The Cantos by Ezra Pound

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magna NUX animae with Barabbas and 2 thieves beside me,
the wards like a slave ship,
Mr Edwards, Hudson, Henry comes miseriae
Comites Kernes, Green and Tom Wilson
God’s messenger Whiteside
( Canto LXXIV , 860/436)

‘Whiteside’ is cast as Hermes because he was the turnkey of the ‘death cells’ and Hermes was the Greek psychopomp. Death is also implied by the allusion to Christ’s crucifixion (intriguingly spliced with the idea of a ‘slave ship’ – a ship of death, perhaps) and to the mystical ‘death’ of St John of the Cross’s dark night of the soul. Both of these latter allusions, of course, imply a transcendence of death – literally, in the case of Christ’s resurrection, and metaphorically in St John’s belief that the soul must endure a mystical death before it can fully experience the Divine Life. But such transcendence is probably not for everyone in Pound’s view – something that is implied by the very notion of companions of Odysseus and Canto I ’s sharp contrast between the fate of Elpenor and of Odysseus himself. Even ‘Lordly men’ such as Ford Madox Ford, Yeats and Joyce are ‘companions’, though their fate is not specifically identified as being that of Elpenor’s or the other lost companions:

Lordly men are to earth o’ergiven
these the companions:
Fordie that wrote of giants
and William who dreamed of nobility
and Jim the comedian singing:
‘Blarrney castle me darlin’
you’re nothing now but a StOWne’
(852/432-3)

The connection between Odysseus’ mariners and these three literary ‘companions’ of Pound is implied by the first line, which is Pound’s translation of a verse from the Old English poem The Seafarer (line 93) – the song of an exiled mariner longing for his own nostos . Elpenor is also a notable presence in Canto LXXIV : his words in Canto I are recalled on page 866/439 (‘of no fortune and with a name to come’) and later on page 878/446 (‘ “and with a name to come”/εσσομένοισι’ ). The connection between Odysseus’ lost companion and Pound’s fellow ‘trainees’ is made even more explicit in Canto LXXX :

(Nadasky, Duett, McAllister,
also Comfort K.P. special mention
on sick call Penrieth, Turner, Toth hieri
(no fortune and with a name to come) […]

men of no fortune and with a name to come (1006-8/513-4)

Many of the companions’ names are carefully recorded in the text of The Pisan Cantos , perhaps out of the same sense of duty towards others ‘in the same boat’ that led Odysseus to inscribe Elpenor’s epitaph upon his tombstone.

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Ezra Pound