There is a distance there within horizon, between the passing views of Pisan grates and Mount Taishan. Knowledge does not fill that space, only light. The eyes might see dawn’s fog, tree’s silhouettes, or the change of skyline color along the mountain’s edge, but their appearance is light none the less. Light lives in the eyes, giving a face to distance that is inaccessible to the blind (for their eyes cannot dilate). Perhaps it would suit a caged panther’s eyes if they were blind, thus inaccessible to the constant reminders of visual distance and light that show the distance between one’s self and the whole. Ezra Pound wrote in his Pisan Cantos:
“When every hollow is full it moves forward” to the phantom mountain above the cloud But in the caged Panther’s eyes: “Nothing, nothing you can do…” green pool under green of the jungle caged: “Nothing, nothing you can do.”1
Nothing but be reminded of the distance lit by the thin light of night, or the full glare of day, and that there is a separation never before observed with critical thought. Those lines are found in Canto LXXXIII, surrounded by images of “Hudor”2, or water. The hollow can be read as filling with water, and then overflowing forward to Mount Taishan, or raising to it as it evaporates in the sunlight. Perhaps though, it is more fulfilling when read as follows: “‘When every hollow [eye] is full/ it moves forward’/ to the [sight of the] phantom mountain above the cloud” where curiosity wonders if the self is still alive. Andrew Kappel scribes in his article Ezra Pound in Heaven, that at Pisa “his motto might have been: ‘I know, therefore I am.’ After Pisa, knowledge was not enough.”3 Mr. Kappel then adds that separation led to “desolation.”4 That curiosity made the self want to go forward and fulfill a wished conclusion, “[b]ut in the caged panther’s eyes:/ [there is ‘n]othing, nothing [he] can do.’”
In Canto XVII there is a mysterious stillness, but even where “[t]he light now, not of the sun” seems to be coming between his cage’s bars, there are no “bees weighted with pollen” or a “goddess of the fair knees/ [m]oving there” to give his eyes any reason not to believe that a part of him has died. Be it the death of an old self, or an existence within this reality that illustrates by light a possible end. Fear sets in then, that whether alive or dead, living in a cage is a death. Fear stemming from seeing through the eyes, and not with them. Unlike Canto XVII, where in the stillness everything seems to become unified as one, Pound seems separated by distance.
Remember then, Homage to Sextus Propertius. Mr. Pound’s quest born of question began:
“It is in your grove I would walk,
I who come first from the clear font
Bringing the Grecian orgies into Italy” 6
Ezra Pound translated the antiquity epics into a language readable by his era’s common eyes. He goes on:
“You need, Propertius, not think ‘About acquiring that sort of a reputation. ‘Soft fields must be worn by small wheels, ‘Your pamphlets will be thrown, thrown often into a chair Where a girl waits alone for her lover’”7
There is a fear in those lines, if the poet writes of war or love; in choosing love will his writing only be read by girls waiting “alone for [their] lover?” “Propertius [need] not think about acquiring” a reputation of writing epics of Homeric fashion.
“Yet you ask on what account I write so many love-lyrics
And whence this soft book comes into my mouth.” 8
Having translated so many epics of war, struggle, and death (like the Odyssey from Andreas Divus, who translated it from Homer 9), why is it that soft lyrics of romance flow in voice from the tongue? The peculiarity of the question arises, particularly in light of Mr. Pound’s afore mentioned fear of being forgotten with the passing of a generation. Then see that Propertius is an argument all along, ending on a decision:
“And behold me, small fortune left in my house. Me, who had no general for a grandfather! I shall triumph among young ladies of indeterminate Character, My talent acclaimed in their banquets, I shall be honoured with yesterday’s wreaths.” 10
The decision there is that Mr. Pound is to write of love, to “triumph among young ladies” who throw his pamphlets “often into a chair,” even if it means being forgotten by the masses in due time, and earns nothing beyond a commoner’s fortune.
The question then, is why does Mr. Pound insist on continuing to explore love? What is he seeing that he’s yet to write? Start with a Confucian fragment from Canto XIII:
“And Kung gave his daughter to Kong-Tch’ang Although Kong-Tch’ang was in prison. And he gave his niece to Nan-Young Although Nan-Young was out of office.” 11
Kong-Tch’ang had been to jail, but he was not a criminal. Confucius saw innocence in Tch’ang. Despite a societal mark of negative connotation, the ex-con was welcomed into Kung’s family. This is paired with Nan-Young, who was fired from an office run by wrong reason because he ruled by right. For Young’s character, Confucius married Young to his niece 12. Without realizing it, Mr. Pound wrote of love in those four lines as he would within the Pisan Cantos.
Discovered by the caged panther’s eyes, it is a love that comes from an external source, shared between one and two. It loves by truth, seeing past faults to overcome separation. When Tch’ang was in jail, he was separate (much like Pound would be during his stay in Pisa) from everything outside his cage. A distance was visible by Tch’ang’s eyes then, possibly leading towards desolation. Jail was a black mark on his name, distancing him from parts of society. Young was separated from a position where he could help the populace by right reason when he was fired by rulers who wished to rule by wrong. A distance was created there as well. Confucius seemed to understand that love conquered that separation and healed the rift by action of affection, not being something one can possess internally but rather share in it from an external source. By marrying both men to one of his family members, love was able to conquer both the black mark of Tch’ang and the confusion of worldly affairs that had made Young jobless.
Only by love, shared between them and their wives, would both men find a right reason like never before (a place within a grand order, a step towards internal peace), connecting them to another instead of separating them as Mr. Pound experienced while imprisoned in Pisa. In Canto XIII, again:
“If a man have not order within him He can not spread order about him;” 13
Those Confucian lines refer to the notion of a grand order. If a major part of the grand order is love, a necessity to closing a distance, and a man “have not [love] within him/ [h]e can not spread [love] about him.” Pound begins to notice that. After Mussolini’s death, in light of the hope Pound put in Benito Mussolini, one must imagine Mr. Pound had lost his order.
Despite the loss of order, Pound continues to look and the love he sees and writes about in The Pisan Cantos is a love like light. An observation of “the quality of affection possible,” and it is always there. 14 It defies the boundaries of body to overcome the separation, the distance, by entering through a portal similar to the way light enters eyes from an external source. Light is not possessed, it is shared in after being given from the sun. In Propertius again: “Yet you ask on what account [or why] I write so many love-lyrics/ [a]nd whence this soft book comes into my mouth.” It is whence from merely peering at it before closing his eyes to it in prior times, but within his cell at Pisa, there was no other choice but to stare at it. Perhaps his separation from women like Dorothy, Olga Rudge and even his daughter, caused him to see love at last when it was no longer availably near. Comments like, “say to la clara: amo” 15 , seem to confirm that possibility.
Within The Pisan Cantos his epiphany of love discovered from his stillness, separation, and inability to discern life from death during his stay at Pisa arguably appears his best poetry. Perhaps his wish for reconnection was made stronger when the prison guard brought him a box to use as a table, which is as Mr. Kenner states, one example of “[e]piphanies of concentration camp banalities, with emphasis on the quality of affection possible in that context.” 16 Regardless of why, during his prison time he at last discovered why he’d always written “love-lyrics.”
Within The Pisan Cantos, love is not dominating over any other motif. Hugh Kenner writes in his article The Rose in the Steel Dust (which has been referenced in the paragraph above), a skeleton to specific series of Cantos. Canto 52 is of Cosmic Order, Canto 53 is the Great Emperors and Kung, Cantos 54 to 61 are Kung in action, and Cantos 62 to 71 are Adams in action. 17 However, even the great Mr. Kenner has no skeleton to offer for The Pisan Cantos. His best insight is that “what is going on…is no longer a survey (Inferno Purgatorio) but an affirmation (Paradiso).” 18 Every one of those surveys, or the motifs within certain canto series, makes at least a minor appearance in The Pisan Cantos. “The internment camp becomes the modern world” for Mr. Pound, observing the way motifs and natural elements mix with it and continuously attack his “will.” 19 The Pisan Cantos are marvelously flooded with these motifs, but it is a safe claim that based on Kenner’s definition of affirmation, amor is one of the most affirmed of all the motifs within these cantos.
It is certainly affirmed most in Canto LXXXI, where his astounding observation of love is put into words. It begins to be spoken in the lines:
“thank Benin for this table ex packing box
‘doan yu tell no one I made it’” 20
Within the perceived cruelty of the elements Mr. Pound endured, such a “concentration camp banalit[y]” caused him to miss even minor acts of affection one receives every day while bearing witness to the stillness within a prisoner’s existence. The Canto goes on to another line: “at my grates no Althea.” 21 Carroll Terrell notes that Althea “[e]vokes the Lovelace poem, ‘To Althea from Prison.’” 22 Richard Lovelace wrote:
“When love with unconfined wings
Hovers within my gates
And my divine Althea brings
To whisper at my grates;” 23
Love is referred to as a divine. Its wings are “unconfined”, and it “[h]overs” as if it were a spirit or winged angel. Pound uses Althea in the same way, a divine symbol of love linked to the afterlife. In Canto LXXXI where there is no Althea at Pound’s prison bars; one may see Pound faltering in his new belief of love. Or, the poet could just be saying he hasn’t yet met the love that will fill the distance he sees before him.
References to love continue:
“Yet Ere the season died a-cold Borne upon a Zephyr’s shoulder I rose through the aureate sky Lawes and Jenkyns guard thy rest Dolmetsch ever be thy guest” 24
Within those lines, Pound refers to Henry Lawes, a composer who set Edmund Waller’s “Go, Lovely Rose,” to music. 25 In Waller’s poem, the narrator says to lovely rose:
“Tell her that wastes her time and me,
That now she knows,
When I resemble her to thee,
How sweet and fair she seems to be.” 26
The narrator in Mr. Waller’s poem is comparing a woman to a rose. It’s a love poem, fitting with the theme of the epiphany Pound is about to dictate in the way it invokes the notion of time. The woman is compared to a rose, and she wastes her time and thus runs the risk of simply wilting away and dying without knowing love or the affection the narrator seems to want to share with her. Pound almost refers to himself, in regards to his selfishness throughout his life particularly involving his own love affairs. Has he been the rose, ignoring the love that has come his way and now he is wilting and the very love he begins to be seeing as a shared source has been the same love he has so long refused to embrace? Regardless of its meaning, Pound is certainly drawing from historical love poems to cause history to meet the present, his current observation (which is a way of showing a conquered distance of time).
Observation comes from the eyes, and the next lines reference them:
“Your eyen two wol sleye me sodenly
I may the beaute of hem nat susteyne” 27
Mr. Chaucer’s poem is the link Mr. Pound needs to connect love, like light, to the eyes. It is an element so powerful it is nearly visible, and indeed can be observed through the actions of one being to another. One other stanza in Chaucer’s poem helps that idea transition beautifully with Canto LXXXI:
“Upon my trouthe I sey you faithfully
That ye ben of my lyf and deeth the queen;
For with my deeth the trouthe shal be sene.” 28
That stanza combines the slaying of the eyes from the sight of the merciless beauty of love. Upon death only will the truth be seen when love’s link of life to the afterlife, as a means of connecting one thing to another, is complete and the deceased becomes combined with the whole.
Pound goes on with, “there came new subtlety of eyes into my tent.” 29 The addition of a tent to his cell to shield him from the elements like rain, causes a montage of images all observed with the eyes before a confession. “[W]hether of spirit or hypostasis,” 30 hypostasis being the “divinity of the object as object in itself, not as container for a spirit that might come or go,” 31 Mr. Pound seems to be describing the beginning of an out of body experience. Spirit and body are no longer discernable as boundary and what cannot pass it. He sees nothing “but the eyes and stance between the eyes” as if he were staring at himself. 32 There is a loss of the sense of place and discern-ability between awareness and unawareness, but something is still observed by the eyes. The distance becomes lost. Perhaps then the eyes he sees are literally those of the divine spirit of love that has bypassed his grates, a feat he cannot do but love has the ability to, and so even his very internal observation is no longer separate from the external. There is no separation by the boundary of a body, the walls of the flesh. Pound is describing being able to see everything. This takes the readers eyes to a series of lines that should be meditated on one hundred fold:
“What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage Whose world, or mine or theirs or is it of none? First came the seen, then thus the palpable Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell, What thou lovest well is thy true heritage What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee” 33
The observation Mr. Pound makes of nothing separate from anything else within the build up to these lines is reinforced, as Mr. Kenner goes on to say, by the way each motif in The Cantos is “weighted by its context, and everything functions as part of the context of everything else.” 34 That is the magic of the epiphany: when looking at only one piece it is separate, but when looking at each canto as a whole, one sees nothing is meant to be more important than anything else because there is no separation and each piece needs the other to allow the poem to work as one. Mr. Kappel says that Pound valued love most because a man who embraced it left an “impression that would last long after he was gone.” 35 Meaning the continuous present is not separated from the past, because of love (relating to Waller’s poem). Love is seen in the way it works to bring one person together with another, conquering distance of even time (relating to Lovelace’s poem). Seen in the way it brings one thing together with another by passion’s gravity, conquering an emotional distance. Perhaps most of all in the way two people bind as one when making love, where the only distance between is light and a physical distance is closed. Light allows all to be seen. Color, which is of light, causes certain emotions to arise and become “palpable” so that the emotions attached to the color are seen as concretely as anything else that is visible. Elysium is not separate from Hell, and neither is what was loved well from the person who loved it so. Even upon death, “[w]hat thou lovest well remains.”
Richard Peaver in his article, Notes on the Cantos of Ezra Pound, states:
“Pound’s poetry has its source in the ‘noblest of the senses,’ the eyes. But for Pound, seeing is rich in implications: eyesight leads to insight, and clarity of perception is the basis of ethical life.” 36
Even the words on the paper are made readable because they reflect light. The reader’s eyes see the words, and obtain the insight. If love is necessary to an ordered life, the eyes observe love as part “of [an] ethical life.” Combine this notion of eyesight leading to insight with Mr. Kappel’s, in response to Pound seeing white oxen walk by to make him aware of distance from being trapped in stillness for so long.
“for there to be sight of the white oxen, there had to be distance. For there to be distance there had to be separation. And in the later cantos distance was frightening. It seemed to foretell desolation. As an old man with his senses failing, he naturally began to feel as if the world that had once shored him up was in the process of deserting him. This was just the opposite of the heavenly condition of communion he hoped for.” 37
The condition Pound hoped for was all-knowledge. What he experienced was the opposite. Combine “heavenly condition” with Kenner’s view of The Pisan Cantos as “an affirmation (Paradiso).” Ezra Pound never wrote a Paradiso Canto, but it didn’t stop his eyes from seeing love’s attempts at conquering the boundaries between one noun and another to show him a glimpse of paradise. It took time, but the Pisan Pound found insight through observation, that in order to achieve a heavenly state he must lose his “individual identity.” 38 Thus, Paradise is not all-knowledge, rather no “distance between perceiver and perceived.” 39 In that sense, there is no longer a necessity for knowledge at all.
1 Kenner, Hugh. "In the Caged Panther's Eyes." The Hudson Review 1 (1949): 584. JSTOR. EBSCO. Morgan Library At CSU, Fort Collins, CO. 3 May 2008.
2 Terrell, 459.
3 Kappel, Andrew J. "Ezra Pound in Heaven." The Hudson Review 35 (1982): 74. JSTOR. EBSCO. Morgan Library At CSU, Fort Collins, CO. 2 May 2008.
4 Kappel, 74.
5 Pound, Ezra. The Cantos of Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions Corporation, 1995. 76.
6 Pound, Ezra. Pound: Poems & Translations. Homage to Sextus Propertius. United States of America: The Library of America, 2007. 526.
7 Pound, Pound: Poems and Translations, 529
8 Pound, Pound: Poems and Translations, 534
9 Kenner, Hugh. The Pound Era; Knot and Vortex. First Paper Back Edition ed. Los Angeles, CA: University of California P, 1971. 145.
10 Pound, Pound: Poems and Translations, 545
11 Pound, The Cantos of Ezra Pound, 59.
12 Terrell, 63.
13 Pound, The Cantos of Ezra Pound, 59.
14 Kenner, Hugh. "The Rose in the Steel Dust." The Hudson Review 3 (1950): 107. JSTOR. EBSCO. Morgan Library At CSU, Fort Collins, CO. 29 Apr. 2008.
15 Pound, The Cantos of Ezra Pound, 479.
16 Kenner, The Rose in the Steel Dust, 107.
17 Kenner, The Rose in the Steel Dust, 105.
18 Kenner, The Rose in the Steel Dust, 106.
19 Kenner, The Rose in the Steel Dust, 106.
20 Pound, The Cantos of Ezra Pound, 538.
21 Pound, The Cantos of Ezra Pound, 539.
22 Terrell, 453.
23 Lovelace, Richard. "To Althea, From Prison." Bartleby.Com. 1919. The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250-1900. 8 May 2008
24 Pound, The Cantos of Ezra Pound, 538.
25 Terrell, 453.
26 Waller, Edmund. "I." Bartleby.Com. 1919. The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250-1900. 7 May 2008
27 Chaucer, Geoffery. "Merciles Beaute." Bartleby.Com. 1919. The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250 1600. 8 May 2008
29 Pound, The Cantos of Ezra Pound, 540.
30 Pound, The Cantos of Ezra Pound, 540.
31 Terrell, 453
32 Pound, The Cantos of Ezra Pound, 540.
33 Pound, The Cantos of Ezra Pound, 540-541.
34 Kenner, The Rose in the Steel Dust, 97.
35 Kappel, 6.
36 Pevear, Richard. "Notes on the Cantos of Ezra Pound." The Hudson Review 25 (1972): 52. JSTOR. EBSCO. Morgan Library At CSU, Fort Collins, CO. 1 May 2008.
37 Kappel, 76.
38 Kappel, 80.
39 Kappel, 80.
Chaucer, Geoffery. "Merciles Beaute." Bartleby.Com. 1919. The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250-1600. 8 May 2008
Kappel, Andrew J. "Ezra Pound in Heaven." The Hudson Review 35 (1982): 73-86. JSTOR. EBSCO. Morgan Library At CSU, Fort Collins, CO. 2 May 2008.
Kenner, Hugh. "In the Caged Panther's Eyes." The Hudson Review 1 (1949): 580-586. JSTOR. EBSCO. Morgan Library At CSU, Fort Collins, CO. 3 May 2008.
Kenner, Hugh. The Pound Era; Knot and Vortex. First Paper Back Edition ed. Los Angeles, CA: University of California P, 1971. 145-162.
Kenner, Hugh. "The Rose in the Steel Dust." The Hudson Review 3 (1950): 66-123. JSTOR. EBSCO. Morgan Library At CSU, Fort Collins, CO. 29 Apr. 2008.
Lovelace, Richard. "To Althea, From Prison." Bartleby.Com. 1919. The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250-1900. 8 May 2008
Pevear, Richard. "Notes on the Cantos of Ezra Pound." The Hudson Review 25 (1972): 51-70. JSTOR. EBSCO. Morgan Library At CSU, Fort Collins, CO. 1 May 2008.
Pound, Ezra. The Cantos of Ezra Pound. Homage to Sextus Propertius. New York: New Directions Corporation, 1995.
Pound, Ezra. Pound: Poems & Translations. United States of America: The Library of America, 2007. 526-545.
Terrell, Carroll F. A Companion to the Cantos of Ezra Pound. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California P, 1980. 5-453.
Waller, Edmund. "Go Lovely, Rose." Bartleby.Com. 1919. The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250-1900. 7 May 2008