Ezra Pound’s transatlantic poet’s society
US poet Ezra Pound, celebrated at a conference at Trinity, had close links with Irish writers and politicians and became Joyce’s unpaid agent
This cenacle is sometimes seen as the source of Imagism. Pound did on occasion speak of FitzGerald as an ur-Imagist but in later life he came to see him as both a man of action and an intellectual.
This was a type that strongly attracted Pound (his support for Mussolini can in part be attributed to that attraction) and he often referred to such an individual as an “entire man” or simply as a “man”. FitzGerald is evoked, although not explicitly identified, in Canto 7 (composed in 1919) as: “The live man, out of lands and prisons” – FitzGerald had been imprisoned between 1916 and 1918. Over 30 years later, in Canto 95, FitzGerald is recalled in almost identical terms: “And damn it there were men even in my time, Nicoletti, Ramperti, Desmond Fitzgerald (the one alive in 1919).”
It was through FitzGerald that, in 1921, Pound was able to meet the future president of the Free State Arthur Griffith, who was in London as head of the Irish delegation negotiating the Anglo-Irish Treaty.
Pound later recalled that meeting, which took place in Griffith’s bedroom to avoid the detectives “infesting” the hotel, as “one of the most illuminating hours” of his life. Pound attempted to convert Griffith to the Social Credit economics of Major CH Douglas and Griffith conceded that all Pound said was “perfectly true” but added that you “can’t move ’em with a cold thing like economics”. This was probably no more than a polite prevarication on Griffith’s part; Pound took it as a profound piece of political wisdom.
Pound’s interest in Ireland continued through the 1920s and he was so concerned over the issue of censorship in the new State that in late 1928 he wrote two letters to the Irish Times about the proposed Censorship of Publications Act.
The first of these (published on November 8th) begins by asserting that: “The idiocy of humanity obviously knows no limit, but the text of your proposed Censorship Bill adds yet another clause to the axiom,” and suggests that Irish voters should “reflect on the effects of the American censorship laws before sinking to the level of their perpetrators”.
The letter of December 11th returns to the comparison with the United States and ironically compliments the “budding nation on having produced something more stupid, more asinine, more obfuscatory, more bigoted, more Protestant, more Baptist, more Ku-Klux, more Arkansas, more Tennessee, more reactionary, more degrading than even that Article 211, produced by the American Congress”.
The bill, he asserts, “will permit you ‘mother Goose’ and the tracts of one or two religious organisations,” and anyone wanting “anything else will have to take the boat for the prosperous city of Liverpool”.
He closes by observing “but it is a great thing to be a Nashun wanct again”. For all his rhetorical overkill, Pound was an informed and at times an astute observer of Irish affairs.
Stephen Wilson is professor of American literature and director of an MA programme in Poetry and Poetics at the University of Coimbra, Portugal. He is a fellow of the Irish Centre for Poetry Studies.