ANOTHER APRIL EVENING, this time in 1906. Williams sits down in his dormitory room (he had moved from 303 Brooks to 318 Joseph Leidy Hall, overlooking the lily pond, as the bio pond was then called) to write his mother a letter about a recent visit to the Pound family home in Wyncote, just north of Philadelphia. Pound, by then, was a graduate student, having returned from two years at Hamilton College in upstate New York, to which he transferred in 1903.
After supper Pound and I went to his room where we had a long talk on subjects that I love yet have not time to study and which he is making a life work of. That is literature, and the drama and the classics, also a little philosophy. He, Pound, is a fine fellow; he is the essence of optimism and has a cast-iron faith that is something to admire. If he ever does get blue nobody knows it, so he is just the man for me. But not one person in a thousand likes him, and a great many people detest him and why? Because he is so darned full of conceits and affectation. He is really a brilliant talker and thinker but delights in making himself just exactly what he is not: a laughing boor. His friends must be all patience in order to find him out and even then you must not let him know it, for he will immediately put on some artificial mood and be really unbearable. It is too bad, for he loves to be liked, yet there is some quality in him which makes him too proud to try to please people. I am sure his only fault is an exaggeration of a trait that in itself is good and in every way admirable. He is afraid of being taken in if he trusts his really tender heart to mercies of a cruel crowd and so keeps it hidden and trusts no one ...
It's a remarkable portrait of one artist as a young man by another. If Pound comes across as a brilliant, tender-hearted, insecure poseur, well, that's probably what he was in those days. (He only really went off the deep end some 30 years later, and for what it's worth, he later told the poet Allen Ginsberg that his greatest regret was succumbing to that "stupid, suburban prejudice of anti-Semitism." Before that, he was known as an extraordinarily generous, if cantankerous, man -- a "sort of saint," in the words of Ernest Hemingway -- who helped further the careers and improve the work of everyone from T. S. Eliot to James Joyce to William Butler Yeats.)
"Williams was very careful in drawing conclusions," says Emily Wallace, "and he had been a friend of Pound's since 1902. So by the time he wrote that letter, he had had a lot of time to diagnose the patient."
Later, after several decades of diagnosis, Williams would write:
I was fascinated by the man. He was the livest, most intelligent and unexplainable thing I'd ever seen, and the most fun -- except for his often painful self-consciousness and his coughing laugh ... And he had, at bottom, an inexhaustible patience, an infinite depth of human imagination and sympathy. Vicious, catty at times, neglectful, if he trusted you not to mind, but warm and devoted ...
Pound's "early rekolektn" of Williams, he told him in a letter filled with his idiosyncratic spellings, "is you in a room on the South side of the triangle, and me sayin come on nowt, and you deciding on gawd an righteousness and the pursuit of labour in the form of Dr. Gumbo's treatise on the lesions of the bungbone, or some other therapeutic compilation."
"Before meeting Pound," recalled Williams many years later, "is like B.C. and A.D. I had already started to write and was putting down my immortal thoughts daily. Little poems, pretty bad poems ... He was not impressed. He was impressed with his own poetry; but then, I was impressed with my own poetry, too, so we got along all right."
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Copyright 1998 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 4/14/98