Saturday, June 26, 2004

The Pisan Cantos break open in 79. Pound begins in a reflective mood, with the rage that keeps erupting throughout The Cantos more or less at bay; it's also weirdly coded racially. At the top of the first page: "Moon, cloud, tower, a patch of the battistero / all of a whiteness"; at the bottom, "I like a certain number of shades in my landscape / as per / 'doan' tell no one I made you tht table". The "shades" are being made to refer not just to the usual classical dead people but to Pound's fellow prisoners, nearly all black men. For between these two lines, in the middle of the page:
present Mr G. Scott whistling Lili Marlene
               with positively less musical talent
               than that of any other man of colour
                   whom I have ever encountered
but with bonhomie and good humour
And on the next page: "whereas the sight of a good nigger is cheering / the bad'uns wont look you straight". This would be disheartening if Pound weren't already so firmly established as an anti-Semite and racist. At least he evinces some compassion, even affection and gratitude for these men (that "table" made for Pound by one of the inmates to "get you offa the groun" becoms a minor leitmotif in these Cantos). And the endurance of affection grows into the major theme of the Pisan Cantos as they draw toward their conclusion, building toward the famous lines in Canto 81: "What thou lovest well remains, / the rest is dross." What's extraordinary about Canto 79 is the introduction of the figure of the lynx at line 136, which dominates the Canto until its conclusion. A figure for his wife Dorothy (Sieburth's note refers to "the private feline mythology" they shared; where can I learn more about that? it sounds positively Yeatsian), the lynx is also an animal I associate strongly with pastoral. Aside from being sacred to Dionysus and associated with Pan, who was said to wear a lynx-skin, there's the line "The lynx stood awestruck" from Virgil's Eighth Eclogue, in which the lynx is one of the animals mesmerized by the song of the shepherds. Somewhere I read that the lynx is not native to either the "real" Arcadia (in Greece) or to Theocritus' Sicily; to introduce a lynx into a pastoral poem is a kind of emblem of the poem's fictionality. A difficulty I must resolve is the relationship between my notion of pastoral and Pound's pagan mythos; is his paganism merely literary, or does he actually believe it? He goes on at such length about the lynx that I think it might be the latter. After introducing the lynx, and then detouring to a memory of Henry James comes another inscription of Pound's remorse, ambivalent as usual—but beautiful, too:
         The moon has a swollen cheek
and when the morning sun lit up the shelves and battalions
of the West, cloud over cloud
                 Old Ez folded his blankets
Neither Eos nor Hesperus has suffered wrong at my hands

             O Lynx, wake Silenus and Casey
             shake the castagnettes of the bassarids,
the mountain forest is full of light
      the tree-comb red-gilded
Perfect merging of realities, there, that "Silenus and Casey": Silenus is a companion to Dionysus while Casey was a corporal at the DTC. The "Old Ez" parallels the original ending to the Pisan Cantos, the end of Canto 83: "Oh let an old man rest." It's a plea for mercy, prefacing his insistence that he has harmed neither dawn nor evening ("Eos nor Hesperus"). This could be read as a claim for his overall harmlessness: he has damaged nothing permanent. But of course to claim these two entities as not having "suffered wrong at my hands" implies that other entities—and people—have.

There's more to say about the lynx/Dorothy and the absolutely pastoral interlude with her that Pound evokes, but right now I have to catch a train from New Jersey (where I'm staying with my dad) into New York for that memorial service. So it's Pound the mournful, not Pound the deranged warrior or Pound the lover who's uppermost in my mind.

No comments:

Popular Posts