Dancing in the Wind: Extract 9: PORTRAIT OF EZRA POUND 1


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Dancing in the Wind: The Story So Far

The story opens in 1916. The world is at war, Irish freedom fighters have just staged an armed rebellion in Dublin, and the three characters we first met in Her Secret Rose are deeply unsettled. The world famous poet, WB Yeats, “having come to 50 years” has decided it's high time he was married and, by coincidence, the 1916 Rising has just made a widow of the love of his life, Maud Gonne. Maud's thoughts are more political than personal. She is frantic to get to Ireland to join the freedom fighters there. While her daughter, Iseult, now 23 years old and as beautiful as her mother was at that age, longs for love, escape, and artistic achievement.

As three talented mavericks try to redeem their past against a background of escalating war and revolution, can they rise to what they truly need from each other? This novel is narrated by Rosy Cross, a working-class Irish woman, who's spent her life investigating the involvement of these people in the infamous murder of her sister.

Iseult Gonne c. 1918
Iseult Gonne c. 1916

Dancing in the Wind: This week's extract: A PORTRAIT OF EZRA POUND 1

“Cat's piss and porcupines!” says Ezra Pound. “People need to wake up to a few SIMPLE facts.”

He leans with his fork pointing, spearlike, towards the dish of potatoes in the middle of the table, prongs one, then lolls back in his chair with it held like a child's lollipop on a stick.

“And they’d better hurry up,” he declares, mouth full “if they don’t want to wake up too late to DO anything.”

Iseult is trying not to stare, though there is much to observe about Mr Pound. Ezzzzzzra, as he insisted she must call him, with a wet and stage-villainous whisper in her ear.

His outlandish garb, layers of colors and patterns like motley robes, and an earring in one ear. The way he came in, and grabbed them each into his American handshake, two hands around one, letting his ebony stick clatter to the floor when he came to her.

How he paced the room during the pre-dinner drinks, rattling off his elliptic sentences with their bombshells of emphasis, up out of his chair every five minutes, arms waving like an out-of-control windmill, declaiming the flaws of the contemporary world, its “bitched mess of modernity”

He is appallingly brash, even for an American. A man with the worst traits of the world’s worst race. She observes him closely, to see if she can find out what Willie sees in him. Even his wife seems wary, Iseult thinks, carrying herself delicately apart, as if she feared his sudden movements might damage her.

According to Arthur Symons, her closest ally among Willie’s friends, Pound pursued Willie for years, wormed his way into his life and so took over that Arthur, and other old friends, no longer attend his Monday night at-homes. That is certainly how is playing it tonight, topping up the wine, as if he is host.

“It is like the Irish rebels,” Mr Pound declares, with a twitch of distaste. “The Eagle’s Irish theatre had developed a wide sympathy for the country which they have now wiped utterly away.”

“Oh please let us talk of anything but that tiresome rebellion,” says Mrs Pound.

Her husband looks at her like she is a bug he should like to squash. “Very well, my dear,” he says in his best nasal twant. “Do you wish to propose a subject for conversation? ”

Dorothy turns toward the window.

“No? Then let us ask our guest of honour what it is she writes.” All eyes turn to Iseult, and the poor girl blushes to high heaven, appalled at the attention. “The Eagle tells us you are a fine writer. Recite us some of your worlds.”

“Pound, leave the girl alone,” calls Willie from the other end of the table, making it worse.

“I have written little of late.” She shakes her head, trying to say that line of conversation is closed and for a minute it seems like it's worked. He launches himself off on a treatise about she knows not what, in his nasal American twang. How he talks. How much. And in such a manner. His Yankeedo accent is overlaid and mingled with a dozen assorted English accents, so exaggerated that even she with her French ear can hear them. He inserts London Cockney, made-up, half-wrong French, Spanish and Greek exclamations. Strange cries and catcalls. Now he is yodeling.

And now he is laying upon her the most kindly look. Has he been giving her time to recover from her embarrassment? Perhaps she has misjudged him.

He turns to his wife for concurrence. “Is that not right, my dear?”

“But of course dear, you are always right,” she shrugs.

They all laugh, a laugh that sounds habitual to Iseult, as if they have had variations of this conversation so many times that they know just when the laugh should come. She half-laughs along with them, feeling half-part of something. It is a long time since she felt even that.

Willie says. “You did not think him so right when he volunteered to fight the Germans.”

Iseult wonders if this too is a joke. “Truly?”

“Guilty as charged,” Ezra says, throwing up his hands. “It was as Rilke wrote: ‘into everyone’s breast, suddenly no longer one’s own, leapt a heart like a meteor. An iron heart’. I was drawn there ironclad, in chains.”

“Oh yes.” He has broken through her shyness. “This war. It so swallows our own lives that one ceases… I should say one almost ceases to have any personal experiences or emotion at all. But you have not been to the front, have you, Mr Pound?”

“Call me Ezzzzra, won’t you, for pity’s sake!”

“The War Office turned him down,” says Mrs Pound, making the WO sound like a sensible parent handling a bold child.

“I think that was just as well,” Iseult says. “Such work is not good for the mind.”

“Miss Gonne has been nursing,” Willie tells the others. “At a military hospital in Normandy.”

She takes another sip of wine, keeps her eyes down. A claret, Willie said. She feels giddy, she thinks maybe she has had a little too much. Ezra has she finds hard to follow and, coming out of thought, she finds

“Nursing!” says Dorothy. “Was it dreadful?”

“It gives one a dangerous feeling of activity and energy, but it’s only an illusion, for it requires no effort of will. While there, one lives like a machine.”a

“With no time to work,” Willie says, meaning no time to write.

“No desire to, under the conditions, me supposums,” says Ezra, gradulating to eating his potato now with his fingers, popping sections into his mouth from a distance.

“No. It is–how do you say?–abrutisement. A life which leaves no room for the intellect. I kept a copy of The Iliad close, though almost always too distracted to read it.”

“Miss Gonne has an admiration that borders on adoration for the Illiad. For all the gods of antique Greece and Rome.”

Willie is beginning to irritate her with his Miss Gonne this, Miss Gonne that, all evening, claiming her with a possessiveness that makes her chafe.

“Have you, b’God?” asked Ezra, looking her over anew.

“For all that is pagan,” she admits. “When in Italy, I kept thinking that the country of Scipio and Caesar should have more respect for their Gods instead of celebrating so heartily the religion that destroyed their culture.”

“But this fellow led me to think you a papist. He has been praising the French Catholics and persuaded it me it was your influence.”

“Oh yes, Catholicism is my faith and when I pray it is in front of a crucifix. My interest in the Gods of antiquity is intellectual, but I believe we should have perfect beauty if we could only unite the ideal pagan and ideal Christian….’

Iseult runs out of words. Six eyes rest upon her as she closes her knife and fork together on her plate and avoids looking back up. Torment. When she dares to lift her head, she finds WB is beaming at her from across the table, as if she were a poem he had just completed.

Ezra leans across, picks up the rind of meat she left, and pops it in under his moustache with a wink.

She refuses to smile, turns to his wife. “Which poets do you like to read, Mrs Pound?” she asks.

“I rarely read poetry,” Dorothy says. “I don’t really care for it.”

Can this be true? Or is it part of their baiting of each other? Iseult cannot tell. Mrs Pound is an artist of some note, a Cubist. Willie has been marvelling to Iseult about her, how her profile can be so perfect while her work dismantles all beauty. Ezra throws her another look like a gunshot, then he is off again, this time on the connections between the writings of Roman and present day Europeans.

“The Roman poets are the only ones we know who had approximately the same problems we have — the metropolis, the imperial posts in all corners of the world and so on. From them we can, if we can be woken from our MASS DOZE, learn that… “

Dorothy looks at the clock above the mantle, suppresses a yawn.


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