The Cantos by Ezra Pound

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John Heydon in his Holy Guide also writes of ‘the mind and wit of man, which is but a spark of the divine great mind’ and states that ‘mind…is all one of it self in all places, and working diversly, according to those divers places.’

The ‘omniform mind’ not only uncovers an element in the heroic complex of The Cantos , but also, inevitably, brings to mind the poem’s archetypal hero: Odysseus, the ‘many-minded’ or polumetis hero. This word is, after all, the epithet most often applied to him by Homer. It is also used of the central figure of the first sixteen Cantos, Sigismundo Malatesta, the condottiere and Renaissance patron, who is described as being ‘a bit too POLUMETIS’ in Canto IX (70/36). The root MHTIΣ is given as meaning ‘counsel, wisdom, skill, cunning, craft’ in Liddell and Scott’s Lexicon , and the prefix ΠOΛΥ-, means ‘many,’ so ‘many-minded’ is not a particularly accurate translation, but it does suggest an intriguing connection with Porphyry’s ‘omniform mind’. Many years later, in his Guide to Kulchur , Pound uses the epithet again and imagines Zeus saying of Odysseus: ‘A chap with a mind like THAT! the fellow is one of us. One of US.’

The heroes of The Cantos , therefore are those who ‘vivify’ the ‘outward crust’ of the world they are born into, but the renewal they bring is not merely serendipitous. To be a hero , in Pound’s view, is to share in the Divine Mind, a concept he borrowed from Upward, in the first instance, but then reassessed in terms of the Neo-Platonism that had helped to inspire the Italian Renaissance (quite possible to erase the obviously Christian connotations of Upward’s ideas). Such are the heroes of The Cantos , and the ‘exhilarating hotch-potch’ that Pound produced out of the documents of their lives was essentially his recipe for the new age, the Renaissance of a post-Christian, truly revolutionary modern world.

Three Cantos, Cantos IV – VII, Ur-Canto VIII :
‘The Preparation of the Palette.’

The history of The Cantos ’ composition – the trail left by surviving manuscripts, published versions of early drafts and references in Pound’s correspondence – provides a running commentary on the poem’s decade-long period of gestation. Even the publication of A Draft of XVI Cantos in 1925 does not end this period of flux and experimentation, since some significant elements in the poem were not completely established until 1930, but it is essentially true to say that The Cantos were born in the years 1915 – 1923.

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Ezra Pound
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