AN APRIL EVENING, 1903. The gloaming of an era. High up in Philadelphia's Academy of Music, a handsome, olive-skinned medical student sits by himself, taking in the scene before him with dark, calmly observant eyes. Far below, on stage, a Chorus of 15 "captive maidens" sways in a circular dance, singing. It is the University's production of Iphigenia Among the Taurians, and every detail, from the maidens' gowns to the scenery, has been carefully interpreted from antiquity by the Department of Greek. The entire play is in Greek, for that matter, and while the program does contain an English-prose translation for hoi polloi, a reviewer would claim that "a more select and cultivated audience never crowded the Academy."
BEFORE THEY BEGAN reinventing poetry in earnest, long before they became famous and infamous, fixed in the public mind as the Saint and the Sinner of modern American verse, Williams and Pound were students and close friends at Penn. It was a tempest-tossed friendship that would last for 60 years, somehow surviving not just their divergent poetic worldviews but also their very different personalities -- not to mention Pound's later political ravings and ugly bouts of anti-Semitism, his trial for treason and 12-year confinement in St. Elizabeth's mental hospital. As friends, they fought and argued and called each other names. ("Dear Assen Poop," begins one letter from Williams. "You're too damned thickheaded to know you're asleep -- and have been from the beginning." Pound, for his part, would call Williams "stupider than a mud-duck" for his published attack of Pound's work.) "I could never take him as a steady diet," Williams wrote later. "He was often brilliant but an ass. But I never (so long as I kept away) got tired of him, or, for a fact, ceased to love him ..." The affection, and the respect, ran deeper than the rancor. And after them, poetry would never be the same.