‘“ both eyes, (the loss of) and to find someone
who talked his own dialect. We
talked of every boy and girl in the valley
but when he came back from leave
he was sad because he had been able to feel
all the ribs of his cow ….”’
The Pisan Cantos, 76: 190-194
In the Book of Isaiah, the prophet speaks of the final days when God shall judge the nations and people, and the worthy who remain “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks” (The Bible, Isiah 2.4). God is saying the righteous shall know peace, yet Pound paints a far more pessimistic picture for the wounded young men who are returning home from war. The man’s cow has been poorly treated, it can provide little sustenance, and may even be near death which could devastate a poor farmer who relies on his livestock not just to eat but also to produce an income. Yet beyond just this farmer’s situation, Pound reveals how the whole natural world has been mistreated during the war, that so much which requires care has been neglected, that what the young men were off fighting for was dying in their absence.
In the time of Isaiah, a cow might also provide the meat of the sacrifice needed to maintain the covenant with God, yet could such a starved beast be worthy enough for God? Perhaps this farmer is sad because he finds himself in a similar situation with Cain whose sacrifices were not respected by God. Perhaps the farmer senses the beast’s exposed ribs as evidence of the distance he and God have grown apart and he is reminded of how much killing he was involved with during the war. And, like Cain whose sacrifice was rejected by God because he assumed it was his works alone, not faith, which would grant him favor, the farmer may see his reprieve from war as merely a temporary situation – he is only on leave after all, which is ironic since he has lost both his eyes and yet the army still expects him back at some point.
As the farmer touches his starving cow he is reminded of the endless and fruitless toil of his lonely existence. While “We” have the luxury to gossip about “every boy and girl in the valley”, the farmer, alone, must sustain not only himself, but all of us who depend on him. Just as “We” depended on his service in the Army to protect our lives, “We” continue to depend on him to feed and nourish us. Yet how can he provide for so many when his cow has been starved? How much life can he wring out of the land and livestock? How much life is even left in the earth which has been bombed and blasted and turned into a moonscape of rubble? If the cow cannot eat, how can “We”? The entire fate of existence seems to rest upon a blind man and his starving cow.
Starved of faith, food, and friendship, the farmer and his cow resemble the most horrific terrors of war. The cow’s exposed ribs resemble the millions who were starved in concentration camps: men, women, and children who in broad daylight were rounded up while their fellow citizens did nothing. Where was God when endless trainloads of people were turned into ash in a perverted sacrifice to evil? Where was God when everyone else let it happen? Why did “We” not sustain our neighbors with the bravery required to stand up to injustice, to sacrifice ourselves in an act of pure faith in God that could have saved millions? Yet we willingly went blind and so God rejected our empty actions. “We” only “talked of every boy and girl in the valley”, not acted in their defense.
Yet while this poor farmer took up the call of his nation, would it not have been better had he stayed home? Was the cause he fought for righteous? Was the nation he killed for virtuous, or did he take part in an act of complete barbarity, blindly following the rallying cry of a corrupt state? Perhaps “We” who “talked of every boy and girl in the valley” are like the women in Siegfried Sassoon’s “Glory of Women” who, having also succumb to the state’s propaganda, gave a white feather to all the young men who believed
wars” (78: 224-228).
This blind farmer, who carries with him the memory of war, speaks with the unique “dialect” of wartime experience that the boys and girls of the valley are ignorant of. Yes, he is blind, and he may try to tell them that pursuing senseless violence against each other only leads to misery, but he might as well be speaking a dead language to deaf ears. In fact, he is speaking for the dead, a “dialect” that no one living wants to understand. And in this sense Pound and the farmer are deeply connected at the center beating heart of this Canto. The cow’s ribs resemble the bars on Pound’s cell, and Pound’s efforts to connect all of history, time, truth, and memory are only seen by the camp psychologists as curious scribbled poetry and not the cry of all human experience that begs to be heard by every boy and girl and even Presidents.
And now “We” reap what “We” have sown: a God who seems to have turned his back on all of humanity as he did with Cain, a starving cow, and a blind farmer who laments his fate because whom he placed his faith in turned out to be a false God, like the golden calf in the desert.
Yet perhaps there is hope here, too. Pound writes “he was sad because he had been able to feel”, and this line in isolation reveals that the farmer is still capable of feeling, even if it sadness and even if it does not follow sight. The farmer has not been totally deprived of his humanity, he is still capable of intense emotion even after suffering though the horrors of war. The farmer reaches out to his cow, starved as it is, and places his hand on the animal, comforts the beast with the simple gesture of a gentle, caring touch. He reconnects with what for so long he had been away from and begins the process of healing, of creating life rather than taking it. His first act home is not to pick up the hammer and beat his blood-soaked sword into a ploughshare, but to simply allow himself to be reminded of his connection with life.
Pound creates a humble scene of this blind farmer caressing his cow between the gentle sloping green-grassy hills below the snowy mountain peaks as if the entire weight of this single act of human kindness was enough to impress a sacred spot “in the valley” that could shelter and nurture all those with enough faith who chose to live there. He is like Moses descended from the surrounding mountains into the valley below to bring the true law – righteousness – to those who have been starved with false faith in the bombed-out desert wasteland they themselves created. This gift may seem meager and nearly incapable of sustaining life, but the farmer can offer his starving cow to provide the nourishment the soul requires.
Thus the farmer seems to be existing in two possible states: one in which he has been forsaken in a wilderness of death, and another where he is like the shepherd who, though blind, through kindness, can lead his starving flock out of the valley of the shadow of death because he has faith God is still with him, will restore his soul, and will prepare a table for him in the presence of his enemies. The cow still lives and thus God has maintained the sacrament in kind. The farmer can now either choose to accept this offering or turn his back because it appears too meager.
This is a critical moment for the farmer and Pound uses the ellipses to denote the uncertainty of what the outcome shall be. Pound is requiring each of us to complete the image, to freely choose which direction we will walk. Do we listen to Pound’s and the farmer’s strange “dialect” and put down our swords to be beaten into ploughshares so that the life of the farm can increase? Or do we turn our backs and send Pound and the farmer back to war, their eyes missing though they see far better than any of us do?
Additional Works Cited
The Bible, King James Version. Bible Hub, 2018. biblehub.com, https://biblehub.com/kjv/isaiah/2.htm.
The First Elegy
What is within us is larger than us; we contain it and it contains us.
How can we look at an angel? How terrifying would that be to be confronted with an existence so much greater than ourselves but also one which can hardly detect if we are among the living or the dead? But even in the face of beauty, how do we really comprehend it? What is beauty? It’s not something we can point to as an object, in fact it almost has nothing to do with appearances at all – it’s a feeling, like the impression of the presence of an angel.
He writes, “how little at home we are / in the interpreted world” and I feel this line is very sad because it feels as if we will always fall short of experiencing the world as it truly is, as if we have to fall on words and impressions of things because if we were to be confronted with reality – angels (which is ironic, I suppose) – we would be consumed, overwhelmed, eradicated of all individuality. Perhaps this is what the Platonist’s mean by The Forms in that we cannot touch the One, true thing, we only live in shadows and interpretations of them. Yet perhaps beauty is the sort of energy or language the form of anything gives off and that allows us to we aware of it at all. Perhaps this is how something bigger than ourselves can be contained within ourselves.
The world feels so full of possibility (good and bad) in “the night, when the wind is full of worldspace”. We can imagine anything – infinity – within the confines of our mind, in the safety of darkness. Yet we don’t possess this infinity because we are not like the animals who live in infinity, we are forever qualifying the world. Better to “Cast the emptiness from your arms / into the spaces we breathe: perhaps the birds / will sense the increase of air with more passionate flying”. Infinity exists in the smallest possible spaces and moments, such in a wave or “a violin” playing from an “open window”. Those are the moments we remember, because those are the infinities of beauty, yet we are “always / distracted by expectation” of something more “real” which isn’t real at all, but fleeting and transitory.
Funny, too how in death is the eternal – the hero who “lives on. Even in his downfall”. We are almost closer to living in death than we are when we live, but we must rely on each other. Imagine how strange it is that we carry around everyone who has ever lived inside of us, and for those who we’ve loved take up an even larger portion of our souls, as if they too are larger than us, yet are within us. No wonder angels can’t tell if we are alive or dead, so slight is the difference to them.
“God’s voice” can be heard clearly “on the wind’s breathing” and it’s so simple to understand. Yet we cling so hard to the customs and traditions of living that we have to be literally ripped from this world in our “final birth”. We want to wish, to think of the future of our lives and it’s too strange to “not go on wishing one’s wishes” and to prepare and plan for death with as little left undone as possible, but does the wind care if it is finished anything? Does the word of God ever stop? Does beauty? Why do we worry so much about the dead? Why do we need them so much more than they need us?
ATTN: Lieutenant Colonel John L. Steele
7103rd Disciplinary Training Company
United States Army, Metato, Italy
June 15, 1945
Re: Ezra Weston Loomis Pound
After a thorough examination of Ezra Weston Loomis Pound’s mental state, it is my professional opinion that while the patient displays “no paranoia, delusions nor hallucinations” and there is “no evidence of psychosis, neurosis or psychopathy,” his “prolonged exposure in present environment may precipitate a mental breakdown, of which premonitory symptoms are discernible” (XIV). It is my recommendation that the prisoner be moved immediately to more suitable quarters and a “transfer to the United States or to an institution in this theatre with more adequate facilities for care” (XIV) be considered. I am basing my conclusion of the patient’s current mental state on several complicated factors that I ask you to consider.
First, the patient is highly intelligent and imaginative. The patient has granted me access to his journal which, though at first I found to be nearly incomprehensible, has provided valuable insight into his mind after a close and careful reading. For example, the patient is fluent in numerous languages, including ancient Greek, has a strong grasp of Chinese ideograms, and is able to maintain coherence of thought while abruptly switching from one language to the next. In one section of his Cantos, as he calls this journal, he writes of “a sort of dwarf morning-glory / that knots in the grass,” which he follows with the medical term for psychological injury, “sequelae” (37-38). The patient believes he has suffered great psychological trauma and is thus using this passage to express his pain through the image of a small, beautiful flower, which may represent himself, being tangled in a field of grass, which may be significant as he has been detained in cramped, exposed conditions. He goes on to write, in French, “Le paradis n’est pas artificiel” (paradise is not artificial) (38) which in my opinion is his way of expressing that he still has a hope for the future and that his happiness is attainable. He also seems to recognize that he is suffering tremendous psychological stress when he writes “States of mind are inexplicable to us” (38) but then follows, in ancient Greek, with “dakruon” (tears, or weeping) repeated three times as if he is painfully aware how his present psychological state is affecting him emotionally.
Second, the patient is a highly empathetic individual as evidenced in these Cantos with astute observations of idiomatic speech, such as his mimicry of the black prisoners, one of which he transcribes as saying “Hey Snag, what’s in the bibl’ ? / what are the books of the bibl’ ? / Name ‘em! Don’t bullshit me!” (51), but also of his more obscure observations of birds sitting on electrical wires which he interprets and transcribes as musical notation, “with 8 birds on a wire / or rather on 3 wires” (63). Far from turning inward and morose, the patient is keenly aware of every sensation and stimulation around him, but like a SCR-300 used by our Signal Corps which is somehow tuned to every open channel, the patient’s mind seems to be like a new Signal Corps Private who is frantically trying to transpose everything coming in over that SCR-300 receiver faithfully but due to the sheer volume of information is experiencing enormous stress in trying to keep up. If I may be as bold as to sound poetic, it is as if the patient were tuned into the radio broadcast of all human civilization across all time and space and wants to make sense of it all not only for himself, but for everyone alive.
Lastly, the patient retains a firm sense of self in that he expresses very strong opinions about Jews, the economy, and has even requested a meeting with President Truman concerning the state of the Japanese campaign. While this may sound alarming and does seem to reek of arrogance and the grandiose, his opinions remain consistent, strangely coherent, and while often reprehensible and perhaps even treasonous, do not seem to, so far, present an imminent threat to himself or others. Therefore, it is my professional opinion that Ezra Weston Loomis Pound is not insane, he is just an incredibly talented poet. These two conditions are easily confused.
I wish I had an opportunity to have some royal family allow me unfettered access to a castle within which I can just live their and write poetry.
I wonder if this is why I more like poets like Heaney, W.C.W., and people closer to the average human experience?
I’ve never read Rilke before so I have no idea what I’m in for, but I doubt it will be like Pound’s prison poetry.
The doctor is satirized because he isn’t actually doing any real healing, he’s a scam unlike good Arab doctors. He’s also in cahoots with the apothecary because he can just prescribe some drug concoction (cordial) and get a kickback of that sale from the apothecary. Just like today with how drug companies pay (influence) doctors to prescribe expensive drugs and pain killers. Things never change.
The shipman is basically a pirate. Like the lawyer who can use the law for his own gain, the shipman can just hijack someone weaker at sea, take their stuff, and make a profit (probably with a merchants help). These commonors are all connected through the web of the city and finance.
The commons: people like Chaucer. Chaucer would have had a lot of contact with merchants like the one here. This merchant is just like a salesman of today who while they might be broke, they sure look the part so as to gain your trust (get credit).
The sergeant of the law is a lawyer who abuses the system by having foreknowledge of how a case will go and so can make a profit on someone else losing their estate.
The Franklin exists in an in between category that isn’t quite the nobility (he hasn’t paid the knight tax) but is far better off than the lower classes. He’s a “gentleman”. He is a member of parliament.
The Friar has married off all those girls because he got them pregnant. Unlike the aristocratic monk, the friar is of the people (taverns). He hangs with the lower classes and they could hear confession and get a tip for doing so. What’s interesting is that even if a friar was lenient (and just wanted money) the act of confessing was strong enough as to still “count” even if the penance was paid off.
Clerical satire is basically the same as estates satire which focus on the vices, not virtues, of the church.
Though St. Francis was against it, monks could make some good money. Chaucer is showing the monk here as being materialistic and uneducated – he’s probably a second son and just wants to hunt. Hunting = Ven (capture) > venery = Veneral (Venus, sex) & Venare (hunting). This monk hunts women.
The squire is framed against his higher ranking father. The Knight is introduced as the ideal knight, whereas the squire is introduces via his looks.
The knight is already existing in a period of technical decline with the advent of cannons and the Welsh longbow. He’s also a mercenary so his ideal of truth and loyalty goes about as far as who is paying him, unlike, say Galahad and the grail.
We have a military structure / hierarchy right away with the Knight at the top, the squire (his son) below him, and the yeoman at the bottom.
This looks like the military of the day with the knight as the heavy cavalry, the squire as the light cavalry, and the yeoman as the scout. Basic army structure.
Chaucer isn’t just the author, he’s also a pilgrim in the story who is telling the story – and once we get to each tale we are getting that character’s story told through Chaucer the pilgrim written by Chaucer the author.
Estates satire is the model genre here for the knight/squire/yeoman. The vices (not virtues) of their trade is the subject of each occupation.
“And now the ants seem to stagger / as the dawn sun has trapped their shadows, / this breath wholly covers the mountains / it shines and divides / it nourishes by its rectitude / does no injury / overstanding the earth it fills the nine fields / to heaven” Providence? God? Nature? The sun is for everyone, what we do with it is up to us.
“Brother Wasp is building a very neat house” Life toils endlessly.
“Nothing affects these people / Except our conversation” Words are dangerous, news and rumor travels fast (Chaucer’s House of Fame). War can kill us, but it’s our language which really changes things – governments, law, literature, love letters.
“No man who has passed a month in the death cells believes in cages for beasts” Freedom, but is true freedom anarchy? We all freely serve, we’re all in some sort of cage.
“CONversation” Language can be manipulated.
“The news was quicker in Troy’s time” The gods could react a lot quicker than we can.
“O troubled reflection / O Throat, O throbbing heart” See me, not just shadows, hear me, understand me. I sing and I hurt and I want to be understood.
“periplum” is as good a word as any, even if it’s not (formally) a word. Perhaps this is Pound’s “Yes” (from Joyce).
“Pull down thy vanity” Reminds me of Satan who was cast down for vanity / pride.
The problem with the word modern is that it’s been in use for so long now that we can’t really use it now. Modern is old, time has moved on. This is and isn’t modern poetry. When, then ,does this exist?
“Here error is all in the not done” However, “When in doubt, do nothing” Tolstoy. Both are correct.
“I rose through the aureate sky”
Tune the ancient lute to hear the sounds not heard in generations. Language, the old meanings of words “root” – the plant has roots hidden in the earth and words have meaning we aren’t always aware of, but words have meaning. Words are important. In the beginning was the word. I am words.
We are all “centaur[s]” We are half beastly nature, half language rationals. Liminal
“goat bells tinkled all night” Love this image, so peaceful, ancient, but unnatural too since goats don’t naturally wear bells. Also, why are they up all night? Who is tending that flock?
“they beat drums for three days till all the drumheads were busted” Celebration? Violent image, drums of war, not drums of peace.
“Only shadows enter my tent / as men pass between me and the sunset” Like the dead walking around and their ghosts leave a trace. He is secluded from humanity, or maybe the other way around? Impersonal, lonely.
“and God knows what else is left of our London, my London, your London” civilization wrecked? London was Roman, then how many others took control of it, changed hands? What is a society anyway?
Line 705-726″ War is over, “Now that there’s room for doubt” we can see the wreckage left behind after fighting that war, see all the laws we trampled over to win, the rights lost, the history lost, the humanity lost.
“and still there if you climb over the attic rafter; to look at the fields; are they tilled?” Again, the farmer comes home to what? Dying cow? Barn destroyed? Fields full of rockets? Rebuild, rebirth.
“if calm be after tempest / that the ants seem to wobble / as the morning sun catches their shadows” I love this minute detail.
“with a smoky torch thru the unending / labyrinth of the souterrain” Reminds me of the pre-historic people crawling through caves to paint the oxen and lions and horses. Mysterious, reflective.
“The wind is lighter than swansdown / the day moves not at all” Beautiful – like kids summer
“but he climbed about 200 steps of the tower to see what he had seen thru the roof of a barn no longer standing … where he had fired that howitzer and the large eye that found him at its level was a giraffe’s eye at dawn, in his nest, hunting leopards” The killer / soldier has remorse? Haunted by his past? Whom did he kill? War is terrible because it never really ends.
“It is the sons pent up within a man / mumbled old Neptune” Again, the young who riot all over the old, like the trees on the Rue Jacob / Apian Way. We have within us our own enemies who will kill us, we raise them and they might either help us in old age or kill us in another war. The cycle goes on and on. We give birth to ourselves.
“anarchy was the true form of government” Which is funny since even heaven has a government, as does hell.
“The old trees near the Rue Jacob / were propped up to keep them from falling” reminds me of the poplars lining the Apian Way, like old soldiers who can’t stand anymore and need help from the younger generations. Every civilization is built on war.
“It is said that Homer was a medic / who followed the greek armies to Troas” I never heard this before – interesting idea. Poetry following war, art following destruction. Greeks kill, Homer turns the wreckage into art. Homer as doctor for the men with PTSD – gotta keep their spirits up so they’ll keep fighting. Good thing Homer was blind to not see how terrible the war was for them men – his poems would be different
“you can neither eat manuscript not Confucius” Philosophy won’t do you much good when you’re starving. How many good people will steal bread to stay alive then years later denounce a thief? Philosophy is only as good as you are comfortable.
“beyond the stockade there is chaos and nothingness” Funny how a prisoner who wants freedom is also scared of that freedom.
“the warp / and the woof / with a sky wet as ocean / flowing with liquid slate” Beautiful image, if strange.
“they say she could draw down birds from the trees, / that indeed was imperial; but made hell in / the palace” Very funny, but also it’s a capturing of nature and nature’s revolt to be caged. Also, birds will shit on anyone, king or not.
“the problem after any revolution is what to do with / your gunmen”
“but the gas cut off” is a great image of the wreck of nobility sitting around with no money to pay the bills or, at least, because the utilities / utility of the nation has been destroyed. What good is a king if you can’t stay warm in winter?
“grain of an era” & “the bread of that era” Hunger, history, the cow with exposed ribs, all eras are an era of bread – give us our daily bread, o lord (king) give us our gas.
“the young horse whinnies against the sound of the bumm band;” an image of nature reacting terrified against the coming war, or the fear of a young man who is being called up to war, nature’s natural music vs man’s mechanical music.
That lynx watching him is a haunting image, like being able to feel him going madder and growing more paranoid as the cantos go on.
“there / are / no / righteous / wars” No, there aren’t.
“and her hair gone white from the loss of him / and she not yet thirty” So much grief.
“The new Bechstein is electric” – all his birds sit on the electric wires making a new sort of electric music – the sound in the wires visualized by nature – hidden, unseen beauty to be discovered.
“there are those who did not want / it to come to an end” as in the war. McCarthur and (I think Patton too) wanted to roll on to Moscow after the war.
He’s so concerned with money and economics.
“Nothing left here but women” because all the men have been killed in the war. Humanity split in two.
“one might do worse than open a pub on Lake Garda” hope for the future? Plans? But who will visit it?
“It is true that the interest is now legally lower” As in the war? In killing? In life? In history? In empathy? This is such a great line.
“as witness the bombardment at Frascati after the armistice / had been signed” As fast as news / rumor travels, it isn’t faster than our ability to kill each other when we disagree. War travels faster than everything.
“so kissed the earth after sleeping on concrete.” & “in limbo no victories, there, are no victories -” We can change our physical situation but we’re still trapped in the same mind.
“the army vocabulary contains almost 48 words” almost like those apes that can use some sign language – just trained well enough to amuse the zoo keepers, but emotional infants ready to kill.
“Sochy-lism is a-comin’ ” We still hear this talk today, people who talk about something they don’t quite understand – one way or another.
“nothing counts save the quality of the affection” I wonder if this is what Jesus thought / felt as he took on everyone’s sin?
Love how he equates rumor/ news to what’s heard in a shit house.
“the earth belongs to the living” But we can’t seem to shake the ghosts, either.
“from the wreckage of Europe”
“States of mind are inexplicable to us.” The problem of really knowing someone, of really empathizing with someone. These Cantos are an outpouring of Pound’s mind, but do we still know him any better? Is he trying to excuse his treason? Is he asking us to look deeper?
“woe to them that conquer with armies / and whose only right is their power.” Yet the farmer also starves.
“he was sad because he had been able to feel / all the ribs of his cow …” this is a devastating line in the face of all the war that had been going on but it also recalls what happened to the Jews and other people who the Nazi’s terrorized. Also it reminds me of an old Roman soldier returning home after a war and though he’s put down his sword for a plow, he has very little to work with- almost as if war was better
“The word is made perfect” – he uses Chinese symbols, multiple languages, uncommon grammar – all in trying to make the word(s) perfect.
His reference to Joyce is interesting for me because I think Joyce was far more successful in making a very similar point that Pound is making.
“And the effect of the movies” = propaganda? Probably.
Stalin has no sense of humor. No, no he did not.
Aram vult nemus = the grove waits an altar, meaning altars were usually found near groves. Eden allusion? Is that why he mentions Lucrezia Borgia, the old femme fatale as a sort of Eve?
tentflaps again, this time no mint. Circus? Reminds me of the whale from Werckmeister Harmonies – total show.
Old world, new world compared.
“We couldn’t sell anything modern”.
He goes on about the Jews then leads into economics. I guess this is his antisemitism rearing its ugly head.
He equates the Russian NEP with “the immolation of men to machinery” – excellent line and observation to equate man, machine, fire, life, death, rebirth all in one.
“philosophy is not for young men” reminds me of no country for old men.
Chaucer would not have liked Pound.
Beauty is difficult.
“The wind is part of the process / The rain is part of the process” everything is a process, but towards what?
Aeneas = Dido?
Ugolino was the traitor politician in Dante’s frozen hell eating the brains of archbishop Ruggieri.
“I don’t know how humanity stands it” – amazing line
“filial, fraternal affection is the root of humaneness” – yes!
“Criminals have no intellectual interests?” Nod to Ugolino? Funny.
Lines 247-257 are fascinating, but I can’t make sense of the image.
Leviticus 19: Here’s all the rules, follow them because I am the Lord – until I come again and then you wan’t have to.
1 Thessalonians 4:11: “and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you,”
Corruption? Authority? Wasn’t Pound a fascist? He’s like rules.
“sunt lumina” I am the light
“all things that are are lights” true, reflected light. We are not truths.
“Tempus tacendi, tempus loquendo” a time to speak, a time for silence.
Hagoromo: is he making a connection between Buddhist and Christian angels?
diamonds, then “the mind indestructible” .
hamadryas, then “the slaves learning slavery” – is this racist?
“the leopard sat by his water dish” in a zoo, captive.