Ezra Pound Trial: 1946
"poor Old Ezra Is Quite, Quite Balmy"
Said Ernest Hemingway, "He ought to go to the loony bin, which he rates and you can pick out the parts in his cantos at which he starts to rate it." MacLeish added, "It is pretty clear that poor old Ezra is quite, quite balmy."
Defense counsel Julien Cornell decided that proving clinical insanity might be the surest way to save Pound from execution. Psychiatric examinations by four doctors brought a unanimous report that Pound was not sane enough to stand trial. One said Pound suffered from delusions that he had valuable connections "in a half dozen countries" and should be "an adviser to the state department." Nevertheless, prosecutor Isaiah Matlack asked for a "public insanity hearing" before a jury.
On February 13, 1946, the jury heard that Pound:
shows a remarkable grandiosity … believes he has been designated to save the Constitution of the United States for the people of the United States … has a feeling that he has the key to the peace of the world through the writings of Confucius … believes that with himself as a leader a group of intellectuals could work for world order …
The jury was out for three minutes, then announced that Pound was of "unsound mind." He was immediately confined until he was fit for trial at the St. Elizabeth Federal Hospital for the Insane in Washington. Friends who were confident that he was not insane pondered how he could ever be released without facing another trial.
Pound characteristically accepted his situation, reading and writing in his room. Over the next 12 years, applications for bail and petitions of habeas corpus were denied. In 1948, he was awarded the prestigious $10,000 Bollingen Prize for Poetry. Congress then ordered the prize's sponsor, the Library of Congress, to give no more awards. A Presidential pardon was proposed in 1954, but was dismissed under the dubious rationale that one cannot be pardoned until after one has been found guilty.
In 1955, MacLeish began trying to get the attorney general to nol pros, or quash, the standing indictment for treason. Hemingway, Eliot, and Frost joined the effort. In April 1958, Judge Bolitha Laws, who had presided at the original insanity hearing in 1945, dismissed the indictment, basing his decision on an affidavit of Dr. Winfred Overholser (the superintendent of St. Elizabeth's) that Pound was still unfit for trial.
Ezra Pound was released from St Elizabeth's and promptly sailed for Italy. He died in Venice in 1972.
—Bernard Ryan, Jr.
Suggestions for Further Reading
Ackroyd, Peter. Ezra Pound and His WVorid. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1980.
Carpenter, Humphrey. A Serious Character: The Life of Ezra Pound. Boston: Houghton Miffin, 1988.
Heymann, C. David. Ezra Pound. The Last Rower. New York: Viking Press, 1976.
Tytell, John. Ezra Pound: The Solitary Volcano. New York: Doubleday-Anchor Press, 1987.