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Close reading of

by Jacob Guziur

Analyzing first of the Cantos I found useful to begin with Pound?s earlier poem A Pact which I am inclined to see as foreword to the Cantos. Making a pact with Walt Whitman Pound is clearing up his relationship to what we can call the America?s important tradition of thought which can be traced back to Joel Barlow?s The Columbiad. This tradition, including Emerson as well as Longfellow and finding its recent and the most complex embodiment in Whitman, is the expression of belief in the urgent necessity of creation of the universal synthetic myth which will lead us out of the present darkness.

I am very apt to see Pound?s A Pact as a declaration of recognition of Whitman as his ?spiritual fater?1 and consequent acceptation of the American synthetic tendencies. Thus far we can consider A Pact as a declaration of Pound?s theoretic stand.

?Canto I? starts in the Ancient Greece (the original ground of knowledge for Pound) with the evokation of Ulysses?s journey to the underwold. In the first part Ulysses/Pound (as Pound and Ulysses are not distinguished) comes to ask the prophet Tiresias for his destiny. Ulysses/Pound comes from the wrecks of Troy, from destroyed civilisation, and needs to ask the wise dead, the past wisdom, for a help. He needs to speak with Tiresias but the first ghost to come is Elphenor, ?pitiful spirit?, who as unburried represents sin against the past that must be redeemed. Later, Tiresias comes and gives Ulysses/Pound wanted prophecy.

The firts part of ?Canto I? is on its symbolic level Pound?s answer to the raised question for the reletionship between the present and the past. It is the past that influences and maybe determinates the present and it is the past that shall be asked for knowledge to lead us. Elphenor here as our debt to the past represents our responsibility to cherish and take care of that what is the past - our tradition. The past and the present are not mutually exclusive. The past is the motoric force of the present and if the present stands still it is because that we lost our sensitivity to the past and forget its value and meaning.

An attempt to analyze the evocative level of ?Canto I? will, I hope, show us Pound?s approach to the mentioned problem more clearly and in detail. ?Canto I? begins:

And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and
We set up mast and sail on that swart ship,
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
heavy with weeping (...) (Cantos, 3)

Comparing this evokation with the Book XI of Butler?s or Chapman?s translation of The Odyssey2 we find that Pound?s lines are somehow more Homerish that that of Homer?s. Pound?s first part of ?Canto I? is to the very great extent succesfull attempt to represent the spirit of Homer?s rather than to simply try to transpose it to different language. The aim is achieved by various means but I suggest that what they all have in common is their convertibility to the phenomenon of the aesthetic distance. To try to make it more clear, mind that Pound represents Homer?s lines by skilful usage of poetic conventions derived from Old English verse. It means that the aesthetic distance of the reader - text level is enlarged in order to induce in the reader the feeling of reading an old document, to stress the significance of elapsed time.
However, what is more important for our poem is Pound?s genuine usage of persona. As I hinted before, in the first part of the poem the aesthetic distance between Pound and the author of the artwork Pound is trying to adapt is reduced to its minimum level.
Reading ?Canto I? we first guess that Pound adapts Homer?s the Odyssey but then comes line 67 and 68:

Lie quiet Divus. I mean, that is Andreas Divus,
In officina Wecheli, 1538, out of Homer. (5)

Now we are informed that it is not Homer Pound is adapting but Homer?s translator Andreas Divus who in the year of 1538 published in Paris his latin translation of The Odyssey. There are several purposes for Pound?s insertion of these two lines. The aesthetic distance is enlarged by the unexpected twist of our perspective: now as poet and his persona part we are able to look back at the beginning of the poem and see that the first part is an attempt to make a representation of what Pound reffered to as key moment of history and that it has its source (Divus) and its author (Pound).
And it is significant that Pound is able to represent the spirit of Homer only through the dialogue with some long time dead latin translator of The Odyssey. Pound can not contact the dead directly, he can manage only through language (via Divus) that is suggested to be the device of revealing and preserving of key moments of history.
Another consequence of the parting of the poet and his persona is fragmentalization of the poem. Insertion of lines 67 and 68 breaks the fluency of the poem and introduces two more time perspectives. In spite of these seemingly disturbing elements the poem do not lose its unity. Quite the contrary, Pound breaks the linearity of the poem by fragments and references that are organized into a kind of a referential frame. What we thought to be the core of the poem becomes to be only a fragment among fragments of the same level of significance. However, all the fragments reach the final unity of the referential frame.
Seeing from this point of view, line 69 and 70 continuing with Ulysses?s story are not surprising. As the author and its persona parted it is only logical that now Pound refer to Ulysses as to ?he?:

And he sailed, by Sirens and thence outward and away
And unto Circe. (Cantos, 5)

Before sailing home Ulysses has to return to Circe?s island to bury the Elpenor?s body and so satisfy his soul.

In the next line another fragment comes:
In the Cretan?s phrase, with the golden crown, Aphrodite, Cypri munimenta sortita est, mirthful, orichalchi, with
Girdles and breast bands, thou with dark eyelids
Bearing the golden bough of Argicida.
So that: (Cantos, 5)

Here Pound uses a quote from Georgio Dartona?s (he came from Creta) translation of the second hymn To Aphrodite3. It is a translation that followed Divus?s The Odyssey in the volume of translations Pound was using.
To sum up, two translators (Divus and the Cretan) wanted simply to translate the texts produced in the ancient Greece. Pound uses Divus?s and the Cretan?s translations as means of penetrating into and conveying the spirit of the ancient greece. However, Pound considers himself merely a craftsman dealing with a Latin text in praise of Aphrodite.
Now we can try to see how Pound?s referential frame functions as unifying priciple. The first of the Cantos implicitely declares the structure and meaning of the whole composition?s programme: the Cantos are meant as a journey through history (organized not in linear way but according to particular motives as they are represented in the refferential frame securing poem?s unity) which should reveal us its key moments and their presence or representation in different times and finally lead us out of the darkness. Seeing it from the slighly different point of view: the Cantos should evoke the world of the dead who can teach us how we can gain the lost qualities of life and reach the Golden Age again. The Golden Age is personificated by Aphrodite, the same Aphrodite whose golden bough allowed Aeneas to enter the Hades alive.
Aphrodite ?with dark eyelids? is perhaps reference to Aphrodite Melainis, the dark side of her as the Godess of the death, while Aphrodite ?with golden / Girdles and breast bands? refers to her as the Godess of love and the role of hers as the godess (Aphrodite Urania or Erkynia) connected with feasts of solstice. For Pound, feasts of solstice as the celebration of the beginning of the spring symbolize on one level the renewal of the ancient sensitivity to the cycles of nature and on the level of Pound?s eschatology solstice means the final coming of the eternal Golden Age.
From this perspective we can understand the concluding ?So that:? as reference to the parts of the Cantos connected with the feasts of spring. Still, there are two more aspects of this conclusion that should be discussed. First has more to do with the composition of the Cantos as a whole. ?Canto I? as well as ?II? or ?LXXXI? does not achieve its unity as the complete statement, they point to silence, to what is not expressed. I want to suggest that usage of this stylistic device allows Pound to give the Cantos a structure of greater dynamicity and appeal. It seems to me that there are dynamic spheres of the structure that can be restructuralized in order to secure the functioning of the poem and its appeal.
Another aspect of ?So that:? comes from the fact that the Cantos as a whole failed in its supposed function. Paradiso and risorgimento are lost in the luminous smoky haze somewhere far away from us. In this context, as the Cantos does not achieve its unity, the conclusion of ?Canto I? points out that the poem is not system closed in itself, that it must gain its unity in the transformation of our world.


1. See: Ezra Pound, ?What I feel about Walt Whitman?, Selected prose 1909 - 1965, ed. William Cookson, (New York: New Direction Books, 1973) 145. This essay also includes another significant statement: ?The vital part of my message, taken from the sap and fibre of America, is the same as his (Whitman?s).?

2. Chapman translates:

Prived now at our ship, we launch'd, and set
Our mast up, put forth sail, and in did get
Our late-got cattle. Up our sails, we went,
My wayward fellows mourning now th' event.

Butler?s translation:

Then, when we had got down to the sea
shore we drew our ship into
the water and got her mast and
sails into her; we also put the sheep
on board and took our
places, weeping and in great distress of mind.

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