The Cantos by Ezra Pound

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In Canto IV , this is true in a quite specific way: the ‘moment of metamorphosis’ transcends a ruthless violence, stemming, both here and in the Actaeon/Vidal parallel that follows, from erotic passion. The moment of Actaeon’s death is dealt with in some more extraordinary lines:

The dogs leap on Actaeon,
‘Hither, hither, Actaeon.’
Spotted stag of the wood;
Gold, gold, a sheaf of hair.
Thick like a wheat swath,
Blaze, blaze in the sun,
The dogs leap on Actaeon.
(26/14)


Image plies upon image as before, until distinct elements from the preceding narrative seem to fuse, again, into one. ‘Gold, gold’ and ‘Blaze, blaze in the sun’ echo the earlier simile:

The sunlight glitter, glitters a-top,
Like a fish-scale roof,
Like the church roof in Poictiers
If it were gold.
(ibid.)


and suggest a sudden access of light in a scene where there was ‘not a spare disc of sunlight’ a moment before. The ‘sheaf of hair’ belongs, presumably, to Diana (‘pale hair of the goddess’), but ‘sheaf’ introduces a new element – ‘Thick like a wheat swath’ – taken from the vegetation mysteries that Sir James Frazer believed could be glimpsed behind mythological stories of cannibalism and kings brutally torn apart. Originally, these referred (or so, at least, Pound and Eliot believed) to ritual killings the purpose of which was to renew vegetation in the springtime. Thus, Actaeon enters the mysterion of mythology, just as Orpheus was ripped into pieces and Marsyas flayed.

Such fusion is not found in Pound’s Three Cantos . Even when potential ‘wave-crests’ meet they seem to run alongside each other in muted parallel, their energy gradually dissipated by an intrusive narrative voice:

Dordoigne! When I was there
There came a centaur, spying the land
And there were nymphs behind him;
Or procession on procession by Salisbury,
Ancient in various days, long years between them;
Ply over ply of life still wraps the earth here.
Catch at Dordoigne!

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Ezra Pound