Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
The ship landed in Scios,
men wanting spring-water,
And by the rock-pool a young boy loggy with vine-must,"To Naxos? Yes, we'll take you to Naxos,
Cum' along lad." "Not that way!"
"Aye, that way is Naxos." And I said: "It's a straight ship."
And an ex-convict out of Italy knocked me into the fore-stays,
(He was wanted for manslaughter in Tuscany) And the whole twenty against me,
Mad for a little slave money.
- As we start this new stanza, now there looks to be a ship landing in Scios. But who's on the ship? Well the first thing we hear is that it's a bunch of men who are looking for fresh water to drink, since hey, you can't drink seawater. Nothing weird about that…
- But once they get onto the island, they find a young boy hanging out by some sort of rock pool (probably the place where the men went for their fresh water). We don't really know anything about this kid, other than the fact that he is "loggy" with the smell of vines. "Loggy" here probably means "logy," which means heavy. So the kid is heavy with the smell of plant life. And guess who the god of the grapevine is? That's right, Dionysius.
- Lines 43-45 seem to be what the men on the ship say to the little kid by the rock pool. It sounds like the kid wants to get to Naxos (where the worshippers of Dionysius are hanging out). The men seem really eager (a little too eager) to help out, and they say that they'll take the kid to Naxos, which is a hundred miles away.
- In line 46, the speaker of the poem actually interjects and says "I." He claims that he helped to reassure the kid that the ship was "straight," which is the opposite of crooked. So he basically helps convince the kid to come aboard the ship, saying it's a safe and honest place. This is an odd moment to get a first-person perspective here, don't you think? For more on what Pound might be up to, check out our "Speaker" section.
- Next thing you know, it turns out that the ship isn't full of honest men after all. One of them is an ex-con from Italy, and the speaker of the poem tells us that this ex-con knocked him into a "fore-stay," which is part of what secures a boat's sail (it looks like this).
- But why did the ex-con attack the speaker of the poem? Well next, we find out that the ex-con isn't just some thief. He's wanted for murder back on dry land. And next thing we know, "all twenty" men on the ship are against the poem's narrator. That probably means the whole crew is taking the murderer's side in this fight.
- And why would the crew do something like that? Well, the speaker says that they were all
"mad for a little slave money." So one of two things is about to happen. Either they plan on selling the poem's speaker as a slave; or more likely, they want to kidnap the kid from the island and sell him as a slave. They just have to take the speaker out of commission, because he's an honest guy and would never let them do such a terrible thing.
- It's bad times however you look at it. Let's read on.
And they took her out of Scios
And off her course...
And the boy came to, again, with the racket, And looked out over the bows,
and to eastward, and to the Naxos passage. God-sleight then, god-sleight:
Ship stock fast in sea-swirl, Ivy upon the oars, King Pentheus,
grapes with no seed but sea-foam, Ivy in scupper-hole.
- Now it sounds like the men from the ship have sailed away from the island of Scios and taken the boat off course. That makes sense, since their original trip probably didn't involve stops for abduction and human trafficking.
- At this point, the speaker says that the boy "came to." That means the kid probably got knocked out by the crew while they were abducting him. But the crew is also making a ton of noise, or a "racket." Once the kid's awake again, he gets up and looks over the bow of the ship toward Naxos, which is where he wanted to go (do you know why yet?).
- After that, the speaker just repeats the phrase "god-sleight." Now the word "sleight" means craftiness, skillfulness, or cunning. So there seems to be some sort of godlike power being used, though we (and the speaker) don't seem to be quite sure of what's happening.
- The next line tells us that the ship is "stock-fast" in the "sea-swirl." Now "fast" in this case doesn't mean moving quickly, but just the opposite. "Fast" here actually means not moving, like when a door is bolted "fast." The fact that the boat is stuck in the "sea-swirl" might mean that the boat is actually caught in a whirlpool and can't get out.
- And if that wasn't weird enough, there are ivy vines coming out of the sea and growing over the boat's oars, which the men are no doubt using as they try to get out of the whirlpool. (We be you didn't see that coming.) And do you remember how the kid smelled like vines when they first ran into him? Hmm.
- In line 59, Pound mentions someone named King Pentheus. Well if you run a check on Shmoop.com, you find out that Pentheus is basically the bad guy in a play called "The Bacchae" by Euripides. And in that story King Pentheus ends up getting torn limb from limb because he defied… that's right, the Greek god Dionysius.
- So if the speaker is bringing up the name of Pentheus, he's probably suggesting that the men on the ship have unknowingly kidnapped Dionysius, who was disguised as a boy. The fact that grapes seem to be bubbling out of the sea and there are ivy vines growing all over the ship definitely seem to supports the idea that Dionysius is inflicting his wrath on the ship. That's what the men get for knocking out a god and abducting him. But only the speaker of the poem seems to realize what's happening.
Aye, I, Acoetes, stood there,
and the god stood by me,
Water cutting under the keel,
Sea-break from stern forrards, wake running off from the bow,
And where was gunwale, there now was vine-trunk,
And tenthril where cordage had been, grape-leaves on the rowlocks,
Heavy vine on the oarshafts,
And, out of nothing, a breathing, hot breath on my ankles,
Beasts like shadows in glass, a furred tail upon nothingness.
- Okay, so now the speaker of the poem identifies himself as Acoetes. And a Shmoopy search tells us… well, hey. It turns out that everything Pound is talking about in "Canto II" is taken from Ovid's Metamorphoses. In Book 3 of the Metamorphoses, a sailor named Acoetes is sailing along with is crew one day when they all find a young boy on the island of Scios. The crew kidnaps the boy, tells Acoetes to buzz off, and the boy eventually reveals himself to be Dionysius, stopping the boat by making vines grow out of the ocean.
- So yeah, this entire story from "Canto II" is a retelling from Ovid.
- So now that Acoetes is standing on the bow of the ship, the boy (or the god Dionysius) stands by him. This could be totally literal, but it could also mean that the god is on his side, because Acoetes tried to help him.
- The next few lines (64-66) just talk about water starting to run over the ship. Line 67, though, mentions the gunwale. And no, it's not a giant gun to shoot whales; the gunwale is basically the highest part of a ship's edge (the part that keeps you from falling into the water). But apparently, Acoetes can't even see the gunwale anymore, because everything is covered in the trunks of vines, or vine-trunk. Dionysius' vines are really taking over this ship.
- The word "tenthril" in the next line just means "tendril" or a length of vine. So now instead of ropes ("cordage") on the ship, there are only vines. And of course, vines also grow around the shafts of the oars ("oarshafts").
- And amidst all of this, Acoetes can hear breathing. He can even feel it hot against his ankles. But what the heck is breathing around his ankles? Well all he can say at this point is that there are beasts walking around "like shadows in glass." That's a confusing simile. We take it to mean that, in other words, these beasts are sort of there and sort of not there.
- Line 74 mentions a "furred tail," which might make us think of dogs or cats. The fact that the tail is "upon nothingness" also seems to convey how creepy it is that these beasts on the ship have seemingly come out of thin air.
Lynx-purr, and heathery smell of beasts,
where tar smell had been,
Sniff and pad-foot of beasts, eye-glitter out of black air.
The sky overshot, dry, with no tempest,
Sniff and pad-foot of beasts, fur brushing my knee-skin,
Rustle of airy sheaths, dry forms in the aether.
- Okay, so judging by the phrase "Lynx-purr," it sounds like Dionysius has summoned a bunch of lynxes onto the ship that kidnapped him. But that isn't all that surprising, since Dionysius' traditional powers include the ability to command lynxes, panthers, tigers, and pretty much any big cat you can name. The fact that these beasts smell "heathery" means they smell like plant-life, since heather is a type of tall grass or bush that usually grows in England. This planty smell has replaced "where tar smell had been." Tar would be the more common smell of a ship (it seals stuff and prevents leaks pretty well).
- So in other words, Dionysius is making a stinky ship smell like plants and flowers. He's literally destroying the thing with beauty. Epic.
- The next two lines talk about the sound of the cats' feet padding around the ship and the sight of their eyes flashing in the dark "black air."
- It's not like there's a storm or anything ("no tempest"). But it's dark, and Acoetes only seems to know the cats are there by the way their fur brushes against the skin on his knees (line 81).
- Line 83 mentions "dry forms in the aether," which is pretty confusing. In this case, though, he's basically re-emphasizing that the cats have appeared out of thin air. In other words, they are physical beasts that he can reach out and touch (dry forms), but they've come from total air, or "aether." The imagery of these lines really plays up the insanity you would feel seeing something real appear out of nothing. But hey, this is Dionysius we're talking about. All reality bets are off.
And the ship like a keel in ship-yard,
slung like an ox in smith's sling,
Ribs stuck fast in the ways, grape-cluster over pin-rack, void air taking pelt.
Lifeless air become sinewed, feline leisure of panthers,
Leopards sniffing the grape shoots by scupper-hole,
Crouched panthers by fore-hatch,
- So we already know that, with all the vines growing up out of the ocean, Acoetes' ship ain't going nowhere. In fact, he compares it to a ship that's just sitting in the shipyard on dry land. In the next line, he says that the boat is "slung like an ox in smith's sling." Basically, a smith or blacksmith would be responsible for putting new "shoes" on an ox's hoofs. But how do you think he'd be able to do that? Well he'd get this sling underneath the ox so he could lift the animal off the ground and put the shoes on. So the simile of the ship being in an ox's sling means that it's being held up out of the water by the growing vines.
- Yup, the ship is stuck. And yeah, there are big, dangerous cats appearing out of nowhere, just as empty or "void air" starts to grow skin ("taking pelt") or growing muscles ("becoming sinewed").
- So now there are a bunch of panthers, leopards, and panthers walking around this ship, which is completely covered in grape-vines. It's safe to say that the kid is Dionysius taking his revenge.
And the sea blue-deep about us,
green-ruddy in shadows,
And Lyaeus: "From now, Acœtes, my altars,
Fearing no bondage, fearing no cat of the wood,
Safe with my lynxes, feeding grapes to my leopards,
Olibanum is my incense, the vines grow in my homage."
- In these lines, Dionysius (whose name is also Lyaeus, by the way) tells Acoetes that he (Dionysius) controls all the panthers and lynxes, or "cats of the wood"—a pretty sweet power, if we do say so. He also talks about not having any fear of being taken prisoner and kept in "bondage." It will be safe with his lynxes, but we're not sure whether Dionysius is talking about himself, or if he's promising that Acoetes will always be safe for trying to help him.
- In any case, Dionysius ends this little spiel by saying that the beautiful spiced fragrance of Frankincense (Olibanum) is his realm of expertise, and that the vines of the plant world grow to worship him. So he sounds like he's sort of bragging here. But the main point seems to be that Dionysius rules over the world of natural beauty, and that this world holds a power that no mortal human being can conquer.
- Sound familiar? It should. This idea is connected to the poem's larger arguments about beauty needing to get more appreciation in the modern world.