EZRA POUND AND T. S. ELIOT IN EXCIDEUIL
by Gordon McKechnie
In the summer of 1919, less than a year after the end of the Great War, Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot arranged to meet in Excideuil. After Eliot’s death in 1965, when Pound was asked for some words by way of elegy, it was to this 1919 meeting that he referred (Pound 1966)
Recollections? let some thesis-writer have the satisfaction of “discovering” whether it was 1920 or ‘21 that I went from Excideuil to meet a rucksacked Eliot. Days of walking—conversation? literary? le papier Fayard1 was then the burning topic. Who is there now to share a joke with? Am I to write “about” the poet Thomas Stearns Eliot? my friend “the Possum”? Let him rest in peace. I can only repeat, but with the urgency of fifty years ago: READ HIM.
Eliot and Pound shared many experiences over a fifty-year period. So why was it to Excideuil that Ezra Pound referred in his brief recollections?
Excideuil is an unpretentious small town in the Périgord, in south-western France. It is built of luminous golden stone and dominated by an old castle. In the thirteenth century, it was briefly the political capital of the Viscounts of Limoges, and it remained in the possession of that family until Henri de Bourbon, King of Navarre, sold it in 1582, shortly before he ascended the throne of France in 1589 as Henri IV. It was later owned by the Talleyrand-Périgord family.
The town lies in the heartlands of the medieval troubadours. Giraut de Borneil came from Excideuil, and the town’s lycée today bears his name. Arnaud Daniel was from Ribérac, in the western Périgord, about 60 kilometres from Excideuil. Bertrand de Born was lord of Hautefort, 10 kilometres southeast of Excideuil. Both he and Bernard de Ventadour died at the Cistercian monastery of Le Dalon, 12 kilometres east of Excideuil. Richard Coeur de Lion, who unsuccessfully besieged Excideuil in 1182, was killed at Châlus, 35 kilometres to the north, in 1199.2
While these twelfth-century ghosts and associations no doubt resonated with the two visiting poets, there must have been more to their days together in Excideuil for Pound to have singled them out in his elegy.
By 1919, Ezra Pound had been living in London for eleven years. Tom Eliot had gone from Harvard to Germany in the summer of 1914, but left it again almost immediately on the outbreak of the First World War to go to England. Both poets spent the bleak war years in England and each married an Englishwoman. Ezra Pound married Dorothy Shakespear, a painter, in 1914. T. S. Eliot married Vivienne (later Vivien) Haigh-Wood in 1915. Dorothy, but not Vivien, was in Excideuil in August 1919, and her postcards provide us with much of the detail of that time. Some were sent in 1919; she kept others as souvenirs and annotated them in green ink many years later, probably around 1970. Ernest Hemingway thought Dorothy “very beautiful and wonderfully built,” and wrote “Dorothy’s paintings I like very much” (Hemingway 87). W. B. Yeats, on the other hand, described Dorothy’s drawings as “the most monstrous cubist pictures” (EPP I: 252). Vivien stayed behind in England when her husband went to France in 1919 to join the Pounds. The Eliots’ marriage was already in trouble by then.
The two poets had met in London soon after Eliot’s arrival in 1914. In the 1960s, Eliot wrote:
Then in 1914... my meeting with Ezra Pound changed my life. He was enthusiastic about my poems, and gave me such praise and encouragement as I had long ceased to hope for. I was happier in England, even in wartime, than I had been in America: Pound urged me stay... and encouraged me to write verse again. (L/TSE 1: xix)
In 1918, Eliot wrote of Pound that “I value his verse far higher than that of any living poet” (L/TSE 1: 254). Many years later, by 1935, his opinion had not changed: Pound was "more responsible for the twentieth-century revolution in poetry than is any other individual” (LE xi). Pound’s persistence was critical to the 1915 publication of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Eliot’s breakthrough poem.
Pound was deeply affected by the War, devastated by the loss of friends, distressed by work that he felt kept him from writing poetry, disillusioned with Britain and contemporary Western civilization. As soon as he could after the war, he got around the restrictions on post-war travel and left for southwest France. Ezra and Dorothy set off for Toulouse on 22 April 1919. On 24 April, Ezra sent the first of several postcards from Toulouse to his mother-in-law. This one simply announced their arrival in town (PFP 21). Other postcards are concerned mainly with proofs and manuscripts and instructions on how to deal with them.
Toulouse was to be the Pounds’ base for the next three months. Despite Toulouse’s troubadour associations and boasting some fine Romanesque architecture that he liked, Ezra was less than enchanted with it, finding it provincial: he failed “to discover evidence of intelligence anywhere in the city” (EPP 358). Bressan (2016) provides a map of the 1919 trip that includes the excursions from Toulouse. Ezra and Dorothy made a trip eastward to the Rhone delta. They travelled more than once south to the Pyrenees, to Montréjeau, Foix, Montségur and Roquefixade. These were places Ezra had previously visited, or at least passed by, on his previous visit to southern France, his 1912 walking tour (WTSF 47-51). He had celebrated the mountain scenery in these foothills of the Pyrenees in his 1916 poem Provincia Deserta :
I have lain in Rocafixada,
level with the sunset,
Have seen the copper come down
tingeing the mountains,
I have seen the fields, pale, clear as an emerald,
Sharp peaks, high spurs, distant castles.
I have said: “The old roads have lain here.
Men have gone by such and such valleys
Where the great halls were closer together.”
I have seen Foix on its rock, seen Toulouse... (P 126)
Ezra and Dorothy walked into Foix on 22 June 1919 to find flags flying in celebration of the Versailles Peace3 that had just been signed. The immediate aftermath of Great War was very much present in the summer of 1919.
The coming visit to Excideuil was, however, clearly planned and present in Pound’s mind during those months based in Toulouse. On 30 May 1919, he wrote to his father that we “will be here another months [sic], then mountains, presumably, then Excideuil (near Perigord) then a week or so in Paris” (L/HP 441). From Montréjeau on 13 July 1919 he wrote, again to his father, “D. sketching mountain tops daily. Go back to Toulouse later this week & thence northward to Excideuil” (L/HP 442). To his mother a few days later (16 July) he wrote “... at present my dates are. Excideuil about July 25, Angers Aug 25, Paris Sept, London October,” And also, “Hope Eliot will get out next month” (L/HP 443). On 21 July, from Toulouse – “in a state of packing up,” he wrote “Hope to walk for another week from Excideuil. Eliot probably coming out in august” (L/HP 444).
Early on the morning of 24 July, Ezra and Dorothy left Toulouse, spent half a day in Brive between trains, and arrived in
Excideuil. Dorothy wrote a postcard from Brive that day to her father, writing appreciatively about the town, “Every corner of the old town is lovely: all in stone, with roofs at all angles in old coloured slate” (PFP 37).
On 25 July, Dorothy sent a postcard from Excideuil giving a forwarding address there (PFP n.n.):
Please forward letters to us at
“until further orders,” It is a small village with lovely ruins - of towers & a château, & this entrance gate. I will write in a day or so. Love D.
Clearly, Ezra and Dorothy intended to stay in Excideuil for a while.
Ezra Pound had been to Excideuil before - briefly in early June 1912 (WTSF 24). His poem Provincia Deserta, based on his 1912 travels, mentions the town, among other places he visited :
I have gone in Ribeyrac
and in Sarlat,
I have climbed rickety stairs, heard talk of Croy,
Walked over En Bertan’s old layout,
Have seen Narbonne, and Cahors and Chalus,
Have seen Excideuil, carefully fashioned.
I have said:
“Here such a one walked.
“Here Coeur-de-Lion was slain.
“Here was good singing.
“Here one man hastened his step.
“Here one lay panting.”
I have looked south from Hautefort,
thinking of Montaignac, southward.
He obviously liked “Excideuil, carefully fashioned,” His 1912 notes describe it thus:
A couple of great fields
set up along with the church
spire, the sky pale blue
& white after the sunset,
with the tree on the skyline
outlined against it,
& the great gentle tower
for no known reason
these things wrought
out a sort of perfect mood
the air was after rain
damp & coolish. (WTSF 26)
From all the places he had been on the first leg of his 1912 quest for towers and troubadours, it was in Excideuil that he chose to base himself in the summer of 1919.
Excideuil was then, as now, a relatively out-of-the way place. It merited only two lines in Baedeker4: “The chief station on this interesting route is Excideuil, with a château of the Talleyrand-Périgord family (13-16th cent.)” (42). Smith’s Troubadours at Home, which Pound had consulted, was somewhat more expansive: “In the midst of this region we come upon the pleasant little village of Excideuil, bright because of its creamy stone, and clean because there is very little to soil it.” Smith saw the castle at Excideuil as “a stern, uncompromising, unrelenting fragment of the Middle Ages” (Smith 259). Dating in parts to the work of the Viscounts of Limoges in the 11th century, it had replaced an earlier fortress in wood that had proved inadequate against Viking raids (Thibaud 60).
The Talleyrands acquired the castle of Excideuil through marriage early in the 17th century and in 1613 added the title Marquis of Excideuil to their many other titles. They only began to use the style “Talleyrand-Périgord” in about 1750, to emphasise their descent from the medieval Counts of the Périgord (“Tallairan" or " Tairiran” - "Tairiran held hall in Montignac,/His brother -in-law was all there was of power/In Perigord, and this good union/Gobbled all the land, and held it for some hundred years." - Near Perigord). In addition to holding the title of the Marquis of Excideuil, the Talleyrands were also the Princes of Chalais. From the time of their ownership of Excideuil, the castle there and the town itself began to decline in favour of other preferred residences, such as that at Chalais. The Talleyrands disposed of Excideuil in 1883. While Pound certainly visited Chalais on his 1912 walking tour, I do not think that he and Dorothy visited it again in 1919 on an excursion from Excideuil. On the back of a postcard of Chalais in the Pound Family Postcard Collection (no. 213) Dorothy wrote (1970?) “Dalleyrand Berigord.” This note echoes Pound’s Canto CV, which begins
Is this a divagation:
Talleyrand saved Europe for a century
France betrayed Talleyrand [...] (CV/766)
and in which later lines read
33 years after the Bard’s death...
800 years after En Bertrans
“en gatje,” had the four towers,
“Dalleyrand Berigorrr!” (CV/769)
Dorothy’s late note does not necessarily suggest that they visited Chalais together in 1919.
Ezra and Dorothy did, however, take other excursions from Excideuil in the summer of 1919, many miles of them of them on foot – as Pound had mentioned they intended to do in his 21 July letter to his mother. As a prelude to the walks best documented in the postcards, they probably took the train from Excideuil to Hautefort on 1 August 1919. In the twelfth century Bertrand de Born was the lord of Hautefort.5
Travellers from Excideuil to Hautefort, now as then, cross the valley of the Auvézère on their way. This country was visited in more detail by Ezra Pound in 1912 and celebrated in exquisite lines in Near Perigord 6
Bewildering spring, and by the Auvezere
Poppies and day’s-eyes in the green émail
Rose over us; and we knew all that stream,
And our two horses had traced out all the valleys;
Knew the low flooded lands squared out with poplars,
In the young days when the deep sky befriended.
And great wings beat above us in the twilight,
And the great wheels in heaven
Bore us together... surging... and apart...
Believing that we should meet with lips and hands. (P 154)
T. E. Lawrence (later “Lawrence of Arabia”), visited Hautefort on his 1908 cycling tour of France. His interest in Hautefort lay more in medieval military architecture than in poetry. In Bertrand de Born’s day, Hautefort was one of the major fortresses of the Périgord. It was considerably remodeled in the 17th century, but by the time Lawrence and Pound saw it in the early 20th century, it was again falling into ruin.7
Here are some of Pound’s 1912 notes on Hautefort (which he here calls by its Occitan name Altafort) (WTSF 22) -
Altafort is, as I have said, rebuilded, but it is set in a great nave of a hill, to match the brag of its Born, backed with pine wood steep, breathlessly steep to the south and lording it over two far stretches of valley, so that for long the fiery chatelain might have seen them burning his trees, & trampling down his grain.
In Near Perigord, this became “...one huge back half-covered up with pine.” Having seen Hautefort in a state of partial ruin, Ezra Pound was interested to hear how it had been under previous ownership from a man he met on the tram from Excideuil to St Yriex (WTSF 28):
Awaiting the tram I fell in with a comfortable man from Sarlat & he dealt likewise in garments for the dead, from him I gathered the remaining history of Hautefort: that he remembered visiting it 20 yrs ago when it belonged to De Damas percepteur to the king who might have been Henry V. At this time there always stood a guardsman in jack boots on either side of the drawbridge & seigneurial state pertained. The chateau was later sold at a bargain price to Armides [sic] who’d made his fortune in the Panama scandal.
In 1929, the Château of Hautefort was rescued from abandonment by Baron Henry de Bastard and his wife, Simone. The baron died in 1957, when the restoration was still incomplete. Only by 1965, had enough been done for his widow to take up residence in the castle. Then, in 1968, Hautefort was swept by a devastating fire, news of which reached Dorothy Pound. On the back of a postcard of Hautefort, Dorothy’s green ink records “I am told this has been destroyed (burnt down?)” (PFP 221).
Simone de Bastard almost immediately set out on another round of restoration. The splendid results are what we see today.
In 1912, Pound had only, as in Provincia Deserta, “looked south from Hautefort, thinking of Montaignac, southward.” Here, Pound is thinking the thoughts of Bertrand de Born, a theme picked up again in Near Perigord : "En Bertrans, a tower-room at Hautefort/ Sunset, the ribbon-like road lies, in red cross-light,/ Southward toward Montaignac" (P 151-52). One of the ladies of his poetic longings, Maent, was châtelaine of Montignac.8 In Near Perigord, Pound questioned the bellicose troubadour’s motives: "He loved this lady in castle Montagnac?/ The castle flanked him - he had need of it." (P 150).
In 1919, Ezra and Dorothy walked south from Hautefort to Montignac. From Montignac, Dorothy sent a postcard of the Château of Hautefort on 2 August to her mother (PFP 3):
We spent last night at Altaforte & started out soon after 6 am. for here. Déj here & dinner and on a short way by train. It was a lovely walk about 16 miles over highish hills. This is where Bertrand de Born’s “Maint” lived. Last night we slept close to where Henry II’s men probably camped besieging B. de Born.
On the back of a postcard of the ruins of the feudal castle at Montignac, Dorothy’s later note recalls (PFP 60): “rested here - dinner and train to ? “Les Prunes” - train about 1 1/2 late [sic], owing to picking - up the harvest of les Prunes in crates along the line.9
They travelled on to Sarlat (“And Cairels was of Sarlat” – VI/23) and from there walked to the Dordogne River, probably at Souillac. This was another area through which Pound had travelled in 1912. In Dorothy’s later notes on a postcard of the Dordogne near Souillac, we read (PFP 12): "from Sarlat – to ? & I believe after miles of v. rough country walk that it was there that we saw the grasshoppers with sunset wings." Five years later, Ezra would recall the experience in the last line of Canto XVII – “Sunset like the grasshopper flying.”
From the Dordogne valley they went on to Rocamadour. Dorothy sent another postcard to her mother from Rocamadour, the text spilling on to the front of the card (PFP 2534):
Aug 5, 1919
We came over the hills across gorgeous bare scrub, stirring up 1000s of butterflies, from a town on the Dordogne. This is a place of pilgrimage, since all time - and there are a black Virgin & a miraculous bell & 200 and something steps up the village that they crawl up on their knees in Sept: full of tourists devout & otherwise, but a really amazing place all tucked against the huge rock. The Dordogne is gorgeous scenery & a large river. We struck a dozen or so Russian soldiers signing magnificently in a café on Sunday evening. train today to Brive. Have had three long wonderful walks. D.10
On another postcard of Rocamadour, Dorothy’s later notes tell us: “We ended a v: long tramp here – gave me “the horrors” for fanaticism” (PFP 24). In 1912, Pound had omitted Rocamadour from his itinerary in order not to “begin a digression on religion.”
There are suggestions that Ezra and Dorothy visited Ventadour and neighbouring Ussel in 1919 (for example, WTSF 32 and Terrell I: 111; but not Bressan 2016, who did not include Ventadour in the 1919 itinerary). While Ezra did visit these places in 1923, with Olga Rudge (Conover 7), I have been unable to locate evidence for a 1919 visit. The castle at Ventadour has in recent years undergone some restoration, but it was a remote ruin that Ezra would have seen it in 1923, as beautifully evoked four years later:
Where was the wall of Eblis
At Ventadour, there now are bees,
And in that court, wild grass for their pleasure
That they carry back to the crevice
Where loose stone hangs upon stone. (XXVII/132)
The August 1923 trip was also a walking trip - "...walking 25 kilometers a day with a rucksack..." (Olga Rudge, quoted in Conover 7). "No written record remains of that summer holiday, or their itinerary, only a fading black-and-white photograph labelled 'August 1923 - Dordogne'. Olga was the photographer and Ezra often the subject, appearing under gargoyles of the cathedrals in Ussel and Ventadour and other unidentifiable French villages" (Conover 7). Curiously, the book reprints one of these photographs with the caption Ezra Pound in the neighborhood of Ventadour, summer 1919. Photograph by Olga Rudge. Yet Pound"...met Olga in the fall of 1922..." (Conover 1).
Ezra and Dorothy may also have visited Poitiers, once the seat of Guillaume IX of Aquitaine (Guillaume de Peitus, the first troubadour) and his granddaughter, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Poitiers was where Ezra had begun his 1912 walking tour, and which, as elusive “Poictiers,” would become one of the hauts lieux of Pound’s Cantos. On the back of a postcard of Poitiers, Dorothy later wrote “EP DP” (PFP nn). But on the back of a postcard of Angoulême, where they would probably have changed trains between Excideuil and Poitiers, she wrote “EP only” (PFP 70).
In April 1919, before he left London, Pound had written to his father, “Hope Eliot can also come out. Time I had a let up; time he had a let up” (L/HP 414). Like Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot had visited the Périgord before, though probably not Excideuil itself. His first visit was in the winter of 1910-11 during that “that magical year” (Miller 115) he spent as a student in Paris:
At Christmas I travelled for two weeks in France, and saw several things not often visited – including Poitiers, Angoulême, Toulouse, Albi, Moissac and other places in the south west. (L/TSE 1: 20)
We know that “other places” included Périgueux (L/TSE 1: 403). Crawford (157) suggests that he may have travelled through the south west of France with his friend Jean Verdenal, to whom in 1917 he dedicated Prufrock and Other Observations: “For Jean Verdenal, 1889-1915/ mort aux Dardenelles” (Eliot 1969, 11). Hargrove (47) suggests that near Périgueux “... his interest in primitive cultures perhaps led him to visit some of the caves, such as the Grotte de Rouffignac with over 250 prehistoric drawings and the Abri du Cap Blanc with its paintings of horses, bison and deer over 14,000 years old.” In “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” published in the Egoist in September 1919, though written before he left for France in August 1919, Eliot mentions “Magdalenian draughtsmen” as a part of “the mind of Europe.”12 No doubt he was anticipating a return visit, if he had indeed been there before, to some of the Dordogne’s pre-historic sites as part of his summer holiday. Its now most famous pre-historic site, Lascaux, near Montignac, had not yet been discovered in 1919. Font de Gaume was then the leading attraction, featuring polychrome paleolithic paintings.
Eliot left London late on the afternoon of 9 August 1919 and joined Ezra and Dorothy Pound in Excideuil on 11 August. In a letter to his mother on 3 September, soon after he returned to London, he described his journey across France, how at Le Havre “the passport stamping took so long that everyone missed the train.” Instead, he caught the steamer to Trouville and from there the train to Paris, which he had to dash through by taxi to catch the 9 pm night train. “At 4 we reached Limoges, where I waited an hour for my train.” Then:
It began to be light, and I could see the beautiful landscape of the Périgord, hilly and wooded, very different from Northern France. You feel at once that you are in a different country, more exciting, very southern, more like Italy. the South of France is as different from the North as the south and North of England. Finally, at 7.30 in the morning I reached Périgueux very hungry, where I last was in January 1911. And there Pound met me at the station. I spent part of my vacation with him in the village of Excideuil, and part on walking trips alone. I am going to continue this account in my next letter. (L/TSE 1: 392)
In another letter to his mother (14 October 1919), he takes up the story of his summer holiday in France
Périgueux is a town that I like. The last time I was there was at Christmas (1910), and arriving early on an intensely hot August morning it seemed more southern than it had before. It is a small old town, the metropolis of that district. It had taken me thirty-six hours to get there, but I felt I had left London - the London of four years of war - and reached the south at one instant - suddenly Roman ruins, and tall white houses, and warm smells of garlic - donkeys - ox carts. There is a particular excitement about arriving at an exciting place after a sleepless night of travel. We went to the hotel13 which had that musty smell I have only ever found in France and Italy, and I fell straight asleep on a bed, only waking for lunch. I stuffed myself with the good French food, which is as good and plentiful as ever, but more expensive. Then we sat out in a garden. (L/TSE 1: 403)
The 14 October letter breaks off with him sitting in the garden: Eliot gave her no more details of his 1919 holiday, at least in letters that survive. Eliot, who was working in a London bank then, was unwell when he arrived in Excideuil.14 He was worn down by war-time London and by the deterioration of his marriage. On 6 August 1919, shortly before he left for France, he wrote to Mary Hutchinson “I am very tired (as you will have seen from this letter) and very glad to be getting out of London. Perhaps I won’t ever come back” (L/TSE 1: 387). Pound was hoping “to put him [Eliot]through a course of sun, air & sulphur bath & return him to London intact” (EPP I: 360).
After a few days in Excideuil, Eliot set off with Pound on 16 August and walked from Excideuil to Thiviers, leaving Dorothy behind. The summer weather was hot – “intensely hot” (Eliot), “very, very hot” (Dorothy). Ezra sent a postcard to Dorothy from Thiviers on the morning of 17 August (PFP 5): “Thiviers reached without incident. Mist this a.m. Chateau Feyloli no postcard available. Love E. Sunday a.m.”
Château de Vococour (now a hotel)." The enigmatic reference to “Chateau Feyloli” in Ezra’s 17 August postcard is a reference to Château de la Filolie, just beyond the northern suburbs of Thiviers. It was then owned by the millionaire fascist perfume manufacturer, François Coty.
On Sunday, 17 August, the two poets walked on to Brantôme, where Pound sent another postcard back to Dorothy at the Hotel Poujol in Excideuil (PFP 26): “Brantome reached & pleasing. T. has 7 blisters. Will probably proceed by train tomorrow. Sunday 5.30 pm.”
Baedeker (42) described Brantôme as “...prettily situated on the Dronne. It possesses the interesting remains of an old Benedictine Abbey, dating from the days of Charlemagne, and once owned by the chronicler Pierre de Bourdeilles (ca. 1527–1614) who assumed its name. The Romanesque Tower, standing on a sheer rock honeycombed with caverns, is one of the oldest in France... .” Pound had been to Brantôme before - in 1912, in the rain.
Despite Eliot’s seven blisters, and possibly due to the efficacy of le papier Fayard, they walked on from Brantôme on to Bourdeilles. On 22 August, on letterhead of the Grand Hôtel de Bordeaux, Pound wrote to his parents: "Walking tour Thiviers: Brantome: Bourdeilles. Eliot went on to the Fonts de Gaume & Les Eyzies grottes - prehistoric painting and sculpture. Must take a week to same, sometime." (L/HP 446) The polychrome paleolithic paintings of Font de Gaume had been discovered in 1901 and were already famous, although they were not mentioned by name in the contemporary Baedeker. Did Pound ever make it to Les Eyzies and Font de Gaume? He referred to the caves of Les Eyzies in a draft of Canto II, sometime in 1920 or 1921.
At les Eyzies, nameless drawer of panther,
So I in a narrow cave, secret scratched on a wall [...]
On the damp rock, is my panther, my aurochs scratched
in obscurity (PC 27)
He seems to have been relying on Eliot’s impressions of the caves and postcards. His handwritten notes from Pisa in 1945 read (Bacigalupo 112) -
so his eminence, the eminent Possum
visited Dordogne cavernes
& our eminent confrere mistrusted
the authorship & antiquity
of the designs on postcards. - but if not Picasso -
who faked ‘em. (PC 129)
In Canto LXXIV this became:
I have forgotten which city
But the caverns are less enchanting to the unskilled explorer
than the Urochs as shown on the postals... (LXXIV/448)15
Pound returned to Excideuil to begin packing up for the journey back towards London. For Eliot, the natural route from Bourdeilles to Les Eyzies and Font de Gaume would have been through Périgueux. A steam tramway ran then from Brantôme through Valeuil-Bourdeilles to Périgueux, and the railway line still runs from Périgueux to Les Eyzies.16 I will return to Périgueux below.
The sketch map on the back of a 1919 Thiviers postcard in the Pound Family Postcard collection. It shows the station at Les Eyzies, the caves at Font de Gaume and the castles of Commarque and Laussel.
In the Hamilton College collection of the Pound Family Postcards, there are two identical postcards of the Château de Thiviers assigned the number 5. One, as noted above, was sent by Ezra to Dorothy on 17 August 1919. The other has on its back a sketch map drawn in pencil. The map shows the railway station at Les Eyzies in one corner and from there the way to Font de Gaume and, at the far edge of the postcard, the châteaux of Commarque and Laussel which face each other across the valley of the Beune, described as “one of the most beautiful and wild sites in the Périgord” in a late-twentieth-century guidebook (Le Guide 177).
In December 1911, a human figure, estimated at 25,000 years old, was discovered at Laussel, carved into the limestone and painted in red ochre. The so-called Venus of Laussel is a representation of a female, probably pregnant, holding a horn aloft in her right hand.17 This bas-relief carving is one of the oldest known artistic representations of the human form. As such it stands right at the beginning of the “mind of Europe,” several millennia earlier than the cave paintings of the “Magdalenian draughtsmen” of Font de Gaume and Lascaux. It is a place that would likely have attracted Eliot. Two months later, back in London, he wrote:
And as it is certain that some study of primitive man furthers our understanding of civilized man, so it is certain that primitive art and poetry help our understanding of civilized art and poetry. Primitive art and poetry can even, through the studies and experiments of the artist or poet, revivify the contemporary activities. The maxim, Return to the sources, is a good one. (Eliot Oct 1919)
Eliot’s interest in “primitive man” would resurface in The Waste Land with its references to Jessie Weston’s From Ritual to Romance (1920) and J. M. Frazer’s The Golden Bough (1890).
In his correspondence, Eliot wrote of August 1919 as a walking holiday. To Lytton Strachey he wrote, “I have been walking the whole time...” (see below). Yet no doubt partly because of blistered feet, he made some of the journey between Bourdeilles and Brive by train. The distance that he walked with Ezra Pound are approximately as follows - a) 16 August, Excideuil to Thiviers, 21 km; b) 17 August, Thiviers to Brantôme, 28 km; c) 18 August, Brantôme to Bourdeilles, 11 km. The cumulative distance from Bourdeilles, via Les Eyzies, to Brive is some 160 km. It seems likely that Eliot then made his way eastward from the Les Eyzies area to Brive, in Corrèze, the département that abuts Dordogne to the east. I suggest that he was in Brive, again with Ezra and Dorothy, by 22 August.
After Pound returned from Bourdeilles to Excideuil on 18 or 19 August, he and Dorothy made their way to Brive. They were in Brive on 22 August when Ezra wrote to his mother on the letterhead of the Grand Hôtel de Bordeaux : "On our way north - with contemplated delays. Malamort and Aubazine one hopes tomorrow. Then back here & to Orleans for a few days. & then Paris... Eliot has been with us for a week or so..." (L/HP 446).
Today Malemort (“And Malemort keeps its close hold on Brive” - Near Perigord) is a suburb of Brive, surrounded by sprawling out-of-town shops. Then it was “a little village on the hem of the mountains. Leaving the meadows behind us, we climb the hill and find ourselves at once in the Middle Ages” (Smith 211). The Romanesque church of St Xantin at Malemort-sur-Corrèze sits immediately on the south bank of the river Corrèze which Pound evokes in canto VI:
By river-marsh, by galleried church porch,
Malemorte, Correze... (VI/22)
Malemort owes its name to a massacre there in the times of Richard Coeur de Lion. On 21 April 1177, “two thousand persons – free-lances, their wives and their children – were slain here in one day” (Smith 211). In 1912, Ezra Pound had resisted the temptation to visit Malemort:
There is to the east of Brive a place with so fine & sinister a name that I was almost led there, altho I knew there was nothing for the eye, a name I had invented for a poem once but had never expected to find in the stone as Malemort. I restrained myself however from this defection & took the jagged highway toward Toulouse... (WTSF 35)
Aubazine, farther away and high in the hills, is the site of two nearly adjacent monasteries – one for men and one for women – dating from the 12th century. Of slightly earlier independent foundation, the monasteries at Aubazine joined the Cistercian order in 1147.
It would seem that the hopes of visiting Malemort and Aubazine that Ezra expressed in his 22 August letter were fulfilled, and it seems probable that Eliot went for the walk to Malemort and Aubazine with him, for on 23 August Dorothy sent a postcard from Brive (PFP 51): “We expect to leave tomorrow late, for Orléans. The two men have gone for a walk, but I couldn’t face it... Still very hot.”
I suggest that the reason the second postcard no. 5 (of the Château de Thiviers with the sketch map on the back) found its way into the Hamilton College Collection is that Eliot gave it to Ezra and Dorothy Pound in Brive in case they should ever want to make good on Ezra’s notion of taking a week to visit “Fonts de Gaume & Les Eyzies grottes - prehistoric painting and sculpture.”
Soon afterwards, probably on 25 August, Eliot wrote a postcard to Lytton Strachey: "I have been walking the whole time since I arrived and so have had no address at all. Through Dordogne and the Corrèze, sunburnt - melons, ceps, truffles, eggs, good wine and good cheese and cheerful people. It is a complete relief from London. I hope to get to Ussel." (L/TSE 1: 388)18
As Eliot did not return to London until the evening of Sunday 31 August, he may well have reached Ussel. The place receives scant attention in Baedeker, and it is unclear why it represented a significant destination for Eliot, unless it had been prompted by Pound’s interest in Bernard de Ventadour. As Canto VI was ready soon after Pound returned to Britain, it could well be that he discussed it with Eliot during their time in France together -
“My lady of Ventadour
“Is shut by Eblis in
“And will not hawk nor hunt
nor get her free in the air... (VI/22)
Ussel was one of the seats of the Viscounts of Ventadour. It lies beyond Ventadour itself when coming from Brive. Dorothy and Ezra left Brive on the overnight train to Orléans on 24 August. On 26 August, from Orléans, Dorothy sent another postcard to her mother:
We got here yesty. morning for a break: had quite a good journey up, with plenty of fresh air in the carriage. Its a pleasant town, with a few old houses & the worst cathedral I have ever seen... We leave tomorrow morn: for Paris I believe... (PFP 87)
From Orléans they went on to Paris on 27 August and from Paris (3 rue de Beaune), on 3 September, Ezra wrote to his parents:
...we have a large room from which we see the Seine & Pont Royal and a corner of the Louvre & windows of rue de Rivoli, on the opposite side.
Mildly expensive, but Excideuil has been an economy.
Food here rather cheaper than in London; not so good as in the south. (L/HP 447)
By 11 September, they were back in London.
Ezra Pound’s aim of putting TS Eliot through a cure during his holiday in France seems to have succeeded. Before Eliot left London, he was worn down. He wrote to Harold Munro, owner of the Poetry Bookshop, on 5 August, just before he left for France (L/TSE 1: 386): “I am very much run down and this is my first real rest for two years.” He returned bearded, suntanned and feeling much refreshed. His immediate descriptions of his time in France are sunny. He wrote to his brother Henry on 14 September 1919 that “I had a very delightful trip and feel in much better health for it” (L/TSE 1: 395). But there are hints of a darker side to those days as well. Alluding to Pound’s eulogy for Eliot in the Sewanee Review (1966), Ronald Schuchard (119) writes: “Did he [Pound] know that the trip was no joking matter, that Eliot had undergone a horrifying emotional experience that triggered the composition of ‘The Waste Land’?” Two months after Eliot returned from France, we begin to see first mentions of The Waste Land in his correspondence. He wrote to John Quinn on 5 November 1919 of “a poem I have in mind” (L/TSE 1: 412), and to his mother in a letter of 18 December he stated his New Year’s Resolution as being “to write a long poem I have had in my mind for a long time.” (L/TSE 1: 424). I will return to the “horrifying emotional experience.”
Excideuil found its way more than once into Ezra Pound’s poetry. In addition to the lines from Provincia Deserta, quoted above, there are these lines from the much-later 1945 Pisan Cantos
Nancy where art thou?
Whither go all the vair and the cisclatons
and the wave pattern runs in the stone
on the high parapet (Excideuil)
Mt Segur and the city of Dioce
Que tous les mois avons nouvelle lune. (LXXX/530)
Earlier, three years after his days in Excideuil, he wrote the following lines as part of a draft of the Malatesta Cantos (quoted in Moody 1993 81) -
As we had sat, three of us at Excideuil
over Borneil’s old bake-oven
...that was three years ago...
on the roman mound
level with the town spire
“e poi gli affina” for you.19
Clearly, the reference to the “three of us at Excideuil” refers to the time Eliot spent there with Ezra and Dorothy in the summer of 1919. Borneil is, of course, Giraut de Borneil, who came from Excideuil.20 His toponym - de Borneil - is probably taken from a small hilltop hamlet just to the east of Thiviers now known as Bourneix or Bournay. He is said to have been the son of one of Excideuil’s bakers (Thibaud 61), an association Pound picked up in these lines. There is an unpretentious monument to Giraut de Borneil in Excideuil, but it is easy to overlook it. It sits on the edge of a car park just outside the outer gate to the castle where today Ezra Pound’s “wave pattern runs in the stone.”
The line “e poi gli affina” for you, no doubt bears some reference to the subject of discussion in Excideuil and, as we shall see, to Eliot’s state of mind in particular. It comes from Dante’s Purgatorio XXVI, a canto featuring the shade of Arnaut Daniel and quoted by both Pound and Eliot in their work. Eliot adopted the full final line of the canto (Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina) as line 428 of The Waste Land. The two poets called each other “Arnaut”: Eliot implicitly when he dedicated The Waste Land to Pound as “il miglior fabbro”, and Pound when he referred to Eliot as "Arnaut" in canto XXIX where “Arnaut”, the “wave pattern that runs in the stone,” and the town spire on the same level as the well-curb in the castle courtyard appear together:
So Arnaut turned there
Above him the wave-pattern cut in the stone
Spire-top alevel with the well-cut
And the tower with the 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)
The line - “So Arnaut turned there” - might hold a reference to the first line of Eliot’s poem Ash Wednesday (Eliot 1969 89): “Because I do not hope to turn again...,” inspired by Cavalcanti, a poet much on Pound’s and Eliot’s minds around 1928.21 Pound’s use of the verb “turn” is significant. “Turn” is commonly used to refer to religious conversion: the traditional words pronounced as ashes are received on the forehead at the beginning of Lent are “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.” Schuchard (3) has suggested that “the suffering poet [Eliot] conceived of himself as Arnaut, his lustful soul wrapped in purgatorial flames.” Here too perhaps is the significance of Pound’s reference to Dante’s - “e poi gli affina for you” - refining fires in the Purgatorio Canto XXVI where the shade of Arnaut Daniel features.
Despite the lighthearted tone of Pound’s 1965 elegy for Eliot and the shining accounts in Eliot’s letters immediately following the trip, we have here in these lines - purgatorial flames, “I am afraid of the life after death” - more than a hint that the August 1919 holiday in the Périgord was, for Eliot at least, not just a matter of jokes and blisters. Bush (211) suggests that the poets discussed James Joyce’s Ulysses, then coming out in serial publication with Pound’s help. Eliot brought with him to France a draft of Gerontion,22 and presumably discussed it with Pound while they were together there. The relationship between an artist or poet and tradition and history, something that was prominent in both poet’s thinking at the time, may well also have featured in the poets' discussions. From Toulouse on 29 May 1919, Pound wrote a postcard to his mother-in-law asking her to send “the ‘razo’ (an [sic] nothing else) of the Arnaut Daniel to T. S. Eliot at 18 Crawford Mansions, Crawford St., W.1.” (PFP 60). So, we may imagine that when the two met in Excideuil not long afterwards, Arnaut Daniel and Dante’s purgatorial fires were also topics of their conversation.
In this passage from Canto XXIX where Pound probably accurately describes his friend’s state of mind and quotes his words, he is also precise and accurate in his geographic references. If you stand in the courtyard of Excideuil’s castle and look north, you are indeed level with the top of the church tower rising from the centre of the town below. Today, however, the ancient church of St. Thomas in Excideuil is no longer adorned by a spire. On 21 March 1934, the old spire was struck by lightning and destroyed. The bell tower in the shape of a crown that you see today dates from 1936.
At the time Pound and Eliot were in Excideuil, the castle on its cave-pitted crag was semi-derelict. In 1971, Hugh Kenner wrote “...at semi-ruined Excideuil a wave pattern’s lilt in the stone on the high parapet proclaims an eternal form educed from flux...”; and by way of a footnote added, “As of 1919. Later the castle crumbled, and still later its restorers fitted stones at random. In 1970, the only discoverable block of wave pattern had been placed near the top of the left-hand gatepost” (Kenner 339). A fire in 1973 left it in an even worse state. But restoration began in 1975 and today the castle of Excideuil serves as a pleasant private residence. Stones bearing the “wave-pattern” form part of the archway leading into the castle precinct.
The “wave-pattern cut in the stone” at Excideuil, March 2017
Périgueux, capital of Dordogne, lies southwest of Excideuil along the valleys of the Loue and the Isle. In 1919, a steam tramway connected the two towns. Both Pound and Eliot seem to have found in Périgueux (which Pound usually refers to as “Perigord”) part of a disturbing vision or experience. Here are Pound’s lines in Provincia Deserta:
I have walked
I have seen the torch-flames, high-leaping
Painting the front of that church;
Heard, under the dark, whirling laughter.
I have looked back over the stream
and seen the high building,
Seen the long minarets, the white shafts. (P 125)
The bright white stone of the Cathedral of St. Front at Périgueux rises above the tiled roofs of the surrounding town. Pound in 1912 was enthusiastic: “what a cathedral! Be on your guard San Marco, here are domes against your domes, & a tower along your tower...” (WTSF 19). The church’s cupolas and magnificent bell-tower are all surmounted by lanternons that look uncannily like the medieval lanternes des morts of the Périgord and hark back even further to the funerary towers of antiquity. In the dark, faintly illuminated by torchlight from below, they could easily appear like the long white shafts of minarets. Later, Pound would liken Périgueux to New York: “But that New York I have found at Périgueux/ sid com ad Arli” (LXXX/528).
Eliot’s experience in Périgueux was perhaps the more profound. He referred to it in a letter of 9 August 1930, more than a decade after the 1919 walking holiday and eight years after The Waste Land. He wrote to William Force Stead,24 whose The House on the Wold had just been published, that his friend’s new volume of verse brings out "those feelings that I have known but never seen so well expressed. This sense of dispossession by the dead I have known twice, at Marlow and at Perigueux." (L/TSE 5: 287)
From the opening lines of The Waste Land’s first section (The Burial of the Dead), and running through the whole of the poem, there is powerful sense of death and dispossession:
April is the cruellest month, breeding25
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain. (Eliot 1969 61)
There is death and dispossession too in the closing lines of The Waste Land where Eliot quotes from Gerard de Nerval’s El Desdichado - “Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la tour abolie” (Eliot 1969 75):
Je suis le Ténébreux, - le Veuf, - l’Inconsolé,
Le Prince d’Aquitaine à la Tour abolie :
Ma seule Étoile est morte, - et mon luth constellé
Porte le Soleil noir de la Mélancolie. (Pompidou 323)
While the primary reference for de Nerval's "la Tour abolie" is probably to a Tarot card, it is interesting to note in passing that de Nerval believed himself to be descended from a noble family in Aquitaine with a castle on the banks of the Dordogne, a patrimony from which he was dispossessed.
We know of three visits Eliot made to Périgueux - in the winter of 1910/11, his early morning arrival on 9 August 1919, and another visit some ten days later after leaving Pound at the end of their walk from Excideuil to Bourdeilles. Based on Pound’s lines in his Canto XXIX - “I am afraid of the life after death” - and what we know of Eliot’s state of mind in 1919, it seems appropriate to relate the second episode of “dispossession by the dead” to one of his August 1919 visits.26 Death did surround Eliot in the summer of 1919 and was prominent then in his thoughts, memories and inspiration. Eliot’s father had died earlier in the year - on 7 January 1919 - of an unexpected heart attack. Influenza - “Kansas flu,” “Spanish flu” - was taking its toll. It is estimated that between 50 million and 100 million people globally died of the epidemics of 1918-19, a period when Eliot is regularly recorded as run-down or unwell, and there are several references to “influenza” in Eliot’s letters in the months before he left for France in 1919. The overwhelming slaughter of the Great War was, moreover, less than a year in the past.
Eliot had lost many friends in the War, including his two closest French friends from his 1910-11 year in Paris. Alain-Fournier, best known today as the author of the novel Le Grand Meaulnes (1913), had been Eliot’s French tutor in 1910-11. He was killed at the front on 22 September 1914. Probably of even greater personal significance to Eliot was the death of Jean Verdenal, a medical student who lived in the same Paris boarding house as Eliot in 1910-11. He was “a young man of extreme friendliness” (quoted from the newspaper L’Indépendent des Basses-Pyrénées in Perinot 33). While a top-class medical student, Verdenal’s “interests were mainly literary and were astonishingly close to Eliot’s” (Miller 118). He was also a “profound believer” and this seems to have an influence on Eliot. Serving as a medical officer in the French Army, Jean-Jules Verdenal was killed in the Gallipoli campaign on 2 May 1915. Stephen Spender, who was a friend of Eliot’s later years, wrote “Eliot once referred to The Waste Land as an elegy. Whose elegy? His father’s? Jean Verdenal’s - mort aux Dardanelles in the war?” (108).
August 1919 was Eliot’s first return to France since his time as student there,27 doubtless reviving memories and interests of earlier times in the country. Eliot’s published poetry in French dates from 1920 (Eliot 1969 46 et seq.). On Eliot’s “sense of dispossession by the dead,” John Worthen wrote:
Eliot subsequently wrote about the feeling of dispossession on a number of occasions. In The Family Reunion, Harry describes “that sense of separation, / of isolation unredeemable, irrevocable”; in “East Coker,” Eliot imagined the “fear of possession” of old men. “Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.” Being “possessed” - taken over, completely, so that you are dispossessed of your old self and attachments - is terrifying but (for Eliot after 1927) would have been the only real solution to life’s problems. In 1940, he would go so far as to announce that “You must go the way of dispossession.” That “way” involved Christian conversion. (93)
Without using the term “dispossession,” Eliot in 1935 wrote about a terrible awareness of isolation without God (Schuchard 120):
There are moments, perhaps not known to everyone, when a man may be nearly crushed by the terrible awareness of his isolation from every other human being; and I pity him if he finds himself only alone with himself and his meanness and futility, alone without God. It is after these moments, alone with God and aware of our worthiness, but for Grace, of nothing but damnation, that we turn with most thankfulness and appreciation to the awareness of our membership: for we appreciate and are thankful for nothing fully until we see where it begins and where it ends.
Eliot was not the only literary figure in Britain to become a Christian in the 1920s. GK Chesterton converted in 1922, Graham Greene in 1926, Evelyn Waugh in 1930, each embracing the Roman Catholic faith. T. S. Eliot’s conversion in 1927 was to Anglicanism, as was that of C. S. Lewis, a few years later (McGrath 131 et seq.). The last lines of C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity provide Eliot’s fellow convert’s take on “dispossession”:
Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in. (189)
It would seem then that not only The Waste Land, but also Eliot’s turning (“So Arnaut turned there”) to Christianity, was beginning to take shape in August 1919, and marked by Ezra Pound with topographic precision at Excideuil:
...the wave-pattern cut in the stone
Spire-top alevel with the well-curb
And the tower with the stone cut above that... (XXIX/145)
Later these seminal milestones in Eliot’s life - the beginnings of The Waste Land and his conversion to Christianity - were recalled by Ezra Pound through a reference to Excideuil in his brief elegy after his fellow poet’s death.
In Pound’s first Pisan Canto we read:
and at Limoges the young salesman28
bowed with such french politeness “No that is impossible.”
I have forgotten which city
But the caverns are less enchanting to the unskilled explorer
than the Urochs as shown on the postals,
we will see those old roads again, question,
but nothing appears much less likely,
Mme Pujol, (LXXIV/448)
Madame Pujol is another of Pound’s memories of Excideuil. Hers is one of the very few twentieth-century personal names from Pound’s 1912 and 1919 travels in France to feature in his poems.
On 1 June 1920, Pound wrote from Sirmione, “... considering how Excideuil tempted me last summer (with of course the distinction that Excideuil had Madame Pujol in the village and the french do know how to cook...” (L/JQ 180). In 1912, Ezra Pound had stayed at the Hôtel Poujol - spelling the family name correctly in the notes on that journey, as, indeed, he and Dorothy did on the postcards of 1919. He described his 1912 arrival in Excideuil thus:
... I would fain have dragged my remains to rest in the next valley, at Savignac-les-églises, at an inn there, but this inn being filled with a captain & three men @ arms I took the tramway for Excideuil in that prescience which occasionally descends when after we have done our utmost the perfect thing awaits. (WTSF 23)
As we have seen, he was sufficiently impressed to return for a longer stay, with his wife, Dorothy, in 1919.
Carroll Terrell, in a footnote to Canto LXXIV writes: “Mme Pujol: A landlady in Provence. Excideuil, between, Limoges and Périgueux, was the place where Mme Pujol or Poujol kept an inn. Pound told HK [Hugh Kenner] that Madame would be dead but the inn would still be there” (II: 367). In his biography of Ezra Pound, David Moody refers to “Madame’s Pujol’s excellent cooking and the pleasant room in her Hôtel Pujol.” (360). Memories of the pleasant room in the Hôtel Poujol in Excideuil would, no doubt, have been a particular contrast to the outdoor steel cage in which Pound was being kept by the American Army when he began to write his Canto LXXIV.
Louise Poujol (née Delprat)29 was born in Montignac in 1869 and grew up in Périgueux where she married François Poujol in 1893. They came to Excideuil in the early years of the twentieth century, probably about 1904, after several years living in Brive-la-Gaillarde. François Poujol’s profession is listed in the Excideuil archives, as it was earlier in those of Brive, as cuisinier (cook). Louise Poujol was a lingère (seamstress). But by 1906, he had become the hôtelier, and Madame Poujol later became the maîtresse d’hôtel. In 1920, Excideuil’s archives list Louise Poujol as a négociante (merchant).
Between Pound’s first visit to Excideuil and his second, François Poujol had died, aged 50, in 1917. One of the couple’s sons, René, had died a year later - aged only 18; another, Roger, had been wounded in the war.30 Yet another son, Jean-Dominique, is listed as a cook in the years immediately following the Great War, following in his father’s footsteps. By August 1919, Madame Poujol was a grandmother. Dorothy Pound recorded on a postcard that she wrote to her father from Excideuil on 15 August 1919 (PFP nn): "Have helped to paint a “cot” for the patronne’s grandchild! Otherwise it is too hot to move much. Our room is well decorated with flypapers - & we have introduced one into the kitchen."
Madame Poujol died in Limoges in 1955.
All the Excideuil archive listings for the Poujol family’s address are in rue Gambetta. There were no house numbers on the streets in those days. Nor was there, apparently, a hotel in Excideuil formally called “Hôtel Poujol.” There were, however, two hotels in the rue Gambetta in Excideuil in 1919 - the Hôtel Mordier (or Central) and the Hôtel Chatelier (or Métropole). There is no certain memory today as to which of these two establishments was run by the Poujol family in the early years of the twentieth century and to which their name seems to have been informally attached. Opinion seems to come down broadly in favour of the Hôtel Chatelier. Hôtel Chatelier (Métropole) had a large garden - perhaps the one where Eliot sat on arrival in Dordogne in August 1919.31 A case for the Hôtel Mordier can, however, be made based on its reputation for an excellent cuisine. Pound recorded appreciating the cooking at the place he stayed Excideuil. If the hotel and garden mentioned in his letter to his mother of 14 October 1919 refer to Excideuil, so did Eliot.
Neither location serves as a hotel any longer. The building that was once Hôtel Mordier sits, without distinction of any sort, on a corner between two streets just to the east of the old Porte des Cordeliers and opposite Excideuil’s war memorial and the hospital. It functions now as the office of an insurance company. The Hôtel Chatelier was just along the street to the east. On the evening of 28 June 1944, the occupying German forces raided Excideuil, which was regarded as a centre of the Résistance. When they moved on the next day, the Hôtel Chatelier was in flames (Vaugrenard 61 et seq.). By the time the fires were put out, the Hotel Châtelier had been completely gutted. That proved to be the end of the building’s vocation as a hotel.
Ezra Pound wrote in his travel notes of 1912:
At the hotel of Poujol I came also upon this adv. worthy of memory:
sic transit gloria. (WTSF 28)
How could Louise Poujol, a widowed innkeeper in a small town in rural France, have ever imagined that her family’s cooking would prompt the visit of two of the twentieth century’s most important poets, a visit that proved to be sufficiently significant for Ezra Pound to refer to it in his elegy for his fellow poet? That her name would come to be immortalized in the literature of a foreign language? That the topography of her adopted town would appear in poetry marking T. S. Eliot’s turning to Christianity? That the Dordogne holiday of 1919 would serve to crystallize the composition of The Waste Land and that memories of those days would resurface in the Cantos over the coming decades?
1. Le papier Fayard was a patent treatment for blisters and corns. For Eliot and Pound, August 1919 (not 1920 or 1921 as Pound - perhaps mischievously - recollected) was, at least in part, a walking holiday.
2. There is no inscription on the back. Although Ezra Pound was at Châlus in 1912, there is no suggestion that he revisited it in 1919. (Note that the date on the front of the postcard should be 1199 rather than 1198.)
3. On the back of PFP 590, Dorothy’s green ink records – “EP. D.P. We walked into Foix, flags flying. Armi Peace just signed 1919.”
4. The 5th edition (1907) was still the most recent in 1919.
5. “En Bertrans” was probably born at the Château de Born (or de Bellegarde) about eight kilometres to the northeast of Hautefort. Smith tried to find “the original Born castle ... not far from Dalon, in the forest above the lake of Born and below Bellegarde....,” but he never found it. Penaud says that though nothing now remains of the Born (or Bellegarde) Castle where de Born was born, there were still ruins visible in the 18th century. The name “Bellegarde” today attaches to a plateau and a few farm buildings in a clearing in the woods, part of the Forêt Domaniale de Born (or “de Bord” on some maps), by Clairevivre. From Ezra Pound’s notes on his 1912 walking tour (WTSF 21) it would seem that, despite having consulted Smith, he may have mistaken Blis-et-Born for the site of the original castle of Bertrand de Born.
6. On his 1912 walking tour, Pound’s route between Hautefort and Excideuil seems to have been somewhat circuitous. He seems to have retraced his steps eastward from Hautefort to explore the country between Périgueux and Hautefort, travelling along the valley of the Auvézère, visiting Blis-et-Born in the hills, and possibly Auberoche as well as Cubjac in the Auvézère Valley, before crossing to the valley of the Isle at Savignac-les-Eglises. From Savignac he “took the tramway for Excideuil in that prescience which occasionally descends when after we have done our utmost the perfect thing awaits” (WTSF 23). The tramway is now closed.
7. Source: Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, King’s College, London.
8. “...to Montignac. Thither went Bertran de Born, too, but not by a route so indolent, for at the end of the journey in a lofty castle buttressed by a natural pillar of black ivy-wreathed stone forty feet high, and boldly overlooking the town and the river, Lady Maent, a sister of Maria de Ventadorn (or Ventadour), waited to smile upon him” (Smith 223). Maent (married to a brother of the Count of Périgord), Maria de Ventadour, and a third sister, Elis (who married Guilhem de Gordon) were daughters of the Viscount of Turenne. Turenne lies to the south of Brive. I have not found evidence that the Pounds visited Turenne in 1919, although the train from Rocamadour to Brive passes very close by.
9. A railway line formerly ran from Hautefort to Gourdon via Terrasson, Montignac and Sarlat. I have not been able to trace “les Prunes” on this route.
10. The three walks were probably Hautefort to Montignac, Sarlat to Souillac, and Souillac to Rocamadour.
11. PFP 156. This postcard was sent by Miss N. Juillet to Dorothy Pound on 21 July 1924.
12. The Magdalenian era of the late Upper Paleolithic runs from about 17,000 years ago to about 12,000 years ago. It takes its name from Abri de la Madeleine, a rock shelter in the Vézère valley near the village of Tursac, just upstream from les Eyzies.
13. It is unclear from the letter whether this hotel, lunch and garden were in Périgueux or Excideuil. It would seem likely that Pound would have wanted to go back to his hotel in Excideuil where he was staying with Dorothy; although, if that were the case, it would probably have made more sense for Eliot to have changed trains in Thiviers for Excideuil rather than in Périgueux.
14. T. S. Eliot worked for Lloyd’s Bank from 19 March 1917 to 25 November 1925. Pound continued to be concerned for his friend’s well-being after their days in Excideuil. Ernest Hemingway wrote, “Ezra Pound was the most generous writer I have ever known and the most disinterested. He was always doing something practical for poets, painters, sculptors and prose writers that he believed in and would help anyone, whether he believed in them or not, if they were in trouble. He worried about everyone and in the time when I first knew him he was most worried about T. S. Eliot who, Ezra told me, had to work in a bank in London and so had insufficient time and bad hours to function as a poet” (Hemingway 177).
15. When he wrote these lines,Pound could equally have had in mind a postcard that Nancy Cunard sent to him from Les Eyzies in October 1923. That postcard shows a line drawing of a mammoth copied from the caves at Font de Gaume (Lilly Library, Ezra Box 1 Pound mss: Cunard Nancy). It is possible that les Eyzies was on the itinerary of Pound's August 1923 trip with Olga Rudge.
16. Pound would have been able to return to Excideuil by train/tram by one of two routes - either (with Eliot) via Périgueux or via St. Pardoux and Thiviers.
17. The Venus of Laussel is now on display in the Musée de l’Aquitaine in Bordeaux. A second version of a woman holding a horn found at the same site was taken to Berlin in controversial circumstances. It is believed to have been destroyed there during World War II. A comprehensive set of photographs of the Abri de Laussel and the ancient objects found there, many of which seem to have sexual connotations (including one that may be a copulation scene), can be found at http://donsmaps.com/lacornevenus.html (accessed 4 August 2017).
18. It seems unlikely that Eliot would not have dutifully sent postcards to his wife, Vivien, while he was in France, however strained their relationship might by then have become. If they survive and are made available they would afford us a better understanding of his itinerary in August 1919, if not also some further insight into what was on his mind in those days. The postcard to Lytton Strachey (L/TSE 1: 388) is the only piece of correspondence from T. S. Eliot during his time in France in 1919 published in Volume 1 of his letters. Part of the text of the postcard was quoted in Holroyd (365) well before the publication of Eliot’s letters. The source of this postcard is given in L/TSE 1 as the British Library. As it is not in Add MS60665 (August 2017), it would appear to have gone missing. The picture on the front of the postcard and its postmark might have served to corroborate Eliot’s route in Corrèze.
19. When the Malatesta Cantos were published in Eliot’s The Criterion (Vol. 1, No. IV, July 1923), these lines were omitted.
20. There is actually some doubt as to where Giraut de Borneil was from. While he is probably from the region of Excideuil in Dordogne, it is possible that he was from the area of Exideuil [sic] on the borders of Charente and Haute-Vienne (Penaud 69). There are also several hamlets called Bourneix in the region.
21. The first part of “Ash Wednesday” was published in Commerce in Spring 1928 quoting Guido Cavalcanti, “perch’i no spero di tornar giammai.” Pound’s Canto XXIX was published in 1930.
22. On 6 August 1919, shortly before he left London for France, Eliot wrote to Mary Hutchinson, “Please send Gerontion back to me at once. I leave on Saturday night, and I must revise it in France, so just put it in an envelope and send it by return.” (L/TSE 1: 387.) Eliot had apparently sent his draft of Gerontion to her on 6 July.
23. Dorothy’s later note on the back reads “Did I see this? EP anyway knew it.” It might seem strange that Dorothy might not have seen Périgueux in the summer of 1919, but it is certainly not impossible. The journeys that we know of that Ezra and Dorothy took together from Excideuil were to the southeast, with the exception of the possible trip to Poitiers when the obvious route would not have passed through Périgueux.
24. Like Pound and Eliot, William Force Stead (1884-1967) was an American. He came to England in the US diplomatic service, which he left in 1917, and was eventually ordained in the Anglican Church. He became Chaplain and a Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford, and in 1927 baptised Eliot after his conversion. He has been referred to as Eliot’s “confessor.” Stead returned to the United States in 1939.
25. Commentators (for example see Eliot 2015), though not Eliot’s own Notes on the Waste Land (Eliot 1969 76), often cross refer the reader to Chaucer’s opening lines of the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales: “Whan that aprill with his shoures soote...” But, while in the Périgord, one might also look to the following lines from Pierre de Bussignac, a 12th century Périgourdin troubadour associated with Hautefort -
Quan lo dous tems d’abril When April’s sweetness
fo’ls arbres secs fulhar, Brings leaves again to the dry trees
e’ls auzelhs mutz cantar And the silent birds begin to sing
quascun en son lati... Each in its own tongue...
(My translation. For Pierre de Bussignac, see Penaud 2001 77).
26. Some commentators (for example, Wilhelm 235) place Eliot back in Excideuil on 21 August 1919, thereby dating the line “I am afraid of the life after death” to after the Périgueux episode of “dispossession by the dead.” It is not clear to me that Eliot did return to Excideuil after the walking trip with Pound to Thiviers, Brantôme and Bourdeilles.
27. Eliot may have passed through France on his way to Marburg in July 1914, but I think it unlikely. Even if he did so, he did not see Jean Verdenal. Verdenal was by then already enlisted in the army and was then in Pau with a broken leg. The direct route from London to Marburg is through Belgium and we know that Eliot visited Bruges, Ghent and Brussels in July 1914. When Eliot got out of Germany after the outbreak of war in August 1914 - through the Netherlands to London, where he stayed until the beginning of the Oxford Michaelmas Term - he wrote “I think I should love Paris now more than ever, if I could see her in these times.”
28. Terrell commented: “Perhaps the polite salesman is the same one celebrated by T. S. Eliot in “Gerontion” as Mr. Silvero. Pound said that all the troubadours who knew music or letters had been taught at ‘the abbeys of Limoges’ (367).” If Terrell’s speculation is correct, might Pound and Eliot actually have come across the prototype of Mr. Silvero “With caressing hands, at Limoges/Who walked all night in the next room” at the hotel in Excideuil? Despite the possibly significant use of “at Limoges” in both Gerontion and Pound’s Canto LXXIV, I can find no indication that Pound and Eliot were in Limoges together. Excideuil seems to be the closest they came. Eliot 2015 does not pick up on the link Terrell makes here.
29. The details that follow about the Poujol family and the former hotels in the rue Gambetta in Excideuil come from the archives of the towns of Excideuil and Montignac, from Filae.com, from Le Maitron, and from conversations with Mme Jacqueline Desthomas-Denivelle who was born and spent her childhood in the building that had formerly been the Hôtel Mordier. By the time of WWII, it had become the residence and surgery of Excideuil’s dentist, Mme Desthomas-Denivelle’s father.
30. Roger Hippolyte Poujol left Excideuil in 1912 and became a teacher, based around Le Havre and Rouen, and, from 1920 a leading member of the local Communist Party. He married Marie-Louise Marcelle Loffet, a fellow teacher and militant socialist, in Excideuil in 1916. He was arrested in 1941, deported to Germany in 1943, and died at Buchenwald on 26 June 1944. (Le Maitron)
31. The Metropole mentioned in The Waste Land is generally taken by commentators to refer to the hotel of that name in Brighton, and Mr Eugenides’s suggestion of a weekend there as an invitation to a homosexual tryst. Ricks and McCue also note that in “St Louis, the Metropole Hotel, built in 1912, was know to cater for prostitutes until 1920” (Eliot 2015 659). Might “the Metropole” here also contain a sly reference to the hotel in Excideuil where Eliot and Pound spent a few days in 1919?
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
EESP - Excideuil et son Pays. Excideuil: Editions de la Tuilière, 1997. Print.
EPP I - Moody, David A. Ezra Pound: Poet: A Portrait of the Man and his Work, I: The Young Genius, 1885-1925. New York: Oxford UP, 2007.
L/HP - Pound, Ezra. Ezra Pound to his Parents: Letters 1895 - 1929. Eds. Mary de Rachewiltz, A. David Moody and Joanna Moody. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010.
L/JQ - Pound, Ezra. The Selected Letters of Ezra Pound to John Quinn, 1915 - 1924. Ed. T. Materer. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1991.
L/TSE 1 - Eliot. T. S. The Letters of T.S. Eliot, Volume 1, 1898-1922, Revised Edition. Eds. Valerie Eliot and Hugh Haughton. London: Faber & Faber, 2009.
L/TSE 5 - Eliot, T. S. The Letters of T.S. Eliot, Volume 5, 1930-1931. Eds. John Haffenden and Valerie Eliot. London: Faber & Faber, 2014.
LE - Pound, Ezra. Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. Ed. T. S. Eliot. London: Faber & Faber, 1935. Print.
P – Ezra Pound. Personae. The Shorter Poems. Eds. Lea Baechler and Walton Litz. New York: New Directions, 1990.
PC - Ezra Pound. Posthumous Cantos. Ed. Massimo Bacigalupo. Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2015. Print.
PFP - Hamilton College Collection of Pound Family Postcards.
WTSF - Pound, Ezra. A Walking Tour of Southern France: Ezra Pound Among the Troubadours. Ed. Richard Sieburth. New York: New Directions, 1992.
Bacigalupo, Massimo. "Tradition in 1919: Pound and Eliot." T. S. Eliot and the Concept of Tradition. Eds. Giovanni Cianci and Jason Harding. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007.
Baedeker, Karl. Southern France including Corsica. 5th edition. Leipzig: Karl Baedeker, 1907.
Bressan, Eloisa. "Reading A Walking Tour in Southern France... in Southern France: A Geographical Approach." Make It New 2.1 (2015): 77-86.
Bressan, Eloisa. "Regionalism and Mythmaking: A Map for Ezra Pound's Walking Tour in Southern France, 1919." Make It New, 2.4 (2016): 44-55.
Bush, Ronald L. The Genesis of Ezra Pound's Cantos. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1977.
Capitan, Louis and Henri Breuil. "Les figures peintes à l'époque paléolithique sur les parois de la grotte de Font-de-Gaume (Dordogne)." Comptes-rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 47.2 (1903).
Conover, Anne. Olga Rudge and Ezra Pound: "What Thou Lovest Well...". New Haven: Yale UP, 2008.
Crawford, Robert. Young Eliot: From St Louis to The Waste Land. London: Jonathan Cape, 2015.
Dunez, Paul. Excideuil au Pays des Troubadours. Périgueux: IFIE Editions Périgord, 2013.
Eliot, T. S. "Tradition and the Individual Talent." The Egoist, September 1919.
Eliot, T. S. "War-paint and Feathers." The Athenaeum. 17 October 1919.
Eliot, T. S. The Complete Poems and Plays of T. S. Eliot. London: Faber & Faber, 1969.
Eliot, T. S. The Poems of T. S. Eliot, Volume 1, Collected & Uncollected Poems. Eds. C. Ricks and J. McCue. London: Faber & Faber, 2015.
Hargrove, Nancy D. T. S. Eliot's Parisian Year. Gainesville: U of Florida P, 2009.
Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast. The Restored Edition. London: Jonathan Cape, 2010.
Holroyd, Michael. Lytton Strachey: A Critical Biography. Vol. 2: The Years of Achievement (1910-1932). London: Heinemann, 1968.
Kenner, Hugh. The Pound Era. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1971.
Le Guide Dordogne Périgord. Périgueux: Fanlac, 1994.
Le Maitron. Dictionnaire biographique du mouvement ouvrier français. (http://maitron-en-ligne.univ-paris1.fr/spip.php?article127149, notice POUJOL Roger, Hippolyte par Claude Pennetier. Web.
Lewis C. S. Mere Christianity, London: Fount Paperbacks, 1977.
McGrath, Alister. C. S. Lewis: A Life. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2013.
Miller, J. E. T. S. Eliot, The Making of an American Poet, 1888-1922. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State UP, 2005.
Moody, David A. "Bel Esprit and the Malatesta Cantos: A Post-Waste Land Conjunction of Pound and Eliot." Ezra Pound and Europe. Eds. Richard Taylor and Claus Melchior. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1993.
Penaud, Guy. Dictionnaire des Châteaux du Périgord. Périgueux: Editions du Sud-Ouest, 1996.
Penaud, Guy. Les Troubadours Périgordins, Périgueux: Editions de la Lauze, 2001.
Perinot, Claude. "Jean Verdenal, An Extraordinary Young Man: T. S. Eliot's Mort aux Dardenelles." South Atlantic Review 76.3 (Summer 2011): 33-50.
Pompidou, Georges. Anthologie de la Poésie française. Paris: Hachette (Livre de Poche), 1961.
Pound, Ezra. "For T. S. E." The Sewanee Review 74.1 (1966): 109.
Pound, Ezra. The Cantos of Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions, 1998.
Schuchard, Richard. Eliot's Dark Angel. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001. Print.
Shakespear (Pound), Dorothy. Etruscan Gate. Ed. M. Merchant. Exeter: Rougemont Press, 1971.
Smith, Justin. The Troubadours at Home. Vol. 2. New York: Putnam, 1899.
Spender, Stephen. Eliot. London: Fontana Modern Masters Series, 1975.
Terrell, C. F. A Companion to the Cantos of Ezra Pound. Vol. 2. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984.
Thibaud, Pierre. L'Auvézère et La Loue. Périgueux: Fanlac, 1993.
Vaugrenard, Alain. Excideuil, Les Années Noires, 1939/1946. Périgueux: IFIE Editions Périgord, 2012.
Wilhelm, J. J. Ezra Pound in London and Paris, 1908-1925. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State UP, 1990.
Worthen, John. T. S. Eliot: A Short Biography. London: Haus Publishing, 2009.