The Cantos by Ezra Pound

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nor was place for the full Ειδώς
interpass, penetrate
casting but shade beyond the other lights
sky’s clear
night’s sea
green of the mountain pool
shone from the unmasked eyes in half-mask’s space.
( Canto LXXXI , 1020/520)

This ‘subtlety of eyes’ is presented to the reader as subsisting on the boundary between perception and dream. At the heart of the encounter is an experience of the other – a being or beings (both singular and plural forms are used) clearly independent of Pound, perhaps even ‘unaware’ of him – certainly unaware that ‘it’ (singular) ‘had not the/ whole tent’s room’. The philosophical (and often theological term) ‘hypostasis’ designates an entity with its own ‘self-standing’ or separate ‘foundation’, as distinct from another . The etymologically related word ‘diastasis’ denotes a ‘standing apart’ or separation, defining the geometric form of what Pound says he saw: two eyes, with a space between them. The eyes are also characterised by ‘colour’ – presumably the ‘green of the mountain pool’ mentioned in the penultimate line of the quotation. The mingling of uncertainty and precision in the description gives it an almost hypnotic allure, and there is also an important sense of partial revelation – the initial stage of some much more profound encounter is implied: ‘nor was place for the full Ειδώς’ (‘knowing’ or ‘seeing’). The reader is invited to look into these strange eyes and to see the ‘sky’s clear/ night’s sea/ green of the mountain pool’, images that combine sky, earth and sea and are, combined, strongly suggestive of some mystical impression or vision. The very incompleteness and ambiguity of the experience implies that something beyond the normal limits of human perception has been glimpsed.

Shortly before this passage, Pound quotes from Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘Merciles Beaute’: ‘Your eyen two wol sleye me sodenly/ I may the beauté of hem nat susteyn’ ( ibid .). Does this suggest that the ‘eyes’ of the vision are those of a beautiful woman – a Beatrice-figure perhaps, or even a goddess? Or does the passage rather describe a sighting of a group of Dionysus’ hieratic panthers or lynxes? Or perhaps this is merely a literal invasion of Pound’s tent by ‘Ladro the night cat’ and some of his companions? The ambiguity is an important part of the effect: however, on firmer ground perhaps, the lines that follow the sequence certainly imply that this ‘subtlety of eyes’ is at least one example of the paradiso seen from within the ‘halls of hell’:

Whose world, or mine or theirs
or is it of none?
First came the seen, then thus the palpable
Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell, (1020-2/521)

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Ezra Pound