Pound always set his sights high. Nothing but the best. When I was studying with him at his “Ezuversity” in Rapallo in 1935 he advised me not to waste time trying to write stories. Stendhal, Flaubert, James, Ford and Joyce, he told me, had done all that could be done with the novel. They had finished it off. Ne plus ultra. Reading with enjoyment, but not with admiration, his early story, “In the Water-Butt,” which has slumbered for seventy years in his files and now in the Pound Archive at Yale’s Beinecke Library, I see how right he was—at least in his own case. In an arch way the sketch has a certain charm but it hardly advances the art of fiction. Yet it does give insight into what “Ra,” as he was then called, was like when he was a graduate student in Romance Languages at Penn. He comes through as exuberant, cocky—and sophomoric. Still, there are flashes of better things to come. There are foreshadowings of certain kinds of humor which would turn up in the comic poems in Personae or in his autobiographical Indiscretions. And there are tones in the story which point toward the lingo of his fabulously funny letters.
The typescript at the Beinecke is not dated, but Pound’s bibliographer Donald Gallup deduces from the typing that “The Water-Butt” was written in 1907. There is no mention of it in Pound’s letters to his parents, to whom he usually reported what he was doing. This may confirm the year at Penn, when he was living at home in Wyncote, near Philadelphia. (Pound does speak later in the family letters of a novel which he destroyed.) There is nothing about “The Water-Butt” in Noel Stock’s 1970 biography nor in the extensive new research which Humphrey Carpenter has done for his forthcoming book on Pound. But in scanning Stock I came on a passage which could refer to it. Stock quotes from a letter Pound wrote to his friend L. Burton Hessler in 1907 in which he said, “ &hellip Am preparing a little booklet of satire that may amuse you slightly. It is a teeny weeny bit caustic in places but you won’t mind, and the world is so very ridiculous that one can scarcely help smiling now and then.” “Satire &hellip ridiculous &hellip smiling,” that might be “The Water-Butt.”
The title of the piece is from Browning, a line in his poem “Mesmerism,” one of the “dramatic romances.”