by Ezra Pound
Canto I Theme of Death
When you write a poem about journeying into the world of the dead, it's weird if the theme of mortality doesn't come up. But fear not, because there's more mortality in "Canto I" than you can shake a stick at. The Ancient Greeks had ideas about death that were a little different from ours, and Pound likes to explore these old attitudes toward death to symbolize how leaving something unfinished can sometimes make us feel as if we're in a state of living death, unable to recover what we've lost, but also unable to move on with our lives. Pretty deep stuff, eh?
Questions About Death
- In your opinion, what's the point of all Pound's talk about Odysseus' dead friend Elpenor? Pound didn't have to include this guy in "Canto I." So why does he?
- What goes through your head when Odysseus' dead mother Anticlea comes running up to him in the underworld? Why do you think Odysseus doesn't want to see her?
- Why does Odysseus have to sacrifice his best bull and sheep in order to summon up the dead spirit of Tiresias, the prophet? What do you think the connection might be between sacrificing something valuable and having access to the wisdom of dead people?
- What does Tiresias end up telling Odysseus? How do you think this news would end up affecting Odysseus? In his situation, would you try to change the future? Why or why not?
Chew on This
R-E-S-P-E-C-T, gang. Ultimately, Pound's "Canto I" takes an example from Greek myth to show how modern people don't understand how to pay proper respect to the dead.
Pound's first Canto shows us that we can't spend our lives worrying about whether our dead relatives would approve of what we're doing. (Whew!) We have to decide our fate for ourselves. (Aw… bummer.)