I once flew over Greenland and that aerial view of beautiful snowfields stays in my mind – Ultima Thule, the white lands in which an absence of colour and formal definition becomes a presence of intense light, tonal variation and indefinite forms. A strange subtle region of scribbled inclinations, indentations, ripples, serrations, stubbled wastes and delicate, almost misty, whitenesses upon which the eyes can’t find a hold.
Somehow, like the Greenland whitelands, Ezra Pound’s work is an unchartable region, and the long silence of his later years seems entirely appropriate – a wordless desert. What could be said, had been said. What more could he add? And what was the point of saying more, when there seemed to be so few who would listen, let alone understand.
After his long incarceration in St Elizabeth’s, Pound left America for Italy. Guy Davenport tells a story of how, one day, a few years after returning to the Mediterranean, Pound was sitting in his garden. Unlike the other days when he had sat and stared or read through familiar books and papers, he suddenly started typing on his old cranky typewriter. He began to write letters, something he had not done in years. He wrote a stream of them and they were despatched to various destinations. Within a week the unopened envelopes began to return to Pound’s home. If the postman had looked carefully at the front of the envelopes he would have noticed that they had been addressed to James Joyce, Ford Madox Ford, Wyndham Lewis and W.B. Yeats – all of whom were long dead. It was as if even the dead were no longer interested in what Pound wrote. Or perhaps, it was only the dead who could answer Pound’s silence in their own eloquent way.