Selected Cantos of Ezra Pound

by Ezra Pound

Paperback, 1970






New York : New Directions, 1970.


This selection from the Cantos was made by Ezra Pound himself in 1965. It is intended to "indicate main elements" in the long poem -- his personal epic -- with which he was engaged for more than fifty years. His choice includes, of course, a number of the Cantos most admired by critics and anthologists, such as Canto XIII ("Kung [Confucius] walked by the dynastic temple..."), Canto XLV ("With usura hath no man a house of good stone...") and the passage from The Pisan Cantos (LXXXI) beginning "What thou lovest well remains / the rest is dross," and so the book is an ideal introduction for newcomers to the great work. But it has, too, particular interest for the already initiated reader and the specialist, in its revelation, through Pound's own selection of "main elements," of the relative importance which he himself placed on various motifs as they figure in the architecture of the whole poem. Book jacket.… (more)

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LibraryThing member stillatim
It's more than a little surreal coming to the Selected Cantos a few years after working my way through the whole thing for a class. I wonder what use my impressions will be to others--I thought the selection quite good, it avoided most of the really impenetrable stuff, avoided most of the really obnoxious stuff, and included most of the loveliest lines. Plus, I more or less understood it.

And after all this, I still don't know what to think of Pound. On the one hand, without him, we'd probably all still be reading Arnold Bennett novels and poor man's Tennyson 'epics.' His ambition alone makes it worth a look at his work. He also mastered i) satire (though thanks to his slightly silly understanding of poetry*, he didn't use this mode as often as he should have done) and ii) a style of Anglo-poetry closer to ancient Chinese verse than the romantics etc who preceded him.

The voice of famine unheard.
How came beauty against this blackness,
Twice beauty under the elms--
To be saved by squirrels and bluejays?

More importantly, he wrote about *the world* rather than himself.

On the other hand, he was totally incapable of following a train of thought (hence, he managed to simultaneously believe that a) we need a Great Leader to save us; b) the people should decide on most issues; c) the most important issue is politics is the economy; d) see (a)). He fell into the common trap of coming up with an ideal (Confucianism Social Credit economics) and then trying to find it in the actually existing world, so he ended up saying nice things about the Nazis.

These two things are obviously connected (i.e., if you're capable of following a train of thought, and you begin from not insane assumptions, you probably won't end up saying nice things about the Nazis). And yet so many popular poets and thinkers are notably incapable of thinking consecutively. Why do we so prefer those who have moments of dazzling insight, which appear from nowhere, to those who burrow down and try to work out where those dazzling insights lead?

I can only hope it's *not* because most people are too lazy to think things through, and would rather be impressed by the dazzle.

All of which is to say: Pound. Well worth reading, but the more exaggerated claims for him** probably shouldn't be taken too seriously.

*: in short, prose is for satire, poetry is for something grander.
**: e.g., that by writing in juxtaposed fragments he discovers a new way of thinking, because Mussolini-Jefferson-Social Credit-Confucius. On the other hand, Pound is so enthusiastic that he makes me want to run out and read books by/about everything he's interested in, other than the troubadors.
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