Twentieth Century Poetry: Selves and Situations

By Peter Robinson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Not a Villanelle: Pound’s
Psychological Hour

I

Ezra Pound experienced disturbing collapses of creative situation at least four times before his final silence. The first of these may have been his sojourn at Wabash College, Indiana.1 The poem ‘In Durance’ with its repeated phrase ‘I am homesick after mine own kind’2 dates from this period. The most dramatic of such crises was that initiated by Pound’s remaining in Italy during the Second World War and precipitated by Benito Mussolini’s fall from power in July 1943.3 His two years of isolation in what remained of Italy under Axis control culminated in Pound’s imprisonment at Pisa, out of which came The Pisan Cantos. The poet’s transfer to Washington for trial and his incarceration at the mental institution of St Elizabeth’s were then the most prolonged state of relative seclusion in a life so shaped by writing and corresponding that isolation and self-doubt might seem odd words to characterize Pound’s life or work. ‘Villanelle: The Psychological Hour’ is another poem prompted by a collapse of creative situation, that produced by the first year of war in 1914–15, and shaped by isolate and uncertain reflections upon the poet’s relations to the lives and works of artists who were then his colleagues.

Burton Raffel has described Pound’s ‘Villanelle’ as ‘pleasant, careful,

1 See Charles Norman, Ezra Pound (London: MacDonald, 1969), 22–4; Noel Stock, The Life of Ezra Pound (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974), 46–55; Humphrey Carpenter, A Serious Character: The Life of Ezra Pound (London: Faber & Faber, 1988), 71–83.

2 Page references in the text are to Ezra Pound, Personae: The Shorter Poems rev. edn., ed. L. Baechler and A. Walton Litz (New York: New Directions, 1990). For ‘In Durance’ see pp. 19–21.

3 See the opening of ‘Gold and Work 1944’, in Selected Prose 1909–1965, ed. W. Cookson (London: Faber & Faber, 1978), 306; The Cantos of Ezra Pound, 4th coll. edn. (London: Faber & Faber, 1987), 478; Stock, Life, 511–14; Carpenter, Serious Character, 626–9; Mary de Rachewiltz, Discretions (London: Faber & Faber, 1971), 184–7.

-22-

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