When the young American poet Ezra Pound arrived in London in the autumn of 1908, he had considerably more on his mind than a tour of Westminster Abbey and a boat ride down the Thames. He was determined to become a noted poet, and—convinced that his own country was little more than a cultural slum—he had come to England to launch his career. In London, Pound put in long hours: he wrote incessantly and lectured often; he sought out all the right connections. In little more than a year. Pound had managed to form friendships with such prominent literary figures as Elkin Mathews, Maurice Hewlett, Ernest Rhys, and William Butler Yeats.

Pound was introduced to Yeats by Mrs. Olivia Shakespear, the wife of a ‘ prosperous London solicitor and a semi-popular novelist in her own right. Mrs. Shakespear was stately and stunning; Pound thought her “undoubtedly the most charming woman in London.” From the start, Pound was also attracted to Mrs. Shakespear’s daughter Dorothy, a beautiful and well-educated but markedly reserved young woman who, like her mother, was more than a little intrigued by matters mystical and occult. Certainly, as her private notebook jottings show, Dorothy was utterly enchanted with the handsome and audacious Pound, who in those days—as Ford Madox Ford later remembered—sported “trousers made of green billiard cloth, a pink coat, a blue shirt, a tie hand-painted by a Japanese friend, an immense sombrero, a flaming beard cut to a point and a single, large blue ear-ring.” “Ezra,” Dorothy told her diary soon after meeting Pound, “is not as other men are; he has found the Centre—TRUTH.” “Ezra! Ezra!” she wrote, “beautiful face! . . . You are all a dream—your ideas, your knowledge, your bluey eyes. . . . All things you handle have a veil drawn round them, that draws them towards yourself, brings them to your dream land, your wonderful land of discovered Truth.”

Between the time of their meeting and their marriage in April 1914, Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear conducted a rather irregular and often epistolary courtship, since Pound, ever restless, traveled frequently from London to the Continent, and he once returned—for an eight-month stretch—to the United States. The Pounds remained married until Ezra’s death in November 1972. But during that time. Pound’s increasing self-absorption and contentiousness undoubtedly caused the quietly devoted Dorothy considerable pain. In the early 1920’s, for example. Pound openly entered into what would prove to be a lifelong affair with Olga Rudge, a young and attractive violinist. In 1925 Miss Rudge gave birth to Pound’s daughter, Mary—several months before Dorothy bore Pound a son, Omar.

As Omar Pound and Walton Litz suggest, the letters that Ezra and Dorothy sent each other between 1909 and 1914 have “all the appeal of any private correspondence between two intelligent people who have not yet entered what Henry James called ‘the country of the general lost freshness.'” Readers may also sense “a bittersweet quality which comes from our knowledge of what was to follow”: Pound’s “increasing isolation and obsessions of the 1920s and 1930s”; his grotesque wartime broadcasts; his postwar imprisonment in a Washington, DC, hospital for the mentally unbalanced and the criminally insane; his final “penitential silence.”

Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear contains 235 items, including early entries from Dorothy’s notebook and letters that Pound exchanged with Dorothy’s father, a practical and judicious man who obviously did not greatly relish the idea of his only child becoming the wife of a brash, self-employed poet who favored green felt trousers and hand-painted ties. This volume tells us much about the attitudes and customs that prevailed among Britain’s bohemians and its bourgeoisie in the post-Victorian era. It is also of considerable literary importance, since most of the more than 200 letters that Pound and Dorothy exchanged before marriage have not been previously published. In many of these letters. Pound discusses the works and the activities of a wide variety of his contemporaries, including Yeats, Wyndham Lewis, and Richard Aldington. The range of these discussions will make this collection of interest not only to Pound scholars, but also to all readers who seek to understand more clearly the intellectual and aesthetic milieu in which modern American and British literature began to take shape.



[Ezra Pound and Dorothy Shakespear: Their Letters: 1909-1914; Edited by Omar Pound and A. Walton Litz; New York: New Directions]