The Cantos by Ezra Pound

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The birds, as they perch upon the Disciplinary Training Centre’s perimeter fence, play a silent tune, like notes upon a stave. Seeing them seems to be what saves Pound from ‘the loneliness of death’. It is significant that his dejection occurs at the Ninth Hour (‘3 P.M.’) when Christ died on the Cross, and the number three seems to connect in his mind with the ‘three solemn’ quavers of the birds on the wire. Indeed, his state of mind at Pisa seems, at times, to resemble that of the Qabalist, seeing symbols and connections in every sense impression and thought, however trivial: ‘When the mind swings by a grass-blade/ an ant’s forefoot shall save you’ ( Canto LXXXIII , 1040/533). Perhaps such things helped make some sense of the world to a man trapped in a cage, so that his experience could become part of his ‘periplum’ – his ‘navigation’ of the world in search of knowledge, and of what would ‘endure’. Even at the heart of his darkest moment is some sense of positive endurance, after all: ‘that a man should live in that further terror, and live’. The conclusion of Canto LXXXII gives an impressive depth to the resilience of Pound’s vision of paradise among the ‘death cells’ of the D.T.C.: ‘First came the seen, then thus the palpable/ Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell’ ( Canto LXXXI , 1022/521).

In the opening sequence of Canto LXXIV , Pound appears to claim ‘Odysseus’ as ‘the name of my family’ (838/425), as noted above, and a later passage also implies a much closer relationship between the author and his archetypal hero than has been the case up until now in The Cantos :

ac ego in harum
so lay men in Circe’s swine-sty;
ivi in harum ego ac vidi cadaveres animae (860/436)

The reference is, again, to Odysseus’ Nekyia , and to his time on Circe’s island immediately prior to the Nekyia . The emphasis on ‘ ego ’ seems to suggest that Pound, or his persona in the poem, is beginning to see himself now as truly one of the ‘live men among the dead’. He certainly identifies with Odysseus’ solitude: Tiresias’ prophecy of the nostos had as its corollary that Odysseus would ‘Lose all companions’ (Canto I, 8/5), and there is a strong sense of this idea in lines such as the following from Canto LXXVI :

As a lone ant from a broken ant-hill
from the wreckage of Europe, ego scriptor. (902/458)

On the other hand, Pound is surrounded by ‘companions’ at the D.T.C. and seems to have experienced a strong sense of community among the ‘trainees’, such as is not uncommon among prisoners. The names of many are recorded in The Pisan Cantos because they are ‘ comes miseriae ’ – each a ‘companion in misery’

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Ezra Pound
the Unkindness of Ravens If you have found our critical notes helpful, why not try the first Tower Notes novel, a historical fantasy set in the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions.

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The Unkindness of Ravens by Anthony Paul