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On "Canto 116"


George Kearns

In canto 1, Tiresias predicted that Odysseus would "return through spiteful Neptune." The god who rules the sea of time and history pursues the voyager, smashing his fragile raft at the end of Canto 95, but "Leucothea had pity," and the drowning poet comes safety to shore. In Canto 116, we hear that he has been saved again, this time by "squirrels and bluejays." He appears to have made peace with Neptune, whose mind, like his own, is "leaping / like dolphins." The suggestion is that Pound/Odysseus has been able to catch, and to record as images, only glimpses of that flashing sea, or "Cosmos."

There is distinctly a nostos or homecoming in this canto, with a wry recognition that it is not the destination he had in mind when he began writing the poem. His "paradiso" is now enclosed in quotation marks, an earthly third heaven (terzo cielo) of human love, its geography mapped by Torcello/Venice, Tigullio/ Rapallo. It is not a final resting place, however, for there is still "some climbing" toward the splendor of that light which makes the poem (perhaps poetry itself) inadequate. The relation of the visible, intelligible paradise - with its landscape of elms, squirrels and bluejays, the Venetian lagoon, and the sea at Rapallo - to the paradise beyond the poem . . . . Canto 116 is not a rejection of the long poem it is concluding but a redefinition, a careful definition, of the relation between the smaller cosmos of the poem (which does not cohere) and the Cosmos it takes for its subject, about the coherence of which there is no doubt. . . .

Standing among his "errors and wrecks," admitting the madness they contain or that brought them about, Pound still asserts the value of the effort and takes pride, after all, in his achievement.

From Guide to Ezra Pound's Selected Cantos. Copyright 1980 by Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.


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