Study Guide

Canto VII Themes

  • Inertia

    Of all the images you'll find in Canto VII, the image comparing old men to the shells left behind by locusts is probably one of the most central ones. For Ezra Pound, there's really no insult you can pay someone that's worse than calling them hollow.

    Pound, see, doesn't think of evil as a negative force that exists inside someone, like, say, a demon or something. Instead, he thinks of evil as the absence of any substance or life inside a person, and this is what he's trying to convey with his images of shells and locusts. Basically, he's saying that modern men have reached a point of total inertia, where they aren't motivated to listen to any new ideas. And that's bad. Pound sees inertia as his greatest obstacle in bringing beauty back into the modern world. After all, it's one thing to expose people to something truly beautiful; it's another thing to make them care.

    Questions About Inertia

    1. Do you agree with Pound's judgment of modern people as being too complacent and too full of inertia to contribute anything meaningful to the world? Do you think modern people are less motivated to do great things than people in the past? Why or why not?
    2. When Pound says that modern people and the things they say are totally empty and hollow, what do you think he means? What exactly is missing from inside these people? What does Pound have that they apparently don't?
    3. Do you agree that one of the biggest problems with our culture is that old people are too stuck in their ways to listen to the fresh ideas of younger generations? Why or why not?
    4. Do you think Pound's aggressive style of arguing is ultimately an effective one? Is it good for him to label modern men as his enemies and to try to shame them into learning more about poetry? Or do you think it'd be more effective for him to try to get readers on his side?

    Chew on This

    When he talks about the inertia of the modern world, Pound basically says that there's no hope for the future. Canto VII is a eulogy for a bygone time when beauty could exist in the world.

    In Canto VII, Pound thinks of the modern poet as someone who "shakes the dry pods" (107) of modern minds, trying to open their eyes and hearts up to the possibility of true beauty.

  • Women & Femininity

    Pound has a tendency to use figures of women to symbolize his ideal of classical beauty. And at first, you might think, "Oh that's great. He thinks of women as being beautiful and great." The problem is that when you put someone up on a pedestal like that, you end up totally objectifying that person and turning her into an object instead of treating her like an actual human being, which is kind of what he does in Canto VII. Human beings are not perfect, and we don't exactly do other people any favors when we treat them as if they are.

    Questions About Women & Femininity

    1. What do you think of Pound's portrayal of women and femininity in Canto VII? Do you think his use of women is a positive one, on the whole? Why or why not?
    2. Do you think Pound has any hope of finding the beauty that he symbolizes through the figure of the ideal woman? What barriers are in his way? Try to use direct evidence from the text to support your answer. 
    3. When Pound is wandering through the old house and knocking at the doors, why doesn't the beautiful woman answer him? What does this absence/silence symbolize for the poem as a whole?

    Chew on This

    In Canto VII, Pound's tendency to idealize beautiful women actually ends up turning these women into objects, just like Pound accuses modern people of doing when he says that their talk "make stiff about [the woman] a glass" (87).

    At the end of the day, Pound's tendency to idealize women is totally a good thing, because it means he's looking up to women instead of down at them.

  • Society and Class

    It can be tough to pick up on, but one of Pound's biggest beefs in Canto VII is with the middle class. That's right—the people who make a good salary but who aren't rich enough to be part of the so-called leisure class. For Pound, these people have a tendency to care more about money than anything else. The problem, though, is that they have just enough education to try to look like they know about classic art and all that jazz. In the end, though, they just end up being a bunch of posers, and Pound really can't stand the way they infect classic beauty with their boring, ignorant lives.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. Do you buy the connection Pound is making between the fall of the modern world and the money-hungry middle class? Do you think the middle class is really to blame for cheapening our modern ideas of beauty? Why or why not?
    2. What is the connection Pound draws between the middle class and the cheap, tacky house decorations (columns and sphinxes) that are supposed to look like classic architecture? How are these decorations symbolic of the problems with the middle class?
    3. Do you think Pound is suggesting that only the rich, leisured classes should be allowed to determine what good and bad art is? Does these people's freedom from financial concerns make them better judges of beauty, since they don't care about how much things cost?

    Chew on This

    In Canto VII, Pound suggests that the middle class is a scourge on beauty, since these people don't know what they're talking about, but they have a lot of influence over society's concept of style and "good" art.

    In Canto VII, Pound blames the fall of modern culture on the rise of the middle class, because this class cares only about money and practical things, and they have no idea what classic beauty or great art actually is.

  • Principles

    You might not agree with everything (or anything) Pound has to say in Canto VII. But you have to admit that the guy's pretty consistent when it comes to his principles. For Pound, all that really matters is beauty—and not your modern magazine idea of beauty. He's talking about the kind of beauty that people used to celebrate in classic times and the middle ages. In short, Pound is extremely nostalgic in his principles. He wants to bring all the greatness of bygone eras into the modern world. But the truth is that even if he could do this, he'd still find something wrong with it. That's what nostalgia is all about. You can say that things were better in the past, quite frankly, because there's no way of going back and proving whether you're right or wrong.

    Questions About Principles

    1. Do you agree with Pound's notion that the most important aspect of life is the experience of beauty and what comes out of it? Why or why not? What's more important, if anything is?
    2. Do you think Pound has a bit of a messiah complex? Do you think it's okay for someone to think of themselves as trying to change the course of human history? What are the upsides to this kind of ambition? What are the downsides? 
    3. If you could find one line from Canto VII to sum up what Pound is trying to accomplish in this poem, what line would it be and why?
    4. What exactly does Pound mean when he claims that modern people are hollow and that they don't have any "life" inside them?
    5. What exactly is "life" for Pound?

    Chew on This

    In Canto VII, Pound lays out many of the principles that will obsess him for his entire Cantos project. And there is no principle more important to him than the principle of beauty.

    In Canto VII, Pound waffles back and forth between hope and despair over whether or not beauty can exist in the modern world. And in the end, he seems to get stuck at a midway point between the two feelings.