by Ezra Pound
Canto VII Introduction
In A Nutshell
Any logical person would assume that our man Ezra wrote Canto VII after he'd already finished I through VI.
But Ezra wasn't really one to follow logic. In reality, he wrote his first draft of Canto VII in 1919, which makes it one of the earliest pieces of his lifelong Cantos project. What makes this poem especially interesting is that in 1919, Pound was also on the verge of editing a long poem for his friend, one Tom Eliot (that's T.S. to you folk). That poem just happened to be "The Waste Land," which, you could argue, is the most important English poem of the 20th century. Oh yeah, and World War I had ended less than a year earlier, so if you find the tone of this poem a little bitter, the pointless death of 9 million people (and that's just the soldiers) might have something to do with it.
Now on its own, this connection between Pound's Canto VII and "The Waste Land" wouldn't be especially impressive. But once you actually start reading Canto VII, it's almost impossible to miss how similar it sometimes gets to "The Waste Land." Pound's way of jumping between different historical times, different literary allusions, and different languages just screams "The Waste Land," and nowadays, people can look at these techniques and say, "Oh, that is sooo 1919 to 1922." Seriously. People say that.
Pound also wrote this poem at the tail end of his time living in London, England. In fact, it would've been less than a year after writing his first draft of Canto VII that Pound would give up on British culture for good and move to the more supposedly refined culture of Paris, France. And when you read Canto VII, it's not hard to see why Pound would have left. He basically thinks that England's glory days are over, and that the people of England have no clue what beauty is or why it should be a part of modern life. In fact, Pound spends most of Canto VII criticizing crusty old British culture and basically compares the men of Britain to insects that he'd like to exterminate someday.
Yup. There's no love lost there. If you check out the poem, you'll see what we mean…
Why Should I Care?
There's a common complaint when it comes to the old fogies of this world: they're just too stuck in their ways. We know you've had that thought—that you've wished that the old folks among us were more open-minded toward the cool new ideas that young people might bring to the table. And that means you and Ezra Pound have something in common.
See, Ezzie's main beef in this poem is with everything crusty, faded, and stuck in its ways. According to him, the whole reason the world is going to hell in a hand-basket (or at least—it was back during the days when World War I was winding down) is because everything is controlled by old people who have no interest in new or exciting ideas. Worse yet, none of these old people care about whether life is beautiful. They're just a bunch of prudish fuddy-duds, out to ruin all the fun.
For Pound, there's really not much point to life if we never experience something truly beautiful, like, say, awesome art. Unfortunately, to him, we live in a money-driven modern world where people care more about the furniture in their houses than they do about the family and friends who visit those houses (ever notice how the pictures in home decorating magazines don't have any people in them?).
But it's also important to realize that for Pound, bringing beauty back into the world is going to take something more than us saying, "Cool. Let's do it." According to Pound, it takes years and years of studying the history of art and poetry to really get a grip on true Beauty-with-a-capital-B. And sucks-to-be-Ezra thinks that modern folks aren't usually that interested in learning the whole history of art because it just isn't practical. For the most part, we're more worried about getting jobs and buying houses and wrangling some health insurance and fixing that weird noise our car started making last week.
Pound thinks that's the pits. Instead, as this poem attempts to prove, we should take a fresh look at our priorities and start wondering about what we're actually contributing to the world. Without the wisdom of history to draw on, how do we know if what we're doing has any actual meaning for humanity? Think about it. And just try to look Ezra in the eyes while you think…