The Cantos by Ezra Pound

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The songbird’s descent – ‘For the sweetness that enters his heart’ – takes the reader suddenly to the paradiso represented by ‘the solitude of Mt Taishan’, the implication being that previously he or she had be caught between the Scylla and ‘Charybdis’ of inferno (‘NEKUIA’) and purgatorio (‘action’). These lines are, therefore, a clear enough indication of Pound’s intended ‘entry into paradise’. His ‘ideogramic phrase’ continues with a humorous reference to woman, implying Eve’s temptation and the subsequent banishment of humanity from Eden. ‘Mt Taishan’ is solitary just as Dante’s paradiso terrestre lies empty through the fault of Eve.

As is evident from the reference here to the ‘NEKUIA’, such ‘entries into paradise’ in The Pisan Cantos are often closely associated with death. Canto LXXXII seems particularly haunted by this theme (though the same could, perhaps, be said for the whole sequence of Cantos LXXII-LXXIV ):

… Dirce’s shade (1024/523)

‘On the Atreides’ roof’
‘like a dog… and a good job […]
dead by this hand
( Ibid .)

the ‘marble men’ shall pass into nothingness,
Three birds on the wire (1024-6/524)

Mr Masefield murmuring: Death (1026/524)

Where I lie let the thyme rise
and basilicum
let the herbs rise in April abundant
By Ferrara was buried naked, fu Nicolo (1030/526)

man, earth: two halves of the tally ( Ibid .)

Finally, Pound writes of himself actually drowning in ‘fluid’ earth ( ibid .), and the ending of the Canto is particularly poignant:

but that a man should live in that further terror, and live
the loneliness of death came upon me
(at 3 P.M., for an instant) δακρύων
εντεΰθεν
three solemn half notes
their white downy chests black-rimmed
on the middle wire
periplum (1030/526-7)


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Ezra Pound