Olga can get him to eat; I can't
July 8, 2004 7:53 AM   Subscribe

Her name was Courage & is written Olga "Olga" (.pdf file in main link) is Olga Rudge, violinist, first promoter of the Vivaldi Renaissance, and longtime companion of the poet Ezra Pound. Pound maintained a complicated and delicate balance between the two most significant women in his life, Olga and his wife Dorothy Shakespear (who, among other things, was the daughter of Yeats's mistress). ‘‘Paris is where EP and OR met, and everything in my life happened,’’ Olga (listen to her voice here) said later of the chance encounter with Ezra at 20, rue Jacob, in the salon of Natalie Barney. They were together for fifty years, through the dark-night years of Pound's madness (arrested in 1945 for treason, deemed unable to stand trial and sent to an American mental institution, he once suggested to the UPI bureau chief in Rome that the United States trade Guam for some sound films of Japanese Noh plays, asked Truman many times to make him Ambadassor to Japan or Moscow; Guy Davenport reports dining with him one evening and all Ez said was "gnocchi"), until the poet's death in 1972. She lived on for another quarter century, turning up at conferences of Pound scholars --as far afield as Hailey, Idaho, Pound's birthplace, where she gave a lecture in the local movie theater. "Write about Pound", she told publishers who asked her to write her autobiography. (more inside, with Cantos)
posted by matteo (15 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
In 1966 Pound showed Laughlin what the "ending" for his Cantos was to be, the poem (now terminating the post-1979 New Directions and the 1987 Faber texts) dedicating The Cantos to Olga Rudge:

That her acts
Olga's acts
of beauty
be remembered.

Her name was Courage
& is written Olga

These lines are for the
ultimate CANTO
whatever I may write
in the interim.

(24 August 1966)

posted by matteo at 7:55 AM on July 8, 2004

brilliant post, as always, matteo.
posted by shoepal at 8:02 AM on July 8, 2004

"Olga? OLGA!"



*Olga thinks : better put on some Vivaldi with dinner. It usually helps to make him talk in whole sentences. Sigh.....not like the old days.....*
posted by troutfishing at 8:10 AM on July 8, 2004

Excellent post, matteo - am thoroughly enjoying the first link and have bookmarked to peruse the rest at leisure later. Thx!
posted by widdershins at 8:33 AM on July 8, 2004

Davenport also reports -

He ate vealburgers in Harry's Bar, and over his ice-cream was a good time to tease him out of his glaring silence. Miss Rudge knew the formulae.
"What was Mr. Joyce wont to break into?"
A smile, a long pause before speaking:
"My friend Mr. Joyce was wont to break into song."

posted by chymes at 8:59 AM on July 8, 2004

posted by matteo at 9:17 AM on July 8, 2004

Am I the only person who thinks there's something weird about a very accomplished woman who, when asked to tell her fascinating life story, says "Write about my male partner"--who has had thousands, if not millions, of words written about him already?!?!?!?

On the "fascinating couples of the early 20th century" front, I highly recommend the book Both, by Douglas Crase, an account of the life and relationship of botanists Rupert Barneby and H. Dwight Ripley.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:25 AM on July 8, 2004


Maybe it's just modesty with a large dose of love.
posted by john at 12:23 PM on July 8, 2004

Great post, matteo. I've only just started excavating its riches. (But I've excavated enough to wonder why "she gave a lecture" is linked to "Ezra Pound: His Metric and Poetry by T. S. Eliot.")

Sidhedevil: Not all women have the same ideas about identity and pride. Vera Nabokov had exactly the same attitude as Olga, and to this day we don't know much about her early life. You and I may not feel that's an ideal attitude, but I at any rate respect the decisions these strong, intelligent women made about their own priorities.
posted by languagehat at 1:46 PM on July 8, 2004

But a) Olga Rudge had a career separate from her relationship with Pound, unlike Vera Nabokov, and b) Pound is one of the most frequently written-about writers in English. It's not like people were neglecting Pound!

Languagehat, my point is that women of that generation were probably not encouraged to take pride in their own accomplishments. It's not like Rudge was saying "Write about Pound too"--she was saying "Write about Pound instead."

Why couldn't there be a book about Rudge as well as the kajillion books about Pound that already exist? It's not like they publish one book a year, and it had to be about either Rudge or Pound.

If you don't see why that makes me uncomfortable, I can't explain it any further. Modesty is great, but refusing to let other people learn from your experiences when they ask about them is kind of neurotic.

Anyone who belittles their own accomplishments and says, "Don't pay attention to me, pay attention to my partner instead" is not being supportive per se--they're being self-effacing. Rudge's accomplishments were in a completely different field, and her suggesting that Pound's accomplishments in writing somehow negated or trumped her accomplishments in music doesn't feel like a reasonable or healthy point of view to me.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:01 PM on July 8, 2004

And, languagehat, strong, intelligent women make all kinds of poor and self-injuring decisions under social pressure. Read Jehan el-Sadat's account of welcoming her childhood genital mutilation in A Woman of Egypt, for example.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:05 PM on July 8, 2004

Matteo - no shit, no exaggeration, this posting spurt of yours started out superb but still manages to get better and better. If I were a publisher, I'd be on to you like a hawk - imagine a series of 100-150 page monographs on the themes you've chosen. Or special editions of a literary magazine.

Congratulations and thanks!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 3:53 PM on July 8, 2004

re: Olga, unneccesarily self-effacing or just modest and loving? I think it's probably a matter of personal dignity. She was an accomplished, intelligent woman with a fascinating life, and I'm sure that she realized that the reason a biography was proposed was because of her relationship with Pound. No Pound, no interest, despite how worthy her own story might be. If all variables had been the same, but her lover had been an obscure poet, nobody would have come knocking on her door. I wouldn't want to have media attention in that way, either. I entirely understand her point of view.
posted by taz at 10:20 PM on July 8, 2004

sidhedevil, taz,

I think it's important to consider that we're not talking about the young adoring wife of a universally-admired, boring old pinstriped Catholic-convert banker-poet (ah, Valerie) who read his as-yet-unpublished new poems for the Windsors at Buckingham Palace -- I can perfectly understand Rudge's (excessive, yes, of course) caution. Pound's literary fame has grown immensely with time, but back then he was still the crazy Fascist who spent 12 humiliating years in the loony bin only to be bailed out by Robert Frost and couldn't even easily get his books royalties (true story).
even a swooning Pound fan like me has to concede that Rudge's most important work was trying to erase the Fascism/imprisonment shame from her husband's reputation. when you wash away "that stupid, suburban prejudice" (as in Ginsberg's interview) from Pound's legacy you're finally in the presence of -- literally -- "Homer's son". I cannot blame the woman who loved him the most for insisting on keeping the spotlight on the poetry. the poetry, the poetry, the poetry -- not the man, nor his wife.

Rudge's Idaho lecture is not online, but in passing she made the same point as Eliot's in the one I link (the one of many of course), ie Pound's fierce anti-Futurism and I quote the Old Possum:
"Pound has perhaps done more than anyone to keep Futurism out of England. His antagonism to this movement was the first which was not due merely to unintelligent dislike for anything new, and was due to his perception that Futurism was incompatible with any principles of form. In his own words, Futurism is "accelerated impressionism."
The age demanded an image / Of its accelerated grimace / Something for the modern stage / Not, at any rate, an Attic grace

*uncorks bottle of vinho verde*
posted by matteo at 5:38 PM on July 9, 2004

and anyway, the romantic in me cannot avoid to think that when somebody you've been incessantly giving love and compassion and tenderness for 50 years leaves you a parting gift like

That her acts
Olga's acts
of beauty
be remembered

well, sometimes I just doubt that you need to write a book about your life, after that. it's all in there already, her life -- her acts of beauty. and anyway there'll always be a smart biographer like Anne Conover to tell your story to the world
posted by matteo at 5:46 PM on July 9, 2004

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