Study Guide

Canto VII Lines 16-27

By Ezra Pound

Lines 16-27

Lines 16-20

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.

Lines 21-27

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.