Study Guide

Canto II Man and the Natural World

By Ezra Loomis Pound

Man and the Natural World

Seal sports in the spray-whited circles of cliff-wash, (6)

To start "Canto II," Pound wants to give us a sense of being near or on the open sea. So he gives us this early line describing seals playing in the ocean surf. It's a very vivid image, and it sets up all of the action that unfolds for the rest of the poem, since this action is all connected to the sea in one way or another.

Quiet sun-tawny sand-stretch,
The gulls broad out their wings,
nipping between the splay feathers; (28-30)

Even while the nymph Tyro is being sexually assaulted nearby, the sea birds just keep performing their usual routines. They nip at their feathers, fly around, and look for fish. Nothing changes for them, even though there's brutal human suffering going on nearby.

Naviform rock overgrown,
algae cling to its edge,
There is a wine-red glow in the shallows,
a tin flash in the sun-dazzle. (36-39)

We might not notice it right away, but the "wine-red glow" in the shallow water here is our first hint that the Greek god Dionysius might be nearby. After all, he's the god of wine and fertility. The problem is that none of the greedy men who've landed on this island seem to take the hint. This is one of those situations where it might come in handy to know your classic mythology.

And where was gunwale, there now was vine-trunk,
And tenthril where cordage had been, (67-68)

When Dionysius decides he's had enough of the sailors trying to kidnap him, he just summons a bunch of vines out of the ocean and lifts the ship right out of the water. No one seems to know what's going on except Acoetes, who now realizes who the crew has kidnapped—or maybe god-napped would be more accurate.

"Olibanum is my incense,
the vines grow in my homage." (101)

In this nice little passage, Dionysius forgives Acoetes because he knows Acoetes tried to stop his crewmates from kidnapping Dionysius. Because of his ability to recognize the god, Acoetes is told that he'll never have to worry about being harmed by jungle cats or imprisonment, because Dionysius will see to it that he's protected. The god decides to finish up this little speech by reminding Acoetes (who doesn't need reminding) that vines and jungle cats are his (the god's) servants.

Ileuthyeria, fair Dafne of sea-bords,
The swimmer's arms turned to branches, (124-125)

Toward the end of "Canto II," Pound mentions Ileuthyeria, a woman who was being pursued by sexually aggressive mermen, and who was turned into ocean coral in order to avoid being assaulted. The problem is that, well, now she's just a plant instead of a human. It's a pretty confusing image, and we might not be sure of what to make of it. But it seems to suggest that the only way a woman can avoid being the object of male sexual aggression is to transform into a different kind of object.

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