Category Archives: Pound, Ezra


‘“ 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.,

The Pisan Cantos: Read from September 10 to September 19, 2018

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.

page 110 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“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.

page 108 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“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.

page 105 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“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).

page 100 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“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.

page 98 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“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

page 94 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“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?

page 92 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

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.

page 92 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“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

page 87 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“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.

page 83 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“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.

page 81 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“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

page 79 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“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.

page 74 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“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”

page 71 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“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.

page 70 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“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.

page 65 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“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.

page 58 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“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?

page 53 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“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.

page 50 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“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.

page 46 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“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.

page 41 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“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.

page 36 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“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

page 29 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

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”.

page 23 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

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.

page 17 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“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.

page 13 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

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.

page 10 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“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.

page 7 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“created the names” – the names, the forms perhaps, existed before? “in principio verbum” in the beginning was the word.

“and with one day’s reading a man may have the key in his hands” – I like this. Could be church, gospel, mass, homily?

“the voiceless with brumm drum and banners” – fascism on the march.

Lines 120-125 are beautiful.

Linus = 2nd Pope. Cletus= 1138 schism? Clement = apocrypha.

page 3 of 192 of The Pisan Cantos

“a bang, not a whimper” – his friend Eliot. But the possum plays dead, yet isn’t dead. Trouble will always come back to life.

N. Carolina is where Camp Lejeune is, so maybe he means the draft?

“Odysseus / the name of my family” is the name of all our family, at least in the west.

“R.C. chaplain” – Roman Catholic. My dog tags still have the R.C. on them.

Wanjina = Australian rain god. Ouan Jin = educated man