Study Guide

Canto II Summary

By Ezra Loomis Pound

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Canto II Summary

Pound gets "Canto II" started off by talking about a favorite poet of his named Sordello. But soon he's moving straight into talking about Homer, the same dude he spent most of "Canto I" translating. From talking about Homer and his blindness, Pound starts to give us a look at the world through the perspective of old men who live in the ancient city of Troy. These men are all talking about the arrival of Helen of Troy into their city, and how they all know that her kidnapping means that Troy will have to go to war.

In short, no one in Troy wants Helen to be there, no matter how beautiful she may be. In fact, her beauty is exactly what makes all of them so nervous, because they know that her husband will be willing to go to war for her. But, after showing us all this, the poem is off again. It seems to zoom out and sweep us far out into the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, where a ship full of men is stopping to get some fresh water at an island called Scios (which today's tourists call Chios).

While they're getting their water at Scios, the men notice a young boy bathing in one of the springs. They have no clue what he's doing alone on this island, but when he asks them for a lift to another island called Naxos, they all grin and say no problem. The issue is, though, that they want to kidnap this kid and sell him as a slave to make some money. There's only one crew member who tries to stop them (named Acoetes), but they knock Acoetes down and lock him up with the kid.

Next thing you know, a bunch of giant vines grow out of the ocean and lift the boat out of the water. The crew doesn't know what's going on (and frankly we're a bit confused at this point too), but Acoetes realizes that the boy they've kidnapped is actually the god Dionysius, who has disguised himself as a child. That's bad news for the crew, because Dionysius doesn't mind a bit of revenge, and he summons his panthers and turns the crew into a bunch of fish. Yup, that happens.

After the whole panther-and-fish episode, the poem goes on about the ocean some more and about olive groves, then describes a giant tower rising out of the ocean. Finally, it finishes by saying that a bunch of half-human, half-goats are teasing the shape-shifting god named Proteus, though it's not totally clear why.

Like "Canto I," "Canto II" ends on a total cliffhanger: "And…" We're left to decide what (if anything) should come after this. Like the sailors who tried to kidnap Dionysius, Pound has little trouble with chucking us all into the ocean and telling us to swim. When it comes to figuring out what this poem is all about, it's up to us.

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