Study Guide

Canto II Big Cats

By Ezra Loomis Pound

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Big Cats

Pound was always a really big fan of the big cats: tigers, panthers, lynxes—you name it. And one of the reasons he likes big cats so much is because they're traditionally associated with Dionysius, the Greek god of wine and fertility. In fact, the old myths say that Dionysius even had panthers pulling his chariot instead of horses. For Pound, the big cats are a suitable image for his idea of beauty, since they are graceful and visually stunning, but also extremely dangerous and powerful. This is the idea of beauty that Pound thinks we've lost in the modern age, and he hopes that, by reconnecting with the history of western literature, we'll be able to get it back.

  • Lines 71-74: By this point, the sailors who've kidnapped the disguised god Dionysius know that there's something weird going on, because their ship has been lifted out of the sea by giant vines. We can tell that the god is starting to gather power now, because, before we know it, we're hearing "Out of nothing, a breathing" (71) that hits the speaker of the poem "on my ankles" (72). At first, the speaker can't make out what's in the darkness, since all he sees is (in a simile) "Beasts like shadows in glass" (73) and "a furred tail upon nothingness" (74), which tells us that these big cats are appearing out of thin air.
  • Lines 75-78: In line 75, we hear that the first cat the speaker identifies is a "Lynx" by its purr (75). Instead of the usual "tar smell" (76) of the boat, the speaker can detect the "heathery smell" (75) of the big cats, meaning that these cats are connected to the Dionysian world of plants (heather is a type of plant). But the speaker still can't see the cats clearly, as all he catches is "eye-glitter out of black air" (78). Spooky.
  • Lines 80-81: In these lines, the speaker can feel the cats getting closer, as he can feel "fur brushing my knee-skin" (81).
  • Lines 88-89: Pound wants to stress how Dionysius can summon his big cats out of thin air, saying that the cats are like fur gathering around empty space, or "void air taking pelt" (88).
  • Lines 90-01: By this point, we realize that the cats aren't terribly concerned about the crew on the ship, as long as they don't mess with Dionysius anymore. Pound conveys this sense of calm by talking about the "feline leisure of panthers" (90) and the "Leopards sniffing the grape shoots" (91). Again, we see the big cats guarding Dionysius without having to do anything. Anyone who's ever seen a panther knows enough not to mess with it in the first place.
  • Lines 96-99: Finally, Dionysius says that he knows Acoetes tried to stop the other men from kidnapping Dionysius. For this reason, Dionysius promises Acoetes that he doesn't need to fear any "cat of the wood" (97) since he'll be "Safe with [the] lynxes" (98) and will be happy "feeding grapes to [the] leopards" (99). We don't know about you, but that sounds like a fun way to spend an afternoon to us.

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