Canto VII Summary
Pound starts Canto VII off by alluding to a historical figure named Eleanor of Aquitaine and saying she spoiled in a British climate. And, well, the poem doesn't get any easier to follow after that. In fact, the poem's way of jumping between different historical moments, classical artworks, and languages is very similar to T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," which Pound would have actually started editing very shortly after writing Canto VII in 1919.
In any case, Pound goes on to describe (in order) a Roman Colosseum, a medieval religious procession, and a parade of knights with flags and spears. In this sense, Pound seems to walk us through different eras of history before bringing us into a more modern, wood-paneled room.
Once inside this room, Pound describes himself wandering from room to room and knocking at doors, hoping that "beauty" will answer him. He represents beauty through the symbol of a beautiful woman, but he's actually talking about the experience of beauty in general.
Unfortunately, no dice. Beauty doesn't answer when Pound knocks and calls for it. This leads Pound to wonder if beauty is dead for good in the modern world, and he starts to mourn like a person at an old friend's funeral. While mourning, he hears the voices of old men whom he considers to be mere "husks" or shells of human beings. According to Pound, these modern folks don't care about true beauty, and they don't have any principles or ideals that motivate them. They're just a bunch of old men who don't care about anything worthwhile and who don't want anyone talking about beauty, either. For Pound, these men are symbols of what's wrong with the modern world, which only cares about stupid things like home decorating or tacky furniture.
Toward the close of the poem, Pound identifies himself as a living person in a world full of zombies, or at least people who don't have any "life" in them anymore. Modern people are boring, petty, and generally unpleasant. Pound isn't totally ready to give up on bringing beauty back into the world. But at the same time, he's not totally optimistic about his chances, either. And that's what he sort of leaves us with. Maybe we can bring beauty back, and maybe we can't.
Eleanor (she spoiled in a British climate)
- Get your jaw warmed up, because you're gonna have to chew on this poem for a while before the thing starts making sense.
- For starters, Pound begins by mentioning some woman named Eleanor and says that she spoiled (like fruit?) in a British climate.
- If you've read Canto II, you might remember that Pound uses the name Eleanor in that poem to refer to Helen of Troy, whose beauty started the Trojan War and got a bunch of people killed. But by saying that Eleanor spoiled in a British climate, Pound seems to be referring to Eleanor of Aquitaine (1124-1204 C.E.), a woman who was married to King Louis VII of France, but later got a divorce and ran off to marry King Henry II of England. Pound's allusion to Eleanor "spoiling" in a British climate might refer to the fact that Eleanor came to England from France having ideals about "creative love" and partnership between men and women. Henry II liked this type of thinking at first, but eventually got tired of being partners in marriage and imprisoned Eleanor while he had an affair with another woman. So Pound here might be starting things off by talking about how people have a tendency of disregarding true beauty once they grow tired of it.
- We'd like to take this opportunity to let you Shmoopers know that, for the purposes of this poem, we're going to mash together Ezra Pound and the speaker. We know, we know: your English teachers strictly forbid this. But with the number of references to his own life and work in this poem, we think it's expedient. See the "Speaker" section for more.
- Whew, only 123 lines left to go…
'Ελανδρος and Ελέπτολις, and
poor old Homer
blind as a bat,
Ear, ear for the sea-surge—;
rattle of old men's voices.
- Pound again refers back to Canto II in lines 2-4. The mention of 'Ελανδρος and Ελέπτολις is a reference to the names that the ancient dramatist Aeschylus gave to Helen of Troy. The names sound like "Helen" in Greek, but they actually translate into English as "Destroyer of men" and "Destroyer of cities." So now Pound is either talking about how beauty can be dangerous, or he's criticizing Aeschylus for being afraid of true beauty. It's tough to say which way he's going at the moment, so we're just gonna roll with it.
- When Pound talks about Homer here, he's basically saying that it was a huge bummer that the poet Homer was blind. But, hey, this blindness is also what made Homer sensitive to sounds—like the sound of the sea—and there's little doubt that Homer's blindness gave him a better ear for writing great poetry.
- Unfortunately, line 4 ends by replacing the beauty of Homer's ear with the "rattle of old men's voices." We don't know who these old men are just yet. They might be the old dudes Pound mentions in Canto II, who sit on the walls of Troy and complain about the trouble that the beautiful Helen will bring to their city. In any case, we're gonna' have to watch out for these old men and their dry voices, because Pound doesn't seem to like them.
And then the phantom Rome,
marble narrow for seats
"Si pulvis nullus…"
In chatter above the circus, "Nullum excute tamen."
- All of a sudden, Pound goes from talking about the world of Ancient Greece to the world of Ancient Rome. And we're all thinking, "Yeah, what's the diff?" According to Pound, the world of Rome is "phantom" compared to Greece. We're not sure why yet, but Pound is saying here that there's something more substantial or genuine about Ancient Greece compared to Rome.
- Next things we know, Pound is talking about the marble seating and saying something in Latin that translates as "Even if there is no dust…" [Si pulvis nullus], "brush it off anyway" [Nullum excute tamen]. It turns out that he's referring to the Roman poet Ovid, who wrote about how the narrow, marble benches of the Roman Colosseum were designed to force men and women to sit closely to each other and to get intimate. The line about dust is basically taken from the words of a guy who wants to brush his hand against a girl's leg by pretending that there might be dust on her dress.
- So Pound introduces us to his vision of Rome by describing people sitting in the audience at a "circus" and being more interested in flirting with one another than with the show or the beautiful building they're inside. It's still pretty vague and weird at this point, but he seems to be criticizing Roman culture as having lower quality values than the Greek.
Then: file and candles, e li mestiers ecoutes;
Scene – for the battle only, –but still scene,
Pennons and standards y cavals armatz
Not mere succession of strokes, sightless narration,
And Dante's "ciocco," brand struck in the game.
- After hearing about the sexy Roman circus, Pound sweeps us back into a solemn scene of "file and candles." Here, Pound is probably describing a group of people walking in single file and holding candles, which would be a traditional way of having a religious ceremony enter or leave a church.
- And while everyone's walking in a line with candles, Pound mentions "e li mestiers ecoutes," which translates from Old French as "And the heard mysteries." The mysteries here are probably the mysteries of Christian faith, or the things God knows that human beings could never possibly know. So in other words, we've gone from a dirty Roman Colosseum filled with flirting couples to a more solemn, respectful ceremony for the mysteries of God.
- Next, we're thrown into some sort of scene that's fit for a battle of some kind. We get a snapshot of pennants, standards, and armed horses (cavals armatz). Think King Arthur and his knights.
- When Pound goes on to mention the "mere succession of strokes" in the next line, we might think that he's talking about these army dudes swinging their swords and spears at one another. But it might be more likely that Pound is referring to a painting of horses an army dudes from the old days. That would explain why he calls it a "Scene" that he's looking at.
- So when Pound says that this scene is "Not [a] mere succession of strokes," he means that the painting means more to him than just a bunch of paint stroked onto a canvas. It conveys a sense of "chivalry," which refers to all the qualities a good medieval knight is supposed to have, like generosity, courage, and strength. Pound likely doesn't feel like these qualities are very common in the modern world.
- And now we're hearing about some dude named Dante and his "ciocco." Readers of Pound might already know that one of his favorite poets ever was Dante Alighieri, who wrote the famous long poem called Paradiso (Paradise). In this poem, Dante describes the experience of seeing a bunch of human souls rise into the air like a bunch of sparks leaping from a flaming log that's been hit with a metal poker, or what is also called a "brand." The word "ciocco" means log in Latin, so Pound wants us to think about Dante's log and about the image of souls floating into the sky. We're not quite sure why, but Pound might be using this image of rising souls to suggest that he sees some sort of salvation in the painting of men and horses that he's been looking at. Maybe.
Un peu moisi, plancher plus bas que le jardin.
Contre le lambris, fauteuil de paille,
Un vieux piano, et sous le barometer…
- We're back to reading French again. In fact, all of this jumping between different times, places, and languages is really starting to make Canto VII sound like T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land." This isn't surprising when we realize that Pound wrote the draft for this Canto in 1919, three years before he would help Eliot edit and publish "The Waste Land."
- In any case, lines 13 to 15 come from a novel by the French author Gustave Flaubert called A Simple Soul (published in 1877). The lines translate as "A bit mildewed, the floor lower than the garden, / against the paneling a straw armchair / an old piano, and underneath the barometer…"
- The story of A Simple Soul is about a modest woman who keeps loving even when everyone takes advantage of her and whose death goes unnoticed. But Pound here seems to just be giving us the layout of a French room. He's not talking about the theme of love at all, just focusing on the superficial, unimportant details of a room. Then again, maybe this is a problem with modern people, who have become so superficial that they're more concerned with the way they've decorated a room than they are with the people who come into that room.
The old men's voices—beneath the columns of false marble,
And the walls tinted discreet, the modish, darkish green-blue,
Discreeter gilding, and the panelled wood
Not present, but suggested, for the leasehold is
Touched with an imprecision… about three squares;
- Now we're back to hearing the old men Pound mentioned back in line 4. These men are talking beneath columns of false marble, meaning that the room they're sitting in has been decorated with fake marble to look like the buildings of Ancient Greece.
- But Pound isn't buying the imitation. The walls are tinted "discreet," meaning that they're supposed to hide the fact that none of the room's decorations are authentic in any way. It's trying to look good, but any good observer can see how fake everything is. Think Vegas casinos.
- But what's all this about wood paneling being absent and present at the same time? Well starting in line 18, Pound suggests that there's no paneled wood on the walls of the room. But the look of the wall "suggests" that someone at some point might have thought about putting some up, since the "leasehold is / Touched with imprecision… about three squares."
- The mention of "leasehold" here just means that the property is leased (not owned) by the people who use it. Leasehold is also a common word for referring to renovations and redecorating that people do on a house that they don't actually own. So here, Pound is literally saying that he can tell by the odd marks and angles on the wall that someone thought about sprucing the place up with wood paneling, but then gave up before following through.
- So here's what we're left with: Pound is looking at a room that could've had nice wood paneling. But it seems like the person renting the place decided he didn't want to put the work in, so he threw up a bunch of fake-looking Greek columns.
- In other words, this room represents the modern world's unwillingness to put in the proper work to create something beautiful.
- It goes instead for the fast and easy answer, trying to make something look classically beautiful, but only succeeding in making something that looks fake and gross. Everything is about short-term cheapness instead of long-term beauty, which we can also see in the fact that the room is leased instead of owned by the person who has decorated it.
The house a shade too solid, the paintings
a shade too thick.
And the great domed head, con gli occhi onesti e tardi
Moves before me, phantom with weighted motion,
Grave incessu, drinking the tone of things,
And the old voice lifts itself
weaving an endless sentence.
- As we already know, Pound isn't a fan of the modern room he finds himself standing in. The place is decorated with a bunch of phony-looking Greek columns, trying to adopt the beauty of classical Greece without actually putting any time or thought into it.
- The result? A house with "a shade too solid, the paintings a shade too thick." In other words, the decorations of the house might not be totally ridiculous, but everything in it seems to come across as a little clumsy or heavy-handed. Everything feels a little bit off for Pound, as if the renters of the house understand what beauty is supposed to look like, but just don't have the right experience or education to recognize or realize it in real life.
- Next, Pound looks toward a "great domed head" which has (according to an Italian phrase) "honest and slow eyes." This phrase is another allusion to the classical Italian poet Dante, who uses this line in his poem Purgatorio to describe an Italian poet named Sordello, who briefly serves as Dante's guide through the world of purgatory.
- But why does Pound suddenly find himself facing this Sordello dude in the phony-looking room? Well in Canto II, Pound gives a shout out to Sordello as a poet that he deeply admires. But the sudden appearance of Sordello here might mean that Pound, like Dante, finds himself trapped in a world of purgatory, where nothing is good and nothing is bad. Everything is just grey and boring.
- Mentioning Sordello here might then be Pound's way of saying that the room he's standing in makes him depressed. He also might be saying that he'd love to have a guide who could lead him out of this place.
- When he's done describing how the ghostly Sordello "Moves before me [like a] phantom," Pound says that Sordello also speaks to him by "weaving an endless sentence." In other words, Sordello seems to always be talking in Pound's ear. This might be Pound's way of saying that he can survive the boring, modern room by gaining strength from all of the beautiful classical literature he's read in his life. In this sense, memories of Sordello's poetry give Pound the strength he needs to live on in the awful, boring modern world.
We also made ghostly visits, and the stair
That knew us, found us again on the turn of it,
Knocking at empty rooms, seeking a buried beauty;
And the sun-tanned gracious and well-formed fingers
Lift no latch of bent bronze, no Empire handle
Twists for the knocker's fall; no voice to answer.
- Pound still seems to be moving through rooms, only now he's kickin' it with the ghost of his Italian idol, the poet Sordello.
- Now, though, they're making "ghostly visits," which could mean that they're moving through the rooms of Pound's memory.
- In any case, it seems like the rooms Pound is moving through might be more symbolic than literal. They give us a sense of Pound wandering through empty chambers and looking for something he hasn't been able to find.
- But what's the deal with "the stair / That knew us"? Shmoop thinks this is probably Pound's way of saying that he's been through these rooms at some earlier point in his life. But now he finds himself "knocking at empty rooms, seeking a buried beauty."
- Throughout his poetic career, Pound claimed to look for beauty in human life, and he suggested that it's a lot harder to find in the modern age than it would've been in old times. The idea that this beauty is "buried," though, suggests that it's still somewhere in the world, just hard to see through all the layers of ugliness we've put over it.
- Suddenly, Pound starts talking about "gracious and well-formed fingers," which probably refer to the hand of a beautiful woman. This woman, like the rooms Pound is moving through, is probably symbolic.
- In other words, Pound is comparing his search for beauty to the experience of wandering through an empty house. He keeps knocking on doors, hoping to find beauty (symbolized here by a woman), but unfortunately, beauty has left the building.
- We can tell that beauty doesn't answer Pound's knocks because the "well-formed fingers" of the symbolic woman "Lift no latch of bent bronze […] no voice to answer" (32-33). Instead, Pound has to keep wandering and keep looking. He knows that beauty is out there somewhere, but he hasn't managed to meet it face-to-face.
A strange concierge, in place of the gouty-footed.
Sceptic against all this one seeks the living,
Stubborn against the fact. The wilted flowers
Brushed out a seven year since, of no effect.
- As he continues to walk through the symbolic rooms in search of beauty, Pound finds that the only figure he encounters is a "strange concierge." Now a concierge is supposed to welcome and guide you into a building, but this person doesn't seem to be doing Pound any good.
- Instead, Pound seems to think of himself as a "Sceptic against all this." In other words, he's probably referring to all the phony-baloney decorations of the rooms he's moving through and saying that he doesn't buy their cheap attempts to look beautiful.
- Instead, he says he "seeks the living, / Stubborn against the fact."
- But what's he on about now? How does he seek the living? Is it because his only company so far has been the ghost of Sordello? Is this Pound's way of saying that he wants to find beauty in the present-day world, and not have to rely completely on classical literature to give him a sense of it?
- In a word, probably. The world might discourage him and make him feel like he'll never find the beauty he seeks, but the guy keeps pressing on, "Stubborn against the fact."
- Next, Pound sees that the room he's in has a bunch of wilted flowers that have been brushed or swept away "seven year since," meaning that they died and got swept up seven years earlier, and that they are now "of no effect" and can't do anything to make the room feel nicer.
- What Pound is probably getting at here is that you can't just put some flowers in a vase and think that you've made a room beautiful. There are no quick fixes when it comes to beauty. It takes years of study and commitment to either create or see true beauty, and this is something that average people in the modern world don't seem to understand.
Damn the partition! Paper, dark brown and stretched,
Flimsy and damned partition.
Ione, dead the long year,
My lintel, and Liu Ch'e's lintel.
Time blacked out with rubber.
- Now Pound is complaining about some sort of partition. Okay, we got this. A partition is something that keeps two things separate, and this particular partition seems to be "Flimsy" and made of "Paper, dark brown and stretch."
- Maybe Pound is talking about a partition that's separating the rooms of the house he's walking through. Or maybe (and more likely) he's talking about some sort of symbolic partition separating him from the past, or from the beauty that he's looking for in life.
- Now he's talking about someone named Ione, who has apparently been dead for a year or so. This is just one of those places where you need to know Pound's allusions to understand what he's talking about. Basically, this is the title of an earlier poem Pound published back in 1913, and it's about someone whose death leaves the whole world feeling empty. So Pound seems to be referring to it to help convey the sense of despair or mourning he feels toward the beauty he can no longer find in the world.
- Or he's just shamelessly self-promoting. Maybe a bit of both?
- Next, he starts talking about his lintel, which is basically the top of a window or doorway in a house. In other words, Pound now wants to talk about thresholds—places that mark the transition from inside a house to outside, or from one room into another. Lintels are like borders between rooms, and Pound seems to be using it to convey his sense of being caught between two worlds.
- But who is Liu Ch'e, and why does he have a lintel, too? Well again, Pound is referring to another one of his earlier poems here, called "Liu Ch'e," which he translated from a 14th-century Chinese poet named Liu Ch'e. Basically, the poem is pretty zen and talks about finding deep beauty in nature and in the everyday things of life.
- This might be the type of beauty Pound is still searching for, but doesn't find. The fact that he's translating a Chinese poet here also suggests that Pound thinks beauty is something that's universal to humans and not culturally specific.
- Finally, Pound seems to wipe away all of the beauty he's on the verge of grasping. His next line simply says, "Time blacked out with rubber," which might make us think of a pink rubber eraser just plopping itself down and erasing "time" or history so that modern folks can't appreciate all the beauty of the past.
- Every time Pound seems to start building up a sense of beauty, you get these eraser images that come sweeping through and ruining everything.
The Elysée carries a name on
And the bus behind me gives me a date for peg;
Low ceiling and the Erard and silver
These are in "time." Four chairs, the bow-front dresser,
The pannier of the desk, cloth top sunk in.
- Well for starters, you're probably going to want to know what the "Elysée" is. It's actually the name of the palace in France where the President of France lives. The fact that it "carries a name on" probably means that this place is named after Elysium, a place in Greek myth where good people go when they die (like heaven).
- The fact that this place is carrying a name on might suggest that it's doing justice to the beauty of the past. But Pound might also be saying that the name is the only thing it carries on, while leaving out the beauty itself.
- After some vague encounter with a bus, Pound finds himself walking through a room with a "Low ceiling" with "the Erard and silver." Erard was the name of a famous piano maker in 18th-century France, so we know that the piano Pound is talking about is super nice. And in case that didn't tip us off, the inclusion of true silver in the room tells us that we're looking at a more upscale home than the one with the phony Greek decorations Pound was in earlier.
- But what does Pound mean when he says that the piano and the silver are "in 'time'"? Well, by putting quotation marks around the word "time," he might be hinting at the idea that time is just a concept invented by human beings; but he also seems to suggest that all beautiful things are connected to time, and that these things fall apart and get forgotten about unless we make an effort to appreciate them in the future. And for Pound, modern folks fail to do this.
- The rest of these lines just describe other furniture that's in the room, including four chairs (which are empty), a dresser, and a desk. We're still getting a pretty strong sense that even though this room is nicer than the last one Pound was in, it's still totally empty, which gives us a feeling of loneliness and emptiness.
"Beer-bottle on the statue's pediment!
"That, Fritz, is the era, to-day against the past,
"Contemporary." And the passion endures.
Against their action, aromas; rooms, against chronicles.
Smargagdos, chrysolitos; De Gama wore striped pants in Africa
And "Mountains of the sea gave birth to troops,"
- Now Pound seems to be getting into cranky old man territory. The first line of this section has him yelling about someone leaving a beer bottle at the foot or "pediment" of a public statue. Pound no doubt feels like this kind of gesture is super disrespectful to the artistry of the statue.
- And since he's good and angry, Pound turns and says something to a guy named Fritz. Once again, we need to know some specific stuff to find out what this means. He's referring to one of his buddies who lived in France with him, a Dutch writer and art critic named Fritz Vanderpyl. Here, Pound turns to his friend and complains about the beer bottle on the statue, then says something about "the era" they are living in, which is all about "today against the past."
- So what does that mean, then? Well it could mean that Pound sees modern culture as waging war against the classical past, trying to make everything new and "contemporary" at the cost of forgetting everything that's great about the past. But this is kind of funny, considering that Pound's slogan for the early part of his poetic career was "Make it new!"
- Nonetheless, despite all of modern culture's efforts to forget the past, Pound thinks that "The passion" of the past still "endures" in modern life, albeit in a hidden way. Passion endures despite or "against [the] action" of modern folks, and despite their rooms full of tacky decorations.
- Then Pound decides he wants to talk some gibberish, throwing out the words "Smargados" and "chrysolitos" for no apparent reason. But like all things Pound, there's totally a reason behind them. The word "smargados" actually refers to emerald jewels, which can symbolize a type of beauty that never fades over time. "Chrysolitos" are also jewels called topazes in English.
- So in other words, he's throwing out some symbols of a type of beauty that never fades, which seems to give him a sense of hope that beauty is still out there somewhere in the modern world.
- In keeping with his jumpy writing, Pound then jumps to talking about someone named "De Gama," who apparently wore striped pants in Africa. Well a quick search tells us that Pound here is talking about Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese explorer who explored Africa. Pound is basically making fun of poets and historians who include completely boring details about da Gama's life (like the kind of pants he wore) when they celebrate his accomplishments.
- The final line about mountains in the sea giving birth to troops also seems to be written in a mocking tone. For starters, its totally bad poetry because it mixes and confuses its metaphors. First it says that the waves of the sea were like mountains, then compares these mountains to a womb that can give birth to something. It's a confusing, clumsy image, and Pound once again seems to be making fun of people who try to capture the grand beauty of classical literature but who do a really terrible job of it.
Le vieux commode en acajou;
Beer bottles of various strata.
But is she as dead as Tyro? In seven years?
Eλeνaus, eλανδρος and eλέπτολις,
The sea runs in the beach-groove, shaking the floated pebbles,
- We're back to French again, and yes, Pound is once again quoting from Gustave Flaubert's A Simple Soul (see "Lines 13-15"), and describing the contents of a room. This time, the "vieux commode en acajou" translates as "The old mahogany chest."
- Why we're looking at an old chest is unclear, though it might have something to do with symbolizing the chest of memories or knowledge that Pound has inside his head.
- But now we're talking about beer bottles again, which means we're back to focusing on how a simple thing like litter can show a ton of disrespect for the past and for nature. The fact that there are beer bottles also suggests that modern people just want to numb their brains instead of concentrating on what good hard work and study can bring to them.
- Next thing we know, Pound is talking about the owner of the room he's standing in, asking if she is "as dead as Tyro? In seven years?" For starters, Tyro was the name of a beautiful mythical nymph who was raped by the sea-god Poseidon. To ask if the female owner of the room is as dead as this nymph seems to ask whether or not the modern world has corrupted and killed this woman, who, don't forget, is a general symbol for beauty in Pound's mind.
- The next line throws out three Greek words that sound like "Helen," as in Helen of Troy, the ultimate symbol of female beauty. But these Greek words are actually puns that translate as "Destroyer of ships," "Destroyer of men," "Destroyer of cities." So in this case, the beauty of Helen actually made men so crazy that they went to war and killed each other.
- Yep, this is the dangerous side of beauty, and it is no doubt part of the reason that modern folks tend to avoid beauty, since they're more interested in playing things safe than having crazy up-and-down emotions. Pound, though, would simply say you were passionate.
- These lines end with an image of the sea running through a groove in the beach sand. Pound comes back to this same image a lot in Canto II, and it seems to be a way for him to keep his thoughts grounded in nature, which has a way of always calmly repeating itself, like the rise and fall of an ocean tide.
- But it looks like this calming image doesn't work, because Pound's passion bursts through in the next line. He screams out the name "Eleanor!" which is a reference to both Helen of Troy and Eleanor of Aquitaine, two symbols of classic feminine beauty.
- The urgency with which Pound makes this cry suggests that he's starting to despair about ever finding the beauty he hopes to find in modern life.
The scarlet curtain throws a less scarlet shadow;
Lamplight at Buovilla, e quel remir,
And all that day
Nicea moved before me
And the cold gray troubled her not
For all her naked beauty, bit not the tropic skin,
And the long slender feet lit on the curb's marge
And her moving height went before me,
We alone having being.
- It's time to talk about curtains. Make that scarlet curtains. And apparently Pound wants to talk about how a scarlet curtain creates a shadow that's less scarlet. Which makes total sense, considering that shadows are usually just black.
- But when you think about it, Pound is probably being symbolic here (isn't he always?). He's talking about the shadow of something being less colorful than the original. And when you think about what Pound's been talking about throughout Canto VII, he's probably referring to the way that modern attempts at classical beauty are mere "shadows" that are way less colorful and beautiful than the things they're trying to imitate.
- And of course, we're not done with jumping around yet. Not by a long shot. Now we're hearing about "Lamplight at Buovilla."
- And yes, it's another totally obscure reference. Buovilla is an allusion to Guillem de Buovilla, a French dude who lived in the 1100s. A famous poet named Arnaut Daniel (whom Pound adored) decided that he really liked Buovilla's wife. This line is quoted from one of Daniel's poems, where he dreams about finding Mrs. Buovilla by lamplight and kissing her. So Pound's giving us a nice bit of romance here, even though it's a romance that can never come to anything. Hopefully Pound doesn't feel the same way about finding love and beauty in the modern world. But he might.
- Pound's not done with his reference to beautiful women just yet, either. In line 63 he alludes to "Nicea" who moves in front of him. Nicea is another name for Helen of Troy, and Pound seems to see her in a dreamlike vision, where the "cold gray" of the boring modern world doesn't give her any trouble. Her beauty is too strong to be affected by it.
- And Helen doesn't need any fancy makeup or clothes to look beautiful. For Pound, she has a "naked beauty" and "long slender feet." In other words, Helen has a natural, classical beauty that the modern world should appreciate better, but doesn't. People just want whoever's on the cover of Maxim magazine.
- And as the dream-image of Helen moves in front of Pound, he feels like the two of them "alone [have] being." In other words, he's sort of saying that only Helen and himself actually exist, compared to everyone and everything else. But we know for a fact that other people exist, so what's Pound getting at? Well he's probably saying that there's a substance to beauty that makes him and Helen more real than superficial people. Helen is beautiful, and Pound feels like he's the only one who can appreciate her beauty. So in this sense, he feels like he and Helen are the only ones who "have being."
And all that day, another day:
Thin husks I had known as men,
Dry casques of departed locusts
speaking a shell of speech…
Propped between chairs and table…
Words like the locust-shells, moved by no inner being,
A dryness calling for death.
- After a break in the poem, Pound takes us to another place and time, signaling the shift by talking about "another day." But he definitely doesn't seem to be happy in this new place. Here, he talks about "Thin husks [he] had known as men." But what does he mean by this?
- Well a husk is basically a shell or outer covering, so for him to say that he's in the company of shells he had known as men suggests that the men he's talking about have totally lost their substance for him. They aren't quite human or real to him, not in the same way the ghost of Helen's beauty is.
- And when it comes to seeing the men he knows as less real than himself, Pound compares them to the "Dry casques of departed locusts / speaking a shell of speech…" For starters, locusts are bugs that look like this. They're known as pests because they tend to destroy crops and lead to famines. But another thing you should know about them is that every now and then, they shed their shells and grow fresh ones, leaving their old shells or "casques" behind.
- So for Pound to compare these men and the words they speak to the dry shells left behind by locusts suggests that there's absolutely no substance to their personalities or to what they say. Plus, the connection to locusts suggests that these men actually affect humanity in a negative way. After all, when farmers talk about locusts, they usually have plans of exterminating them.
- So yeah, the men Pound is talking about here are probably representatives of the modern world. They have no substance in their personalities, since they are "moved by no inner being" or spirit. They are like dry shells, and their words have a "dryness calling for death." Or in other words, Pound is asking us what the point of living is if there is no worth to who we are or the things we say?
- It's pretty darn harsh, but then again, so is Pound. In the modern world, we make a bunch of small talk with each other about superficial things, like our new phones or the clothes we wear. Pound thinks we should focus on more important things, or else we're doomed to be like the dried shells of locusts, mere husks of the people we could have been.
Another day, between walls of a sham Mycenian,
"Toc" sphinxes, sham-Memphis columns,
And beneath the jazz a cortex, a stiffness or stillness,
The older shell, varnished to lemon colour,
Brown-yellow wood, and the no colour plaster,
Dry professorial talk…
- Pound is still reminiscing about "another day" when he was talking to husks of men. He elaborates on his setting here when he says that he was talking to these men "between walls of a sham Mycenian."
- The word Mycenian here refers to the Mycenaean Age of Ancient Greece, meaning that the room is decorated in a bunch of tacky stuff that tries to make it look like Ancient Greece. So it sounds like we're back in the phony room Pound first started describing back in line 16. The imitation or "Toc" sphinx statues and "sham" columns helps confirm how bad a job the room is doing in imitating he beauty of the Ancient world.
- Pound drives home his point about the room's phoniness when he claims that there is a "stiffness or stillness" beneath all of this fake decoration. There's nothing living beneath all of it. It's all just a shell, like the modern men who inhabit it.
- And even though these men might be well educated, it doesn't mean that their words have any real meaning. For Pound, all of their talk is just "Dry professorial talk…" His use of ellipsis here leaves it to our imaginations to think of how boring and uninspired these men and their words are.
- But where's the hope, Ezra? Where's the hope?
now stilling the ill beat music,
House expulsed by this house, but not extinguished.
Square even shoulders and the satin skin,
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,
A petrification of air.
- It's pretty clear to Pound that his audience still doesn't understand how awful it is to be in a room with the modern men he's talking about. So now he says that the men's dry talk "still[s] the ill beat music." Or in other words, there might have been music playing in the room, but it gets silenced by the old men and their dry conversation. Nothing musical or even remotely beautiful can exist in their presence, not even music that's rough and "ill beat."
- But what is Pound getting at with the phrase "House expulsed by this house, but not extinguished"? How can a house expel or banish another house? Well when you think of how Pound has been jumping between different times in this poem, he might be talking about how the new, tacky decorations in the house have ruined the beauty that might have once belonged to the same house. In this sense, renovations have erased the history of what was once a great house.
- But Pound insists that there's still a trace of greatness left in this house. It might be covered over by lame decorations, but its presence is "not extinguished."
- Now we're back to hearing about the woman Pound's been looking for. You remember, the one who symbolizes beauty, and whom Pound can't seem to find. Well he seems to have another vision of her here, imagining her square shoulders and satin skin. But unfortunately, her cheeks are "gone," which suggests that these beautiful features are no longer present in the room.
- It might also mean that the woman herself is "gone," and Pound might be using the image of her beautiful cheeks as a metonymy that represents the entire woman.
- Instead of the woman being at the center of the room, all we get is the "old dead dry talk" of the old men in the room. Worse still, all of this dry talk "makes stiff about [the woman] a glass." If you close your eyes and picture it, you can almost see the beautiful woman dancing into the room; but all of the old men's boring conversation creates a glass bottle around the woman, turning her into an object or specimen instead of a living, beautiful person.
- The "petrification of air" line reinforces the idea that the men's talk can even turn something as fluid as air into something stiff, motionless, and dead.
The old room of the tawdry class asserts itself.
The young men, never!
Only the husk of talk.
- In case we've missed the point until now, Pound states his case directly when he says that the "old room of the tawdry class asserts itself." So in other words, the old room is the symbolic room he's been talking about throughout this poem, the room that's full of tacky decorations and boring old men.
- When he says that these people are a "tawdry class," Pound means that these men and their "type" are all tawdry, which means that they're showy in a cheap, tacky way.
- Before we know it, we suddenly hear someone saying "The young men, never!" It's important to remember that Pound was a fairly young man when he was writing this poem. So here, he's probably talking about how the old men in the room will never listen to anything that young men have to say.
- This is part of why Pound thinks these men are old and bitter. They have no interest in hearing any new ideas. So they just sit around and talk about boring things with no substance, which is "only the husk of talk."
O voi che siete in piccioletta barca,
Dido choked up with sobs for her Sicheus
Lies heavy in my arms, dead weight
Drowning with tears, new Eros,
And the life goes on, mooning upon bare hills;
- Hooray, Pound is writing in another language again. This time, he's chosen Italian, and the line translates as "You there who sits in the little boat." The line is from Dante Alighieri's long poem Paradiso, and it shows the poet Dante comparing his poem to the ocean, warning the reader that they'll get lost in it if they don't follow his instructions closely.
- Pound could be saying the same thing of his own poem, which is super easy to get lost in. But he's kind of telling us this a bit late in the game, don't you think? It would've been better to warn us about how tough this poem was back at line 1.
- In any case, we move on. And now Pound is talking about someone named Dido, who is "choked up with sobs for her Sicheus." A quick Google search tells us that Dido was the queen of the ancient city of Carthage. Sicheus was Dido's husband, and he went and got himself murdered, which caused Dido to mourn him for the rest of her life. She even refused to ever remarry.
- But why would Pound bring up Dido and her dead husband? Well if you think about it, Pound spends a lot of this poem mourning the loss of beauty in the world, and he refuses to give up on beauty and to just accept the modern world and move on. So in that sense, he's kind of like Dido, faithful to the beauty he's lost no matter how impossible it might be to get it back.
- Like the body of Sicheus, the beauty Pound is looking for seems to "Li[e] heavy in my arms, dead weight." We've definitely reached a despairing part of the poem at this point, where Pound finds himself "Drowning with tears" like the old queen Dido and feeling like the only reason for him to live—beauty—is dead and gone from the world forever.
- Again, Pound seems to return to an image of the peacefulness of nature when his emotions get too strong to bear anymore.
- Even as he finds himself holding the dead body of beauty and crying to himself, he realizes that "life goes on, mooning upon bare hills." In other words, the moonlight still shines down on hills the same way it always did, just like the tides of the ocean rise and fall. At his moments of greatest despair, Pound seems to find comfort in the idea that the natural world keeps doing its thing, no matter how low humanity sinks.
Flame leaps from the hand, the rain is listless,
Yet drinks the thirst from our lips,
solid as echo,
Passion to breed a form in shimmer of rain-blur;
- What's all of this about flame leaping from someone's hand? Is it Pound's hand? Is he saying that he's suddenly turned into Pyro from X-Men?
- Well not exactly. He's probably talking about symbolic fire, which would stand for courage and creativity, which might leap from a painter or writer's hand.
- But even as this flame of creativity leaps from the hand (a hopeful image), we find out that it's also raining and that the rain is "listless." This rain threatens to put out the flame in the artist's hand, and the fact that it's "listless" suggests that grayness and depression are still threatening to put out the flame of passion and genius in Pound's heroic figure.
- But wait a second. Pound goes with a triple-switch when he reverses his meaning one more time and says that the rain "drinks the thirst from our lips." The image of curing someone's thirst is scattered throughout the Bible, and it usually refers to salvation and the curing of sickness. So here, Pound is suggesting that the image of rain can actually be a good one, promising relief from our spiritual thirst.
- Finally, Pound mentions "Passion" and suggests that the artist's fiery passion can create or "breed" a "form in shimmer of rain-blur." In other words, even though the symbolic grey rain of the modern world threatens to put out the artist's passion and fire, the artist can still create something, a "form" of some kind, even though this form has to shine through the "shimmer of rain-blur."
- To put it bluntly, Pound says that the genius artist can still create new things in the modern world, even though the grey, dull forces of this world are always working against him.
But Eros drowned, drowned, heavy-half dead with tears
For dead Sicheus.
Life to make mock of motion:
For the husks, before me, move,
The words rattle: shells given out by shells.
- Pound really can't seem to make up his mind about whether the symbolic rain he's talking about is a good thing or a bad thing.
- Last time we checked, he was suggesting that the rain represented the dull, grey feelings of the modern world; but he also argued that the genius artist could find a way to create beauty in spite of this dullness.
- Well now, Pound is saying that "Eros" or desire is "drowned, drowned, heavy-half dead with tears." Basically, Pound has spent the last dozen lines or two moving between hope and despair, sometimes in a single line. He's really worked up, but can't decide if he's hopeful or not about what the future holds for beauty and art. He's still crying "For dead Sicheus," which means he's still mourning the loss of beauty in the world.
- Further, when Pound talks about "Life to make mock of motion," he's getting back to his earlier ideas about modern people just being shells of the people they could be. For Pound, beauty is connected to life, to energy, and to motion. But in line 103, he says that modern life "make[s] mock of motion." In other words, everything is still, silent, and dead in the modern world, and Pound feels like the modern world not only neglects beauty and motion; it actively mocks it and dances on its grave.
- Returning to his images of shells and husks, Pound says he's still watching a bunch of men who are just shells, and listening to their "words rattle" like empty shells. In order to have meaning, words have to be connected to some idea of beauty. And since this is gone in the modern world, Pound just sees a bunch of shells talking to other shells.
The live man, out of lands and prisons,
Shakes the dry pods,
Probes for old wills and friendships, and the big locust-casques
Bend to the tawdry table,
Lift up their spoons to mouths, put forks in cutlets,
And make sound like the sound of voices.
- So who's this "live man" who shows up in line 106? Well if you recall that Pound is referring to modern folk as a bunch of old, dead men who talk to each other with dead talk, you have to imagine that Pound thinks of the "live man" as himself or the artist-hero who seems to be narrating this poem (hence our willingness to call the speaker Pound).
- This live man has apparently travelled through lands and stayed in "prisons," which makes sense, considering that the boring modern world hasn't provided him with the freedom to create beautiful things.
- He "shakes the dry pods" of the world around him, and these dry pods likely refer to the locust shells that Pound associates with bitter and boring modern men.
- The artist uses every talent he has to try and "shake" these people, to find something in them that's still worth saving. He searches inside these people, "Probes" them and looks for "old wills and friendships."
- In other words, he's trying to find some sort of emotion in these old men that he can connect with. But it all seems to be in vain, as the "locust-casques/ Bend to the tawdry table."
- The table in this instance is likely a dining room table, where you can picture all of the boring, pointless talk that these shell-men would exchange over dinner. "How about this weather we've been having?" they might say. They aren't saying anything deep or relevant – just empty talk to fill the silence.
- And for Pound, you can't even say that these men have voices, because a voice is something you use to say something worthwhile. Instead, these men just "make sound like the sound of voices."
Being more live than they, more full of flames and voices.
Ma si morisse!
Credesse caduto da se, ma is morisse.
- Okay, so the first thing we have to figure out here is who Lorenzaccio is. Well another quick Google search tells us that this was the nickname of Lorenzo de Medici (1515-1547 C.E.), a dude from the wealthy and powerful Medici family who murdered his cousin Alessandro because Alessandro was a tyrant as the duke of Florence, Italy.
- In line 113, Pound argues that the murderer Lorenzo is "more live than" the old men with dry, withered voices. Pound likely argues this because even though Lorenzo was a murderer, at least the dude was willing to get off the couch and do something.
- At least he was full of passion (i.e. flames) and committed acts that actually meant something (had a voice).
- In this sense, Pound is willing to endorse people who commit violent outrageous acts, since he feels like even bad actions are better than doing nothing at all. Then again, this kind of thinking might have some connection to the fact that Pound eventually became a supporter of Fascist Italy and was later convicted of treason in the U.S. (source).
- The next two lines of this section are in Italian, and they translate as: "But if he should die! / It would [not] be believed that he fell by himself." This is an allusion to the fact that Lorenzo initially wanted to kill his cousin Alessandro by throwing him off a high wall.
- But he eventually chose another method, because he wasn't sure that people would believe Alessandro fell off the wall by accident. In other words, Lorenzo might have been extreme in committing murder, but at least he thought through what he was doing and didn't sit around while his cousin acted like a tyrant.
And the tall indifference moves,
a more living shell,
Drift in the air of fate, dry phantom, but intact,
- Whew, we're getting close to the end of this very, very tricky poem. But Pound isn't letting up on us at all.
- He starts talking about how he's looking at a "tall indifference" that moves in front of him like a "more living shell." Well the mention of tall indifference definitely suggests that the dull, grey, depressed feeling of the modern world hasn't gone away. It's just gotten taller.
- The fact that the indifference has started to "move," though, does suggest that some sort of change has happened. There's a sign of life in the dead shells Pound has confronted throughout this poem.
- And now instead of a completely dead shell, he finds himself looking at "a more living shell." It's still only a shell, mind you, but the fact that Pound finds the shell moving and more living suggests that something inside the indifference and despair of the modern world has started to come alive. A tiny flame is starting to animate the thing that Pound thought was dead.
- This new sense of beauty and hope still "Drifts in the air of fate," which means that it isn't totally out of the woods yet. It's still drifting and not quite able to exist on its own. It's still a "dry phantom." But there's something in it that's still "intact."
- This might be the beauty Pound's been looking for. Maybe the old men have finally gotten his point. Maybe the modern world is ready to embrace beauty and to get back all of the greatness it has lost.
O Alessandro, chief and thrice warned, watcher,
Eternal watcher of things,
Of things, of men, of passions,
Eyes floating in dry, dark air;
- We're not done with this Alessandro guy yet, even though we know that he got murdered by his cousin Lorenzo 500 years ago. The fact that Alessandro was "thrice warned" is Pound alluding to the fact that according to history, Alessandro was warned three times that someone would try to kill him for being such a mean ruler. As you can already tell, the dude totally ignored these warnings.
- It's strange for Pound to say that Alessandro is an "Eternal watcher of things." It might be because Alessandro has been dead for such a long time. It might also be because Pound ultimately thinks that a tyrant is still a better kind of ruler than some modern, elected person who is only around for four or eight years.
- Rulers like Alessandro de Medici didn't have to worry about term limits. They were elected at birth and made rulers for life.
- And according to Pound, even if these dudes were tyrants, at least they were capable of having an effect on the world.
- That's probably why Pound thinks of Alessandro as a pair of eyes, floating in the darkness and watching the modern world crumble. Alessandro is probably watching all of this and thinking to himself, "So you think I was a tyrant, eh? Well how do you feel about a modern world where everyone gets to vote and nothing ever gets done?"
- It's a case of pick-your-poison. Dictators might be bad or good, but Pound is certain that modern life is bad; so he's willing to go with a dictator, as long as things get done.
E biondo, with glass-gray iris, with an even side-fall of hair
The stiff, still features.
- In the final lines of this poem, Pound uses the Italian phrase "E biondo" to mean "he is blonde." He is still referring to Alessandro Medici here, and he might be referring to the idea that people with blonde hair come from a superior race of humans called The Aryans, an idea that was popular in the 1930s and eventually contributed to the Jewish Holocaust, since Jewish people were wrongly regarded as a lower race than the Aryans.
- In closing, Pound can't help but introduce one last bit of ambiguity into this poem. He describes the eternally watchful Alessandro as having, "stiff, still features." Now throughout this poem, Pound has associated stiffness and stillness with the death, despair, and "dry talk" of modern life. So here, he might be suggesting that the power of Alessandro de Medici has been killed by the averageness and stupidity of the modern, democratic world.
- At the same time, though, there's something about this image that suggests a sort of grave respect that Pound has for this tyrant. It's super hard to tell, and the poem probably couldn't be any more vague about how it wants us to feel at this point.
- Maybe it's a cliffhanger, and Pound just wants us to keep reading through the rest of his Cantos. Then again, maybe Pound himself couldn't make up his mind about tyrants, beauty, and the modern world when he wrote this poem.
- Your call, dear Shmoopers. Your call.