Study Guide

Canto I Setting

By Ezra Pound

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I'm on a Boat!

Yes, you read it right. You spend most of this poem on a boat with Odysseus, sailing toward the edge of the world. Doesn't that sound like fun? Yeah, you might be right. It doesn't sound fun at all, especially with all the monsters and sorceresses you have to deal with along the way. It probably sounds even worse that you have to journey to a place that's endlessly dark and "unpierced ever/ With glitter of sun-rays" (13-14). But hey, how else are you going to summon the spirits of dead people?

That's the world of Ancient Greek myth for you. A bunch of dudes getting turned into pigs by a crazy sorceress named Circe, one guy sacrificing and burning all his best sheep and bulls to gain the favor of people who died hundreds of years earlier—what's not to love? Oh yeah, and did we mention that throughout this poem, you're on a boat?

The setting is a great place for a fun-happy-adventure-time, but it's actually more than that. Notice how the boat is a pretty unhappy place to be, and that it brings the sailors to places you really wouldn't want to go? The poem realizes that sailing can work as a metaphor, underlying the lack of grounding and direction that plagued the modern condition as Pound saw it. Today, you might well ask what's changed. It seems that we're all rudderless out there, in need of a good compass and a safe passage to port.

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