Study Guide

Canto XLV What's Up With the Title?

By Ezra Pound

What's Up With the Title?

At first glance, this is one of those titles that might make you go, "Um… what?" Don't worry. Shmoop's got your back.

First of all, "canto" is the Italian word for "song." The word comes from classical Italian poetry, where poets would divide long poems up according to cantos that way that novels have chapters. So by using the word canto, Pound is definitely connecting himself to an old, old tradition of European poetry. Think of this poem as wearing a big sign that says "Look at me! I'm profound and educated and important and awesome!"

More specifically, the most famous poet to divide his works into cantos is Dante Alighieri, the Italian master who wrote such famous poems as Inferno and Purgatorio. In these poems, Dante (who is also the speaker) follows his guide Virgil down into hell to explore the darkest depths of the human soul. That's sort of like the same thing Pound is doing by following Odysseus into the underworld in these Cantos. So in this sense, both Pound and Alighieri are trying to express the dark side of humanity in poetic form, maybe so they can come to terms with it and find a way to make it beautiful.

That this Canto is numbered XLV (45) means that 44 other Cantos have come before it (and there will be more after, too). It might be right around this time that people realized that Pound's The Cantos was going to be a lifelong project. Scholars and anthologies usually refer to this Canto as the "Usura" Canto, which also makes total sense, since Pound uses the word "usura" twenty times in fifty lines. The repetition of this word also gives the poem a tone of obsession, which is probably an accurate reflection of Pound's state of mind at the time he wrote the thing. After all, he wasn't that far away from his twelve-year stay in a psychiatric hospital.

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