Study Guide

Canto VII Quotes

By Ezra Pound

  • Inertia

    Thin husks I had known as men,
    Dry casques of departed locusts
    speaking a shell of speech… (70-72)

    After spending some time wander-moping, Pound decides to just put his cards on the table and to call out the people he thinks are responsible for the crumminess of the modern world. Basically, he feels like the biggest problem with people is inertia, meaning that modern people are simply stuck in their ways, uninterested in really hearing new ideas or doing anything that takes them out of their routines. This commitment to never changing sucks the life out of these people, and anything they say just ends up being "a shell of speech."

    Propped between chairs and table… (74)

    According to Pound, modern people suffering from inertia barely have the motivation to sit up under their own power. To help convey this lack of energy or enthusiasm, Pound describes these people as being propped between chairs and table, like old men who can't even sit up straight without someone else coming in and moving them.

    Words like locust-shells, moved by no inner being,
    A dryness calling for death (74-75)

    According to Canto VII, there is a special commitment to beauty and newness that should exist inside each and every one of us. When this force is absent, though, we just turn into shells of the people we could have been, and we are "moved by no inner being."

    Dry professorial talk… (81)

    Them's fightin' words, mister. Pound doesn't just blame the problems of modern people on ignorance. In fact, he feels like some of the worst offenses of modern life come from the dry, professorial talk of educated people. For Pound, the problem isn't the lower classes, but the middle classes, which are filled with people who know enough about the classical past to try to imitate it, but who are so lazy about it that they do a terrible job. Thus, everything they say is just boring and empty, and they end up saying a bunch of stuff that has no real meaning.

    Still the old dead dry talk, gassed out (86)

    In case you haven't realized how much Pound doesn't like boring modern people, he gets a little bit repetitive the farther he goes into Canto VII. He really can't stress enough how big a problem it is that modern people have nothing valuable to say (according to him). These people just want to read stuff in books and repeat it without really thinking hard about it or studying it further. For these people, knowing what you're talking about isn't the important thing. You just need to appear as if you know stuff.

    The young men, never!
    Only the husk of talk (90-91)

    At first, it seemed like inertia was to blame for the problems with modern people. But here, Pound suggests that there's more to blame than just that. It turns out that modern people are dedicated to protecting their inertia at any cost. It's not as if they're just lazy. They will actually do almost anything to make sure no young people come along with new ideas and disturb the way things are.

  • Women & Femininity

    Eleanor (she spoiled in a British climate) (1)

    In this first line of the poem, Pound alludes to the historical figure Eleanor of Aquitaine, who divorced her French husband and went to England to marry the king there. After the shine wore off on their relationship, though, the king imprisoned her while he had an affair with a younger woman. Basically, Pound seems to be suggesting that truly beautiful women are treated poorly by men who only care about getting what they want out of people instead of a true partnership.

    And the sun-tanned gracious and well-formed fingers
    Lift no latch of bent bronze, no Empire handle? (31-32)

    In one of Canto VII's extended-iest metaphors, Pound finds himself wandering through an old house and looking for "a buried beauty." But as we find out, there is no hand to open a door for Pound. And as we can tell from the descriptions of the feminine hand, Pound is representing classical beauty with an attractive, graceful woman. The woman only has a sort of ghostly presence at this point in the poem, though, since she's not actually a real person, but only an ideal in Pound's mind.

    Ione, dead the long year (40)

    This line can be a little tough to figure out, since it's actually a reference to another poem that Pound wrote in his bygone days. In this earlier poem, Pound basically talks about how the world becomes a completely dead and empty place following the death of a beautiful woman. He seems to bring it up at this point in Canto VII for the sake of showing how bare the world feels when beauty itself has died. Again, we're not talking about an actual woman here, but the idea of beauty itself.

    But is she as dead as Tyro? (56)

    As with his other images of dead beauty, Pound draws on a classic figure of feminine beauty to talk about how beauty itself is gone from the modern world. According to legend, the attractive sea nymph named Tyro was actually immortal. But to suggest here that she's dead might mean that beauty—something we think of as timeless—has actually died, and that without it, there's not much point to modern life.

    Lamplight at Buovilla (61)

    As he continues his search for beauty, Pound gives us a moment of hope by alluding to a love poem by the 12th-century Provencal poet Arnaut Daniel. In this poem, the poet talks about meeting his lover by lamplight and kissing her. So here, Pound seems to indulge himself in the fantasy of actually reaching the ideal of beauty that he's looking for. But as you can imagine, the moment doesn't last long.

    Gone cheeks of the dancing woman
    Still the old dead dry talk, gassed out
    It is ten years gone, makes stiff about her a glass (85-87)

    As Canto VII unfolds, Pound begins to talk about his ideal of beauty as a dancing woman. Unfortunately, his hope of promoting this kind of beauty in modern life is prevented by the old men of the modern world, whose boring talk "makes stiff about her a glass." This basically means that the dry, emotionless talk of modern people just ends up turning beauty into a dead object to be studied, but never enjoyed or appreciated.

  • Society and Class

    The old men's voices—beneath the columns of false marble (16)

    When he mentions the columns of false marble, Pound is singling out England's boring, tacky middle class for criticism. Basically, he's saying that you can't just go and buy some cheap stuff that looks like Greek columns and expect people to think it's impressive. Great art doesn't care about the prices of things. It doesn't even think about money at all. Only beauty counts, and the false marble columns here are a symbol of how the money-obsessed middle classes are just cheap and tacky, like the columns they put in their houses.

    Discreeter gilding, and the panelled wood
    Not present, but suggested, for the leasehold is
    Touched with an imprecision… about three squares (18-20)

    Not only does the middle class tend to decorate poorly, but they do so in houses that don't even belong to them. In this passage, we learn that the house with the false marble columns is actually a leasehold, meaning that the people living in it are renters instead of owners. In a world where people's relationships to things are this temporary and uncommitted, Pound asks us how we can ever expect to pursue worthwhile goals, especially when it comes to beauty.

    Propped between chairs and table… (73)

    When he imagines the boredom and inertia of the English middle class, Pound tends to focus his criticism on the image of a plain dinner table, where he can picture middle class people sitting and barely holding themselves upright. Since there's nothing worthwhile motivating the people from this class, we can't expect them to contribute much to the history of humanity. Instead, they just play out the same boring dinner-table conversations over and over.

    Another day, between walls of a sham Mycenian,
    'Toc' sphinxes, sham-Memphis columns (78-79)

    In case he didn't make his point earlier, Pound revisits his image of fake or "sham" home decorations trying to capture the glory of ancient Greece (columns) or Egypt (sphinxes). But of course, the whole effort is doomed to look stupid and cheap to anyone who actually knows what they're talking about.

    House expulsed by this house, but not extinguished (83)

    No matter how much the cheap, boring middle class tries to turn a stately old house into something tacky, it can never quite "extinguish" the dignity that this same house used to have. In this sense, Pound is saying the same thing about culture. The middle class might ruin art for everyone, but it can never totally erase the glory that art once had in the past.

    The old room of the tawdry class asserts itself (89)

    One last time, Pound tells us that no matter how much beauty tries to shine through in the modern age, the boring, superficial people of the world have a way of beating it back down. And no one does this more than the middle class. For Pound, we should basically have the same classes as in the middle ages: the rich people who support artists, the artists who get supported by the rich people, and the humble craftspeople who practice more practical art on a daily basis. In general, the guy isn't a fan of modern society's whole deal, from its art to its social structures.

  • Principles

    Not mere succession of strokes, sightless narration,
    To Dante's 'ciocco,' the brand struck in the game (11-12)

    Comparing himself to the classic poet Dante Alighieri, Pound claims here that the stuff he's talking about isn't just a bunch of random literary references thrown together for no reason. Instead, he's telling us that there's a hidden order to all of the sparks that fly off from his poetry. It's our job, however, to figure out what the connections are. Pound won't do it for us.

    And the great domed head, con gli occhi onesti e tardi
    Moves before me, phantom with weighted motion (23-24)

    As he wanders through life looking for beauty, Pound finds himself following the lead of the Italian poet Sordello, whose "slow and honest eyes" and domed head lead the way whenever Pound feels lost. In other words, Pound looks to poets from hundreds of years ago to inspire himself whenever the modern world is getting him down.

    Knocking at empty rooms, seeking a buried beauty (30)

    When it comes to symbolizing the principles behind his Cantos project, Pound draws on the image of knocking at empty rooms and hoping to hear an answer from the principle of beauty itself. Knocking at empty rooms could refer to reading classic literary texts, but it could also symbolize Pound's attempts to find people in the modern world who can appreciate beauty in the same way he does.

    Damn the partition! Paper, dark brown and stretched,
    Flimsy and damned partition (38-39)

    When Pound gets frustrated in his efforts to look for beauty, he begins to blame the "partition" or barrier that separates him from the classic beauty he admires so much. In this case, the partition keeping him from what he wants is time itself. Pound seems to feel like he was born in the wrong century, since he admires medieval and classic art and culture so much more than the 20th century stuff.

    House expulsed by this house, but not extinguished (83)

    No matter how much he starts to despair about ever recovering the past, Pound is also hopeful about the fact that the "house" of the modern world can never fully get rid of the "house" of the past. In other words, Pound feels like he can still catch brief glimpses of the beautiful past he reads about in literature, and he finds some hope in this fact.

    The live man, out of lands and prisons,
    shakes the dry pods (106-107)

    Eventually, Pound starts to think of himself as a "live" man in a world full of dead people. Because for Pound, you can't really call yourself a living person if you aren't governed by some worthwhile principal. But Pound isn't willing to give up on us just yet. As a live man and as a poet, he thinks of himself as someone who travels around "shaking the dry pods" of our minds and trying to fill us with something more worthwhile than whatever worthless stuff we supposedly think about. It's not clear why Pound thinks his audience is so dumb, but it seems to have something to do with Pound feeling disappointed that not everyone knows as much about poetry as himself.