Poet Ezra Pound said “All America is an insane asylum,” after being released from an American insane asylum in 1958.
He was born on 31 October 1885, in Idaho, but Ezra Pound grew up in Pennsylvania, and that’s always been considered his American home.
But then there’s his Italian home.
Ezra Pound lived in Italy for more than two decades before he was confined as a crazy traitor in the U.S., and for another decade after he was finally released from the psychiatric ward at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. in 1958.
Pound’s early years as a writer were truly remarkable — he was an influential booster of some of the greats of the 20th century, including T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein.
He, his wife and his girlfriend settled down in Italy around 1924. By this time, Ezra Pound had already made a name for himself in literary circles — he’d published his first book of poems in 1908, after all.
As it turns out, Ezra Pound was also a political nut. These days, he’d be a pundit on the TV, possibly for CNBC or Fox News, and a star on AM radio.
Picture this: Ezar Pound living in Italy, where he’s got a patio facing the sea, and his biggest decision every day boils down to, “Hmm… my wife or my mistress?”
Yet, Ezra Pound chose to focus on the worldwide financial conspiracy he saw coming out of Wall Street, where bankers were shaking hands with politicians as they both winked at The Devil stomping Democracy to bits.
Pound became a fan of Benito Mussolini. After years of trying, he finally met Il Duce in 1933. The Italians didn’t quite know what to make of this eager American. Mussolini, a violin player, probably liked the fact that Pound’s mistress, Olga, was a concert-level violinist.
Without even checking with Mussolini’s fascist government, in 1940 Ezra Pound sent along his own radio scripts. By that time, he’d written a number of screeds against Wall Street bankers and the American war machine, calling FDR a dictator and pawn of the bankers, and slipping into what we now see as familiar rants that claim we’re all screwed by a cabal of Jewish bankers.
In short, he became what we’d call these days a Tea Party guy. Conspiracies to the left and right, and so on.
As it turns out, this crazy stuff was his ace in the hole.
By January of 1941, the Italians were letting him record his weird rants and broadcasting them on radio that could be picked up in the U.S. He would go into Rome once or twice a month and record this rambling stuff, a paid gig that lasted about a year and a half. Ezra Pound spent nearly two years making anti-American radio broadcasts from Rome. “Europe calling! Ezra Pound speaking!” is how he announced his broadcasts.
When Mussolini was kicked out of town in 1943, Pound was right along with him, still a wild-eyed follower of state control and a harsh critic of the U.S.
But… oops! The United States won the big battle, and Ezra Pound was indicted in Washington, D.C. in July of 1945, accused of treason.
Back in Italy, he’d been avoiding Italian partisans and living in a confined space with both his wife and his mistress — his wife having had a baby by some other guy, and his mistress having had a baby by him — but the end of the war meant he was a fugitive. So he gave himself up.
A post-war criminal, he was stuck in an open-air cell in Italy until he was too out of it to function, then he was moved to quarters that were designated for officers who’d committed crimes. Pound was comfortable enough to work on The Pisan Cantos.
But in America, there were those who wanted his hide, so Ezra Pound was brought to the U.S. to stand trial in 1946 for treason, a capital crime.
Four psychiatrists proclaimed him insane, and instead of going on trial for treason, he was sent to Washington’s St. Elizabeth Hospital as a crazy guy who might someday get better.
Pound lived there for 12 years, and it sounds as though he didn’t want to leave. He lived rent free, had free medical and dental care, lots of visitors and plenty of time to write and write and write. Among other things, Pound translated hundreds of Chinese poems and many works by Confucius, and continued work on his magnum opus, The Cantos.
Even after some pals finally arranged his release, Pound waited to leave the “asylum” until after he got his next free dental visit.
Ezra Pound’s release from confinement in 1958 was pure bureaucratic magic. He didn’t want to leave, and if the psychiatrists said he was okay in the brain, he would have to face trial for treason. His upkeep was costing money, so the feds decided to deem Pound still-crazy-but-not-dangerous. They let him go.
He went back to Italy. When he arrived, he gave the crowd a fascist salute. That’s also when he said, “All America is an insane asylum.”
In his final days, Ezra Pound seemed to realize that he wasn’t so much of a political scientist or monetary theorist as much as “a moron” (his words).
For a quick bio of him, see the Who2 biography of Ezra Pound.
To hear what he sounded like, go here and listen to the many audio files of Pound reading his poems (between 1939 and 1972).
Back in the early 1980s, there was a re-examination of Ezra Pound’s so-called crazy status. To read one point of view, go here.
For a very detailed account — and a great read — go here for the tale of Ezra Pound’s time in Italy.