The Cantos by Ezra Pound

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The latter – those, no doubt, who are ‘Rathe to destroy, niggard in charity’ ( Canto LXXXI , 1022/521) – are called upon to ‘pull down’ their ‘vanity’ in one of the most famous passages of the whole poem, since the paradiso is entered, not only through sacrificial death , but also via a proper humility before the miniature wonders of nature:

The ant’s a centaur in his dragon world. […]

Learn of the green world what can be thy place
In scaled invention or true artistry,
Pull down thy vanity,
Paquin pull down!
The green casque has outdone your elegance. ( Ibid .)

There is a gentle humour behind these lines, as well as a profound sense of the Divine, seeping through, as it were, the tiny miracles of nature – and, as such, that should not surprise the reader for, as Pound expresses it in the opening lines of Canto LXXXI , ‘Zeus lies in Ceres bosom’ (1014/517). Such intimations of the Divine Mind have both filial implications (the honouring of a Deity who gives unstintingly to His children) and fraternal ones – the former being evident in another of the many ‘insect’ sequences found in Canto LXXIV :

being given a new green katydid of a Sunday
emerald, paler that emerald,
minus its right propeller
this tent is to me and ΤΙΘΩΝΩΙ (858/435)

As well as the implied sense that this katydid is a fatherly gift to Pound, the last line of this quotation also implies a sense of fraternity with nature, an idea also suggested by ‘sorella la luna’ ( ibid . 838/425) and by the following from Canto LXXXIII :

and Brother Wasp is building a very neat house
of four rooms, one shaped like a squat Indian bottle (1040/532)

While these references to ‘brothers and sisters’ echo Francis of Assisi, the idea itself is strongly Confucian: ‘filial, fraternal affection is the root of humaneness/ the root of the process’ ( Canto LXXIV , 862/437). The combined themes of humility before the Divine Mind and before Its creation, and of fraternity between the elements of that creation, are what bring about Confucian humanity – hence, no doubt, the relatively frequent references in The Pisan Cantos to compassion and love : ‘and the greatest is charity’ ( Canto LXXIV , 856/434); ‘J’ai eu pitié des autres/ probablement pas assez’ ( Canto LXXVI , 904/460); ‘Amo ergo sum, and in just that proportion’ ( Canto LXXX , 968/493).

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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