‘IN THE MIND INDESTRUCTIBLE’ - 1945 - Ezra Pound: Poet: Volume III: The Tragic Years 1939-1972 - A. David Moody

Ezra Pound: Poet: Volume III: The Tragic Years 1939-1972 - A. David Moody (2015)

PART TWO: 1945


The Pisan Cantos

There are occasional markers of the speed at which Pound composed these cantos in the DTC through July, August, and September of 1945. One hundred and seventy lines into the first of them there is, ‘and Till was hung yesterday | for murder and rape with trimmings’ (74/430). That was Louis Till, executed 2 July 1945, just two weeks after Pound had been moved from the ‘gorilla cage’ to his tent and given writing materials. One hundred and thirty lines on there is a date, ‘Under Taishan, quatorze Juillet’ (74/434), 14 July, anniversary of the day in 1789 when the citizens of Paris rose up and freed the prisoners in the Bastille. About 14 August, now in canto 77, he hears of the end of the war in the Pacific, ‘[I heard it in the s.h. a suitable place | to hear that the war was over]’ (77/467). The next two cantos refer to events Pound would have read about in the 27 August number of Time magazine: ‘So Salzburg reopens’ (78/480, repeated at 79/484), and ‘Pétain not to be murdered’ (79/484). Then canto 82 carries the date ‘8th day of September’ (82/523); 83 notes, after rain, ‘There is September sun on the pools’ (83/530); and the whole ‘decad 74/83’ was done, so Pound told Dorothy, by 2 October. That means that those ten cantos, made up of nearly 3,400 lines, had been composed between 18 June and 2 October, say three and a half months, or about one hundred days; which gives a rough average of a page a day of the printed text. All things considered, it was an amazing feat of concentrated and sustained creation. No wonder that he wrote as the final lines of that decad, ‘Down, Derry-down | Oh let an old man rest’ (83/536). The concluding canto, with the date ‘8th October’ in its first line (84/537), was added as a sort of winding down in his last weeks in the DTC, while he was mainly working on his Confucius : The Unwobbling Pivot & The Great Digest.

The Pisan Cantos don’t read as if they were written in haste—there is nothing rushed or forced or unfinished about them. Indeed, it is generally recognized that here Pound the master craftsman was composing with his powers at their height and fully at his command. There is an abundant yet controlled flow of material, made up of immediate and recollected and visionary experience. The language is consistently charged and layered with intricate meaning,and shaped into an ever varying verse that is at once measured and free—the sort of verse in which every line-break is a discrimination. The entire sequence reads as free flowing natural speech, only heightened, concentrated, intensely energized; each line is separately formed, and yet fitted into an ongoing rhythm; and each canto finds its own definite form. The poet was evidently altogether in his right mind through those summer months; and still, only long practice in which acquired skills had become habitual, instinctive, could have enabled him to compose so well at such a rate, and in that place.

After all, one thinks, he was a prisoner and completely cut off from his own world. Yet, remarkably, the world of the camp, though always present, never holds his mind captive. He could look out from ‘the death cells’ to the highest peak in the Appenines to the east and think of it as ‘Taishan’, China’s highest and most sacred peak, whose clouds nurtured and brought prosperity to those under its influence. Or, knowing that some of those who had been alongside him in the death cells were likely to be hanged, he could think of the words Villon had imagined for himself and his fellow thieves when on the gallows, ‘Absoudre…’, absolve us all—words he had set to haunting music in Le Testament. He could overhear Mr. K.’s ‘if we weren’t dumb we wouldn’t be here’, rhyme it with his own observation of prisoners at drill, ‘the voiceless with bumm drum and banners’, and notice as well ‘Butterflies, mint and Lesbia’s sparrows’. The prisoners were most of them black, and seeing them in the close-packed hospital ward makes him think of a slave ship ‘as seen between decks’. Poor devils, he thinks, ‘po’eri di’aoli sent to the slaughter | Knecht gegen Knecht | to the sound of the bumm drum, to eat remnants | for a usurer’s holiday’—a variation upon Mephisto’s saying in Goethe’s Faust, ‘The struggle is, they say, for freedom’s rights, | Look closer, and it’s slave with slave that fights.’ As in those instances, Pound’s mind is forever subjecting the camp as it impinges upon him to his own associations and interpretations, making it over detail by detail into his mental world. There he is at liberty to maintain his own vision of things, so that, even ‘in the halls of hell’, he is able to contemplate ‘Mt. Taishan’ with its clouds and the birds and other creatures that figure the sustaining process of nature. That freedom to create, and to recreate, the world in the mind is altogether what The Pisan Cantos are about—they exist by it, and they exist for it.

The leading themes are stated on the first page of canto 74. The dream of a just republic, which Pound had hoped Mussolini might achieve, has ended ingloriously, with the Duce hung up by the heels in Milan. Yet as Manes’ doctrine of light was alive, a millenium after his death, in twelfth-century Provence, and as the myth of Dionysus figures the self-renewals of nature, so Pound remains defiantly committed to the idea of building the visionary city wherein the peasant’s dream of abundance and justice will be fulfilled. There, in the first ten lines, is the driving intention of the entire sequence: to build through the music of words ‘the city of Dioce whose terraces are the colour of stars’.

Lines 11-26 respond to that opening by affirming that the necessary basis for the good society is in nature, that is, in both the elemental process of nature and inborn human nature, in both together. The rain and the wind and the sun are of the process; so too are the ‘suave eyes’ of the merciful divinities, Kuanon and ‘sorella la luna’ whom he had invoked in the Italian drafts near the war’s end. Then there is the Confucian comprehension of ‘the way’ of natural law—this will permeate the entire sequence. And there are those who followed their own nature, possibly to excess: Dante’s Ulysses venturing beyond the known world, and Lucifer carrying the light of heaven down to earth. To further complicate the ideogram there is Homer’s canny Odysseus escaping the blinded Cyclops by naming himself ‘No man’. In canto 81, under the spell of divine eyes, Pound will write ‘It is not man | Made courage, or made order, or made grace |…Learn of the green world what can be thy place.’

Still, humanity has its necessary part to play in the process: ‘man, earth: two halves of the tally’ (82/526). This is the third and major theme, introduced in lines 27-31. The human contribution is enlightened intelligence, the intelligence which conceives, and transmits, the precise definitions which shape right action and so build a just society—definitions such as Sigismundo’s Tempio, with Duccio’s bas-reliefs; or the mosaics in Rome’s Santa Maria in Trastevere; or the Constitution upon which the United States should stand. Near the close of this first canto the theme will be restated—‘that certain images be formed in the mind…to remain there, resurgent ΕΙΚΟΝΕΣ…to forge Achaia’ (74/446-7). Those icons would be manifestations of virtù irraggiante, virtù that irradiates and illuminates, a phrase out of his studies around Cavalcanti which Pound applied to the Confucian metaphysic.

To grasp and to act out the generative and civilizing processes of nature and of human nature, this is the fundamental Confucian dynamic, and one which Pound had long made his own. He had affirmed it first in his 1927 translation of the Ta Hio, signalled its importance at key points in his cantos through the 1930s, asserted it with increasing urgency in Italy through the last years of the war, and now he was again studying and translating The Unwobbling Pivot & The Great Digest as he composed these Confucian cantos, and doing it in the same notebooks. That The Pisan Cantos are Confucian before anything else has been recognized, though probably still not enough. It is not only that allusions and echoes and direct citations abound. More significantly, their procedure, metaphysic, and ethic, are all Confucian, or, more exactly, Confucianism made new. Pound really meant it when he typed into canto 76, ‘better gift can no man make to a nation | than the sense of Kung fu Tseu’ (76/454). In order to make quite clear what the gift was he wrote in by hand ch’eng,2 his chosen ideogram for precise definition or the word made perfect.

But exactly how was he to give precise definition to our world of evolving, interacting, and self-ordering energies, the world which physicists and ecologists and artists and some philosophers may see, and in which and by which we all live, though mostly too ‘rationally’ to realise our immersion in it. At one point Pound had invoked the example of ‘the biologist…thinking thoughts that join like spokes in a wheel-hub and that fuse in hyper-geometric amalgams’—a less than clarifying mix of metaphors. He had given Yeats a musical analogy, and Yeats had been unable to see it. But he stuck to that as giving the right idea, ‘It is music—musical themes that find each other out’. It is in music that we can have a gamut of themes and motifs repeating and unfolding through their variations and their changing combinations. And that is exactly what is going on throughout these cantos. Canto 74 especially can appear rambling and formless, but then so too can Schubert’s ‘“Wanderer” Fantasy’ to the casual listener. Like that ‘Fantasy’, it is best read as a complex and extended musical composition in which the themes or preoccupations are being gradually worked out through progressions of specifying detail, and through their varying and developing interactions. This is the mode of a mind striving to comprehend the world in its diverse and often contradictory aspects and in its full complexity. Where I wrote above, ‘the processes of nature and of human nature’, a simplifying abstraction, Pound had written fifteen lines, each adding a different aspect of the matter and thus building up a more comprehensive, and therefore more precise, definition. ‘Generalities’, he would insist, should be ‘born from a sufficient phalanx of particulars’ (74/441).

The writing in these cantos is too dense, the ever-changing relations too fluid and complex, for deliberate analysis to do them any sort of justice. They need to be performed, and performed again and again, for their music to come clear. However, certain lines and passages will stand out in the flow as more immediately meaningful, and understanding of the rest can grow around these. One might start from the first statement of the major theme—

Fear god and the stupidity of the populace,

but a precise definition

transmitted thus Sigismundo

thus Duccio, thus Zuan Belin, or trastevere with La Sposa

Sponsa Cristi in mosaic till our time


That is relatively straightforward, but this free rendering of Legge’s Mencius IV.ii,11 on the next page seems not to accord with it—

not words whereto to be faithful

nor deeds that they be resolute

only that bird-hearted equity make timber

and lay hold of the earth


Surely it is right that words should be faithful and deeds resolute, yet here equity, natural justice, trumps them, and is associated with birds and trees that express themselves without thought. Well, the following lines observe, Odysseus’ heroic deeds can be retold as tall tales, and empty words create clutter. Beyond mere words and deeds there is the word that shapes the world and is its law—

in principio verbum

paraclete or the verbum perfectum: sinceritas

from the death cells in sight of Mt. Taishan @ Pisa


That could have come out of Pound’s discussions with Father Vath. The Latin ‘in principio verbum’, ‘In the beginning was the Word’, and the ‘paraclete’ or abiding ‘Spirit of truth’, are from the Gospel of John, the opening of which is read out by the priest at the end of the Catholic Mass. (The priest in his green vestments will be metamorphosed into an Egyptian ‘great scarab…bowed at the altar’ (74/428).) John’s Word is God that made all things and is the light of men, and ‘was made flesh, and dwelt among us’, ‘Verbum caro factum est’. Pound’s ‘verbum perfectum: sinceritas’, proposes a Confucian correspondence with that while actually shifting the thought into a radically different belief system, one in which the attention is upon the human agent of the light more than upon the divinity. ‘Sincerity, the perfect word, or the precise word’, he wrote in his prefatory note to The Unwobbling Pivot, and ‘Only the most absolute sincerity under heaven can effect any change’. Here it is the perfected human word that is creative and spreads enlightenment. Another Confucian passage brings in the idea of virtù that irradiates and has its effect through human action—

plowed in the sacred field and unwound the silk worms early

in tensile image [hsien 3]

in the light of light is the virtù

“sunt lumina” said Erigena Scotus

as of Shun on Mt. Taishan

and in the hall of the forebears

as from the beginning of wonders

the paraclete that was present in Yao, the precision

in Shun the compassionate

in Yu the guider of waters


The hsien 3 ideogram, read by Pound as signifying active light, or the light from heaven, is enacted in the imperial fertility rituals, and in the works of the legendary emperors. It is manifest also in the Judaic law’s sense of natural justice and its ban against usury—

to redeem Zion with justice

sd/ Isaiah. Not out on interest said David rex

the prime s.o.b.

Light tensile immaculata

the sun’s cord unspotted

‘sunt lumina’ said the Oirishman to King Carolus,


all things that are are lights’


Erigena’s axiom was a logical conclusion from the Catholic doctrine of creation and incarnation, though it was condemned as heretical by the Church. Pound could find the same vision of all-informing light in Cavalcanti—though it was left to Spinoza to argue it out that all that is alive and active in creation must be a mode of the creating Being. Pound’s emphatic ‘OMNIA’ insists upon the rightness of Erigena’s insight even as he gives it a Confucian inflection by looking for the universal light in enlightened behaviours.

Here there is a shift into the negative, following on from ‘and they dug him up out of sepulture’, that is, the Church dug up long dead Erigena, ‘soi disantly looking for Manichaeans’. That was a crusade to put out ‘the light of light’ in Provence, as other enlightenments have been put out of mind, for example, ‘that the state can lend money’ and need not go into debt to private banks to finance public works, witness ‘the fleet at Salamis made with money lent by the state to the shipwrights’ (74/429). In the unenlightened world, money, as Lenin said, is never invested ‘inside the country to raise the standard of living | but always abroad to increase the profits of usurers’; and ‘gun sales lead to more gun sales | they do not clutter the market for gunnery | there is no saturation’ (74/429). ‘All of which leads to the death cells’ (74/441), or ‘Till was hung yesterday’; and it has led to Pound’s finding himself ‘a man on whom the sun has gone down’, a ‘no man’ like Odysseus in the Cyclops’ cave. His response is a return to the dominant—

nor shall the diamond die in the avalanche

be it torn from its setting

first must destroy himself ere others destroy him.

4 times was the city rebuilded, Hooo Fasa

Gassir, Hooo Fasa dell’ Italia tradita

now in the mind indestructible, Gassir, Hoooo Fasa,

With the four giants at the four corners

and the four gates mid-wall Hooo Fasa

and a terrace the colour of stars


In effect he is reaffirming his early commitment to the generative image or ‘seed-gestalt’, only what is ‘now in the mind indestructible’ is charged with his lifetime’s effort to conceive and to realize a paradiso terrestre.

One might notice in passing that the second movement of canto 74 is the same length as the first, about 244 lines, and the fourth movement will again have that many lines. The third movement will have 81 lines. So there are three equal movements, and the other a third of their length. These are teasing symmetries, to which, probably, no mystical significance should be attached, yet they do at least indicate a will to give a cut shape to the free-flowing writing. There is no evidence that Pound counted up his lines, but he did radically revise and condense his first notebook draft in the latter part of July. It would of course be all the more wonderful if such symmetries—and they exist throughout these cantos—had arisen unsought.

Each movement of canto 74 has its distinct character or force-field. The key to the first movement has been the light from heaven expressed in constructive intelligence. That has been in effect a profession of faith made ‘from the death cells in sight of Mt. Taishan @ Pisa’. The second movement is a response which entertains the idea of a descent into the dark night of the spirit where clarity of mind and purpose fail. Here there are illusions, and false hopes, and fears: the amazing fakir’s trick of making dead straw ignite in his mouth—Villon’s mother’s ‘painted paradise’ on the church wall offsetting her desperate fear of hell—sea bathers taking fright at a hawk’s shadow. There is the decently elegiac ‘Lordly men are to earth o’ergiven’—men who had been his companions, Ford, Yeats, Joyce, among them. There is nostalgia for the good society and the restaurants and the cake shops one used to know—where are the pleasures of yesteryear? But Pound is not doing a Villon, not giving way to regrets for the lost past. The present asserts itself unsentimentally: ‘and Amber Rives [Princess Troubetzkoi] is dead, the end of that chapter | see Time for June 5th’ (74/434). A tone of ironic good humour enters into the following episode, a lightening of the darkness—

and Mr Edwards superb green and brown

in ward No 4 a jacent benignity,

of the Baluba mask: ‘doan you tell no one

I made you that table’

methenamine eases the urine

and the greatest is charity

to be found among those who have not observed


not of course that we advocate—

and yet petty larceny

in a regime based on grand larceny

might rank as conformity


Seriousness returns as the thought of casual loss and destruction provokes resistance—

300 years culture at the mercy of a tack hammer

thrown through the roof

Cloud over mountain, mountain over the cloud

I surrender neither the empire nor the temples


nor the constitution nor yet the city of Dioce

each one in his god’s name


After further affirmations of what he believes in, the movement comes to its crisis in the episode beginning ‘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’ (74/436). Pound himself is down among the prisoners as among slaves or among Odysseus’ men ‘in Circe’s swine-sty’, knowing that the ultimate cause of their being there is the poison of greed flowing ‘in all the veins of the commonweal’. That is, ‘if on high, will flow downward all through them’, and here, at the exact mid-point of the canto, comes a desperate doubt: ‘if on the forge at Predappio?’ Mussolini was born at Predappio, son of a blacksmith—was he infected at birth with the poison, and was the whole Fascist effort infected in consequence? The instant response is to think of Allen Upward, a resister, but one who, believing himself sacrificed to a usurious system closed against his genius, succumbed to despair and shot himself. And yet his seal or ‘intaglio’, a carved gem which he called ‘Sitalkas’, exists still, an icon to keep in mind the perennial and sustaining life in the grain, and to lift the canto from its lowest point. The episode is framed by ‘Magna NUX animae’ at the start, and ‘nox animae magna’ at its end, phrases which play off against John of the Cross’s Dark Night in which the soul experiences desolation and despair while feeling cut off from the divine light. ‘NUX’, however, meaning ‘nut’—playing off against ‘Νύξ’, Greek for ‘night’—gives a radically different idea, suggesting that the soul has its own seed of light and intelligence and grows from within. Then the lines following ‘nox animae magna’ suggest in Confucian terms how humanity can stand the darkness:

To study with the white wings of time passsing

is not that our delight

to have friends come from far countries

is not that pleasure

nor to care that we are untrumpeted?

filial, fraternal affection is the root of humaneness

the root of the process


That gives confidence to dismiss John of the Cross’s negative way with low puns:

dry friable earth going from dust to more dust

grass worn from its root-hold

is it blacker? was it blacker? Νύξ animae?

is there a blacker or was it merely San Juan with a belly-ache

writing ad posteros

in short shall we look for a deeper or is this the bottom?


Actually, it is recognized, there is worse in the real world: Ugolino, shut away in a tower in nearby Pisa ate his own children; Berlin is now a city in ruins; dysentery marks the death camps; and phosphorus—the word coming from the Greek meaning ‘bringer of light’—is used as a weapon of war against women and children. And still paradise exists, though not as painted on the church wall, and ‘only in fragments unexpected excellent sausage, | the smell of mint, for example’. Or, possibly, in an experience such as when Confucius ‘heard Shun’s music | the sharp song with sun under its radiance’, and ‘for three months did not know the taste of his food’ (74/439). The key to this movement turns out to be not its dark moods but a balanced and positive humanity which can get through them, a disposition which neither gives way to despair nor to an illusory heaven, and which maintains a working faith in a possible paradise.

The relatively short third movement takes up the economic theme. This was introduced in the first movement and appeared again in the second, but has been all along surprisingly understated given the reports that Pound would talk of nothing else in the DTC. Evidently he did not give away the inner and deeper workings of his mind to the guards and psychiatrists. Evidently too, when his mind was fully engaged in his poem of reconstruction the economic war became a subordinate concern. Indeed it is only in these eighty lines (at 74/439-41), and in canto 78, that the theme receives any sustained attention. Hereafter its leading motifs will be repeated from time to time, keeping it in mind, but it will not be heard at all in the climactic cantos 81, 82, and 83. The movement begins with a half-line reminder of John Adams’s ‘every bank of discount is downright iniquity | robbing the public for private individual’s gain’ (see 74/437), and with another half-line recalling how the Roosevelt administration purchased gold ‘at 35 instead of 21.65’, that is, at excessive cost to the public treasury and excessive profit to the private gold dealers. A passage of fifteen anti-Semitic lines pins that scandal on the Rothschilds and the Morgenthaus, and hints at a Jewish conspiracy against ‘the goyim’. 1 Countering that there follows a slightly longer passage developing, positively and without prejudice, the principles of Judaic justice and law: ‘From the law, by the law, so build yr/ temple | with justice in meteyard and measure’. The ‘largest rackets’ are mentioned, alternating the value of the unit of money, ‘and usury @ 60 or lending | that which is made out of nothing’. That ‘the state can lend money’ and ‘need not borrow’ is once again insisted upon; and as an example the story is told of how Wörgl in the Tyrol issued its own money and terrified all the bankers. Set against that is the disaster of Russia’s failure to ‘grasp the idea of work-certificate’, that is, ‘money to signify work done, inside a system | and measured and wanted’ (see 74/426), and hence ‘the immolation of men to machinery | and the canal work and gt. mortality’. The final line of the movement, ‘all of which leads to the death-cells’, connects the evils that flow from greed and ignorance with the DTC, and there the subject is dropped. The war against usury, and for the nation’s control of its credit, fades into the background of the poem. Here the root of reconstruction is not in economic reform but in the art which shapes perception and so directs action.

The fourth movement begins ‘each in the name of its god’, and is in three sections: (i) begins with and returns to both that line and to Aristotle’s ‘philosophy is not for young men’ (74/441-4); (ii) begins at ‘Time is not’ followed by ‘“to carve Achaia”’, and ends with ‘to forge Achaia’ (74/444-7); (iii) runs from ‘and as for playing checquers with black Jim’ to ‘searching every house’ (74/447-8). The last seventeen lines of the canto are a coda to the whole.

The first section opens with a restatement of the canto’s main theme, that enlightened behaviours both public and private flow from fixing in the mind the wisdom derived from experience. Hence neither philosophy nor government are for the young, ‘their generalities cannot be born from a sufficient phalanx of particulars’. At the same time there are the formative ideas and icons which, being ‘in the mind indestructible’, shape a culture, as in the Noh theatre of Japan, or the song of Gassir; or a belief ‘in the resurrection of Italy’. Through the rest of the section Pound is trying to summon up the guiding light of his own mind. First Koré is evoked as the light of blind Tiresias’ mind, then as Persephone under his Taishan, and this in spite of his being ‘in the a. h. of the army | in sight of two red cans labelled “FIRE”’. There are spirits, Graces, ‘possibly in the soft air…in this air as of Kuanon’, or on the air that blows Botticelli’s Venus ashore. But here is ‘By no means an orderly Dantescan rising’, as might be from the arse-hole of hell up to the height where Dante is reunited with Beatrice. Pound’s vision is ‘not to a schema’. Instead, the spirits accompanying Venus-Persephone, and she who calls herself ‘la luna’, and Cunizza, are on the varying wind, and grow in the mind ‘as grass under Zephyrus | as the green blade under Apeliota’. They also are of the process. They are not, however, Confucian. This light is from Pound’s other tradition, from Eleusis, from Provence and Cunizza’s Sordello, and from Cavalcanti.

The second section opens and closes with visions of his beloved, not out of myth now, but the real woman moving into myth. She was introduced earlier in the canto—

in coitu inluminatio

Manet painted the bar at La Cigale or at Les Folies in that year

she did her hair in small ringlets, à la 1880 it might have been

red, and the dress she wore Drecol or Lanvin

a great goddess, Aeneas knew her forthwith


—that is, Aeneas recognized Venus, his mentor in the refounding of Troy at Rome. In this movement Pound’s own ‘great goddess’ is seen in her house at Sant’Ambrogio as in a cameo, ‘against the half-light of the window | with the sea beyond making horizon’, a ‘profile “to carve Achaia”’. That affirmation takes him back to Hugh Selwyn Mauberley’s England, where the skill ‘to carve Achaia’ was lacking, and there the refrain is ‘beauty is difficult’. Among other particulars, Charles Granville, rather briefly Pound’s publisher in London, is mentioned ironically as ‘a lover of beauty’, one for whom ‘the three ladies all waited’, Granville being a serial bigamist. And Arthur Symons’s ‘Modern Beauty’, a fine poem of the fin de siècle decadence, is recalled in a half-remembered line, ‘“my fondest knight lie dead”’. This sketch of English mœurs as he knew them in his London years is sardonic and amused, not celebratory—‘aram vult nemus’, that decaying grove lacked an altar. From the last ‘Beauty is difficult’ he turns to the grass under his tentflaps, seeing it as ‘indubitably, bambooiform | representative brush strokes wd/ be similar’, and so to his own live images, ‘her eyes as in “La Nascita”’, the Botticelli ‘Birth of Venus’, and ‘the child’s face | is at Capoquadri’—the Siena palazzo where Olga Rudge had an apartment—‘in the fresco square over the doorway | centre background’. These are his ‘images formed in the mind…to forge Achaia’.

The final section consists of thirty lines touching on his youth in America, followed by thirty lines touching on his years in Italy. The American memories are sharply delineated details of a passing or past New York, but there is nothing iconic there. The only lasting things are a clutter of mementoes of Aunt Frank’s European tours and Ma Weston’s New England. That was the America he needed to leave. The Italian memories are mixed and don’t offer a simple contrast. There are the things he values, San Zeno in Verona with its signed column, and the painting of ‘the madonna in Ortolo’ which he associates with Cavalcanti’s celebration of the light shining from his lady. On the other hand, ‘the soja has yet to save Europe | and the wops do not use maple syrup’, and an art dealer says that he sells only ‘“the best”’, but ‘“nothing modern | we couldn’t sell anything modern”’. As if from these ‘things seeking an exit’ (40/199), he concludes the movement with a return to the major theme by remembering the woodcarvers in Mary’s Tirol, ‘Herr Bacher’s father [who] made madonnas still in the tradition’, while ‘another Bacher still cut intaglios | such as Salustio’s in the time of Ixotta’.

The coda is a poem in itself:

Serenely in the crystal jet

as the bright ball that the fountain tosses

(Verlaine) as diamond clearness

How soft the wind under Taishan

where the sea is remembered

out of hell, the pit

out of the dust and glare evil

Zephyrus / Apeliota

This liquid is certainly a

property of the mind

nec accidens est but an element

in the mind’s make-up

est agens and functions dust to a fountain pan otherwise

Hast ’ou seen the rose in the steel dust

(or swansdown ever?)

so light is the urging, so ordered the dark petals of iron

we who have passed over Lethe.


What is this ‘liquid’? Imagistically, it is the crystal jet of the fountain, and the spirit-bearing winds under Taishan, ‘Zephyrus | Apeliota’. In philosophical terms, it is an active element in the mind’s make-up, which is near to saying that it is the force that drives the mind. Its action here, the action of the canto, has been to lift the poet’s mind out of his hell, ‘out of the dust and glare evil’. It has done that by composing the mind’s otherwise dusty shards of memory and experience into a verbal music, just as the rose pattern forms in the steel dust when the iron filings respond to a magnet’s force. But still one asks, what exactly is this ‘liquid’? Pound used a similar word in the last sentence of his version of The Analects for (in Legge’s translation) ‘knowing the force of words’. ‘Not to know words’, Pound wrote, ‘is to be without the fluid needful to understand men’. That connects with the Confucian principle that knowledge grows and becomes active through precise verbal definition. Altogether then, the coda resolves the leading themes of the canto into a single final statement: the generative process of nature, and the constructive process of intelligence, are seen and understood to be one and the same fluid life-force, the life-force active and manifest in the process of the poem itself, and active and manifest in our reading it.

There is something more in the resonant last line, one which looks forward to the cantos that are to follow. To have passed over Lethe is to have not bathed in nor drunk of the waters which take away all memory of evil. So what is wrong with the world is not going to be forgotten. Now, after Lethe, at the summit of his Purgatory, Dante comes upon another river, Eunoë, and when he drinks of its waters he is ‘remade, as the plant repairs | Itself, renewed with its new foliage, | Pure and disposed to mount up to the stars’. In one DTC draft Pound did write as the final line, ‘seeking Eunoë’; but he must then have reflected that that was not to be his way. His is to be a paradise in and of the world of the living, and for better and for worse it is to that world that he remains committed.

Canto 75 may be taken as a purely musical example of the renovation Pound was attempting. It presents the score of Gerhart Münch’s transcription of a sixteenth-century setting for lute, by Francesco da Milano, of Clément Janequin’s chorus for voices imitating the songs of many birds. Each bird may be heard distinctly even as another and another join in until their diverse songs become interwoven in an excited, richly textured song of all the birds together, a universe of birdsong. And this is the work of human intelligence responding to the birds’ songs, then effecting a series of refinements in the accurate registration of them in art. ‘Itz the double stopping for the fiddle that makes leZWoisseauXX the FINAL product. (to date)’, Pound would write of Münch’s transcription, which had given the chorus ‘a third life in our time’ on Olga Rudge’s violin. And there was the other dimension, ‘the carry thru’ or transmission by one musician to another of an image or concept formed in the mind, ‘indestructable’. ‘Four times was the city rebuilded’, Pound commented, then thought to add, ‘les oiseauX having been thaaar for some time in the “first” place’.

Canto 74 is the extended overture to The Pisan Cantos, setting out the main thematic materials and sketching the form in which they are to be developed through the sequence 76-83. These eight cantos are subdivided into two sequences of four, 76-9 and 80-3. The first sequence culminates in the ‘lynx lyric’, a hymn to Dionysus; the second culminates in Pound’s making a ritual ode of a wasp building its nest in his tent. The tone is now more personal, as these cantos turn out to be less directly concerned with the ideas of order, and more directly concerned with the ordering of his own mind. Their achievement will be, not yet a new Italy nor a United States true to its Constitution, but the recovery of his own centre and his own right relation with the universe. Like the men of old in Confucius’ testament, he must first set himself in order before he can hope to establish order about him.

Canto 76 doesn’t so much follow on from 74 and 75 as start over with all still to do. The mind is in a state where memories and dreams and observations and reflections well up together in a spontaneous flow with no apparent control. As one thing follows another, each thing a crystallized experience of one kind and another, the effect is rather pointilliste; and as the hundreds and thousands of bright, hard, luminous details accumulate through the course of these cantos into a great swirling cloud like a Milky Way, the effect can be overwhelming. One is in Pound’s vast and various mental world, a world which ranges in detail through his personal experiences in America and England and France and Italy, through European history and culture ancient and contemporary, and which includes also his Confucianism, and of course his present situation in the DTC.

Those are comforting general terms, but this world exists in discrete, free-floating, particles, each particle a micro-world to itself, and with their relations all to be discovered. So much can lie condensed in an image or a name or a thing. The theme of memory is introduced in the opening lines of 76:

And the sun high over horizon hidden in cloud bank

lit saffron the cloud ridge

dove sta memora


The Italian line is from Cavalcanti’s ‘Canzone d’Amore’, translated in canto 36: ‘Where memory liveth, | [Love] takes its state | Formed like a diafan from light on shade’. The lit cloud has brought Cavalcanti’s ‘diafan’ to mind, and that association connects memory with love, anticipating or preparing the key lines of the canto,

nothing matters but the quality

of the affection—

in the end—that has carved the trace in the mind

dove sta memoria

And later, in the best known passage of these cantos, that will become ‘What thou lovest well remains | the rest is dross’. As to names, to take just one, ‘che fu chiamata Primavera’: she who was called ‘The Spring’ was Cavalcanti’s beloved Giovanna, so named for her divine beauty by Dante in his Vita Nuova. The ‘flowered branch and sleeve moving’ makes her also Botticelli’s Renaissance ‘Primavera’, a woman conceived as a vortex of nature’s grace. And for a thing, take Tullio Romano’s miraculous carved sirens or mermaids in Venice’s Santa Maria dei Miracoli, spirits of the Venetian sea found in the marble which is compounded of sea creatures (76/460). In Pound’s mind any word or image can unfurl like these—and in unfurling reveal their interactions, and their patterns.

The first episode of 76 begins with evocations of a paradisal Sant’Ambrogio ‘in the timeless air’—a distillation from the Italian drafts of January and February, with ‘Cunizza, qua al triedro | e la scalza, and she who said: I still have the mould’. The ‘timeless’ modulates into the temporal—‘in Mt Segur there is wind space and rain space | no more an altar to Mithras’—and thoughts of deaths follow, and of the passing of once-famed cakeshops and restaurants, and of lives coming down to left-over bricabrac. ‘Progress’ in fashion is not the answer, rather things that endure, and he thinks again of the good sense of Confucius which guided Chinese civilization through millennia, and of ancient Judaic law respected still in Gibraltar when he was taken to the synagogue there in 1908, and why not rebuild Zion with justice now? ‘“Hey, Snag, wot are the books ov th’ bibl’ | name ’em”’, thus the DTC breaks into his reverie as a neighbouring murderer passes the time with his cage-mate. The Bible has not saved him, nor has his study of Latin. A move to recover ‘the timeless air over the sea-cliffs’ is interrupted by a local variation upon a popular American song that would have been much heard in the camp, ‘“the pride of all our D.T.C. was pistol-packin’ Burnes”’. Then the reverie resumes, bringing back memories of walking the roads of France, then of Joyce at Sirmione, and so to Venice where the shops in the Piazza (subject to flooding) are ‘kept up by | artificial respiration’. The will to recover the timeless vision contends with the insistent evidence of the attritions and evils in time: ‘20 years of the dream’, but the dream of the Fascist republic is over and done with. Still ‘the clouds near to Pisa [and to Taishan] | are as good as any in Italy’; and Aphrodite may be envisioned, as Aeneas’s father Anchises ‘laid hold of her flanks of air | drawing her to him…no cloud, but the crystal body’. Again actuality breaks in, ‘Death, insanity/suicide degeneration | that is, just getting stupider as they get older’. And here, in mid-canto, is the resolving, centering statement—

nothing matters but the quality

of the affection —

in the end—that has carved the trace in the mind

Yet there is the other side of that to be reckoned with, that there are other traces carved in the mind, other persistent patterns, as of misconduct—

and if theft be the main principle in government

(every bank of discount J. Adams remarked)

there will be larceny on a minor pattern

a few camions, a stray packet of sugar

and the effect of the movies

Again the will to realize a natural paradiso asserts itself, attempting to actualize its vision: ‘Lay in soft grass by the cliff’s edge’,

the gemmed field a destra with fawn, with panther,

corn flower, thistle and sword-flower

to a half metre grass growth,

lay on the cliff’s edge

…nor is this yet atasal

nor are here souls, nec personae

neither here in hypostasis, this land is of Dione

and under her planet

to Helia the long meadow with poplars

to Κύπρις

the mountain and shut garden of pear trees in flower

here rested


The mind is not yet in its paradise, not yet ‘atasal’; and if its paradise is not artificial, neither is its hell, ‘Le paradis n’est pas artificiel, | l’enfer non plus’. At the end of the canto, which had begun in paradisal mode, it is the latter that is dominant, ‘po’eri di’aoli sent to the slaughter…for a usurer’s holiday’, and ‘woe to them that conquer with armies | and whose only right is their power’ (76/462-3).

Much of the thematic material in canto 77 is now familiar, but the treatment of it varies in significant ways. Canto 76 was in the elemental key of air and light and crystalline water, and its leading preoccupation was vision. The elemental key in 77 is earth, and the leading preoccupation is action, as the opening chord humorously establishes—

And this day Abner lifted a shovel…

instead of watchin’ to see if it would

take action

The tone of this canto is frequently humorous, down to earth; though it is serious too about earthly powers, that is, about governors, and about mother earth and chthonic Zagreus. Instead of aerial visions there is dancing on this ground. Jefferson’s axiom, ‘“the earth belongs to the living”’, comes apparently casually in a passage concerned with credit and banking. Two mountains with the Arno flowing between them are seen as ‘the two teats of Tellus, γέα’; and Pound himself ‘kissed the earth after sleeping on concrete’, kissed it as the fair breast of fertile Demeter—

bel seno Δημήτηρ copulatrix

thy furrow


(The union with ‘GEA TERRA’ will be consummated in canto 82.)

Canto 77 closes with a rapid, scherzo-like, succession of statements and images, as if impatiently reaching for some further development in the mind’s process. In fact the last twenty lines, from ‘For nowt so much as a just peace | That wd/ obstruct future wars’, are leading on to canto 78. If there is a danger of stasis in ‘mind come to plenum when nothing more will go into it’, that is immediately disturbed by ‘the wind mad as Cassandra | who was sane as the lot of ’em’, though that in turn is calmed into the ordered activity of the dance, ‘Sorella, mia sorella, | che ballava sobr’ un zechin’’. The conclusion is ‘bringest to focus’, flanked on both sides by the ideogram ch’eng, ‘to perfect or focus’, with a repeated ‘Zagreus’ underpinning it. This is a strong variant upon ‘the rose in the steel dust’, and one which explicitly brings together Kung and Eleusis to declare again that it is the organic, chthonic, energies, the life force itself, which drive the process of just definition.

The dominant preoccupation of canto 78 is war and peace, or more exactly the perennial economic war which, to Pound’s mind, is the war behind most wars. The recent war and its consequence have of course been a presence in these cantos from the opening lines, but the dominant motive up to this has been to recover the concept of the just city and the energy to rebuild it. But now, after the aerial spirits and the earthly powers, ‘usura, sin against nature’ is brought into focus, with the main episode the fall of Mussolini’s regime. And here Pound’s poetic genius partly shuts down. The trouble was that he knew too well what he wanted to say, having said most of it before in his prose propaganda. On this subject his mind was made up, and not, as elsewhere in these cantos, open to and energized by the variousness and contradictoriness and surprising depths of things, and, with that, attentive to their fluidly self-ordering interactions. Here, especially when dealing with Mussolini, he falls back into the simplicities of his wartime prose. The promising beginning suggests a parallel with Agamemnon’s homecoming—

Cassandra, your eyes are like tigers,

with no word written in them

You also I have carried to nowhere

to an ill house and there is

no end to the journey.


But soon he is fighting old battles as ‘the economic war’ takes over, beginning with a loaded anecdote repeated from Carta da visita (1942)—‘“it will not take uth 20 years to cwuth Mussolini”’. Mussolini’s part in the war is represented very simply by a few of his phrases and supposed achievements—

‘not a right but a duty’

those words still stand uncancelled,


and merrda for the monopolists

the bastardly lot of ’em

Put down the slave trade, made the desert to yield

and menaced the loan swine

Sitalkas, double Sitalkas

‘not the priest but the victim’


That association with Sitalkas, the life-force in the grain, would have us see Mussolini as at first a force for the just distribution of the abundance of nature, but then as a sacrificial victim, a martyr. One only has to think of his use of poison gas in the Abyssinian desert to see through at least one of those claims. More telling is a later passage recalling the time when Pound tried to persuade Mussolini that ‘taxes are no longer necessary | in the old way if it (money) be based on work done | inside a system and measured and gauged to human requirements’, and Mussolini had said ‘one wd/ have to think about that | but was hang’d dead by the heels before his thought in proposito | came into action efficiently’. That at least moves on from blaming an international conspiracy for his fall to seeking the cause in the Duce himself (77/468).

The canto does open out beyond Mussolini and his failed regime. There is the humanity of the peasants who shared their room and food with Pound when he was heading north on foot from Rome. There are new memories along with some recurrent ones, for instance the meeting with Eliot in Verona in ‘1920 or thereabouts’ at which ‘a literary program’ was agreed, or so Pound had thought, but which ‘was neither published nor followed’. But there is also a sample of the sort of stuff he used to write to Tinkham and Borah, about the fights in the United States Senate to keep the country out of the League of Nations, and to repeal ‘the constriction of Bacchus’; and after that there are half-a-dozen lines of crude rant in the manner of the Rome Radio broadcasts—‘Geneva the usurers’ dunghill…and Churchill’s return to Midas broadcast by his liary’. That part of Pound’s mind was unchanged, as if frozen by its vision of evil.

Nevertheless, at the end of the canto he gratefully gets away from the economics and the propaganda. His mind comes alive as he thinks of a series of women: Nausikaa in Odysseus’ story; someone who ‘sat by the window at Bagno Romagna’—this could have been when he was making his way north from Rome in 1943—‘knowing that nothing could happen | and looking ironicly at the traveler’; Cassandra again; then a restaging of the Bagno Romagnaincident ‘as it might be in a play by Lope de Vega’; so to ‘Cunizza’s shade al triedro’; and finally to Dante’s three Virtues. He comes out thus into a world where a white ox seen on the nearby road has ‘its importance | its benediction’, as Dr Williams would have appreciated, simply for being there.

In canto 79 Pound resumes the process of getting his mind together in the DTC. This is very much a musical canto, in its composition and in its material. It begins in counterpoint, sorts itself out into clear division—equity against iniquity, and from that gradually develops a sustained lyric resolution—a song and dance to the Eleusinian powers, somewhat after the Pervigilium Veneris.

Counterpoint depends upon discriminations of likeness and difference, of likeness in difference and difference in likeness. The opening statement sets up a simple contrast between white light and dark earth:

Moon, cloud, tower, a patch of the battistero all of a whiteness,

dirt pile as per the Del Cossa inset

A more nuanced fifteen-line passage then explores the subject of whiteness and womankind in contexts of opera and ballet, with a sub-theme of love and loss. That is followed by a slightly longer passage on the equally nuanced counter-subject, the ‘whiteness’ of black prisoners in the DTC, that is, their humanity and good humour, one of them

whistling Lili Marlene

with positively less musical talent

than that of any man of colour

whom I have ever encountered

but with bonhomie and good humour

‘I like a certain number of shades in my landscape’, Pound comments, finding a resolving pun in a black slang word for a ‘man of colour’.

This is a relatively light-hearted, even playful, canto, with the poet taking pleasure in making verbal music of the sights and sounds around him, and of the associations they bring up. He writes a passage of ring-composed counterpoint as if just for the pleasure of it

1a with 8 birds on a wire

or rather on 3 wires, Mr Allingham

2a The new Bechstein is electric

and the lark squawk has passed out of season

whereas the sight of a good nigger is cheering

the bad’uns wont look you straight

3a Guard’s cap quattrocento passes a cavallo

on horseback thru landscape Cosimo Tura

or, as some think, Del Cossa;

4a up stream to delouse and down stream for the same purpose


different lice live in different waters

some minds take pleasure in counterpoint

pleasure in counterpoint

4b and the later Beethoven on the new Bechstein,

or in the Piazza S. Marco for example

finds a certain concordance of size

not in the concert hall;

3b can that be the papal major sweatin’ it out to the bumm drum?

what castrum romanum, what

‘went into winter quarters’

is under us?

as the young horse whinnies against the tubas

in contending for certain values

(Jannequin per esempio, and Orazio Vechii or Bronzino)

2b Greek rascality against Hagoromo

Kumasaka vs/ vulgarity

no sooner out of Troas

than the damn fools attacked Ismarus of the Cicones

1b 4 birds on 3 wires, one bird on one


Then he does it over again in an even longer passage (79/486-7). Even his serious concerns come lightened with humour, as that ‘Athene cd/ have done with more sex appeal’, or this reflection upon Yeats’s ‘Blood and the Moon’,

‘[a time] half dead at the top’

My dear William B. Y. your ½ was too moderate

‘pragmatic pig’ (if goyim) will serve for 2 thirds of it

to say nothing of the investment of funds in the Yu-en-mi

and similar ventures

The culminating ‘lynx lyric’, which brings the first sequence of cantos to a climax, is celebratory, dionysian, a rite of spring—if a somewhat genteel and confected one. It is to be enjoyed as an episode taking the mind out of the DTC in the spirit of Yeats’s Bishop Berkeley who proved ‘That this pragmatical, preposterous pig of a world…Must vanish on the instant if the mind but change its theme’.

Canto 80, on the other hand, might be obeying Conrad’s injunction, ‘in the destructive element immerse’, the destructive element in this case being time. This long canto, nearly as long as 74, is composed of memories of things that were of their era and tell of what has been. The keynote is ‘Les moeurs passent et la douleur reste’, a way of life disappears, the regrets remain. But Pound is not revisiting his past in a spirit of regret or nostalgia. There is a reminder at the start, in the word ‘themis’—‘the vagaries of our rising θέμις’ is something John Adams might have said—that the customs which most interest Pound are those which make for and sustain societies and their laws. ‘Amo ergo sum’, he then affirms, I love therefore I am, ‘and in just that proportion’, with the further emphasis, even though I grow old I still love, ‘senesco sed amo’. That is an orientation, through this long passage of memories, towards ‘What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross’.

Initially the consciousness is timebound in a drift of memories of the past. Some things seem worth the remembering: that ‘Spanish bread was made out of grain in that era’—the Velazquez paintings in the Prado—Turgenev’s ‘Nothing but death is irreparable’—Padraic Colum’s poem ‘O woman, shapely as the swan, | On your account I shall not die’—but then, ‘Whoi didn’t he…keep on writing poetry at that voltage’? The lack of voltage, of the intensity necessary for lasting achievement, is characteristic of most of these memories, and of the drifting yet alert consciousness observing and commenting upon them. For one instance, these were the American poets when Pound was growing up—


Stickney, Loring,

the lost legion, or as Santayana has said:

They just died They died because they

just couldn’t stand it

and Carman ‘looked like a withered berry’

20 years after


Now and again there is a brief interruption to the flow of retrospection, the first when he looks up to notice that ‘the clouds have made a pseudo-Vesuvius | this side of Taishan; and the next, a hundred lines later, when ‘Prowling night-puss’ recalls him to the DTC for a page or two.

The drama of the canto is in these interruptions which bring him back to his immediate world, and then in the gradual surfacing of the iconic moments in time, and the visionary moments out of time, which light up and magnetize the mind. As these moments increase and become dominant they establish a contemplative mood, one in which the drift of experience comes into sharp focus to be fixed in a definite image. The risen moon plays a part in this, lending a visionary presence to the compassionate Virgin who said ‘Io son’ la luna’on the Sant’Ambrogio hillside, and to the moon nymph of Hagoromo, and to Diana who ‘had compassion on silversmiths | revealing the paraclete | standing in the cusp of the moon’ (80/500-1). Among the iconic moments are ‘old Belloti’ registering the words on the pedestal of Shakespeare’s monument in Leicester Square, ‘There is no darkness but ignorance’; and the striking dignity of the red-bearded fellow mending his daughter’s shoe whom Pound had come across when looking for de Born’s Altaforte; and with that another memory from his walk through southern France, of ‘tables set down by small rivers, | and the stream’s edge is lost in the grass’. These are things not of any particular era but of ‘the eternal moods’, and through them the freewheeling mind gradually settles into its own mood. After the question, ‘Nancy where art thou? | Whither go all the vair and the cisclatons’, and the answer, ‘the wave pattern runs in the stone | on the high parapet (Excideuil)’, certain works and visions that outlast time fill the mind—Botticelli’s Venus, and Jacopo del Sellaio’s; and ‘portraits in our time Cocteau by Marie Laurencin | and Whistler’s Miss Alexander’,

and somebody’s portrait of Rodenbach

with a background

as it might be L’Ile St Louis for serenity, under Abélard’s bridges

for those trees are Elysium

for serenity

under Abélard’s bridges

for those trees are serenity


This dwelling upon Elysian serenity induces the ‘eternal mood’ in which the living can feel at one with the dead. It is carried on in thoughts of Confucius ‘as he had walked under the rain altars | or under the trees of their grove’; thence to ‘grey stone in the Aliscans’ at Arles where the ‘rain altars’ are sarcophagi ranged under poplars; thence again to what remains of Mt Segur. The positive serenity of this mood comes from the feeling of communion with something that is still a living force in the mind. It is not an elegiac or melancholy mood, not at all that of Gray in his country churchyard meditating on what is dead and gone forever. Its surprising effect is to bring on a rare moment of self-revelation and confession:

Je suis au bout de mes forces/

That from the gates of death,

that from the gates of death: Whitman or Lovelace

found on the jo-house seat at that

in a cheap edition! [and thanks to Professor Speare]

hast’ou swum in a sea of air strip

through an aeon of nothingness,

when the raft broke and the waters went over me,


Les larmes que j’ai creées m’inondent

Tard, très tard je t’ai connue, la Tristesse,

I have been hard as youth sixty years. (80/512-13)

This release of feeling brings him altogether into the present, and into a calmed state. He notices that ‘the ants seem to wobble | as the morning sun catches their shadows’, makes a litany of the names of prisoners on sick call, reflects that ‘the guards’ opinion is lower than that of the/prisoners/o[f] t[he] a[rmy]’, pauses, then with renewed energy proceeds to fix old England’s image in the canto’s finale as if carving its epitaph in stone.

A ‘telescopic squash of English metric’ was Pound’s description of this finale. He was laying England to rest in its neglected honours, remembering (with the assistance of Speare’s Pocket Book of Verse) Browning, and FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát, and the lyric tradition back to Shakespeare and before. The finale is also a ‘telescopic squash’ of English history. The neglect of Magna Carta, it is implied, is at the root of its present decayed state, along with the sack of the monasteries, and the civil wars and treasons. The Wars of the Roses, the epic matter of Shakespeare’s English history plays up to Henry VIII’s bloody way with his wives, is condensed into three quatrains, beginning,

Tudor indeed is gone and every rose,

Blood-red, blanch-white that in the sunset glows

Cries: “Blood, Blood, Blood!” against the gothic stone

Of England, as the Howard or Boleyn knows.


That is the Rubáiyát’s quatrain stripped of its luxury, syncopated by the contorted syntax matching the twisted history, and deployed to petrify the mortally violent past.

The last lines of the canto make a gentler, withdrawing, close. The Serpentine and the gulls on the pond and the sunken garden ‘will look just the same’—that London remains. But there is as much life of that order, or more, in his immediate prospect where a young lizard is after a ‘green midge half an ant-size’—

and if her green elegance

remains on this side of my rain ditch

puss lizard will lunch on some other T-bone

There is a profound shift of attention here amounting to an alteration of consciousness in the apparently simple change from the long perspective of history to this close-up of the small drama under his eye. He has come ‘thru the unending | labyrinth of the souterrain’ of the timebound mind and emerged to see again the living world.

Canto 81 picks up that opening of the mind to nature and magnifies it in its opening images. The first line, ‘Zeus lies in Ceres’ bosom’, declares, as Zielinski saw it, ‘the final act of the cosmic drama, the reconciliation of the two powers’ of the heavens above and the fruitful earth. Fittingly, ‘Taishan is attended of loves | under Cythera, before sunrise’ (81/517). Venus, currently the morning star, will be the dominant presence in this canto. But first there is a phalanx of details, nearly all of them anecdotes from Pound’s own experience, making up a quite complex idea of tradition. Even sound traditions may become petrifications and need to be made new, thus ‘to break the pentameter, that was the first heave’. Hugh Kenner has shown with what maestria Pound himself broke and renewed the pentameter through the latter third of the canto to give a timeless voice to inherited wisdom. This voice is the beloved, the mind’s desire, but projected as the divinity of love and speaking not from but to the mind, interrogating, challenging, admonishing it. She speaks first as in the libretto of a court masque, in the guise of Venus rising in the September dawn sky,

Ere the season died a-cold

Borne upon a zephyr’s shoulder

I rose through the aureate sky

She is greeted appropriately, as it seems—

Lawes and Jenkyns guard thy rest

Dolmetsch ever be thy guest

The goddess’s response, however, is to challenge Dolmetsch’s worthiness, ‘Has he tempered the viol’s wood…Has he curved us the bowl of the lute?’ Next she challenges the poet directly—

Hast ’ou fashioned so airy a mood

To draw up leaf from the root?

He fends off the challenge, daring to demand an answer of the goddess, ‘Then resolve me, tell me aright | If Waller sang or Dowland played,’ and his reward is an annihilating look out of Chaucer’s ‘Merciless Beauté’—

Your eyen two wol sleye me sodenly

I may the beauté of hem nat susteyne

Yet next ‘there came new subtlety of eyes into my tent’, eyes that he loves, at first giving the reassurance ‘What thou lovest well remains’, and then fiercely admonishing, ‘Pull down thy vanity’. One may be reminded of the Psalms and the Preacher of Ecclesiastes and Villon’s ‘Ballade des pendus’, and be reminded also that this is taking place in his tent in the DTC—

First came the seen, then thus the palpable

Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell

(He would have been hearing all the time ‘From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli’, from the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’, the signature song of the US Marine Corps.) The core admonition is to learn of ‘the seen’—

The ant’s a centaur in his dragon world.

Pull down thy vanity, it is not man

Made courage, or made order, or made grace,

Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down.

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.


For all its biblical quality this is the voice of a natural, even pagan, wisdom. It would not say with the Preacher that all is vanity. And though humbled, the poet feels able in the closing passage of the canto to add something of his own—

But to have done instead of not doing

this is not vanity

To have, with decency, knocked

That a Blunt should open

To have gathered from the air a live tradition

or from a fine old eye the unconquered flame

This is not vanity.

Hidden in the allusion to the visit to Blunt in 1914 will have been the knowledge that Blunt had been imprisoned for his part in the agitation in the 1880s against rack-renting Irish landlords, and while in prison had written his defiant sonnet sequence, In vinculis. That will have become a specially pertinent part of Pound’s live tradition.

Canto 82 follows on from that allusion with ‘Swinburne my only miss’, the regret for this one error masking the implicit boast that he had otherwise gathered from the English air all the live tradition that it had to offer.

Zagreus, lord of the dead and of resurgent life, presides over canto 82 although not directly named. Zagreus was named, however, at the end of canto 77, and that prompts notice of an emerging system of correspondences between the two groups of cantos binding them together into a single sustained progression from 76 through to 83—


The entire sequence of eight cantos is, in effect, ring-composed. (Cantos 74 and 75 might be regarded as the overture or introduction to the action, and canto 84 as its coda, and also as a bridge to what is to follow.)

After the opening lines which situate canto 82 firmly in the ‘a. h. of the army’—‘“Guten Morgen, Mein Herr” yells the black boy from the jo-cart’—Pound’s mind reverts to the London world he had had to get through, a world marked by death, although now he comes out at the memory of Ford’s good conversation and his ‘humanitas’, that word glossed by the ideogram ‘jen’, read by Pound as a man in touch with both earth and sky, and signifying the Confucian ideal of ‘the man who lives out heaven’s process on earth’. In the second half of the canto, which is of exactly the same length as the London episode, he undergoes a ritual death in which he must acknowledge the truth of ‘man, earth : two halves of the tally’, and realize in himself, ‘simply, past metaphor’, that death also is part of the process of life. His guides are Whitman’s great song of death in life, ‘Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking’, and an episode in Kipling’s Kim, both being rites of passage through near-to-death experiences into a new life sustained by an awareness of the deathless sources of life. In the final chapter of Kim the boy, exhausted by his long journey, is nursed through days of weakness by an old woman who then leaves his cure to Mother Earth. Kim lies down in the ‘clean…hopeful dust that holds the seeds of all life’,

And Mother Earth…breathed through him to restore the poise he had lost lying so long on a cot cut off from her good currents. His head lay powerless upon her breast, and his opened hands surrendered to her strength.

In Pound’s chthonic mystery the drawing of ‘GEA TERRA’ inspires terror—Clytaemnestra’s spilling the blood of Agamemnon as if celebrating a fertility rite is also in his mind—and it also confers a sustaining wisdom:

How drawn, O GEA TERRA,

what draws as thou drawest

till one sink into thee by an arm’s width

embracing thee.


connubium terrae ἔφατα πόςις ὲμός

ΧΘΟΝΙΟΣ, mysterium

fluid ΧΘΟΝΟΣ o’erflowed me

lay in the fluid ΧΘΟΝΟΣ;

that lie

under the air’s solidity

drunk with ΊΧΩΡ of ΧΘΟΝΙΟΣ

fluid ΧΘΟΝΟΣ, strong as the undertow

of the wave receding

but that a man should live in that further terror, and live

the loneliness of death came upon me

(At 3 P.M. for an instant)


In Kim Mother Earth restores not simply Kim’s physical strength but, more importantly, ‘the poise he had lost’, his psychic balance. There is recovered poise, after ‘the loneliness of death’, in the last lines of the canto where Pound reads the birds perched on the camp wire as musical notes, ‘three solemn half-notes | their white downy chests black-rimmed’—a closing benediction.

Interactions of water and light and intelligence bring peace and a lightened mood in canto 83, the climax of the Pisan sequence. Unity with nature is the key conception, announced by ‘Gemisto stemmed all from Neptune | hence the Rimini bas reliefs’, and by Scotus Erigena’s ‘all things that are, are lights’. There is also, to set the tone, ‘the virtue hilaritas’, and Yeats’s mildly hilarious ‘dawdling around Notre Dame’ admiring, not the great building itself, but the symbol of it in the rose window. There is a new lightness and aerial fluidity in the writing, with the words seeming to float in the white spaces of the page, and with an impulse to form lyric strophes. There is a place also for Confucian thought, as when Pound’s response to the September rain, ‘in the drenched tent there is quiet | sered eyes are at rest’, is followed by

the sage

delighteth in water

the humane man has amity with the hills


‘Amity’ is the form love has in this canto generally, the lighter love as between friends, not the driving force which seeks union with the beloved. Yeats, ‘Uncle William’, is the principal human presence, recalled with both warm affection and amusement. As for ‘La Cara’, to whom he was desperate to send the message ‘amo’ in canto 76 (76/459), here her settings in Siena and Venice are sketched in, but there is no further communion.

The canto develops through three major episodes, all located in the DTC and together enacting Pound’s private rite of communion with nature. The first features what is in the eyes of the caged panther and of Dryad; the second the dawn sun and Confucian principle; and the third the infant wasp viewed as enacting the autumn rite at Eleusis. The first is a preparation of the mind, the second instruction, and the third the epiphany.

The starting point is as it were in the death cells with all hope abandoned: ‘In the caged panther’s eyes: “Nothing. Nothing that you can do…”’ Yet when in his mind he looks into the eyes of Dryad, addressed as ‘Δρυᾁς’ in the Greek H.D. loved, he sees that they are ‘like the clouds over Taishan | When some of the rain has fallen | and half remains yet to fall’. Imagined tears of compassion, possibly, but Taishan’s clouds rain abundance, they mean life—

The roots go down to the river’s edge

and the hidden city moves upward

white ivory under the bark


His mind is opened thus to the process of water and sunlight, despite his imprisonment—

Plura diafana

Heliads lift the mist from the young willows

There is no base seen under Taishan

but the brightness of ‘udor ὔδωρ

the poplar tips float in brightness

By this process is leaf drawn up from root. ‘Dryad, thy peace is like water’, he acknowledges, using the form of the name his ‘boyhood’s friend’ had accepted from him when she first initiated him into her mytho-poetic vision of ‘the universe of fluid force…the germinal universe of wood alive, of stone alive’.

The sun presides over the passage of instruction out of Mencius—this demands some clear thinking about the connection between the life force and human culture. The sun’s breath, visible as morning mist, ‘wholly covers the mountains’ and ‘nourishes by its rectitude’—

Boon companion to equity

it joins with the process

lacking it, there is inanition

The ‘process’ here must be the single process of nature and human nature functioning together, so that it is simply seeing it from the human side to add,

If deeds be not ensheaved and garnered in the heart

there is inanition

That is the harvest of tradition, the basis of culture. A final formulation encapsulates the total process,

that he eat of the barley corn

and move with the seed’s breath

That is enforced by warnings in Italian and in ideogram: don’t force nature whether in plants or in oneself, best follow it.

With the thought of Venice he lapses again into nostalgia, ‘Will I ever see the Giudecca again?’ That would have been a familiar sight from the Zattere across the wide canal, and ‘DAKRUŌN ΔΑΚΡΥΩΝ’ he writes, weeping in Greek. His mind is back in his prison thinking thoughts of death. Then Brother Wasp ‘building a very neat house’ of mud on his tent roof takes his eye, and turns his mind to ‘learn of the green world’—

and in the warmth after chill sunrise

an infant green as new grass

has stuck its head or tip

out of Madame La Vespa’s bottle

mint springs up again

in spite of Jones’ rodents [i.e. prisoners set to pull up the grass]

as had the clover by the gorilla cage

with a four-leaf

When the mind swings by a grass-blade

an ant’s forefoot shall save you

the clover leaf smells and tastes as its flower

The infant has descended

from mud on the tent roof to Tellus

like to like colour he goes amid grass-blades

greeting them that dwell under XTHONOS ΧΘΟΝΟΣ

ΟΙ ΧΘΟΝΙΟΙ; to carry our news

εἰς χθονιους  to them that dwell under the earth,

begotten of air, that shall sing in the bower

of Kore, Περσεφόνεια

and have speech with Tiresias, Thebae

The Cantos began with Odysseus’ tale of slaughtering herds to summon up ‘the impetuous impotent dead’ and have Tiresias speak to him. This is the reverse case. The newborn wasp descends under the earth to carry news of the living and to sing Kore-Persephone’s hymn of perennial regeneration. The assurance she conveyed to initiates at Eleusis in her autumn rite was that, though this year was dying, in the next year and the years to come the earth would bring forth again green shoots and a harvest, that the source of their life was unfailing. The infant wasp can confirm this ‘to them that dwell under the earth’, as she confirms it to Pound in his contemplation of her. She is his epiphany of Kore-Persephone, neither tale nor myth but the life-force directly revealing itself to him in his DTC tent. Overcome by the revelation, ‘that day I wrote no further.’ Shortly he will write that the eyes which shone their light at him in canto 81 now look from his, meaning that now he sees his world with their vision and is of their mind.

Before that claim, however, there is down-to-earth humanity and good humour in the interlude celebrating Yeats composing his ‘great peacock’ at Stone Cottage, but disdaining to ‘eat ham for dinner | because peasants eat ham for dinner’. And, after the moment of vision, what more is there to say, unless (in Heine’s German out of Anacreon), ‘the ladies say to me, “but you are old”’. So to the final lines, ‘Down, Derry-down | Oh let an old man rest’. The great three-month mind-adventure has attained its end. Now common reality resumes its sway.

The closing passage of canto 83 turns from contemplation of the mystery to the matter of government in the United States, thus leading into 84 where Pound moves with renewed assurance to engage once more in the economic war. Back in that realm of problematic action and error it is ‘John Adams, the Brothers Adam’ to whom he pays homage as ‘our norm of spirit | our chung1 [our centre]’. Yet he salutes also Alessandro Pavolini and Fernando Mezzasoma of the Salò regime, and Mussolini, all three ‘hung up by the heels’ in Milan; and salutes also Pierre Laval and Vidkun Quisling, both recently executed as collaborators with the Nazi invaders of their countries. Though himself facing possible execution for treason he would not jump to the winning side (85/544).

1 These, it is worth noting, are the only clearly anti-Semitic lines in The Pisan Cantos.