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24 January 2009

Canto VIII

I expected my aim of doing one Canto a day to break down before long, and that last one really gave me pause. The whole aim of this endeavour began to seem pointless and impossible. I could do it a different way, by searching down every reference or referring to someone else's commentary at every step, but I hate the very idea of that. There's a story by Borges, I vaguely recall, where some scholar tries to read everything that Cervantes had read, so that he can perfectly understand Don Quixote. He succeeds so well that he cannot read DQ but has to rewrite it, a new creation but exactly the same as the original. He effectively became Cervantes. C S Lewis did something similar to write The Allegory of Love but forgot to pick up a sense of humour before checking out, and so continued to be C S Lewis. I don't want to become Ezra Pound, for obvious reasons, but also because although he has a sense of humour (which we'll shortly see), I don't think it's a very good one. So that method's out, and a relatively naive blundering remains my strategy.

But when I was reading (it was just a glance really) someone else's commentary for some help with ANAXI... I think I saw a comment to the effect that the first VII cantos are a collection of background materials. I hope that's true and that the real story begins now. There's support for that view in the first line of VIII:
These fragments you have shelved (shored)

or even 'stored'. The reference, which even I recognise, is to the end ofThe Waste Land
These fragments I have shored against my ruins
Why then Ile fit you. Hieronymo's mad againe.
Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.
Shantih shantih shantih

and I do believe it's a joke - Ez having given Eliot a lot of advice when he was writing the poem (mainly, I suppose, along the lines of 'Tom, don't worry if it seems obscure, wait till you see what I'm going to write!'). (With my superior sense of humour, I'd have annotated the end of The Waste Land as follows: it's only a shantih in old shantih town.)

Then a bit of nonsense, some of it in Latin, before we move into a relatively coherent section, which takes up the rest of the canto. It is about one Sigismondo Malatestis. (How rarely have I been able to say what anything is 'about'?) Initially you have the text of a letter (translated or invented, I don't know) from Sigismondo accepting a post with 'Giohanni of the Medici' and giving instructions for the carrying out of some painting work. There are other translated or invented documents about the contract, and comments on wars between Italian states, but with very few exceptions it's clear where we are and when. Ez's poetry as usual is luminous.
Under the plumes, with the flakes and small wads of colour
Showering from the balconies
With the sheets spread from windows,
with leaves and small branches pinned on them,
Arras hung from the railings; out of the dust,
With pheasant tails upright on their forelocks,
The small white horses, the
Twelve girls riding in order, green satin in pannier'd habits;
Under the baldachino, silver'd with heavy stitches ....

Ez was clearly a natural lyric poet, so why did he write in such a long form here? Perhaps one of these days, when I want a break from the Cantos, I'll look at some of the shorter work.

But not yet. I've glanced ahead to Canto IX. It seems to maintain the focus on Sigismondo, and, a new feature, a few paragraphs of (translated or invented) prose.

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