02 February 2009

Canto XVI

Longer and somewhat more obscure than the recent few cantos, this one follows straight on from XV with the exit from hell, but the scene outside hell seems scarcely less apocalyptic:
And before hell mouth; dry plain
and two mountains;
On the one mountain, a running form,
and another
In the turn of the hill; in hard steel
The road like a slow screw's thread,
The angle almost imperceptible,
so that the circuit seemed hardly to rise;
And the running form, naked, Blake,
Shouting, whirling his arms, the swift limbs,
Howling against the evil,
his eyes rolling,
Whirling like flaming cart-wheels

This is followed by an almost pastoral passage. We have apparently the same narrator as in the hell cantos, and the general feeling is of moving from acid to water, from smoke to air. It's a brief respite, because we then get descriptions of an earlier war, before the second half of the canto concentrates on the first world war, and some of the more famous participants, who may well have been known by Ez: Henri Gaudier, "ole T.E.H.", Wyndham Lewis, Windeler, "Ole Captain Baker", Fletcher, "Ernie Hemingway". There's that sense of a generation lost or damaged. Here's the Wyndham Lewis (who Ez certainly did know) section:
And Wyndham Lewis went to it [the war],
With a heavy bit of artillery,
and the airmen came by with a mitrailleuse,
And cleaned out most of his company,
and a shell lit on his tin hut,
While he was out in the privvy,
and he was all that was left of that outfit.

There's then a long section in French, giving the French experience of the war, including the isolated line "Liste officielle des morts 5,000,000"

The canto ends with the Russian revolution, and mention of the Brest-Litovsk pact and its effect on the western front, and of course the fear of revolutionary thought spreading.

So we've moved from an imagined allegorical hell to a real remembered one, and out again into an uncertain postwar future.

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