How can you be critical about an opus which was so many decades in the writing and whose themes and methods changed between the slabs which were published piece by piece? Starting in the middle of Homer's Odssey and moving through Ovidian metamorphosis through several themes to the Russian Revolution, dropping in at the Italian Quattracento (and Lucrezia Borgia - `Madame Matter') as well as on his old pal Baldy Bacon en route (not to mention the Sigismondo cantos). He even brings in his granddad who `sweat blood' put to put that railroad... We follow the chapters on Jefferson `Nuovo Mundo' and even the Adams cantos put side by side with the Chinese history cantos. On the down side we read the fascism of the Italian Cantos, with a skull in a North African desert crying `Alamein! We will return!', and old Adolf `furious from perception'. On the other hand, we read the quiet reflections from Piza prisoner camp, follow American history intermingled with the Shu King, Confucius with modern life; and after the `rock drill', the 'thrones' showing flashes of saintly acts (eg del Mar)with flashes of the inferno. Finally, sad fragments from his depressed reflections in later life, the No-Khi wind ceremony. What can we make of this jumble of archaic snatchings and even hieroglyphics? Pound's need to change society, to battle against usury and to take example from those who lived the right way - Confucius, the Byzantines and the Sacred Edict of K'ung Hui. And to change ourselves. `Pull down thy vanity' is not the only beautiful introspective line in this maze of quotations. And we can watch the transformations take place in his `ideogram' method, where fragments are welded together in snatches to give an impression; just as Chinese characters are composed of several elements which add up to the meaning. For, obscure and complex as the Cantos are, they are undoubtedly a labour of love and an attempt to show society where it is going wrong. They are many beautiful passages in the text, and I suggest the reader wander through this book and appreciate them in their rightful place - the seven lakes canto, for example, and the canto on `lynxes', to mention but two. We can learn a lot from Pound and enjoy what he wrote, but we must make the effort. There is so much that is of great value in this huge work - it really is a modern masterpiece.
Everyone who cares for twentieth century poetry must come to terms with Pound's Cantos and should do so at first hand. He published it in instalments over many years and never finished it so successive editions contain more and more of it. This is now surely the final edition and - barring detailed work on the text - should stand as definitive. The gap in the Cantos, namely the two wartime ones 72 and 73, written in Italian and highly provocative in their content, was left for years but these two have now been quietly slipped into their correct place. The Drafts and Fragments of the final Cantos are in as good a state as they ever likely to be. The names of politicians suppressed in the Hell Cantos have not yet been restored but can be supplied from the commentaries.
Faber have done Pound proud and this production is reminiscent of their palmiest days with handsome binding including a picture of Pound and an equally handsome dustjacket in the old and much loved style of Berthold Wolpe.
What of the poem itself? Well it is unfinished, and, I think, a failure as a whole. But there are many splendid passages, some long and some, as Graham Hough said long ago, 'the merest splinters'. You need to decide for yourself.
Had TS Eliot not lived, Ezra Pound would be out-and-out the greatest poet of the 20th Century. But without Pound's input on The Wasteland, it might not have put Eliot there in the first place. The Cantos are Pound's masterpiece. For anyone who is anyone interested in poetry, this is a book to own, read and re-read in order to absorb the beauty and diversity and subtlety of a true master.
In my opinion, probably the best book of poetry ever. This is craftsmanship; this is the master at work. I abhor antisemitism, but despite Pound's ant--antisemitism, there is none in this great opus. He has undergone a neglect at the moment which is a shame because he was one of the best. I look in vain on book shop shelves for even a small edition of his selected Cantos. If you are serious about poetry buy this book.
what can you say about this book that hasn't already been said before and a hundred times at that. ezra pound - mad man? fascist? genius? if you have any interest in modern poetry at all you must own this book. and then laugh mockingly in the face of all these poetasters that mutilate vers libre today