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The Bughouse by Daniel Swift review – Ezra Pound, antisemitic and in the asylum


Pound’s arraignment for treason and spell in a psychiatric hospital is a great subject, so why write such an annoying book?

“The only poetry,” Socrates argues in Plato’s The Republic, “that should be allowed in a state is hymns to the gods and paeans in praise of good men.” Ezra Pound’s The Cantos contains numerous hymns to the classical gods, and much praise of good men. The problem facing the United States (of which Pound always remained a citizen despite his many years in Europe) was that prominent among the good men praised in his sprawling modernist epic was the leader of a country on which the US had declared war: Mussolini.

Still, contrary to Plato, poets rarely present much of a threat to the governments of western democracies, and Pound would probably have evaded the attentions of the US authorities had he not delivered on Rome Radio at the height of the second world war a series of broadcasts that were openly treasonous. In these he savagely denounced Roosevelt and Churchill and commended Hitler for “having seen the Jew puke in the German democracy”.

It would have been awkward for the US to hang one of its best-known poets – the risk of a guilty verdict was high

This is is one of those ‘in search of’ biographical studies that dramatises every step of research

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