Study Guide

Canto II Human Beauty

By Ezra Loomis Pound

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Human Beauty

Whether it's the beautiful Helen of Troy, the nymph named Tyro, or the little boy-god Dionysius, examples of human beauty pop up throughout "Canto II," and they always seem to lead to some sort of violence. For Pound, modern folks have lost their appreciation for beauty by treating it as a delicate, fragile thing. They've lost all sense of the strength and danger associated with beauty in the tradition of western art, and Pound thinks they should regain their sense of this aspect of beauty. In other words, show a little respect for cryin' out loud.

  • Lines 18-20: In these lines, we hear the elders of Troy murmuring that Helen is beautiful and (in a metaphor) "has the face of a god" (18). But that doesn't mean they want her around. They associate her with the danger of "Schoeney's daughters" (19), the most famous of whom was Atalanta, who murdered any man who failed to beat her in a race (which was pretty much… everyone). They know that the kidnapping of Helen might start a war, and so they think, through some figurative language, that "doom goes with her in walking" (20).
  • Lines 23-26: Next, Pound mentions the nymph named Tyro, who according to mythology was raped by the sea god Poseidon, who disguised himself as a river. Here, you have another example of beauty being connected to violence. But in this case, the violence is directed at the beautiful person herself.
  • Line 42: At this point, Pound turns to his third example of human beauty, mentioning it in the form of "a young boy loggy with vine-must" (42). As it turns out, a bunch of criminal sailors see this pretty young boy and know they can make money selling him as a slave, so they try to kidnap him. But little do they know they're kidnapping a god, and they all get either killed or turned into fish for their trouble. In this case, then, being tempted by beauty actually ends up in death. Yikes.
  • Lines 108-110: As Acoetes remembers his story of seeing the men try to kidnap Dionysius, he recalls that at the time, "When they brought the boy [he] said:/ '[The boy] has a god in him,/ though I do not know which god'" (108-110). In other words, Acoetes could tell just from the boy's beauty that he was some sort of god in disguise.

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