Basil Bunting saw Pound's Cantos as the Alps — 'you will have to go a long way round / if you want to avoid them' (Bunting, 1968, p. 110). To continue his metaphor, The Pisan Cantos might be seen as the Mont Blanc range, possibly more accessible than the rest, but immense in themselves and rising to a majestic summit. There is no way my 6,000 words can contain them, unless by turning the telescope round I can show them in miniature. However, that could mean losing the detail, and these cantos are nothing if not a composition of detail, 3,500 lines of detail upon detail. So somehow they must be entered into by way of the detail, taking a few for the many.
'What is there to say about them?', Bunting wondered, and began, where most of us must, 'They don't make sense'. Certainly they do not make sense in any accustomed way. Even Yeats, a great poet in his own manner and a close friend of Pound, had to confess that, like other readers, he could discover 'merely exquisite and grotesque fragments' (Yeats, 1936, p. xxiv). He went on, however, to give an invaluable lead into the difficult art of The Cantos by asking, though altogether sceptically, 'Can impressions that are in part visual, in part metrical, be related like the notes of a symphony?' Hard as it may be to read them in that way, nevertheless that does indicate the only way in which the flow of statements, observations, images and thoughts presented to us in The Pisan Cantos can be followed intelligently. They are, as canto (from the Italian cantare, to sing) signals, a music made of words.
The analogy with a symphony is a very loose one, and it would be better to think of Bach than of Beethoven in this connection. Further, a music made of words has very different possibilities and conditions as compared with a music of sound only. Its harmonic system will be based on the energies of words and images, and on the accords and torsions of their meanings and associations. Where it may differ from our customary way with words is in not observing the grammar, syntax and logic of rationalized expression. Things may relate to each other in other ways, as in the play of likeness and counterpointed difference in LXXIX:
Moon, cloud, tower, a patch of the battistero all of a whiteness, dirt pile as per the Del Cossa inset (79/498)
The next fifteen lines develop the theme or subject of whiteness and womankind; then the counter-subject of (male) 'shades' is developed, with a mixture of seriousness and humour, through a further eighteen lines. An extended ring-composed passage of counterpoint follows, beginning 'with 8 birds on a wire' — answered at the end by '4 birds on 3 wires, one bird on one' — and with its centre the explicit statement 'some minds take pleasure in counterpoint / pleasure in counterpoint'.
It has to be recognized that to perceive the musical relations between one thing and another in the apparently rather random flow demands not only an alert but an analytic attention. This is no mere flow of sense-impressions and mental associations as in a passive 'stream of consciousness'. The 'things' being presented are, characteristically, things that have been sorted out by an intelligence. 'All of a whiteness' is a simple instance. The connection is less obvious between
Guard's cap quattrocento passes a cavallo on horseback thru landscape Cosimo Tura or, as some think, Del Cossa and what castrum romanum, what
'went into winter quarters'
is under us?
as the young horse whinnies against the tubas
The full meaning of these and the other relations built up in that thirty-line passage has to do with 'contending for certain values', but one reaches towards this understanding only by way, first, of an intellectual perception of the nature of each thing in turn, and then by perceiving how they interact with each other. This calls for the critical intelligence to be exercised in a manner nearly the opposite to that now dominant in Anglophone and European culture. Our advanced intellectual practice subsumes details into generalizations and generalizations into theory; but the method of The Cantos is designed to escape generalization and theory while being intelligent about things in particular, and while arranging the perceptions of them into an order which will yield their full relations or harmonies. It is not an escape from intelligence, only from the tendency to abstraction. But minds trained to think in abstractions and to take their stand on theories may well feel overwhelmed when offered the plenitude of intelligently perceived particularity.
That plenitude is Pound's great resource throughout The Cantos, but most of all in The Pisan Cantos, and in a very long one such as LXXIV it is difficult at first to see
'the rose in the steel dust'. As with any sustained composition it helps to distinguish the various themes or thematic materials, and to make out the parts and divisions. The latter, it must be said, can generally be made out only on the basis of the former, since the breaks are rarely marked by a line space or even by a full-stop. The main divisions of LXXIV, for example, are: (1) ll. 1—243 ('surrounded by herds and by cohorts ...'); (2) ll. 244-487 ('of no fortune and with a name to come'); (3) ll. 488-566 ('all of which leads to the death-cells'); (4) ll. 567-811 ('searching every house . . .'); (5) ll. 812-28 (coda). It will be seen that parts 1, 2 and 4 are nearly identical in length, while part 3, on the theme of usury as against a just economy, is much shorter. There is nothing at all to mark off part 3 from part 2 or part 4 - except of course the shifts of thematic material.
The three principal themes of LXXIV, and of the entire Pisan sequence, are stated in the opening lines (ll. 1-52). First, 'The enormous tragedy' - a tragedy beyond the norms of tragedy - seems an end of the world without prospect of a rebirth. Yet Manes's doctrine of light could be found in twelfth-century Provence a millennium after his death; and the myth of Dionysus figures the self-renewals of nature. The dream of a just republic which Pound hoped Mussolini might realize has ended inglo-riously, yet he remains defiantly committed to the idea of building the visionary city, modelled upon the mandate of heaven, where the peasant's dream of abundance and justice will be fulfilled. Those first ten lines give the motive, the driving intention, of the entire sequence: to build in the music of words 'the city of Dioce whose terraces are the colour of stars'.
The second passage (ll. 11-25), a response to the first, gives a basis for the continuing effort to achieve a right order, in setting against those tragic endings the endless process of nature. 'The suave eyes' might be a retort to the merciless eyes of 'Possum' Eliot's 'The Hollow Men' - they will recur through these cantos as the eyes of Kuanon the merciful and of other divinities of nature. Here they accord with sister moon, and with the rain and wind. The sun is implicit in '[his] great periplum brings in the stars to our shore' - the stars mirrored in Dioce's terraces. Lucifer too is a light-bearer, though an exceeder of limits, as was Dante's Ulysses in venturing beyond the known world. Are these discords, as they contrast with the faithful adherence of Confucius's disciples to the way, sympathetic or warning? The poet resolves them by identifying himself with Homer's canny Odysseus when he escaped the one-eyed Cyclops (and a tragic end) by giving the name of his family as Ou Tis, Noman. In LXXXI, under the spell of divine eyes, he will write 'It is not man / Made courage, or made order, or made grace . . . Learn of the green world what can be thy place' (81/535). The just city or paradiso terrestre is not a solely human creation.
But humanity has its place and its part to play in the universal process - 'man, earth: two halves of the tally' (82/540). This is the third theme, introduced through ll. 26-52. The human contribution is enlightened intelligence. It can produce in the works of men of unusual genius - artists or the framers of the Constitution of the United States - the precise definitions of the nature of things which shape right action and so build a just society. But the unenlightened go against nature, seeking to exploit its abundance for private profit, as by usurious loans to Indian farmers. A key idea here is that of measure, the gold standard being a false measure as against the true measure of need. There is also the implication, to be developed in the course of these cantos, that usury causes wars (which destroy works of art) and puts the Constitution in jeopardy. It will emerge that for Pound the real war, the perennial war underlying the particular one which has just come to its end, is the war between the greedy and the enlightened. In this war his weapon is his art, an art dedicated to constructing in words a world true to nature, even 'from the death cells in sight of Mt. Taishan @ Pisa'.
How Pound came to be in a prison camp, and how this part of The Cantos came to be written there, is deeply, tragically, ironic, for he had become the victim of his (not always precisely conceived) effort to save the world from usury. In the decade before the outbreak of the 1939—45 war he had been fighting his own war on two fronts, in prose propaganda intended to have immediate political effect, and in his poem designed to create a new mindset by the very different and rather slower process of art. By 1939 he had brought the poem to the point where he was ready 'to write paradise', that is, to write the governing ideas of the just society. The war, however, meant to him that the usurers were creating hell and that he must devote himself to direct action against them. His propaganda against usury had always been directed against the financial systems of France, England and the United States of America, and especially against the USA, his own country which in his judgement was failing, by its complicity in usurious banking practices, to honour a fundamental principle of its Constitution. At the same time he placed his hopes for the realization of Jeffersonian principles of social justice in Mussolini and his Fascist regime in Italy (where he had been resident since 1924). Moreover, he thought Hitler had the right idea about money, and that his anti-semitism was a justifiable strategy in the war on usury. To support the Hitler—Mussolini Axis against France, Great Britain and their Allies was therefore a straightforward course for him to take when the war broke out in Europe in 1939. He broadcast talks over Rome Radio as a way of continuing his propaganda war against usury, telling the Allies that they were fighting on the wrong side, and urging the USA not to get involved. When America was drawn into the war on the side of the Allies he stridently denounced its leaders, maintaining that they were betraying the Constitution which he as a true Jeffersonian democrat was trying to defend. From the American point of view of course his broadcasts were seen as giving aid and comfort to the enemy, and he was indicted as a traitor. Thus shortly after the war ended in 1945 he found himself held in a US Army prison camp near Pisa while the FBI gathered evidence to bring him to trial. He was facing a death sentence for having attempted, as he was convinced in his own mind, to save America from its real enemy.
The camp, set up on the bare plain within sight of Pisa, was the 6677th DTC, or Detention Training Center. High barbed-wire fences, army huts, tents, wire cages on death row; a bare, dusty drill-field where the ordinary prisoners — US soldiers, many of them Afro-American, condemned for civil crimes by military courts — underwent an extreme course of basic military (re)training. Pound was not an ordinary prisoner. Admitted on 24 May 1945, he was initially treated as high risk and kept in a specially reinforced wire cage on death row: concrete floor, flat roofcover, wire and metal landing-strip on all four sides leaving him exposed to rain, wind, sun, dust. The order was given that no one should speak to him. After three or four weeks it was recognized that he was not in fact dangerous and that his physical and mental health was being stressed unnecessarily, and he was transferred to a tent in the medical compound. He composed The Pisan Cantos there, ten of them, LXXIV to LXXXIII, in the two months between mid-July and mid-September, adding LXXXIV as coda in October. He was taken from the camp to be flown to Washington DC for trial on 16 November 1945. Perceived by the US authorities as a traitor, he still saw himself as a loyal defender of the Constitution.
It was his American publisher, James Laughlin, who fixed the title The Pisan Cantos upon cantos LXXIV—LXXXIV. Pound himself had wanted their title to be just those numbers, in line with the titling of the previous volumes, though he was prepared to accept 'The Pisan Cantos' as a subtitle. Laughlin, as a good publisher, was emphasizing what set this group of cantos apart from the rest; while Pound wanted them to be seen as a continuation of the still-growing work. The difference goes deeper. Laughlin's title has directed attention upon Pound's personal tragedy, upon the prisoner paying for his mistakes. It encourages a reading of these cantos as elegiac and lyrical. But Pound had refused the role of tragic victim and had elected to be of the family of Ou Tis, Noman, and to turn his intelligence not upon his merely personal feelings but upon the state of the world. By a reversal of the tragic irony of his indictment and imprisonment for his propaganda, the US Army DTC proved to be a perfectly suitable place for him to continue his effort as an epic poet. As Mephistopheles could say of Faustus's world, 'This is hell, nor am I out of it', Pound might have said of the Pisan prison camp, 'This is the world as it really is, nor am I out of it'.
Though he was a prisoner, Pound's mind was free. Though in the hands of the US authorities, whom he saw as the servants not of the public good but of its enemy Usura, and surrounded by US Army guards and prisoners in a hell of usury's making, he could yet look out to a small mountain near Pisa and think of it as Taishan, a sacred mountain in China. Or knowing that some of those alongside him in the death cells were to be hung, he could think of the words Villon had imagined for himself and his fellow thieves when on the gallows, 'Absoudre . . .', absolve us all — words he had set to haunting music in his early opera, Le Testament. He could overhear Mr K.'s 'If we weren't dumb, we wouldn't be here', rhyme it with his own comment, 'the voiceless with bumm drum and banners', and notice in passing 'Butterflies, mint and Lesbia's sparrows'. By the end of LXXVI the dumb prisoners will have become poor devils, 'po'eri di'aoli sent to the slaughter / [slave against slave] / to the sound of the bumm drum, to eat remnants / for a usurer's holiday' (76/477). Against that, butterflies, mint and other herbs, and birds and other creatures will become figures of the sustaining process of nature, as will 'Mt Taishan' with its clouds.
The phrase from Villon would be (in translation) in the 'R.C. chaplain's field book' to be said after confession (compare 74/440), and that appears to be followed shortly by the chaplain's performing a Mass (seen in his vestments as 'the great scarab is bowed at the altar'). Later, at the end of the first part of LXXIV, is a phrase said at the close of the Mass, 'Est consummatum, Ite' (74/446), to suggest that through the preceding 240 or so lines Pound has been composing his own service in counterpoint to the priest's confession and communion. Pound's rite is extravagantly oecumenical, bringing together 'a lizard upheld me' — 'Mt Taishan' — Kuanon of the merciful eyes — Catholic saints invoked at the start of the Mass — the Egyptian sacred scarab symbolizing rebirth and the sun — Chinese emperors and their wives performing the rites to connect heaven and earth to ensure abundance — and uniting them all Scotus Erigena's 'OMNIA, / all things that are are lights' (74/442—3). Pound's revelation, his 'paraclete or the verbum perfectum', is the light that is in all things and that makes them what they are. Against this light is the 'thickness and fatness' which makes war for 'the profits of usurers', thus leading to the death cells and 'slaves learning slavery / and the dull driven back toward the jungle' (74/445—6). And the poet is down among these victims of Usura even as he affirms what is 'in the mind indestructible'.
But not everything in the mind is of permanent value. There are memories of past experiences which preserve only what has passed away, and which bring backward-looking feelings of sadness and loss. The elegiac note was sounded briefly in the twelve lines before 'A lizard upheld me', beginning 'el triste pensier si volge / ad Ussel' (74/442). It comes again at the beginning of the second part, most fully in 'Lordly men are to earth o'ergiven', and again in 'on sont les heurs of that year' (74/446—70). This will become a major concern, especially in LXXVI and LXXX, as what is merely of its era is winnowed out from what will endure indestructibly. Here in LXXIV there is a turn from elegy to actuality at 'and they have bitched the Adelphi / niggers scaling the obstacle fence'; and then a return to the permanent in some of its various forms and intimations in the long passage beginning at 'Cloud over mountain' and going down to 'rain, Ussel' (74/448-50).
The main episode of this second part, from 'To the left of la bella Torre' to its end at 'of no fortune and with a name to come' (74/450-3), is a descent into his actual hell in the form of a variation upon the dark night of the soul. The variation amounts to a radical revision of what that phrase would mean in the context of John of the Cross or 'Possum' Eliot. In their accounts the soul experiences desolation and despair while feeling itself separated from the divine light, and must learn to accept this as a preparation for its union with God: 'So the darkness shall be the light', as Eliot put it in East Coker. Pound puns and mocks his way out of that:
is it blacker? was it blacker? NvX animae?
is there a blacker or was it merely San Juan with a belly ache writing ad posteros in short shall we look for a deeper or is this the bottom?
Earlier he has termed his own experience 'magna NUX animae', not a dark night of the soul but the great nut of the soul, a phrase which Terrell helpfully associates with 'the great acorn of light' (116/809). (Recent editions of The Cantos mistakenly print 'NOX' for 'NUX'.) The implication would be that the light is in the soul or mind itself, as its 'intelligence' is within the acorn. In the same way 'paradise' or union with the divine exists in the enlightened mind, not as 'a painted paradise at the end of it' but 'in fragments . . . the smell of mint, for example'. It is always open to the mind that can perceive it, 'in the dwarf morning-glory [that] twines round the grass blade', in 'filial, fraternal affection' - a Confucian principle - and also where there is 'no vestige save in the air . . . under the olives / saeculorum Athenae', and in 'the sharp song with sun under its radiance'. There is no hint of the poet's despairing of this paradise.
He sees himself among the prisoners as among slaves packed between decks in a slave-ship, or as Odysseus's men changed by Circe's spell into swine. But, like Odysseus aided by Hermes - or like Tiresias enlightened by Persephone in hell - he still has 'his mind entire' (47/236) and so is proof against the blind lust which makes men enslavers of others, or thieves or rapists, or bankers 'robbing the public for private individual's gain'. Yet the poison of greed flows 'in all the veins of the commonweal / if on high, will flow downward all thru them'. And here, at the exact mid-point of the canto, is a hint of a desperate doubt: 'if on the forge at Predappio?' Mussolini was born at Predappio, son of a blacksmith - was even he infected at birth with the poison? (And was the whole Fascist experiment therefore infected?) The response is an invocation of Allen Upward, an enlightened intelligence driven to suicide by the prevailing lack of comprehension in his own Circe's swine-sty, in spite of having as his seal Sitalkas, 'a precise definition' of the divine power in the grain, to be his Hermes or Persephone. Is Pound to despair as he did, to 'destroy himself ere others destroy him' (74/444)? 'For praise of intaglios' and what follows shows him moving from Upward's black mood back to the light of humaneness, of 'la Luna', of the flash of Athene's eyes 'as the [olive] leaf turns in the air' - Upward had seen that in her epithet ylaUKCOPIV - and of 'the sharp song with sun under its radiance'. His power to resist is the power of intelligence, specifically the intelligence which perceives and defines things with precision.
That theme is developed in the fourth part, following the eighty-line summary of Pound's economic thought (74/453-5). There are three main sections: (a) 'each in the name of its god' to 'as the green blade under Apeliota' (ll. 567-644, 74/455-8); (b) 'Time is not, Time is the evil, beloved' to 'to forge Achaia' (ll. 645-745,
74/458—61); (c) 'and as for playing chequers' to 'searching every house' (ll. 746—811, 74/461—2). The vision that has virtu, the force of divine light, must be 'born from a sufficient phalanx of particulars', but 'not to a schema', rather 'as grass under Zephyrus'. Here, out of a specific phalanx of particulars, he summons up first Kore/Persephone 'under Taishan'; then the 'XAPITES', the Graces who accompany Venus, 'in the soft air . . . as of Kuanon'; then the spirit of love herself, along with others including the particular beloved who said 'Io son la Luna' (cf. 74/452). It is perhaps she who is seen 'against the half-light of the window' at the start of the next section as a cameo or 'profile "to carve Achaia" ' — an image to inspire a civilization. Pound's poetic persona of 1919/20, Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, had been an artist in profile only, 'lacking the skill / To forge Achaia'. The 'beauty is difficult' passage which follows (ll. 654—724) might be a descent into Mauberley's milieu, among more or less ineffectual lovers of beauty for whom the air does not come alive with the light of the beloved ('fa di clarita l'aer tremare'). Beauty is difficult, but it exists, and this section concludes with a twenty-one line passage which moves swiftly to restate the theme of a precise definition transmitted in works of art, mosaics or medallions, 'to forge Achaia'. This is what drives the poet, 'that certain images be formed in the mind . . . to remain there, resurgent EIKONES'. And it is by this that he comes forth 'out of hell, the pit / out of the dust and glare evil'.
LXXIV is the overture to The Pisan Cantos. In it the main thematic materials have been sorted out into what the Confucian Great Digest terms their 'organic categories', that is, according to their values for right living. At the same time the main form for the full development of the materials has been established. The rest of these notes will trace the outlines of their form through LXXV-LXXXIV.
LXXV presents the score of Gerhart Munch's 1933 transcription for Olga Rudge's solo violin of Francesco da Milano's sixteenth-century setting for lute of Clement Janequin's chorus for several voices imitating the songs of many birds. Terrell's notes remind us that for Pound this was an instance of a formative conception, a 'rose in the steel dust', taking 'a third life in our time' (Terrell, 1984, p. 389). More than that, it is an instance of human intelligence attending to nature, and of a series of refinements in the accurate registration of nature in human art. The canto stands then as a purely musical statement of what Pound is attempting.
The following eight cantos subdivide into two groups, each of four cantos: LXXVI-LXXIX and LXXX-LXXXIII. In the first group the emphasis is upon nature, or upon human living in its natural setting; in the second group the emphasis is rather upon the contribution to nature of what the human intelligence makes of it in art. The first group culminates in a hymn to Dionysus as lynx; the second culminates in Pound's observing a wasp building a nest in his tent and making a ritual ode of it, and in a celebration of Yeats composing 'The Peacock' in 1914:
What's riches to him
That has made a great peacock
With the pride of his eye?
These of course are very broad and simplified indications. It is not to be forgotten that the life and music of the cantos is all in the detailed working out and continuous interweaving of their thematic materials.
Much of the thematic material of LXXVI is carried over from LXXIV, though with significant variations. The dominant location is now Sant' Ambrogio above Rapallo, Pound's beloved landscape associated with Olga Rudge and affording intimations and visions of a paradise on earth. The DTC is still present but rather in the background, and the usura theme is repeated but not much developed. 'Nothing matters but the quality / of the affection — / in the end — that has carved the trace in the mind' (76/471). Yet while the visionary presence of loving spirits may comfort and restore, the end of the canto recognizes that usura and all its works remain to be confronted.
LXXVII is concerned with government, with the process or natural law of things, and with the art of precise definition necessary to keep the former in accord with the latter. Precise definition comes in many forms, notably the variety of ways of perceiving breasts, from Eliot's Grishkin and 'Gaudier's eye on the telluric mass of Miss Lowell' to the breasts of life-giving earth ('Tellus, yea'). In contrast there is the poverty and coarseness of the army vocabulary, as in its 'one phrase sexless that is / used as sort of pronoun / from a watchman's club to a vamp or fair lady'. A major motif is the recognition of the earth as life-giving (as against 'the mass graves at Katin'), from 'men rose out of cQoOvov' with the variant 'the forms of men rose out of yea', to the final naming of Zagreus, that is Dionysus conceived as the life-force within the earth.
The emphasis in LXXVIII is upon the perennial 'economic war', more particularly as it was waged in his own time in Italy between the forces of usury and Mussolini. The fall of the Fascist regime is recorded as Pound himself experienced it, when he left Rome on foot and made his way north to where his daughter was in the Tyrol. Mussolini's achievements — 'Put down the slave trade, made the desert to yield / and menaced the loan swine' — are seen as placing him with Sitalkas (and therefore also Zagreus) as a force for the abundance of nature, opposed to the usury that is contra naturam (45/230). Nevertheless he 'was hang'd dead by the heels before his thought in proposito / came into action efficiently'.
LXXIX is a composition of the mind of the poem towards efficient action. 'Can't move 'em with / a cold thing like economics' (78/495) — what then will move people to act in accord with nature? The answer might be 'Athene cd / have done with more sex appeal' (79/500). Invocations and visions of the powers of nature are what this canto offers, a religious rite based on Greek and Latin myth. This is prepared for by a summary treatment in counterpoint of the themes of the preceding cantos. Counterpoint demands discriminations of likeness and difference, of likeness in difference and difference in likeness. Here (as already indicated) the discriminations are at first aesthetic, then the aesthetic becomes the basis for ethical discriminations. In the fifty-line passage of ring-composed counterpoint from 'the imprint of the intaglio' to '2 cups for three altars. Tellus yea feconda' (79/500-1), there is an acceleration creating a vortex of discriminations, and calling for an answering quickness of mind in perceiving their interrelations. Closing the first part of the canto there are then five lines (down to 'in memoriam') affording a kind of resolution, or at least a rest. In the second part, the seventy lines from ' "Hell! . . ." ' to 'Kyrie eleison', counterpoint gives way to division, as what has 'root in the equities' is opposed to iniquities. Then follows the Lynx hymn proper, exactly a hundred lines long. In this fashion, as culmination of the first half of The Pisan Cantos, the inspiration of right living is affirmed to be in the (divine) abundance of nature.
The second group of four cantos builds on that. There are indications of the governing concerns in the opening lines of LXXX: 'our rising 98^1^' — a phrase John Adams might have used, meaning the making of an American civilization based on natural law and approved custom — as against 'the end of an era', signifying whatever is merely of its time and fated to pass away with it; and between the possible Themis and the actual passings away comes the affirmation 'Amo ergo sum, and in just that proportion', an anticipation of 'What thou lovest well remains / the rest is dross / What thou lov'st well shall not be reft from thee' (81/535). LXXX deals mainly with things merely of their era, its keynote being 'Les moeurs passent et la douleur reste' — a way of life disappears, the regrets remain. Pound's England provides most of the material typifying a lack of staying power due, as previously indicated in the 'Beauty is difficult' passage of LXXIV, to a failure of vision and volition - to the absence from English life of the 'Zagreus' principle. Pound was saved from it, and is saved again now, by 'the eternal moods' and their records in myth, paintings - and the poems in The Pocket Book of Verse left on the seat in the camp latrine. (There are echoes from that anthology at the end of LXXX and in LXXXI.) The final section, from 'Oh to be in England now that Winston's out', is a finely wrought homage and farewell, much as Hugh Selwyn Mauberley had been, to a gone England unable 'to forge Achaia'. That condition is what Pound needed to make his escape from, as an intelligence, rather than from the DTC.
'To have gathered from the air a live tradition' is the key phrase in LXXXI. After the opening chord (three lines) there is a ninety-line 'phalanx of particulars' rounding out a concept of tradition; then an eighty-line passage of intensifying lyric writing gathering from the tradition and from the air a live vision of the spirit of what he has loved, and giving it voice. It is a merciless beauty, as in Chaucer's poem or like Artemis in canto XXX, demanding a love purged of vanity, of 'mean . . . hates / Fostered in falsity' and of the urge to destroy. (Here the propagandist is subdued to the poetic vision.) At the same time, 'error is all in the not done, / all in the diffidence that faltered'.
That too-often anthologized passage of traditional lyric does not stand in isolation from what precedes and what follows it, nor is it the climax or summit of the sequence.
'Swinburne my only miss', in LXXXII, picks up from 'faltered . . .', and begins a sixty-three line passage giving further details of what Pound had to get through in London, concluding with an affirmation of Ford's 'humanitas'. The ideogram 'jen' alongside 'humanitas' was interpreted by Pound as representing man in touch with both earth and sky, that is holding together the light of intelligence and the fecundity of the biosphere. The second half of the canto (again sixty-three lines) celebrates a ritual marriage of man and earth, taking leads from Whitman's 'Out Of The Cradle Endlessly Rocking', from Kipling's Kim, and from Aeschylus's Clytemnaestra. This is to put into practice the wisdom of 'learn of the green world what can be thy place', and to follow the example of 'Zeus lies in Ceres' bosom' (81/531).
The true climax of the Pisan sequence is LXXXIII. Here a full humanity and a just social order are first conceived in terms of combinations of light and water in air and in art. 'Mermaids, that carving' is a fine grace note. The music is everywhere connecting and integrating perceptions of natural energies and human ideas, as if to prove that 'Le Paradis n'est pas artificiel'. So 'The roots go down to the river's edge / and the hidden city moves upward'; and (this is out of Mencius) the sun's breath 'nourishes by its rectitude'; or again, 'that he eat of the barley corn / and move with the seed's breath'. There is a new lightness and aerial fluidity in the writing - to the reader's eye the words float in the white spaces of the page - and an evident impulse to form lyric strophes. Moreover, in several places 'the virtue hilaritas' is manifest. There is no mention of usury, and while his 'month in the death cells' is not forgotten, still he sees even the world of the camp with the eyes of his spirits of love. Just now his divinity is upon him, not merely wished for in the phantasms of classical myth. At the same time his mood is as much Confucian as Eleusinian. Thus 'the humane man has amity with the hills'; and it is a real infant wasp descending to earth from the mud nest on his tent roof 'that shall sing in the bower' of Persephone. Again, there is a down-to-earth, lived humanity in his recollection of Yeats composing his 'great Peeeeacock'. The entire canto is a celebration of 'humanitas', of man as the live intelligence of the cosmos.
The work of The Pisan Cantos, it now appears, has not been to recover 'Italia tradita' (74/444) or to save the Constitution, at least not immediately and directly. It has been rather to reconstitute the poet's own mind, to bring it out of chaos into enlightenment, and so to fit it for a renewed effort to realize in whatever way he can the natural order of things. The final canto, LXXXIV - in three sections, each of exactly forty lines - re-enters the problematic realm of action, with the USA now in the foreground. An instance of how problematic this can be is the associating of Mussolini and Pierre Laval and Vidkun Quisling, the last two leading collaborators with the Nazi invaders of their countries, with 'men full of humanitas (manhood)' (84/553). The bracketed addition indicates in this context a failure to maintain 'distinctions in clarity' and a politicizing and coarsening of language characteristic of Pound in his wartime propaganda. This is disconcerting - as it is disconcerting to look into a galaxy and come upon a black hole amid its great spiral of stars. How they can coexist is beyond our comprehension, and nonetheless they do somehow coexist.
Bunting, Basil (1968). Collected Poems. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cookson, William (1985). A Guide to The Cantos of Ezra Pound. London: Croom Helm. New enlarged edition in preparation.
Davis, Kay (1984). Fugue and Fresco: Structures in Pound's Cantos. Orono, ME: National Poetry Foundation.
De Rachewiltz, Mary (1971). Discretions. London: Faber & Faber.
Eliot, T. S. (1963). Collected Poems 1909-1962. London: Faber & Faber.
Furia, Philip (1984). Pound's Cantos Declassified. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Kearns, George (1980). Guide to Ezra Pound's 'Selected Cantos'. Folkestone: Dawson.
Kearns, George (1989). Ezra Pound: The Cantos. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kenner, Hugh (1951). The Poetry of Ezra Pound. Norfolk. CT: New Directions.
Kenner, Hugh (1972). The Pound Era. London: Faber & Faber.
Makin, Peter (1985). Pound's Cantos. London: George Allen & Unwin.
Marsh, Alec (1998). Money and Modernity: Pound, Williams, and the Spirit of Jefferson. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
Pound, Ezra (1935). Jefferson and/or Mussolini: LIdea Statale — Fascism as I Have Seen It. London: Stanley Nott.
Pound, Ezra (1938). Guide to Kulchur. London: Faber & Faber.
Pound, Ezra (1951). Confucius: The Great Digest & The Unwobbling Pivot. New York: New Directions.
Pound, Ezra (1956). Confucian Analects. London: Peter Owen.
Pound, Ezra (1973). Selected Prose 1909-1965, ed. William Cookson. London: Faber & Faber.
Pound, Ezra (1978). 'Ezra Pound Speaking': Radio Speeches of World War II, ed. Leonard W. Doob. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Pound, Ezra (1987). The Cantos of Ezra Pound, 4th collected edn. London: Faber & Faber. [Note: 74/498 signifies canto 74, page 498 of this edition.]
Pound, Ezra (1990). Personae: The Shorter Poems of Ezra Pound, a revd edn, ed. Lea Baechler and A. Walton Litz. New York: New Directions.
Pound, Ezra (1991). Ezra Pound's Poetry and Prose Contributions to Periodicals, vols 5—8, ed. Lea Baechler, A. Walton Litz and James Longenbach. New York: Garland.
Pound, Ezra (1998). Ezra and Dorothy Pound: Letters in Captivity, 1945-1946, ed. Omar Pound and Robert Spoo. New York: Oxford University Press.
Rabaté, Jean-Michel (1986). Language, Sexuality and Ideology in Ezra Pound's 'Cantos'. London: Macmillan.
Redman, Tim (1991). Ezra Pound and Italian Fascism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Terrell, Carroll F. (1984). A Companion to the Cantos of Ezra Pound. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Yeats, W. B. (ed.) (1936). The Oxford Book of Modern Verse. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Yeats, W. B. (1983). The Poems, ed. Richard J. Finneran. London: Macmillan.
Was this article helpful?