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On 'Notes for CXVII"

Massimo Bacigalupo

In the final completed canto [116] the mind of Ixion confronts with "gaiety" the mind of the god who "comes" in marine guise, attended by the dolphins of canto 110, to greet the voyager, or to bring him the "gentle death" Tiresias had promised Ulysses [in the Odyssey]. . . .

There is a touch of truculence in the challenge to "lift" the great ball - which is at one time the acorn of light of canto 106, Pound's phantastikon, the divine vision, and the poem as distinct from its compiler, now beached among errors and wrecks - but this false note is made good by the eventual reprise, beautifully articulated, of the basic theme: the House reattaches itself, beyond (and through) negation and loss, to "the drawing of this Love" (Little Gidding) - to a post-Christian eros in the absence of which nothing can be said to exist.

The three fragments printed at the end of Drafts & Fragments under the editorial heading, "Notes for Canto CXVII et seq.," may have been written before the final struggle recorded in canto 116, yet their present location is fortunate. . . . They pass over the otiose question whether the Cantos are a ball of crystal or a wreck, and look beyond the poem, thus providing it with the open-ended and relaxed finale that it needs. The first of the set ("For the blue flash and the moments…") is readily identified as a footnote to canto 110’s envoi, with its talk of "the marble form in the pine wood" and "the shrine seen and not seen"… While "blessing" the companion and "anima" of his last verse Pound is aware of the culpability of his senile attachment - an attachment which is also, so far as it involves "jealousy," the cause of the conversion of love into hate. Yet he savors the extraordinary gift of the "benedetta": one whole day of peace, as memorable as two crucial epiphanies of his late poetry: the elm boughs leading the autumn sky in canto 106, and the foam . . . changing into snow in 98. In this "quiet" . . . Pound meditates his last project: to build a house free of jealousy, a temple which the poet himself, a feline god [Zagreus], may inhabit with his Mother.

This project is not unlike the one announced, after a memorable pause, at the end of the subsequent somber fragment, which mourns the death of love, and with it of life ("m’amour, ma vie" in one typescript). . . The diagnosis is dispassionate: Pound has worn himself out in a frightful and ridiculous tourney with windmills, and yet his unrealized plan for an earthly paradise ["paradiso / terrestre"] is more compelling than the dependable accomplishment of such as never lose themselves.

In the end, having regained his confidence, the poet rises from his own "failure" and sets out, comforted by memory, towards a world which is truly new - the world of man . . . Bernouard . . . was the first printer of XXX Cantos: Pound reaffirms his material and collective conception of the poetic artifact . . . "Lie quiet" – we think we hear him say, as in canto 1 – "Divus, Bernouard, and Pound." . . . The end is an excess of joy: the lark falls from the sweeteness that goes to her heart. With a happy gesture the Cantos hark back, while running out, to the springtime of modern Western poetry - Bernart de Ventadorn’s song - and to the dawn of the vocation of the poet Pound: the roads of Provence [Allègre] as he saw them around Midsummer Day, 1912. His guides in this first and last journey are two mice, a moth, and the butterflies or "king-wings" (canto 106) that feed on milkweed and "meet in their island," preparing for the great migratory flight. That the arcanum to which they point the way is revealed in the end as a fully human world has been indicated above - and the Dantean source of the last statement should be borne in mind. ["Be men – not wild sheep" - Paradiso 5.80.] It is only a hypothesis, a promised land at the threshold of which this huge Browningesque machine must come to a stop - like the prehistory of the tribe, or of modern consciousness, which we may take it to be.

This is a revised exceprt from The Forméd Tree: The Later Poetry of Ezra Pound Copyright © 1980 by the Columbia University Press.

Mary Ellis Gibson

Pound's final cantos do not relinquish the desire to make coherence in the very bone shop of history. Neither chaos nor the need for order can be projected into another world. The poet's situation—historical, personal, and poetic—is altogether more stark. In Canto 116, Pound says that the young are still burdened with the records of history, with a tangle of laws, with a literature that heals nothing. The poem's effort, like Mussolini's effort as Pound saw it, is still "To make Cosmos— / To achieve the possible."

The poignancy of The Cantos, for readers who find poignancy in a poem so violent, is in their never giving up on their desire to make the world better, a desire Pound understood as the effort to "make Cosmos." Yet the very terms of the dream, the dream of benevolent and natural hierarchy in a modern industrial world, contained its own undoing. The poet was left, in the words of the last fragments, with a question: "Where is what I loved?" This question surely answers the poem's earlier one, "And as to why they go wrong, / thinking of rightness" (116.811).

Where is what I loved? In great measure it is violently destroyed in the contradictions of its own dreaming; if anything is left, it is in the valediction to Olga Rudge now placed at the end of the Faber edition of The Cantos. But as to "why they go wrong," the fragments answer:

That I lost my center
                        fighting the world.
The dreams clash
                        and are shattered—
and that I tried to make a paradiso

Ironically, the clashing dreams, the oscillations and contradictions of The Cantos come back, in Canto 116, to late-nineteenth-century irony, the ironies The Cantos have gone so far to escape. Pound returned, in part and in fragments, to the mental landscape of Jules Laforgue, to the "deeps in him," and to the terrible ironies of a paradiso terrestre that could only be "a nice quiet paradise / over the shambles."

from Epic Reinvented: Ezra Pound and the Victorians. Copyright © 1995 by Cornell UP.

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