Walter Baumann

 

EZRA POUND AND TREES

 

             

In May 1977 C. F. Terrell was sent an album of contact prints by the photographer David Place. Many of the pictures were of the trees surrounding 166 Fernbrook Avenue, the house in Wyncote, Philadelphia, where Pound grew up. David Place considered them as “evidence of Ezra Pound’s visual experiences” and intended to publish a selection of them with “the poetry being engraved on the print.” Unfortunately the project came to nothing, but when Carl Gatter, the then owner of 166, sent Pound a snapshot of the porch and the big oak close by, Pound commented: “Oak was purty tall in 1900. What about the olde apple tree @ the back” (Stock 18). Another apple tree stood in its place when the Pounds and entourage came for an overnight stay in June 1958. It was under that tree Carl Gatter “saw Pound tenderly kiss his wife Dorothy.” (Gatter & Stock 107) Fifty-four years earlier there were other kisses and another tree.

“Why had I ever come down out of that tree?” (H. D. 12) This is what H. D. asks herself in End to Torment, when remembering being up in the crow’s nest her younger brother had built in the Doolittles’ big maple tree, with the nineteen year old Ezra Pound. She also recalls Ezra urging her: “You must come away with me, Dryad” (15). To him, Hilda was then and always remained a tree nymph.

To me, the “larches of Paradise” are Pound’s most magnificent evocation of trees. It was Hugh Kenner’s use of “Under the Larches of Paradise” as the title of his review of the Rock-Drill Cantos that first alerted me to its splendour (Kenner 280-296). In Canto 94 Pound juxtaposes them with a water-course:

So that walking here under the larches of Paradise
          the stream was exceedingly clear
                  & almost level its margin   (658)

These larches first appeared in the 1912 poem, “The Alchemist.” Pound’s association of them with Paradise may be the result of a similar perception as the one he wrote about in a 1910 letter to H. D. from the Hotel Eden in Sirmione: “I have been about a bit and I know paradise when I see it.”(qtd. Stock 1982 87)

That Pound was a keen observer of leaves, is well known from his description of the movements of the olive leaf, which “turn[s] under Scirocco” (76/473) and “gleams and then does not gleam” (74/458). In Thrones he condemns the blindness “to the olive leaf” of those whose “mania is a lusting for farness” (107/782). And they are “not seeing the oak’s veins” (783) either. In the Companion to The Cantos C. F. Terrell believes that looking “at an oak-leaf” is a “rhyme with ‘learn of the green world’” of Canto 81 (541). I can be rather more specific than that, since I have found in Marcella Spann’s Paideuma article “Ezrology: The Class of ‘57” the following:

Once Pound gathered a bouquet of oak leaves and let it shower down into my lap. He picked one and began to trace the patterned veins. “You can’t look at design like that,” he said, “and think it just happened.” (378)

In other words, as we read in Canto 92, the beauty of the arrangement of the leaf veins is proof that “the Divine Mind is abundant,” its action “unceasing / improvisatore / Omniformis / unstill.” Hence Pound’s fulminations against “the lice [that have] turned from the manifest; / overlooking the detail / and their filth now observes mere dynamics” (92/640).

As if looking at one of Joseph Rock’s fine colour National Geographic photographs, Pound wrote:

And over Li Chiang, the snow range is turquoise
Rock’s world that he saved us for memory
                   a thin trace in high air   (103/806)

The land of the Naxi, with its purification ceremonies and with its young people who preferred suicide to an arranged marriage, thus remained a part of his “paradiso / terrestre” (822), “now in the mind indestructible” (74/450).

I would like to leave the last word to the late James Wilhelm. As early as 1977, he wrote in Ezra Pound: The Later Cantos

Scenes from Europe and Asia are viewed in all of their splendour, particularly in the form of trees. As the reader sees the sequoias and junipers of the Himalayas being blended with the larches of Paradise . . . [he] realizes that Pound has indeed linked East and West in terms of myth and expectations . . (178)

 

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WORKS CITED

Booth [Spann], Marcella. “Ezrology: The Class of ’57.” Paideuma 13.3 (Winter 1984): 378-87.

H. D. [Hilda Doolittle]. End to Torment: A Memoir of Ezra Pound. Manchester: Carcanet, 1980.

Gatter, Karl. Unpublished Notes to David Place’s Photographs. Orono, ME: National Poetry Foundation.

Kenner, Hugh. Gnomon: Essays on Contemporary Literature. New York and Toronto: McDowell, Obolensky & George J. McLeod, 1958.

Pound, Ezra. The Cantos. New York: New Directions, 1995.

Stock, Noel. The Life of Ezra Pound. San Francisco: North Point, 1982.

_________. Ezra Pound’s Pennsylvania. Toledo, OH: The Friends of the U of Toledo Libraries, 1976.

Terrell, C. F. A Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound. Berkeley: U of California P, 1980 & 1984.

Wilhelm, James J. The Later Cantos of Ezra Pound. New York: Walker and Company, 1977.

 

rsz trees at garda

Trees at Lago di Garda