Study Guide

Canto VII Lines 48-59

By Ezra Pound

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Lines 48-59

Lines 48-53

"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.

Lines 54-59

Le vieux commode en acajou;
Beer bottles of various strata.
But is she as dead as Tyro? In seven years?
Eλeνaus, eλανδρος and eλ
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.

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