English, Department of


Date of this Version

Fall 1959


Prairie Schooner 33:3 (Fall 1959), pp. 225-229.


Ten years after the Bollingen controversy we have a book collecting major documents from that fight. From the perspective of ten years, one sees the affair more in the light of common day, but the issues still do not bore. The book (William Van O'Connor and Edward Stone, A Casebook on Ezra Pound) is said to be designed to make college freshmen write term papers on Pound. Consequently, the major correspondents in the 1948-49 quarrel are almost all represented: Barrett, Auden, Orwell, Shapiro, Viereck, Robert Gorham Davis, Tate; bits and pieces of evidence concerned with Pound's early career, his radio speeches, his stay at Pisa, and his confinement in and release from St. Elizabeths are included. So far as its overt purpose goes, the book seems likely to fail. Freshman students do not, I think, read Pound, and their sensitivity to any of the beauties of a criticism of his poetry is likely to be inhibited. Yet, it is refreshing, in these staid days when new critics are acquiring history and historical scholars are turning critic, when most of us crawl between heaven and earth picking up what fads we can, to read of those ampler times when critics were angry and poetry prizes seemed part of an international conspiracy. Since the 1948 essays repeat one another, one is tempted simply to title them: MacLeish, fulsome; Orwell, honest; Tate, dangerous; Robert Gorham Davis, unbelievable; Viereck, true in a lop- sided way. The essays perhaps tell us more about the critics than the poem or the issues; the poem was hard and recently published, the issues, great.

The questions the Bollingen controversy raised will not lie still ten years after:

1. To what degree was the poet sane ?

2. To what degree was he guilty of treason ?

3. Do the Pisan Cantos constitute a considerable poetic achievement?

4. What about the poet's duty to society ?