Allen Ginsberg and Ezra Pound

Ezra Pound, Allen Ginsberg and Fernanda Pivano, Portofino, Italy, September 1967 – photo: Ettore Sottsass

Ezra Pound’s birthday today

From the forthcoming Fall of America Journals

“10/22/67 –
Going to Pound’s house – how old? – “How old are you, old man?” I said,  several wines and a stick of pot midway between meal. “82 in several days”, he said. That’s all he said – all day with the Italian Ivancich speaking of the Afric desert simultaneous – and I smoked at front of fire, smoked and spoke, and no one reproved me in Venice – perfect balanced, the consciousness – played him “Eleanor Rigby” and “Yellow Submarine”, and Dylan’s “Sad Eyed Lady of The Lowlands” and “Gates of Eden” and “Where Are You Tonight Sweet Marie?” and Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman”. I gave Pound Beatles, Dylan, Donovan – the experts suave and velvet for Futurity – I walked out Vivo (sic) where meets the Grand Canal. I gave Beatles, gave Dylan, gave Donovan – to listen? Forever – tomorrow give Ali Akbar Khan“.
[added later]  – “(Above note written blind drunk Sun. night 1 a.m returning from Harry’s Bar)
What follows is sober recapitulation days later of what happened Oct. 22. All afternoon, lunch and wine and afternoon conversation with Ivancich visiting and Pound silent. I lit a stick of grass at lunch and smoked it, saying nothing about it. Later high, as I played him music; he had come upstairs swiftly when I asked him to listen, and folded self in chair, silent hands crossed on lap, picking at skin, absorbed – occasionally with a slight smile – at “Eleanor Rigby” “No one was saved” and “Sweet Marie” “six white horses/ that you promised me/were finally delivered down to the Penitentiary”. I repeated the words aloud, in fragments – for him to hear clearly. So he sat, “Is this all too much electric noise?” He smiled and sat still. “I just want you to hear this other” and I continued playing,”Gates of Eden”, and even “Yellow Submarine”. Sat there all along, I, drunk, he, impassive, earnest, attentive,a smile.
Also that day I chanted mantras to Krishna and Tara and Sarva Dakini, fragment of Allah, and Om a ra ba ca na dhih  to Manjushri, describing His book and flaming Sword of Intelligence – Olga (Rudge (sic)) hearing Manjushri downstairs came up to the top floor where we were (Ivanacich and Pound) and said, “It sounded lovely down there”, so sat and listened – I was drunk.
A finality “that binds things together”. Depression all last week – read papers and Time – read Cantos, feel better.”

and, from a week later,  “10/29/67”, (in conversation):

“..I began: “I’ve been thinking about problems you raised yesterday, the Cantos a mess – if they made a static crystalline ideological structure it would be unresolvable, now. But it is an open-ended work, that is, epic, “including history” of movement of your mind and record of focused perceptions, existing in time, and changing in time, anything you write now will refer back to the beginning and alter all that went before – like turning a Venetian blind. Same thing as in Lombardo’s Sirens. Beginning back in time with serpent tails, going thru transformation thru Breast Pisan Cantos poignancy – ending in present time sculpturing clear human eyes. In short, what I’m saying is, Einsteinian changing universe is recorded, not static crystal shit model – so anything you do now is OK and will be proper, appropriate, as means of altering preceding thought-flow by hindsight – “Am I making sense?” – This addressed to problem of finishing Cantos.
Replied – “It’s all tags and patches”
I explained lots more, in answer ending, “I’ve read Cantos through this month and in each canto there’s always some condensed perception concrete image round which the other tags, ideologies, irritations and projections and references revolve, so whole work has solid vertebrae”. Then continued, “Is your problem one of physical depression that keeps you from recording and registering these final perceptions – whatever you are now?”
“The depression’s more mental than physical”, Pound answered.”

and from lunch-conversation, the day before, (“10/28/67”):

“So explained to him – “You remember I was telling you about hearing Blake’s voice?
He hesitated and then pursed his mouth, nodded up and down slightly, looking away
“But I didn’t tell it coherently” – so described to him the occasion – “a series of moments of altered modes of consciousness over a period of weeks etc,” – ending “no way of presenting that except through things external perceived in that state” and so continued explaining how his attention to specific perceptions & WCW’s “No ideas but in things” had been great help to me in finding language and balancing my mind – and to many young poets – and asked “am I making sense to you?”
Yes, he replied finally, and then mumbled, “but my own work does not make sense” (or “but I haven’t made sense’).
I had asked him before if he’d like to give a reading in the US, at Buffalo, or S.F., say, he replied, “Too late” –
“Too late for what? – for us or for your voice?” I laughed and continued, explaining my and our (Creeley, etc.)  debt to his language perceptions – speaking specifically of the sequence of phanopoetic images – “soapsmooth stone posts” – even his irritations and angers characteristic, humors, dramatic, as manifest in procession as time mosaic.
Bunting told me”,  said Pound, “that there was too little presentation and too much reference” – referring to things not presenting them.
I replied that in the last year Bunting had told me to look at Pound because I had too many words, and showed Pound as model for economy in presentation of sensory phenomena, via words. I went on to describe recent history of Bunting – I’d before asked him if he’d seen Brigflatts and he had nodded, swiftly, affirmative. So Pound’s work, I concluded to him, had been, “in Praxis of perception, ground I could walk on”.
“A mess”, he said.
“What, you or the Cantos or me?”
“My writing – stupidity and ignorance all the way through”, he said, “Stupidity and ignorance”.

….I continued explaining the concrete value of his perceptions manifested in phrasing, as reference points for my own sensory perceptions – I added that as humor – HUMOR, the ancient humours – his irritations, against Buddhists, Taoists and Jews – fitted into place, despite his intentions,  as part of there drama, the theater, the presentation, record of flux of mind-consciousness. “The Paradise is in the desire, not in the imperfection of accomplishment – it was the intention of Desire we all respond to. Bhakti – the Paradise is in the magnanimity of the desire to manifest coherent perceptions in language.
“The intention was bad – that’s the trouble – anything I’ve done has been an accident – any good has been spoiled by my intentions – the preoccupation with irrelevant and stupid things – ” Pound said this quietly, rusty voiced like an old child, looking directly in my eye while pronouncing “intention”.

“Ah well, what I’m trying to tell you – what I came here for all this time – was to give you my blessing then, because despite your disillusion – unless you want to be a messiah – then you have to be a Buddhist to be the perfect Messiah, (he smiled) – “But I’m a Buddhist Jew, perceptions have been strengthened by the series of practical exact language models which are scattered throughout the Cantos like stepping stones – ground for me to occupy, walk on – so that despite your intentions the practical effect has been to be clarify my perceptions – and anyway, now, do you accept my blessing?”
He hesitated, opening his mouth like an old turtle .
“I do”, he said – “but my worst mistake was the stupid suburban prejudice of anti-Semitism, all along, that spoiled everything -” This is almost exact.
“Well no, because anyone with any sense can see it as a humour, in that sense part of the drama – you manifest the process of thoughts – make a model of the consciousness and anti-Semitism is your fuck-up like not liking Buddhists but its part of the model as it proceeds – and the great accomplishment was to make a working model of your mind – I mean nobody cares if it’s Ezra Pound’s mind – it is a mind, like all our minds, and that’s never been done before – so you made a working model all along, with all the dramatic imperfections, fuck-ups – anyone with sense can always see the crazy part and see the perfect clear lucid perception-language ground – ” He had nodded a little when I said “Nobody cares if it’s Ezra Pound’s mind, a fine mind, but the important thing, a model of mind process. Gertrude Stein also made one, usable – yours, however, as I’ve experimented in transcription , the nearest to a natural model – a model from Nature – as Cezanne had worked from Nature, to reconstitute the optical field perceptions….”

It may have been at this point that he said, as recorded above, that his worst mistake had been “the stupid suburban prejudice anti-Semitism” and I responded, “Ah, that’s lovely to hear you say that…”   and later “as it says in I Ching, ‘No Harm'”. Sometime in this conversation he’d concluded, “I found out after seventy years I was not a lunatic but a moron”


“Master thyself, then others shall thee beare”/Pull down thy vanity/Thou art a beaten dog beneath the hail,/A swollen magpie in a fitful sun,/Half black half white/Nor knowst’ou wing from tail/Pull down thy vanity/How mean thy hates/Fostered in falsity,/Pull down thy vanity,/Rathe to destroy, niggard in charity,/Pull down thy vanity,/I say pull down.

But to have done instead of not doing/ this is not vanity/To have, with decency, knocked/That a Blunt should open/To have gathered from the air a live tradition/or from a fine old eye the unconquered flame/This is not vanity./Here error is all in the not done,/all in the diffidence that faltered..”

(from “Canto LXXXI” – The Cantos of Ezra Pound)


  1. A remarkable document. Exchange significant. You would have to know Pound’s story to appreciate the old man reflection, self-estimation. Called one of the 4 greatest poets of the 20th Century and yet he f*cked up. Without him the scene would have been different. And less. Every poet, at least who bothers to know about poetry, knows it. And still his career a failure, if monumentally so. Greatness is a rum thing. Without symmetry. No guarantee of success in the assault heroic, as Graves called it. Pound here says his intention was wrong, what always brings into question motive. And motive, I’m convinced, what damns or saves one’s soul. (Peter Abelard would agree.) Still. No poet in all the canon has given himself over to poetry to the extent he did. In that there is selflessness. And he started up more than a few shifts, not only poetic.

  2. By his own account Ginsberg was pissed. God knows how much of this was actually said by Pound and not distorted by drunk ears.

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