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Ezra Pound: Prophet?

by Cassie, Publicity Assistant

A. David Moody is Professor Emeritus of the University of York and the author of Ezra Pound, Poet: Volume 1: The Young Genius 1885-1920. In the following piece, Moody looks at the Pound’s opinions on democracy and the economy, showing us that Pound’s opinions in the 1930s line up fairly well with the pundits of today. This piece is also timely since October 30th is Pound’s birthday and he died on November 1, 1972.

I am finding it hard to pin down a feeling I have these days as I read the pundits on the current financial crisis and hear echoes all the time of what Ezra Pound was writing in the 1930s and being called a crank for his pains.

“The provision of finance is a utility, just like the distribution of water and energy. Yet this public good is in the hands of private sector managers who have done a disastrous job.”1“The City has become a ghetto where greed (never mentioned) is all but an absolute good.”2 “Financiers have organized themselves so that actual or potential losses are picked up by somebody else—if not their clients then the state – while profits are kept to themselves.”3 “There is a chance to make finance once again the servant of the public, as it should be.”4 “The Bank of England can directly create sterling assets (that is, print money) if it needs to”—i.e. it does not have to “borrow” from the banks it has just had to bail out.5 “[The government] pays interest to private organizations for the use of its own credit . . . So that actually the government is getting itself into debt to the banks for the privilege of helping them to regain their stranglehold on the economic life of the country.”6

Pound might have written all of those things, if in his own terms. “Leveraging” was not a current term in the 1930s, so he used plain terms: banks were lending money they did not have, to their own profit and the public’s loss. As early as 1919 he was trying to understand how it was that, in a democracy, power to secure to the people “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was not with the people, but with those few who owned and controlled the people’s credit and who were capable of exercising it against the common interest. And he was already arguing that it is the function and responsibility of the state, that is, of the government appointed by the people, to create and to regulate the nation’s credit, and to prevent it being usurped by private interests (see volume 1, pp. 371-6).

Pound’s prophetic critique of anti-democratic capitalism became a major theme after the 1929 Crash and the Great Depression of the 1930s—and it led to his being falsely accused of being himself anti-democratic. But in this time of financial crisis, and with it being near to the anniversaries of his birth and death (born 30 October 1885; died 1 November 1972), it is fitting to celebrate the now undeniable fact that, while he did go wrong in some ways, Pound was fundamentally right about the damage done to the whole society by unrestrained greed in the financial system, and about it being the responsibility of governments to issue and to control credit. It would be a good moment to read and to take the point of his cantos 31-51, particularly those about the American bank wars of 1829-35 and 1863.

employing means at the bank’s disposal
in deranging the country’s credits, obtaining by panic
control over public mind” said Van Buren
(Ezra Pound, Canto 37)

1. Guardian (London), editorial comment, 9 Oct. ’08
2. Andrew Phillips (Lord Phillips of Sudberry), City solicitor, Guardian 16 Oct. ’08
3. Will Hutton, Observer (London), 27 Jan. ’08
4. Larry Elliot, Economics Editor, Guardian (London), 15 Oct. ’08
5. Gavyn Davies, partner in Goldman Sachs, Guardian (London), 9 Oct. ’08
6. Senator Bronson Cutting, New York Times, 20 May 1934 – from a speech Pound commended.

Further quotations:

“Banking should be treated as a utility.”
(Martin Wolf, Financial Times)

“The reckless greed of the few harms the future of the many.”
(Will Hutton, Observer (London), 27 Jan. ’08)

“The sin of usury, diluted in the 1500s, should be brought back—usury, reaping that which one did not sow.”
(Ann Pettifor, political economist, Guardian (London), 11 Oct. ’08)

“It is not money that is the root of the evil. The root is greed.”
(Ezra Pound, Gold and Work, 1944)

“Hopefully our democracies are strong enough to overcome the power of money and special interests.”
(Joseph Stiglitz, formerly Chief Economist of the World Bank, Guardian (London), 16 Oct. ’08)

“The state can lend money.”
(Ezra Pound, Canto 78)

“It is an infamy that the STATE in, and by reason of, the very act of creating material wealth should run into debt to individuals.”
(Ezra Pound, New English Weekly, 5 July 1934)

Recent Comments

  1. Zsidozas

    Great post Prof. Moody.

    I am a great admirer of Pound’s work and I much enjoyed the first half of your brilliant Pound biography — I cannot wait for the other half.

    Pound was indeed prophetic in many respects, as many of his predictions about the dire course which Western culture was taking during the 1930s and the WWII years which followed have since come to pass; and today, regretfully, the world finds itself in even worse and chaotic shape than it was at that time due to similar international financial misdeeds.

    In these dark times I am often reminded of Pound’s well-known Canto XLV…”WITH USURA” of course:

    With Usura
    hath no man a house of good stone
    each block cut smooth and well fitting
    that design might cover their face,
    with usura
    hath no man a painted paradise on his church wall
    harpes et luz
    or where virgin receiveth message
    and halo projects from incision,
    with usura
    seeth no man Gonzaga his heirs and his concubines
    no picture is made to endure nor to live with
    but it is made to sell and to sell quickly
    with usura, sin against nature,
    is thy bread ever more of stale rags
    is thy bread dry as paper,
    with no mountain wheat, no strong flour
    with usura the line grows thick
    with usura is no clear demarcation
    and no man can find site for his dwelling.

    Stonecutter is kept from his stone
    weaver is kept from his loom
    wool comes not to market
    sheep bringeth no gain with usura
    Usura is a murrain, usura
    blunteth the needle in the maid’s hand
    and stoppeth the spinner’s cunning. Pietro Lombardo
    came not by usura
    Duccio came not by usura
    nor Pier della Francesca; Zuan Bellin’ not by usura
    nor was ‘La Calunnia’ painted.
    Came not by usura Angelico; came not Ambrogio Praedis,
    Came no church of cut stone signed: Adamo me fecit.
    Not by usura St Trophime
    Not by usura Saint Hilaire,
    Usura rusteth the chisel
    It rusteth the craft and the craftsman
    It gnaweth the thread in the loom
    None learneth to weave gold in her pattern;
    Azure hath a canker by usura; cramoisi is unbroidered
    Emerald findeth no Memling
    Usura slayeth the child in the womb
    It stayeth the young man’s courting
    It hath brought palsey to bed, lyeth
    between the young bride and her bridegroom
    They have brought whores for Eleusis
    Corpses are set to banquet
    at behest of usura.

  2. Malcolm P. MacPherson

    Great post. I wrote my honours paper on Ezra Pound’s “vorticism” while an undergraduate at SFU. Professor Tom Grieve there taught (as he still does) many courses on Ezra Pound’s poetry and peotics, which I enjoyed very much. Ezra really was a “renaissance man” of sorts. The breadth and depth of his musings, whether it was on poetry or other matters, was impressive to say the least.

    Malcolm P. MacPherson

  3. William Possidente, Sr.

    Signore: A. David Moody: (1) Epihenomenon – A phenomenon that occurs with and seems to result from another – Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, Unabridged. My observations now strongly suggest taking the person , Latin – persona, off the hook, taking the source to physics. Such adaptations as we have accomplished with the “hard” sciences, creating dynamos, aeroplanes, string theory, etc. Regards
    P.S. – Malcolm P. MacPherson

  4. William Possidente, Sr.

    For obvious reasons my comment is synoptic. wp

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