Middle And Late Cantos

The Cantos' discussion of culture also proceeds by comparison between present and past, but it does so in quite a different manner from Four

Quartets. In place of Eliot's intricate arguments, Pound presents 'whole slabs of the record', in the form of long passages copied out of history books and original historical documents, to bring to our attention high points of culture that mainstream histories have 'shelved, overclouded, and buried' (1970b: 30). This method is used most intensively in Cantos LII—LXXI (1940): the first half presents translated passages from a history of China from 3000 BC to the eighteenth century (Histoire Générale de la Chine (1777-85) by J.A.M. de Moyriac de Mailla) and the second half quotes at length from The Works of John Adams (1850-1856), which records the establishment of the American republic during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Pound suggests a continuity of civilization between Confucian China and the United States under Adams's guidance, before the cultural decline (in Pound's opinion) of the nineteenth century (1973: 147).

The China and Adams Cantos contain some of the densest material of the poem. Pound moves through his source material extremely swiftly, and the juxtaposition of names, abbreviated phrases, Chinese ideograms and foreign quotations is not easy to follow: even while we are invigorated by the welter of information, we are likely to become frustrated by the gaps in our understanding. But that is part of Pound's point: we should know these histories, and our difficulties make us aware of our ignorance of important elements of our past. For Pound, alerting readers to these little-known areas of history and highlighting their main lessons was more important than presenting a complete and accurate account, and this he achieved (1970b: 151, 231). The major points of these cantos are clear: the Chinese emperors he praises are those who improve their subjects' lives, both practically ('Chin Nong [. . .] made a plough that is used five thousand years' and 'held market at mid-day') and intellectually ('Ti Ko set his scholars to fitting words to their music') (1994: 262). The diaries and letters of John Adams reveal a personality with a similarly inclusive sense of cultural values, a leader in the struggle for American independence, who was also able to appreciate the importance of a 'fine bowling green and fine turtle, madeira', pleasures that make up a daily life worth living (1994: 364).

Pound had always intended The Cantos to mirror the design of Dante's Divine Comedy, depicting hell, purgatory and paradise, but it was only after a quarter of a century's work on the poem that he was ready to begin planning his Paradiso, his vision of an ideal world, his equivalent, in some senses, of Eliot's Four Quartets. 'My economic work is done (in the main)', he remarked in 1939, 'I shall have to go on condensing and restating, but am now definitely onto questions of BELIEF' (1971: 328). But Guide to Kulchur's chapter 'The Promised Land' records Pound's doubts about his ability to compose this final section: comparing his poem to Dante's, he writes that the Paradiso is 'undiscussable [. . .] any reach into it is almost a barrier to literary success'. While he asserts that a 'certain truth exists', he questions whether it can exist, or even be represented, outside the individual mind, and even then it is perhaps 'perceptible in our own minds only with proper "lighting", fitfully and by instants' (1970b: 292, 294-95).

Remarkably, it was the calamitous public and personal events of the Second World War that provided that 'lighting' needed to produce The Pisan Cantos LXXIV-LXXXIV (1948), Section: Rock-Drill De Los Cantares LXXXV-XCV (1955) and Thrones de los Cantares XCVI-CIX (1959), most of which Pound wrote during his incarceration, first at the Disciplinary Training Center of the US army in Pisa, and then in St Elizabeth's. Under these conditions, Pound initially had to abandon the compositional method of the China and Adams Cantos: in the training centre the only books available to him were the volume of Confucius and the Chinese dictionary he was carrying when arrested, and a small anthology of poetry he found (Carpenter 1988: 658, 667). Thrown back on the resources of his own memory, The Pisan Cantos are a work of culture in the specific sense defined in Guide to Kulchur: 'Knowledge is NOT culture. The domain of culture begins when one HAS "forgotten-what-book"' (1970b: 134). The fragmented memories of former friends, splinters of quotation from favourite works (including his own), and contemplation of the concrete details of daily life are as close to Dante's Paradiso as is possible for the modern mind:

Le Paradis n'est pas artificiel but spezzato apparently it exists only in fragments unexpected excellent sausage, the smell of mint, for example, Ladro the night cat,

While The Pisan Cantos contains some of Pound's most technically accomplished and highly praised poetry, its placing of the long-

anticipated paradise in the individual mind, rather than in the external world, draws attention to a major difficulty in the poem. The early cantos related history through a multitude of voices, deliberately resisting the use of a controlling authorial voice. But as Europe moved towards a second world war, and Pound became more convinced of his own solutions, his voice is heard in the poem increasingly insistently. By the time Pound published The Pisan Cantos, the authority of the poem, once dispersed across history, is firmly concentrated on the author, and the poem's successful conclusion now relies on the correctness of his solutions. The last books of the poem attempt to externalize the subjective paradise of The Pisan Cantos, 'to move out from egoism and to establish some definition of an order possible or at any rate conceivable on earth', as Pound told an interviewer (Hall 1962: 49). The task proved impossible, and some of the most famous lines from the end of the poem (Drafts and Fragments of Cantos CX—CXVII (1969)) attest to Pound's sense of failure, 'I cannot make it cohere', he writes in Canto CXVI, and in Notes for CXVII et seq, 'I have tried to write Paradise /[...] Let the Gods forgive what I / have made' (1994: 810, 816).

What is the relevance of a poet's social and political views to their poetry? This question was keenly debated in the press when The Pisan Cantos won the Bollingen Prize for the best volume of verse by an American poet published in 1948, while Pound was incarcerated in St Elizabeth's. The many opponents of the award argued that in honouring Pound the prize committee (which included Eliot) had effectively condoned fascism and anti-Semitism. For some commentators the award signified not only a crisis in poetry, but in literary critical values, too. They argued that it highlighted the fundamental irresponsibility of the 'Impersonal theory of poetry', first defined by Eliot and subsequently taken up by a group of university teachers known as the New Critics: The Pisan Cantos could be admired only by refusing to connect the political views of the poet to the poem, and by focussing on its formal qualities, rather than its anti-Semitic and fascist content. But in fact neither Eliot nor the New Critical members of the committee defended their decision in this way: though The Pisan Cantos expressed political views they condemned, it was nevertheless the book that had overwhelmingly won the committee's vote. To award the prize to a different, inferior, book, seemed to them dishonest. As one of the many letters from the public pointed out: it is not the case that 'good poetry can only be written by a good democrat about democratically acclaimed ideals and emotions' (Leick 2002: 20, 21, 24, 29).

From the 1920s onwards, Eliot and Pound insistently connected poetry and politics: indeed, they believed that poets had a responsibility to speak out on political issues, and that their poetic training in the use of language was a relevant skill. Eliot begins The Idea of a Christian Society by remarking that 'while the practice of poetry need not in itself confer wisdom or accumulate knowledge, it ought at least to train the mind in one habit of universal value: that of analysing the meanings of words' (1982: 43). Pound comments in 'How to Read' that 'the individual cannot think or communicate his thought, the governor and legislator cannot act effectively or frame his laws, without words, and the solidity and validity of these words is in the care of the damned and despised litterati (1960: 21). One might say that over the course of their careers Eliot's and Pound's attention shifts from poetry in particular to language in general, and this is borne out by the extension of their writing into new genres in their middle and later years. After publishing Four Quartets, Eliot wrote primarily for the theatre, believing that 'the ideal medium for poetry, to my mind, and the most direct means of social "usefulness" for poetry, is the theatre' (1964b: 153); alongside The Cantos, Pound published translations, anthologies, economic tracts and textbooks. These works were not only intended to reach a larger audience than the poetry, they were intended to reach a different kind of audience: not the private individual, poring over a volume of verse in isolation, but the public community, listening, reading and - Eliot and Pound hoped - acting together.

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