Study Guide

Canto I Summary

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Canto I Summary

Okay, so it sounds like someone is talking to us about walking onto a ship, loading the thing with a bunch of sheep, and sailing away from some unknown place. Oh yeah, and everyone's been crying. Interested yet?

Eventually, you might start to wonder who's actually speaking in this poem and what he/she is speaking about. But pretty soon, you start running into people's names, like "Circe" in line 7. That name might ring a few bells, especially if you decide to check it out with a Google search… Boom, you're smack in the middle of Homer's epic poem The Odyssey.

As you read on, you realize that Odysseus is sailing to the edge of the world so that he can summon up the spirit of the dead prophet Tiresias. (The dude is sort of the Troy McClure of modernism, and you might remember him from such other Modernist classics as T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land".) But while he's looking for Tiresias in the underworld, Odysseus runs into (gulp) his mother. He tries to run away from her (because she's probably mad at him for not coming to visit her often enough in the underworld) and then runs into one of his old buddies named Elpenor. And here's the awkward part: Odysseus didn't even know this guy was dead yet.

It turns out that Elpenor died earlier in their journey together, but no one form Odysseus' crew noticed. And leaving a person unburied is a big no-no in Greek culture, so now Odysseus realizes that he might have to backtrack halfway across the world to bury his buddy, then start his journey all over again—major bummer.

In a final flurry, Pound ends his translation of Homer and starts throwing in some other random references. He ends "Canto I" with the phrase "So that:" but then just stops there. It's as if he's asking us to consider everything he's said in this entire "Canto I," then wants us to draw our own conclusions about how the whole thing might have any sort of bearing on us and our modern lives. Nope, you'll get no help here. When it comes to figuring out the final word on this poem, Pound puts the ball in your court.

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