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15 January 2009

Canto II

begins:
Hang it all, Robert Browning,
there can be but the one 'Sordello.'

And although I'm resisting the temptation to google every reference I see, I see that Sordello was a 13th century Lombard troubadour. OK, I've been expecting troubadours. The address to Browning catches some of Browning's conversational, button-holing style, and again thanks to WP I know that Browning wrote a poem about Sordello.

The rest of the Canto seems firmly Homeric, though (with minor exceptions). It depicts a seascape, and a seal playing in the waves, or as Ez puts it:
Seal sports in the spray-whited circles of cliff-wash

which I have to admit is better.

The sea journey continues: the ship sails on to Scios (I don't know the significance of that), and then the ship is apparently trapped and transformed:
And where there was gunwale, there now was vine-trunk,
And tenthril where cordage had been,
grape-leaves on the rowlocks,
Heavy vine on the oarshafts,

Seamen also transformed:
Medon's face like the face of a dory
Arms shrunk into fins ...

The swimmer's arms turned into branches

The canto concludes again with seascape:
Glass-glint of wave in the tide-rips against sunlight,
pallor of Hesperus
Grey peak of the wave,
wave, colour of grape's pulp

And the final word, is there a theme here? is "And ..."

So I think we're still in background here on the Homeric story. We've now got a troubadour introduced; no doubt he'll come back later. And in the middle of it, this passage:
And an ex-convict out of Italy
knocked me into the fore-stays,
(He was wanted for manslaughter in Tuscany)

which is clearly and strangely modern. (The first 30 Cantos, known collectively as "A Draft of XXX Cantos" are dated 1930).

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