BK. Ezra Pound

The Cantos change here, or, rather, revert to earlier methods that had been put under erasure. The first editions, American (Laughlin) and British (Faber).

56. The Pisan Cantos. New York: Laughlin, 1948.

The Cantos change here, at the U. S. Army Disciplinary Training Center at Pisa (DTC), Pound charged with treason, incarcerated by U. S. authorities, and under threat of execution. The methods return to the ‘old ways’ of ‘Three Cantos’ (see 27), and as the ghosts and other supernatural presences re-emerge and crowd around the ‘man on whom the sun has gone down’ (57, p. 450), those from Japan, recalled out of the air of Pisa after three decades, assume a new importance in the poem. See also 36, 72, 97, 140, 147, 171, 191, and 206. Reprinted in 57.

a. LXXIV. The first of The Pisan Cantos is lyrical and elegiac, intermingling history and myth with intensely personal recollection. For the first time since ‘Three Cantos’, and to an even greater extent than is true there, Pound himself is at the centre, encountering and calling forth in internal monologue presences from his own and our collective past. The methodological shift is underlined by reintroduction into the poem of lines from ‘Three Cantos’ I: ‘Ghosts move about me / Patched with histories’ (p. 466). These had provided a shorthand summary of the methods of the earliest cantos, the Poundian persona like the waki of the mugen nô venturing forth to the ‘sacred places’ to converse with the spirits of the dead (see, especially, 183), but in the 1925 rewrite (35) the ‘visionary’ Pound had been edited out, and with him the lines that had summarised the method. The ‘sacred place’ here is T’ai Shan, first among the holy peaks of China, considered the source of life and the place to which the souls of the dead return for judgement, called forth at Pisa from its double, a mountain visible on the horizon from the DTC—‘from the death cells in sight of Mt. Taishan @ Pisa’—as Pound had earlier seen ‘Fujiyama at Gardone’ (57, p. 447, and see b), the sacred mountain of Japan rising above the town on Lake Garda where Mussolini fled after the fall of Rome. Among the supernatural presences manifest is ‘Kuanon of all delights’ (p. 448), Buddhist goddess of mercy, Pound’s knowledge of whom Bush (145) and others trace to the nô Tamura (17i), and who is conflated later in the canto with Venus-Aphrodite (p. 463). From the nô itself, the ‘nymph of the Hagoromo [13d]’ appears ‘as a corona of angels / [as] one day . . . clouds banked on Taishan / . . . in glory of sunset / and tovarish blessed without aim / wept in the rainditch at evening’ (p. 450); Pound remembers from KAGEKIYO (21a) the words the old man recalls from his youth, ‘“how stiff the shaft of your neck is”’, and that Kagekiyo and his Minamoto adversary ‘went off each his own way’ (p. 462), lines elsewhere Pound associates with the ‘Homeric’ (see 28, 45b, 53, 59e, and 76e); he recalls from Kumasaka the nobility of the ‘shade’ of Kumasaka, ‘“a better fencer than I was”’ (p. 462), a line not in Pound’s version of the play, but echoing the occasion for the work that Pound believed central (see 17g) and returned to in honorific terms again and again (see 27b, 45b, 76e, and 82b14); in a key passage appears SUMA GENJI (17e), set alongside Kannon and Venus-Aphrodite, called forth ‘in the name of [the] god’ of the ‘wine of the Castelli’ to aid Odysseus/Pound on his journey to the underworld, the voices of the shades Tiro and Alcmene swirling in the sea breezes blowing across the DTC. The collective effect of these presences from the nô should not be overstated. None are determinative—that role would have to be reserved for Dionysus and the other gods of Eleusis—but rather each is a luminous thread in a web of association as rich as any in English—cultures, languages, and millennia transversed from one half-line to the next. The presences called forth here, Egyptian, Greek, Chinese, Japanese, Roman, and Italian, are visions from what Yeats had called the Anima Mundi in Per Amica Silentia Lunae (BL13), the ‘vast luminous sea’ of spirit, invoked to see both the speaker and the spoken through the collective tragedy. In addition to references to the nô, the canto includes as well allusion to a ‘tanka entitled the shadow’ (p. 459), which according to Terrell (158) refers to a work by Kitasono. For commentary on Japanese subjects in the canto see especially Baumann (115) and Miyake (187, 191, and 192), and see also 179.

b. LXXVI. Continues in like manner to LXXIV, as in opening lines Apollo, ‘hidden in cloud bank[,] / [lights] saffron the cloud ridge / dove sta memora’, ‘where memory lives’, and Alcmene, tree spirits, Dirce, and the mistresses of Sigismundo and Cavalcanti ‘in the timeless air / . . . suddenly stand’ in Pound’s room. The methodology may be traced in part to the mugen nô, but of supernatural presences manifest none are from Japanese tradition. ‘Sirmio / with Fujiyama above it’ (p. 478): see Kenner (128, p. 469) and a above (Sirmio, the modern Sal, is near Gardone on Lake Garda). ‘Tami’s dream’ (p. 482): reference to a lost painting by Kume (Ap) that had hung in Olga Rudge’s Venice apartment before the war, described and placed in context by Mary de Rachewiltz in 129. See Kenner (97, 62-64) for perceptive notes about ‘hokku’ in this canto in particular and The Pisan Cantos in general.

Hannya mask worn by Rokujô, who ‘plays hob in the tent flaps’ at Pisa. Photograph by Yoshikoshi Tatsuo.

c. LXXVII. Pound remains ‘under Taishan’ (p. 495; see a above), and images from the Disciplinary Training Center co-mingle with apparitions from the spirit world, including Kannon, made manifest to ‘we who have passed over Lethe’ (p. 492), and on a rainy night the hannya of Aoi, the demonic spirit of jealousy in Aoi no Ue (22), who ‘plays hob in the tent flaps’ (p. 485) and is echoed later on the page by ‘Il Scirocco è geloso’, the jealousy of the South Wind. Images of ceremonial dancing recur here, and so recollection of Itô (p. 489) is not out of place. That he ‘lack[ed] the gasometer penny’ and said ‘“Do you speak German?” // to [Prime Minister] Asquith, in 1914’ is explained by Itô himself in his autobiography (see BL93, and BL178 for English translation of the pertinent passage), and this and following lines about and spoken by Itô, including a cryptic reference to rehearsals for Yeats’s At the Hawk’s Well (BL12), are glossed by Terrell (158). The final quotation from Itô, ‘Jap’nese dance all time overcoat’, is recalled by Pound in a 1940 letter to Kitasono (see 59, p. 335 or 82, p. 84). ‘Daimio’s “tailor bill”’ (p. 486): according to Terrell, citing Reno Odlin from an unnamed source, the ‘daimio’ is a reference to Kume.

d. LXXIX. The invocatory verse continues in an appeal to Iacchos (p. 510), the mystical name of Dionysus, via his sacred vehicle, the lynx (pp. 507-12), and again allusions to the nô establish important contrasts between divine grace and deceit, nobility and ‘vulgarity’: ‘Greek rascality against Hagoromo [13d] / Kumasaka [17g] vs/ vulgarity / no sooner out of Troas / than the damn fools attacked Ismarus of the Cicones’ (p. 505). The immediate reference is to the unprovoked Greek attack on the Ciconians soon after Odysseus left Troy, resulting in damnation by the gods and a ten-year delay in the journey, but a sub-theme echoing throughout the canto is the barbarity of the makers of the war recently ended, and so the contrast echoes forward through the centuries. For Pound, the angel of Hagoromo represents a ‘sacrament’ (82c2) and a divine incarnation purely benevolent (see 27a, 56a and e, 66a, and 85), the title character of Kumasaka nobility, honour, and ‘the ‘gist’ of what is meant by ‘chivalry’ (see 27b, 45b, 53, 56a, and 76b). Some critics have seen the ‘AOI’ following the invocation of Iacchos (p. 510) here and in LXXXI as a calling forth of the spirit of Aoi-no-Ue (see 22), but this is unlikely, for the title of Pound’s version of the work in which Aoi appears employs a pre-Hepburn transcription of her name, Awoi, by which Pound refers to her in LXXVII. More likely, as several guides point out, this is the ‘Aoi’ of the Chanson de Roland, probably meaning ‘Hail!’, a reading consistent with the invocation of Iacchos. See especially Baumann (115) for commentary about implications of the allusions to the nô.

e. LXXX. In The Pisan Cantos, among the spirits of the nô the celestial dancer/moon spirit of Hagoromo (13d) is central, appearing in LXXIV as a ‘corona of angels’ in the clouds above ‘Taishan’ to bless the inhabitants of the DTC, set in contrast in LXXIX with corruption and deceit, and invoked here in lines Pound recalls from the version of the play he had published thirty-four years earlier: ‘“With us there is no deceit” / said the moon nymph immacolata [immaculate] / Give back my cloak, hagoromo’ (p. 520). The reference is quick but sure, an example of the associational sparks that propel and enrich The Pisan Cantos. The lines do not connect logically with what comes before or after, but a ‘conceptual rhyme’ reverberates through the work, an example of the ‘unity of emotion’ a quarter of a century earlier Pound had found in the nô and believed would aid in the construction of a ‘long Imagiste poem’ (see 12 and 17f and 87). The ‘moon-nymph’s’ words that in the play precede those remembered here echo in the canto as clearly as those that are quoted: ‘Doubt is of mortals’. And in the play the consequence of the returning of the cloak is the divine gift of the ‘moon nymph’s’ dance, an interpenetration of heaven and earth made manifest, and an initiation into the mysteries of the ‘eternal renewing’ of the gods. These associations and others echo in Pound’s three lyrical lines. They provide counterpoint both to the deceits and the doubts he writes of in the canto, and help keep the ‘rhythm of [the] metaphor’ (see BL11) of divine incarnation alive. Among many comrades and correspondents Pound remembers here from his days in London is ‘our friend / Mr Hartmann, / Sadakichi’ (see D12). Pound laments that Sadakichi’s early writing has probably been lost ‘with the loss of fly-by-night periodicals’, and notes that ‘a few more’ of Sadakichi, ‘were that conceivable’, would have ‘enriched the life’ of any city (p. 515). See also 85.

f. LXXXI. The most often quoted passage in The Pisan Cantos occurs here—‘What thou lovest well remains’ (pp. 540-42)—and is preceded by lines that as clearly as any establish that the method of these cantos is analogous to that of the ‘Three Cantos’ of 1917 (27), with its clear debts to the ontology and methodology of the mugen nô. In the first cantos the ‘sacred places’ were Sirmio and the Dordogne Valley; in these it has been ‘Taishan @ Pisa’ (see 56a). In ‘Three Cantos’ the spirits were largely historical; at Pisa they have been of the gods and of Pound’s own memory, those that in the language of this canto have been ‘lov’st well’, are ‘thy true heritage’, and ‘shall not be reft from thee’. Their partial incarnation takes place in Pound’s tent:

Ed ascoltando al leggier mormorio [and listening to the gentle murmur]
there came a new subtlety of eyes into my tent,
whether of spirit or hypostasis,
 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Saw but the eyes and stance between the eyes,
colour, diastasis,
 . . . it had not the
whole tent’s room
nor was place for the full [seeing]
interpass, penetrate
casting but shade beyond the other lights
sky’s clear
night’s sea
green of the mountain pool
shone from the unmasked eyes in half-mask’s space.
What thou lovest well remains (57, p. 540).

Among the spirits that preside over the canto is, again, Kannon (p. 539; see also a and c above); AOI (p. 539), contrary to the view of several critics, is probably not a reference to Aoi no Ue (22; see d above).

g. LXXXIII. It is fitting that Pound’s thoughts here turn to his winters with Yeats at Stone Cottage, where the nô translations began. ‘Uncle William’ is called to mind early on (p. 548), but ‘those days . . . gone forever’ at Stone Cottage are specifically invoked toward the end of the canto (pp. 553-54).





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