Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo
Annus 1 Post Scriptum Ulixes, First Year of the Pound Era
The literary era that has just slipped over the horizon began, it could well be argued, in 1922, the year of Joyce’s Ulysses, Eliot’s The Waste Land, and—Mussolini’s March on Rome. It was the year of Woolf’s Jacob’s Room; Lawrence’s Fantasia of the Unconscious and Aaron’s Rod; Yeats’s Later Poems; Cummings’ The Enormous Room; Bergson’s Durée et simultanéité; Spengler’s Der Untergang des Abendlandes, volume II; Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus; and the abridged reader-friendly edition of Frazer’s twelve-volume The Golden Bough (1911-1915). It was the year Proust died, and the year Cocteau opened Le Boeuf sur le Toit.
The only book Ezra Pound published in 1922 was his translation of Remy de Gourmont’s Physique de l’amour: essai sur l’instinct sexuel, and the only canto was Canto 8 (later Canto 2). In a sky blazing with Modernist roman candles, the Gourmont book was a child’s sparkler. Its translator, nonetheless, nothing if not ambitious, was preparing to make this year the beginning of a new era, one which would bear his name. Not the end of an era of Poundian influence, as some would have it, noting that the early phase of his career as the miglior fabbro of an avant-garde vortex had finished. Rather, the beginning of a new dispensation, whose hero would be the outlaw. Pound had long been attracted to the type—El Cid, "that glorious bandit Ruy Diaz," and Villon, "thief, murderer, pander, bully to a whore," are early examples--and in 1922, as the attraction begins its metamorphosis from the mask of contemplation to the word moving toward action, it would find its enduring apothesosis in Sigismondo Malatesta. A sign of Pound's ambition was his publication of a pagan calendar to open the new age, his way of saying that Modernism marked the end of the Christian Era and should be understood as an event in occult history. In this sense, the Pound Era had begun.
. . . . .
Jan. 1: Seal Eyes
Pound met Picasso in the early hours of a New Year’s Eve party, and his impression is recorded in Canto 2:
Seal sports in the spray-whited circles of cliff-wash,
Sleek head, daughter of Lir,
eyes of Picasso
The seal, as the daughter of the old Celtic sea-god Lir, suggests Protean change. From Picasso's example, as from that of Joyce and from his own success in editing Eliot's long poem, Pound was acquiring the confidence to present Ovidian metamorphoses without the narrative structure that had limited the early “Three Cantos.” Collage is one of several formal solutions which would mature for Pound in 1922. Fitting, then, that the year should begin with the encounter with the seal eyes of this most protean of artists. "Protean" rhymes with polumetis, "versatile, many-minded," Homer’s epithet for Odysseus which Pound applies to Sigismondo Malatesta, subject of the four cantos which would occupy him this year.
Jan. 2: The Seven Jealousies
Eliot had returned from Lausanne, where he had gone to circumvent a nervous breakdown, and since November Pound had held all of the first rough draft of "the longest poem in the English language." The "Complimenti, you bitch" of Pound’s letter to Eliot is often cited, but the continuation is more pertinent here: "I am wracked by the seven jealousies, and cogitating an excuse for always exuding my deformative secretions in my own stuff, and never getting an outline." In 1922 Pound was concerned not only about form in the long poem but about his reputation. The labor with Eliot’s "He Do the Police in Different Voices" was not lost, however, for what makes The Waste Land –the poem Pound carved out of "Police"--seem a part of Pound’s canon as well as Eliot’s was that in editing it he employed the solutions he was finding for his own long poem: the subordination of narrative to collage, and the free interplay of voices and registers. Eliot's difficult baby had been born because "Ezra performed the Caesarean Operation.".
Jan. 8: Looking toward Italy
Pounds wrote his parents saying he planned to retire to Italy. Retirement in the sense of tranquility, a place to work on his poem.
Jan. 24: Pound to Eliot, 24 Saturnus, An 1 p.s.U.
This letter is a key document to understanding Pound’s ambitions in 1922. Again he speaks confidently of the successful caesarian operation on Eliot’s poem, underscoring his sense of finding the formal keys to put his own long poem into motion. The confidence is manifest in a more striking way, in a half-playful, deeply serious new-age calendar reform. The "p.s.U." abbreviates post scriptum Ulixes, situating us in the first year after the writing of Ulysses. Joyce's book, with perfect syncronicity, had been completed on Pound's birthday the year before--October 30th, the Feast of Zagreus. The playfulness is that of Dada, for the calendar appeared in the Spring 1922 issue of the Little Review, a Dada number dedicated to Picabia, and the seriousness is that of ambition. October 30th was the Feast of Zagreus/Pound, and October 31, the second extracalendrical day, the Feast of Pan. On the same date in 1447 the bishop of Rimini had blessed the first stone laid for reconstruction of the chapel of San Sigismondo in the church of San Francesco, a date traditionally viewed as the inauguration of the Tempio.
Feb. 2: Joyce
Ulysses was published on Joyce’s 40th birthday, and displayed at Sylvia Beach’s shop. Everyone showed up except Gertrude Stein, who sent a clarification of the occasion: "People like Joyce because he is incomprehensible and everybody can understand him."
Feb. 9: Hemingway
Pound encounters Ernest Hemingway at Sylvia Beach’s shop.
Feb. 21: A Canto Unconnected with Modern Life
Pound wrote John Quinn that he had "knocked out another Canto [Canto 8] (not in the least . . . connected with ‘modern life’)" (Wilhelm 310). The canto did, however, have a notable connection with life at large, and a correspondence ensued with Ford Madox Ford over botonical and “zoological questionabilities,” whether “vine” includes “stock”, and whether lynxes have tails.
Mar. 22: The Christian Era Ended
Pound wrote H. L. Mencken, "The Christian Era ended at midnight on Oct. 29-30 of last year. You are now in the year 1 p.s.U., if that is any comfort to you" (Letters 174).
Mar. 29: Dragons’ Teeth and Marsala
Pound and Dorothy left Paris for Italy March 27. They visited Genoa, and Pound wrote his parents they planned to go to Siena. He did not attend "the big economics conference" in Genoa. Hemingway did and reported to The Toronto Star on the presence of "fifteen hundred picked military policemen" there to prevent any "Red or anti-Red disturbance." In "Genoa Conference," he contrasts the "casual and childish nature" of most Red demonstrations with the organized violence of the Fascists, whom he calls "a brood of dragons’ teeth."
In Genoa Hemingway met the old muckraker Lincoln Steffens back from one of his several trips to Russia. (Stephens’ praise of the Revolution would eventually lose him his American audience.) Hemingway would soon introduce Pound to Steffens. He visited Rapallo, seems to have liked the glitter of the sun on the sea, and later remembered the marsala he drank with Max Beerbohm, who resided nearby.
May 4: Rimini
Pound writes his parents that "he has been investigating Cortona, Perugia, Assisi, Spoleto, Ancona, Rimini, and Ravenna as possible retirement places." In Rimini he was struck by the Temple built by Sigismondo Malatesta, which blends Christian and pagan elements. He thinks there may be "a canto" in it (Wilhelm 313).
The first typed draft of the Malatesta Cantos dates from perhaps as early as June 1922. These drafts suggest he found in Malatesta’s factive personality a model for his own enterprise. D’Epiro writes, "He had even drawn a parallel between Maltesta’s creative audacity and his own," and he cites the typescripts:
Chien de metier,
hopelessness of writing an epic,
chien de metier,
hopelessness of building a temple,
in Romagna, in a land teeming with cattle thieves (15-16)
May 31 - Jun. 2: The Bel Esprit of Patronage
Pound and Bride Scratton in Verona meet il decaduto Eliot and discuss his Criterion, where the Malatesta Cantos in their final form would appear in July 1923. Of Pound's alliance with Scratton, Stock comments, "Ever since their first meeting in London, they had shared the idea of building a temple to the true religion," and he relates this idea to the dream of "the city of Dioce whose terraces are the colour of stars" in The Pisan Cantos.
Much on Pound’s mind at this time, though apparently not a topic in Verona, was his Bel Esprit project designed to rescue Eliot from job-enslavement by providing him with patronage. ("Eliot is at the last gasp," he had written Williams in March [Letters 172].) As Pound relates in Canto 78, this program "was neither published nor followed," but the outline which he had sent Williams in March is significant for its detailed statement of an ideal of patronage: "the only thing we can give the artist is leisure to work in" (Letters 173). This rhymes with the issue of patronage in the Malatesta Cantos, where in a letter Sigismondo speaks of an artist he hopes to employ:
For I mean to give him good treatment
So that he may come to live the rest
Of his life in my lands . . .
And for this I mean to make due provision,
So that he can work as he likes,
Or waste his time as he likes
(affatigandose per suo piacere o no
non gli manchera la provixione mai)
never lacking provision (Canto 8, p.29)
This Renaissance idea of patronage, in a short time, would become for Pound part of the attraction of Mussolini’s Italy, of that "social Anschaung" which in 1931, writing in L’Indice of Genova, he would state as his principal reason for being there.
Jun. 20: Sirmione
Pound writes Quinn from Sirmione, on the Lago di Garda, seat of the Villa of Catullus, a much beloved locus which he had visited first in 1910. In 1920, he had arranged his first meeting with Joyce there. Now, moved by the Earthly Paradise, he has "blocked in four cantos" (cited in D’Epiro 1).
Jun. 30 – Jul. 1: Milan
In Milan before returning to Paris, Pound stopped by the famous bookstore of Ulrico Hoepli and tried to buy works on Italian history connected with the Malatesta.
2 July: Paris.
Back in Paris, Pound buries himself in the Bibliotèque Nationale, reading every book, article, and manuscript he can find on the Malatesta.
Jul. 9: The Crust
Pound answers his old professor Felix Schelling’s critique of Poems 1918-1921 (1921), which included Cantos 4 - 7. The tone of the letter is polite, as though Pound were reverting to the role of student,but he speaks with confidence of the poem’s projected length. He states that he has "the crust to attempt a poem in 100 or 120 cantos long after mankind has been commanded never again to attempt a poem of any length" (Letters 180). Though several times in earlier years Pound had stated his intention to write a "long poem," this is the first time he has had the confidence to predict the number of cantos.
Jul. 16: Safe Guides in Religion
Harriet Monroe has asked to reprint some of Pound’s "verse," evidently requesting a notice of the author. "Say that I consider the Writings of Confucius, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses the only safe guides in religion." Just in case this sentence didn’t penetrate his correspondent’s gentility, he made sure of her attention: "I consider the Metamorphoses a sacred book, and the Hebrew scriptures the record of a barbarian tribe full of evil" (Letters 183).
Aug. 10: Sperm to the Brain
Gourmont’s Physique de l’amour: essai sur l’instinct sexuel, was published as The Natural Philosophy of Love by Boni and Liveright. The book, which argued for a link between "a complete and profound intercourse and cerebral development," had been a celebrated advertisement for sexual liberation in its day. It is a book which few contemporary readers relish; nor do many care for Pound's preface, which suggests that genius depends on "an upspurt of sperm" to the brain. The sexual argument, however, was fitted to the new age, for Gourmont argued that Christian morality fettered the pagan energies of sex.
Aug. 20: One Canto?
Letter: "Have various materials for the Malatesta canto lying about" (in D’Epiro 2).
Sep. 2: Maybe Two
Letter: "Am plugging along on my Malatesta Canto, may run into two Cantos; the four to follow it are blocked in" (in D’Epiro 2).
Sep. 15: More Research
Pound writes to Aldo Francesco Massera (or Masserà), for many years Director at the Biblioteca Civica Gambalunga at Rimini, to ask for information about books on Malatesta. "Hoepli of Milan," he explains, "does not seem to be able to find the boo[k]s very quickly."
Oct. 15: Eliot
The Waste Land is published in Eliot’s new journal, The Criterion.
Oct. 28: No Comment
Mussolini leads the March on Rome. The event passes without comment from Pound.
Oct. 29: Steffens
On October 30 Pound wrote his parents from Paris that the night before he had heard Lincoln Steffens talk about the Russian Revolution. With Pound were Mary and Padraic Colum, the former afterwards describing the event: "Ezra listened to [the lecture] with rapt attention, his eyes glued to the speaker’s face . . . . He seemed to have an intense interest in new political and economic ideas, and after Steffens was finished he rose to his feet and started talking about the Douglas plan . . ." (Wilhelm 318-19).
Nov. 20: The Biggest Bluff in Europe
Hemingway covered the international conference held in Lausanne to settle the Greco-Turkish war. There he had his second meeting with Mussolini. His report on the first, in June, had been admiring, but now he relates how Mussolini made the assembled press corps wait as he posed in concentration on a book. "It was a French-English dictionary—held upside down" (Hemingway 64). "Mussolini: Biggest Bluff in Europe" appeared in the Toronto Daily Star on January 27, 1923. Thereafter, until the end of the war, Hemingway was persona non grata in Italy.
Dec.: The Dial gives its annual award to Eliot.
Dec. 15: Jessie Weston and The Waste Land
Boni and Liveright publish The Waste Land. To make the poem book-length, the author was requested to add some notes. This he did, stating his debt to Jessie Weston’s From Ritual to Romance and recommending the book as elucidating "the difficulties of the poem much better than my notes can do." Scholarship has long been pleased to accept Eliot’s debt to Weston while ignoring the occult provenance of her work. Today, after Surette’s relentless documentation in The Birth of Modernism, surely no one will any longer deny that "From Ritual to Romance was a theosophical rather than an anthropological study." We may be less inclined to accept Surette’s argument "that Eliot sought Pound’s assistance with The Waste Land just because he knew of his familiarity with the occult material upon which he (Eliot) had drawn," but there seems no room for doubt that the theosophic roots of the poem shared much with the new age.
Dec. 25: A Small City with No Great Resources
Pound wrote his parents that his Malatesta cantos were progressing well: "Have got three of the Malatesta cantos into some sort of shape" (D’Epiro 3). In fact, he must have been completing a draft of the four cantos which would compose the group, for on January 5, 1923, he submitted to James Sibley Watson of the Dial "the so-called Watson Typescript, consisting of twenty-seven numbered sheets typed in Pound’s violet ribbon" (D’Epiro 33), an early version very close to the final one.
Pound is planning to escape the frenzy of Paris, he tells his parents, and go to ground in Rapallo. It would be another year before he would make the move to Italy, and meanwhile the idea of a European vortex in Rapallo was growing on him. It was a big idea and perfect for the new era. All it seemed to require was the right patron to make it possible.
. . . . .
The New Age, 1922-
On Aug. 15, 1923, Pound wrote about his idea to the American sculptor Nancy McCormack, recently returned to Paris from Rome. (McCormack had seen the March on Rome, received a favorable impression, and soon managed an entrée into the circle of the Fascist leadership; by April she had met Mussolini and persuaded him to let her sculpt him.) Pound explained to her his idea of making Italy "the intellectual centre of Europe" by "gathering ten or fifteen of the best writers and artists":
The experiment would not be expensive. the whole thing depends on the selection, and on the manner of the invitation. I shouldn’t trust any one’s selection save my own. There is no use going into details until one knows if there is or could be any serious interest in the idea; that is to say, if the dictator wants a corte literaria; if he is interested in the procedure of Sigismondo Malatesta in getting the best artist of his time into Rimini, a small city with no great resources.
This letter suggests that the seriousness of Pound’s underlying motivation in his Dada-like play at calendar reform should not be underestimated. The Zagreus of the Calendar leads into the hieros gamos of the Pisan and later cantos, and Pound seems to have felt its importance even before the discovery of the Tempio, for in early 1922 he wrote Margaret Anderson at the Little Review, "Print the calendar as a frontispiece, also as back cover . . . People will keep a calendar in sight for months. And you shd. issue the new calendar with each autumn number henceforth. We've had enough political and religious time divisions."
Pound’s discovery of the Tempio and his research on Sigismondo must have confirmed his original intuition, The wronghead condottiere Malatesta "templum aedivicavit," The Cantos reiterate, and the outlaw Pound would do the same in poetry. Two wrongheads: one built his temple in Rimini, the other would build his in the human ear. Both built monuments to culture that were at the same time monuments of self-aggrandizement, and neither reached completion. But such failure, Pound remarked of the Tempio, could be “worth all the successes of the age.”
Given the significance which Pound placed on the new era, his proposal for a new calendar merits a four-level exegesis, following the old poem:
The letter shows us what God and our fathers did;
The allegory shows us where our faith is hid;
The moral meaning gives us rules of daily life;
The anagogy shows us where we end our strife.
Literal: what our fathers did. The new age was an event in exoteric history, signaled in Italy by the March on Rome, from which founding event Italian Fascism would instigate its own calendar. Though Pound would later date his letters by the Fascist Era, it should not be forgotten that he had already announced the new era and reformed the calendar before he had any interest in Mussolini. In using the Fascist Era calendar Pound merely retranscribed it in terms of a kindred deity, Mussolini-as-Mani, invoked in the incipit of the first Pisan Canto: "Manes!" (74.425).
Allegorical: where our faith is hid. The new age was the age of literary Modernism, ushered in by the Annus Mirabilus whose signs were the major publication events named at the outset of this essay. Though a principal gap in the list is the lack of a major work by Pound, one thing he did not lack was ambition. He had already been telling his friends that they were living in the Pound Era, and the Zagreus theme of the Calander prophecies the Pound-as-Zagreus who would eventually be celebrated in the Pisan Cantos. The Little Review calendar merely formalized the advent. The calendar also shows Pound’s dissatisfaction with his literary reputation, a reasonable fear that Yeats, Joyce, and Eliot, would receive more acclaim than he would, even though he had helped bring about their successes (Tytell 165).
Moral: rules of daily life. The new age was an event in esoteric and occult history. ("Occult" meaning "hidden" and suggesting "the possibility of gnosis or direct awareness of the Divine.") It was the end of the Christian Era. The end had already been announced by Yeats, but with foreboding and dread of the "rough beast" slouching toward Bethlehem. Pound announced the era with that optimism which distinguished him from his dour friends, the twenty-years-older Yeats and the proto-Christian Eliot. The optimism, be it remembered, always tempered, or distempered, by wrath at "an age of pestilence like our own" in which, as he fulminates in a 1920 essay on the naturalist W. H. Hudson, "a bloated usury, a cowardly snivelling politics, a disgusting financial system, the sadistic curse of Christianity, work together . . . [so] that an hundred species of wild fowl and beast shall give way before the advance of industry."
Anagogical: where we end our strife. The new era would be an outflow of the buried river of wisdom which underlies exoteric history, a river that had surfaced in Greece and in Provence; and Pound’s long poem would be "a history of that wisdom and a herald of its imminent efflorescence" (Surette, Birth 124). Ulysses had lanced the boil of the old age, The Waste Land had buried it, and The Cantos would usher in the new.
If, as the third and fourth two levels of this exegesis suggest, Pound was indeed announcing an upwelling of buried streams, his antenna were receiving well. Within three decades, Carl Jung would be remarking on "the widespread and ever-growing interest in all sorts of psychic phenomena, including spiritualism, astrology, Theosophy, parapsychology," and declaring "the world has seen nothing like it since the end of the seventeenth century." The world in fact had seen something very like it, though less so in Jung’s part of Europe, and that was the late nineteenth-century esoteric revival in Paris. Leon Surette has explored this ambience and argued forcefully for its importance in Pound’s absorption of esoteric ideas. The revival reached a peak in the Paris of the fin de siècle—the milieu of Claude Debussy and the luminaries who attended Mallarmé’s famous Tuesday night soirées—Oscar Wilde, W. B. Yeats, Stefan George, Paul Valéry, the young André Gide, and Marcel Proust. Less famous but more closely linked to Pound were Josephin Péladan, two of whose books Pound had reviewed in 1906, and MacGregor Mathers, who established Britain’s most famous occult society, the Order of the Golden Dawn.
These two waves of esotericism have been followed by a third and greater wave, that of the present under the sobriquet New Age, a multi-national media industry whose religiosity glows with the phosphorescence of global capitalism. Its chief literary anglophone celebrant is the loquacious and flamboyant Camille Paglia. Her Sexual Personae : Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson and Sex, Art, and American Culture, though largely unmindful of their Modernist antecedents, celebrate popular culture as resurgent paganism in a way consonant with Pound’s prophetic calendar. Meanwhile The Cantos sail the virtual seas of the world wide web as a classic instance of print-age hypertext.
On 24 Saturnus, Annus 1 post scriptum Ulyxes, when Pound wrote Eliot, his prophetic soul spoke what it knew: "It is after all a grrrreat littttttterary period."
Saturn 7, 78 p.s.U.