Blogging Pound’s The Cantos: Canto XXVIII-XXX

This entry is part 25 of 49 in the series Blogging Pound's The Cantos

This post is one in a series of readings I’m posting of each poem in Ezra Pound’s The Cantos, a few at a time.

These are not exactly typical readings of the poems, so much as readings I’m doing with a specific research project in mind — how to write Ezra Pound as a figure in a novel in which modernist artists, poets, and musicians secretly waged an occult war in the earlier half of the 20th century.

Or maybe about artists, musicians, and poets waging a secret, occult war in some other world vaguely like ours, in a time period somewhat like the late 19th century and early twentieth.

If you’d like to know more about the project, I recommend scrolling down to the bottom of extended post, and reading the first installment in this series.

This week, I’m ending off A Draft of XXX Cantos with a reading of Cantos XXVIII-XXX. 


The attentive reader will notice that last week, I finished off that volume of Pound’s titled, “A Draft of Cantos 17-27″ and yet, once again this week, I’m finishing off another volume despite reading only three more poems.

Here’s what happened: basically, Pound slapped three more Cantos onto those he’d already completed, and published it (in France) as A Draft of XXX Cantos.

MORE MORE MORE

Though it feels funny to say it this way, Canto XXVIII seems to deal with transcontinental expatriate journeys of different kinds, some of them successful but many, in one way or another, a failure; and the canto also deals with failings of different kinds.

Not that the poem opens with this: instead, it tells a curious creation story:

And God the Father Eternal (Boja d'un Dio!)       ["hangman of a God"]
Having made all the things he cd.
think  of, felt yet
That something was lacking, and thought
Still more, and reflected that
The Romagnolo was lacking, and
Stamped his foot in the mud and
Up comes the Romagnolo:
          "Gard, yeh bloudy 'angman! It's me".
Aso iqua me.                                      ["It's me here."]

When one sees a creation story, in a creative work, one should always be careful to assess to what degree the  creator is talking about himself or herself… especially if it’s a himself. But this first page doesn’t offer much in the way of illumination: it mentions an Austrian doctor performing a Caesarean section in 1925 in San Giorgio — the island, one presumes — and then shifts into what looks like a Middle English description of an oceanic  scene, replete with archaic spellings like “swimme” and “shippe,” wherein travelers (or at least sailors) must beware what seem to be mermaids or mermen — Tritons are mentioned later — who are “Desirous of the bodies of men which they covet for meate”; and then, all of a sudden, we are among foreigners, expatriates and their idiot exploits, of which many are recounted in the remainder of the Canto. Pound lists of a number of figures whom, according to Terrell, were known to him, but who mostly have not remained in popular memory:

  • Mr. Lourpee, a failed French painter and fan of Emerson whom Pound met in a French pension in 1926,
  • Mrs. Kreffle [Kraft], a woman Pound supposedly met in Madrid in 1906 who had a habit of not paying her bills
  • An American drama critic who signed some kind of contract with a Dutchman and as a result during a trip to Europe (with his family) got housed in a lousy brothel (literally lousy — it was full of fleas!)
  • Some Ladies from West Virginia
  • A lady who loved bullfights
  • A Dutchman who refused to travel to Trieste by train but insisted on waiting for a boat,
  • An old woman from Kansas

After all of this, we end up back in Pound’s class with Professor Rennert, with one of his classmates, Clara Leonora (who once was taken upon the lap of Liszt) expounding upon the sonnet — we must assume, berating Pound for his claimed habit of daily writing poems in the form, only to destroy them all at the end of the year) and whom Pound mockingly notes “… continued with hope of degrees and / Ended in a Baptist learnery / Somewhere near the Rio Grande.”

Then we’re back to expatriates and travel. We get the following:

  • A glimpse of Florence Farr (as Loica), a teacher friend of Yeats’ who ended up in Ceylon because she could continue her work  there despite a disfiguring cancer having ruined her face. Or that’s the story Terrell tells: it’s actually a lot more interesting…
Florence Farr
Florence Farr, who, where I got this picture (click the image to see where) is remembered as an alchemist, of all things.

Fascinating Occult Connection of the Week:

Florence Farr was “a British West End leading actress, composer and director. She was also a women’s rights activist, journalist, educator, singer, novelist, leader of the occult order, The Golden Dawn and one time mistress of playwright George Bernard Shaw,” sez Wikipedia — and it also says she was also a collaborator with many writers, often uncredited; but the reference to the order of The Golden Dawn is interesting because this links her not only to Yeats, as Terrell mentions, but also to Aleister Crowley… just like Ione de Forest, mentioned in Canto VII.

Though I’ve not seen any explicit connection so far, I get a strange feeling that Aleister Crowley and Ezra Pound must have met at some point, or at least have moved in the same circles. I imagine Pound would have been dismissive of Crowley, but he sure seems to have been interested in women connected to Crowley’s project. Perhaps some scholar out there has made mention of this, but I haven’t seen it yet, and I can’t help but feel that Surette’s right: it’s a bit awkward for one’s definitive modernist poet to be associated in any capacity with an occultist crackpot who called himself “The Great Beast,” and probably a lot of fans and scholars would rather not talk about it.

That, or it really was only the women in Crowley’s circles who interested Pound… or maybe, all the famous dancers and actresses in London at the time crossed paths with Crowley. But I rather think that would make him worth mentioning, and he seems not to come up in Pound scholarship that much — at least, the stuff I’ve seen.

By the way, the account Wikipedia presents is that Farr went to Ceylon’s Uduvil Ramanathan Girls College (an educational institution run by a Tamil religious and political figure (appropriately named Ramanathan) long before she got cancer, for idealistic reasons:

… at the age of fifty-two, she sold all her possessions and moved to Ceylon, returning to her first vocation, that of a teacher. Farr was appointed Lady Principal by Ramanathan and the administration of the school was turned over to her. Certainly the organizational skills she learned as the Praemonstratrix of the Golden Dawn served Farr in her new position, and due to her tolerance and respect for the Tamil traditions, the school thrived under her administration. Farr also kept up her correspondences with Yeats, and sent him her translations of Tamil poetry.

The cancer, says Wikipedia, came later–in 1916–and brought a mastectomy (which she described as having turned her into an “Amazon”; people in those days still remembered that the Greek story of the Amazons involved their having one breast removed, for the purposes of archery) and soon after, her death.

Then, it’s back to the expat clowning:

  • Some chatter among fellows in a rooming house, spitting into a spittoon in 1908, including Joe Bromley, a classmate of Pound’s from UPenn, who had “out back of Jaffa” (in Palestine) met a missionary who’d arrived from “Shanghaï” and loaned him some money (which was never paid back).
  • After a hoity-toity piece in the Paris edition of the Chicago Tribune about some kind of “Great moral secret service plan” in France, there’s some business about Frank Robert Iriquois, apparently some sort of American drug dealer in Paris in 1924 who was caught and deported, as announced in what reads like a headline: NARCOTIC CHARGE. Huh, seems things have not changed much
  • Then there’s a weird quotation from someone “(Across the bar planks of a diningroom in the Pyrenees)” who seems to have also lived abroad, perhaps in Martinique, declaring (in French) that he is more powerful than the Buddha, than Jesus, that he would have “abolished weight,” and crying out something about les vieux Marsouins!” (“the old Marines!”). The response reported by Pound is the same as ours:
(Silence, somewhat unconvinced.)

One cannot help but feel certain there would be more, er, interesting tales among these reminiscences of Pound’s, but we are left with ciphers, mostly.

Here, Pound shifts to a reference to the 12th century Provencal troubadour Marcabrun, and glosses  a few lines by him where he claims to have “made it, feitz Marcebrus, the words and the music.”

Then, back to expatriates and voyagers again, with anecdotes from a Dr. Wymans about the battle at Gallipoli — which, of course, was the fight put up by the Allies in 1915 to take Dardanelles.

This leaps immediately to another failed venture — though this time, it’s a familiar one, and one Pound depicts as having succeeded (in the task, if not in profits), at least here: that is, the endlessly quoted lines about his grandfather:

Thaddeus Coleman Pound

And that man sweat blood to put through that railway,
And what he ever got out of it?
And one day he drove down to the whorehouse
Cause all the farmers had consented
          and granted the right of way,
But the pornoboskos wdn't. have it at any price
And said he'd shoot the surveyors,
But he didn't shoot ole pop in the buckboard,
He giv him the right of way.
And they thought they had him flummox'd,
Nobody'd sell any rails;
Till he went up to the north of New York state
And found some there on the ground
And he had 'em pried loose and shipped 'em
And had 'em laid here through the forest.

Not only did Pound’s grandpa, Thaddeus Coleman Pound, not get anything lasting out of the railroad: in the end, he actually ended up having it bought out from under him by the Weyerhauser empire, a competitor in the lumber industry at the time run by the robber-baron Fred Weyerhauser. What’s interesting here is that it’s one more case of a failure, one among many… but I’ve discussed that in connection with Malatesta already.

I’ll come back to this story in a bit, since I think it helps clarify what Pound is up to in this poem.

Pound suggests a methodology to… well, to something:

Thing is to find something simple
As for example Pa Stadtvolk;
Hooks to hang gutters on roofs,
A spike and half-circle, patented 'em and then made 'em;
Worth a good million, not a book in the place;
Got a horse about twenty years after, seen him
Of a Saturday afternoon
When they'd taken down an old fence,
Ole Pa out there knockin the nails out
(To save 'em). I hear he smoked good cigars.

The thing is to find something simple… if you wanna be like stupid Pa Stadtvolk. If you want to be a miserly, ignorant old millionaire who scavenges nails torn-down fences in the afternoon, and smokes good cigars in the evening: in other words, if you want to be a joke. This is the “thing to do,” if you want to get rich in the kind of world in which we live, though: the old bastard’s “worth a million.” Pound follows up this story with two more: one of Prince Oltrempassimo (a pseudonym for the Italian Prince Massimo, Terell tells us) whose claim to Poundian infamy was keeping a replica of the Discobolus in his house and letting nobody see it, until his death made it impossible to continue, and the of Pope Pius IX locking himself in the Vatican and declaring himself a prisoner after Rome seized the Vatican and wrenched secular power from the hands of the Papacy. We are treated to an unflattering image of Pius IX:

And he lay there with his hood back
And the hole in one of his socks.

Pius IX

(Of note is the fact that Pius began fairly liberal (allowing Jews to move freely in Rome in 1850) but later was quite anti-liberal: he reestablished the Jewish Ghetto). Under his reign a Jewish boy was kidnapped by a Christian servant girl from his parents for baptism, and then by law the child (as a Christian) could not be raised by Jews… so the Papal States’ police took the boy from his family, and finally Pius raised him in his home, and the boy was finally ordained a priest. One feels very little sympathy for Pius IX in his prisonerhood.)

Then we’re treated to a mockery of “the Second Baronet,” whom Terrell reports to be Sir John Dean Paul, apparently a corrupt banker who was in fact convicted of fraud — which is enough to get Pound to hate him even at a distance of two centuries; in the mockery, Paul confronts the works of the French philosopher Pierre Bayle, an apparently important figure in the French and German Enlightenment best known for his Historical and Critical Dictionary… of which Paul says, “Thass a funny lookin’ buk” and… well, of course, he doesn’t read it, but worse, he can’t even understand someone else contemplating doing so.

What seems common to all these figures is a squalidity in the midst of plenty, a corruption of spirit in choking off the natural flow of art, beauty, wisdom, knowledge, or even wealth. But what all this has to do with the expatriates in their sordid and ridiculous, or sad, or strange wanderings, remains unclear.

The poem ends with a lengthy discussion of aviators who tackled the trip across the Atlantic, some more successfully than others. It’s enough to make one wish Pound had read some of the aviation novels by Saint-Exupéry, but of course, my favorite of those wasn’t even written by then; no, here he discusses people like Charles Lindbergh and his competitors, particularly Charles Levine (who, note, was a Jew: one begins to see Pound’s obsessions shift under the surface) and Walter G. R. Hinchliffe and Elsie MacKay, who went missing over the Atlantic in 1928.

MacKay and Hinchliffe Hinchliffe — a one-eyed aviator… and his lover and copilot, Elsie MacKay, a famous English socialite.

There’s some powerful stuff here, too, at least if you read it in a fragmentary way, in the passage that describes part of the flight by Lindbergh’s direct competitor, Charles Levine:

Charles Levine

Charles Levine, whose arrival in Berlin was celebrated by some for a Jewish-American having flown “farther” (than Lindhberg).

Went on into darkness,
Saw naught above but close dark,
Weight of ice on the fuselage
Borne into the tempest, black cloud wrapping their wings,
The night hollow beneath them
And fell with dawn into ocean

… but of course, mixed into the story is gossip about the women who flew with some of the aviators whose flights failed — and that, precisely, is what the canto ends with: gossip of a divorce by a famous English actor from a woman who later went down into the Atlantic on a failed transoceanic flight.

What is Pound up to? Does a link even exist between these anecdotes of fellow travelers and expatriates in Europe, gossip of aviators, and snippets of history?

I’m not completely sure, but I think there is a link. I said I’d come back to the story of Pound’s grandfather, and specifically, it’s one word in the story that I want to discuss. That word is pornoboskos, and it’s interesting in that it doesn’t mean what a modern ear would think it means: it means brothel-keepers, and the prefix porno-, according to the OED, is linked not to sex generally, but to sex in the context of prostitution: thus a pornographer is one who writes about prostitutes, and a pornoboskos is a brothel-keeper. The OED also offers an interesting connection based on the prefix “porno-“:

porno-, comb. form
Etymology:  Shortened < pornography n. and pornographer n. Compare ancient Greek πορνο- , combining form (in e.g. πορνοβοσκόςbrothel-keeper) of πόρνη prostitute < an ablaut variant of the base of περνάναι to export for sale ( < the same Indo-European base as πέραbeyond: see far adv.) + -νη , suffix forming nouns, as prostitutes were often bought slaves. Compare porno adj.porno n.1, and porn n.2

What’s notable here, is you’re puzzled, is the linkage between export-for-sale, which seems one form of exportation of many explored in this Canto. Maybe the link is ephemeral, just in my head… but give Pound’s fascination with the melding of the esoteric and the erotic, and the way the word jumps off the page amid a ton of vernacular Midwestern modern English, one cannot help but wonder: is this word the tie that binds the canto together. One must pause and ask: is Pound suggesting that even sex has been screwed up (ahem) by the dysfunction in economics that — in his non-poetry writing — has begun to dominate his textual output?

The exportation of goods, the trafficking and emancipation of human slaves (a theme that will return in Canto XXIX, below), the selling of goods and the selling of sex: all this seems, in the etymology laid out inside pornoboskos, to have a kind of link. Goods are exported, and so are people, or art forms, or knowledge. Sex is sold, and so is work, and so are people — or, at least, their labour. When those with the money are squalid-minded, Pound seems to want to argue (again) the world becomes squalid. When those with the money are intelligent, philosophical minded, and resourceful, then the world approaches a kind of wonderfulness too… except the world almost never does that.

There is also, of course, the world of the expatriates, with which this Canto is full; Ernest Hemingway (whom as I’ve mentioned taught Pound to box, or tried anyway) said this of the many denizens of the expat world in which Pound and he found themselves in the 1920s (in The Sun Also Rises):

You know what’s the trouble with you?  You’re an expatriate.  One of the worst type.  Haven’t you heard that?  Nobody that ever left their own country ever wrote anything worth printing.  Not even in the newspapers … you’re an expatriate.  You’ve lost touch with the soil.  You get precious.  Fake European standards have ruined you.  You drink yourself to death.  You become obsessed with sex.  You spend all your time talking, not working.  You are an expatriate, see?  You hang around cafes.

Ernest Hemingway, in a dramatic pose...

That’s a funny little quote, to which I’m going to return in other, non-Pound related posts, sooner or later, but it does suggest something of the decay and wastage of literary goods. Of course, remember, Hemingway is attacking expat writers but he is one himself; still, the excess of that world must have also struck Pound. (It probably charmed him at moments, and horrified him at others.)

Fitting, then, that this canto would end with an image of a plane flying out into the nothingness. I hasten to add that, in some sense, the failed flights seem to be quite apt metaphors for the struggle Pound faced concerning the project of the Cantos. A third of the way in, at least by his reckoning at the time, he seems to have found himself a bit out to sea, searching for land to light on, searching for a route to a destination he’d never seen before, and wondering whether the route he’d taken was a good one, or leading to certain doom. Like the Odyssean narrative that holds together so much of the poem so far, the journey of the aviator seems to encapsulate something fundamental to the project of the Cantos, and the sense of anxiety with which Pound seemed to face the uncertainties inherent in the project.

Canto XXIX is shorter, and yet more dense.

And yet the notes are shorter. You might think that’s because the Canto is easier, but it’s not: there’s all kinds of weird science-related stuff, but Terrell is less help — he seems quite good on the historical and literary allusions, but as soon as Pound throws in a little science (or pseudoscience, or occultoscience, or whatever this stuff is) he clams up.

Still, one cannot really defame a scholar so dedicated — the Companion to the Cantos is huge as it is, and perhaps it’s best Terrell didn’t try when he ran across a gap in his knowledge. Unless, of course, he kept his distance because he wasn’t particularly interested in the deeper resonances and meanings in the parts he skips over, or because a deeper understanding might have endangered the standing of Pound as a serious poet (as Leon Surette suggests in The Birth of Modernism).

Whatever the case, it remains for us to figure out what’s going on in this Canto, and we cannot just skip over the “scientific” content: Darwin is mentioned directly, and there are hints that we’re supposed to consider the discussion seriously too.

Charles Darwin

To summarize its program, Canto XXIX moves from telling the story of a pair of fratricidal brothers from the Orsini family, and their father’s concubine’s machinations; this segues into the narrative of Lady Cunizza, whom we first encountered in Canto VI, where her freeing of all her slaves is mentioned. Pound goes into greater detail here, explaining a bit more about the specifics of Lady Cunizza’s slave-freeing act– she was a guest at the home of Cavalcanti when she did it and while she freed them all, she also cursed to hell those among them who’d betrayed her brother Alberic at the Castle at San Zeno, a betrayal that led to his brutal and violent death (but only after being forced to watch his family tortured to death; this is A Game of Thrones type stuff, folks).

Lady Cunizza da Romagno, in a miniature by Giovanni di Paolo (1400?-1482?).

Unsurprisingly, Pound goes into Lady Cunizza’s love life, which starts out with her being married off to “Richard St Boniface” (ie. Riccardio di San Bonifazio), a marriage from which she was “subtracted” (yes, that’s Pound’s word, an odd one) by Sordello, the Italian troubadour we met back at the beginning of the Cantos. When Sordello flees for southern France, she hooks up with a knight from Treviso named Bonius (a name that one imagines made Pound snicker) and then marries a lord from Braganza and even later, “a house in Verona” (in other words, someone from a noble house in Verona). He half-quotes a line from her appearance in Dante’s Paradiso, where she claims to have been possessed by the spirit of Venus.

INTERESTING OCCULT CONNECTION OF THE WEEK #2: What Pound doesn’t mention is that (at least according to this Cathar history website) Lady Cunizza’s half-brother, Ezzelino da Romagno, was a pro-Cathar… or that Lake Garda, the opening image in the poem, was the site of a Cathar community (as well as having a building that was later fabled to have been the manor of Catullus, though it only dated back to the Renaissance). Which links all of the stuff about Lady Cunizza to the Cathars, and–by Pound’s fantasy-conspiracy ideas–to Eleusis.

Here, Pound switches to a narrative in the voice of Juventus (a name that means “Youth”), who sounds curiously like a mashup of Wyndham Lewis (when he was on the topic of the Vortex) and Yeats (in A Vision) and of course Pound himself. I cannot make heads or tails of his weird prattle on the third page of the poem, though he does seem to be engaging in some sort of weird, disconnected “natural philosophy” insofar as he is discoursing on the nature of matter, and light. But then there’s stuff about a glassy-surfaced globe over one’s head, which makes less sense.

Suddenly, we’re in what feels like a small, familiar town, with the sorts of local yokels one expects, and the sorts of gossip one hears about such folk. Pound quips a line about village life in slangy French, and then walks us past the house of the local preacher-man, before launching into something weirdly postmodern:

(Let us speak of the osmosis of persons)
The wail of the phonograph has penetrated their marrow
(Let us…
The wail of the pornograph….)
    The cicadas continue uninterrupted.

This is where things get a little bizarre. Well, a little more bizarre. Pound seems to set some kind of weird, orgiastic ritual in the town, one that has — like so much in The Cantos so far, and especially in the last few — failed:

With a vain emptiness the virgins return to their homes
With a vain exasperation
The ephebe has gone back to his dwelling,
The djassban has hammered and hammered, 
The gentleman of fifty has reflected
         That it is perhaps just as well.
Let things remain as they are.

Save the “djassban” — the jazz band — one could imagine this scene in an ancient setting, some failed invocation of a Hellenic god or goddess, a ruined hieros gamos or something.  But in fact, with a jazz band playing, can it not still be a sort of hieros gamos? Can not the village dance be a sort ritual that transcends mere mating, by moving into the erotic? Probably Pound considered the jazz music crude, and yet it is art, it is music; it compels us into the realm of seduction and the transcendent, at least, within the frame of reference of a random village someplace.

The rest of the Canto seems to concern a female presence — one I am driven to imagine might correspond, for Pound, with HD, except of course he never claims that directly. This feminine entity, whom we first glimpse as a “mythological exterior” lying on the moss as she “questions him about Darwin” is a focal point for the Canto, though, and some of the strangest lines are used in describing her, just prior to a quotation from Eliot (and in words that are a repetition from the page before):

She is submarine, she is an octopus, she is
A biological process, 
So Arnaut turned there
Above him the wave pattern cut in the stone
Spire-top alevel the well-curb
And the tower with cut stone above that, saying, 
    "I am afraid of the life after death."
and after a pause:
"Now, at least, I have shocked him."

T.S. Eliot

Eliot, here concealed in a mask of Daniel Arnaut’s persona, is confessing a fear of the afterlife hard upon Pound’s description of the feminine presence that occupies so much of the poem, a fear that seems contrasted with Pound’s own ecstatic visions — recalled here in a few references to Phoibos and Helios, as well as to the “white hounds on the slope” (hieratic creatures of the transcendent, divine reality). The sense of this transcendent vision–and its contrast with Eliot’s fears–is heightened by Pound having brought us, once more, to the arena:

And another day or evening toward sundown by the arena
(les gradins)

…where Pound recounts himself talking of “the love of death” in “them” and how it “beats” him. Pound’s concern with opinions on death–apparently, the love of death that exists in the weapons magnates and capitalists on whom he blamed World War I–is contrasted with Eliot’s more personal, moral terror at the prospect of judgment in the afterlife.

Then, a flickering of the transcendent in a vision of the Italian countryside (the white hounds on the hillside mentioned above, and Helios of Phoibos), and finally Pound drags us back to Venice again, in the last few lines of the Canto:

Glide of water, lights and the prore,        [prows] 
Silver beaks out of night, 
Stone, bought over bough,
         lamps fluid in water, 
Pine by the black trunk of its shadow
And on hill black trunks of the shadow
The trees melted in air.

… and the canto is at an end.

There are bits, particularly on the first and third pages of the canto, that suggest connections to Canto XXVIII; the trick repetition quoted above that shifts “phonograph” to “pornograph,” for one, and the reference to “fleeing what band of Tritons” that recalls the terrifying mermen described in Middle English on the first page of Canto XXVIII.

But it seems to me this poem is much more about the project of the Cantos more generally, about the artistic and the erotic and the terrifying power of their fusion — especially the risk of a failed fusion of the two. The line, repeated a few times, “Let us consider the osmosis of persons” seems to me to suggest  a few possibilities: that osmosis of persons in some kind of sexual sense, in the sense of artistic influence, and who knows what else — maybe some sort of spiritual osmosis?

I suspect there’s also some theorizing about the nature of the feminine, of the muse and female sexuality: “she is / A biological process” suggests to me something of the sexist attitudes towards creativity that Surette ascribes to Pound (and which he suggests is based on Pound’s readings of pseudoscience); what “She is submarine, she is an octopus” means is, to be frank, a little baffling to me, beyond the idea of “she” being, like Aphrodite in a few places, emergent from the sea… but it also feels a little like a gender-inverted reference to the famous Japanese painting, “The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife”:

Hokusai's The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife (蛸と海女: Tako to ama)

I’m not really sure what to make of it, though I imagine a little more digging would turn up some pseudoscience text wherein Pound would find ideas of human femininity and the state of octopus-like, mindless biological process are one and the same.

Canto XXX is the briefest and most terminal Canto so far: it absolutely feels like the ending of something, and doubtless this is why I stopped reading the Cantos the first time through. It begins with a Chaucerian pastiche, imitating some of Chaucer’s shorter “complaint” poems, specifically the Compleyte Upon Pity, in something halfway between Chaucerian Middle English and Pound’s modern English — and which recalls the Middle English-styled stuff at the beginning of Canto XXVIII.  However, the pastiche is notable in that, instead of constituting a complaint for pity, it presents an argument against pity, when it is being extended toward foulness:

Pity spareth so many an evil thing. 
Pity befouleth April,
Pity is the root and the spring.

In all, Pity causes a failure because it prevents the clean slaying foulness; instead of things being “clean slayne” they “rotteth away.”

(Anonymous 17th century portrait of Chaucer.)

There is something about hearing some talk on Paphos, which beyond the Cypriot city being a reference to Aphrodite, means nothing to me, but what comes next is very interesting:

Time is the evil. Evil.

This is one of those lines that I constantly misquote to myself, but which I also constantly remember. It hangs there in my mind, as I puzzle through its attractiveness, which is more fundamental and visceral than the meanings of the phrases. Time is something we take for granted in most contexts, but here, Pound questions that complacent acceptance.

Why is time the evil? I’m sure whole books, or at least whole piles of papers, have been written to try explain why Pound would suggest it. I’m not sure they’ve succeeded, but I do know it must have something to do with Pound’s chosen art form. By 1930, when A Draft of XXX Cantos is being published, Pound knows much more about music than he did as a young man, and he must have realized that poetry, unlike music, was understood by many to be the stuff on the page, and not the sound of the poet’s voice traveling through the air and into one’s ear. Music requires time in order to be experienced; but time is the enemy of poetry, of art, of memory, of all things in the human world that aspire to permanence and solidity.

As with Pedro (referenced next) and Ignez — the dead woman dug up and sat beside Pedro, and brough to the feast in one of the first Cantos we looked at — it becomes clear: there is no need for necromancy without time. If time can be defeated, then death is defeated, but so is the need for fight for one’s place in (and to feel anxiety about) posterity.

The rest of the poem, oddly, deals with Lucretia Borgia, one of those historical figures who, unlike Sigismundo, has survived into the popular consciousness today. There’s a little about her marriage, a little about the typographic Renaissance brought about by the Borgias (who brought Francesco da Bologna to Italy, and put him to work for Socino, who printed Petrarch for Cesare Borgia).

Lucrezia Borgia (portrait by Bartolomeo Veneziano).

And then, the moment of closure:

And in August that year died Pope Alexandro Borgia, 
                   Il Papa mori.

                  Explicit Canto
                       XXX

Despite the faintest hint of a sneer here (XXX = explicit, right?) there is a forceful finality to this, even when one does not realize that, as Terrell suggests, the death of Pope Alessandro Borgia brought about the end of the Borgia-sponsored part of spread of the Renaissance, of the unification of Italy, and of the arts and literature. Funny how the death of a character we’ve all but just met can impact a poem.

Pope Alexander (Alessandro) Vl

I can’t help but imagine Pound sitting in front of a TV, watching “The Borgias.” Yet another Poundian thing–Renaissance families and their machinations–that seems to have come into vogue of late…

My Fictionalized Pound?

There are a few things that seem pertinent to my fictionalized Pound:

  • His various wanderings as an expatriate and a young traveler, in especially in the first decade of the twentieth-century, are important in terms of the people he encountered. There’s also plenty of room for strange, bizarre encounters among those travels.
  • The stuff about “She” (which could be a woman, but also a goddess, or perhaps a muse, or his conception of female sexuality) can easily come into play during, say, a visit to the beach… or some such thing.
  • The ancient-ritualization of a small town dance with a jazz band suggests something about the referentiality of Pound’s interactions with the world: take him to a dance hall, and he’s in a cheap, mock-Telesterion (at Eleusis) where the rite is doomed to fail.
  • 1930 is the moment when Pound comes down on the side of regarding time as an evil, or maybe even the evil.  How this meshes with his economic theories, I’m not sure, but I imagine it’ll become more clear as time does by, if this notion is at all worth puzzling through.

Odds & Ends:

R.H.W. Dillard makes an odd comment on Canto XXVIII in the first poem on this page.

That’s it: next, I start on XI New Cantos, though of course, as is my custom, I will be taking a week off to read a Pound-related research source. I’ll probably tackle a big one, so that post may be a little late, just as this one today is a day late.

Series Navigation<< Blogging Pound’s The Cantos: Canto XXVIIEzra Pound Posts Delayed >>

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