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28 February 2009

Canto XXX

Apparently, this is a Chaucer parody (probably should spell it parodie):
Compleynt, compleynt I hearde upon a day,
Artemis singing, Artemis, Artemis
Agaynst Pity lifted her wail:
Pity caused the forests to fail,
Pity slayeth my nymphs,
Pity spareth so many an evil thing.
Pity befouleth April,
Pity is the root and the spring.

See my earlier comment (XXVIII), which I stand by. It's as crap as Ez's parodie of "Summer is icumen in", which I can't bring myself to type out. If you wish, you should be able to find it easily enough.

The rest of the canto seems to be about the development of printing and typefaces, and ends with the death of the Pope Alessandro Borgia.

So ends the "Draft of XXX Cantos", not with a bang but

Canto XXIX

This one has a lighter sound to it than the previous - a piano rather than an organ (although I might be influenced by the music I'm listening to - Joanna Macgregor playing Bach's French Suites). The lines are shorter and more transparent, but what are they about?

We begin with a tale of family deceptions in Pitigliano, where a concubine, Pernella, plots the death of the legitimate heirs in favour of her son. Then we go on to the story of Cunizza, who was given in marriage to Richard St Boniface, but seduced ("subtracted" from her husband, says Ez) by Sordello (hello again), who
... lay with her in Tarviso
Till he was driven out of Tarviso
And she left with a soldier named Bonius
nimium amorata in eum
And went from one place to another
"The light of this star o'ercame me"
Greatly enjoying herself
And running up the most awful bills.
And this Bonius was killed on a sunday
and she had then a Lord from Braganza
and later a house in Verona.

There's then a section about a character called Juventus. I've tried to see if that's a historical figure, but wikipedia only gives me the football team. This Juventus is a crap philospher and possibly a courtly lover. He says:
Matter is the lightest of all things,
Chaff, rolled into balls, tossed, whirled in the aether,
Undoubtedly crushed by the weight,
Light also proceeds from the eye;

I think it's Juventus who keeps the focus, and then gets into a discussion of the nature of women:
Wein, Weib, TAN AOIDAN
Chiefest of these the second, the female
Is an element, the female
Is a chaos
An octopus
A biological process
and we seek to fulfill ...
TAN AOIDAN, our desire, drift ...

Looking up TAN AOIDAN (and putting it caps doesn't make it any clearer, Ez) I've found several comentaries that quote this passage. Sadly none of them translates the phrase. The concern about the passage is the rather bizarrely old-fashioned view of women. Is it Ez's view? I don't know. You couldn't learn anything about Ez's views from a passage like this, since it's in a voice that is not specifically his. If we found this sort of sentiment often, and apparently approved, we might think so. And although I've called it old-fashioned, there are times when Freud says something like this. I think the old-fashionedness of it for me is in the form rather than the sentiment: the belief that saying "the female is a chaos" actually means anything.

The canto finishes in a typical passage of watery pastoral/lyrical:
Stone, bough over bough,
lamps fluid in water,
Pine by the black trunk of its shadow
And on the hill black trunks of the shadow
The trees melted in air.

25 February 2009

Canto XXVIII


One I've been putting off, with tales of WCW, but have to face it, even if only to pass quickly by. But it is a long one and just see how it looks on the page. It's solid text for most of the time. Daunting, without any gaps to help find a shift in topic or tone.

Anyway, we start in Italy, with what looks like a folkjoke: God looked at his work and saw there was something missing, so he formed the Romagnolo. No, I don't get it either. Soon we move on to an American setting, and the words Kansas and Topeka crop up repeatedly (T is the capital of K).

Oh, I can't be bothered with this one! I've read it several times and it's been thoroughly infuriating like the most infuriating of Pound is. It's perfectly simple English, mainly, but the third level of significance is impenetrable.

Maybe I'll develop this theory of levels of significance. It's a semiotic approach. There are certainly more than two levels here. In more straightforward texts, there may be just two: the words (signifiers) and the meaning (signified). But definitely here, the signified becomes a signifier. So the story of the forming of the Romagnolo is a signifier to ... what?

Let's go back to the Confucius canto, XIII, a place where I felt happy and safe. The first level is to decipher the words about Kung. Not trivial, but not so hard. The words decode to give an account of an incident in Kung's life. (& not just the words - you have to bring in some outside knowledge). So then, you have this incident, which is in a context or a stream of other incidents, accounts, descriptions, and the items in that stream become signifiers. The Kung canto comes between the business canto (3 tales of successful business) and the hell cantos. So there is some story about different types of behaviour or morality being examined. I felt that there was some diachronic relationship there, but here - I can't find it at all.

But I've been more or less awake since 3 this morning, I'm half-watching a football match on telly, and listening to some jazz (nice!), so can't expect much. Two more cantos to skate over before I reach the end of the first group. There's a shit pastiche of Chaucer coming up before long (in XXX) so that's something to look forward to.

23 February 2009

Paterson - a diversion

Again, going back to university days, one of the unseen texts someone set us was an extract from Paterson, by William Carlos Williams. It's the bit in Book Five that begins:
There is a woman in our town
walks rapidly, flat bellied
in worn slacks upon the street
where I saw her.
neither short
nor tall, nor old nor young
her
face would attract no
adolescent. Grey eyes looked
straight before her.
Her
hair
was gathered simply behind the
ears under a shapeless hat.

I can't imagine now or remember what I said in response to this. But it clearly worked (actually, I loved it) and some time later I bought the book Paterson, a New Directions Paperbook [sic], which bears the printed price $1.95, and is browned and dog-eared. I remember that I read it all, with pleasure, but I remember nothing of what's in it (except the quoted passage). Looking at (not reading) it now, it's similar to the Cantos in that it's a collection of disparate materials, building up a picture of the town, historical and pictorial. In Paterson, though, there's a more obvious typographical structure: prose sections are set in smaller type, and there's more variation in indentation for different types of material. One page (137 in this edition) tilts the lines in ways I can't reproduce here, while saying "Salut à Antonin Artaud pour les lignes, très pures".

Generally it all seems more fun and more focussed than the Cantos. Was Ez taking on too much in trying to depict the whole course and curse of western civilisation? Obv, yes. Both poets are known for their miniatures: Pound for In a Station of the Metro and WCW for The Red Wheelbarrow. Here they are. Pound:
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Williams:

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

Durr, they're both great, but work in different ways. To oversimplify: with Ez, it's the assonance or melody that clinches it, while with WCW it's the form, the rhythm; the balance of the syllable count (42323242) and the semantic link between 'red' and 'white'. And WCW uses the word glazed quite as elegantly as Ez does. So, both of them, in this lyric mode, earn the right to be respected as poets. It's like the drawings of a conceptual artist: delightful in themselves but proof they have mastered what they're transcending. In the long works, both of them feel free to exclude poetry when necessary, which is perhaps a recognition that poetry can't say everything, or is it a widening of what poetry is? Any poetry, like any writing, is an assembly of existing objects (words), which carry a lot of clutter. Why not assemble bigger units of language? Where would we stop? OK, to get personal, let's think about my time as a bookseller. I was really proud of the shop I created: those books, and the way they were arranged, seemed to me to be a statement about me and my beliefs. And I hadn't written any of them! Similarly, museum and gallery curators are, or can be, creative in the arrangement of the works at their disposal.

Well, what a diversion! These are ideas I haven't had for many years, if ever, and maybe I'm getting closer to the point of the Cantos, and work like it. The next one, 28, is a biggun, I've read it a few times and am still not ready to comment.

Oh, and I've just noticed that my edition of the Cantos, which I knew was pub'd by New Directions @ $25.95 is a 'Paperbook' too. Has no-one told them?

21 February 2009

Canto XXVII

I've found it hard to find online any discussion of the textual integrity of the Cantos. Has anyone ever compared the various published editions and manuscripts to establish a reliable version? It's easy to see that any publisher could have made mistakes. It's always easier to make mistakes when copying an unfamiliar language, and a very large part of the Cantos is in an unfamiliar language for almost everyone. The first page of this canto seems to be like a hypnogogic salad of various themes, but includes these lines:
One man is dead, and another has rotted his end off
Et quant au troisieme
Il est tombé dans le
De sa femme, on ne le reverra
Pas, oth fugol othbaer:

Clearly there's a gap in the French (translated: and as for the third, he fell into the of his wife, will not be seen again). It could be a deliberate, Max Miller-ish, filth by silence, or it could be a genuine mistake omitting an innocent word. I think it's more likely to be the first, but am not sure if we can be sure of the reliability of the text. In the wider sense, though, it's not important. It's not important to understand every reference or every sentence.

[When I first previewed this post, I noticed that I had typed 'it est tombé'.]

The first page mentions science again, including M. Curie. Moving on to the second page we find another reference to the Bucentoro, and to people singing "Stretti" - as in Canto III, it's still in quotation marks. So, Venice again. Then we move on to references to 'tovarisch'es and Xarites.
These are the labours of tovarisch,
That tovarisch wrecked the house of the tyrants,
And rose, and talked folly on folly,
And walked forth and lay in the earth
And the Xarites bent over tovarisch.

And that tovarisch cursed and blessed without aim,
These are the labours of tovarisch,

I think there's a reference in the rhythm of these lines to the Old Testament. 'Tovarisch' sounds hebrew/jewish. It seems likely that Ez didn't like the Russian Revolution; might have seen it as a jewish conspiracy, as Hitler sometimes did, or like Nietzsche sees christianity as a kind of morality of slaves.

20 February 2009

Canto XXVI

Two themes to this canto, I think: parade and ostentation; and the relationship of servants, including artists, to patrons. There are a lot of passages from letters here, and as always, I don't know if they're real or invented.

But we start with a passage that's completely impenetrable to me, but it mentions gondolas, so we're in Venice.

The first letter appears to be dated 12 October 1462, addressed to Nicolo Segundino. It's about diplomacy, and papal relations.

Shortly after, there's a lengthy section about various people coming 'here' (to Venice), with descriptions of the kind of clothing they wear and the articles they bring. There's a sense of Venice being the diplomatic hub of the Christian world. Let's find a representative quote:
And to greet the doge Lorenzo Tiepolo,
Barbers, heads covered with beads,
Furriers, masters in rough,
Master pelters for fine work,
And the masters for lambskin
With silver cups and their wine flasks
And blacksmiths with the gonfaron
et leurs fioles chargies de vin,
The masters of wool cloth
Glass makers in scarlet
Carrying fabrecations of glass;

A later section includes more religious figures,
And in February they all packed off
To Ferrara to decide on the holy ghost
And as to the which begat the what in the Trinity.

And then there are sections describing Venice's role in trade, before we come on to the main section of letters. The first is to Sforza from Pisanellus and is largely about buying horses. The second from "Don In. Hnr. de Mendoça" to Cardinal Gonzaga of Mantua, dated February 1548 is about the killing of Lorenzo de Medicis, and an apparent attempt to frustrate the effort to find the killers. The third is from Victor Carpathio, a painter, to Gonzaga, about the sale or theft of a Jerusalem (presumably a painting of the crucifixion). Finally, an extract from a letter from Mozart to the Archbishop of Salzburg, asking for permission to leave his service. I'll quote this in full, and the closing line of the canto that follows it. I know something of Mozart's difficult relationship with the archbishop, and of his tendency to scurillity. I don't know how genuine this is.
To the supreme pig, the archbishop of Salzburg:
Lasting filth and perdition.
Since your exalted pustulence is too stingy
To give me a decent income
And has already assured me that here I have nothing to hope
And had better seek fortune elsewhere;
And since thereafter you have
Three times impeded my father and self intending departure
I ask you for the fourth time
To behave with more decency, and this time
Permit my departure
Wolfgang Amadeus, august 1777 (inter lineas)

"As is the sonata, so is little Miss Cannabitch."

19 February 2009

Canto XXV

This one is headed "THE BOOK OF THE COUNCIL MAJOR" and it's soon obvious we're in Venice. A long, sparsely punctuated, passage covers two prohibitions on gambling, followed by a mythical story in which a lion and a lioness mate and on St Mark's Day three cubs are born. This account is solemnly attested by "John Marchesini Ducal notary of the Venetians". And is followed by this listed item:
Also a note from Pontius Pilate dated the "year 33."

It's another joke! And quite a good one, too.

More accounting style notes follow, tracing, I think the building of Venice.

Finally, we move on to notes about the work of Titian, mainly about the business of commissioning and paying for works.

This canto is less quotable than some, being largely a selection of prosy passages, documents rather than drawings. It was quite a nice experience, though, back in the antiquarian's shop.

18 February 2009

Canto XXIV

Returning after a break and Oh no, we're in pre-renaissance Italy again. From what I read, mainly here, this is a fascinating era, as Orson Welles/Graham Greene recognised in The Third Man. Madness, war, nepotism, simony, etc. But I know nothing! Which makes it frustrating, knowing that I could find out more and recognise some of the references, if I put myself out.

This canto starts with two sections about "Zohanne of Rimini", portrayed as a kind of fixer, and winner of races, including "the palio at Milan". There are extracts from two letters recommending payment for his efforts. These are dated "Feb 1422" and "27 nov. 1427".

Then there's a journey to Jerusalem, made by "he in his young youth, in the wake of Odysseus" in 1413. I'm not sure whose journey. There's echoes of the crusades, but it's too late to be part of one.

I am clutching at dates in this canto. The next one is:
Was beheaded Aldovandrino (1415, vent'uno Maggio)
Who was cause of this evil

and there's a quick riff on beheadings.

Next date: "And in '31 married Monna Ricarda".

Then into old French but still 1431: a grant of arms, I think.

Back to English (mainly):
And in '32 came the Marchese Saluzzo
To visit them, his son in law and his daughter,
And to see Hercules his grandson, piccolo e putino,
And in '41 Polenta went up to Venice
Against Niccolo's caution
And was swallowed up in that city

The quotation is to illustrate how the English is straightforward but the bigger argument is hard to understand. Also, something I haven't pointed out, Ez's fondness for inversion in word order ("came the Marchese"). Was there in Canto I ("Circe's this craft" - ie this craft is Circe's) this turn of phrase, and pops up often ("Was beheaded Aldovandrino"). I guess it might be a rendering of Latin word order, where inflection gives the sense, but it's another of those habits that doesn't help.

It goes on in similar vein to the end of the canto. Surely before long I'll be able to say something.

10 February 2009

Canto XXIII

I googled 'reading ezra pound' today, to see if anyone else is doing anything like this. I found this, which has something in common and I like a lot of what the writer says.
Don't treat the Cantos as a crossword puzzle. Ultimately, in large part the annotations are irrelevant.

Good. That's exactly what I'm hoping. But she suggests following a guide, such as Terrell's Guide to the Cantos and Leon Surette's book A light from Eleusis. I'm not doing that. I'm relying on what I already happen to know, and trying not to care that I'll misunderstand a lot. (Also I'm occasionally learning new things, like the stuff about Borso d'Este.
In large part, in my opinion, Pound was mostly working very intuitive level in the overall organization of the Cantos. He wanted to include just about everything that he considered important for the world to know about.

Reading the Cantos is like paying a visit to a wonderful enormous shop run by a devoted antiquarian. (A cultural antiquarian, in this case.) He walks you around the shop and shows you all sorts of unusual objects (or rather facts and quotations) which come from all over the world and many distant periods of history and archeology (and literature and folklore). Some of them are beautiful, some are merely strange. In other cases, it's not obvious on the surface exactly what is supposed to be interesting about them. But to the shopkeeper, each of these objects has profound significance, and as he shows them to you he expects you to be able to appreciate this significance.

I like that a lot. It's a better-expressed version of my view of the Cantos as like reading postcards in a dead relative's papers. But I disagree with this:
To some extent (in my opinion) to really be able to understand the Cantos you have to strive to become Pound.
That's back to the Borges/Cervantes story I quoted earlier.

Anyway, enough delay. This is a short canto (3 pages) and the first page is really not just postcards, but scraps of fading newspaper. There are references to religion and to science (M. Curie) and to Greek etymology.

The second page isn't really any better. It's mostly in English,though, seemingly another fragment from some pastoral work. And then the third page goes through troubadouris wanderings into Homeric/trojan scraps of narrative ("well, they've made a bloody mess of that city."). To quote Borges again, is this a universal history of infamy?

Contrasted with the position a few cantos ago, I'm finding this less enjoyable, dissatisfied at not feeling any overall direction to each canto or to the run of one canto to the next.

09 February 2009

Canto XXII

In relatively modern times, here, with a first section about the conquest of the American west, and the role of one Warenhauser, who was apparently a railway pioneer:
So he cut a road through the forest,
Two miles wide, an' perfectly legal.
Who wuz agoin' to stop him!

Then there's a section about economics, featuring a Mr Bukos, and people identified as C.H. and H.B. Don't know who they are. Then we move to Gibraltar! And there's a collision between Islamic and Jewish ways, but I don't know what it's illustrating, despite having read through this several times. It's just a string of anecdotes, vaguely linked, but it's a bit like listening in to snatches of conversation by people you don't know about people you don't know. Once again, frustratingly, I'm noting and moving on.

07 February 2009

Canto XXI

The easiest thing for me in this blog is naming the posts. No need to try and fit some witty headline, only to find I've already used that pun three times. Here are some I might have used:

Pounding the Beat or Beating the Pound
Pound Devalued
Impound me (I'm Pound, me)
Sez Ez
The Pound in your Pocket
Pound for Glory
Homeward Pound
Louisiana Pound
Lost and Pound
Frost & Pound
Safe and Pound
Pound Effects
Grace A-pounding
The Pounds of the Baskervilles

You may correctly assume this is displacement activity. But I must get on with it because this is the Canto in which I make it past page 100. Again, I boast, I bet this is further than most readers get.

After a quick repeated reference to Borso (and I still haven't been able to find anything more about his plan to "build a mountain from scratch") we get consecutive similar accounts of two Italian princes. In both cases there are details of the inheritance ("Intestate, 1429, leaing 178221 florins", "Intestate, '69, in December, leaving me 237,989 florins"). Both appear to be illustrating the way in which the families gained power.

Then there's a section about Thomas Jefferson, an extract from a letter (to an unnamed recipient, assumed to be somewhere in Burgundy) asking could you:
Find me a gardener
Who can play the french horn?
The bounds of American fortune
Will not admit the indulgence of a domestic band of
Musicians [...]

And then it's back to Italy and once again I'm reduced, if that's the word, which it isn't, to picking out examples of Ez's word-painting:
And the sea with tin flash in the sun-dazzle,
Like dark wine in the shadows.
"Wind between the sea and the mountains"
The tree-spheres half dark against sea
half clear against sunset,
The sun's keel freighted with cloud ...

These are the passages I like the most, as you may have noticed. Where the presence of the sea easily evokes both homeric images and early English prosody. And the canto ends with the pastoral scene, inhabited by mythological figures. Finally:
And the old man went on there
beating his mule with an asphodel.

From Wikipedia: In Ancient Greece, white asphodel was associated with mourning and death. Its presence was held to facilitate the transition of the dead to Elysium.

05 February 2009

Canto XX

As you'll have noticed, when I don't understand something, I skip it. This is so liberating! So I skip the first eight lines of this canto, written in a mixture of, I think, Provençal and Latin and a little English.

In the next section the speaker talks of a trip to Freiburg to see Lévy, apparently an expert, the expert, on Provençal, to find out the meaning of the word Noigandres. Not something that's ever troubled me, but it seems it might be a corruption of "d'enoi ganres". Doh! Of course! How could I miss it? (Hey it's fun being a philistine about this!)

The rest of the canto is particularly impenetrable. I suspect that if I knew more about troubadours or the Odyssey, I might recognise more than I do. But here's an interesting section: shortly after the mention of "lotophagoi" (lotus-eaters) there's what seems to be a reflection on the cost of war, even in Homeric times:
"What gain with Odysseus,
They that died in the whirlpool
And after many vain labours,
Living by stolen meat, chained to the rowingbench,
That he should have a great fame
And lie by night with the goddess?
Their names are not written in bronze
[...]
Nor had they meats of Kalupso
Or her silk skirts brushing their thighs.
Give! What were they given? Ear-wax.
Poison and ear-wax

And then it all drifts away (from me) again, ending with the repeated word "Borso", who (I've checked) must be Borso d'Este the first Duke of Ferrara. There's more about him to come. But I like this teasing bit from Wikipedia:
He was in general appreciated by his subjects: the only cause of grievance was his project to build a mountain from scratch in 1471, a project he was later forced to abandon.

It's left me wanting more.

04 February 2009

Canto XIX

More about the military-industrial complex, and complex it is. We start in Manhattan, with what reads like the self-satisfied reflections of a successful and unscrupulous businessman. Then this strange film-noirish scene:
So we sat there, with the kindly old professor,
And the stubby little man was upstairs.
And there was the slick guy in the other
corner reading the Tatler,
Not upside down, but never turning the pages,
And then I went up to the bed-room, and he said,
The stubby fellow: Perfectly true,
"But it's a question of feeling,
"Can't move 'em with a cold thing, like economics."
And so we came down stairs and went out,
And the slick guy looked out of the window,
And in came the street "Lemme-at-'em"
like a bull-dog in a mackintosh,
O my Clio!
Then the telephone didn't work for a week.

Which I quite like, although I can't fit it to anything around it, and of course film noir was not yet known.

And there follows more about (I think) the effect of the Russian revolution on the end of the war - the real or apparent collusion with Germany. And there's more about monopoly capitalism, market-fixing, and so on.

I guess we could summarise this canto as deploring the state of business and its pernicious effects. I also guess contemporary people would have had a better idea of what individuals could match the types described here. We're not so far here from Dante's hell, or the hell of the cantos; we have the behaviour depicted that would earn these people their punishment. In this section names aren't given presumably for fear of libel action.

03 February 2009

Canto XVIII

This one starts with an account by Marco Polo of the use of paper currency in China. So I suppose we're linking Venice with the economic concerns. Polo's account of paper money seems to contain the sense that it's a bit of a con-trick; the notes
Are smeared with the great Khan's seal in vermillion;
And the forgers are punished with death.
And this costs the Kahn nothing,
And so he is rich in this world.

We move on to the story of Metevsky, apparently an arms dealer, and I detect anti-Semitism here. Metevsky, whoever he was, seems to have hidden behind Biers (whoever ...) while their company thrives. 'You' becomes 'yew'; 'to' becomes 'tew' (how could that possibly be a fair transcription of the word, in any accent?). Metevsky becomes:
The well-known philanthropist,
Or "the well-known financier, better known,"
As the press said, "as a philanthropist,"
Gave - as the Este to Louis Eleventh, -
A fine pair of giraffes to the nation,
And endowed a chair of ballistics,
And was consulted before the offensives.

So there's a conflation of financiery and warmongery, which isn't that surprising. It's another manifestation of the disgust with the political state after the war.
And so on, without much to add until
War, one war after another,
Men start 'em who couldn't put up a good hen-roost

I'm being surprised at the amount of reference to the Great War. Obviously, I shouldn't be, but Ez was (as far as I can see) not a combatant, so he's not a war poet in the conventional sense.

One day, while investigating a complaint, I was in a law library annex, where bound volumes of The Magistrate from 1914-18 were in the bookcases. Naturally, I flicked through them, and it struck me that the war had quite little effect on life away from the front - a magistrate's life went on as before, while the suffering of the troops was largely ignored or minimised. But then Ez was not a comfy magistrate. Nevertheless, I can't help keeping seeing echoes of Mein Kampf, that same sense of betrayal and of a world gone badly wrong and in need of a saviour. (Post posting edit: wish to point out I haven't read Mein Kampf, but have read about it. Thank you. Goodnight.)

Canto XVII

This one begins with "So that", as Canto I ended, so we are back in that Homeric strand. It's clear in this that Zagreus is the principal figure, so I have looked him up, and he's basically Dionysus or Bacchus. There's also a reference to "the goddess of the fair knees", which is funnier than it ought to be.

It's another coastal scene, "the water green clear, and blue clear". The landscape is populated with gods and nymphs, like some renaissance paintings.

And that's about all I can safely say. I think I've read that the references to "marble trunks" and "stone trees" refer to the founding of Venice, but I wouldn't have guessed that. Possibly that's because (i) not having been to Venice, I don't recognise it and (ii) the mythological references don't work for me. Kore turns up again (as in III), so I'm beginning to think she must have some link with Venice. Like VII, this is a canto that might mean something later. So let's move on. Nothing to see here.

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.

Canto XV

Still in hell, wallowing in sh-t. The bishop who was mentioned in XIV is here again:
head down, screwed into the swill,
his legs waving and pustular,
a clerical jock strap hanging back over the navel
his condom full of black beetles,
tattoo marks round the anus,
and a circle of lady golfers about him.

Now that is funny.
And there are more targets, including the praisers of the past:
claiming that the sh-t used to be blacker and richer
and the fabians crying out for the petrification of putrefaction

It's 1930, remember, and you get a strong taste of the kind of disgust for the politics of the time (both right and left) that fed into fascism or communism, the belief that conventional politics had failed the people and some kind of strong leader was needed. Typographically, it's noticeable how lower case it all is.

The Dante analogy returns. The narrator questions his guide on what is going on and how to get out of this bog. Using a Medusa shield, the narrator and the guide solidify the ground and make their escape into sunlight

Canto XIV

This one starts with a quotation, "Io venni in luogo d'ogni luce muto", ("I came to a place devoid of all light"), which I didn't recognise, but guessed, correctly as it turned out, to be from Dante. For we are in hell, a dantesque, boschesque hell, where Ez has rounded up several classes of people he hates. I suppose I should have been expecting Dante in a work called cantos.

First we encounter politicians, "Addressing crowds through their arse-holes", and financiers. Then we move on to the press:
And those who had lied for hire;
the perverts, the perverters of language,
the perverts, who have set money-lust
Before the pleasures of the senses;

Some specified individuals are mentioned:
The petrified turd that was Verres,
bigots, Calvin and St Clement of Alexandria!
black-beetles, burrowing into the sh-t,
The soil a decrepitude, the ooze full of morsels,
lost contours, erosions.

I don't know who Verres is, and don't feel I need to. (I do find it funny that Ez can't spell out shit).

And then the attack moves on to "vice-crusaders, fahrting through silk" and in a crescendo of invective:
The slough of unamiable liars,
bog of stupidities,
malevolent stupidities, and stupidities,
the soil living pus, full of vermin,
dead maggots begetting live maggots,
slum owners,
usurers squeezing crab-lice, pandars to authority,

It's vigorous and slightly disturbing, as it should be.

Canto XIII


Second one today - catching up on days missed last week while I'm snow-bound. And it's a seam of good stuff at the moment. I've read this one before, years ago back at college. I seem to remember that our tutors would sometimes spring a canto unseen on us for practical criticism. I think I would have been at a disadvantage with this one, for not knowing that Kung is Confucius, not that I knew much about Confucianism then, or now.

This canto relates a few incidents from his life and teachings. It's a very calm canto, presumably reflecting Confucian values. There's hardly any point commenting because it's quite transparent once you recognise the breaks between the incidents. But anyway:

Lesson 1: who gave the correct answer to Kung's question? "They have all answered correctly, That is to say, each in his nature."

Lesson 2: Kung criticises a lazy self-proclaimed sage: "Get up and do something useful."

Lesson 3: "a man of fifty who knows nothing is worthy of no respect"

Lesson 4 is about order:
And if a man have not order within him
He can not spread order about him;
And if a man have not order within him
His family will not act with due order;
And if the prince have not order within him
He can not put order in his dominions.

Lesson 5 is ambiguous:

And they said: If a man commit murder
Should his father protect him and hide him?
And Kung said:
He should hide him.

Lesson 6: Kung gives his female relatives (as wives) to men of character, rather than position.

Lesson 7: Kung remembers
A day when historians left blanks in their writings,
I mean for things they didn't know,
But that day seems to be passing.

And the canto ends with these reflections:
Without character you will
be unable to play on that instrument
Or to execute the music fit for the Odes.
The blossoms of the apricot
blow from the east to the west,
And I have tried to keep them from falling.

It's all rather lovely, isn't it? Prepare for a change in XIV.

Canto XII

This one feels so different, once we get past the first few lines and start on the story of Baldy Bacon. A fairly understandable story, of Baldy running a financial business in Cuba, and we're moving on the topic of usury, oh dear. Anyway, Baldy becomes "unpopular" in Cuba and returns to Manhattan where he carried on various other businesses - mainly, it's suggested, protection rackets.

Then we move on to the story of Jose Maria dos Santos. This is another business story, set in Portugal. Santos makes his fortune by buying up a wrecked grainship, which no-one else wants because they assume the grain will be worthless. He used the salvaged grain as pig food and became a rich landowner on the proceeds.

And finally, we get the "Tale of the Honest Sailor", told by Jim X, bored at a meeting of bankers. A drunken sailor is in hospital, having an operation. At the same time in the hospital, a "poor whore" is giving birth. The doctors tell the sailor that he has given birth to the child. The sailor leaves the hospital and mends his ways, and becomes a rich merchant, owning a "whole line of steamers". On his death bed he passes on his business to his son and says:
"You called me your father and I ain't.
"I ain't your dad, no,
"I am not your fader but your moder," quod he,
"Your fader was a rich merchant in Stambouli."

So we have moved into the world of business. Contrasting stories of different ways of making it in the world, either by financial dealing, risky investment, or hard work. And it's all so easy to follow!

01 February 2009

Canto XI


Another canto based on the life of Sigismondo Malatesta (his name has many variant spellings) and his various campaigns. Once again it's impressionistic rather than a clear narrative but we learn that he had 1300 soldiers (this is quoted in Italian as mille tre cento cavalli - I just wonder if the mille tre is a reference to Don Giovanni (in the catalogue aria, the number of his conquests in Spain) but there's no reason to believe it is.

Sigismondo goes to Tarentum and there's another mixing of registers:
I mean Sidg went to Tarentum
And he found 'em, the anti-Aragons,
busted and weeping into their bears,
And they, the papishes, came up to the wall,
And that nick-nosed s.o.b. Feddy Urbino
Said: 'Per che e fuor di questo ... Sigis ... mundo'
'They say he dodders about the streets
'And can put his hand to neither one thing nor the other.'

The text here has the sense of being the observation of someone within Sigismondo's troops, who quite admires him, and is relating anecdotes from the campaigns.
And one day he was sitting in the chiexa,
On a bit of cornice, a bit of stone grooved for a cornice,
Too narrow to fit his big beam,
hunched up and noting what was done wrong,
And an old woman came in and giggled to see him
sitting there in the dark
She nearly fell over him

Towards the end of the canto a new character, Barbo, fatty Barbo, comes in. It seems he became Pope Paul II, although his choice of name would have been Formosus. It looks as if Sigismondo had the chance to kill him. I feel he's going to regret not taking it.

And one brilliant line among many:
In the gloom, the gold gathers the light against it.

It's been another canto where the poetry could illuminate the bare bones of a factual account.