Marshall Mateer

Rimbaud meets Ezra Pound

The thin man with Buffalo Bill style-moustaches and beard called for a drink; then he turned and joined the conversation, his American accent cutting sharply into the babble of the bar, as, like the rest, he talked of money and the cost of living; of the day’s weather (awful) ; the latest extension to the London underground (mostly above ground) and the murders in the newspapers (truly awful). He told a story about an old poet who died falling off a bar stool; some laughed along with him – one carefully adjusted his own precarious perch. People came and went through the early evening as the overhanging mist outside worked itself into a dense “London peculiar”. Warm, amber beer slid down glasses and warm amber light clung to the yellowing wallpaper. In the corner of the snug, by the coal fire a young man, with pudgy face and long hair, sat reading at a little round table. He drank wine; the dark bottle already two-thirds empty sitting beside his discarded pipe. He mouthed each of the words extravagantly : ‘whereabouts’; ‘forcible entry’; ‘too late for this issue’; hobbledehoy’ and again ‘hobbledehoy’ then ‘goody-goody’; ‘closet-sin’; and finally with a flourish ‘a romping girl…’

The clock above the bar struck seven and outside a peel of church bells followed in procession. The American turned from the bar and the young Frenchman eased himself away out of his corner awkwardly. The two met on the threshold of the door peering out at the fog and the huddled shadows passing under the gas-green burn of the street lamps. “Oh! this weather…winter, summer, autumn,…who would know? This fog is nothing short of murderous.” “Ah monsieur! But I like the fog – so metropolitan – one interminable season of hell,” said the Frenchman. “And where are you going now?” “I have some private business in Belgium…then home for a bit and onto Africa – Egypt maybe then on into the interior.” “And you?” “Oh, I don’t know, maybe Rappalo or Rome, and then Pisa. Yes, maybe Rome itself.”

They looked some more into the swirls of fog, pulled their coats tighter around them, then broke away. “See you at the library tomorrow then?” “Yes, in the library.”

When he first came to England in 1908, Ezra Pound roomed at 48, Langham Street, next door, just two steps across the alley from ‘The Yorkshire Grey’ pub. Forty years before in 1872, Arthur Rimbaud stayed for a short while, just over the road at 25, Langham Street.

Over 40 years separated their visits to London…but they shared the same bar and their paths crossed the same street and both spent their days in the British Museum where “heating, lighting, pens and ink were free”, as both sought to reclaim poetry for the streets. Rimbaud trawled classic English texts making up lists of interesting and strange words and idioms; Pound studied the troubadours and began making notes of Chinese ideograms. All this before Rimbaud gave up writing for a life of exploration and trading in ivory, arms and people, in Somalia and Ethiopia. He died of complications after the amputation of one of his legs, aged 37.

Pound left England and settled in Italy where, with a miserable twist of his ideas, he gave his voice to the fascist cause of Mussolini. At the end of the war Pound was arrested by the USA and spent twelve years in detention in Washington D.C. before being released and returning to Italy, where he died in 1972.

Article: This article copyright Marshall Mateer: Written 2008 and first published in Shapesoftime Flickr