Four Poems from “Guide to Torment”

by Eliot Cardinaux

These poems were written as part of my early chapbook, Guide to Torment. Inspired by the memoir End to Torment, which H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), the Imagist poet, wrote about her friend, one-time lover, and fellow poet Ezra Pound, this series deals with the problem of latent (at the time when I wrote it; winter 2014-15), and sadly, the rise of fascism in the United States. H.D. wrote the memoir around the time Pound was released from hospital care at St. Elizabeth’s in Washington, D.C., where he was held for insanity. Pound’s institutionalization followed his 1945 arrest for treason by American forces in Italy, where he had moved in 1924. Throughout the 1930s and 40s, he had expressed support for Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, and other fascist leaders while publically criticizing the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jewish bankers, the arms industry, and World War I, which he attributed to unethical banking and global capitalism (Sieburth xi-xii). After his arrest, he spent months jailed in a Pisan U.S. military camp, which he said triggered a mental breakdown (Sieburth xiii). Subsequently declared unfit to stand trial, he was hospitalized for twelve years at St. Elizabeth’s (Sieburth xxxvii).

Pound and H.D. were lovers in their teens; her memoir uses their relationship as a reference point for her process of understanding what had become of her friend. It delves into her grief at his leaving her when she was eighteen, her confusion, and her burying of many memories pertaining to their affair. She was helped by a psychoanalyst named Erich Heydt, who pushed her to elucidate some of these memories locked away, in Freudian terms, in her subconscious. Heydt and others around her encouraged her to record her experience during the time of Pound’s hospitalization.

My poems address themes raised in the book such as lunacy (“The Loon”), power (“Rome”), grief (“She-wolf”), and the origin myth of Rome (“Rome,” “She-wolf,” “I lie, like Hilda”), a city where Pound spent much of his time in Italy. H.D. makes a guess in her memoir that Pound may have seen in himself the mythical figure of Romulus, the co-founder of Rome who killed his brother Remus after a dispute over where to build the city. Romulus and Remus, as the myth goes, were abandoned as children and raised by wolves. My poem “I lie, like Hilda,” explores specifically what I imagine to have been Pound’s “leap” into insanity, leaving his dignity behind in favor of his opinions, or if you can call them that, convictions.

The poem “She-wolf” was performed in February 2015 at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall during a resetting of Hildegard von Bingen’s morality play The Order of the Virtues. It appeared in the program at the point when the character of Anima, the suffering soul, invokes the virtues to come to her aid. Hildegard von Bingen was a 12th-century composer, writer, and activist who began her life as a nun and went on to lead a very influential life inside and outside of the church. The piece was performed in a quartet setting, featuring NEC students Priya Carlberg (voice), Hugo Abraham (bass), Mario Fabrizio (drums), and the author on piano.

These poems were originally published by the NEC literary journal Hear, Here!, in 2015


Works Cited

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H.D. End to Torment: A Memoir of Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions, 1979.

Pound, Ezra. The Cantos of Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions, 1996.

Sieburth, Richard. Introduction to The Pisan Cantos. By Ezra Pound. 1948. New York: New Directions, 2003.

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A lady asks me

I lie, like Hilda

Rome

The Loon

She-wolf

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