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Review of Moscardino, from Jeremy Noel-Tod, in The Times Literary Supplement


“Pea (Enrico) ” appears in Ezra Pound’s Pisan Cantos LXXX as the man who fitted the mahogany counters in the Bank of Egypt in Alexandria. When Pea first met E.P. in Italy in 1941, he was quizzed intensely about “the precise extent to which the fellaheen were exploited by the Jews, the Greeks, and the English intruders. ” Pound was already broadcasting on Rome Radio against the Allies and “the Jews” a fact quietly elided by the prefatory matter here but in October that year he was also broadcasting in typically God-on-a-soapbox support of Pea: “This is just announcin’ that Italy has a writer, and it is some time since I told anybody that ANY country on earth had a writer. ”

Unsurprisingly, Pea’s reputation abroad was not much boosted, and Pound’s contemporaneous translation of Moscardino, the first novella in a tetralogy, did not appear until 1955. This finely-printed new edition attests that Pound’s literary judgement had not gone as awry as his politics: Pea is undoubtedly “a writer” of unusual quality. The radio speech’s comparison with “Tom Hardy,” though, is misleading: both writers deal in peasant melodrama, but Pea’s narrative voice is ironically compressed, quite unlike Hardy’s loquacious local historian. Lyrical vignettes and sentences wrought with Flaubertian realism “Prolix by nature, knobby of nose he shaved his dry face daily” are rendered in a musically enriched English prose which only occasionally clots, or stumbles on Pound’s hammy Americanization of Pea’s dialect phrases.

The story [is] a Shakespearean tale of a husband’s violent jealousy redeemed in later life by paternal affection moves from the mythological passions of an older generation (painted, admittedly, with streaks of Hardyesque hellish red) to the more life-sized childhood of the eponymous narrator. Pound translates this domestic tragicomedy with the sympathetic intensity and tenderness of attention that would characterize the poetry written after his imprisonment and mental breakdown at Pisa four years later. His daughter, Mary de Rachewitz, laments in her preface that Pound’s “humility and gentleness, ” “fun” and “efficiency” in his family life have been overshadowed by his imperious public persona; indirectly, all those qualities are evident in this translation.

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