'76, One World and the Cantos of Ezra Pound

'76, One World and the Cantos of Ezra Pound

'76, One World and the Cantos of Ezra Pound

'76, One World and the Cantos of Ezra Pound


Read's revolutionary work postulates that there is a hidden key to Pound's lifework, a hermetic coherence created from a pagan calendar that Pound devised and published in 1922 and from the Great Seal and Constitution of the United States. From these Reed extrapolates an elaborate combination of heraldry, numerology, and geometry that he applies to Pound's entire poetic work. Discussing each canto separately, Read shows that the designs, paradigms, and arcana were deliberately constructed.


Though Ezra Pound (1885-1972) is acknowledged one of the inventors of twentieth-century poetry, his own poetry still raises controversies about its subject matter, its intelligibility, and its aesthetic values while the man remains notorious for having seemed to be a vituperative anti-Semite and a fascist. Both he and his poetry have been charged with ideological immorality or obtuseness. For broadcasting from fascist Italy to America during World War II he was indicted for treason. Declared mentally unfit to stand trial he spent thirteen years in an American government asylum. in 1958, without having stood trial, he was released as incurably insane.

Amid controversies he either responded to his accusers obliquely and evasively or seemed to confirm the charges with cocky self-assurance. in 1963 he reportedly asserted himself to have been wrong all his life and repudiated his works. After 1963 he lapsed into enigmatic silence. Yet he continued to publish additions to his long epic The Cantos, read parts of the poem in public, and recorded parts on tape. the work, the reputation, and the man have become virtually a myth. "The Pound myth" has clouded almost all efforts to understand and assess what he did and its value.

Whenever he was pressed or spoke directly to the point—and the whole drift and tenor of his life bear it out—Pound asked to be judged by his work. Refusal to answer various charges can be explained largely by a poet's desire to be read in his own time and to await judgment from succeeding generations. But reticence about his poetry did not begin with the political controversies or the treason charges. Although from the beginning of his career he allowed himself to be overheard in essays and prose books, he was always reserved about what he was doing and how he was doing it. Guardedness about both the large outline and its details fostered the assumption that he had no form of his own but was using forms derived from other poets in order to comprehend ideas and materials that came to hand. Publication begun in 1917 proceeded until, when he died in 1972, nearly 120 cantos had reached some 800 pages issued in a series of instalments, the last fragmentary. "Work in progress" always caused readers to await completion, assured by Pound that a form would then appear. the assumption of provisionality and the fragmentary ending are still precluding any accurate, convincing description of the intention, the subject, the form, and the end.

Problems of reading The Cantos have all involved the kinds of intelligibility needed for and expected from a long poem. What is the argument? Does an overall form relate or integrate the parts? How can we read a poem constituted of so much unfamiliar history and containing so many elliptical allu-

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