Study Guide

Canto I Memory and the Past

By Ezra Pound

Memory and the Past

And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, (1-2)

From the opening lines of this poem, we realize that we're listening to a story told in the past tense by a narrator who keeps talking about "we." So in other words, we're hearing this story from an older, maybe wiser Odysseus, which raises all kinds of questions we might not ask if the whole thing was in third-person. Now, we wonder to ourselves, "Why is Odysseus (or his spirit) taking the trouble to tell us this story about himself? What is he trying to teach us?" There's something very intimate about telling this ancient myth as if it's one man's memory, and in this sense, Pound does a great job of drawing us in.

and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, (4-5)

All of a sudden, we realize that Odysseus and his men have been crying. That means they're probably carrying some pretty fresh bad memories. Oh yeah, most of their friends just got killed, so that definitely makes sense. What's so great about the way memory gets used here, though, is that it's implied instead of stated directly, which arouses our curiosity about what's going on.

And Anticlea came, whom I beat off, (58)

Okay, so Odysseus isn't going to win any son of the year awards. The guy runs into his mother in the underworld, but then swipes at her and makes her go away because he'd rather talk to a blind prophet. Odysseus' memory of this doesn't seem to show any guilt at first, but the fact that Odysseus brings his mother up again in line 67 suggests that there's definitely a lingering feeling there.

"But thou, O King, I bid remember me, unwept, unburied," (54)

On top of wanting a proper burial (you know, so he can escape eternity in the underworld), Elpenor wants to live on in the memories of the friends who were closest to him. So far, no one even knows that he's dead, so no one has even cried for him. The only reason this guy has even gotten a chance to be remembered is because he has run up to Odysseus in the world and is all like, "Hey man! I'm dead!"

"'A second time? why? Man of ill star," (60)

There's a reason old Tiresias recognizes Odysseus while he's visiting the underworld. It's because the two of them have met before, and even though Tiresias is blind, he has this weird way of never forgetting a face (yeah, it's hard to make sense of it). He refers to Odysseus as a man of ill star because he knows that the Greek gods aren't huge fans of Odysseus. In fact, it seems like the whole world is conspiring against Odysseus' homeward journey. But hey, Tiresias is still willing to help a dude from back in the day.

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