Murray Edmond, ed.: Ka Mate Ka Ora
Pound’s Fascist Cantos Revisited
Nearly ten years ago now, I published a chapbook called Pound’s Fascist Cantos (or, to be precise, Ezra Pound’s Fascist Cantos (72 & 73) together with Rimbaud’s “Poets at Seven Years Old.” Auckland: Perdrix Press, 1997). As the title suggests, the book included an annotated translation of Pound’s two Italian Cantos, with a fairly extensive afterword. Only a few copies were issued – for reasons I will go into below – and it attracted only one review. John O’Connor said of it:
Of these two cantos “Provisions” (No. 72) is the more substantial, yet both are of real interest. Of course there is a good deal of Fascist propaganda in them, but there is also a good deal of humanity and insight. Not a little of Pound’s strictures on “Usura” (international capitalism) rings true at this point in history.
That Pound promoted the rest of his ideology of hate in these poems is to be regretted. Yet he is one of the major figures of twentieth century poetry. However odious some of the contents may be, we need these translations to form a complete picture of his major work. Be it said that Ross’s versions are alive with Pound’s energy and convictions; they spark and jar as only he can when presenting his mish¬mash of incompatibles forced into a type of coherence by the intensity of his poetic genius. It is a tribute to Jack Ross and an indication of his capability as a translator that these pieces stand fresh and intelligent even in their perversity, a perversity of which Ross is acutely aware (O’Connor, 126).
“A perversity of which Ross is acutely aware.” The idea of this essay is to go a little more deeply into my reasons for undertaking such a perverse project in the first place, to mention various subsequent developments in the field of Pound scholarship (such as the recent publication of an English translation of Canto 72 by Pound himself), and finally to discuss the continuing significance of the poems themselves.
“Costa più della Divina Commedia” (Kenner, 306).
It seems that one day in the 1930s Ezra Pound went into a chemist’s shop in Rapallo (where he lived at the time), and noticed that they had American toilet paper in stock. The chemist was indignant that the toilet paper cost more than a local edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy which was also on sale. Pound saw this as the “epitaph on Anglo-Saxon civilization” – a stunning illustration of the difference between what a thing costs and what it is worth.
The Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression led a great many people to question orthodox economics, so Pound was certainly not alone in being fascinated by the subject. Characteristically, though, he took it further than most. The founder of Social Credit, Major C. H. Douglas, was his first mentor, but the train of thought which started there led eventually to a conviction that Benito Mussolini, Italy’s man of destiny, was the only world leader who could really reverse the mess that Capitalism (or, as Pound preferred to call it, Usura) had made of the world.
Since perhaps 1903, Pound had been working on and off on a “poem of some length” to be called The Cantos. Loosely modelled on Dante’s Commedia, it was to be a “poem containing history,” which meant in practice having to be loose enough to contain almost anything that Pound chose to put in there. Except for a few extractable lyric portions, it’s never been a particularly easy poem to read – nor, one would imagine, to write: and the various instalments which he published between 1924 and 1940 had taken it only up to Canto 71 of an eventual 117.
In Italy, during the war, as a supporter of Mussolini and critic of the arch-usurers Churchill and Roosevelt, Pound wrote and broadcast extensively on behalf of the Axis powers. Among many other things, he wrote two poems in Italian, entitled, respectively: Canto 72: Presenza [or “Presence”] and Canto 73: Cavalcanti – Corrispondenza Repubblicana [“Cavalcanti – Republican Dispatches”]. They were first published in the Fascist newspaper Marina Repubblicana on (respectively) January 15 and February 1, 1945. Pound was close to a mental breakdown at the time (worried for the safety of his family, among other things), and when he finally went to give himself up to the invading Allied forces, he was surprised to be told that he was regarded as a war-criminal, and would shortly be facing charges of treason. In the meantime they shut him up in a cage.
Treason carried the death penalty, so the only way Pound’s old friends and colleagues in America were able to save him was to have him declared insane. It wasn’t a particularly difficult diagnosis to sustain, given some of the eccentricities both in Pound’s behaviour and his wartime propaganda, so he was duly shut up in St. Elizabeth’s Mental Hospital near Washington DC. There he stayed for the next twelve years, from 1946 to 1958. During this period Pound published two new instalments of his long poem, among many other works. The interesting thing, though, was the numbering of the new cantos: there was an unfilled gap between the “John Adams” Cantos (1940), Nos 62-71, and the Pisan Cantos (1948), Nos 74-84.
The subject was, understandably enough, a sensitive one; so there the gap stayed in all editions of The Cantos until 1987, fifteen years after the poet’s death. The Ezra Pound Estate (he has a surviving son and daughter, as well as many literary trustees) sponsored, for copyright reasons, a private printing of the two Italian Cantos in America in 1973, but this had a very limited circulation. Only when the world of scholarship began to reveal more and more details about the missing sections in Pound’s masterpiece (Eastman, 1979; Bacigalupo, 1984) were his publishers (New Direction Press in New York and Faber in London) allowed to include them, in Italian – without translation or notes – as an appendix to the fourth collected edition.
So what exactly is so shocking about these poems? The answer is quite a lot. To give an idea of the controversy, let me quote a few of the opposing opinions.
First Pound’s daughter, Mary de Rachewiltz, in her 1971 memoir Discretions:
By the end of the year  he had written Cantos 72 and 73 in Italian ... Full of vigor and images, exalting his old friends ... Marinetti, the founder of the Futurist movement, who, true to himself and his “interventism,” had gone to fight in Russia. And Admiral Ubaldo degli Uberti, whose phrase chi muore oggi fa un affare – untranslatable: dying today is a good bet – sums up the state of mind of the loyal Italians as defeat inevitably approached. Idealism and heroism were by no means all on the side of the partisans. [Pound] was infected by a desperate fighting spirit and faith. It is hard these days to define that faith or that spirit; it no longer seems a component of the air one breathes (197).
Second James Laughlin, from his collection of reprinted pieces Pound as Wuz:
Canto 73 ... is, to say the least, unappetizing. It tells the story, which Pound must have gotten from a newspaper clipping, of a “heroic” young Fascist girl scout, “una contadinella, un po’ tozza ma bella” (“a little peasant, a bit chunky but beautiful”) who leads a company of Canadian soldiers into a minefield and they are all blown up ... What a sad and tragic poem, considering what Pound once had been. I see it as a sign of incipient dementia (134).
Third Massimo Bacigalupo, from his 1984 essay, cited above:
Cantos 72-73 of 1944 ... are certainly a tour de force, bearing all the signs of Pound’s energy, though his command of Italian is not really up to verse that one can take seriously (given that even in English he can be unintentionally funny); and the misjudged politics of the broadcaster are much in the fore throughout. However, all poetry requires a certain suspension of disbelief and of schoolboy tendencies to snicker – and the spectacle of the old sculptor hewing off his bit with the usual conviction in the scarcely mastered tongue is well worth watching. (70-71)
Mary de Rachewiltz, Pound’s daughter, who has supplemented her own translation of The Cantos into Italian with a translation of these two into English prose is the most enthusiastic about the poems – but her recommendation extends only to the comment that they are “full of vigor and images.” Besides that, the two poems serve mainly as a pretext for her last-ditch defence of the bona fides of the German-dominated Salò Republic: “Mussolini had drawn up a new program, clear and strict.” She does, however, admit that ‘the dream of the ideal republic had materialized too late and under bad auspices’ (de Rachewiltz, 1971, 196).
There is indeed, as James Laughlin remarks, something rather abhorrent in Pound’s hymning the casual slaughter of the Canadian soldiers – and his identification of them as rapists does not do much to palliate the offence. Nevertheless, it’s hard to see it as much worse than the Tudor poet John Skelton’s poem on the Scottish defeat at Flodden (“Gup, Scot,/ Ye blot”), or Alexander Blok’s Bolshevik hymn “The Twelve,” or – for that matter – Shakespeare’s ‘uncritical celebration’ of violence in Henry V. In short, one suspects that Laughlin’s disappointment in the two cantos (like de Rachewiltz’s enthusiasm for them), boils down in the end to a matter of politics.
It is Pound’s lack of “historical consciousness” (Bacigalupo, 1984, 79) which makes the Italian critic Massimo Bacigalupo most indignant. Since Pound is (at any rate on the surface) one of the most historically conscious poets of the twentieth century, one is forced to interpret this as yet another – again, perhaps justified – reaction to Pound’s failure to see through the Fascist régime before it was too late.
Bacigalupo is also rather dubious about Pound’s Italian: “the spectacle of the old sculptor hewing off his bit … in the scarcely mastered tongue” (70-71). The footnote supporting this contention cites, first, a “hilarious parody of the Cantos” in James Joyce’s Selected Letters; and, second, a “superfluous apostrophe ... in Canto 72, line 49 (‘un’altro tono’)” – an error which has in fact been removed from the 1987 edition. It would be pointless to doubt Bacigalupo’s sensitivity as a judge of the language, but it is rather disturbing to find that he is unwilling to provide examples of Pound being “unintentionally funny” in either tongue. After all, as he admits, “all poetry requires a certain suspension of disbelief and of schoolboy tendencies to snicker.”
It’s easy to see how taking a position on the “poetic merit” of these cantos has become tantamount to committing oneself to an opinion on Fascism. Hence the basic agreement of Bacigalupo, Laughlin, and Pound’s most recent biographer Humphrey Carpenter (“there is nothing even faintly ambiguous about the political stance of this canto , but its support of Fascism and the Axis seems mild by comparison with Canto 73, the second of this Italian pair”(639)). Hence, too, the disagreement of the believer Mary de Rachewiltz.
Which is where I come in. I bought a copy of the 1987 edition shortly after it came out, as I was very curious to read the new cantos 72 and 73. Having studied Italian at university, and especially read quite a lot of Dante, Boccaccio, Petrarch and other Medieval and Renaissance writers, I thought that I could understand the poems better than most. Even an Italian native speaker unacquainted with Pound’s characteristic style in English might miss certain points about them.
Purely for my own interest, then – to fill a gap in my understanding of the Cantos as a whole – I set to work and produced a verse translation of the two Italian (or “Fascist”) cantos. Having done so, though – especially as I’d had to annotate the poems in detail in order to be sure of their meaning, I thought I’d check out the possibility of publication. I knew that this was unlikely to be successful, but thought it would be interesting to see what the situation actually was. I accordingly wrote to James Laughlin, Pound’s American publisher and one of his last remaining associates, enclosing a copy of the translation, and received the following, very polite, reply:
For reasons which I am sure you can guess, the Trustees of the Ezra Pound Literary Property Trust are opposed to the dissemination of English translations of Cantos 72 & 73. In our most recent printing of the Cantos we were permitted to include the Italian text, but not an English version.
… I was down skiing in New Zealand, at Ruapehu and Mount Cook, in 1934. I have fond memories of Timaru beer. (Laughlin, 4/8/91)
This letter took some time to reach me, and in the meantime, after waiting a month, I had written to the editor of the principal Pound journal, Paideuma, asking if he had any interest in my version, pending word on copyright from New Directions Press. The next letter I received, though, was not from Paideuma but from James Laughlin again:
If you have received the latest number of PAIDEUMA, you will think me quite mad because there you will find Massimo Bacigalupo’s translation of 72 & 73, with commentary, and outright theft of 14 pages of related Canto drafts from the Pound archive at Yale. Complete piracies.
This happened because dear old “Terry” Terrell, the editor-publisher of PAIDEUMA, is deathly ill and his work is being carried on by indentured students who know nothing of literary law, copyrights, or the policing of the Pound trust.
I am simply amazed by this piracy.
… Since the “cover is blown,” I take the liberty, on behalf of the Trustees, to withdraw objections to your project. (Laughlin, 10/9/91)
With this “permission,” I felt emboldened to pursue the matter further. But the next letter I received was from the recovered editor of Paideuma, and it was far from encouraging:
It cost $750 to publish Massimo Bacigalupo’s translation of Cantos 72 and 73. Unless you are prepared to pay a similar sum to the Ezra Pound Literary Property Trust, you should not consider publishing your work elsewhere. Even if you could make such arrangements, you must not do so without written permission from the Ezra Pound Literary Property Trust. (Terrell, 6/11/91)
This made me feel like giving up altogether – but I thought I’d better at least write to James Laughlin again to see if he agreed with Professor Terrell’s interpretation of the position. This was his reply:
I’m sorry that the matter of your publishing your version of 72 & 73 has become so complicated. I fear that some imprecision of signs on my part may have contributed thereto. Bref, there are too many cooks in this pot of broth.
… Terry, who is the authentic salt of the Poundian universe, has a point. The Trust lawyers are dunning him for $750 for Bacigalupo’s piracy, but he has no money because U Maine is a cow college and only gives him free office space for Paideuma. He is hoping to extract the fee from the Ligurian savant on the grounds that a contributor should submit only material on which permission has been cleared.
John Bodley has every right to give permission for down under because Faber is the Trust’s agent for UK and the empire on which, alas, the sun has gone down.
… If you publish down there, I should add that the Trust will want a letter signed by you and the magazine publisher that no claim is made to world rights. (Laughlin, 24/11/91)
In other words, Laughlin appeared to have given me permission to publish my version in the Antipodes, provided that “no claim was made to world rights.” I suspected that this was more out of kindness and (perhaps) a lingering fondness for Timaru beer than a sound business proposition, though, and the various journal editors to whom I submitted it took a similar view.
The editor at Faber to whom I wrote, quoting from Laughlin’s letters, had (however) confirmed that they had no objections per se to my publishing the translation for circulation “down under,” so I finally decided to put the whole business behind me by issuing it as a chapbook (though I was careful to stipulate on the copyright page that this was for “private circulation only,” and that no claim was being made to “world rights.”
“Pound’s English translation of Canto LXXII was first published in the fall 1993 issue of The Paris Review, and was included for the first time in the thirteenth printing of The Cantos.” So begins the small section entitled “Acknowledgments” in the latest edition of Pound’s Cantos. What’s more, Cantos LXXII and LXXIII are no longer relegated to an appendix, but have made their way into the body of the text. Like it or not, they’re clearly a part of the poem, and will have to be dealt with in subsequent discussions of it. Canto LXXIII remains in Italian with no English translation appended.
This is the text of my 1991 version, for those who are curious to fill this gap in their understanding of the poem:
And then I slept
And, waking in the wasted air,
Saw and heard thus –
He whom I saw seemed like a cavalier,
And I heard this:
“Watching my people die
Does not satisfy
even if they broke their word,
Even if they deserve
to be governed by King Turd.
Roosevelt, Churchill and Eden
bastards to a man,
Liar, Jew and glutton
have squeezed the people dry
At Sarzana I lay still,
waiting for the call
I am Guido, whom you loved
as a spirit from above
And for the burning-glass of my mind's reason.
I knew the cleansing fire
Of Venus's third sphere
already as I rode
Cavalcanti, the cavalier
(Not a mere follower)
through the squabbling streets
Of our città dolente
Not men, but a vain and touchy
race of slaves!
Passing through Arimino
I met a gallant soul
Singing as though her heart would break
A young contadinella
– Big-boned girl, but bella –
with a German on each arm;
And she sang,
she sang of love
without thought of
She had led some Canadians
into a field of mines
Where the Tempio of Ixotta
used to stand.
They were coming in fours and fives
– I felt a wave of passion
steal over me again
as if I were still alive.
That's the way girls are
in the Romagna.
The Canadians had come
to 'mop up' German scum,
To pull down the remains
They stopped to ask the way
to the Via Emilia
of a girl,
a poor young girl
Raped by the first of that canaille.
– Be'! Bene! soldiers,
Let's all go together
to Via Emilia! –
She showed them – where to go.
Her brother had dug the holes
For that mine-field,
there beside the sea-side.
Towards the sea-side, she
(big-boned, but a beauty)
Led the boys.
Brave kid! A real cutie!
She played that prank
acing 'em all for poise!
Death-threats arrived too late,
she died –
That big-boned girl –
hitting the target straight!
To hell with the enemy!
Twenty of them lay dead
The girl dead, too
in the midst of that canaille.
Everyone except the prisoners.
A real hard-case
Along the road that leads
beside the sea.
Gloria della patria!
Gloria! the glory
Of dying for one's land
in the Romagna!
The dead are not all dead,
Myself I have returned
from the third sphere
to see Romagna,
To see the North reborn
among the mountains,
In this 'morte saison'
to see the home-land,
And yet – that girl ...
Canto 72 begins with the poet being visited by a number of ghosts – first the Futurist poet Marinetti, then the librarian Torquato Dazzi, then Ezzelino da Romano, a character from Dante’s Inferno, and finally the Roman Empress Galla Placidia – all of whom insist that he sing of the origins of this “guerra di merda [shitty war].” The style ranges from a parody of Dantean invective to lyrical grace, and the politics – though extreme – are arguably subordinated to the poetic situation.
Canto 73, as you can see above, is simpler in form and (arguably) more dubious in status. The framework of the poet speaking to ghosts is kept, only this time the spirit is that of Pound’s old favourite Guido Cavalcanti, praising the actions of a patriotic peasant girl who led a group of Allied soldiers to death in a minefield.
As far as critiquing the two poems goes, two points seem to me worthy of mention.
First, Cavalcanti is not so much a persona as an interlocutor of Pound’s in this Canto. Assuming the latter’s complete agreement with and endorsement of the former’s sentiments seems to me to mistake the nature of the poem.
The comment about “waking in the wasted air” [svegliandomi nell'aere perso] in line 2 is presumably a reference to the stuffy air of Pound's own room, “wasted” by the presence of so many supernatural visitors (Bacigalupo (1984) sees it also as “a metaphor of the dark days at war's end” (78)). More importantly, though, it recalls Dante’s:
‘O animal grazioso e benigno,
Che visitando vai per l'aere perso … (Inf. V, 88-89).
[O gracious and benign spirit, who comes visiting through the darkened air …]
Francesca da Rimini’s first words when she greets Dante in the circle of the lustful.
Dante the poet’s view of the souls he depicts in Inferno must always be distinguished from Dante the character’s reaction to them. The latter feels considerable pity for the miserable Francesca, for which he is rebuked by his companion Virgil. Dante the poet is concerned here to point out the dangers of romantic love – just as his portrayal of Ulysses and his “folle volo” (XXVI, 125) is designed to warn us of the dangers of restless curiosity.
It’s interesting, despite this, that generations of readers have persisted in reading both Francesca and Ulysses as attractive, even admirable characters. The poetry, in this case (as in so many others), seems to contradict its author’s deliberate intentions . Could this be true of Pound also? Hardly – the unedifying tale of the minefield is actually told by him, even if mimed through in the mouth of a ghost, but the Dantean parallel should at least make us ready to take the words of his visitors with a grain of salt. Just as in the Commedia, they are meant to be queried and interpreted, not simply taken straight.
Secondly, Cavalcanti is only the last in a succession of apparitions. It makes sense to read his sabre-rattling, jingoistic reaction to the allied invaders in the light of the other “witnesses” who have already appeared in the earlier canto.
They are, in order:
LXXII. 9 – 'Filippo Tomaso'.
Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1875-1944), Futurist poet and publicist, converted later to Fascism. Loyal to the German-backed Republic of Salò, 'he participated in the Ethiopian war and was on the Russian front for a period in 1942-43' (Bondanella, 1979, 318). His death in 1944 seems to have been one of the things that prompted Pound to write the two Italian Cantos.
LXXII.53 – 'Torquato Dazzi'.
Manlio Torquato Dazzi (1891-1968), was 'first librarian in Cesena, where Pound met him while researching Malatesta; he was then director (1926-57) of the Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Venice' (Bacigalupo, 1984, 75). His translation of Mussato's Ecerinis was published in 1914, thirty years before Canto 72 was composed.
LXXII.80 – 'Eccerinus'.
Dazzi's quotation from Mussato's play at l.79 proves sufficient to call up its hero, Ezzelino III da Romano (1194-1259), head of the Ghibellines, included (as 'Azzalino') among the tyrants in Circle VII of Dante's Hell (Inf. XII, 109-10).
LXXII.173 – 'Placidia fui, sotto l'oro dormivo'.
Galla Placidia (c.388-450), Empress of the Western Roman Empire, buried in Ravenna. Cookson (29), describes her tomb as 'one of the sacred places in the Cantos'. Bacigalupo, (1984, 77), remarks that 'Out of the chorus [of birds] ... a woman announces herself, somewhat like Pia in Purgatorio V'.
Marinetti’s demand is for more heroes, more fighting, more war. Pound (the character), though, is tired of all that:
Ma ti darò posto nel Canto, ti darò la parola, a te;
Ma se vuoi ancora combattere, va; piglia qualche giovanotto;
Pigiate hualche ziovanozz’ imbelle ed imbecille
Per fargli un po’ di coraggio, per dargli un po’ di cervello,
Per dare all’Italia ancor’ un eroe fra tanti ... (15-19)
[I'll give you a spot in my Canto, I'll give you the mike; / But if you just want to fight, scram – get hold of some kid; / Gedda holda some keed – some dumb scaredy-cat / And lend him some balls (not to mention some brains) / As if Italia needed one more bloody hero! …]
The ghost finally departs with the thought:
Io cantai la guerra, tu hai voluta la pace,
Orbi ambidue! (41-42)
[I praised war, you wanted peace / Blindmen both!]
The librarian Dazzi trembles in and out of contact, just long enough for Pound to mention his “double-act” with Marinetti:
Ambi in eccesso amaste, lui l’avvenire
E tu il passato. (57-58)
[Both over the top, he for the future / And you for the past.]
Do we sense here the two warring halves of Pound’s own nature – aesthete and ideologue? In any case, Dazzi is a mere herald of the next substantial presence, Ezzelino:
Ezzelino, once again, appears to stand for a certain aspect of ‘Ez’ himself, as Humphrey Carpenter speculates in his biography A Serious Character (1988, 639): “he defends having ‘made fun of reason’ [l.147], and says that ‘one single falsification’ [l.152] does more harm to the world than ‘all my outbursts.’”
This particular outburst consists mainly of abuse of King Victor Emmanuel for having concluded a treaty with the allies, and also of Pope Pius XII, for being a friend to usury and international capitalism.
As the atmosphere darkens, however, all is momentarily transformed by a burst of birdsong and the presence of Placidia, Dante’s Pia:
E come onde che vengon da più d’un trasmittente
Le voci fuse, e con frasi rotte,
E molti uccelli fecer’ contrappunto
Nel mattino estivo,
fra il cui cigolar
In tono soave:
«Placidia fui, sotto l’oro dormivo.»
Suonava come note di ben tesa corda. (166-174)
[Like waves that come from more than one transmitter, / The rippling voices / Fused (in broken phrases), and I heard / A skein of birds who sang in counterpoint / As in a garden / on a summer's day, / 'Mongst whom, most softly: / “Placidia fui, sotto l'oro dormivo.” / “I, Placidia, sleeping under gold” – rang from a well-tuned string.]
Pound begins to speak to her in the tones of his earlier love poetry, but is abruptly shouldered aside by Ezzelino, who concludes with one more prophecy of victory.
Pound as character, then, in these two cantos, is constantly chided by his visitors for his lack of devotion to the cause and to war in general. It’s not (presumably) that he doesn’t agree with them in theory, just that he has to constantly work himself up to feel enthusiasm for “one more hero” [un eroe fra tanti].
Cavalacanti, his next “presence,” allows him even less room for manoeuvre. There is no interaction here, only a single ranting voice celebrating the patria.
When Pound himself next begins to speak, in propria persona, we are in Canto LXXIV, the first of the Pisan Cantos. His words turn out to have been worth waiting for:
The enormous tragedy of the dream in the peasant’s bent shoulders
If at least one of those dreams was the collective, the ideal of Fascism, then he is right in saying that it was the people who ended up paying for it. A tragedy on this scale ends up drawing in even the privileged, though.
Thus Ben and la Clara a Milano
by the heels at Milano
The only thing that remains to be said for this particular mad, misguided, utopian dream, is that it ended with “a bang, not a whimper” …
Taken as a whole, then, Pound’s two cantos 72 and 73 are much more of a piece with the rest of the poem than readers have hitherto felt comfortable admitting. He doesn’t miraculously come to at the end of 1945 and resume his former course. What has always been disconcerting about The Cantos, their tone of ill-digested rant, is certainly visible here. What is (I’d like to think) lastingly valuable about Pound’s work, the author’s ability to do justice to all his different poetic moods, inconsistencies and shifts of opinion, is also on display, however.
There seems little purpose here in rehashing the details of Patricia Cockran’s recent (2000) astute summary of the immediate political context of the two Italian Cantos, but I’d like at least to concur with her introduction:
These poems, written in a time of terror and confusion, are interesting for their political, philosophical, and aesthetic relation to the larger work; they may be considered as important for their poetic failings as the Pisan Cantos are for their merits, for despite those failings, they bring Pound back to poetry after a long hiatus, and the ethical and aesthetic collapse which they represent makes the exquisite recovery that occurs in the Pisan Cantos both necessary and possible. (535)
Canto 73 will always remain a hard nut to swallow, but in the context of the self-questioning dialogues of 72, it takes its place in the tapestry far less obtrusively.
- Alighieri, Dante. La Divina Commedia. 1: Inferno. Ed. Anna Maria Chiavacci Leonardi. 1991. Milano: Mondadori, 2005.
- Bacigalupo, Massimo. ‘The Poet at War: Ezra Pound’s Suppressed Italian Cantos.’ The South Atlantic Quarterly 83 (1984): 69-79.
- Bacigalupo, Massimo. ‘Ezra Pound’s Cantos 72 and 73: An Annotated Translation.’ Paideuma 20 (1991): 9-41.
- Bondanella, Peter, and Julia Conaway Bondanella. Dictionary of Italian Literature. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood P, 1979.
- Carpenter, Humphrey. A Serious Character: The Life of Ezra Pound. London: Faber, 1988.
- Cockram, Patricia. ‘Collapse and Recall: Ezra Pound’s Italian Cantos.’ Journal of Modern Literature 23 (2000): 535-44.
- Cookson, William. A Guide to the Cantos of Ezra Pound. New York: Persea Books, 1985.
- de Rachewiltz, Mary. Discretions. London: Faber, 1971.
- Eastman, Barbara. ‘The Gap in The Cantos: 72 and 73.’ Agenda 18 (1980): 142-56.
- Kenner, Hugh. The Pound Era. 1972. London: Faber, 1975.
- Laughlin, James. Letter to the author. 4 August 1991.
- Laughlin, James. Letter to the author. 10 Sept. 1991.
- Laughlin, James. Letter to the author. 24 November 1991.
- Laughlin, James. Pound as Wuz: Recollections and Interpretations. London: Peter Owen, 1989.
- O’Connor, John. Review of Pound’s Fascist Cantos, by Jack Ross, Perdrix Press & City of Strange Brunettes, by Jack Ross, Pohutukawa Press. JAAM 12 (1999): 126-28.
- Pound, Ezra. The Cantos. 1954. 4th ed. London: Faber, 1987.
- Pound, Ezra. The Cantos. 1970. 15th impression. New York: New Directions, 1996.
- Ross, Jack, trans. Ezra Pound’s Fascist Cantos (72 & 73) together with Rimbaud’s “Poets at Seven Years Old.” Auckland: Perdrix Press, 1997.
- Skelton, John. Poetical Works. Ed. Alexander Dyce. 1843. 2 vols. New York: Garland P, 1965. 1: 193.
- Terrell, Carroll F. Letter to the author. 6 November 1991.
Ka Mate Ka Ora #3 (2007): 41-57.
[Available at: http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/kmko/03/ka_mate03_ross.asp]
Correspondence: Pound’s Italian Cantos
Massimo Bacigalupo and Jack Ross refine some matters raised in the latter’s essay, "Pound’s Fascist Cantos Revisited", kmko #3 (March 2007).
Massimo Bacigalupo to Jack Ross:
I have just reread your translation of Canto 73, and it’s really great fun. I must send it on to some friends. There are some small points I may mention.
he was surprised to be told that he was regarded as a war-criminal, and would shortly be facing charges of treason. Pound was quite aware of the charges against him (not perhaps as ‘war criminal’ but as traitor).
in St. Elizabeth’s Mental Hospital near Washington DC. The correct spelling is St. Elizabeths.
Mary de Rachewiltz, Pound’s daughter, who has supplemented her own translation of The Cantos into Italian with a translation of these two into English prose is the most enthusiastic about the poems. I don’t know about this. Certainly her English translation is not included in the 1985 Italian bilingual edition of the Cantos. (Which by the way comprises 72-73 in their rightful position.) I confess that to some extent I share MdR’s enthusiasm, for 72-73 are really a tour de force, and Pound’s most passionate ‘dialogue with Dante’.
waking in the wasted air. ‘aer perso’ is ‘black air’ in the Temple Dante, though I grant that ‘wasted’ is attractive.
Raped by the first of that canaille. ‘Po’ prima’ is short for ‘un po’ prima’: ‘a little earlier’ – this could be one of many instances where Pound’s use of colloquialisms interspersed with archaisms may sound ‘funny’ to the common Italian reader.
Brave kid! A real cutie! / She played that prank for love. As printed the line means ‘she gave a trinket’ (or perhaps ‘a caress’). But ‘lei dava’ is probably a misprint for ‘le davo’, (‘I would have given her a trinket/caress’). Pound’s use of the imperfect ‘le davo’ in lieu of the conditional ‘le avrei dato’ betrays the non-Italian author. This does not lessen his achievement in these cantos.
Death-threats arrived too late. ‘Sfidava la morte’: ‘She defied death’
And lend him some balls (not to mention some brains) / As if Italia needed one more bloody hero! The translation sounds ironic, but this is not the import of the original. Pound is praising (for the benefit of his Italian audience) the many Italian heroes.
of Placidia, Dante’s Pia. I’m sorry my observation was equivocal. Pia is Pia de’ Tolomei, a famous Dante character (‘Siena made me, Maremma undid me’) and has no relation to Galla Placidia. What I meant was that Pound presents Galla Placidia somewhat in the way Dante presents Pia, i.e. with a few short lyrical and melancholy phrases.
Your final quotation of Cockram doesn’t seem to make it clear enough that she is misguided in faulting the moral stance of these cantos. I find it strange that many readers insist that they are inexcusable, when passages like the Jew-baiting in canto 52 are much worse than anything to be found in them. Written as they were in a turbulent period, they may be said to exhibit moderation. I would also question your calling them ‘fascist cantos’. ‘War Cantos’ or ‘Italian Cantos’ would be more appropriate. Pound’s take on Fascism was very peculiar, in fact he thought he had to explain its merits to Italians! Besides, cantos 31-71 and 74-84 are no less fascistic than these. Anyhow, I find your commentary very astute, especially concerning the opening of the Pisan cantos and Pound’s use of persona.
As for James Laughlin’s comments on my ‘piracy’: far from being offended, I was amused by them, for he was to some extent speaking tongue-in-cheek. As I recall, he first wrote me a stern letter demanding a (reasonable) fee for the use of the material. Later he even found a way of reimbursing me, saying that he used my annotations (in the contested article!) when he printed Pound’s own translation of 72 in The Paris Review.
I have now read your translation of 72, and can add the following comments.
the twenty-first of September, This should be ‘The twenty-first September’, or ‘in September of year XXI’. Pound is referring to the ‘Era Fascista’ calendar.
though I was hollow. ‘I failed the inward life’
Until from another turn of the dial / A voice issued from the hollow receiver: Perhaps too free a translation – Pound is attempting a Dante/Guido language, not modern similes.
heard a rattling sigh / Of discharged breath (or on a sick- / Bed, when a man’s about to die): OK but this is Ross not EP: the scrocchio of the submarine (?) comes before (precorre) death etc. ‘Then he heard this crying and yelling’ (‘in strido crepitar’ – another ‘funny’ bit to Italian ears, because unidiomatic). In modern Italian ‘crepitare’ is used only for the sound of burning wood in the hearth.
See horses stand / In darkies fetlock-deep as in a river, It should be: ‘in the horse’s bath (you know, Bagnacavallo) / are Maroccans...’ I am here Rossizing. Bagnacavallo is near Ravenna, so the reference could be said to anticipate Placidia later in the canto.
In Ixotta’s pied-à-terre – goddess. Does pied-à-terre have the sexual implications of ‘arcane bed’? In any case, Ezzelino’s tone here is solemn. He’s talking of ‘in coitu inluminatio’ (Pound’s phrase) etc.
Aimed to deny him worthy followers; Actually, ‘worthy followers of the denier Peter’. (I suppose you remember that Peter ‘denied’ Jesus three times before the cock crowed).
a pig. Granted this sounds better than ‘pigeon’, but why pig?
(Students of Aesop’s Fables will complain / That animals can’t do arithmetic). I’m not sure what EP is trying to say, but this isn’t it.
[Massimo Bacigalupo is Professor of American Literature at the University of Genoa, Italy.]
Jack Ross replies:
I feel a bit embarrassed at having made so many blues and gaffes (some of them intentional pieces of poetic license, admittedly), but it’s certainly useful to have them pointed out by Professor Bacigalupo.
His comments on Canto 72 come in response to having read my online translation at http://www.mairangibay.blogspot.com/2007/03/poetry-live.html.
Concerning the existence or otherwise of Mary de Rachewiltz’s English prose translation of 72 and 73, I think I read about this in the Humphrey Carpenter biography, but I’ve never managed to access a copy. Perhaps a phantom.
Re: Bacigalupo’s point about calling them ‘Italian’ rather than ‘Fascist’ cantos, I take the point about official ‘fascism’ having ended with the deposition of Mussolini in 1943, but Mary de Rachewiltz’s remarks about Saló seem to imply that some people, at any rate, took it as a Fascist state redivivus, ‘as it should have been’ … Italian Cantos is certainly more descriptive, though.
And, yes, James Laughlin sounded like an awfully nice chap, even in the brief correspondence I had with him. That reimbursement sounds just like the kind of thing he would do.
[Jack Ross teaches Academic and Creative Writing in the School of Social and Cultural Studies at Massey University, Auckland.]
Ed. – Our thanks to Professor Bacigalupo and Jack Ross for bringing their correspondence to our attention and giving permission for it to appear in kmko #4.
Ka Mate Ka Ora #4 (2007): 154-57.
[Available at: http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/kmko/04/ka_mate04_correspondence.asp]
Ka Mate Ka Ora 4 (2007)