Publish date:
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1958

Federal court decides to release poet Ezra Pound from hospital for criminally insane

A federal court rules that Ezra Pound should no longer be held at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for the criminally insane in Washington, D.C. Pound has been held for 13 years, following his arrest in Italy during World War II on charges of treason.

Pound was born in Hailey, Idaho, and grew up in a suburb near Philadelphia, where his father worked at the U.S. Mint. He attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he met William Carlos Williams and had a romance with Hilda Doolittle, later known as the poet H.D. He earned a master’s degree in languages from the University of Pennsylvania in 1906.

He took a job teaching at Wabash College in Indiana but lost it after six months, having been accused of hosting a woman in his room overnight. In 1908, Pound moved to London, where he taught and published reviews. While working as secretary to William Butler Yeats, he met the daughter of one of Yeats’ friends, Dorothy Shakespear, who he married in 1914. The couple later had a child.

During this time, he wrote important works of literary criticism, spelling out the rules for new forms of poetry. He championed young writers such as William Carlos Williams, H.D., T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, and Marianne Moore. He also began writing his own poems, including his 116 Cantos, which combined his memories, feelings, impressions, and fragments of literature.

In 1920, Pound and his family moved to Paris, where he fell in love with violinist Olga Rudge, with whom he also had child. In 1925, he and his wife moved to Rapallo, Italy. Pound spent the summers with Rudge in Venice until World War II broke out; Rudge then joined Pound and his wife in Rapallo.

Pound strongly supported Benito Mussolini, believing that art flourishes under strong leaders. He worked actively against the Allies until the end of the war, when he was arrested by U.S. forces and held for weeks in an open cage in a prison camp near Pisa. The experience broke his mental health, although he produced one of his most beautiful works, the Pisan Cantos, there. When he was returned to the U.S., he was ruled unfit to stand trial and held at St. Elizabeth’s for 13 years. While in prison, his Pisan Cantos (1948) won an award from the Library of Congress. Poets and authors rallied around him and finally gained his release in 1958. He returned to Italy, where he lived until his death in 1972.

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