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).