by Eloisa Bressan
REGIONALISM AND MYTHMAKING:
A Map for Ezra Pound’s Walking Tour in Southern France, 1919
and the rain fell all the night long at Ussel
cette mauvaiseh venggg blew over Tolosa
and in Mt Segur there is wind space and rain space
no more an altar to Mithras (LXXVI/472)
In the summer of 1912, Ezra Pound embarked on a trip in the South of France, looking for a better understanding of the poetry of the troubadours “by way of the land” (WTSF 84) and literally following the steps of the Medieval poets in the Occitan castles where they had lived and sung. During this solitary tour, Pound kept a travel journal (published in 1992) that allows us to study the poet’s relation to the places he visited and the effects of this trip on his poetry—from the original reading of Bertran de Born’s political thought behind his “borrowed lady,” (based on the disposition of the castles around Blis-and-Born), to the act of walking in the hills surrounding Ribérac as a way of comprehending the nature of Arnaut Daniel’s sestina. In Make It New 2.1, I proposed an online map of this first walking tour, aiming to connect the places Pound visited with pictures of the buildings that demanded his attention, and with the lives of the troubadours whose native towns Pound chose to see. Conceived as a sequel to that work, this article presents a map of Pound’s second tour in Southern France, which he undertook from April to August 1919, accompanied by his wife Dorothy.
Whereas the 1912 walking tour is rather more easily traceable thanks to Richard Sieburth’s publication of Pound’s journal, establishing the route of the 1919 tour is more difficult. In elaborating the map, I have relied on the itinerary proposed by J. J. Wilhelm, Ezra Pound in London and Paris 228-236), based on the postcards Dorothy and Ezra sent to the Shakespears and on some of Pound’s letters to his parents (L/HP 441-446). My itinerary, however, leaves aside some of the places mentioned by Wilhelm and strictly relies on the cross-referenced study of the postcards and the letters. The postcards I have had access to (conserved in the Ezra Pound Family Postcards collection at the Hamilton College and recently digitized1) can be divided into two groups: those that were actually sent (to the Shakespears, or to Dorothy from Ezra, when she was staying in Excideuil or Brive and he was walking with Eliot), and those collected as mementoes. The “memento” postcards are undated, but can be related to the 1919 walking tour thanks to some notes on the back, written by Dorothy a posteriori—as is shown by the fact that she sometimes doesn’t remember the details of the visit or whether she actually was there (“Did I see this? EP anyway knew it” PFP 228). Those memento postcards often contain small details about the trip that have been very helpful in the reconstruction of the itinerary, as they allowed me to fill in some of the gaps left by the other postcards and letters. Because the tour is documented in a fragmented fashion, I inevitably had to make some assumptions, always indicated in the map and in the itinerary by the mention “presumably” preceding the date of the visit. Although the itinerary I was able to establish for the Pounds’ tour in Southern France of 1919 is not exhaustive, it provides readers with a good overview of their wanderings. The map is, to my knowledge, the first to be proposed for this tour and aims to give a comprehensive view of Pound’s journey. It does this by means of the contextual presentation of the postcards the Pounds collected during the tour; the transcriptions of their content; excerpts from Pound’s series of articles “Pastiche. The Regional,” published in The New Age during the tour, focusing on the “provincialism” of Southern France; and finally by means of quotations from The Cantos.2 The concurrent presence of those materials will allow readers to have a precise snapshot of this second walking tour. It will also function, I hope, as a useful instrument to consider the relationship between Pound’s experiential wanderings in the land of the troubadours and his poetical reshaping of it in The Cantos.
As A. David Moody noted, the tour Pound and Dorothy made in 1919 “was not a repeat of Pound’s 1912 walking tour” (Ezra Pound: Poet I 360). Indeed, the 1919 tour differed from the 1912 one both on a practical and on a personal level: on the one hand, Ezra and Dorothy did not walk as much as Pound did by himself in 1912, but often took the train; on the other, Ezra’s attitude was not as adventurous as it had been seven years before—even his interest in the troubadours and in their dwelling places seems to have been less obsessive, at least from what we can infer from Dorothy’s notes on the postcards and from the “Regional” articles. Despite being less focused on a romantic retracing of the lives of the troubadours, the walking tour was still an important moment in the shaping of Pound’s mythical Provence, as I will try to illustrate with the examples of Montségur and Excideuil.
Pound’s choice to leave London for a long trip in the South of France was mainly determined by the lack of vitality of the post-war literary milieu and by the need to abandon the time-consuming and badly paid editorial work for The Little Review in order to focus on his poetry. In July 1918, he published a “harangue to the plebiscite” in the periodical, stating that he could not “write six sorts of journalism four days a week, edit The Little Review three days a week, and continue my career as an author” and threatening to apply his energies elsewhere, should the magazine be unable to provide him with the "necessities of life and a reasonable amount of leisure.” (L/LR 214)
Keeping his promise, he resigned as foreign editor in spring 1919 (L/LR xxxi) and left with Dorothy for Toulouse, where he devoted himself to his poetry writing – probably working on Canto V, VI, VII, and on Mauberley—as well as on the proofs of Quia Pauper Amavi, and of material for The New Age: the first six sections of Homage to Sextus Propertius were published there between June and August 1919; at the same time he wrote his “Pastiche: The Regional” a series of 18 articles for the NA between June and November (“A large packet arrived safely with Q[uia] and letters to sign” PFP 243; “If proofs come from N.A. please forward,” PFP 208. See also L/JJ 155). Around the end of the trip, when T. S. Eliot joined him in Excideuil, Ezra also received James Joyce’s manuscript for “Sirens” which they probably discussed during their excursions (Bush 209).
Yet the general mood of the trip was quiet: both Ezra and Dorothy needed rest after what had been a difficult year—historically and personally—after the turmoil of World War I (Wilhelm 222-228). Their tour was divided into mini-tours: they chose one city as their headquarters and moved from there to the surrounding towns and castles. Even though they spent nights in other cities, their “stable” mailing address was in the headquarters, where they always came back. Those headquarters are highlighted in bold in the itinerary: Toulouse, Excideuil, and—for a couple of nights—Brive served as centers for the mini-tours.
After leaving England from Southampton on April 22, the couple arrived in Toulouse on April 24 (“Arrival constated [sic] 24-april 1919 E.P.” PFP 224), and rested there for one month, hosted by “Papa Dulac,” the father of their friend Edmund,3 and enjoying “many meals” (PFP 223). During this stay, they headed East for the first of their mini-tours, the only one exploring today’s Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. During the other mini-tours departing from Toulouse, they headed West, targeting the Midi-Pyrénées region, whereas during the tours centered in Excideuil and Brive they moved around today’s Aquitaine-Limousin-Poitou-Charentes region.
Toulouse, Arles, Nîmes and “the regional”
Arriving in Toulouse in 1912, Ezra was amazed by the Basilica of Saint Sernin, “this church Vidal may well have known, the double colonnade that makes the nave seem narrow & leaves the transept for what it is a marvel of the Romanesque, mottled in colour & perfect. It is I think the largest Romanesque church I have seen & after San Zeno the finest” (WTSF 45). Further, the completely rebuilt Daurade was attractive to him because it still irradiated the power of the love story between Cavalcanti and Mandetta: “the Daurade is ruined as utterly as a church can be. There remains of it nothing, nothing but the fine Roman proportion. Still is pleasant to be so near the scene of perfectly constellated flirtation” (WTSF 45). The charm of the city seems, however, to have faded when Pound comes back in 1919: Toulouse appears to him as the perfect place where to start his “study in provincialism, or…a special and somewhat complicated variety of that trouble, Regionalism” ("Pastiche" I: 124). After three weeks of stay, Toulouse appears to Pound as a dead city, perfectly representing the anti-civilizing power of regionalism, seen as a force that “builds up wall for its own 'protection'—i.e., isolation or 'advantage,’” as opposed to “the capital, the vortex…which draws intelligence into it” (“Pastiche” II: 156).
It is thus with a certain sense of relief that Pound left Toulouse’s Place du Capitole: “steeped and soggy in boredom, in a boredom needing a Flaubert (April, 9.30 p.m., like Piccadilly at 3 of the morning)” (“Pastiche” II: 156) and pursued his analysis of provincialism in the smaller—but much more expensive4—cities of South-Eastern France: Avignon, Nîmes, and Arles.5
Despite the fact that such works of art as the Maison Carrée of Nîmes and the cloisters of Saint Trophime in Arles will later be remembered in The Cantos as examples of “good” architecture, untouched by the evil of usura, Pound seems to notice, in his “Pastiche” series, mostly what he considers the artifacts revealing a Catholic Church willing to compromise (“Pastiche” I: 124). Thus, in Nîmes his attention is caught by “the clock in the rose-window of the new church,” showing “architecture coquetting with the utilitarians,” and in Avignon he notices the “lightning-rod up the back of the ‘disastrously gilded’ parody of the Virgin which disfigures the tower of Notre Dame des Donay and mars the view of the Palais des Papes” (“Pastiche” I: 124). This bitter attitude is somehow surprising when compared to Pound’s interest in the experience of these same cities as a way to seize “the spirit of romance” in 1912:
Here Poetry would not be of the Art at all, but a part of life…like a part of the tribal marriage customs—at one remove from the dance. … So Arles explains so much, so much why the great mass of Provençal canzons are what they are, why the whole thing “l’amour courtois” & the rest of it was just what it was & why there is no use trying to find subtle under-or over currents. (WTSF 65)
As the interest in Southern France as the cradle of poetry and the place to visit in order to become a poet seems to fade, a more sociological and political interest emerges—at least during the first mini-tour. However, Pound will soon be “bored with that undertaking” (Moody 358) and he will shift the topic of his “Pastiche” series to a more general and literary subject matter.
Toulouse is also the setting of many other little situations annotated on Dorothy’s postcards to her mother that will later find their poetical consecration in The Cantos. Thus, Pound would remember the “many meals” of Papa Dulac and “Tosch the large hound” (PFP 223) in Pisa, alongside the novels of “Willy” (Henry Gauthier-Villars), the French writer he also wrote about in the articles for The New Age:
But Tosch the great ex-greyhound
used to get wildly excited
at being given large beefsteaks
and leapt one day finally
right into the center of the large dining table
and lay there as a centre piece
near the cupboard piled half full
with novels of “Willy” etc.
in the old one franc editions
and you cd/hear papa Dulac’s voice... (LXXX/523)
Similarly, Dorothy’s note on a memento postcard of Chalais on the fact that the name of the aristocratic family Talleyrand Périgord—one of whose exponents was a rival to Bertran de Born—was pronounced “Dayllerand Berigord” (PFP, 213) will re-emerge in Canto CV:
800 years after En Bertrans
“en gatje”, had the four towers,
“Dalleyrand Berigorrr!” (CV/769)
Even though Pound’s interest is not as focused on the troubadours’ biographies as it had been in 1912, his interest in Provence as a poetical place is still alive: from the experience of the walking tours—and particularly the 1919 one—he will draw not only episodes and puns to remember in The Cantos, but also remarks and connections to depict new mythical spaces in his long poem, as the examples of Montségur and Excideuil could show.
In 1912, Pound had seen the castle of Montségur from Roquexifade (WTSF 51), but did not consider it worthy of a detour, probably because the guides he had at the time (Smith’s The Troubadours at Home, the Guide Joanne to the Pyrenees, and the Baedeker) did not mention it as an interesting place to visit—either ignoring its existence or mentioning it passim (WTSF 119 and Moody 359). In 1919, however, Dorothy and he did not miss this castle and climbed to it.
Montségur had been the fortress of the Cathars after the end of the Albigensian crusade, and the theater of their final massacre by the besieging troops of the seneschal of Carcassonne and the archbishop of Narbonne in 1244. It was, for Pound, the symbol of that link between the peculiar religious feelings of Medieval Provence and the Ancient Greek mysteries of Eleusis he had established in “Psychology and Troubadours” and further, the mythical place of the resistance of poetry against institutionalized power. Interestingly, however, Pound did not directly speak about the slaughter of the Albigensians in his 1919 article, but regretted the loss of the “Cantabrian sun-temple with a Roman superstructure” (“Pastiche” VIII 284): the troubadours’ history and culture seem to remain in the background, while the religious dimension of the place is related to a more ancient solar divinity, pertaining to the genius loci.
Those two dimensions, the ancient religious and the “troubadouresque” will be conflated again in The Cantos. In the words of Austors the Maensac, intertwining the history of his brother Peire with the taking of the fortress in Canto XXIII, the fall of the Albigensian castle is juxtaposed to the fall of Troy:
And he went down past Chaise Dieu,
And went after it all to Mount Segur,
after the end of all things,
And they hadn’t left even the stair,
And Simone was dead by that time,
And they called us the Manicheans
Wotever the hellsarse that is.
And that was when Troy was down, all right,
superbo Ilion... (XXIII/109)
This superposition recalls the one created in Canto V between Ilion and the “Troy in Auvergnat,” suggesting an additional link between the siege of Montségur and that of the castle of the Dauphin d’Auvergne—protector of Peire de Maensac, Austors’ brother—by the army of Bernard de Tierci, whose wife Peire had seduced and taken away. The Cathar castle is also linked to “the city of Dioce” (LXXX/530) the mythical Ecbatana, built so as to mirror the perfection of the universe. In general, Montségur is remembered and shaped in The Cantos as a radiant core of communion with the gods of nature uprooted by the violence of the Catholic Church. The poetical construction of this “light space”—as Hugh Kenner calls it, underlining that Montségur, before being a fortress was a sort of temple “sacred to Helios” (The Pound Era, 335-36)—is achieved by the superposition of the figures of the troubadours, presented throughout the poem as heroes of poetry and lovemaking, with the sacred nature of the place, enriched by the experiential details collected during the walking journeys. A procession seen in Toulouse in 1919 (Wilhelm 232) will thus lead the reader, in Canto XLVIII, to “an altar to Terminus,” a temple of light hosting the mythical opposition of two troubadours against the violent, frustrating imposition of their king and Church:
Velvet, yellow, unwinged
clambers, a ball, into its orchis
and the stair there still broken
the flat stones of the road, Mt. Segur.
From Val Cabrere, were two miles of roof to San Bertrand
So that a cat need not set foot in the road
where now is an inn, and bare rafters,
where they scratch six feet deep to reach pavement
where now is wheat field, and a milestone
an altar to Terminus, with arms crossed
back of the stone
Where sun cuts light against evening;
Where light shaves grass into emerald
Savairic; hither Gaubertz;
Said they wd. not be under Paris. (XLVIII/243)
T. S. Eliot and the visit to Excideuil
The “Pastiche. The Regional” articles—written along the way together with Canto V and VI—deal with the destruction of Montségur as an example of the dangers of an ideological obliteration of historical facts and artifacts (see Bush 212-213). This reflection—central in Canto V alongside Varchi’s question “se pia?/ o empia? (V/19)—is also to be inscribed in a more general interest in the poet’s relation to history and tradition, probably at the center of the dialogue between Pound and T. S. Eliot during the summer of 1919, “the high point of their collaboration” (Bush 209). Indeed, the matter of the poet’s relation to tradition and history is not only at the core of Canto V, but also of Eliot’s “Gerontion”—which Pound was editing—and of Tradition and the Individual Talent (published partially in September 1919). The Pound-Eliot conversation in the summer of 1919 in Excideuil, later to be remembered in The Cantos, is an instance of supreme irony: under the “wave pattern” which had survived wars, fanaticisms and all the vagaries of history, Eliot confessed he feared life after death. He shocked Pound indeed.
T. S. Eliot joined the Pounds in Excideuil—their headquarters during the fourth and fifth mini-tours—around August 16, needing some rest and recovery himself. Eliot’s health at the time was poor, and all his friends were worried about him, Pound in particular. In the letters he wrote to his father from France, he insisted on his hope that Eliot would join them: “Hope Eliot can also come out”–April 1919, “Hope Eliot will join us somewhere for a few weeks”–30 May, “Hope Eliot will get out next month” –16 July, “Eliot probably coming out in August”–21 July (L/HP 441-44). Once Eliot finally arrived in Excideuil, the two poets left for a mini-tour together, visiting Thiviers and Brantôme while Dorothy stayed behind at the hotel. It was also the occasion for Eliot to make a little detour on his own to “the Fonts de Gaume, & Les Eyzies grottes – prehistoric painting & sculpture” (L/HP 446). It is their visit to Excideuil, though, that was later to be remembered in Canto XXIX:
So Arnaut turned there
Above him the wave pattern cut in the stone
Spire-top alevel the well-curb
And the tower with cut stone above that, saying:
“I am afraid of the life after death.”
and after a pause:
“Now, at last, I have shocked him.” (XXIX/145)
This conversation well dramatized the religious awareness of the Confucian Pound shocked by the Christian Eliot, who believed in the immortality of the soul. As Kenner noted, “the contrast between his [Eliot’s] fear of the life after death and the readiness with which, below Montségur, two hundred embraced death, spurning the chance to recant, was impressed on Ezra Pound’s mind, a luminous detail” (336). In the recollection of this episode in The Cantos, Pound called Eliot Arnaut (a supreme compliment) and remembered him under “the wave pattern cut in the stone,” a fragment from the ancient castle of Excideuil, nestled in the one of the new walls and “enjoying an afterlife…there, whenever an intelligent eye lights on it” (Moody 361). The luminous detail of the waves fragment seen in Excideuil becomes in The Cantos a representation of the flow of human creativity Eliot-the troubadour seems to ignore, despite having it just above his head. Once again, Pound’s southern France links a sacred symbol connected with ancient solar rites and cults (Canto XXIX/145 also contains a celebration of the rising sun), with the figure of a troubadour—or better, of the troubadour par excellence, Arnaut Daniel—here directly superposed on the modern poet. Excideuil becomes the castle safeguarding the golden waves of creativity: the wave pattern “runs in the stone” (LXXX/530) and recurs in The Cantos.
Excideuil is also an example of how the experience of the 1919 trip interacts with the memory of the 1912 walking tour—already “textualized” in “Provincia Deserta,” “The Gipsy,” and “Near Perigord”—and is integrated in it by the mythmaking process of The Cantos. Of the appeasing energy emanating from Excideuil in 1912 (“& the great gentle tower/ clear edged,/ unascendable, and/ for no known reason/ these things wrought/ out a sort of perfect mood/ in things,” WTSF 26), Pound conserved indeed but a vague reference in “Provincia Deserta”: “Have seen Excideuil, carefully fashioned” (P&T 298). The 1919 conversation with Eliot allows him to tie a luminous detail to this bare textual memory, and to transform it into a significant place in Provence of The Cantos, whereas other places like Cahors and Chalus are reduced to their musical echo, to their sound evocation.
Indeed, the memory of the walking tours is soon to be replaced, in The Cantos, by the textual memories of Pound’s “travels in sound and writing” (Bacigalupo, “Ezra the Troubadour” 186). Ezra will remember more about his poems than about the actual wanderings, and thus shape a mythical Provence of sounds and literary memories of the troubadours. However, the study of the walking tours materials can give us an insight of how this literary memory is created, of the importance of certain impressions and events in the shaping of Pound’s personal image of Provence.
1 I would like to thank for the chance to work on four of Dorothy’s postcards conserved in Mary de Rachewiltz’s private collection at Brunnenburg. Mary and Siegfried de Rachewiltz were kind to share these postcards, allowing me to insert their reproductions and transcriptions into the map.
2 In this process of collection of materials, I have found an invaluable instrument in Massimo Bacigalupo’s table on “Ezra Pound’s Provençal Topography” (“Ezra the Troubadour” 187-190).
3 Edmund Dulac had designed the costumes for Michio Itow’s Noh-inspired dances in October 1915 and for Yeats’s play At the Hawk’s Well in 1916 (Stock 185).
4 “Have been over to Nimes & Arles to renew my retina with certain outlines, & Avignon. but 10 days of it run to as much ‘sec ou liquide’ as a month of stasis there [in Toulouse]” (L/JJ 156).
5 In a letter dated 30 May 1919, Pound writes to his father “Course of trip Nîmes, Beaucaire, Tarascon, Avignon, St Remy, Les Baux, Arles, Carcassonne, indicated by postcards.” (L/HP 441) One of the postcards of the Brunnenburg archives, dated 20 May 1919 and sent from Arles proves that he was describing to his father the tour they had already embarked on, probably around May 5-18, as opposed to Wilhelm’s assumption that Ezra was describing the trip they were planning to do (230).
LIST of ABBREVIATIONS
L/HP - Pound, Ezra. Ezra Pound to his Parents. Letters 1895-1929. Eds. Mary de Rachewiltz et al. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.
L/LR - Pound, Ezra. Pound/The Little Review. The Letters of Ezra Pound to Margaret Anderson: The Little Review Correspondence. Eds. Thomas L. Scott et al. New York: New Directions. 1988. Print.
P/JJ - Pound, Ezra. Pound/ Joyce. The Letters of Ezra Pound to James Joyce. Ed. Forrest Read. New York: New Directions. 1970. Print.
P&T - Pound, Ezra. Poems & Translations. Ed. Richard Sieburth. New York: The Library of America. 2003. Print.
PFP – Pound Family Postcards.
WTSF - Pound, Ezra. A Walking Tour in Southern France. Ezra Pound among the Troubadours. Ed. Richard Sieburth. New York: New Directions, 1992. Print.
Bacigalupo, Massimo. “Ezra the Troubadour.” Provence and the British Imagination. Eds. Claire Davison et al. Milano: Di/segni, 2013. 175-93. Print.
Bacigalupo, Massimo. Posthumous Cantos. Manchester: Carcanet, 2015. Print.
Bush, Ronald L. The Genesis of Ezra Pound’s Cantos. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1977.
Farnell, Ida. The Lives of the Troubadours. London: In the Strand, 1896. Print.
Kenner, Hugh. The Pound Era. Berkeley and Los Angeles: U of California P, 1971. Print.
Moody, David A. Ezra Pound: Poet. A Portrait of the Man & his Work. Vol. I The Young Genius 1885-1920. New York: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.
Pound, Ezra. “Pastiche. The Regional. I.” The New Age 25.7 (1919): 124. The Modernist Journal Project. Web. 11 March 2016.
Pound, Ezra. “Pastiche. The Regional. II.” The New Age 25.9 (1919): 156. The Modernist Journal Project. Web. 11 March 2016.
Pound, Ezra. “Pastiche. The Regional. VIII.” The New Age 25.17 (1919): 284. The Modernist Journal Project. Web. 11 March 2016.
Pound, Ezra, The Cantos. New York: New Directions, 1996. Print.
Stock, Noel. The Life of Ezra Pound. London: Routledge, 1970. Print.
Wilhelm, James J. Ezra Pound in London and Paris 1908-1925. Pennsylvania State U, 1990. Print.