Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

Long, fluid body of poetry by Ezra Pound. Begun with the publication of the first three segments in Quia Pauper Amavi (1919), the work occupied Pound for most of the rest of his life. Succeeding volumes adding to the work are A Draft of XVI Cantos … for the Beginning of a Poem of Some Length (1925), A Draft of Cantos XVII to XXVII (1928), A Draft of XXX Cantos (1933), Eleven New Cantos, XXXI–XLI (1934), The Fifth Decad of Cantos (1937), Cantos LII–LXXI (1940), The Pisan Cantos (1948)—a particularly unified segment of ten sections based on Pound's incarceration in an Italian prisoner-of-war camp, in which he views himself as a romantic hero whose sensibility will bring order to a world of chaos, Section: Rock-Drill, 85–95 de los Cantares (1956), Thrones; 96–109 de los Cantares (1959). The writing begun in 1915 was finally collected in The Cantos of Ezra Pound (1970), but the work was not brought to any conclusion and simply trails off with fragments of Cantos 110 to 117.

In kaleidoscopic manner, lacking any evident overall plan or continuing narrative, the cantos move with very free association over diverse aspects and eras of history, American, European, and Oriental, for all time is treated as contemporary. Similarly there is no distinction made in the use of diverse languages, and the English is often peppered with Greek, Latin, Provençal, Italian, and Chinese, according to the subject of the passages of frequently shifting topics. Not only are subject and language very varied, but the elliptical style ranges from laconic and esoteric juxtapositions to lengthy allusive associations. Among all this variety there are, however, relationships which apparently are meant to evaluate history by comparison, and to present a morality for the individual based on Confucian thought and one for society depending upon the ostensibly humanitarian use of state-controlled credit and money. The Cantos are filled with esoteric lore, recondite theories, personal allusions, and the author's own crotchets so that they are extremely difficult to follow in their entirety, no matter how evocative or effective limited passages or particular images may be, with the result that the whole body of work breaks into fragments that are often not only pedantic but confusing. Nevertheless, the work, particularly in its earlier sections, has had a tremendous impact on modern poetry.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Ezra Pound (1885—1972) poet

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.