Volume 73, Issue 1, Winter 2021
Modernism and the Turn Toward Religion
After Many Gods
T. S. Eliot and the Nagging Question of Ezra Pound’s Beliefs
In January 1928, The Dial published T. S. Eliot’s review of Personae: The Collected Poems of Ezra Pound (1926). Even as he acknowledges his indebtedness to his fellow American poet-critic, Eliot seems bewildered by Pound’s belief system, which in his estimation is a heady mix of mysticism, occultism, pseudoscience, and Confucianism. With a touch of exasperation, he ends the review by asking provocatively, “what does Mr. Pound believe?” Although he would never give an answer that Eliot would find satisfying, Pound would revisit the question time and again in his prose and poetry. In the process, he reveals more about his eccentric set of creeds than even Eliot might have bargained for. Striving to synthesize a range of philosophical and polytheistic traditions, Pound would cast off the Presbyterianism of his early youth. From the 1930s onward, his deepening affiliation with Italian Fascism and near-cultic devotion to Mussolini would add yet another layer to his spectrum of beliefs. With Eliot’s query in The Dial functioning as a recurring point of reference, this essay examines Pound’s religious beliefs as a shifting panoply of mythico-theological, aesthetic, and political ideas. The picture that emerges is as complex as it is difficult to pin down, blurring the boundaries of what constitutes “faith” itself.