Study Guide

Canto XLV Themes

  • Greed

    When your main beef with the modern world is people's obsession with money, you're bound to get into issues of greed. And Pound does just that in Canto XLV. He never uses the word greed explicitly, but what he's mostly criticizing in this poem is the way that people's narrow-minded pursuit of money comes at the expense of any actual stuff getting made.

    For example, someone from a bank might make a lot of money by playing the stock market or lending out money at a high interest rate. But at the end of the day, nothing is actually produced. A factory owner, on the other hand, makes money off of brushes, cars, or whatever that factory makes. For Pound, the real problem is the fact that greedy people are able to make money without actually producing anything for other people.

    Questions About Greed

    1. In your mind, is greed a major problem for Pound, or is he more concerned with people not producing anything for the money they make (with that greed)?
    2. If you lent money to someone, do you think it would be greedy to ask for interest when they paid the loan back? Why or why not?
    3. If Pound is right, why do you think modern culture has come to worship making money more than it does producing stuff? Why is there more emphasis on being a consumer instead of a producer?

    Chew on This

    In Canto XLV, Pound claims that making money without producing anything yourself is just about the worst thing you can do.

    In Canto XLV, greed is the main cause of conflict between human beings, even husbands and wives.

  • Strength and Skill

    Now making money without producing anything for other people is one thing for Pound, but it's a completely other thing if moneylending and finance actually prevent people from producing something. But when you think about it, usury and finance can have this effect. Imagine that a gifted carpenter makes enough money so that he can spend the rest of his life making a living off the stock market. That guy will totally stop doing the thing he's good at to manage his money, and the world will lose one more amazing carpenter. According to Pound in Canto XLV, we're all made poorer when we starting making money without creating anything new.

    Questions About Strength and Skill

    1. In your opinion, does Pound have a point when he says that making money off of speculation and lending can actually prevent people from developing their true talents? Why or why not?
    2. How are our lives enriched by having people who make good furniture, good clothing, and good houses? Aren't these things pretty basic? Why do they necessarily need to be made by talented people?
    3. Do you agree with Pound's claim that modern art isn't meant to last hundreds of years like the old stuff was? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    In Canto XLV, Pound suggests that there is no form of art more important than the humble trades (i.e., weaving, carpentry, stonework, etc.).

    In Canto XLV, Pound says that modern art is doomed because our obsession with money has made it impossible to care about beauty and skill in art.

  • Sex

    Pound doesn't really bring up sex until the final few lines of Canto XLV. But these lines are some of the most powerful ones in the entire poem. For the most part, Pound is all about how usura and modern finance tends to take talented people away from their crafts. But toward the end of the poem, Pound gets more aggressive and says that usura is a total sin against nature that keeps anything new from ever being produced. And when he talks about "anything new," he also means human beings. In other words, he suggests that even something as simple as human sex and having children is ruined by people's obsession with money.

    Questions About Sex

    1. Do you buy the comparison Pound makes between a person's inability to produce goods (i.e., to weave, to cut stone, etc.) and that person's inability to produce children? How might the two things be connected? How not?
    2. What is Pound getting at when he claims that usura has brought "palsey" or paralysis to people's beds? Please use specific examples from the text to support your answer.
    3. What do you make of Pound's claim in line 48 that "They have brought whores for Eleusis"? Who are "they"? Where is Eleusis? And what is the symbolic meaning of bringing "whores" there?
    4. What does Pound mean when he says that usura is "CONTRA NATURAM" or against nature? If usura is against nature, how is nature supposed to work?

    Chew on This

    For Pound, a person's ability to carve a chair or paint a picture is the same as their ability to produce a child. For him, there's only production and non-production, and non-production is the wrong way to go.

    In Canto XLV, Pound undermines the traditional connection between money and power by saying that men who make their money off of lending and speculation are basically impotent, incapable of adding anything valuable to the world.

  • Sin

    Pound might not have been a straight-up Christian, but Canto XLV sounds like it could have come out of the harshest books of the Bible (Leviticus, maybe?). In this poem, Pound specifically uses the Latin form of usury—usura—in order to convey a sense of how usury is a deeply spiritual sin. And in case we missed the point, he later says directly that usura is a "sin against nature" (14).

    For Pound, nature has a constant cycle of production and reproduction that human beings participate in by creating objects (like chairs and buildings) and having kids. But when people start making money off of other money, nothing ends up getting produced. And for Pound, this stops the natural processes that keep human life going. And yeah, that's not a good thing.

    Questions About Sin

    1. In your mind, is making money off of money as terrible a thing as Pound makes it out to be? Do you consider it a sin against nature? Why or why not?
    2. What are some of the potentially productive effects of making money off of money (for example, if you invested in a company that makes stuff people like)? Would Pound still consider this usura? Why or why not? For a clue, listen to what Pound says when he's done reading Canto XLV in this clip
    3. Do you see a connection between what Pound is saying in Canto XLV and the crisis of Western (i.e., American, European) banks and financial institutions in 2008 to the present? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    In Canto XLV, Pound basically scapegoats one tiny portion of human behavior in order to explain all of his beefs with the modern world.

    In Canto XLV, Pound exposes usura as something that is actually anti-capitalist, since it prevents people from ever making any real products to sell.