The Cantos by Ezra Pound

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Just as Pound’s vision of evil in The Pisan Cantos is fragmentary and imprecise, so, too, his paradiso is equally ‘spezzato’ – ‘broken up’. Perhaps after the horrors of war on the one hand (Pound mentions the fall of Berlin, post-war epidemics and incendiary bombs), and the insidious poisoning of freedom and creativity by ‘bureaucracy’ on the other, all that can be seen or said is that the miniature beauties and small pleasures of life still endure. And in this passage (and its many analogues throughout The Pisan Cantos ) things like ‘the smell of mint’ or the advent of ‘Ladro the night cat’ seem to be oddly indestructible, even in the face of the worst war in history:

mint springs up again
in spite of Jones’ rodents
as had the clover leaf by the gorilla cage
with a four-leaf ( Canto LXXXIII , 1040/533)

The natural resilience of tiny plants and insects and their ability to renew themselves is like a repository of good fortune – a lucky charm: ‘Arachne mi porta fortuna’ ( Canto LXXIV , 880/446) says Pound of a spider, and he also mentions ‘one eucalyptus pip/ from the salita that goes up from Rapallo’ which he kept as a talisman at Pisa ( Canto LXXX , 980/500).

The paradiso of The Pisan Cantos is, therefore, not ‘artificiel’ – not a ‘painted paradise’ like that eulogised in Canto XLV – but it has, instead, a beauty rooted in both the proximity of death and in the power of nature to renew itself:

I don’t know how humanity stands it
with a painted paradise at the end of it
without a painted paradise at the end of it
the dwarf morning-glory twines round the grass blade
( Canto LXXIV , 860/436)

The tiny flower twining round its ‘grass blade’ is just one of many miniature plants and insects that feature so powerfully in Pound’s paradiso terrestre . This particular morning-glory returns in Canto LXXVI in another unambiguous statement of Pound’s belief that paradise does exist, even though it is ‘spezzato’ – ‘broken up’ in the minute details of the natural world:

and in spite of hoi barbaroi
pervenche and a sort of dwarf morning-glory
that knots in the grass, and a sort of buttercup
et sequelae

La Paradis n’est pas artificial
States of mind are inexplicable to us. (904/459-60)

The final line sounds like a quotation, though the source has not, to the author’s knowledge, been identified. It encapsulates, however, an important point: the paradiso is, fundamentally, a ‘state of mind’ – of the nous or Divine Intellect in an absolute sense – and, as such, it cannot be explained, but only experienced – experienced by those, at least, who are not ‘barbarians’ (‘hoi barbaroi’).

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Ezra Pound
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