Ezra Pound: Canto LXXXII

If the previous Canto was about composers, this one is about poets. At first I thought it was a narrative about a sort upper class, English house visit – only this one happened to include friends of Algernon Swinburne. But then Whitman gets named dropped and it’s hard to find two more different poets than them (arguably all they share in common is that they are both great poets and wrote a lot, if often obliquely, about sex). But it still seems like, in large part, the over educated fragments of educated English people (‘Lytton’ is mentioned; Lytton Strachey? Is this the Bloomsbury circle?).


Ezra Pound: Canto LXXXI

A much shorter one than its immediate predecessor (which was over twenty-five pages). It is much concerned with Spain, but a contemporary Spain (and some anti-Catholicism; there is much Catholicism here, he writes, but no religion).

It is a crude and comic Spain and it is mocked by somewhat uncouth English speakers (I’m not sure whether the English speakers are British or American). I was imagining Fawlty Towers – a working class Englishman and his incompetent Spanish servant.

I don’t think I’ve remarked on this before, but high modernism tends to mix its pretensions with close reading of lower class/working class speech and slang. Joyce’s ear for the Irish manner of speech in… well, everything he wrote. Stein’s well regarded rendition of early twentieth century African-American speech in Tender Buttons. And The Wasteland, for all of its reputation of being a bastion of arcane learning, is chock full of lower class English speech.

Ezra Pound: Canto LXXX

It’s been almost three years since I last wrote about one of the Cantos, but it felt good to be back.

Maybe it was distance, but I was struck by the natural similarity between this one and The Wasteland. Pound famously edited Eliot’s masterpiece and some scholars think that it was almost to the point of co-authorship. But also, by this time, The Wasteland was rightly admire as one of the crowning works of the century and could, ironically, have been a reciprocal influence on Pound’s later works. I’m not going to guess here, though. Just something to think about.

The bad news: LXXX is pretty fascist.

Multiple references to Mussolini (some ever so slightly veiled, like a reference to ‘the Duke’ – il Duce, of course, being his nickname). More than a little anti-semitism. Blum (clearly Leon Blum, the Jewish Prime Minister of France) defends a bidet (implicitly attacking his masculinity and sexuality), in Pound’s estimation and is negatively compared to the collaborationist Petain, who, as Pound writes, defended the Verdun. The Sadduccees are mentioned in connection to Eliot, for some reason that I won’t pretend to understand.

In the beginning, I thought it might be about music. Finlandia was mentioned and a few lines, so was Debussy (leading my to think that ‘Finlandia’ is not a reference to a country, but to Sibelius’ tone poem). Later, Bach and Gluck get name dropped.

This canto feels, for long stretches, like the tale of young man, traveling to world (mainly Italy, France, and then England) and seeing historical sights and places associated with writers and artists and then relating them to himself and his understanding. I’m not sure if I’m explaining myself well here. I love history and when its comes to my mind or I’m in a place that I can relate to something I know from history, it feels very present (almost Faulknerian).

Pound In Translation

That’s a bit misleading. I’ve noted a couple of times recently, when writing about translations of classical Chinese poetry, that the greatest influence on those translators might be Ezra Pound’s translations.

Well, in this trashing of Pound (not undeserved), is a quote from Simon Leys:

Pound had a mistaken idea of the Chinese language, but his mistake was remarkably stimulating and fecund as it was based on one important and accurate intuition. Pound correctly observed that a Chinese poem is not articulated upon a continuous, discursive thread, but that it flashes discontinuous series of images (not unlike the successive frames of a film).

Reading Ezra Pound

With someone like Pound, for instance, you can’t appreciate the poetry without anguish because you can’t disentangle its aesthetic achievement from its political affiliations; to do so would be to trivialize both.


I found that quote in an essay by Alan Shapiro in the Los Angeles Review of Books. The quote is attributed to Donald Davie.

I’m also interested in new ways to read Pound (though it’s been a while since I did) because, like Heidegger or like Man Ray, his personal/political history make it hard to disentangle from the aesthetic. And here’s this great summation: we don’t untangle because we can’t. And the idea of reading Pound with ‘anguish.’ What a concept. Amazing.

Weekend Reading – Resurrecting Pound

The Woodberry Poetry Room is home to many previously unplayable vinyl and acetate pressings of poets reading from their works – which can now be heard!

The poem written but not read.

Atheism and polytheism.

A Line That I Read About Another Poem Cycle, But Which Seems Relevant To Much Of Pound’s ‘Cantos’

…dense with moments of intellectual insight and lyric dazzle that are but rarely coincident.  – from ‘New Directions Goes Old School’ by Benjamin Paloff, published in the awesome mag, Raintaxi

Ezra Pound: Canto LXXIX

Pound is on a roll. This was a fun one. The opening tastes of The Wasteland – or, rather, the Pound who contributed so much to the final form of The Wasteland.

Though he still peppers it with Chinese characters and uses the Roman names of some deities, the feel is very Greek (and he does pepper it with many Greek words).

              and on the hill of the Maelids
in the close garden of Venus
                            asleep amid serried lynxes
set wreathes on Priapus

I’m not entirely sure why Pound seems obsessed with lynxes in this one. He’s really obsessed.

           O lynx, guard my vineyard
As the grape swells under the vine leaf

The ‘Poundian Form’

Having just re-begun reading The Cantos, it was appropriate that I came across a reference to the form of his masterwork that pulled me up sharply and made me take notice:

The intertextual reference to Fray Durán, alongside the phrasal fragments and use of colons to separate images, takes a Poundian form, that of the Cantos Pound — the poetry coheres through a series of disjunctive sutures — demonstrating what Perloff means by her question about taking up the experimentation of the early twentieth century. This is an ideogrammic method applied to Mesoamerican mythology. The poem is crammed with vagueness, and its strokes lend only the slightest impression of its context.

That’s from an article in Jacket2 about avant-garde Latino poetry. It made me think about my struggled with Pound and whether the remark about cohering through ‘a series of disjunctive sutures’ could be a skeleton key of sorts? And the pit about Marjorie Perloff’s remark reminded me of how important Pound’s experimentation was to the younger me and how eternally relevant high modernism remains.

Ezra Pound: Canto LXXVIII

This Canto was a lot more fun to read than its immediate predecessor.

This poem is ultimately about and the unintended consequences of even good intentions.

Near the beginning:

Cassandra, your eyes are like tigers,
     with no word written in them
You also have I carried to nowhere
           to an ill house and there is
                                no end to the journey.
                                The chess board too lucid
the squares are too even…theatre of war…
” theatre ” is good. There are those who did not want
      it to come to an end.

And then the very end:

In the spring and autumn
      In “The Spring and Autumn”

Is Pound feeling regret? How does this Canto reflect changes in his attitude? Or are there changes? He could still be a monumental fascist ass, yet oppose war, couldn’t he? That’s not a statement; it’s a question.