Study Guide

Canto XLV Quotes

  • Greed

    seeth no man Gonzaga his heirs and his concubines (11)

    To really get the gist of this line, you need to know that Pound is referring to Francesco Gonzaga, a rich dude who lived in Mantua (that's in Italy) back in the old days. Here, Pound is implying that in ye olden times, people like Gonzaga were willing to pay artists to create great art without any expectation that they would make money off the art some day. The idea of having something beautiful was way more important than having money. Pound wishes people still felt that way.

    no picture is made to endure nor to live with
    but it is made to sell and sell quickly (12-13)

    Unfortunately, artists nowadays don't always have some rich patron to take care of them. Instead, they have to create art that they can make money off of if they plan on oh, you know, feeding themselves. For Pound, though, this is a terrible part of modern life, because it encourages greed in artists, who can't do their work well if they're thinking about selling it to some ordinary Joe. Beauty needs to be their first priority. In other words, Pound wishes there were still rich patrons who would pay artists to create beautiful work.

    Pietro Lombardo
    came not by usura (28-29)

    Pound offers us a lengthy list of people who never would have become great artists in a world with moneylending and modern finance. In other words, he says that great artists would never have existed if the old world had chased money the same way the modern one does. Beautiful art is completely incompatible with a desire to make profits, and the modern world always tends to side with profit over beauty.

    Not by usura St Trophime
    Not by usura Saint Hilaire (35-36)

    After he's listed the great artists who couldn't exist in a world with usura, Pound then claims that beautiful buildings like St Trophime and Saint Hilaire never would have been built in the modern age, either. If you take a look at modern buildings, they're usually built out of cheap materials instead of pure stone, and they aren't covered with a ton of fancy statues. But stuff that's beautiful doesn't always care about how much things cost. Just take a look at this modern church, which Pound would no doubt be proud to see. Whoever got this thing built definitely wasn't concerned about how much it cost.

  • Strength and Skill

    no picture is made to endure nor to live with
    but it is made to sell and sell quickly (12-13)

    According to Pound, modern art isn't built to last, but only to sell. In other words, artists don't make art anymore wondering if people will still like it in 100 years. They only care about whether someone right now will be willing to pay money for it.

    Stonecutter is kept from his stone
    weaver is kept from his loom (21-22)

    In a world where people can just make money off of other money (like playing the stock market), truly talented people don't bother producing anything real anymore. Pound decides to symbolize this lack of production by claiming that usura keeps a stonecutter from his stone. His phrasing here suggests that usura has somehow ruined the destiny of the stonecutter, who was born to work with stone but doesn't because of usura.

    wool comes not to market
    sheep bringeth no gain with usura (24-25)

    Continuing with his theme of hating on usura, Pound here says that basically nothing gets done if everyone decides they just want to make money off of banks and stocks. For Pound, it makes no sense at all to live in a world where people just make money off of money. If everyone did that, then nothing would ever actually get done in the real world.

    […] usura
    blunteth the needle in the maid's hand
    and stoppeth the spinner's cunning (27-28)

    If Pound's starting to sound repetitive here, it's because he is. Again, he tries to drive home the point that nothing productive can happen if people just make money off of their own money.

    Usura rusteth the chisel
    It rusteth the craft and the craftsman
    It gnaweth the thread in the loom (38-39)

    Usura has a way of ruining pretty much everything it touches. But what bothers Pound the most is that usura ruins people's ability to create beautiful objects. So when he says that usura "rusteth the chisel," he's saying that beauty—the most important aspect of all human creation—is made impossible in a world with usura.

    None learneth to weave gold in her pattern (40)

    Sure, it's all well and good to weave gold into whatever you're making. But hey, gold is expensive and tough to weave. So why bother, right? Most customers aren't going to fully appreciate it. Well this is exactly the kind of thinking that usura causes, according to Pound. The main question we ask of what we make is, "How cheaply can I make this?" instead of "How beautifully can I make this?"

  • Sex

    It stayeth the young man's courting (44)

    On a symbolic note, Pound claims here that usura stops young men from asking young women out on dates, and keeps new love from blossoming. On a more literal note, though, young people might not have as much time to meet new people and date because they're too busy trying to make enough money for a good house and a car. In any case, Pound is basically saying here that usura corrupts relationships between people and stops real love from growing.

    It has brought palsey to bed (45)

    Hey, not only does Pound say usura is lousy. He also says that making your money off of other money instead of producing something real is actually the same thing as being paralyzed in bed, or to put it more bluntly, being sexually impotent. Just a little something to think about for all the businessmen who think they're "real men" because they're rich and have nice cars.

    […] it lyeth between the young bride and her bridegroom" (46)

    Not only has usura ruined the relationships between people, but it's apparently also ruined the act of sex, making people paralyzed in bed. After all, money is the number one reason for divorce in North America. So Pound might be right about this one.

    CONTRA NATURAM (47)

    In case we didn't get his point loud and clear, Pound helps close Canto XLV by yelling that usura is against nature in all caps and in Latin. He's definitely trying to give us a sense of how beautiful human nature can be, and of how brutally our obsession with money can warp our true nature.

    They have brought whores for Eleusis (48)

    For starters, Eleusis was the name of a town in Ancient Greece where people got together and celebrated fertility—or in other words, people's ability to sexually reproduce. But instead of fertility being a beautiful and sacred thing, Pound suggests here that people who practice usura end up bringing dishonor to the most sacred aspects of our lives. It's a shame that Pound chooses to symbolize dishonor with the image of prostitutes, but that's basically the point he's trying to make here.

  • Sin

    with usura, sin against nature,
    is they bread ever more of stale rags (14-15)

    Well he ain't exactly being subtle here. Pound calls usura a sin against nature, claiming that it turns our bread into stale rags. He's probably talking about the Christian symbol of the bread of life, meaning the stuff that our souls need to feed on in order to be healthy. But our spiritual bread of life is turned to rags by usura, and so all of us feel a quiet despair about the future, whether we know it or not.

    with usura is no clear demarcation
    and no man can find site for his dwelling (19-20)

    Again, Pound comes at us full bore with Biblical words like "dwelling" to talk about what people lose when they start engaging in moneylending and speculation. According to Pound, people somehow lose the ability to draw clear boundary lines and build their houses. It's not quite clear how this is the case, but Pound might mean it symbolically to suggest that no one can have a clear sense of "home" in a world constantly turned upside-down by money and numbers.

    Usura is a murrain (26)

    Many of us have probably never read the word "murrain" before. But it's basically just a synonym for "plague" or "sickness." Saying that usury is a sickness allows Pound to connect the practice of usury with having a soul that isn't healthy.

    Came no church of cut stone signed: Adamo me fecit (34)

    One of the first things to suffer from usura is churches, since churches aren't built with cheap, efficient budgets like most modern buildings are. Churches are built to be beautiful and to inspire faith in the power and goodness of God. But in a world that cares only about money, these beautiful things don't get built because they aren't cost-effective.

    Not by usura St Trophime
    Not by usura Saint Hilaire (35-36)

    Pound mentions two examples of churches that he finds especially beautiful, but only for the sake of saying that these churches can't be built in a world with usura. Nothing beautiful can be built at all. But the fact that it's specifically churches that can't be built allows Pound to make his connection between usura and the failure of religious faith in the modern world.

    CONTRA NATURAM (47)

    It's in Latin and it's all caps. Hard to miss it when Pound basically yells in our faces the phrase "AGAINST NATURE." Here, he sounds like he's taking on the voice of God, telling us that usura is a sin against nature and implying that we'll all be doomed to hell (or something like it) if we choose to make money without actually contributing anything to the world.