The Cantos by Ezra Pound

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Notes on The Cantos of Ezra Pound. This set of Tower Notes is 238 pages long and is sold as a fully illustrated PDF file with footnotes and references.

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A free sample, text only, is provided below including material on A Draft of XXX Cantos and The Pisan Cantos .

INTRODUCTION: THE ‘MANY-MINDED’ HERO

The first decades of the twentieth century were a new age to Ezra Pound and to many of the writers, artists and thinkers he admired. To give just one example, the antiquarian Ernest Fenollosa began his essay on the Chinese Written Character with words that could be paralleled in many other and varied texts from this period:

This twentieth century not only turns a new page in the book of the world, but opens another and a startling chapter. Vistas of strange futures unfold for man, of world-embracing cultures half weaned from Europe, of hitherto undreamed responsibilities for nations and races.


In 1911, another writer admired by Pound, the poet and philosopher Allen Upward, wrote an article called ‘The New Age’ – which was printed in a journal also called The New Age – in which he spoke of the vernal equinox passing from one zodiacal sign to the next, as it had two thousand years before, supposedly to mark the birth of Christ. Such vaguely occult rumblings were also characteristic of the time and they confirm that some saw the new ‘modern age’ as not simply another Enlightenment or Renaissance, but as the definitive turn of the wheel for centuries to come.

These decades also saw the Italian futuristi rejecting the medievalism of the nineteenth century, desiring only to look forward towards such things as ‘the beauty of speed’ and other fashionably ‘modern’ notions. Indeed, for such as these, the past was a dead letter. The literature of previous centuries had, according to Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto ‘exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy and sleep.’ Pound hated Futurism, though. His reasons for this reveal a lot about his own ideas and intentions: he certainly saw himself as a revolutionary, like Marinetti, but not one who had a ‘curious tic for destroying past glories.’ Pound’s new age was to be a ‘re-invention’ of the qualities of Homer, Li Po, Dante and all the more living men and women of past cultures. It was to be an American Renaissance . China was to provide the immediate impulse of rebirth, and there cannot be much doubt that Pound thought the Fenollosa papers he had been given would act as a catalyst for this transformation, much as the Neo-Platonic manuscripts saved from the sack of Constantinople were credited by many scholars of the time with providing the spark that ignited the Italian Renaissance:

Ernest Fenollosa’s finds in China and Japan, his intimate personal knowledge, are no less potent than Crisolora’s manuscripts. China is no less stimulating than Greece, even if Fenellosa had not had insight.

The Cantos.

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Ezra Pound