During World War I and the period immediately following it, Ezra Pound was contributing regularly to three literary journals, wrote music essays under a pen name, and prepared weekly pieces for The Little Review and The Egoist. He also began work on his epic poem, The Cantos, in 1915, and after several false starts, had the first three Cantos published in Poetry in 1917. Then Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, a poem about a writer whose life had become futile and meaningless, was published in 1920. Pound denied that it was about him, just as Eliot denied he was Prufrock, but it was generally assumed to be autobiographical.

Pound had become disillusioned by World War I and had lost faith in Western civilization generally and England in particular. He blamed usury and international capitalism for the loss of life. He also foresaw the coming end to Vorticism and had become insecure about his own career in poetry. He was displaying increasing intemperance and an unseemly sense of self-importance. He had become more outspoken about his anti-Semitism and his disgust with England. The major poetry journals were no longer publishing his submissions. By 1920, he was prepared to move to Paris and his fellow writers in London, even Eliot to some degree, were glad to see him leave.

Olga Rudge was a talented American concert violinist with international standing who Pound first met in the fall of 1922, though he had previously done a review of one of her concerts in 1920. Her background was the polar opposite of Pound’s. She was a successful and respected musician living in a luxury apartment on Paris’s right bank, while he was viewed as a weird bohemian poet living on the left bank. She came from a wealthy Ohio steel family and hobnobbed with aristocracy. His circle of acquaintances included impoverished left bank writers and artists.

Nevertheless, that meeting marked the beginning of a 50-year love affair. Pound believed there was a link between his creativity and his ability to seduce women. In fact, after moving to Paris, he complained that he was yet to find a mistress after three months there. His wife Dorothy tolerated his philandering ways, recognizing that the short-term nature of his affairs did not comprise a threat. But the affair with Olga turned out to be anything but short-term.

The relationship with Olga also gave Pound an opportunity to expand his career to include music composition and music reviews. They spent the following summer in the south of France, where he wrote two operas, the most notable of which was Le Testament de Villon. He also wrote pieces for solo violin, performed by Olga in concert, and collaborated with George Antheil in applying the principles of Vorticism to music composition.

When Pound first arrived in Paris, he was able to make friends with Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Leger, and other people associated with the Dada and Surrealist movements. He also spent considerable time with Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, living on the same street with them and touring Italy together. But Pound grew unhappy in Paris. His health wasn’t good and someone had attempted to stab him at a dinner party. Dorothy disliked the winters. In 1924, they decided to move to the small town of Rapallo in Italy. Olga, by now pregnant with Pound’s child, followed. Pound divided his time more or less equally between the two women, an arrangement that persisted until the start of World War II.

Olga gave birth to a daughter, Mary, in July 1925 and made arrangements with a German-speaking peasant woman to raise the child for 200 lira a month. Mary’s existence was a closely guarded secret since the stigma of an illegitimate child would have damaged her career. By now, she was one of the most celebrated violinists in Europe and had played before heads of state and political leaders in capitals throughout the continent.

When Dorothy learned of the birth, she separated from Pound for most of 1925. In March 1926, she returned from a three-month visit to Egypt and announced that she, too, was pregnant. In September, Hemingway drove Dorothy to the American Hospital of Paris where she gave birth to a son, Omar. Dorothy’s mother, Olivia, raised him in London until he was old enough to be in boarding school. The two children had marked differences in their upbringing. Her peasant guardians provided Mary with but one pair of shoes and books on Jesus and the saints. Omar was raised as an English gentleman in Kensington with the many advantages and privileges associated with such status.

Pound’s literary fortunes brightened after the move to Rapallo. The bulk of his work on The Cantos was done in Italy and was published variously in poetry journals or in book form. The 1925 This Quarter dedicated its opening issue to Pound, with tributes from Hemingway and Joyce, and he launched his own literary journal, The Exile. He won the Dial poetry award in 1928 for translating the classic Confucian work, Great Learning.

Pound continued to hold to his belief that Western capitalism, which he equated to usury, was the cause of World War I and the consequent loss of life. He concluded that the Social Credit theory of an obscure British engineer, Major C.H. Douglas, combined with fascism was the ultimate answer and gave a series of lectures on the subject. Olga Rudge had played for Mussolini and told him about Pound, so against Hemingway’s advice, Pound met with II Duce in January 1933. He presented Mussolini with his economic ideas, which were brushed aside, and with a copy of Canto XXX, which the Italian leader found entertaining.

Pound wrote several books on economics during the 1930’s, including one on Social Credit, and in 1939, he sailed to New York to meet with several senators and congressmen in hopes of avoiding U.S. involvement in the looming WW ll. He was given an honorary doctorate by Hamilton College while in America. Pound soon returned to Italy and began writing anti-Semitic columns for newspapers, including one owned by the prominent British fascist Sir Oswald Mosley. One of his pieces was titled “The Jews, Disease Incarnate.” He also wrote to the senators and congressmen he had met with earlier to argue that the war was caused by an international banking cabal and the U.S. should avoid any involvement.

“You let in the Jew and the Jew rotted your empire, and you yourselves out-jewed the Jew…and the big Jew has rotted EVERY nation he has wormed into.” Pound started broadcasting messages such as this one for Rome Radio starting in the early 1940s. He was paid $17 for each ten-minute pre-recorded broadcast. Political views aside, he needed the money.  The Italian government feared he might be a double agent, so they insisted on advance approval. Still, ever the contrarian, Pound often changed the text of his more than 100 broadcasts in the studio. He continued to broadcast and to write under pseudonyms until April 1945.

Meanwhile, Olga and Dorothy had been living in an apartment occupied by Pound’s mother, but it was far too small, so they all moved into a house purchased for Olga by her father. Olga was forced by necessity to give language lessons to support the Pounds and her daughter. The 19-year-old Mary, who was eventually sent back to Switzerland to live with her original peasant guardians, wrote as follows about the ménage a trois: ”…pent up with two women who loved him, whom he loved, and who coldly hated each other.”

Mussolini was killed by armed partisans April 28, 1945, and Pound was arrested by them four days later. He was initially handed over to the U.S. Counter Intelligence Corps for interrogation in connection with a 1943 grand jury indictment (in absentia) for treason. He was then transferred in May to the U.S. Army Disciplinary Training Center near Pisa and placed in one of the “death cells,” 6’ x 6’ outdoor steel cages lit up all night by floodlights. He was in isolation for 25 days, with no exercise, no belt, no bed, no shoelaces, and with eyes inflamed by dust. He was only permitted to communicate with the chaplain. He started to break down, which Pound recorded as follows in Canto LXXX: “hast’ou swum in a sea of air strip/through an aeon of nothingness, /when the raft broke and the waters went over me.”

He was moved out of the cage in mid-June for examination by psychiatrists, one of whom found Pound to be suffering a mental breakdown. He was placed in his own tent, given reading material, and began work (on sheets of toilet paper, among other materials) on the Cantos, including those which were to become known as the Pisan Cantos. In November, he was sent to the U.S. accompanied by an officer escort who commented that “he is an intellectual ‘crackpot’ who imagined that he could correct all the economic ills of the world and who resented the fact that ordinary mortals were not sufficiently intelligent to understand his aims and motives.” He was arraigned on charges of treason in late November.

Pound was admitted to the prison ward of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in a building without windows and in a room having a thick steel door and nine peepholes for psychiatric observation. Dorothy was declared his legal guardian. Visits could not exceed 15 minutes while, according to Eliot, “other patients wandered around outside the room screaming and frothing at the mouth.” A panel of psychiatrists declared him to be schizophrenic, an outcome Pound’s lawyer had actually hoped for since it likely saved him from life imprisonment.

Winfred Overholser, superintendent of St. Elizabeth’s, agreed to have Pound moved to a more hospitable ward near Overholser’s private quarters, where he spent the next twelve years. The psychiatrists there later concluded that Pound had a narcissistic personality but was clinically sane. Apparently, Overholser protected Pound from criminal prosecution because he was fascinated by Pound.

Pound liked his new accommodations. He was permitted to read, write, and receive Dorothy and other visitors, including some of his other mistresses, several hours a day. There was a small alcove with wicker chairs adjacent to his room which he was allowed to convert into a private living room to entertain his guests. He continued work on The Cantos and other literary projects. He ultimately refused any effort to have him released. Olga visited him in 1952 and 1955 but could not convince him to seek release. She wrote to a friend that “E. P. has bats in his belfry but it strikes me that he has fewer not more than before his incarceration.”

Pound was awarded the Bollingen Prize in 1949 for The Pisan Cantos, the first time this poetry award of the Library of Congress was given, accompanied by $1,000 from the Mellon family. Pound’s friends and supporters were instrumental in lobbying for the award, which figured into their plans to get him released from St. Elizabeth’s. The awarding of the prize to Pound, however, was so controversial that it created an uproar. It was the first and only time the prize was given out under the auspices of the Library of Congress, though the Bollingen Foundation and other institutions continued to award it afterwards.

Pound remained at St. Elizabeth’s, his release delayed by his friendship with Eustace Mullins of the Aryan League of America and John Kasper, a far-right activist and Ku Klux Klan member. Privately, Pound’s anti-Semitism continued, though he repudiated it in public. Hemingway said he felt Pound should be released during a 1954 interview and again after winning the Nobel Prize that same year. He believed Pound was incapable of abstaining from damning political statements or friendships with the likes of Kasper et al., but he still signed a letter of support for his release and pledged $1,500 to Pound when he was set free.

In 1957, Le Figaro, The New Republic, Esquire, and The Nation took up Pound’s cause and appealed for his freedom. The next year, poet and playwright Archibald MacLeish hired Thurman Arnold, the prominent Washington, D.C. attorney, to file a motion dismissing the 1943 indictment. Arnold did so on a pro bono basis. Winfred Overholser supported the motion with an affidavit stating that Pound was permanently and incurably insane and that further confinement served no therapeutic purpose. The Department of Justice did not oppose the motion, and after a hearing before the same judge who had committed him to St. Elizabeth’s, Pound was set free on April 18, 1958.

Pound was stripped of his rights of U.S. citizenship and his release from St. Elizabeth’s was predicated on the condition that he return to Europe. He and Dorothy arrived in Naples in July 1958 and subsequently went to live with Mary, now married to Boris de Rachelwiltz, at Brunnenberg Castle in Tirol. There he met his two grandchildren for the first time. After a short period, he and Dorothy returned to Rapallo, where Olga Rudge awaited them.

The ménage a trois was now a ménage a trois plus one. They had been joined by Marcella Spann, a teacher 40 years Pound’s junior, whom he had met at St. Elizabeth’s. She ostensibly served as his secretary and was charged with collecting poems for an anthology. Pound was said to be in love with Marcella and saw in her one last chance to reclaim youth. He wrote about her in Canto CXlll, “The long flank, the firm breast/and to know beauty and death and despair/And to think that what has been shall be/flowing, ever unstill.” Allegedly, he even proposed to her though he was obviously already married. This was one affair that Dorothy would not ignore and, exercising her legal authority as his guardian, sent Marcella packing back to America.

By December 1959, Pound had gone into a depression and was also exhibiting signs of dementia. He unexpectedly lost weight. The caretaker responsibilities became too much for Dorothy, so in 1960, he was sent to live with Olga in Rapallo, then later in Venice. Dorothy mostly remained in London with Omar after that.

Pound’s health continued to decline in the years that followed and time took its toll on other writers in his circle. After Pound attended Eliot’s funeral in 1965, he travelled to London afterward to visit Yeats’s widow. Two years later, he went to New York for the opening of an exhibition featuring his blue-inked version of Eliot’s The Waste Land. After that, Pound’s life was essentially spent in seclusion. Dorothy only came to see him twice during the last four years of his life

Pound died in his sleep the day after his 87th birthday with Olga, ever loyal, beside him holding his hand. He was buried near Russian music greats Sergei Diaghilev and Igor Stravinsky on the island cemetery, Isola di San Michele. Dorothy died the following year and Olga passed away in 1996, one month shy of her 101st birthday. She is buried next to Pound.

Selected Sources

  • Alexander, Michael. The Poetic Achievement of Ezra Pound. University of California Press, 1979. ISBN 978-0-395-41678-5
  • Anthony, Julius. T.S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism and Literary Form. Cambridge University Press, 1996. ISBN 00-521-58673-9
  • The Cambridge Companion to Ezra Pound (I. Nadel, Editor). Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CCOL05241431174.017
  • Carpenter, Humphrey. A Serious Character: The Life of Ezra Pound. Houghton Mifflin, 1988. ISBN 978-0-395-41678-5
  • Crawford, Robert. T.S. Eliot: the poet who conquered the world 50 years on. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jan/10/from-tom-to-ts-eliot-world
  • Ezra Pound. Poetry Foundation. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/ezra-pound
  • Marsh, Alex and Elizabeth Daumer. Pound and T.S. Eliot. American Literary Scholarship, 2005
  • Menand, Louis. How T.S. Eliot Became T.S. Eliot. The New Yorker, September 12, 2011
  • Raine, Craig T. T.S. Eliot. Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • Redman, Tim. Ezra Pound and Italian Fascism. Cambridge University Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-521-37305-0
  • Shaw, Edward. The Life of Ezra Pound. https://www.redfez.net/nonfiction/biography-the-life-of-ezra-pound-788
  • Statement by T.S. Eliot on the opening of the Emily Hale Letters at Princeton. T.S. Eliot. Retrieved 6 January 2020
  • Stock, Noel. Poet in Exile. University of Manchester, 1964.
  • T.S. Eliot. Poetry Foundation. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/t-s-eliot
  • T.S. Eliot: The Man and His Work (Allen Tate, Editor), 1966; republished by Penguin 1971
  • Wilhelm, J. The American Roots of Ezra Pound. Garland Publishing, 1985. ISBN 978-0-582-25867-9


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  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2