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Review of Moscardino, from Susan Franklin, in RALPH: Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy, and the Humanities


There were three sons before the lovely peasant girl Cleofe had came down from the hills to work for the Pellegrina family. She ended up in granddad’s bed.

Buck can’t remember the name of the older son, so he calls him Grumpy. Don Lorenzo, the second, is an abbé, always walks around with his hands in his soutane. The last is the randy grandfather.

When the old goat finally dies, Signora Pellegrina tells the boys to “divide what’s left.” Then she says: “The clothes I have on are my own. Don’t grumble if I wear silk.”

Cleofe’s appearance in the house changes everything. She was from Terrina. “The women of Terrina go to bed as God made ’em, naked.”

Our house had no curtains, and the rooms are not dark at night. Don Lorenzo saw her naked, white, white, with her legs long. My grandfather seemed like a monster crouched over her, clamped to her belly, looking into her eyes.

The abbé stood there til the dead came to life, ill augured witness of my mother’s procreation.”

White, white, with her legs long. This is Pound speaking, no? The poet tells us that Enrico Pea reminds him of “Tom” Hardy. You recall Tom Hardy. Strange people from the midlands, with their strange disheveled ways. With Pea, the brothers are locked up in this cold house, and the maid Cleofe is with child, and the abbé Don Lorenzo thinks of her as the Madonna, “with the child at breast as Mary in the desert of Egypt, followed by Herod. Eyes the colour of Macaboy snuff.”

And Buck, telling of his grandfather,

Middle high, live glance, biblical beard like my own, thick hair shining like filed iron. Face bright and rosy, thick mulatto’s lips like a suckling infant’s, he talked of life and death, of Dante, love, early grain crops, manures; half shutting and wide opening his eyes as if fixing an image when he got het up over poetry and things of that sort.

And we wonder, is Pound talking of Buck’s “grandpop?” Or is he talking about Ezra Pound? Pound always did have some quarrel with individuation, between his writings and his world. And himself.

At the start of Moscardino, we have some thoughts on Ezra Pound and Enrico Pea by Pound’s daughter, Mary de Rachewiltz. She speaks of “the war years,” presumably World War II. There is a quote on the back cover of this volume from one of Pound’s 1941 “radio speeches,” where he speaks with affection of Enrico Pea.


Rachewiltz then writes about “Pound’s detention at Saint Elizabeth’s.” She lists Italian writers who came to his defense and wonders why those writers should “care more about the poet’s fate than his compatriots.”

Well, mercy me. Have we forgotten so soon? Pound was stuffed away in St. Elizabeth’s so he wouldn’t have to be hung. His radio talks were made from Rome during the early 1940s on behalf of Benito Mussolini, against Franklin D. Roosevelt, the United States, and the Jews.

These radio speeches were, to put it mildly, a disgrace: emotionally, patriotically, and racially.

Mussolini, after all, had a profound influence on Adolf Hitler, was the inspiration for Nazism. Mussolini was, after Stalin, one of the earliest (and craftiest) crafters of the totalitarian state. The Italians didn’t hang him upside down, on the streets of Milan, in 1945, because he needed a drying-out. Mussolini was a thug, with thuggish ways. He made the Italian railroads run on time, and killed several hundred thousand Italians, Abyssinians, and Austrians, in the process. This was Pound’s hero.

Be that as it may, Moscardino is a lovely book, printed and bound with grace by Archipelago. And Pound here proves, as he did so long ago in his renderings of Riyuku, that he was a far better translator than poet. He takes Enrico Pea’s dark Italian and changes it into lusty Pound-English so that at the funeral of Buck’s grandmother, we get to see — potent vision — “Don Lorenzo’s shoes were laced crooked with twine with mud on the ends of the low knot, and caked round the edge of his soutane, black stockings and silver buckles. He felt the water dripping down his sides from his hair, his face wet with rain and tears.”

The hole swallowed back the loose earth. It looks as if yeast were swelling it up; puffing it over the edges of a garden flowered with paper, cotton, and wire.

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