The Cantos by Ezra Pound

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This is the kind of terse, obscure ‘ideogrammic’ poetry that Pound is famous for: he can’t write another Sordello ; and who is the real Sordello anyway? The final line of this quotation is a reference to Li Po’s criticism of the poet ‘So-shu’ for, metaphorically, ‘churning’ the sea, when true poetry should make waves .

And it can be argued that it was the effort to create ‘waves’ of poetry that came to be at the heart of what Pound finally achieved with the opening of Canto IV :

Palace in smoky light,
Troy but a heap of smouldering boundary stones,
Hear me. Cadmus of Golden Prows!
The silver mirrors catch the bright stones and flare.

In Canto IV , Troy burns and a palace is destroyed. The light (of dawn?) can be seen through smoke-filled ruins – or perhaps the light is of fires still ‘smouldering’. The city (later an archetypal symbol in The Cantos ) is reduced to its ‘boundary stones’ – a space to be filled, an idea to be rebuilt, as Odysseus and Aeneas set forth, the one to restore a kingdom and the other to found a new one.

These lines can be understood as a single ‘wave’ of ideas washing over the reader’s mind. Another wave immediately follows – or a new picture is superimposed: ‘ANAXIFORMINGES!’ (‘LORDS OF THE LYRE!’) referring to those who renew and rebuild in song, since Apollo’s lyre raised the walls of Troy, as Amphion’s music raised the walls of Lower Thebes. Then another ‘wave’: ‘Aurunculeia! – for whom Catullus wrote a long epithalamium, a celebration of marriage, fecundity and renewal. Then, Pound writes ‘Hear me’, as he both invokes the Lords of the Lyre and calls his readers to attend. Then he presents the reader with ‘Cadmus of Golden Prows!’ the founder of Thebes, who sailed forth from Phoenicia. The extract concludes with an image of dawn.

These lines are frequently analysed in terms of Pound’s theories of the ‘vortex’ or the ‘ideogramic method’ and there is value in both approaches.

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Ezra Pound
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