Study Guide

Canto VII Inertia

By Ezra Pound

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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.

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