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Cantos 1, 4, and 84 by Ezra Pound

In the 1970s I bought an LP of the Caedmon recordings of Ezra Pound reading four of his Cantos and other poems. After I no longer had a record player (from the late 80s on), I kept it in a suitcase under my bed with more LPs, 45s, cassette tapes, and other outdated stuff. One day looking for something else, I turned over the bed, opened the suitcase not to find what I was looking for, but Ezra Pound. Wanting to hear his voice again, I converted the LP into a CD, the CD into iTunes, and iTunes into the vimeos below, three of Pound’s Cantos, good ones: I, IV, and LXXXIV. Here they are for you.

Ezra Pound’s reading of Canto I is sonorous; perhaps he copied the reading style of his former boss, W. B. Yeats. The oft trilled words seem stark and clear. Pound wanted his Cantos to be epic like Homer, and Canto I is a retelling of parts of the Odyssey, dark stuff, flight, and hell and spiteful Neptune. Its language is often obscure, arcane, made up. One wonders if the future will want to spend the time to figure it out and conjure it up. T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land is luckier in this regard because it can be entertaining without understanding its underlying references.

In this reading, Pound edits out the line: “To the Kimmerian lands, and the people cities,” which is perhaps the most uninteresting line in the Canto, and when taken out, these lines

Came we then to the bounds of deepest water,
To the Kimmerian lands, and peopled cities
Covered with close-webbed mist, unpierced ever
With glitter of sun-rays

become these

Came we then to the bounds of deepest water,
Covered with close-webbed mist, unpierced ever
With glitter of sun-rays

It isn’t the land now covered by the mist, but the water. Odysseus is still on the water and not home yet.

Pound also changes “Men many, mauled with bronze lance heads” to “Many men mauled with bronze lance heads,” which makes it more natural and modern.

Some definitions

ell-square pitkin: it sounds Old English, but are words made up by the poet: it’s nonsense that wants to mean (I think): “I dug a little pit, a little hole.” Digging up some dirt perhaps to either bury or cover the dead with the dirt.
fosse: ditch, a moat
dreory: sounds like dreary but it means “blood dripping”
ingle: a hearth, a comforting fire in a room, (vagina?)
Venerandnam: worthy of reverence, veneration
Cypri munimenta sortita est: “The walls of Cyprus are meant for her.”

Pound believed that Homer began the epic tradition. Translators of Homer are mentioned in the poem: In officina wecheli: at the printer of Divus, a translator of Homer. There is the mention of Elpenor as well, Odysseus’ youngest companion, a young man who falls down drunk and breaks his neck, unlucky and of no consequence, remembered only in a mention by Homer and then Pound: “A man of no fortune and with a name to come.”

I enjoy Ezra Pound’s reading of Canto IV. He gets caught up. For the text of Canto IV in the vimeo above, I copied and pasted the text the Poetry Foundation had published online. I double checked it with the New Directions Cantos that I own and found the Poetry Foundation had made some mistakes spelling “Safforn” for “Saffron,” printing “One scarlet flower is cast on the blanch-white stone” instead of “A scarlet flower is cast on the blanch-white stone,” and “The pine at Takasago/ grows with the pine of Isé!” should be “The pines at Takasago/ grow with the pines of Isé!” In his reading of this section, Pound says “of Takasago…” instead of “at Takasago.” And he twice pronounces “Itys” instead of the printed “Ityn” which makes me wonder if “Ityn” is a Greek vocative (or a genitive or an accusative). My Greek grammar is way up on a shelf. Itys was a king’s son who is mistakenly eaten one day by his father, killed and cooked by his mother. Canto IV is layered with classic and medieval myths, unfortunate lovers eaten by unfortunate lovers, a hunter changed by a goddess into a deer and then eaten by his hounds, a lover going to see his lover disguised as a deer wearing the hides and horns only to be attacked and eaten by his own dogs, ply on ply, glittering surfaces, names dropped becoming other names dropped, a castle a king tightening the collar around his neck; women turn into birds, or commit suicide with both hands on the windowsill about to jump and fall among singing swallows. Who is sure who who is? Where are we and what is happening? No matter Pound keeps coming at us image after image. He IS an imagist: “A black cock crows in the sea-foam.”

Ezra Pound began working on Canto LXXXIV on scraps of toilet paper while being held for treason by the U.S. military suspended in a cage blinded by flood lights in the heat of day and the cold of night. It was 1945. In this reading of Canto 84, Pound changes “as against whom” to “as again when” in the line: “as against whom, prepense, got OUT of Imperial Chemicals.” It was written in Italy, and begins and ends with some Italian. At the beginning “Si tuit li dolh el plor” means “If all the grief and the tears,” and “tui lo pro, tuit lo bes” means “all the worth, all the good.” The first Greek word (pronounced “Teth knee kay”) means “he is dead”. Angold (an English poet who died as an airplane pilot in World War I) is dead. The Italian near the end of the canto is interesting. Pound asks a little girl, out in the countryside, whose sister is tending some pigs, if the American soldiers are any better than the Germans. The girl answers that they are the same: uguale. While reading this, Pound also utters some Italian that I can’t make out. If someone knows it, let me know. I’ve checked other versions of the Canto and none of them have whatever it is that Pound is saying here.

Ethos is a Greek word that means character or custom.

What follows is from PoemHunter.com, a very good history of the time leading up to Pound’s arrest for treason, and his writing of the last Pisan Canto, the fascist canto, LXXXIV. You can read Pound’s whole history at Poem Hunter:


Radio Broadcasts

Tytell writes that by the 1940s no American or English poet had been so active politically since William Blake. Pound had written over a thousand letters a year during the previous decade, and had presented his ideas in hundreds of articles, as well as in The Cantos. According to Tytell, Pound’s fear was an economic structure that depended on the armaments industry, where the profit motive alone would govern war and peace. He started reading George Santayana, and The Law of Civilization and Decay by Brooks Adams, finding confirmation of the danger of the capitalist and usurer becoming dominant. He wrote in The Japan Times that “Democracy is now currently defined in Europe as a ‘country run by Jews,'” and told Oswald Mosley’s newspaper the English were a slave race governed by the Rothschilds since Waterloo.

He broadcast over Rome Radio, though the Italian government was at first reluctant, concerned he might be a double agent. He told a friend: “It took me, I think it was, TWO years, insistence and wrangling etc., to GET HOLD of their microphone.” He recorded just over a hundred broadcasts, and traveled to Rome one week a month to pre-record the 10-minute broadcasts, for which he was paid around $17. The broadcasts required the Italian government’s approval in advance—though he often changed the text in the studio. The politics apart, he needed the money. Tytell writes that his voice had assumed a “rasping, buzzing quality like the sound of a hornet stuck in a jar.” He continued to occasionally broadcast, and writing under pseudonyms until about April 1945, shortly before his arrest.

Arrest for Treason

A few weeks later he returned south via Milan to Olga and Dorothy. They had been living in Isabel’s apartment, but it was small so they decided to move in with Olga at Sant’ Ambrogio. His daughter Mary, then 19, was sent to Gais in Switzerland, leaving Pound, as she wrote, “pent up with two women who loved him, whom he loved, and who coldly hated each other.” He was in Rome when the Allies landed in Sicily in July 1943. Pound borrowed a pair of hiking boots and a knapsack and left the city, having finally decided to tell Mary about his wife and son. He traveled 450 miles north, spending a night in an air raid shelter in Bologna, and taking a train part of the way to Verona. She almost failed to recognize him when he arrived, he was so dirty and tired. He told her everything about his other family; she later said she felt more pity than anger.

He returned to Rapallo, where on 2 May 1945, four days after Mussolini was shot, armed partisans arrived at the house while Pound was there alone. He stuffed a copy of Confucius and a Chinese dictionary in his pocket, and was taken to their HQ in Chiavari, although he was released shortly afterwards. He and Olga gave themselves up to an American military post in the nearby town of Lavagna.

It was decided that Pound should be transported to U.S. Counter Intelligence Corps headquarters in Genoa, where he was interrogated by Frank L. Amprin, the FBI agent assigned by J. Edgar Hoover to gather evidence following the 1943 indictment. Pound asked permission to send a cable to President Truman to offer to help negotiate peace with Japan. He also asked to deliver a final broadcast from a script called “Ashes of Europe Calling,” in which he recommended peace with Japan, American management of Italy, the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, and leniency toward Germany. His requests were denied and the script forwarded to Hoover.

On 8 May, the day Germany surrendered, he told a reporter from the Philadelphia Record who had managed to get into the compound for an interview that Hitler was “a Jeanne d’Arc, a saint,” and that Mussolini was an “imperfect character who lost his head.” On 24 May he was transferred to the United States Army Disciplinary Training Center north of Pisa, used to house military personnel awaiting court martial. The temporary commander placed him in one of the camp’s “death cells”—a series of six-by-six-foot outdoor steel cages lit up all night by floodlights.

He was left for three weeks in isolation in the heat, denied exercise, eyes inflamed by dust, no bed, no belt, no shoelaces, and no communication with the guards, except for the chaplain. After two and a half weeks he began to break down under the strain. Richard Sieburth writes that he recorded it in Canto 80, where Odysseus is saved from drowning by Leucothea: “hast’ou swum in a sea of air strip / through an aeon of nothingness, / when the raft broke and the waters went over me.” Medical staff moved him out of the
cage the following week. On 14 and 15 June he was examined by psychiatrists, one of whom found symptoms of a mental breakdown, and he was transferred to his own officer’s tent and allowed reading material. He began to write, and drafted what became known as The Pisan Cantos; the existence of a few sheets of toilet paper showing the beginning of Canto LXXXIV suggests he started it while in the cage.


  1. I had that Caedmon LP of Pound, too, when I was an undergrad. In fact, I saw it in a most unlikely place, a department store like Kohls. In the record department. I was wearing my trench coat. I walked out of the store with it (there were no security alarms back in the 70’s). It was the only time I ever stole something. I felt the LP of Pound reciting his Cantos was only for me.

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