by Ezra Pound
Canto I Theme of Suffering
Well, when half of your friends are dead and there's no land in sight, suffering comes pretty naturally. And in "Canto I" such is the case for Odysseus and whoever is left of his crew. But the fun doesn't stop yet, because now Odysseus gets to go into the underworld and meet up with Elpenor, an old buddy of his who's been suffering immeasurably because his body hasn't received a proper burial and he's stuck in some sort of purgatory. Still, it seems that for Pound, beauty and happiness can't exist without suffering and pain. So you've got to be willing to take the bad with the good in life.
Questions About Suffering
- Based on what you know about Homer's Odyssey, why do you think the men are tired from weeping at the beginning of "Canto I"? Does the poem give any clues about the cause of their suffering? If so, which ones?
- What's so bad about Elpenor's situation in the underworld? What do you think is the worst part about not being buried after you've died? Is it something you'd personally mind? Why or why not?
- What do you think is the cause of Odysseus' suffering and misery in this poem? How does it influence his actions? What examples from the text support your answer?
Chew on This
In "Canto I," Pound shows us that suffering is something that goes on even after a person has died; the suffering just gets passed on to the people who keeping living on. Cheery thought, right?
In "Canto I," we see that suffering is an inevitable part of life. As Tiresias tells Odysseus, it's our fate to lose people we care about and to suffer because of it. And now we feel oh-so-much better.