12 January 1952: St. Elizabeth’s Mental Hospital—Washington, D.C. The 67-year-old man with the pointed head, pointed chin, and pointed, if straggly beard, was sitting by the window of his small room. The day was gray to match his hair. He felt gray every day, even if the sun appeared. He had been informed that there was a visitor, a young man. He recalled his own youth when he had been a handsome devil. He waited, another grubber wanting a piece of his past since there was certainly no present or future worth a damn as long as he was incarcerated. And here he was, in a mental hospital populated with twitchers, sex offenders, lobotomies—at least that had not been done to him, or maybe he would be better off if he were a vegetable (if so he would choose a tomato, he’d previously wanted to be a prodigious zucchini but that symbolism went south along with that of which it was a symbol of.)
He could refuse the visitor but it relieved the boredom even if annoying. Old Ezra—or as fellow poet Conrad Aiken dubbed him, Rabbi Ben Ezra (a cruel irony) was still motivated to find followers. Certainly, the staff here reported to the Federal Government the visitors that dropped in. Pound’s zealous anti-Semitic, anti-Roosevelt, anti-New Deal rants on Mussolini’s fascist-controlled Italian radio before and during World War II had earned him a treason indictment. For Pound the Jews were the cause of all the troubles in the world. He was declared mentally incompetent so he escaped a federal prison. This nut house was only slightly better. His visitors were often fans of his politics rather than his poetry.
A guard opened the door and let in a tall, skinny, white, baby-faced male about 20. The guard advised. “Thirty minutes maximum.” The door closed and the old pale face and the young pale face were alone. The gangly young man was dressed to impress with a blue blazer, gray pants, a school tie (Georgetown), shiny black shoes, and a white shirt with a collar starched as stiff as the apparent poker that was up the shaky kid’s ass.
He was paralyzed with either awe or fear—likely both. He spoke with a tight-throated castrato that added a nervous tremolo.
In the split second between his mouth opening and the first word heard, Pound thought, “Not another damn admirer with a wide-eyed recital of a poem I won’t even remember.”
He was right:
You of the finer sense,
Broken against false knowledge,
You who can know firsthand,
Hated, shut in, mistrusted:
I have weathered the storm,
I have beaten out my exile.”
Though he wanted to puke, Pound forced a tortured smile. The foolish boy said his name was Nathan Twine. He brought cake with him. He’d read Pound loved sweets. He would be encouraged to come again many times—and not to forget the cake.
Twine was exalted. He had met his God and this God wanted to see him again.
12 December 1964: Debt in Venice
The English professor from Shrine University was in Venice, Italy for the tenth time in twelve years. Dr. Nathan Twine’s dissertation at Yale (1959) was titled: Ezra Pound: The Politics of Bitterness in the Pisan Cantos. Twine examined Pound’s later Cantos from the perspective of the poet expressing a justified anger over his unjustified self-exile from an America taken over by Zionists. This theme was an extension of Ezra’s outré views that had put him in the mental hospital after World War II. Twine’s analysis of the Cantos was based on Pound’s ideas being correct. These meetings with Pound had become “research” material for Twine’s work.
Nathan in 1963 was a conservative anachronism in a time when a progressive social awareness was much more prevalent. Of course, he had supported and worked for Goldwater and Twine much regretted that esteemed fellow’s trouncing by Johnson. (In the 1950s Twine was a Strom Thurmond segregationist. Much later he would choke on his morning egg after he read that Thurmond—the mother of all hypocrites—had fathered a child with a teenage black servant.)
Now, he was just elated to see his hero once again—Pound. The old man indulged Twine. (“Ah,” Pound would say to others, “there’s nothing like the zeal of a fanatic.) Nathan provided amusement and news from America. And his money is good and he always brought cake. The old poet’s royalties weren’t much since his scandalous past behavior made him “politically incorrect” in modern parlance. One could agree that his art had merit, but one need not pay to read it.
Twine arrived with bags full of goodies—cakes, of course, and Buckley’s The New Republic, and various other printed screeds of a much more intemperate interpretation of world events and America’s place in that world. (The general gist was of a white supremacist slant.) Pound really didn’t care a whit about this crap anymore in an active way—he didn’t want to make headlines that might land him back in the nut house—but he nodded enthusiastically for Nathan’s approval while the young zealot ranted. In Pound’s mental bank of stored hatred there was a rigidity of psychic constipation that matched his constricted physical plumbing. This Freudian retentiveness built up and only escaped with occasional relief when his psychic gas let out the steam of verbal vitriol, which Ezra could not resist letting out to ease the ugly bile of his inverted hatred for enemies real and imagined. The barbs he tossed were rare but so sharply and pointedly spiteful that even if just seconds before the nasty torrent he had seemed merely an elderly gentleman, the cruelty tore away any superficial skin of feigned decency to reveal nothing more than all the meanness in the world.
Nietzsche believed “good” and “evil” were in the eye of the beholder. Slave owners believed they were right. Hitler believed he was right. Pound and Twine did not disagree with Hitler. Pound and Twine had a vision. To Nathan, Pound did not speak out of hate but from wisdom.
A small tray was on the reading table next to Pound’s ancient leather armchair. On it were plates awaiting the bounty in Twine’s bags. Nathan had learned on previous visits that the poet was not ready for chatter until he had his cake, over which the poet hovered, dipping his fork, staring with great concentration as he severed a sliver of the prize he ate ever so slowly one precious bite at a time.
Twine began to whine about Johnson’s Great Society that would put America in the hands of the unworthy—minorities and women. “Mongrelization” would follow; the nation would never recover. This simply would not do. Pound was not yet ready to have his cake disturbed so he waved his left hand impatiently for Twine to demur; his lip snarled a bit. He had no idea he merely looked silly since a smudge of chocolate butter cream was between that lip and his nose. Nathan with his own hand indicated for Pound the smudge by wiping his own lip. Pound found the smudge with his tongue. He wasted nothing, nothing except his talent and his life on the nonsense that had ruined him.
In due time the poet was finished. He bade Nathan now continue. Twine took a notebook from his briefcase. He beamed. “It is all here–our plans for the next fifty years.”
David Garrett Izzo is an English Professor emeritus who has published three novels, three plays, four short stories, and 17 poems, as well as 17 books and 60 essays of literary scholarship. David has published extensively on the Perennial Spiritual Philosophy of Mysticism (Vedanta) as applied to literature. He is inspired by Aldous Huxley, Bruce Springsteen, his wife Carol and their five cats: Huxley, Max, Princess, Phoebe, and Luca. Two of his novels are fantasies with cats as characters: Maximus in Catland and Purring Heights. www.davidgarrettizzo.com