The Cantos by Ezra Pound

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The scirocco is a warm, sultry, rain-bearing wind, but if the rain comes, that is also ‘of the process’ – the dao – and Odysseus’ final voyage ‘outward from Herakles’ to his death is also ‘of the process’ just as was Lucifer’s fall (the original ‘light-bringer’) and Mussolini’s passing. And now Pound, himself, trapped symbolically in Polyphemus’ cave is ‘noman’ (840/426) or ‘ΟΫ ΤΙΣ’ – ‘Odysseus’ is now the name of his ‘family’. Mussolini’s own ‘periplum’ takes him ‘past the pillars’ in his death, but his voyage is also the voyage Odysseus made at the end of his life to find the fabled paradiso terrestre . The sun’s ‘great periplum’ has brought darkness upon the earth, but it has also brought ‘the stars to our shore’ and with the sun gone down, a man can see further into the heavens – he can then see the points of light we call stars: tiny fragments, as it were, of a paradiso ‘spezzato’ (‘broken’, 864/438).

The potentiality of death is a striking feature of Canto LXXIV : life also has a tough resilience ‘under les six potencies ’, and people can be as ‘squawky as larks over the death cells’ (840/426). One of the most resonant images of transcendence in The Pisan Cantos is also initially associated with the proximity of death: ‘from the death cells in sight of Mt Taishan @ Pisa’ (842/427). Mount Tai ( Tài Shān ) in Shandong province has been briefly mentioned before in the poem, when Emperor Yang-Kien is recorded as having sacrificed on ‘Mt Taï Chan’ in Canto LIV (542/284). It is often regarded as the first of the ‘Five Sacred Mountains’ of China and is particularly associated with the sunrise, birth and renewal. Several peaks of the Monti Pisano would have been visible to Pound from the D.T.C. facility at Coltano and it is unclear which one he particularly associated with Mount Tai, but it is clear enough that one of those distant peaks represented a new beginning for him – a hope of paradise. ‘Taishan’, in fact, becomes an important element of the natural beauty that he saw about him and which helped him to train his vision to discern from afar the paradiso terrestre (which, in Dante’s Purgatorio stands atop another sacred mountain):

Che sublia es laissa cader
between NEKUIA where are Alcmene and Tyro
and the Charybdis of action
to the solitude of Mt Taishan
femina, femina, the wd/ not be dragged into paradise by the hair,
( Canto LXXIV , 850/431)

The quotation in Provençal is from Bernart de Ventadour’s ‘Quan vei la lauzeta mover’ – and refers to the lark ‘who forgets himself and lets himself fall’ at that moment when the bird begins to spiral slowly down through the air as it sings. Pound had used the image before, in Canto VI (42/22) and it also occupies a significant place at the very end of his poem (‘Notes for Canto CVII et seq.’ 1494/803). In Canto LXXIV the lines immediately prior to this quotation record ‘two larks in contrappunto’ (850/431).

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Ezra Pound
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