, as Carroll F. Terrell explains: see A Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound, one-volume edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 447.

[4] Donald Davie, ‘Ezra Pound Abandons the English’, reprinted in Studies in Ezra Pound (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1991), 234.

[5] Ezra and Dorothy Pound: Letters in Captivity, 243, 242n.

[6] Charles Olson and Ezra Pound: An Encounter at St. Elizabeths , edited by Catherine Seeley (1975; New York: Paragon House, 1991), 86.

 

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