The Cantos by Ezra Pound

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The Lute Of Gassire: Cantos LXXIV-LXXXIV

I

From first line to last line, The Pisan Cantos sing of pain and endurance:

The enormous tragedy of the dream in the peasant’s
bent shoulders ( Canto LXXIV , 838/425)

If the hoar frost grip thy tent
Thou wilt give thanks when night is spent.
( Canto LXXXIV , 1054/540)

As these lines demonstrate, Pound’s poetic voice in these Cantos can encompass everything from the hieratic rhythms of prophecy to the light movement of an Elizabethan couplet. There is, moreover, a new diversity of content in these Cantos: poetry which had before looked towards a narrower definition and the detailed assessment of ‘evidence’ now seems turned outward, opening up a new, exploratory dialectic. Pound’s exploration here (as paradiso terrestre ) is quite different to the exploration found in A Draft of XXX Cantos (as selva oscura ), though a close relationship unquestionably exists between the two sequences. Important early motifs – such as the metamorphosis of pain and violence into ‘paradise’, or the more active presence of Pound himself as a ‘character’ in his poem – are largely absent from Canto XXXI through to Canto LXXI , but they become evident again – and of considerable importance – in The Pisan Cantos . There is also an abundance of new themes and interests and ideas in the sequence, many of them inspired by Pound’s developing fascination with Confucianism.

The success of The Pisan Cantos is all the more remarkable considering the circumstances in which Pound composed them. He was a prisoner, in 1945, at the U.S. Army Disciplinary Training Centre at Pisa – a military facility used for soldiers awaiting court martial, and – though only for a short period – he was kept in an outdoor cage, one of the facility’s ‘death cells’. Canto LXXIV , famously, was begun on prison toilet paper. The psychology of such experiences on creative minds would make a fascinating study. Perhaps the most that can be said with any confidence is that for Pound to begin work on his long-postponed paradiso was one of the few acts of defiance possible for a fifty-nine-year-old man living under such extraordinary circumstances.

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Ezra Pound