Monday, August 8, 2011

Amanuensis Monday: Ezra Pound and the Bollingen Prize

Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.

I continue my project to transcribe family letters, journals, newspaper articles, audiotapes, and other historical artifacts. Not only do the documents contain genealogical information, the words breathe life into kin - some I never met - others I see a time in their life before I knew them.

I began this project back in February of 2009, and since then, many others have joined in on the meme.  Why do we transcribe?  I provide my three reasons in the linked post.  You may find others.  If you participate, feel free to leave a link to your post in the comments.


This week, I look at a newspaper article from March of 1949 concerning the controversy over Ezra Pound winning the Bollingen Prize for Literature after escaping a lifetime prison sentence for treason on the insanity plea. What does this have to do with my family history? A cousin was a psychiatrist on staff at the asylum, and is mentioned briefly at the end of the article. [The article was found in a search of Google News' archives.]

The Indian Express (Madras, India) – March 1, 1949 (Vol XVII, No. 97) - p. 7.


NEW YORK (By Mail)

Ezra Pound, the bearded 63-year-old American poet, who broadcast for Mussolini during the war, has won a £250 prize for a poem he began in a prison camp and finished in an asylum.

The judges say they are “aware that objections may be made to awarding a prize to a man situated as is Mr. Pound.

“In their view, however, the possibility of such objection did not alter the responsibility assumed by the jury of selection. To permit other considerations than that of poetic achievement to sway decision would destroy the significance of the award and would, in principle, deny the validity of that objective perception of value on which any civilized society must rest.”

The prize-winning verses, known as the “Pisan Cantos” are part of a life-work; there are now 84 Cantos in all.

Strange English

They are full of Chinese, Greek, Latin, French and Hebrew expressions, as well as Pound’s strange adaptation of English. Sample:

One tanka entitled shadow
Babao, or the hawk’s wing
Of no fortune and with a name to some
Is downright iniquity said J. Adams
At 35 instead of 21 65
Doubtless conditioned by what his father heard in Byzantium
Doubtless conditioned by the great Meyer Anselm
That old H had heard from the ass-eared militarist in Byzantium.

He can also write like this (after the British 1945 election):

Oh to be in England now that Winston’s out,
Now that there’s room for doubt,
And the bank may be the nation’s.

Caught in Italy

Pound, who was caught in Italy in 1945, was brought to the U.S. to face a charge of high treason. A panel of alienists proved him insane and he was confined in a public mental institution.

Dr. Bernard Cruvant, on the institution staff, who is studying the cantos as part of the study of Pound’s state of mind, said to-day that his patient, told of the award, expressed gratification.

[The most famous poem written in an asylum is Christopher Smart’s]


1) Pound's insanity was called into question by researchers in 1981. (NYTimes article)

2) Dr. Bernard Cruvant was the son of David Cruvant, and the grandson of my second great grandfather, Moshe Leyb Cruvant.

3) I don't believe my cousin was involved with the original determination of Pound's insanity in 1946, but was assigned to the case afterwards.

No comments: