The Warrior and the Poet: J.E.B. Stuart and Ezra Pound
For the first time in written form, we present a profoundly inspirational speech by Jack Pershing, delivered 30 years ago this month at the General Convention of the National Alliance. (By clicking on the embedded player you can listen to the original recording.) This is one of my very favorite essays and speeches. — Kevin Alfred Strom
by Jack Pershing
transcribed by Vanessa NeubauerListen to JEB Stuart and Ezra Pound
THE LAND OF THE FREE and the home of the brave has become the land of the sheep and the home of the wimps. In every direction, as far as one can see through the carcinogenic haze, lies a desert of cynicism, cowardice, criminality, and corruption. It can be rather discouraging.
But we mustn’t be discouraged: The nasty, vulgar, phony world in which we find ourselves is not our world. It’s a fluke, a freak, an oddity. It’s an historical dead end, a swamp in which we are temporarily floundering. Our response to this society should be to reject it.
The kind of life offered us by the System is poison. Who wants to join the legions of lobotomized zombies wasting their lives in pursuit of the gadgets, trinkets, and junk which the System holds up to us as the ultimate good? Our attitude should be that of Socrates, who used to wander through the marketplace of Athens marveling at all the things he could do without.
Not in the sorry present, but in the glorious past of our race will we find the inspiration we need to carry on our struggle. The heroic example of those who came before us enables us to believe that life can be noble and that men and women can be more than catatonic consumers, tormented by the threat of ring around the collar or wax buildup. In a time when we are few, the enemy strong, and victory seems far away we must maintain our resolve unshaken.
By glorying in the deeds of our ancestors, by worshiping the heroes, revering the art, and listening to the music we rekindle again and again the flames of resistance and defiance. To tap this endless source of strength is to banish despondency and apathy from our lives. The result is a quiet but unshakable determination to go on no matter what.
I suggest that we begin with values. A people’s values reflect its soul. If we go back to a time when our people were living purely by their own values, we’re going to be talking about religion.
My dictionary defines religion as the expression of man’s belief in, and reverence for, a superhuman power recognized as the creator and governor of the universe. This definition really doesn’t apply to the religious beliefs of our ancestors. Wherever we look — from Aryan India, to Iran, to the Slavs, Germans, Celts, Greeks, and Romans — we find a common religious tendency of a unique and essentially heroic nature. Man was never seen as a slave to some Menachem Begin of outer space. There was no cringing before the gods. To the Teuton his god was his “full true” in whom he could trust. Plato speaks of a mutual community of gods and men. Men and the gods were thought to be akin to one another and bound by the same values. The gods weren’t our creators and we weren’t their creatures. We were all part of a timeless order in which creation and destruction alternated in an endless cycle.
Fear of death or punishment by the gods played no part in this religion. One honored the gods by standing up to the slings and arrows of an outrageous fortune like a man. There was no concern with sin, redemption, shame, or damnation. What was there to be redeemed from? Life wasn’t evil. It was hard, but how else should it be? A man had his strong right arm, his weapons, and his comrades. Have courage, live dangerously. Enjoy life. As the Edda says, “Bright and cheerful should each man be, until death strikes him.”
Pie in the sky in the sweet by-and-by was of little interest to our ancestors. Any religion which condemns this world as evil and worthless is alien to our souls. We didn’t need a redeemer to make it all right. It was all right. It was just as it should be.
The only redemption our people conceived of was a self-liberation through contemplation, a sort of sinking into oneself that tapped the power which everywhere flows through the universe and through us. Call it Nature mysticism or pantheism.
Certainly it never occurred to White men to make a business deal with the gods, complete with a list of “do’s and don’ts” and appropriate punishments and rewards. One acted honorably because one was honorable. As Plato said, “Whoever does not feel inwardly bound to the just and morally beautiful will never understand the true nature of virtue and vice.”
Above man and above the gods, implacable and remorseless, was destiny. A strong man endured under the blows of destiny and grew stronger still. As Nietzsche said: What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. Even with the advent of the new religion, this destiny feeling remained. An Anglo-Saxon proverb said Christ is powerful, but more powerful is destiny. Schopenhauer wrote “A happy life is impossible; the highest to which man can attain is an heroic course of life.” Goethe’s Faust expressed the same belief, the same spirit. It is belief in spite of all, in spite of the knowledge of the fundamentally tragic character of life.
These religious beliefs reflected the inner life of the men who formulated them. The societies in which they lived were another reflection.
One such, the German tribes which confronted Rome in her latter days, was described by Cornelius Tacitus, a Roman author, orator and administrator who lived in the 1st and 2nd centuries. Tacitus tells us that the Germans of that time were a rural people, farming communally-owned fields. Economic activity was yet to become an end in itself and usury was unknown. Large families were the rule and motherhood possessed a special sanctity. It was thought disgraceful to attempt to limit the size of the family. Women were believed to possess special powers of prophecy and their men, Tacitus tells us, “do not scorn to ask their advice or lightly disregard their replies.”
The prime virtues to which men aspired were loyalty, honor, and heroism. Honor and glory ranked higher in the scale of virtue than life itself. The relationship of a man to his leader was similar in many ways to that which bound him to his gods, and was based on mutual service, trust, and loyalty.
Upon reaching manhood each warrior appeared before the tribal assembly and was presented with a shield and spear by his leader, perhaps by his father. To lose one’s shield was the greatest disgrace. As in ancient Sparta, one came home with one’s shield — or on it, dead. Cowards, shirkers, and sodomites could expect no mercy. They would be stomped down into a bog in the belief that deeds of shame should be buried out of men’s sight.
They were a nation of fighters all right, and warfare was their preoccupation. Most preferred fighting to working: “For the Germans have no taste for peace. Renown is more easily won among perils.” The fiercest of all were a caste of professional fighters, drifters who owned nothing, preferring to live off the generosity of their leaders. These super-warriors were in the forefront of every fight and were said to present a ferocious appearance, even in peacetime. They seemed to be forerunners of the Berserkers who served as bodyguards to the pagan kings of Norway. Dedicated to Odin, the Berserkers wore the skins of wolves and bears and howled like beasts when the battle fury came upon them, rendering them impervious to pain and fear.
Nor were women aloof from the demands of the fight. Part of the marriage ceremony consisted of an exchange of weapons: “The woman must not think that she is excluded from aspirations to manly virtues or exempt from the hazards of warfare.” In battle the womenfolk encouraged their men and were not above slaying any who held back from the fight. They treated wounds and took pride in showing off the blows taken by their men.
Possessors of the heroic virtues and courageous to a fault, these ancestors of ours smashed the decadent empire and built a new world on its ruins. We face a similar task of destruction and creation. If we live up to their example we can only succeed.
* * *
We needn’t go back 2,000 years, though, to find models of heroism. Let me tell you about two men, in many ways as different as you can find. One was a 19th century soldier, a gallant cavalier who brings to mind the knights errant of long ago. The other was a 20th century poet, a visionary heavy with the future. One met an honorable opponent on the field in battle, weapon in hand and his comrades around him. The other struggled with an enemy who dealt in deceit and a stab in the back. He fought his fight alone in military prisons and insane asylums. What they had in common was an unconquerable will, a fire in the gut that makes a man determined to die rather than admit defeat.
The one, J.E.B. Stuart, General of Cavalry, Army of Northern Virginia, Confederate States of America. The other, Ezra Pound, poet, economist, eccentric, and philosopher extraordinaire.
J.E.B. “Jeb” Stuart grew up on a modest plantation in southwestern Virginia. He went to West Point and was commissioned second lieutenant in the U.S. Army and was sent out west to fight Indians. A bullet from a Cheyenne brave almost ended his career before it began, but he survived to serve in Bloody Kansas where he tried, mostly without success, to keep abolitionists and slave owners from killing one another.
When Virginia seceded on April 17th, 1861, Stuart quit the army and went home. He was soon a lieutenant colonel in the Confederate Army. But allow me to introduce him to you as he would have appeared in June of 1863, if you had attended the great cavalry review he held at his headquarters in Culpeper County, Virginia.
It was a hopeful time for the Confederacy. Chancellorsville had been a great victory and defeat at Gettysburg was in the future. New recruits were pouring in, bringing fresh horses with them. (You brought your own horse when you joined the Confederate cavalry.) For a change there was plenty to eat, for men and beasts both.
If you had been on one of the special trains from Richmond, or perhaps driven over in one of the hundreds of carriages which lined the parade ground, you would have been treated to a magnificent show: Lines of troopers two miles long passed in review, their officers clad in splendid new uniforms, sabers glittering in the Virginia sunshine. They staged ferocious charges while the artillery blasted away with blanks.
And, best of all, you would have seen General Stuart mounted on a big blood bay Virginia thoroughbred. He rode over the parade ground, bellowing commands from behind his flowing red beard in a voice which, had everyone been so equipped, would have rendered the microphone a redundant invention.
At about 5’10” and 175 pounds, he was long-limbed and short-bodied and looked best on a horse. And could he ride! One soldier said “He’s the prettiest and most graceful rider I ever saw. I could not help but notice with what natural ease and comely grace he sat on his steed as it bounded over the field.” No soldier ever dressed for the role with more panache. His saddle and bridle were all polished leather and sparkling metal. He wore a gray shell cavalry jacket positively ablaze with gold braid and buttons, and a grey cavalry cape lined with scarlet. Gleaming Russian leather jackboots climbed past his knees and his spurs were of gold. The hands that held the reins were encased in huge yellow leather gauntlets and around his waist was a yellow cavalry sack with golden tassels. His campaign hat was looped up on one side with a gold star and crowned with a black ostrich plume. His sidearms were a big nine-chambered LeMat revolver and a French cavalry saber.
It said that the function of cavalry in war is to add tone to what might otherwise become an unseemly brawl. Jeb Stuart was the living embodiment of that tradition. While they did love military display, there was more to it. Stuart knew that the Confederacy was outmanned, outgunned, and out-produced. Brute force was on the other side. He said, “We must substitute esprit for numbers. Therefore I strive to inculcate in my men the spirit of the chase.” In other words, the preponderance of force was too serious to treat seriously. Better to crack a joke and ride off to the fight, whistling a merry tune, plume waving in the wind. And that’s how Stuart fought his war. One officer said, “Like some chevalier of olden days he rode to battle with his lady’s glove upon his helm, determined to conquer or die.” He lived to the tune of a popular song of the day called, “Join the Cavalry”: If you want to see the Devil, if you want to smell Hell, if you want to have fun, join the cavalry!
And he surrounded himself with his kind of soldier. Sam Sweeny, a former blackface minstrel whose brother reportedly invented the banjo, went with him everywhere, playing Will Scarlet to Stuart’s Robin Hood. General A.P. Hill pleaded: “Keep him away, keep him away from my camp! Every time Jeb Stuart comes around with Sweeny and his banjo he makes my whole division want to join the cavalry.”
Stuart’s chaplain was Major Dabney Ball, known as The Foraging Parson. It was said that no chicken could live in the vicinity of this consummate master of the midnight commissary.
Stuart’s horse artillery was commanded by young John Pelham, son of an Alabama country doctor. At West Point he had amazed the Prince of Wales with his horsemanship. In a dozen battles his reckless courage earned him immortality as The Gallant Pelham. Blond and strikingly handsome in his boyish way, he was like a young Baldur or Siegfried. When he was killed it was said that the train carrying him home was stopped at every station in Alabama by crowds of women who piled his casket high with flowers.
Then there was Heros von Borcke, late of the Third Dragoon Guards, Royal Prussian Army — a gentleman adventurer who ran the blockade to fight for the Confederacy. At 6’4” and 250 pounds, he was described as “a giant in stature, blond and virile with great curly mustaches and the expression in his wide-open blue eyes of a singularly modest boy.” Wielding the largest saber in the Confederate cavalry, von Borcke was the kind of man who could, with some satisfaction, practically decapitate an opponent in battle and that evening squire a pretty girl around the dance floor with all the courtliness of the continental gentleman which he in fact was. Immensely popular, he was the cause of widespread dismay when a rumor somehow spread that he’d been killed in battle. When the governor of Virginia wrote to Stuart, suggesting that the body be sent to Richmond for burial with honors, Stuart wrote back: “Can’t spare body of von Borcke; it is in pursuit of Yankees.”
Robert E. Lee’s sons, Fitz and Rooney, served with Stuart, and what more need be said of them but that they were a credit to the old man.
Stuart’s troopers were, for the most part, born to the saddle and supplied their own horses, many of them thoroughbreds from the stud farms of Virginia and South Carolina. Until attrition wore them down late in the war, both men and mounts were vastly superior to their Union counterparts, many of them city boys riding nags purchased from less than scrupulous dealers. If the horse had more than three legs and wasn’t stone blind it was considered acceptable.
Fine horsemen that they were, Stuart had to teach his men how to soldier. Given the situation, it had to be on-the-job training. One such exercise began with a ride into hostile territory. When they encountered a skirmish line of bluecoats, Stuart rode in their direction and gave the order to dismount. Only when the Union troops were practically on top of them did he allow his men to mount up. As bullets whistled around them, they gracefully rode away — slowly. As though he were lecturing a classroom, Stuart patiently explained: “Cavalry can trot away from anything — and a gallop is a gait unbecoming to a soldier unless he is going toward the enemy. Remember that. We gallop toward the enemy and trot away, always.”
They learned quickly in this hard school. The lessons were taught in little cavalry fights that killed men as dead as Gettysburg. Soon they thought nothing of spending a week in the saddle, and if nothing better came their way they could live off ripe corn, or half ripe corn, eaten raw in some farmer’s field.
Sometimes something better did come their way. In June of 1862, Stuart led 1,200 picked men in a reconnaissance in force around the Union right flank. Scattering the Federal cavalry that got in their way, they burned bridges, shot up trains, cut telegraph poles, and became one of the few cavalry outfits to fight an artillery duel with a warship, specifically the gunboat USS Marblehead. They burned a Federal camp, much to the delight of von Borcke: “The whole camp was enveloped in one blaze, hundreds of tents burning together, wonderfully beautiful.” The ordinary horse solider was more appreciative of the goodies with which the Union army appeared to be supplied in an infinite amount and variety. Stopping to rest the horses, they pigged out on whatever they could find: figs, ketchup, sausages, lemons, oysters — and booze. John Mosby recalled the scene as “a carnival of fun I could never forget. Nobody thought of danger or sleep when champagne bottles were popping.” All had perfect confidence in their leader. When they rode off again, more than a few troopers were three sheets to the wind. Rooney Lee, alarmed, started a rumor that a man had died from drinking poisoned whiskey. As the rumor spread, captured whiskey bottles could be seen arcing through the night air all along the length of the column.
This was the famous Ride around McClellan. Stuart’s army had circumnavigated the entire Army of the Potomac. To add insult to injury, Stuart did it again that fall. Shortly thereafter, McClellan was replaced by Ambrose Burnside, prompting General Lee to remark wistfully, “McClellan and I always understood each other so well and I’m afraid they may keep making these changes until they find someone I don’t understand.”
Stuart never let up. General Joe Johnston said of him, “Stuart is like a yellow jacket. You brush him off and he flies right back on.” On Christmas day, 1862, a raid on Union supply lines resulted in one of the best jokes of the war. At Burke’s Station, Stuart commandeered the local telegraph office and sent the following telegram: “Quartermaster General Meigs, United States Army: Quality of mules furnished me lately very poor. Interferes seriously with movement of captured wagons. Signed: J.E.B. Stuart.”
Eluding pursuing Yankees proved easier than escaping the admiring southern womenfolk. Stuart was liable to be taken prisoner at any time and his tailor was kept busy replacing buttons lost to the more daring souvenir hunters. Von Borcke recalled an incident in which Stuart was captured by an admiring throng of ladies. “Many,” said von Borcke, “with tears in their eyes, kissing the skirt of his uniform coat or the glove upon his hand.” Stuart demurred, allowing as how a kiss on the cheek might be more appropriate. Von Borcke wrote, “The kisses now popped in rapid succession like musketry, until our general was placed under as hot a fire as I’d ever seen him sustain on the field of battle.”
Stuart’s blue eyes often sparkled with laughter, but they could just as readily flare with fighting fury. “We must nerve our hearts,” he said, “with a determination to die rather than submit.” And death was never far away. Always leading from the front, the famous black plume waving, singing gaily over the din of battle, he had an electrifying effect on his men. But they feared for him. Horses were shot from under him more than once, and on one occasion, to his great amusement, one side of his mustache was shot away as cleanly as if by a barber’s razor. As an admirer wrote, “His indifference to danger impressed everyone. It would be difficult to imagine a coolness more supreme.”
Taking command of the wounded Jackson’s corps at Chancellorsville, Stuart was a subject of ecstatic reports. We see him on his big bay charger, dashing into a crumbling formation, grabbing the battle flag and turning the men around and leading them in the assault, singing, as he always did in battle, his great voice booming over the cannon’s roar. E.P. Alexander said, “I do not think there was a more brilliant thing done in the war. Stuart never seemed to doubt he could crash his way wherever he chose to strike.”
Stuart never expected to live through the war, and, in any case, preferred death to defeat: “I’d rather die than be whipped.” It happened on May 11th, 1864, at a place called Yellow Tavern. Stuart sustained a serious abdominal wound, which, considering the limited medical knowledge of the day, gave every indication of being mortal. He was taken to Richmond and the doctors did for him what little they could. When President Jefferson Davis came to ask how he felt, Stuart answered, “Easy, but willing to die if God and my country think I have fulfilled my destiny and done my duty.”
He died at 7:38 PM, May 12th, 1864, and was buried the next day to the roar of distant guns. He was 31 years old. Richmond wept, but there was rejoicing in Valhalla as a mighty warrior strode across the rainbow bridge and entered the great hall of the gods.
* * *
To me, Jeb Stuart was the quintessential Aryan warrior, the incarnation of the soldierly virtues which will be indispensable to any successful White renaissance. But martial ardor alone won’t save us. The power of the pen must complement that of the sword. We need philosophers as well as soldiers, poets as well as warriors: thinkers like Ezra Pound as well as fighters like Jeb Stuart.
Ezra Pound was the possessor of a penetrating intellect, a man of wide learning, and a gifted lyrical genius. He was a profoundly serious man who never made the mistake of taking himself too seriously. He was a rake, a rogue, a bohemian bon vivant, in short an American original by any standard, an extraordinary individual.
Born in 1885 in Hailey, Territory of Idaho, Pound was raised in Wyncote, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. His father was the assistant assayer at the Philadelphia Mint. His family was wealthy enough that he made two childhood visits to Europe, once with an aunt, and once with his father. After taking his M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania 1905, he went a third time on a research fellowship and spent most of the seven months vagabonding through Provence, Spain, and northern Italy. Brilliant, but brittle, Pound clashed with his professors and his fellowship was discontinued. A short teaching stint at Indiana’s Wabash College ended when a burlesque dancer turned up in his rooms.
He decided to go back to Europe to seek fame and fortune as a poet. Pound arrived in Europe in the spring of 1908 with a sheaf of poems and $80. He lived in Venice that summer in an apartment over a bakery. He strolled along the seashore, lived on sweet potatoes and barley soup, observed the life around him, thought, and wrote poetry. It was as if he was gathering his energies.
In September of that year, Pound collided with London and England trembled from the impact. His energy, wit, and enthusiasm captivated everyone. As William Carlos Williams phrased it, “He lived the poet as few of us had the nerve to live that exalted role in our time.” He was a total nonconformist complete with a broad-brimmed troubadour hat and an earring. At a literary breakfast he astonished his companions by eating a rose from the centerpiece. Then he ate another one.
In six months, Pound had met Williams, D.H. Lawrence, Ford Madox Ford, and William Butler Yeats among others. Within a year he was a published poet of note and a fixture on the literary scene. The next decade was a period of feverish literary activity; ten years during which Pound practically invented modern poetry and profoundly influenced, discovered, or promoted such luminaries as T.S. Elliot, Robert Frost, and James Joyce.
He was a key figure in a movement which he called Vorticism, a rebellion against Victorian rigidity which had some elements in common with the Italian Futurists. He said, “We might come to believe that the thing that matters in art is a sort of energy, something more or less like electricity; transfusing, welding, and unifying.”
After the Great War of 1914-18 Pound became convinced that something was terribly wrong with Western civilization, and he determined to find out what it was. It was at this time that he met Major Clifford Hugh Douglas, a civil engineer who had worked out a new economic philosophy called Social Credit. In brief, it was based on the idea that wars and economic disruptions are caused by the manipulations of a small group of international financiers. To Pound and others, it soon became apparent that most of these people were Jews. Indeed the whole usurious modern economic system was a gargantuan Semitic swindle, a con game on a colossal scale.
This was Pound’s personal Rubicon, and he crossed it without a backward glance. He wrote a poem on the subject:
By 1921, Pound had found London becoming stale and he went to Paris. He met anybody who was anybody in the “lost generation.” Gertrude Stein didn’t find him amusing, but to Ernest Hemingway “He was the man I liked and trusted the most as a critic.” After a three-year sojourn in the City of Light, Pound decided to avail himself at the more peaceful, if less brilliant, surroundings of Rapallo, a picture-postcard Italian resort town not far from Genoa. Red tile houses climbed up the hills from the Mediterranean, and from his apartment he could observe the interplay of light and color on the sea. As he wrote to a friend, “I knew paradise when I saw it.”
Benito Mussolini was building a new Italy and Pound took an interest in Fascism. He thought he detected a kindred spirit in the Duce. He saw Mussolini, whom he referred to as The Boss, as a man driven by a vast and deep concern, or will, for the welfare of Italy. Not Italy as a bureaucracy, or Italy as a state machinery stuck up on top of the people — but for Italy organic, composed of the last plowman and the last girl in the olive yards. From his headquarters in Rapallo poured forth a steady stream of correspondence, books, articles, and poems chiefly concerning politics and economics. “Quite simply,” he wrote, “I want a new civilization.”
Unimpressed by the irrelevancies pursued so avidly by his former literary colleagues, he declared “Preserving public morality is more important than exploring psychological hinterlands.” As Jew-inspired war fever began building in the 1930s, Pound leapt to the defense of Italy against the Judocratic press. And not only Italy: When he became the object of propaganda on behalf of the Spanish Communists, he fired off a counter-blast, calling the anti-Franco crusade “an emotional luxury to a gang of sap-headed dilettantes.” In What Is Money For he commended the author of Mein Kampf for his statement that “the struggle against international finance and loan capital had become the most important point in the National Socialist program; the struggle of the German nation for its independence and freedom.”
In the spring of 1939, Pound sailed to the U.S. in a last ditch bid to sidetrack the Hebrew war machine. He talked to a number of isolationist politicians in Washington, but he really didn’t get anywhere. Elsewhere, though, he got his licks in. During a poetry reading at Harvard, he noticed that quite a few Jews were in the audience — and promptly changed the program to include his most “anti-Semitic” poems.
When war came, Pound was back in Rapallo and there he stayed. Convinced that his duty to his country lay in exposing the treasonous machinations of Roosevelt and his Jew bosses, he offered his talents to the Italian broadcasting service. His American Hour broadcasts crackled across the airwaves, propelled by a righteous fury at the treason, ignorance, and stupidity that was leading the Anglo-Saxon powers down the garden path: “Democracy,” he said, “is now defined in Europe as a country governed by Jews.” The chief villain was variously labeled “Franklin Finkelstein Roosevelt,” “Stinky Roosenstein,” or “Jewsfelt.” Whatever his name was, Pound considered him “below the biological level at which the concept of honor enters the mind.” The first lady became “Eleanor Oozenfeld”; a personage, according to Pound, “who has carried vulgarity to the point of obscenity and has the mind of a lavatory attendant.”
He spoke to both England and America: “Europe calling, Pound speaking. They say an Englishman’s head is made of wood, and an American’s head is made of watermelon — it’s easier to get something into the American’s head, but well nigh impossible to make it stick for ten seconds. I don’t know what good I’m doing — I mean what immediate good — but some things you folks on both sides of the wretched ocean will have to learn, war or no war, sooner or later.”
Pound told them the facts of life in no uncertain terms: “Ezra Pound speaking from Rome. Is there a race left in England? Has it any will to survive? I doubt it. Nothing can save you, save a purge; nothing can save you save the affirmation that you are English. Hore Belisha is not. Isaacs is not. No Sassoon is an Englishman racially. No Rothschild is English, no Baruch, Morgenthau, Cohen, Lehmann, Warburg, Kuhn, Schiff, Sieff, or Solomon was ever yet born Anglo-Saxon. And it is for this filth that you fight. It is for this filth that you have murdered your empire.”
The perversity of American policy aroused both Pound’s anger and his pity: “For the United States to be making war on Italy is just plain damn nonsense. There’s no connection between submitting to the Roosevelt/Morgenthau frauds and patriotism. There’s no patriotism in submitting to the prolonged multiple frauds of the Roosevelt administration. And to try to make the present support of these frauds figure as loyalty to the American heritage is so much dirt and buncombe. There’s so much that the United States does not know. This war is proof of such vast incomprehension, such tangled ignorance — so many strains of unknowing. You are in black darkness and confusion. You have been hugger-muggered and scarum-shouted into a war and you know nothing about it. You know nothing about the forces that caused it.” Like a beacon of sanity shining through a fog of madness, Pound berated, cajoled, and scolded his countrymen, who in their confusion sent their sons to die for a gang of cutthroats and shysters.
Despite the herculean efforts of the warriors of the New Order, an inscrutable fate gave the victory to the bigger battalions of the befuddled Allies, and on April 28th, 1945, Mussolini and his mistress, Claretta Petacci, were ritually murdered by Communist partisans. By May 3rd American troops were in Rapallo, and the Reds had arrested Pound.
He was turned over to the counter-intelligence center in Genoa, and a 13-year ordeal began which would have broken the will of many men much younger than Pound’s 60 years. But to his eternal credit he fought for his beliefs, for his sanity, for his very existence. And he wrote poetry.
For three weeks Pound was confined in a 6 foot by 6.5-foot wire cage. Exposed by day to the heat, glare and dust, by night it was brilliantly floodlit. The toilet was a tin can. Pound shadowboxed, played tennis, fenced with imaginary opponents, watched the insect life, and tried to survive. His spirit resisted but flesh wilted under that brutal regimen. His memory failed and he collapsed. Only then, half dead, was he put in a tent, which, while far from comfortable, was less murderous than what he called “the gorilla cage.”
After six months of detention without trial, Pound was flown to Washington, D.C., declared mentally incompetent, and confined in the ward for the criminally insane at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. A grim human warehouse built in the 1880s, it would be Pound’s home for 13 months. His cell had a black steel door with nine peepholes — to allow observation of the lunatic within. Madmen shambled up and down the hall outside, drooling and gibbering. Visitors recoiled at the overpowering odors of sweat and bile. But it was the visits to which Pound clung as a sheet anchor of sanity. At night loneliness and claustrophobia closed in. By day, psychiatrists poked and prodded in endless mental examinations.
In spite of everything, Pound kept both his sanity and his integrity. True to himself, he could later say, “I remember a moment of quite irrational happiness in the hellhole.”
In February 1947, Pound was at last moved to a regular ward and allowed visitors for two hours a day. Over the next eleven years he carried on manfully, doing his best to live as a sane man in an insane world. In spite of his imprisonment, his literary reputation continued to grow and pressure for his release mounted.
Finally, in May of 1958, the treason indictment against him was dismissed and the 73-year-old poet was released. He wasted little time in returning to Italy. In Naples, he was photographed giving the Fascist salute and was quoted as saying, “All America is an insane asylum.”
Nietzsche said, “Many live too long, and many a one grows too old even for his truths and victories.” Sadly, this was true of Pound. In his ninth decade, his vitality slowly ebbing, he seemed to lose faith in his poetry and his vision and in himself. What Man couldn’t do was accomplished by Time, which wears down even the mountains.
The essential Pound, though, lives on in his poetry:
“Thank you, whatever comes.” And then she turned
And, as the ray of sun on hanging flowers
Fades when the wind hath lifted them aside,
Went swiftly from me. Nay, whatever comes
One hour was sunlit and the most high gods
May not make boast of any better thing
Than to have watched that hour as it passed.
A popular song of a few years ago contained a line that went, “It’s a strange, strange world we live in, Master Jack.” It is indeed a strange world, a world in which Ezra Pound is declared insane while a bag of garbage like Martin Luther King is enshrined as a national hero — a world where the misshapen, the botched, and the retarded are the subject of a morbid fascination, while millions of healthy babies are flushed down the sewers with no more ceremony than is accorded the disposal of a stale bologna sandwich — a world turned upside down, in which all that is worthy and noble is condemned, while the perverse, the wretched, and the downright rotten is held up as the ideal. Living in such a world and keeping one’s sanity, not to mention one’s good humor, is not always an easy task.
But not only must we live and avoid going bananas, we must fight to bring into being a new and better world. As the hero said in The Outlaw Josey Wales, “If things get bad and it looks like you’re not going to make it, you gotta get mean — I mean plumb mad dog mean — ’cause if you lose your head and give up, you neither live nor win. That’s just how it is.”
It’s going to be a long war. At times each of us will feel the clammy fingers of despair clutching at his throat and hear an insistent voice, clamoring, “Give up, it’s no use.” Help one another. When one weakens, another must be strong. In the midst of the wreckage of a dying civilization take your inspiration from your heritage and from each other. Nietzsche said that we should love war. I believe that — for only in struggle can we develop to our maximum potential.
Rejoice, then, for it has been given to us to be soldiers in the greatest war of them all. As Zarathustra said, “I do not exhort you to peace; I exhort you to victory. What good is long life, what warrior wants to be spared? I do not spare you; I love you from the very heart, my brothers in war.” Thank you.Listen to JEB Stuart and Ezra Pound