By Christopher P. Winner
lga Rudge was poet Ezra Pound's companion for half-a-century. She met the Idaho-born writer in Paris in 1920 and remained at his side in Fascist Italy, where before and during World War II he made radio broadcasts on behalf of Benito Mussolini's regime.
In 1945, Pound was arrested for treason by U.S. occupation forces and transported to the United States where he was ruled unfit to stand trial. Confined to St. Elizabeths mental hospital in Washington, D.C., he was declared "incurably insane" in 1958 and allowed to return to Italy. He died at his home in Rapallo, on the Ligurian coast, in 1972.
A mercurial figure, Pound put a indelible mark on modern literature. Some consider him the father of literary modernism. He edited T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," striking out entire sections. Eliot took his suggestions and dedicated the completed version to Pound, calling him il miglior fabbro, literally "the best smithy." Pound took "a jumble of good and bad passages" and made a poem, said Eliot.
Pound, born Ezra Weston Loomis Pound, began his European odyssey in London in 1911, where he typed manuscripts for W.B. Yeats. He then moved to Paris, forging ties with avant-garde artists including James Joyce, and also meeting violinist Rudge for the first time. He raged against the period's florid prose and urged writers to get to the point, or to make one, later coining the seminal phrase, "Make it new." He probed Sanskrit, Japanese haiku, and Chinese calligraphy and applied their condensing lessons to English. Emblematic was the two-line poem "In a Station of the Metro," written in 1919: "The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet, black bough."
Pound settled in Rapallo near Genoa in 1924 and fell under the spell of pop economics. Mussolini's rapid ascent fascinated him; in it, he saw modernity. This led to ill-fated "cultural" broadcasts on behalf of Fascist Radio Roma. With them came inbuilt anti-Semitism. He denounced the Western central banking system — which he said impoverished culture — and assailed usury, blaming Jews for its growth. Yet his tone was more idealistic than political. In the "Pisan Cantos," written while in military detention, he anticipated "No-global" positions. "Look, if you can, at St. Peter's/Look at the Manchester slums, look at the Brazilian coffee/or Chilean nitrates." Most of the "Pisan Cantos" (Pound was held for 25 days in a cage) were scrawled on hoarded shreds of paper. "I lost my center fighting the world," he wrote in one Canto.
Critics still debate Pound's legacy. Most concede he helped propel literature past the conceits of Edwardian-era overwriting. Some insist his Fascist sympathies and treason sentence brought him undeserved fame. In 1949, a year into his confinement for insanity, Pound received the Library of Congress' first Bollingen Prize for poetry. In the 1950s, poets Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, and W.H. Auden also received the award.
Pound's companion Rudge, who died in 1996 at 100, began her lifelong affair with the poet while he was married to British artist Dorothy Shakespear. Rudge had a daughter by him, Mary, though Pound never dissolved his marriage. An accomplished concert violinist from Youngstown, Ohio, Rudge was a passionate apologist for Pound, to whom she read aloud in his later years.
The following conversation — extracts from a daylong session in November 1977 — was recorded at her Calle Querini, Venice home. Rudge punctuated her remarks with, "Capito!" ["Do you understand!"], "Dash it all," "Look here," and "You see what I mean?"
Pound and Rudge are buried in Venice's San Michele cemetery.
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