Study Guide

Canto XLV Skilled Trades

By Ezra Pound

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Skilled Trades

Throughout Canto XLV, Pound tries to criticize the modern world's obsession with money by focusing on the more beautiful parts of life that money doesn't care about. One of the beautiful things he chooses to focus on is the notion of skilled craftspeople, the people who build our homes, lay our bricks, and weave our clothing. For Pound, the modern world doesn't care if these people do their job well. It only cares if they do it cheaply…

… Which, if your Pound, is a huge bummer. It's because the modern world is bottom-line driven that Pound says, "With usura hath no man a house of good stone" (2). In other words, houses aren't built to last the way they used to be. They're designed so that they won't cost very much—that way you can build a whole ton of 'em on the cheap. When you're walking down the street sometime, take a moment to glance at an old stone church; then compare it to a strip mall. Which one do you think is more beautiful? Which one was built to last? And finally, which one was built in the modern, money-hungry world? Think about it.

  • Lines 2-4: Right off the bat, Pound says that in a world with moneylending, no one cares about the actual skilled jobs that create our surroundings for us. For example, in a world with moneylending or "usura," no one can have a "house of good stone/ each block cut smooth and well fitting" (2-3). Because at the end of the day, people just want the biggest house they can get for the lowest amount of money. It's about quantity, not quality.
  • Lines 15-17: And it's not just our houses that suffer when people just care about money. Our food suffers, too. For example, who's going to take the time to grow gorgeous "mountain wheat" to make "strong flour" for bread (17) when you've got some factory churning out tens of thousands of loaves each day. For this reason, people end up with "bread dry as paper" (16). Pound is also referring to the Christian idea of the "bread of life" being a person's spiritual health. In other words, when people care only about money and not about making quality foods, our spirits suffer just as much as our bodies.
  • Lines 21-22: In a world more concerned with finance than with actually making stuff, people might not even bother with becoming tradespeople anymore. And if this happens, the "Stonecutter is kept from his stone [and]/ weaver is kept from his loom" (22). If it's no longer profitable to be a tradesperson (no matter how good you are at it), then usura and money totally ruin the world. 
  • Lines 27-28: It's not just the traditional labor trades that suffer from usura, either. In a money-hungry world, we find that usura "blunteth the needle in the maid's hand/ and stoppeth the spinner's cunning" (27-28). In other words, we don't wear clothing made by skilled, local people anymore. We get them for cheap from factories on the other side of the world, usually because of companies that pay people less than five cents an hour.
  • Lines 37-40: Continuing in the same vein, Pound claims that usury and greed "rusteth the chisel" (37), meaning that it makes all work more duller and less skilled, so that the people doing this work don't have any sense of fulfillment in doing it. For this reason, it doesn't just ruin the tools, but it "rusteth the craft and the craftsman" (38). Everything suffers when money is the only thing people think about, and the worst part of this is that no one gets any happier because of it.

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