EUGENE PAUL NASSAR (1935-2017)
by Walter Baumann
I first saw Nassar’s name in Paideuma 1.2 (Fall and Winter 1972): 207-211. In his article entitled “‘This Stone Giveth Sleep’: ‘Io Son La Luna’” he thought that Dante was a more obvious source for the mention of sapphire as a bringer of peace or sleep than “The Secretary of Nature, John Heydon” that I had chosen in Eva Hesse’s New Approaches to Ezra Pound (1969). A further round of the sapphire dispute was started by Michael Schuldiner in Paideuma 4.1 (Spring 1975): 72. He cited a letter by Prester John as the origin, whereupon Nassar suggested that it went back even further. This was in footnote 2 on page 147 of his 1975 book, The Cantos of Ezra Pound: The Lyric Mode, which I read it with enthusiasm. Eva Hesse, however, was of the opinion that it was quite wrong to give Pound’s lyric voice so much prominence. Regarding “sapphire,” C. F. Terrell’s Companion to the Cantos lists both Nasasar’s and Schuldiner’s articles in volume II, 361 and Schuldiner again on 398.
In 1985, when I was at Hamilton College for the second time, Nassar had heard of my presence there and, on a Sunday, he came from Utica to collect me for an outing. In the afternoon we went to a swimming hole (What a wonderful American expression!), where Eugene’s daughter taught me that I wasn’t really a strong swimmer any more, since she effortlessly outswam me. He took me back to his house in the evening and told me a little about the work he was doing for the Lebanese Christian community to which he belonged.
It’s only now that I see what outstanding teachers Nassar had: John Crowe Ransom at Kenyon College, Christopher Ricks, when a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, and Arthur Mizener at Cornell University. His critical model was Cleanth Brooks. Apart from Pound, he wrote about Wallace Stevens and Hart Crane, and he produced a study of the illustrations for Dante’s Inferno.
The memories of my two visits to Hamilton College would be incomplete without recalling my meeting in 1980 with the Librarian Emeritus, Walter Pilkington (1910-1983), Omar Pound’s representative on the Ezra Pound Literary Trust, with the very helpful Special Collections Librarian, Frank Lorenz (1933-2015), who produced the pamphlet Ezra Pound at Hamilton: A Summing Up: 1905-1969, and William Hoffa, one of the organizers of the 1980 Hamilton Pound Conference, at whose farmhouse home I saw for the first and only time an American Barn Swallow.