The Cantos by Ezra Pound

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Salinguerra is certainly no ‘man of sorrows’. In fact, his very presence seems to terrify Sordello (the ‘stammering awkward man’):

A stammering awkward man that scarce dared raise
His eye before the magisterial gaze –
And Salinguerra with his fears and hopes
Of sixty years, his Emperors and Popes,
Cares and contrivances, yet, you would say,
’Twas a youth nonchalantly looked away
Through the embrasure northward o’er the sick
Expostulating trees – so agile, quick
And graceful turned the head on the broad chest
Encased in pliant steel, (IV, 422-31)

Salinguerra’s commanding gaze ‘o’er the sick/Expostulating trees –’ in fact, suggests much about how Pound’s view of heroism was to develop.

Perhaps ironically, though, one of Pound’s first heroes in The Cantos was none other than Sordello himself, and, given Browning’s portrayal of this Mantuan troubadour, it is not surprising that Pound makes a distinction in Canto II between Browning’s ‘Sordello, and my Sordello’ (10/6). Pound’s ‘Sordello’ derives from a ‘brief account’ he read in the Ambrosian library at Milan, which forms the basis of the passage from Canto VI beginning ‘E lo Sordels si fo de Mantoana.’ It is revealing to see in this short troubadour life the active Sordello who stimulated Pound’s interest and sympathy. His main recorded acts in The Cantos are his ‘subtraction’ of the Lady Cunizza from her husband ( VI and XXIX ) and his sale of the five castles and a dye-works he had been gifted by Charles I of Naples, having no desire to be tied down with the responsibilities of a property owner:

...sold the damn lot six weeks later,
Sordellus de Godio.
Quan ben m’albir e mon ric pensamen.

What Pound did derive from Browning’s Sordello, however, proved, in the long run, to be of much more direct importance to The Cantos than any straightforward prototype of heroism. In the first drafts of Pound’s poem, the ‘modern’ poet specifically addresses Browning, the Victorian sage. The latter had pursued his intention, according to Pound of ‘set[ting] out so much thought, so much emotion’ through his imaginative creation of ‘one whole man,’ as opposed to the ‘many fragments’ of Pound’s own vision.

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Ezra Pound