‘Falling from a high stool’: Pound, Yeats, Lionel Johnson

 

DPE72F  Ezra_Pound_Coburn.jpg

 

(Lionel Johnson via TLS; Pound c. 1913 by Alvin Langdon Coburn)

Reading Elif Batuman’s novel The Idiot, I came upon this: ‘On the train back, Svetlana told me about a Serbian movie director who had been friends with her father in Belgrade. The director’s wife, an actress, had gone to Paris to make a movie with a young French director. The French director had died tragically by falling off a barstool. “They said it might have been suicide,” Svetlana said.’[1]

The joke here is the improbable means of suicide, of course, but I was reminded of the sixth section of Ezra Pound’s Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, entitled ‘Siena Mi Fe’; Disfecemi Maremma’ [from Dante’s Purgatorio, ‘Sienna made me, Maremma undid me’]:

Among the pickled foetuses and bottled bones,
Engaged in perfecting the catalogue,
I found the last scion of the
Senatorial families of Strasbourg, Monsieur Verog.

For two hours he talked of Gallifet;
Of Dowson; of the Rhymers’ Club;
Told me how Johnson (Lionel) died
By falling from a high stool in a pub . . .[2]

‘Monsieur Verog’ is the poet and critic Victor Plarr, who was librarian of the Royal College of Surgeons from 1897 to his death in 1929, working for much of that time on the library catalogue. He was also a founder member of The Rhymers’ Club, which made him of interest to Pound, having stories to tell of Ernest Dowson (of whom he wrote a memoir), Lionel Johnson, Selwyn Image, Richard Le Gallienne and others.

K. K. Ruthven suggests that Katharine Tynan, the writer and friend of Yeats, ‘seems to have been responsible for the erroneous story that Johnson died after falling from a stool’.[3] Johnson did indeed die of a fall, though it was ‘not in a pub, but on Fleet Street’.[4]

Tynan

(Katharine Tynan via Wikipedia Commons)

Lionel Johnson (1867-1902) was a first cousin of Olivia Shakespeare, mother of Pound’s wife Dorothy. His 1889 poem, ‘Lines to a Lady upon her Third Birthday’, is addressed to Dorothy—‘Dear Cousin: to be three years old,/ Is to have found the Age of Gold’[5]—and Pound wrote the preface to Johnson’s Poetical Works (1915). This was excluded from the American edition and also from later English printings, ‘apparently because it included extensive quotations from notes sent by Lionel Johnson to Katherine Tynan and printed by her after his death in the Dublin Review for October 1907.’ Johnson’s critical comments concerned several of his contemporaries, including Arthur Symons and Richard Le Gallienne, both still alive in 1915.[6] His notes are included, though, in ‘Lionel Johnson’, collected in Pound’s Literary Essays: ‘Baudelaire and Verlaine generally ring true, and their horrors and squalors and miseries and audacities have the value and virtue of touching the reader to something of compassion or meditation. Symons no more does that than a teapot. “This girl met me in the Haymarket, with a straw hat and a brown paper parcel, and the rest was a delirious delight: that girl I met outside a music hall, we had champagne, and the rest was an ecstasy of shame.” That is Symons.’

The teapot is a nice touch.

Pound’s praise foregrounds his explicit awareness that Johnson ‘cannot be shown to be in accord with our present doctrines and ambitions. His language is a bookish dialect, or rather it is not a dialect, it is a curial speech and our aim is natural speech, the language as spoken. We would write nothing that we might not actually say in life—under emotion. Johnson’s verse is full of inversions, but no one has written purer Imagisme than he has, in the line

Clear lie the fields, and fade into blue air.

It has a beauty like the Chinese.’[7]

Walking_on_Path_in_Spring

(Ma Yuan, Walking on a Mountain Path in Spring, 13th century)

Plenty to unpack here. Pound’s ‘our aim is natural speech, the language as spoken’ sits a little uncomfortably with some of his earlier pronouncements. ‘[W]e must have a simplicity and directness of utterance which is different from the simplicity and directness of daily speech, which is more “curial”, more dignified’, he wrote in 1912; and, ‘There are few fallacies more common than the opinion that poetry should mimic the daily speech.’ Again, in that same year: ‘Mr Hueffer is so obsessed with the idea that the language of poetry should not be a dead language, that he forgets it must be the speech of to-day, dignified, more intense, more dynamic, than to-day’s speech as spoken’.[8] By 1914, then, when Pound was writing this introduction, the case was altered. Imagism had happened, Vorticism was happening and—‘a beauty like the Chinese’—the encounter with the Fenollosa notebooks, which resulted in the Noh plays and Cathay, had also engaged and enlarged Pound’s resources.

And that curious word ‘curial’? ‘Of or pertaining to a royal court; having the manners befitting a court; courtly’, the Oxford English Dictionary says. And, perhaps fittingly, ‘Obsolete’.[9] The papal curia – the administrative institutions through which the Catholic Church’s affairs are conducted – is certainly appropriate enough to the Roman Catholic convert Johnson, who introduced his cousin—Alfred Lord Douglas—to Oscar Wilde in the summer of 1891. He rather regretted it later.[10]

Quoting ‘In Memory. II’, the poem beginning:

Ah! fair face gone from sight,
With all its light
Of eyes, that pierced the deep
Of human night!
Ah! fair face calm in sleep.

Ah! fair lips hushed in death!
Now their glad breath
Breathes not upon our air
Music, that saith
Love only, and things fair

Pound presents it as an example of ‘poems as beautiful as any in English’ – though he leaves out some of Johnson’s ‘poetical’ exclamation marks. Those short lines and rhymes in such close proximity make me wonder if there’s any sense of affinity with the Provençal poems of Arnaut Daniel that Pound was translating, such as ‘Can Chai la Fueilla’:

When sere leaf falleth
from the high forkèd tips,
And cold appalleth
dry osier, haws and hips,
Coppice he strips
of bird, that now none calleth.   (Ezra Pound: Poems and Translations, 482)

He attends closely to Johnson the poet, while the man himself is a ghost transmitted to Pound through the spoken and written words of W. B. Yeats. Johnson is central to ‘The Tragic Generation’, a section of Yeats’s autobiographical The Trembling of the Veil. He recalled Johnson reading or speaking aloud ‘in his musical monotone, where meaning and cadence found the most precise elocution, his poem suggested by the Statue of King Charles at Charing Cross. It was as though I listened to a great speech.’

Charles I

(Equestrian statue of Charles I : Wikipedia Commons)

Comely and calm, he rides
Hard by his own Whitehall:
Only the night wind glides:
No crowds, nor rebels, brawl.

Gone, too, his Court: and yet,
The stars his courtiers are:
Stars in their stations set;
And every wandering star.

Alone he rides, alone,
The fair and fatal king:
Dark night is all his own,
That strange and solemn thing.     (Poetical Works of Lionel Johnson, 14)

Yeats wrote of the alcoholic Johnson’s drinking as well as the report that, ‘at the autopsy after his death’, he was discovered ‘never to have grown, except in the brain, after his fifteenth year’.[11] His 1936 broadcast, ‘Modern Poetry’, open with memories of The Rhymers’ Club: ‘Two members of the Club are vivid in my memory’, that is, Johnson and Ernest Dowson. Johnson was ‘determined, erect, his few words dogmatic, almost a dwarf but beautifully made, his features cut in ivory. His thought dominated the scene and gave the Club its character.’ Yeats recalled Johnson’s stories of all the famous statesmen, ecclesiastics and writers he had met and his eventual discovery that Johnson had never met them but had made it all up, that he would sit at night with a glass of whisky at his elbow, ‘imagining the puppets that were the true companions of his mind.’[12]

In the introduction to his selection for The Oxford Book of Modern Verse, Yeats quoted Johnson (‘Life must be a ritual’) and commenced the next section thus:

‘Then in 1900 everybody got down off his stilts; henceforth nobody drank absinthe with his black coffee; nobody went mad; nobody committed suicide; nobody joined the Catholic Church; or if they did I have forgotten.’[13] Stilts, of course, are not the legs of barstools. . .

Circe, by John William Waterhouse

(J.W. Waterhouse, Circe Offering the Cup to Odysseus (Gallery Oldham)

Near the end of Pound’s Mauberley, we read of:

The unforecasted beach:
Then on an oar
read this:

“I was
And I no more exist;
Here drifted
An hedonist.”

It’s often noted that Johnson’s barstool fall earlier in Mauberley echoes the fatal descent of Elpenor in Homer’s Odyssey, drunk, tumbling down a ladder in Circe’s house. The youngest of Odysseus’s men, he is the first shade that Odysseus meets in the underworld. Homer’s Book XI is, of course, the one out of twenty-four that Pound selects as basis for his Canto I, in which Elpenor pleads to Odysseus:

‘But thou, O King, I bid remember me, unwept, unburied,
Heap up mine arms, be tomb by sea-bord, and inscribed:
A man of no fortune, and with a name to come.
And set my oar up, that I swung mid fellows.’

Elpenor’s name will be remembered, firstly, through the actions of the hero Odysseus but primarily through the words of the poet Homer. Mauberley’s name will be remembered through the words of the poet, Pound, who sees aspects of himself in Odysseus and wishes—as poet—to evade Mauberley’s fate and leave him far behind. So too the edition of Johnson’s poems, with Pound’s respectful and often laudatory introduction—which has its own afterlife—sets up an oar above Johnson’s own heaped arms.

 

 

Notes

[1] Elif Batuman, The Idiot (London: Vintage, 2018), 42.

[2] Ezra Pound: Poems and Translations, edited by Richard Sieburth (New York: Library of America, 2003), 553.

[3] K. K. Ruthven, A Guide to Ezra Pound’s Personae (1926) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), 136.

[4] John Espey, Ezra Pound’s Mauberley: A Study in Composition (1955; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), 92.

[5] Poetical Works of Lionel Johnson (London: Elkin Mathews, 1915), 52. See Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear: Their Letters, 1909-1914, edited by Omar Pound and A. Walton Litz (London: Faber and Faber, 1985), 83-84.

[6] Donald Gallup, Ezra Pound: A Bibliography, revised edition (Charlottesville: University of Press of Virginia, 1983), 140.

[7] Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, edited by T. S. Eliot (London: Faber and Faber, 1960), 365, 362. The phrase ‘under emotion’ recalls Pound’s letter to Harriet Monroe, editor of Poetry in January 1915—‘nothing that you couldn’t, in some circumstance, in the stress of some emotion, actually say’—with a 1937 footnote added to the letter: ‘It should be realized that Ford Madox Ford had been hammering this point of view into me from the time I first met him’: Selected Letters, 1907-1941, edited by D. D. Paige (New York: New Directions, 1971), 49.

[8] Ezra Pound, Selected Prose 1909-1965, edited by William Cookson (London: Faber and Faber, 1973), 41; review of Ford’s High Germany in Brita Lindberg-Seyersted, editor, Pound/Ford: The Story of a Literary Friendship (London: Faber & Faber 1982), 10.

[9] Herbert N. Schneidau, Ezra Pound: The Image and the Real (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1969), discusses the changing status of ‘curial’ in Pound’s prose and the shifts in attitude towards the language as spoken.

[10] Richard Ellmann, Oscar Wilde (London: Penguin Books, 1988), 306.

[11] W. B. Yeats, Autobiographies (London: Macmillan, 1955), 301, 310-311.

[12] W. B. Yeats, Essays and Introductions (London: Macmillan, 1961), 491, 492-493.

[13] W. B. Yeats, ‘Introduction’, The Oxford Book of Modern Verse, 1892-1935 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1936), x, xi.

Spaniels, Beards, Lapis Lazuli

Delort, Charles Edouard, 1841-1895; Girl with Bagpipes . Long, Edwin, 1829-1891; Girl with Bagpipes

(Two examples of ‘Girl with bagpipes’, by Charles Edouard Delort, The Cooper Gallery, Barnsley; and Edwin Long, Wolverhampton Gallery)

Walking round the park, attempting to commit to memory – again, a few lines having fallen out of one ear – Louis MacNeice’s ‘Bagpipe Music’ (‘It’s no go the Yogi-Man, it’s no go Blavatsky,/ all we want is a bank balance and a bit of skirt in a taxi’).

Men with dogs, women with dogs, men with men and with women, women with women, all with dogs. Sometimes, the people in view are outnumbered by the dogs, though all are outnumbered by the trees – a positive feature of a park, I’d say. This was lunchtime. Earlier in the day, I often pass the man with three spaniels—one Springer, I think, and perhaps two Cavalier King Charles. He wears a Fedora that has seen long service rather than a cap but still fits comfortably into my standard image of the sea-captain. An actor named John Hewer played Captain Birdseye in the television adverts for thirty years (he died in 2008) and is probably the version that I best remember, though his beard was far less luxuriant than that of Captain Spaniels.

Armfield, George, 1810-1893; Spaniels in a Barn Interior

(George Armfield, ‘Spaniels in a Barn Interior: Torre Abbey Museum)

Writing to her brother Warner (‘Dear Badger’) in 1915, Marianne Moore reported: ‘I brought home Hueffer’s [Ford Madox Ford’s] Memories and Impressions, a pearl of a book in which Hueffer tells about the Pre-Raphaelites and his grandfather who looked “exactly like the king of hearts on a pack of cards,” and Morris who said “Mary those six eggs were bad. I ate them but don’t let it happen again.” He says they all looked like old fashioned sea captains and Morris was gratified beyond measure on several occasions at being stopped by sailors and questioned with regard to their shipping with him.’[1]

And so he did. In Ancient Lights, the book’s British title, Ford writes that the members of that ‘old, romantic circle’, the Pre-Raphaelites and those associated with them, ‘seem to me to resemble in their lives—and perhaps in their lives they were greater than their works—to resemble nothing so much as a group of old-fashioned ships’ captains.’ He recalls the last time he met William Morris, who told Ford ‘that he had just been talking to some members of a ship’s crew whom he had met in Fenchurch Street. They had remained for some time under the impression that he was a ship’s captain. This had pleased him very much, for it was his ambition to be taken for such a man.’[2]

Of his collaborator Joseph Conrad, Ford wrote that he ‘never presented any appearance of being a bookish, or even a reading man. He might have been anything else; you could have taken fifty guesses at his occupation, from, precisely, ship’s captain to, say, financier, but poet or even student would never have been among them and he would have passed without observation in any crowd. He was frequently taken for a horse fancier. He liked that.’ And: ‘His ambition was to be taken for—to be!—an English country gentleman of the time of Lord Palmerston.’[3]

Now, of course, writers and artists look and dress much the same as anybody else, as you’d expect. But there was a time when some artists wanted to look like artists – while some wanted to look like anything but. What is it, though, about those sea captains? A maritime nation? All the nice girls love a sailor? J. M. W. Turner was another one, in later life compared to a sailor, a farmer, a coachman, a steamboat captain, a North Sea pilot. Robert Bontine Cunningham Grahame, though—writer, adventurer, first president of the National Party of Scotland in 1928—looked, Douglas Goldring remembered, ‘like a Spanish hidalgo.’[4]

Carola-Rackete

(Not all ship’s captains fit the template: this is Carole Rackete, captain of a rescue ship carrying 40 people, who broke a blockade and courageously docked Sea-Watch 3 on the island of Lampedusa after a two-week standoff with the Italian authorities, and in defiance of a ban imposed by the right-wing interior-minister Matteo Salvini (since replaced)
(Photograph : Sea Watch Mediateam via The Guardian)
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/29/sea-watch-captain-carola-rackete-arrested-italian-blockade

Conrad had, of course, actually been a ship’s captain; and, if T. S. Eliot looked like a banker or a publishing executive, there was a reason for it. Wallace Stevens no doubt appeared like an insurance executive. Beatrix Potter, after a dozen years of artistic productivity, married and became a farmer, breeding Herdwick sheep and increasingly recognised as an expert in her field: ‘So long as she could live and look like a farmer, she asked no better’.[5]

Ezra Pound, on the other hand, looked like – A Poet. ‘He ordered a snug-waisted full-skirted overcoat of tweed, the blue of delphiniums, and the buttons were large square pieces of lapis lazuli.’[6] Or rather, Ezra ‘would approach with the step of a dancer, making passes with a cane at an imaginary opponent. He would wear trousers made of green billiard cloth, a pink coat, a blue shirt, a tie hand-painted by a Japanese friend, an immense sombrero, a flaming beard cut to a point, and a single, large blue earring.’[7]

Richard Cassell, in conversation with Pound at St. Elizabeths in 1951, recorded that: ‘Ford would take Pound to the drawing rooms of everyone who would accept him, Ford dressed in top hat and swallow-tailed coat, Pound in anybody’s cast-off clothes and old velvet jacket. “The next day, more than likely, Ford would be among his pigs. He was both the lord of the Cinque Ports and a simple farmer.”’[8]

David-Jones.Spectator

(David Jones, via The Spectator)

William Blissett recalled, of one of his visits to David Jones, ‘A couple of anecdotes over tea. Evelyn Waugh (who was very shy and embarrassed if surprised in one of his many kindnesses) took David aside some years ago and remonstrated with him for brushing his hair down over his forehead. “You look like a bloody artist,” he said, to which the only possible reply was, “But I am a bloody artist.”’[9] Waugh, it’s safe to say, did not generally look like a bloody artist. Still, brushing your hair forward certainly requires less financial outlay than tweed or lapis lazuli.

 
Notes

[1] The Selected Letters of Marianne Moore, edited Bonnie Costello, Celeste Goodridge and Cristanne Miller (London: Faber and Faber, 1998), 99.

[2] Ford Madox Ford, Ancient Lights and Certain New Reflections (London: Chapman and Hall, 1911), 17-18.

[3] Ford Madox Ford, Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance (London: Duckworth, 1924), 57-58.

[4] Peter Ackroyd, Turner (London: Vintage 2006), 25-26; Douglas Goldring, South Lodge: Reminiscences of Violet Hunt, Ford Madox Ford and the English Review Circle (London: Constable, 1943), 33.

[5] Margaret Lane, The Tale of Beatrix Potter (1946; Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1962), 173.

[6] Brigit Patmore, My Friends When Young, edited with an introduction by Derek Patmore (London: Heinemann, 1968), 61.

[7] Ford Madox Ford, Return to Yesterday: Reminiscences 1894-1914 (London: Victor Gollancz, 1931), 370.

[8] Richard A. Cassell, ‘A Visit with E. P.’, Paideuma, 8, 1 (1979), 67. One or two of these reported facts should be approached warily, and perhaps with the step of a dancer.

[9] William Blissett, The Long Conversation: A Memoir of David Jones (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), 61.

 

Play up, play up and play the game!

Operation-Overlord-Wiki

6 June 1944, and the Battle of Normandy begins as Operation Overlord gets underway. The news coverage of the seventy-fifth anniversary has been unsurprisingly extensive and has featured some remarkable veterans, most inevitably in their nineties now, and some extraordinarily moving testimony. And, of course, several commentators and columnists have remarked on the painful ironies of the occasion, that vast military operation to liberate Europe marked by cooperation, expansion and alliance—apart from Britain, the United States and Canada, there were also service personnel from Poland, Greece, Norway, New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, France and Belgium—set against the assumptions and values currently espoused by many in Britain and the United States, of separation, closure and isolation.

Our local D-Day connection is with Bristol’s Clifton College, founded in 1862, which became, for part of the Second World War, the British headquarters of the United States First Army. In October 1943, General Omar Bradley moved to Clifton and the college Council Room became the centre of invasion planning.

Clifton College boasts an extraordinary list of old boys (mainly boys: its co-educational history is relatively brief), from Trevor Howard, Michael Redgrave and John Cleese to Roger Fry, Peter Lanyon and Henry Tonks. Ford Madox Ford’s Christopher Tietjens, in Parade’s End, has attended Clifton, together with his friend Vincent Macmaster – but then Arthur Marwood, Ford’s friend and the partial model for Tietjens, did go there. Other Clifton-educated writers were Joyce Cary, L. P. Hartley, Geoffrey Household – and Henry (later Sir Henry, knighted in 1915) Newbolt, born 6 June 1862 (he died the year before the Second World War began). Among his contemporaries were Arthur Quiller-Couch (‘Q’, editor of the Oxford Book of English Verse among many other volumes), Francis Younghusband and Newbolt’s ‘lifetime friend’ Douglas Haig, the revered and reviled Field Marshal Haig, commander of the British Expeditionary Force from 1915 until the war’s bloody end. Paul Fussell, in his seminal The Great War and Modern Memory, remarks that, ‘To Newbolt, the wartime sufferings of such as Wilfred Owen were tiny—and whiny—compared with Haig’s’.[1]

Clifton-College

(Clifton College, via https://www.tes.com/)

Newbolt became head of school in 1881 (he was called to the Bar in 1887 and practised for a dozen years). His poem ‘The Chapel’ presents a father talking to his son; the second stanza runs:

To set the cause above renown,
To love the game beyond the prize,
To honour, while you strike him down,
The foe that comes with fearless eyes;
To count the life of battle good,
And dear the land that gave you birth,
And dearer yet the brotherhood
That binds the brave of all the earth.[2]

Newbolt attended the initial meeting that Charles Masterman held at Wellington House, first home of the War Propaganda Bureau. It took place on the afternoon of 2 September 1914 and the writers gathered there included James Barrie, Arnold Bennett, Robert Bridges, G. K. Chesterton, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Galsworthy, Thomas Hardy, John Masefield and H. G. Wells. Kipling and Quiller-Couch, though unable to attend in person, sent messages offering their service. Ford Madox Ford didn’t attend but subsequently wrote two idiosyncratic propaganda volumes for his friend Masterman.[3]

It’s hardly a surprise that, to literary men returning from the trenches or the ‘theatre of war’, who had seen and heard and suffered the devastating effects of mechanised warfare as well as the tactical and strategic policies pursued by those who had such weapons at their disposal, Newbolt was a handily compressed version of all they had learned to reject, mistrust and disbelieve. Wilfred Owen, who fought and died in France, wrote ‘Dulce et decorum est’; Ezra Pound, though a non-combatant, wrote in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920):

Died some pro patria, non dulce non et decor . . .

walked eye-deep in hell
believing in old men’s lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy;

usury age-old and age-thick
and liars in public places.[4]

Newbolt3

(Henry Newbolt via http://historywebsite.co.uk/)

Newbolt’s most famous poems now are probably ‘Drake’s Drum’ and ‘Vitaï Lampada’, the latter ‘a public-school favourite since 1898’, Fussell observes, and one that demonstrates the classic equation between war and sport. ‘Fox-hunting, the sport of kings with only twenty per cent. of the danger of war!’ a character in Ford’s Last Post reflects, perhaps remembering R. S. Surtees’ Handley Cross (1843), ‘it’s the sport of kings, the image of war without its guilt, and only twenty-five per cent of its danger’, and even William Somerville, ‘The Chase’ (1735), ‘the sport of kings; / Image of war, without its guilt.’[5] Newbolt opts for cricket:

Gore, Spencer, 1878-1914; The Cricket Match

(Spencer Gore, The Cricket Match, 1909: The Hepworth Wakefield

There’s a breathless hush in the Close to-night—
Ten to make and the match to win—
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.

The second stanza switches to war in the Sudan, the unsuccessful attempt to relieve Gordon at Khartoum:

The sand of the desert is sodden red,—
Red with the wreck of a square that broke;—
The Gatling’s jammed and the Colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England’s far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:
“Play up! play up! and play the game!”[6]

Abu-Klea
(https://www.britishbattles.com/war-in-egypt-and-sudan/battle-of-abu-klea/ )

And, in the final stanza:

This is the word that year by year,
While in her place the school is set,
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind—

“Play up! play up! and play the game!”

Newbolt’s career was marked by literary popularity, eminence in public service and significant governmental influence, including on the policy pursued in Ireland. He became Controller of Telecommunications at the Foreign Office and was made a Companion of Honour in 1922. Still, I like to recall Ezra Pound’s account of a conversation he had, pre-1914, of course, with Maurice Hewlett, poet and novelist, who had likened Newbolt’s poems to ‘The Ballads’.

E. P. BUT (blanks left for profanity) . . . it, Hewlett, look at the line:
‘He stood the door behind’,
(blanks for profanity) you don’t find lines like that in Patrick Spence.
Hewlett: But, but I don’t mean an OLDE ballad, I mean an—eh—eighteenth-century ballad.
E. P., But (blanks left for profanity), Hewlett, the man is a contemporary of Remy de Gourmont!
Hewlett: Ungh!! Unh nnh eh, I don’t suppose he has thought of that. (Long pause)
Hewlett: (continues very slowly): I don’t suppose, eh, I had either.’[7]

 

 
References

[1] Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), 26.

[2] ‘Clifton Chapel’, The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1918, edited by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), 1066 (yes, really).

[3] Peter Buitenhuis, The Great War of Words: British, American and Canadian Propaganda and Fiction, 1914-1933 (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1987), 14.

[4] Ezra Pound: Poems and Translations, edited by Richard Sieburth (New York: Library of America, 2003), 551.

[5] Ford Madox Ford, Last Post (1928; edited by Paul Skinner, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2011), 12fn.

[6] Fussell, Great War and Modern Memory, 25-26.

[7] Ezra Pound, ‘Harold Monro’, in Polite Essays (1937; Plainview, New York: Books for Libraries Press, 1966), 11.

 

Owl’s Eyes

Owls

My daughter’s flight from Barcelona, due late in the evening, is delayed by two hours, so I sit up, well beyond my usual bedtime. ‘Night-owl’, people used to say, certainly my mother used to say, of those who kept late hours, though Edward Hopper’s famous 1942 painting of four people in a diner keeping very late hours, ‘the classic film noir Hopper’, as Robert Hughes calls it, is entitled Nighthawks.[1]

Nighthawks

(Edward Hopper, Nighthawks: The Art Institute of Chicago; Friends of American Art Collection)

Owls, though, I associate with at least three firsts in my life: in the pages of the brief travel journal I kept on my first trip to Greece some twenty years ago, I see several mentions of the call of the Scops owl, the Eurasian (or Common) Scops owl, known to a generation of young (and older) readers of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books because Ron Weasley’s owl is a Scops. Similar in some ways to a Scops and, apparently, sometimes mistaken for it, is the Little Owl, Athene noctua, sacred owl of Athena. The goddess with the grey eyes, she was traditionally described as. When James Joyce talked to Sylvia Beach of his eye problems and mentioned glaucoma, Beach remembered: ‘It was the first time I had ever heard of this disease, with its beautiful name. “The gray owl eyes of Athena,” said Joyce.’[2] So said the author of Ulysses but, apparently, while Homer uses the word for an ‘owl’ (skops) only once, glaukopis—derived from glaux, the generic term for ‘owl’—occurs some ninety times in his work. It may have meant ‘sharp-eyed’ or ‘with gleaming eyes’.[3]

SB-JJ

(Sylvia Beach and James Joyce via The Washington Times)

I was working on my thesis when my supervisor, the poet Charles Tomlinson, mentioned in conversation that John Ruskin had discussed the meaning of glaukopis in a book called The Queen of the Air (1869). ‘In her prudence, or sight in darkness, she is “Glaukopis,” owl-eyed’, he wrote of Athena. And a little later, Glaukopis ‘chiefly means grey-eyed: grey standing for a pale or luminous blue; but it only means “owl-eyed” in thought of the roundness and expansion, not from the colour; this breadth and brightness being, again, in their moral sense, typical of the breadth, intensity, and singleness of the sight in prudence’.[4]

I’d been reading Ezra Pound on Allen Upward and the pages to which Charles had directed me evolved into a large part of my first published essay.[5] Upward regarded with a severely critical eye the attempts of scholars thus far ‘to understand the word glaukopis, given to the goddess Athene. Did it mean blue-eyed, or gray-eyed, or—by the aid of Sanskrit—merely glare-eyed? And all the time they had not only the word glaux staring them in the face, as the Athenian name for owl, and the name of ox-eyed Hera to guide them, but they had the owl itself cut at the foot of every statue of Athene, and stamped on every coin of Athens, to tell them that she was the owl-eyed goddess, the lightning that blinks like an owl. For what is characteristic of the owl’s eyes is not that they glare, but that they suddenly leave off glaring, like lighthouses whose light is shut off. We may see the shutter of the lightning in that mask that overhangs Athene’s brow, and hear its click in the word glaukos. And the leafage of the olive, whose writhen trunk bears, as it were, the lightning’s brand, does not glare, but glitters, the pale under face of the leaves alternating with the dark upper face, and so the olive is Athene’s tree, and is called glaukos. Why need we carry owls to Oxford?’[6] (The many owls that were in Athens gave rise to the saying, ‘To bring owls to Athens’, an early forerunner of the English phrase, ‘to take coals to Newcastle’.)

Athenes-Owl

The novelist Violet Hunt, who often received Ezra Pound at South Lodge, her home on Campden Hill Road, had an owl named Ann Veronica, after the novel by H. G. Wells, ‘a very pretty little owl’ but—‘She died untimely.’[7] The owl was part of a menagerie that included a bulldog, nine Persian cats, and several parrots that ‘shrieked “Ezra! Ezra!” whenever they saw him bouncing up the walk.’[8] Hunt’s partner for a decade was, of course, Ford Madox Ford, the other main focus of my research: the rest of my essay linked Upward and his double vortex, or waterspout, with Ford’s 1913 novel The Young Lovell. Ford published almost eighty books in his lifetime but the first of them all was a fairy tale called The Brown Owl, its frontispiece created by his grandfather, the painter Ford Madox Brown.

Brown_Owl_FMB

The mountains being so tall
And forcing the town on the river,
The market’s so small
That, with the wet cobbles, dark arches and all,
The owls
(For in dark rainy weather the owls fly out
Well before four), so the owls
In the gloom
Have too little room
And brush by the saint on the fountain
In veering about.[9]

 
References

[1] Robert Hughes, American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America (London: The Harvill Press, 1997), 427.

[2] Sylvia Beach, Shakespeare and Company, new edition (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991), 39.

[3] Michael Ferber, A Dictionary of Literary Symbols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 146. Liddell and Scott’s Greek Lexicon has ‘epithet of Minerva’—Roman goddess identified with Greek Athene—‘with gleaming eyes’.

[4] The Works of John Ruskin, Library Edition, Volume XIX: The Cestus of Aglaia and The Queen of the Air with Other Papers and Lectures on Art and Literature, 1860–1870, edited by E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn (London: George Allen, 1905), 306, 381.

[5] Paul Skinner, ‘Of Owls and Waterspouts’, Paideuma, 17, 1 (Spring 1988), 59-68.

[6] Allen Upward, The New Word: An Open Letter addressed to the Swedish Academy in Stockholm on the meaning of the word IDEALIST (New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1910), 238.

[7] Violet Hunt, The Flurried Years (London: Hurst and Blackett, 1926), 109.

[8] Barbara Belford, Violet: The Story of the Irrepressible Violet Hunt and her Circle of Lovers and Friends—Ford Madox Ford, H. G. Wells, Somerset Maugham, and Henry James (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990), 166-167.

[9] Ford Madox Ford, ‘In the Little Old Market-place’, Selected Poems, edited and introduced by Max Saunders (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1997), 68.

 

Berwick, Sussex, tenebrosities

berwick-via-guardian

(Berwick-on-Tweed, via The Guardian)

In January 1923, Ezra Pound wrote: ‘Les guerres de Napoléon having interrupted communications between the islanders and the rest of the world, the light of the eighteenth century was lost, Landor went into exile, the inhabitants of Berwick and Sussex existed in darkness, England as a whole fell back into the tenebrosities of the counter reformation, and has remained there ever since.’[1]

Ah, those tenebrosities. Hello, darkness, my old friend, as we are practising saying. But the light of the eighteenth century? Pound is less likely to be pointing to Samuel Johnson, Pope, Crabbe, Burke and Swift than, given the context and his Francophile tendencies, the Encyclopaedists, Voltaire, Diderot, Montesquieu.

blake_ancient_of_days

(Some 18th century light: William Blake, The Ancient of Days)

‘If Pound’s Enlightenment, with its stress on Bayle, Voltaire, a few historians, and the antecedents of Revolutionary America, is not precisely that of the eighteenth-century specialist, that is because of the sharp selection and re-emphasis incident to solving a poetic problem located two centuries later’, Hugh Kenner remarked, that ‘problem’ being Pound’s need to ‘break free from Rossetti, “the nineties” and the opalescent word’.[2]

NPG Ax7811; Ezra Pound by Alvin Langdon Coburn  yeats-1911

(Alvin Langdon Coburn, Ezra Pound)        (W. B. Yeats, 1916)

As for those inhabitants of Berwick and Sussex – it could be a straightforward ‘north’ and ‘south’ of England: still, for the latter, there had been Pound’s three winters (1913-1916) at Stone Cottage at the edge of Ashdown Forest, as ‘secretary’ to William Butler Yeats.[3] Then, too, in the summer of 1920, Pound had visited his friend Ford Madox Ford in Bedham: ‘And Mr. Pound appeared, aloft on the seat of my immense dog-cart, like a bewildered Stuart pretender visiting a repellent portion of his realms. For Mr. Pound hated the country, though I will put it on record that he can carve a sucking pig as few others can. With him I quarrelled about vers libres and he shortly afterwards left England and acquired his mastery of the more resounding rhythms.’[4]

And then – Berwick. In the summer of 1914, as Ford recalled it nearly twenty years later, ‘I went home to pack my things. Next morning I was on the high platform of Berwick station. Berwick town is in Berwickshire and Berwickshire is in Scotland. But Berwick town is neither English nor Scottish. It is “juist Berwick”. The King’s proclamations are ordered to be affixed to the church doors of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland and the town of Berwick-on-Tweed.’ Then, putting down the newspaper, Ford catches sight of a three-line paragraph, ‘tucked away at the bottom of a page and headed minutely: AUSTRIAN HEIR MURDERED IN SARAJEVO. It was London’s news of the 28th June, 1914, reaching me there in a border town.’[5]

A little nearer in time to the events described, he shifts that moment forward a few weeks, writing that, ‘On the morning of 20th July, 1914, I stood upon the platform of Berwick-on-Tweed station, reading the London papers.’[6] Max Saunders discusses the conflicting dates with his usual thoroughness and accuracy.[7]

Ford was at Berwick-on-Tweed to catch the train on to Duns, where he and Violet Hunt had been invited to a house party by the novelist Mary Borden, who had rented Duns Manor with her husband, George Turner. The other houseguests included E. M. Forster and Wyndham Lewis (with whom Borden was having an affair).[8] Pound was not present but was in close contact with both Ford and Lewis (whose fictional rendering of the occasion, ‘The Country House Party, Scotland’, remained unpublished in his lifetime, though a version appears in his first autobiographical volume, Blasting and Bombardiering.[9]

At that time, Borden had published only one novel and a play, both under the name of ‘Bridget MacLagan’. She eventually produced twenty-five books, publishing well into the 1950s: the most highly regarded probably remains The Forbidden Zone, a collection of sketches and poems finally published in 1929. In both world wars, Borden set up and ran mobile hospitals in France, close to the front line, making full use of her wealth and contacts but also demonstrating immense personal courage and endurance. She was awarded the Croix de Guerre and made a member of the Légion d’honneur. After the fall of France in 1940, and a circuitous, hair-raising journey home, Borden ended up running a hospital in the Western Desert, spending time in Syria and Lebanon. She died in December 1968.[10]

mar-borden-france

Mary Borden working at a Field Hospital in France:
https://modernismmodernity.org/articles/war-experience-modernist-noise

Duns, the county town of Berwickshire, bordered the twin parishes of Bunkle and Preston, in which Ford’s great-grandfather, the physician John Brown had been born in the winter of 1735-36. In The Spirit of the People,[11] Ford again referred to Berwick-on-Tweed as if it were a separate entity, neither Scottish nor English and, a few years later, in his novel of border country, The Young Lovell, he has the Earl of Northumberland read to Margaret from an old document: ‘And when he had done with Hotspur, the Earl went on to read of the fate of the father of Hotspur, Henry, the Fourth Lord Percy of Alnwick. This lord fell at Bramham Moor fighting against King Henry IV, as Hotspur had done at Hately Field, fighting against the same King four years before. This lord’s head and quarters were placed upon London Bridge: one quarter upon the gate of York, another at Newcastle, and yet further pieces at King’s Lynn and Berwick- on-Tweed.’[12]

That seems to add up to five quarters, a miscounting to set beside Murphy’s scarves in Samuel Beckett’s novel (the text says seven but accounts for only six). In a letter to Hugh Kenner, referring to Guy Davenport’s work on the drawings for The Stoic Comedians, Beckett wrote: ‘I wonder where he will place that 7th scarf.’ In fact, Davenport used eight.[13]

Ford worked Berwick and the return journey to London into the first volume of the Tietjens tetralogy;[14] and Berwick is there again more than a decade later, ‘the patient New Yorker’ reading in Malory’s Morte d’Arthur Sir Gawaine’s letter to Sir Launcelot, telling him that he had been smitten upon the old wound received from Launcelot ‘afore the cité of Benwyke, and thorow that wounde I am com to my deth-day.’[15]

How Sir Galahad, Sir Bors and Sir Percival Were Fed with the Sanct Grael; but Sir Percival's Sister Died by the Way 1864 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828-1882

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, How Sir Galahad, Sir Bors and Sir Percival Were Fed with the Sanct Grael; but Sir Percival’s Sister Died by the Way (1864): Tate

There’s an obvious affinity between Ford (Englishman, German father, lived in France and America, published across two centuries, modernist who doesn’t quite fit the template), who wrote often—explicitly and implicitly—about borders, and Berwick, the northernmost town in England, at the mouth of a river which runs across the Anglo-Scottish border, a town which was at one time in Scotland, some of whose inhabitants regard themselves as English, some Scottish, others simply as Berwickers.

Fertile ground for the arts, then, borders – but in the wider world they can be lethal. . .

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/31/ireland-hard-border-brexit-backstop-good-friday-agreement

 

References

[1] Ezra Pound, ‘On Criticism in General’, Criterion, I, 2 (January 1923), 143.

[2] Hugh Kenner, ‘Ezra Pound and the Light of France’, in Gnomon: Essays on Contemporary Literature (New York: McDowell, Obolensky, 1958), 264.

[3] This chapter of modernism is splendidly described by James Longenbach, in Stone Cottage: Pound, Yeats and Modernism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988).

[4] Ford Madox Ford, It Was the Nightingale (London: Heinemann, 1934), 138.

[5] Ford Madox Ford, Return to Yesterday: Reminiscences 1894-1914 (London: Victor Gollancz, 1931), 434, 435.

[6] Ford Madox Ford, Between St Dennis and St George: A Sketch of Three Civilisations (London: Hodder, 1915), 38.

[7] Max Saunders, Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life, two volumes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), I, 604-605, n.12.

[8] Paul O’Keeffe, Some Sort of Genius: A Life of Wyndham Lewis (London: Jonathan Cape, 2000), 158-159.

[9] Wyndham Lewis, ‘In Berwickshire, August 1914’, Blasting and Bombardiering (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1937), 60-63.

[10] See Jane Conway, A Woman of Two Wars: The Life of Mary Borden (London: Munday Books, 2010).

[11] Ford Madox Ford, The Spirit of the People (1907), in England and the English, edited by Sara Haslam (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2003), 253.

[12] Ford Madox Ford, The Young Lovell: A Romance (London: Chatto & Windus, 1913), 140.

[13] Questioning Minds: The Letters of Guy Davenport and Hugh Kenner, edited by Edward M. Burns, two volumes (Berkeley: Counterpoint Press, 2018), I, 144, 158; Davenport’s drawing, ‘Murphy rocking: prior to inversion’, is in Hugh Kenner, The Stoic Comedians: Flaubert, Joyce, and Beckett (1962; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), 99.

[14] Ford Madox Ford, Some Do Not. . . (1924; edited by Max Saunders, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2010), 195 and n., 227, 231, 234.

[15] Ford Madox Ford, Great Trade Route (London: Allen & Unwin, 1937), 75, 89; The Works of Sir Thomas Malory, edited by Eugène Vinaver (London: Oxford University Press, 1964), 863.

 

The teeth of the evidence – or the evidence of teeth

Fear-and-Loathing . Toorenvliet, Jacob, c.1635-1719; The Dentist

(Hunter Thompson; Jacob Toorenvliet, The Dentist: Brighton and Hove Museums and Art Galleries)

‘We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive. …” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about 100 miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”’

Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, of course. And against this, what? ‘We were somewhere around Bridport when the toothache took hold.’ No. But the pain was real, one hundred per cent genuine pain; I gather that Thompson’s account was, say, seventy-five per cent actual, the rest invention. Still, that particular seventy-five is scary enough.

‘Why don’t you’, the Librarian inquires mildly, ‘just go to the dentist?’ Ah yes. There are subtle undercurrents here. On the phone to the Librarian’s mum, I ask: ‘How’s your tooth?’ ‘Quiet at the moment. How’s yours?’ ‘The same. Are you going to the dentist?’ ‘Do I want to disturb it? Won’t that just stir it up? Are you going?’ ‘Not sure yet.’ Yes. Why don’t you just . . . ?

I fleetingly recall an entry in Francis Kilvert’s diary about a dentist called Gaine and his discovery that a combination of concentrated carbolic acid and arsenious acid ‘will destroy the nerve almost entirely without pain.’[1] So much acid and no pain – almost? It sounds agonisingly unlikely. My recent dental visits have, in fact, been pretty uneventful. But teeth – a serious business. Probably the worst pain I remember is tooth-related: a mere bagatelle, most women would think, familiar as they are with chronic period pains, let alone the pains of childbirth, but I’m not too keen to go through it again.

Teeth bulked large in Ford Madox Ford’s life. In August 1911, he had ‘an awful week of dentistry’ in Paris and came to meet Violet Hunt at the Gare du Nord, ‘toothless and feckless’. He had had ‘four teeth cut one morning without gas. The dentist said he must have a week or ten days rest before beginning the lower jaw.’[2] Five years later, in March 1917, here is Ford’s friend Ezra Pound, writing to Alice Corbin Henderson: ‘Ford has been in hospital. All we know for certain is that his false teeth fell out.?? Ague or shell shock.???’[3]

Pound, teeth and Englishmen. ‘NO englishman is ever sufficiently evolved to stand civility’, he wrote to Wyndham Lewis in March 1939, when some encounter had clearly put him in a major snit. ‘KICK the bastards in the jaw FIRST.’ Commenting on this in the piece he wrote for a 1950 collection of essays assembled by Peter Russell, Lewis recalled it as: ‘There’s only one thing to do with an Englishman—kick him in the teeth’. Lewis explained that it concerned ‘a young English bibliophile’ he had sent to Rapallo’, adding that Pound’s patience ‘must have been sorely tried.’[4]

Lewis, Wyndham, 1882-1957; Mr Wyndham Lewis as 'Tyro'

(‘Mr Wyndham Lewis as a Tyro’, Ferens Art Gallery © Estate of Mrs G. A. Wyndham Lewis; The Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust)

Also tooth-related was ‘one of the great tragedies’ of Ford’s life, which occurred just before the First World War, when Ford was in Germany with the Liberal politician Charles Masterman and his wife. The landlord of the Hotel zur Post in Trêves, as a reward for having brought him ‘a British Excellency’, presented Ford with a bottle of 1813 brandy. ‘In the Mosel there is a stone that is only uncovered in years of great drought – which are years of glorious vintages. On such years they chain a barrel of brandy to that stone. When it is again uncovered they remove the old barrel and chain on a new one. That stone had not been uncovered since 1813. The bottle that the host gave me had been filled from the 1813 barrel.’ During the night, Masterman had toothache. ‘He poured by degrees the whole of that 1813 brandy into his mouth and spat it out again. By ringing the bell he could have procured a bottle of 1913 brandy for one franc fifty.’[5]

But then, as early as the turn of the century, teeth were an issue. When Joseph Conrad and Ford were collaborating on the novel that became The Inheritors and Conrad reluctantly attended to a female character—a part of what he usually termed ‘Ford’s women’—to the extent of granting her ‘good hair, good eyes and some charm’, it was ‘only with difficulty’, Ford recalled, ‘that he was restrained from adding good teeth to the catalogue. “Why not good teeth? Good teeth in a woman are part of her charm. Think of when she laughs. You would not have her not have good teeth. They are a sign of health. Your damn woman has to be healthy, doesn’t she?”’[6] By way of compensation, perhaps, the book does contain a dramatic critic who ‘furtively took a set of false teeth out of his waistcoat pocket; wiped them with a bandanna handkerchief, and inserted them in his mouth.’[7]

‘Do you know what Maupassant said about England?’, Colette wrote to Léopold Marchand in 1921, ‘“Too many toothbrushes and not enough bidets!”’[8] About bidets he was surely right but how many toothbrushes is ‘too many’?

Good night. Don’t forget to brush your teeth.

 

References

[1] Francis Kilvert, Kilvert’s Diary, edited by William Plomer, three volumes (London: Jonathan Cape, 1938, reissued 1969): II, 100.

[2] See Max Saunders, Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life, two volumes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), I, 346. And see Alan Judd, Ford Madox Ford (London: Collins, 1990), 388: ‘Never for long could he forget those teeth that Violet had paid for.’

[3] The Letters of Ezra Pound to Alice Corbin Henderson, edited by Ira B. Nadel (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993), 201.

[4] Pound/Lewis: The Letters of Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis, edited by Timothy Materer (London: Faber and Faber, 1985), 208 and n.

[5] Ford Madox Ford, Return to Yesterday: Reminiscences 1894-1914 (London: Victor Gollancz, 1931), 425.

[6] Ford Madox Ford, Joseph Conrad: A Personal Remembrance (London: Duckworth, 1924), 144.

[7] Ford Madox Ford and Joseph Conrad, The Inheritors: An Extravagant Story (1901; Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1999), 31.

[8] Colette, Letters from Colette, selected and translated by Robert Phelps (London: Virago Press, 1982), 63.

Blood, ghosts, Ezra Pound’s birthday

EP2

Sitting at the kitchen table, I try to remember exactly when I first realised that one of the characters and situations in the novel by Sarah Moss that I’m reading recurs in another of her books that I read a few months ago: it wasn’t the name of the island that triggered the memory but the surname of a character sending letters home: Moberley.[1]

Outside, a magpie on the bird table is jabbing at a fat ball with rapid strokes of its lethal-looking beak. This reminds me of the recollection, in an essay by Guy Davenport, of a remark by Ezra Pound, breaking ‘hours and hours’ of the silence common to his public persona in the later years of his life: ‘“There’s a magpie in China can turn a hedgehog over and kill it.”’ Decoding this, Davenport recognises it as an acknowledgement that Pound has read the translation of Archilochos given to him by Davenport three days earlier, the fragment about the Hedgehog and the Fox.[2]

Ezra Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho, one hundred and thirty-three years ago today, and died in Venice on 1st November 1972. He wrote a great deal: Richard Sieburth’s Library of America edition of the Poems and Translations exceeds 1350 pages; The Cantos fill another 800, contributions of poetry and prose to periodicals almost a dozen volumes. I’ve lost track of the secondary literature over the years but it must amount to at least two hundred books and probably thousands of articles, reviews and theses by now.

Pound_Ezra_library

I sit down to read or reread Pound less often than I used to but I doubt if a day goes by without my coming across some mention or connection or quotation from his work in something I’m reading or looking at. Anything – a picture, a phrase overheard, a name – can remind me of a line of Pound’s poetry or prose. It’s hardly surprising since he’s become so much a part of my landscape, in a way that very few others have. But then I’ve been reading in and around his work, on and off, for forty years; and lines of communication and connection run to and fro between Pound and almost every writer that interests me in the modernist period. Apart from his own writing, I must have read around seventy books devoted wholly or largely to Pound, several of them more than once – but, again, not a fantastic number given such a length of time and the fact that I wrote a thesis largely about that writing.

Half the books on my desk at any one time suggest some affinity or family resemblance. Here are two translations of The Odyssey and a book about archaeology and modernism; the first volume of the Davenport-Kenner letters; and The Art of Language: Selected Essays by Kenneth Cox, recommended to me by Greg Gerke — I can recommend in turn his own fine recent piece on reading The Cantos: https://bigother.com/2018/09/24/reading-the-cantos/

Beginnings are tricky, both to negotiate and to recall. I know I read Noel Stock’s biography and Kenner’s The Pound Era pretty early on. But Pound himself? I have no recollection of learning about any modern poetry whatsoever at school – and I must have come across Pound’s own writing first in The Faber Book of Modern Verse, the 1965 Donald Hall revision. This anthology begins with Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Wreck of the Deutschland, just as Charles Tomlinson, a great admirer of Hopkins, used to begin the modern period with his students. Then Yeats – and every one of those twelve poems became lodged, partially or wholly, between my ears. Then T. E. Hulme, five poems, 33 lines in all. Then turn the page and find this:

You’d have men’s hearts up from the dust
And tell their secrets, Messire Cino,
Right enough? Then read between the lines of Uc St. Circ,
Solve me the riddle, for you know the tale.

The tale, the riddle. That crowding sense of a story behind all this that you need and want to know. The names, foreign and unfamiliar. The dash of colloquialism – ‘You’d’, ‘Right enough?’ The directness. A poem containing a speaker who advises someone else (‘Messire Cino’) to ‘read between the lines’ – of another text or another life. Then all the questions, the litany of more names – and the irresistible ‘End fact. Try fiction.’ Following this: ‘The Exile’s Letter’, a bit of Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, a section of Homage to Sextus Propertius and two careful Cantos. Canto XIII has Kung (Confucius) walking with his disciples by the dynastic temple and out by the river; then ‘From Canto CXV’ is, apart perhaps from one or two words or names not immediately familiar, perfectly comprehensible to any casual passer-by (I find I still have this by heart).

Faber_Bk-Mod-V

I owe a large debt to Donald Hall then (and am surely not alone in that): apart from the Thomases –Dylan and Edward – my acquaintance with practically every modern poet begins there, from The Waste Land to The Dream Songs.

In Pisa, Pound wrote (80/506):

before the world was given over to wars
Quand vous serez bien vieille
remember that I have remembered

This has always been one of the most resonant lines for me. It became the title of an essay on Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End by Hugh Kenner and, in the closing lines of The Pound Era, he wrote of Pound shouldering ‘the weariness of 85 years, his resource memory within memory within memory.’[3]

EP-Pisa-viaWallStJournal

(Pound in the Dispensary at the DTC, Pisa: via Wall Street Journal)

That last phrase neatly encapsulates, if not the effect of reading Pound, then perhaps the effect of having read him, especially if you take in much of the related literature as well. Pound, certainly in The Cantos, refers to so much, so many historical and contemporary figures (often obscure, often out of his own personal memories), as well as literature in several languages. The Cantos ‘refer but they do not present’, as Basil Bunting apparently told Pound.[4] Some books on The Cantos will foreground a particular aspect or avenue of approach: Pound’s use of time, the occult, particular images or motifs, the relation to Dante or Confucius or the epic tradition. But even they will often go over some of the same ground as more general surveys and recycle much of the same material. Then too, unsurprisingly, Pound himself will touch on the matter of The Cantos constantly, in essays and letters. How could he not? The net result is that, eventually, the ability to state with confidence precisely where one first came across this or that fact or allusion or echo recedes beyond recall, beyond recovery.

As to whom Pound’s ‘remember that I have remembered’ is directed – perhaps the reader but more, I think, the ghosts of that lost world, his ‘jeunesse’, London, 1908-1920. By the end of the First World War, Gaudier-Brzeska and T. E. Hulme were gone; by the end of the Second, all the ‘lordly men’ named in Canto 74 were gone too: Ford, Yeats, Joyce, Victor Plarr, Edgar Jepson, Maurice Hewlett and Henry Newbolt, all dead, and others from that era, if alive, often estranged from him.

‘Memory within memory within memory’. In the essay quoted earlier, Guy Davenport relates how, a few years after his return to Italy, despondent and fatigued though he had been, Pound sat down at his typewriter and began writing letters, the first for a while, ‘He mailed the letters himself. Within a week, they began to return. They were addressed to James Joyce, Ford Madox Ford, Wyndham Lewis, William B. Yeats.’[5]

In what eventually became Pound’s ‘Canto I’, behind which stands the eleventh book of Homer’s Odyssey, a sheep is sacrificed to Tiresias in Hades, as instructed by Circe, and ‘dark blood’ flows in the fosse, blood for the ghosts. Tiresias comes, and prophesies that ‘Odysseus / Shalt return through spiteful Neptune, over dark seas, / Lose all companions.’ So he does. ‘Blood for the ghosts’ – this enabled Pound to give voice to the many writers he translated, from Provençal, Greek, Latin, Chinese, French and Italian. But perhaps it runs both ways and ghosts—from Homer through Sigismondo Malatesta to Jefferson and Adams—provide the blood that runs in the fosse of The Cantos.

and for that Christmas at Maurie Hewlett’s
Going out from Southampton
they passed the car by the dozen
who would not have shown weight on a scale     (80/515)

 

References

[1] Sarah Moss, Night Walking (2011), set in the present day, incorporates material from the Victorian era in the form of letters home from May Moberley, one of the sisters in Bodies of Light (2014).

[2] Guy Davenport, ‘Ezra Pound 1885-1972’, in The Geography of the Imagination (Boston: David R. Godine, 1997), 170; Archilochos, ‘Fragment 183’, in Seven Greeks (New York: New Directions, 1995), 54.

[3] Hugh Kenner, ‘Remember That I Have Remembered’, in Gnomon: Essays on Contemporary Literature (New York: McDowell, Obolensky, 1958), 144-161; The Pound Era (London: Faber and Faber, 1972), 561.

[4] Kenneth Cox discusses this in ’Ezra Pound: The Composition of The Cantos’, The Art of Language: Selected Essays, edited by Jenny Penberthy (Chicago: Flood Editions, 2016), 51-52.

[5] Davenport, ‘Ezra Pound 1885-1972’, 175.