Study Guide

Canto VII Lines 116-124

By Ezra Pound

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Lines 116-124

Lines 116-118

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. 
  • Maybe…

Lines 119-122

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.

Lines 123-124

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.

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