The Cantos by Ezra Pound

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The ‘city’ of Il Duce , like Deioces’ city of Ecbatan ( Cantos IV , 30/16; V , 32/17), had been an expression of Mussolini’s supposed polumetis wisdom – a city on earth conforming to the paradigm of the heavens, like Ecbatan itself. The ‘lost city’ is a major theme, too, of ‘Gassire’s Lute’ and the Dausi epic in general:

Sleep came to Wagadu for the first time through vanity, for the second time through falsehood, for the third time through greed and for the fourth time through dissension. Should Wagadu ever be found for the fifth time, then she will live so forcefully in the minds of men that she will never be lost again.

All of these ideas and images are plied together in the weave of Canto LXXIV :

4 times was the city rebuilded, Hooo Fasa
Gassir, Hooo Fasa dell’Italia tradita
now in the mind indestructible, Gassir, Hooo Fasa,
With the four giants at the four corners
and the four gates mid-wall Hooo Fasa
and a terrace the colour of stars (848/430)

The ‘four giants’ return on page 844/428 to make an ‘ideogram of the guard roost’, a reference to the square layout of the Disciplinary Training Centre itself, while the recurrence of the number four – the Pythagorean tetrad – recalls Canto XL ’s ‘baily of the four towers’ (390/201), an image associated there with the divine mind of the ‘νόοσ, the ineffable crystal’. The story of ‘Gassire’s Lute’, therefore, suggested to Pound a whole network of transcendental images, implying that the hero’s struggle towards paradise would both continue and, in some future time, would succeed.

The theme of death that opens The Pisan Cantos (in the so-called ‘Elegy for Mussolini’) is quickly joined to the prototypical theme of Odysseus’ voyage and the related idea of ‘periplum’ (from Greek periploos , literally a ‘sailing around’ – a listing in order of geographical coastal features to assist mariners on a voyage):

‘the great periplum brings in the stars to our shore.’
You who have passed the pillars and outward from Herakles
when Lucifer fell in N. Carolina.
if the suave air give way to scirocco
ΟΫ ΤΙΣ, ΟΫ ΤΙΣ? Odysseus
the name of my family. (838/425)

A line of The Pisan Cantos may appear disjunctive and unconnected to what proceeds or follows, but contributes its own peculiar energies to disturb or enhance other lines in its immediate context – one ‘wave’, as it were, affects another, as they weave ply over ply . The pivotal line of the passage above – ‘if the suave air give way to scirocco’ – refers back, for example, to an earlier line on the same page: ‘The suave eyes, quiet, not scornful, rain also is of the process’.

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Ezra Pound
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