Diary entry by Nicholas Hagger on his visit to Ezra Pound in Rapallo and discussion on the concept of Overlord, 16.7.1970

Diary entry can be read in Overlord, pp.935-936.

16 July 1970. Rapallo, Italy.

“A visit to Ezra Pound in Rapallo, St Ambrogio. Found his red house (‘casa rossa’) on top of a mountain about 7, knocked on the back door. He appeared and fled, living in total silence as he does, like Hess. I waited and knocked again and his companion came up the garden. She had got my letter (‘E. Pound, Rapallo’), said it would be more convenient for me to see him then. I went in. He sat apart, bearded, 85, in great silence. For fifteen minutes he did not speak a word, it was like the Delphic Oracle. You put the question to it and listened for the answer you wanted to hear, and the silence confirmed it. I outlined my poetic epic method and asked ‘Why can’t you compress at length?’….I persisted, and he said, ‘It’s worth trying’ and ‘Have you had twelve experiences that sum up the culture of the last thirty years?’ I insisted that I had. His (companion) then interrupted with coffee and was a little rude….I: ‘I want to hear from the author of the Cantos if the method is worth following for forty years.’ Then in came an Italian writer, ‘Pescatore – like a fish’, with his mistress and an Italian boy, and they talked a lot, and Pound sat in silence in the open window, under a full moon, very sad and apart, blinking constantly, and I was able to take in the room: the sculptures, the books (Gaudier-Brzeska, Yeats’ Mythologies), the handwritten notes: ‘A place of skulls’….When (they) left Pound grabbed me by the arm and pointed to the chair in front of him and said, ‘Here, sit down, sit down,’ and ‘You’ve been around a lot, I think you can do what you want to do: put the culture and the Age into twelve poems.’…I said…I could see this poem. He: ‘If you can see it, then you’ve already done it.’ I told him…that two eras in English Literature were spanning each other, and he shook me warmly by the hand and then lapsed into oracular silence, as silent as the future, and I left.”


Extract from Nicholas Hagger’s autobiography, A Mystic Way; a fuller account of this meeting (the above abbreviated account having been written in a hotel room at 1 a.m. when he was extremely tired and facing a very early start later that morning, conditions favouring haste rather than full recollection):

“On 16th July I found a hotel and then drove to Saint’ Ambrogio and asked directions from passers-by and was told to go to a “casa rossa” (red house) on the top of a mountain. I arrived about seven and knocked at  the back door and Pound appeared, bearded, in his slippers. He turned away and went back in, and his companion Olga Rudge came up the garden. Yes, she said, she had got my letter (which was simply addressed Ezra Pound, Rapallo) and it would be convenient to see him immediately. I followed her in and was shown into a large room with many books, some sculptures, a circular table with papers on it, and a sofa. Pound sat apart beside a window in great silence. He had a serene face and troubled eyes. I spoke about my knowledge of Japan and China, including the Cultural Revolution – he had Yeats to look at Japanese Noh plays, hence Yeats’s own plays, and he had got the idea for his own Cantos from China through Fenollosa in 1913 – and I spoke about my interest in developing his innovations and my plans to write a poetic epic, and said: ‘You’ve been writing the Cantos for fifty-seven years, so you’re the best person to ask about a method which is going to involve me in many years of work. You compressed twenty-six lines into two: “The apparition of these faces in the crowd;/Petals on a wet black bough.” Is it possible to compress at length over twelve books?’ He listened to me for fifteen minutes in complete silence – he was like the Delphic Oracle, you asked a question and listened to the silence which revealed your own heart – and then he merely said, ‘Wait until Antonio comes, he’ll answer these questions better than I can. Or ask Desmond O’Grady or Graves,’ and later, as I persisted: ‘It’s worth trying.’ I continued to persist, saying the epic can sum up the culture of the last thirty years in twelve books, and Pound asked suddenly: ‘Have you had twelve experiences that sum up the culture of the last thirty years?’ I said, ‘Yes. For example, my experience of China.’

“At that point Olga Rudge, a violinist brought up in Italy, his mistress and mother of his child, returned with coffee. She was younger than he was, in her seventies I judged, and she was rather rude: ‘If you put everything on a postcard, then he’ll take you seriously.’ To which Pound said: ‘T. E. Hulme said to me, in 1915, “Everything a writer has to say can be put on half a side of a postcard, and all the rest is application and elaboration.” Have you got the application and elaboration?’ Then in came an Italian neighbour and writer, who introduced himself as ‘Pescatore, like a fish’ with his mistress and an Italian boy, and suddenly the room was filled with talk. Pound did not say a word. He sat in silence in the open window, a full moon over his shoulder, very sad and apart, blinking constantly, and I noticed a sculpted head carved by Gaudier-Brzeska and saw a copy of Yeats’s Mythologies. I spoke about my visits to China and Russia and talked about my travels, and about 9 Pescatore turned to me and said, ‘You know, I’ve been visiting Mr Pound for ten years, but I’ve never heard his voice.’ He stood up to go, and I stood up to go with him, thinking I wouldn’t get much more out of Pound.

“But as the neighbours trooped out with Olga Rudge and I lingered to say goodbye to the Oracle, unexpectedly Pound stood up and grabbed my arm and pointed to the chair in front of him and said: ‘Here sit down, sit down, you don’t have to go yet do you? I’ve been thinking and listening to you. You’ve been around a lot, I think you can do what you want to do: put the culture and the Age into twelve poems.’ Inspired, I sat down on the chair at the circular table and told him I knew I could. He said ‘Your long preamble about myself wasn’t necessary’ – he did not seem to want to acknowledge his technical innovations – and when I said that I could see the pattern ahead, ‘I can see the poem,’ he said: ‘If you can see it, then you’ve already done it. Seeing it’s half the battle.’ We talked on. On the circular table, upside down as I looked, was his handwritten text of his latest canto – I could read “A place of skulls” – and as we discussed the technical side of writing an epic he said: ‘It doesn’t matter where you begin. It’s like making a table, it doesn’t matter which leg you put on first so long as the table stands up at the end.’ Olga Rudge kept intruding, saying ‘Ezra, it’s time for your orange juice’, which she put in front of him and later, ‘Ezra it’s time you went to bed.’ To which he said flatly, ‘Leave us alone, woman.’ (I’m sure I heard the ‘woman’ at the end of his muttered sentence.) I asked him about many details in his study, including the statue by Gaudier-Brzeska. When eventually, just before midnight, I stood up to take my leave, he stood up too, and we stood together. I was surprised he was so tall. I told him, ‘When I am seventy…I will think of this evening. I believe two eras in English Literature are spanning each other, although this will not be apparent until the next century.’ He extended a hand and shook me warmly by the hand – there was nothing feeble about his handshake and he held onto my hand and looked intently into my eyes like a healer transmitting an energy and brightening my aura, like a poet passing on a seed from a tradition he has grown, and in what I took to be an endorsement of what I had just said he repeated: ‘If you can see it you’ve already done it.’ Then he lapsed into oracular silence and returned to his chair and sat as silent as the future, the full moon over his shoulder, and I left while Olga Rudge scolded him (and by implication me) for staying up so late. I thought it sad that Modernism and all his questionings should have ended in a silence.”

Nicholas Hagger