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On "Canto 45"

Michael Alexander

Canto 45 must be an 'adjunct to the Muses' diadem' - perhaps the clearest and most cogent statement of principle in the poem. Its Old Testament litany of the effects of usury on natural life is full of torrential moral indignation, a passion which remains, in spite of reservations, deeply impressive. I once heard Christopher Logue reading the Canto to a respectful Albert Hall poetry 'happening' in 1965, substituting 'Ursula' for 'Usura' throughout; even this portent has not dented the poem. It is curious nevertheless to see an accepted masterwork of modernism so utterly archaic in its diction and cadence and so entirely dogmatic and moral in intention. Its values are no less reactionary: it is a proclamation of mediaeval values which could be signed witho0ut reservation by William Morris and Pope Leo XIII, and, with a few, by Enrico Berlinguer.

From The Poetic Achievement of Ezra Pound. Copyright © 1979 by Michael Alexander.

Christine Froula

The traditional definition of usury is the lending of money at exorbitant interest rates. It is this practice which Deuteronomy 23:19-20 forbade in the following terms:

    Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury:
    Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it.

The Catholic Church outlawed the practice categorically up to the time of the Reformation, when John Calvin succeeded in overturning the ban. Calvin argued that Deuteronomv forbids usury only insofar as it is "opposed to equity or charity." (Nelson, 78) Pound's definition is more specific: "A charge for the use of purchasing power, levied without regard to production; often without regard to the possibilities of production." (C, 230) This definition makes the legitimacy of interest charges dependent upon the real increase in value which the lent money, put to use, achieves. Pound saw the prime offenders against this principle as private banks, which are empowered to create money, or credit, out of nothing; and his Fiftb Decad of Cantos is concerned with legitimate and illegitimate - or good and evil - banking practices. . . .

The creation of money ex nihilo by the banks was the outrage against which Pound's entire effort at economic reform was aimed. . . .

Pound understood (as Marx, "endowing money with properties of a quasi-religious nature" [I, 112], did not) that money is property neither a commodity nor "congealed labor" but nothing more than a symbolic designation of:credit, which by rights belongs to the people of a society, and not to private banks. He saw that if the government had retained control over money/credit (assuming its honest implementation), the interest which now goes to private banks, creating their immense wealth, would instead accumulate as communal capital available for public works. Depending on government expenditures then, there might be no need to levy taxes - indeed, the government might pay its citizens dividends.

Pound saw, then, that the governments had betrayed the people by authorizing private banks to "create money out of nothing" and then grow rich merely by charging interest on it. . . .

Pound portrays and excoriates these economic disruptions, and their cultural effects, in his Usura Canto. . .

Its austere dirge poses Usura against the real human values that it blights, negates, and overrides: good houses, good bread, good art, natural fertility. These things are emblems, for Pound, of human civilization, as the celebration of human life and creativity in harmony with nature.

Whatever might be the limitations of his analysis, Pound's Usura Canto remains a powerful protest against a debased culture whose "painted paradise" is mostly commissioned from Madison Avenue.

From A Guide to Ezra Pound's Selected Poems. Copyright © 1982, 1983 by Christine Froula.

Ronald Bush

The usurers of Canto XIV owe their identities to Douglas' historical analysis, but we can trace their configurations (brutish monsters, swollen foetuses) to Inferno XIV, where usurers squat "like dogs in summer that ply, now snout, now paw, when they are bitten by fleas or gnats or flies." In the end, we must acknowledge that Dante combined with Douglas in Pound's mind to make usury not just a contemporary problem but the Cantos' most important emblem of the fall of the "green world" of natural bounty. Tle Cantos condemn usura, the "obsession of wealth defined in terms of money," not just because it interferes with an artist's creation ("Came not by usura Angelico"), but because it perverts the bounty and sustenance of God's art, which is nature.

From The Genesis of Ezra Pound's Cantos. Copyright © 1976 by Princeton University Press.

Robert Casillo

Although usury seems only an economic evil, Pound reaches the conclusion that economics is the key to history, and that cultural vitality depends on the proper use of money. He accordingly finds evidence of usury throughout Western society and culture.

. . . .

. . . while Pound is by no means hostile to all forms of money, he obsessively attacks that form of it - namely usury - which he thinks the Jews created and which figures in economics as the virtual equivalent of the abstract and monopolistic Jewish God, who creates reality ex nihilo. At the same time, Pound is certain that Jewish usurers exploit honest labor and impede the forces of production. He believes implicitly that the Jews, for whom labor is "the curse of Adam," reject the principle of work. The usurers, says Pound, are "against the natural increase of agriculture or of any productive work" (LE, 211). Elsewhere he reveals that, while some usurers may be non-Jews, the system of usury or "Jewsury' is essentially Jewish - "it is, of course, useless to indulge in antisemitism, leaving intact the Hebraic monetary system which is a most tremendous instrument of usury" (SP, 35 1).

. . . .

The Addendum to Canto 100 was written in the early 1940s. Like the broadcasts, it is hallucinatory, filled with duplicating, proliferating monstrosities:

The Evil is Usury, neschek
the serpent. . . .
The canker corrupting all things, Fafnir the worm,
Syphilis of the State, of all kingdoms,
Wart of the commonweal,
Wenn-maker, corrupter of all things.
Darkness the defiler,
Twin evil of envy,
Snake of the seven heads, Hydra, entering all things....

(Addendum, 100/ 798)

A self-duplicating worm, usury is also syphilis, whose germs create doubles of themselves while eating away within; cancer, a monstrous duplication of cellular life; the many-headed snake, an amphibious Hydra; and 'Twin evil of envy," a double. These lines also imply violence, for usury attacks the state and brings death and profanation, evoked in this case as the breakdown of inner and outer: Usury "passes" the "doors of temples" and "defiles" the "grove of Paphos" (Addendum, 100 / 798). Like the scapegoat, Usury is a parasite, a wenn or cancer, a monstrous excrescence to be excised from the organic community.

. . . .

More than a destroyer of cultural distinctions, usury is the essence of profanation, leaving no aspect of religion untouched. In "A Visiting Card" (1942) Pound speaks of history's "two forces": the first "divides, shatters, and kills, . . . falsifies ... [and] destroys every clearly delineated symbol, . . . [destroys] not one but every religion"; the second "contemplates the unity of the mystery" and "the images of the gods," which "move the soul to contemplation and preserve the tradition of the undivided light" (SP, 306-307). Pound blames the process of desymbolization on the usurers and "Iconoclasts," a "power of putrefaction" like "the bacilli of typhus or bubonic plague" (SP, 317). Usury is a violent plague which infects everything and reduces everything to a state of undifferentiation.

. . . .

In the Usury Cantos Usura causes "the girl's needle [to go] ... blunt in her hand' (511 250); it keeps "the weaver ... from his loom," and the "stone cutter ... from his stone" (511 250). Meanwhile, the force of "Judah" is "destructive EVEN of the mason's trowel" (RB, 155). Usury thus produces a form of castration leading to impotence. It attacks the very instruments and impulses of art and forestalls the very moment of art's inception. So far as the finished art product is concerned, usury either causes its lines to "grow thick" (45/ 229), or else to fade, blur, and finally disappear.

. . . .

In Canto 41, confronting the "tangle" of the swamp, Mussolini creates the determinate out of chaos. Where usury destroys walls and barriers, he builds them. . . .

From The Genealogy of Demons: Anti-Semitism, Fascism, and the Myths of Ezra Pound. Copyright © 1988 by Robert Casillo.

Robert Langbaum

Even the famous Canto 45 on usura is no exception to what I have been saying about the lack of fusion between the poetry and the ideas, especially the ideas about money. We are so overwhelmed by the biblical cadences and rhetoric (the repetitions and parallel constructions) as to forget that the content will not bear investigation:

wool comes not to market
sheep bringeth no gain with usura.

Yet modern banking coincides with unprecedented European prosperity. We are inclined to agree with Pound that at least in modem times the arts and sexuality have suffered:

Usura rusteth the chisel
It rusteth the craft and the craftsman
. . . . . . . . . . . .
Usura slayeth the child in the womb
It stayeth the young man's courting
It hath brought palsey to bed, lyeth
between the young bride and her bridegroom
                                        CONTRA NATURAM.

Yet population increased enormously during the nineteenth century, and while the handicrafts declined, literature, music, painting, philosophy and science flourished. Ruskin railed against much the same social symptoms, but attributed them to an unprecedented complex of causes brought on by the Industrial Revolution and not to a single cause recurring throughout the past. Ruskin and Pound, like all romantic thinkers, like Eliot. too, in his social thought, longed nostalgically for the organic society of the past.

from "Pound and Eliot." in Ezra Pound among the Poets. Ed. George Bornstein. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985. Copyright © 1985 by University of Chicago Press.

Ethan Lewis

Clarity remains Pound’s chief preoccupation, with reflection of conditions secondary, albeit important. That explains, perhaps, why, rather than subvert his medium, Pound prefers to employ linguistic means in order to illustrate. One might even catalogue the syntactic exposures of usura.

1.) grammatical obstruction—such as that separating "Stonecutter" from stone, "weaver from loom" by lodging "is kept from" between agent and object.

Stonecutter is kept from his stone,
weaver is kept from his loom (45/229)

Akin to this spatial obfuscation, intruding a negative between subject and object:

wool comes not to market
sheep bringeth no gain with usura

2.) "still-birth syntax,"—more devastating than obstruction because the structure glosses

Usura slayeth the child in the womb (45/230 )

Here the verb, invariably harsh, precedes a healthy combination, rendering it nugatory, Compare:

It rusteth the craft and the craftsman
It gnaweth the thread in the loom

The line following demonstrates the variant: an affirmative verb itself aborted by a negative—

None learneth to weave gold in her pattern.

Cf. "With usura hath no man a house of good stone" (45/229)

These are constructs less powerful (to my mind) than the still-birth triggering off the verb. Consistent with the crescendo in offenses, Pound cleverly refrains from verbal still-birth syntax until the second half of the canto, whence it supervenes obstruction as the principal register:

blunteth the needle in the maid’s hand
and stoppeth the spinner’s cunning.
. . . .
It stayeth the young man’s courting

3.) The first of three less frequent modes: transitive annihilation.

Usura is a murrain, . . .
. . . .
Usura rusteth the chisel

In remarking this simplest strategy, it's worth noting that Pound invented none of these exposures, unless the term be construed in its original (Latin) light, through the cognates in + venire, meaning to come upon. Pound recognized quite early in his career (his overstating the discovery underscores its impress upon him) that the syntax of uninflected idioms mimes nature. From the Fenollosa essay on "The Chinese Written Character," which Pound edited:

The sentence form was forced upon primitive men by nature itself. It was not we who made it; it was a reflection of the temporal order in causation. All truth has to be expressed in sentences because all truth is the transference of power. The type of sentence in nature is a flash of lightning. It passes between two terms, a cloud and the earth. No unit of natural process can be less than this. All natural processes are, in their units, as much as this. . . . The form of the Chinese transitive sentence, and of the English, omitting particles, exactly corresponds to this universal form of action in nature.

It follows that any interruption of this form goes "CONTRA NATURAM." Even obstruction and still-birth syntax merely forestall the inevitable progress forward. Unimpeded, usura will naturally (transitively) raze its object. It will perversely weight that to which it attaches, or from which it grows like a cancer. Hence, Pound shows us 4.) cankered syntax.

Azure hath a canker by usura; . . .

. . . .
sheep bringeth no gain with usura

The second (and earlier) instance neatly imitates the production of "nonexistent values" (Douglas' term) against which Pound rails—the casting forth of some thing ("with usura") from nothing ("no gain") Cf. "Nothing we made. . . ." [25/118]; and

Said Paterson.
                                            Hath benefit of interest on all
the moneys which it, the bank, creates out of nothing

5.) The most fanciful, thus most moot, form of exposure, which, if genuine, damns as viciously as still birth syntax freezes. Structural rather than syntactic, a grotesque exchange, plausibly transacted in

It hath brought palsey to bed, lyeth
between the young bride and her bridegroom
                                    CONTRA NATURAM

Since the second line "lyeth / between" the first and third, the second may be equated with usura. I.e., "young bride and her bridegroom" equals usura—which formula reflexively supports and is supported by: "It hath brought palsey to bed, lyeth" equals "young bride" / "CONTRA NATURAM" equals "her bridegroom."

from "Grammaria Usurae: Representational Strategies in Canto XLV." Paiduema 28. 2-3.

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