Ezra Pound’s 1940-1943 broadcasts over Roma Radio, for the Fascist-controlled Italian government, “were written in a vigorous erudite subtly-cadenced prose style [similar to] his Cantos .... It was a style that guaranteed he would have no success with a radio audience” (R. Wernick).
In the U.S., England, and France, supporters and detractors alike found these broadcasts appalling, though no one really seemed to have actually listened to them. Pound’s longtime friend William Carlos Williams was ticked one day when he heard that his name had been dropped. Here’s what Pound had said:
“My venerable friend Doctor William C. Williams roars with laughter when I suggest that people might THINK. ‘Ever see a communist THINK?’ writes ole Bill. ‘I been told the process ain’t nacheral.’ Waal, the Doc is their white-haired boy.”
When the treason indictment was handed down, another friend, Ernest Hemingway, said that Pound was “obviously crazy.” As a U.S. citizen, Pound was supposed to have the right to express his opinions. Conversely, in that same capacity, once Italy and the U.S. were at war, Pound could have been sent to an internment camp. Instead, he continued to divide his time among the seafront apartment he shared with Dorothy, the nearby house he shared with Olga, and hotels in Rome, where he taped broadcasts and collected a meager paycheck.
The broadcasts stopped in July 1943. Allied troops invaded Italy in September. Pound was in Rome, unprepared. He left town on foot and trekked 450 miles to his daughter’s home in Gais. After a couple weeks, he returned to Rapallo. In 1944 he wrote two cantos in Italian.
In March 1945, Allied troops reached Northern Italy. Pound published an article in April and then either turned himself in or (his version) approached the military to share information with the government. While in custody, he was interviewed by an American Journalist on May 8, and said, “If I am not shot for treason, I think my chances of seeing Truman are good.”
When Washington emphasized to the military that this man was an Enemy of the State, he was placed in a prison camp, held in a 6’ x 8’ cage in grueling summertime, and not allowed to speak with others. It was then, his defense lawyer would later argue, that he became legally insane. By all accounts, his physical health diminished substantially.
Someone in power didn’t want him to die, as he was upgraded to a pup tent and allowed to mingle with others the last few months before being taken to the U.S. By day, he helped illiterate prisoners write letters. By night, he banged away on a typewriter, producing 120 pages of poetry, which would become known as the “Pisan Cantos.”
He was flown back to the States late in the year. Dorothy’s father’s law firm arranged for him to be represented by Julien Cornell, a Yale Law grad who’d represented several conscientious objectors. After first meeting Pound, he wrote, “He is very wobbly in his mind ... unable to concentrate even to the extent of answering a single question without immediately wandering off the subject.”
Archibald MacLeish, who had been in charge of American radio propaganda at the time Pound was sending his messages from Rome, said, “Treason is ... too serious and dignified a crime for a man who has made such an incredible ass of himself, and accomplished so little in the process.”
Next week: the psychiatrists and the jury.
Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.