My friend Stephen was in Italy when he was a child…
He was visiting Venice when his grandfather, who was showing him the sites, introduced him to a very old man. The old man glared at Stephen without speaking and then walked on. When he asked his grandpa who the man was, and why he didn’t speak, and why his grandpa introduced him, his grandfather said; “His name is Ezra Pound. Even though he didn’t speak, I wanted you to be able to tell people someday that you met the greatest poet of the 20th century.”
Stephen’s grandfather was correct.
Ezra Pound was arguably the greatest poet of our time, if not for his own work alone for the guidance and inspiration he provided to a host of others including T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, William Carlos Williams, D.H. Lawrence, Marianne Moore, etc. I have read numerous biographies and works of literary criticism which confirm his central role in the modernist movement.
I also know that he was a man whose political sentiments were viciously racist, anti-semitic, and could only result in war and genocide if taken to their logical conclusion.
Lest anyone protest that the private opinions of a writer or an artist are their own business, Pound openly and publicly broadcast these beliefs to a shocked world at the height of the Second World War. (I mean “broadcast” literally since his nightly rantings were heard on Benito Mussolini’s Radio Roma.) No one was more appalled than his erstwhile literary comrades, particularly when Pound’s mention of their names on the air could get them a drop-in from the F.B.I., as happened to Dr. W.C. Williams, a physician in New Jersey, who happened to also be a poet friend from Pound’s days in the American expatriate community in Paris.
My point in mentioning this is that Pound knew what he was doing, knew the risks that he ran taunting the U.S. Government in wartime from an enemy capital, and accepted the consequences.
He was arrested by the U.S. Military at the war’s end at his home in Rapallo, Italy; thrown into a barbed-wire military stockade at Pisa, Italy (within sight of the leaning Tower!); and ultimately charged with treason. The only reason he escaped trial and probable hanging was through commitment to an insane asylum for many years. (The authorities had decided he was incompetent to stand trial by reason of insanity, which was certainly true at the end of his six month stay in an outdoor steel cage in all weather at Pisa, if it wasn’t before!)
I mention all this not because I felt it was unwarranted or undeserved. I do it to make a rather pointed contrast with the lame excuses Kansas City Star writer Steve Paul made for the late Communist folk singer Pete Seeger in his article of January 28th, “Pete Seeger Raised his Voice for People, Peace and Justice.”
Mr. Paul tells us of Seeger’s numerous musical accomplishment’s over many decades as a public performer.He popularized an old hymn,”We Shall Overcome”,rewriting the lyrics and making it into the anthem of the civil rights movement.He wrote”Where Have All The Flowers Gone?”,which served the same function for the anti-war movement.However,the question inevitably arises with Seeger(as it did with Pound):Does world class intellectual or artistic genius give you a pass to enlist that genius in aid of our nation’s enemies? Steve brushes aside concerns about the singer’s political affiliations by quoting Seeger when testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee to the effect that he wouldn’t answer questions about his political beliefs or allegiances and that to even ask them was “Un-American.” (This from the people who ridicule the very idea of an “Un-American Activities” Committee in Congress!)
Paul says once “the Red-baiting nastiness” of the 50’s was behind him, Pete Seeger had a long and happy career. The problem is that the 50 million people who died at the hands of Communism couldn’t put “the nastiness”they had to endure behind them. Seeger slavishly followed the twists and turns of the CPUSA party line for over seventy years in all his public statements and pronouncements. For example,he was against the U.S. entry into WWII until Hitler invaded Russia(and turned against his ally Stalin) and then Seeger suppressed all his anti-war songs and whole-heartedly embraced the war effort.It was only in 2007(fifty-four years after Stalin’s death)that Seeger dared to criticize Stalin and then only in private to close personal friends.
For dedicating his life to this murderous lie, Pete Seeger and his kind cannot be excused, whatever the glib evasions of Steve Paul and his fellow “progressives.”