Critical Inquiry 14 (1):111-133 (1987)

The charge of treason and the judgment of insanity have left questions that invariably intrude on an assessment of Pound’s life and work. Critics frequently adopt a strategy of separating the life and the work, but tactical review is often necessary. There is a lightness in Pound’s writing that speaks of a being detached from the concerns of the world. Yet with his economic theory of social credit, his political and racial views, as well as his concern for other writers, he is of the world—in the world and part of it. He was decidedly not tied to geography. He had no region or period, and he was as comfortable in Confucian China as in Dante’s Florence or twentieth-century Rome. He could work anywhere. He wrote The Pisan Cantos while jailed in Italy. The Cantos were published while he was in a mental wart at St. Elizabeths, yet a court found that he could not understand the charges against him. Can such an impairment and such achievement occur at the same time? If you say no, then what of the treason? Did he feign madness to escape punishment? Could Pound have been convicted of treason?In this paper, I intend to examine what has been loosely referred to as “the trial of Ezra Pound” and to show that Pound’s case should have been brought to trial within one or two years after his commitment to St. Elizabeths because he had a reasonable chance of being found not guilty of treason; even if found guilty, the circumstances in mitigation of a long prison term would have been so evident that he would have likely spent considerably less time in prison than he spent locked up at the mental institution. I will do this, in part, by reviewing the similarities and differences between Pound’s case and three other treason cases that came to trial within the first years after World War II. The English case, Rex v. Joyce, was tried shortly after the close of the war and well before Pound’s competency hearing on 13 February 1945.3 The law applied in Joyce would have led Pound’s lawyer to seek some postponement of trial until the American courts decided whether to follow the English lead. The other two cases involve the Americans, Douglas Chandler and Robert Best, employees of German radio, who were indicted with Pound in 1943. 3. William Joyce was an American who came to be known as “Lord Haw Haw.” He was hanged at Wandsworth, England, 3 Jan. 1946. He was the best known of the “radio traitors.” He began his programs, “This is Jairmany calling,” and would then prophesy the destruction of English towns and cities. The name “Lord Haw Haw” was created by the English journalist, Jonah Barrington, to ridicule Joyce and to make him appear idiotic. Conrad L. Rushing is a Superior Court Judge in California and an occasional lecturer in law at the University of California, Berkeley. He teaches a course in law and literature at the California Judges College and is a founder of the Sane Jose Poetry Center
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DOI 10.1086/448430
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