The Cantos by Ezra Pound

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However, The Pisan Cantos themselves make allusion to an ancient African story that unites ideas of suffering and death with creativity in a way that may well have resonated powerfully with the poet himself:

and with one day’s reading a man may have the key in his hands
Lute of Gassir. Hooo Fasa ( Canto LXXIV , 842/427)

‘Gassire’s Lute’ is the anthropologist Leo Frobenius’ title for a published section of the Dausi epic which purports to record the founding of Wagadu, the ancient West African Empire of Ghana. ‘Hooo Fasa’ means, approximately, ‘Hail [the city of] Fasa!’ – the fourth legendary city of the Wagadu empire . The relevant section of Frobenius’ original text (translated by Douglas Fox) is as follows:

The smith made the lute. The smith brought the lute to Gassire. Gassire struck on the lute. The lute did not sing. Gassire said: ‘Look here, the lute does not sing.’ […] The smith said: ‘This is a piece of wood. It cannot sing if it has no heart. You must give it a heart. Carry this piece of wood on your back when you go into battle. The wood must ring with the stroke of your sword. The wood must absorb down-dripping blood, blood of your blood, breath of your breath. Your pain must be its pain, your fame its fame. The wood may no longer be like the wood of a tree, but must be penetrated by and be a part of your people. Therefore it must live not only with you but with your sons. Then will the tone that comes from your heart echo in the ear of your son and live on in the people, and your son’s life blood, oozing out of his heart, will run down your body and live on in this piece of wood.

Pound suffered no personal bereavement during the Second World War whereas Gassire lost all his seven sons before his lute would sing. Nevertheless, he unquestionably experienced the defeat of fascist Italy as a kind of death of all his hopes, and the string of sacrificial deaths found in Cantos LXXII-LXXIII continues in the opening lines of Canto LXXIV : ‘Manes was tanned and stuffed’, ‘That maggots shd/ eat the dead bullock’, ‘the twice crucified’ (838/425). Death and sacrifice, of course, are essential prerequisites of rebirth and renewal in pagan as well as Christian thinking, and such lines should probably not be seen as entirely pessimistic. Pound goes on to say:

yet say this to the Possum: a bang, not a whimper,
with a bang not a whimper,
To build the city of Dioce whose terraces are the colour of stars.
( ibid .)

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Ezra Pound