I went on a walking tour of the West Campus of St. Elizabeths (intentional no apostrophe) in Washington, D.C.

This is a historic asylum.  On the East Campus, there is an active mental hospital housing John Hinckley.  The West Campus is owned by the federal government and is being developed as the headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security, including the Coast Guard.  I know there is a telegraph pole obstructing the view of the building.  I couldn’t move or move it.

It turns out that one of the most famous prior residents was Ezra Pound who spent 12 years here.  This is the window to his room.

Of course, it wouldn’t have been boarded up.

The superintendent liked him, protected him from the criminal justice system, and by all accounts neither man was keen for him to be released.  He wrote a lot of poems while he was at St. Es.

He was of course a fascist and friend of T.S. Eliot.

The campus is lovely and one can imagine living a peaceful life there.  Back in the day, they grew food for the residents.  It has a great view south-west over the Potomac, yes that’s National Airport, and north-west to downtown D.C.

And now a pair of bald eagles have returned to a nearby location.  Let’s hope everyone finds a little respite at St. Es.


9 responses to “Impounded”

  1. lane says:

    wow i love the ezra pound window! so strange…

  2. SG says:

    It makes perfect sense that a fascist would find comfort in the regimented and secure life of a mental institution. If you all haven’t read The Conformist, I highly recommend it. That is, if you’re interesting in reading about what makes the fascist Italian mind tick.

    Thanks for today’s field trip.

  3. Tim says:

    Legend has it that several of the attendants at St. Es (no apostrophe) asked ol’ Ez to ghost write poetry for their lady loves. I love the idea that somewhere in the greater DC area there are original Pound poems kicking around in scrapbooks and file folders.

    Thanks for the photos! I love how nature reclaims that which we human beings neglect for long enough. It gives me heart to think that maybe we haven’t screwed up the planet permanently.

  4. swells says:

    I fantasize about this place all the time whenever I think about Pound. Because he was also kept outdoors in a cage for a while in Italy, I often imagine St E’s (apostrophe to denote truncation/contraction) as more brutal than this looks. Also, I believe William Carlos Williams wrote the first line of “Spring and All” about coming to visit EP here: “On the road to the contagious hospital” (a line that has always puzzled me literally, since “madness” is not contagious, but it works so well figuratively). I”m so grateful to you for putting a face to this legendary place in my mind.

  5. swells says:

    I just remembered Elizabeth Bishop also wrote about visiting Pound here in a sad, bleak nursery rhyme:

    (I always think I’m inventing my memory of that poem just because her name is Elizabeth, but I’m not).

    Apparently he had a lot of visitors among the literati, and a romantically poetic enough situation to really capture the imagination and fuel the muses . . .

  6. J-Man says:

    Is that window really boarded up, or is that how it was – not really a window at all, but just a vent?

    Swells – that poem is amazing.

  7. Tim says:

    Swells, thanks for the contracting apostrophe. Writing “St. Es” didn’t look right, but I couldn’t tell why.

    Thanks, too, for that amazing Bishop poem. Holy wow!

    P.S. I just got the pun in your title, Stella. Took me long enough.

  8. Stella says:

    Why I love TGW: I go on random field trip and swells and Tim can tell us everything about Pound – indeed swells has fantasized about said asylum and can creep us out with freaky bedlam poem. xxx

  9. swells says:

    I hope I didn’t hijack your post but it really excited me. In fact, a few hours later I remembered that in grad school we had to do a practice research grant proposal (you know, to prepare me for all those scholarly research trips I’d be taking in my prestigious career at the community college), and we had to make up a fake research project to apply for funds. Other people in my class (who probably did go on to become research scholars as a result) made up proposals that were actually based on reality, but I applied for funds to go to St Elizabeths to study “the barred cell by the road to the contagious hospital in which Pound was confined for his last years. The cell, which contains cryptic etchings in the walls rumored to contain emendations and notes to the poet’s work, has been retired and preserved for scholarly examination such as my own. I will also interview the physician who attended Pound, Dr. H. Mauberley (then a young intern), regarding Pound’s extensive but largely incomprehensible discussions from the period . . . ” Oh, it goes on. I totally forgot about this project until today, but suffice it to say that St Elizabeths has captured my imagination for a long long time. I am so excited to see these photos.