Study Guide

Canto II Women and Femininity

By Ezra Loomis Pound

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Women and Femininity

"Canto II" is all about beauty, and when Pound talks about beauty, he tends to talk a lot about female beauty. Among his many interests, you see, Pound was a pretty big fan of the tradition of courtly love, which usually involved stories of young artistic men falling in love with women they could never possibly have a sexual relationship with. For this reason, Pound tends to think of women as powerful, but still passive figures. They're powerful because men will do anything for their beauty. Still, you have to wonder just how active a woman can be if she's always some dude's muse.

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. When Pound talks about Helen of Troy as the reason for the Trojan War, do you think he's making an argument for how powerful women are? If so, is it a convincing argument? Why or why not?
  2. In the story of Ileuthyeria (124-129), why do you think Pound has the heroine turn into ocean coral in order to avoid the gang of sexually aggressive mermen? What does turning a woman into a plant say about feminine sexual "purity" in this poem?
  3. What do you make of the story of Poseidon turning himself into a river and raping the nymph named Tyro? Why does Pound put it into this poem at all? What's his point? What examples from the text back up your answer?

Chew on This

Guilty: overall, "Canto II" is a sexist poem because it insists that women can only exert power by sitting back and attracting men.

Innocent: overall, "Canto II" is all about female empowerment, because it shows us that feminine beauty is not just a delicate, fragile thing, but a potentially violent and destructive thing.

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