Study Guide

Canto II Speaker

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For the most part, Pound's speaker spends "Canto II" in the third-person omniscient. He gives himself the power to jump between different classical stories from different historical periods. For example, he starts the poem off by talking about the nineteenth century poet Robert Browning, then leaps into the world of ancient Troy, letting us in on the elders' belief that the woman Helen will ultimately be a "curse on [their] children" (16).

But after enjoying the third-person for a while, our speaker is suddenly Acoetes, from Book III of Ovid's Metamorphoses. He spends lines 40 to 129 recounting a personal memory about the time his crewmates tried to kidnap the god Dionysius, claiming that "Aye, I Acoetes, stood there,/ and the god stood by me" (62-63). He continues on like this for a while, or at least until the story about Dionysius has finished.

Finally, the speaker returns back to the third person in line 130, which he signals the same way he does at the beginning of the poem, mentioning the sea god So-shu and how he "churn[s] in the sea" (130). All this changing back and forth had us wondering just one thing about out poem's speaker: like, what gives?

Of course, we didn't wonder for too long before we came up with an idea. This diving in and out of third- and first-person narration makes the poem seem very fluid, just like the ocean water that makes up its main motif. Through his fluid speaker, Pound establishes early on that he's going to be very flexible when it comes to his speakers, and that, as with T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," readers will have to pay close attention to sudden shifts in the poem's voice. So the speaker is not just some tour guide through Pound's poetic retellings. Instead, he's a slippery figure who shifts and changes to put you on notice: pay attention; this is important stuff.

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