Tuesday 6th August 2013 - by Kyl Chhatwal
“In his undying love for Venice
Titan of Poetry
In this house lived for half a century”
So reads the inscription (in translation from the Italian, of course) posted by the Venice City Council on a small house on Calle Querini that once belonged to Olga Rudge, late lover of the great Modernist poet Ezra Pound.
Ms. Rudge died in 1996, 24 years after Pound himself. She was buried next to him in the Venice Cemetery on the Island of San Michele, not far from Igor Stravinsky’s grave, or the grave of the Russian poet Joseph Brodsky.
In 1908, when Pound was still a young man, he wrote a poem describing how the barges of Venice would raft together to build a temporary bridge to San Michele on All Souls Day, allowing Venetian mourners easier access to the island:
“From boat to boat the bridge makes long its strand
And from death’s isle they on returning way
As shadows blotted against far cloud
Hasten for folly or with sloth delay.”
Throughout his long, eventful life, Ezra Loomis Pound was a wandering poet, an itinerant artist, an iconoclast. He never owned property. Instead he lived in temporary homes all over Europe, particularly in London and Paris, when the Modernist movement in art and literature was still in its infancy.
In these cities he befriended, promoted and published all the great early 20th century Modernist writers like himself, including Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and T.S. Eliot.
Pound’s magnum opus, The Cantos, was a sprawling, erratic, and unsettled poem—unsettled as Pound himself. It skips through space and time, from Ancient Greece, to Confucian China, to post-Revolution America, to the Italy of the Medicis.
Indeed, Italy—and Venice in particular—was a touchstone for Pound. He lived out his final years in Venice in the house on Calle Querini. And on his first visit to Europe as a 13-year-old boy (Pound was American) he announced to his aunt, who was his travelling companion, that Venice was a city he “would return to.” Little did he know that Venice was the city he’d be buried in, almost three-quarters of a century later.
Rudge and Pound were lovers for almost 50 years, but she was not his wife. Pound’s legal wife was Dorothy Shakespear (no relation to William) with whom he had a son. The women would quibble over Pound, his poetry, and his quirky, contentious fame, for most of Pound’s adult life.
Still, Rudge proved to be the most long-suffering of these two long-suffering women. In The Cantos Pound tries to atone for his less-than-model behaviour as a lover.
“That her acts
Her name was Courage
& is written Olga
These lines are for the
Whatever I may write
in the interim.”
Olga and Pound had a daughter together, Mary, who in her memoirs recalled the complex but nonetheless tender love between her parents. Here she is remembering a scene from her childhood, in the house in Venice:
“I was placed on a high dark-blue armchair, on a pile of cushions over which was spread a leopard skin. Facing me, over a monumental dark table, on a high dark-blue armchair, sat Mamile [Rudge], majestic and beautiful like a queen towards me; soft and willowy, smiling like a fairy towards Tattile [Pound].”
Ezra Pound died in 1972, before he could finish the last third of The Cantos. In the model of Dante’s The Divine Comedy, the final part of Pound’s poem was to be a vision of Paradise.
In the notes he made for this unfinished last section, Pound refers explicitly to a heaven of the mind, a “nice, quiet paradise” of serenity, a state he increasingly linked with Venice, and the “hidden nest” of Rudge’s Calle Querini house.
“Soul melts into air,” he writes in one of his last Cantos, “anima into aura,/Serenitas.”
Although Pound died a controversial figure, today The Cantos are considered the apex of 20th century epic poetry, or as the poet Basil Bunting once wrote of them: “They are the Alps/…There they are, you will have to go a long way round/if you want to avoid them.”