Study Guide

Canto I Perseverance

By Ezra Pound


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

Odysseus and his men have been through a lot and have lost a lot of their friends. But they always keep pushing onward, like we find out in the beginning line of "Canto I." The very fact that "Canto I" opens with the phrase "And then" suggests that these men are always moving from one thing to another, persevering and never giving up.

[…] our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, and winds from sternward
Bore us out onward with bellying canvas, (4-6)

Odysseus and his men keep sailing and doing their thing, even though their bodies are "Heavy with weeping." They've gone through a lot in the past few months. But even though they're tired from crying so much, they'll never stop struggling to get home.

Came we then to the bounds of deepest water,
To the Kimmerian lands, and peopled cities
Covered with close-webbed mist, (12-14)

It's not like Odysseus and his crew are sailing to Cancun for a nice spring break. These guys are sailing right to the edge of the world, to a place that's always covered in darkness and filled with strange people. But hey, a crew's gotta do what a crew's gotta do.

Unsheathed the sword,
I sat to keep off the impetuous impotent dead, (39-40)

When Odysseus goes into the underworld, he's totally confronted by a whole bunch of dead folks. So does the guy turn around and run? No way, he pulls out his sword to keep the dead people away, though it's not quite clear how he plans to hurt dead people with his sword. In any case, this scene helps go to show that you can't keep this dude down.

[…] "Odysseus
Shalt return through spiteful Neptune, over dark seas,
Lose all companions." (65-67)

Now here's a real kick in the rear. Odysseus chats with Tiresias because he wants to know how things are going to shake down for him and his friends in the future. Tiresias tells him that he's actually going to have a really rough journey and that he's going to lose every friend he has. This is a fact, by the way, since the Greeks believed a lot in faith. Odysseus, though, still keeps pushing onward.

And he sailed, by Sirens and thence outward and away
And unto Circe. (70-71)

So yeah, Pound closes this chapter in Odysseus' journey by talking about how the guy kept sailing despite all the insane monsters and dangers he ran into along the way. He even sailed back to the home of Circe—the sorceress who almost killed him and all of his friends the last time he ran into her. But Odysseus feels like he needs to bury his friend Elpenor, so he faces the hardship head-on and pushes onward.

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