Christine Froula

Christine Froula: On "Canto 81"

He describes what he sees: several pairs of eyes, in "half mask's space," interpassing, penetrating, shining with the colors of sky, pool, and sea. These eyes, like Chaucer's or Jonson's words, carry a message to the poet in the cage who has lost everyone and everything: "What thou lovest well remains." It is the same message Chaucer and Jonson bequeathed, a paradisal message. The eyes, the "seen," bring "the palpable / Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell" - the mind's paradise that bears the "formèd trace" of all it has loved well. But with the assurance of that heritage, the eyes also bring an exhortation, the famous "Pull down thy vanity" passage which deflates the writer's romantic pretensions and ranks his creations in the larger-than-literary, larger-than-aesthetic context of "the green world." The self-accusations Pound has made before ("Les larmes que j'ai créees m'inondent") now take external shape as the vision becomes an oblique confession of wrongness and error - a confession which would have cost too much, there in the prison camp, had it not been simultaneously an affirmation of love and memory, and of a place in the green world.

At the end of the canto, the vision has vanished, and the shaken poet salvages from his self-accusations of vanity that part of his life which he had devoted to carrying on "a live tradition," gathering it from the "fine old eye" of a Blunt, a Yeats, a Hardy ("Swinburne my only miss," C, 523).

From A Guide to Ezra Pound's Selected Poems. Copyright © 1982, 1983 by Christine Froula.

Christine Froula: On "Canto 45"

The traditional definition of usury is the lending of money at exorbitant interest rates. It is this practice which Deuteronomy 23:19-20 forbade in the following terms:

    Thou shalt not lend upon usury to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury:     Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon usury: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all that thou settest thine hand to in the land whither thou goest to possess it.

The Catholic Church outlawed the practice categorically up to the time of the Reformation, when John Calvin succeeded in overturning the ban. Calvin argued that Deuteronomv forbids usury only insofar as it is "opposed to equity or charity." (Nelson, 78) Pound's definition is more specific: "A charge for the use of purchasing power, levied without regard to production; often without regard to the possibilities of production." (C, 230) This definition makes the legitimacy of interest charges dependent upon the real increase in value which the lent money, put to use, achieves. Pound saw the prime offenders against this principle as private banks, which are empowered to create money, or credit, out of nothing; and his Fiftb Decad of Cantos is concerned with legitimate and illegitimate - or good and evil - banking practices. . . .

The creation of money ex nihilo by the banks was the outrage against which Pound's entire effort at economic reform was aimed. . . .

 

Pound understood (as Marx, "endowing money with properties of a quasi-religious nature" [I, 112], did not) that money is property neither a commodity nor "congealed labor" but nothing more than a symbolic designation of:credit, which by rights belongs to the people of a society, and not to private banks. He saw that if the government had retained control over money/credit (assuming its honest implementation), the interest which now goes to private banks, creating their immense wealth, would instead accumulate as communal capital available for public works. Depending on government expenditures then, there might be no need to levy taxes - indeed, the government might pay its citizens dividends.

Pound saw, then, that the governments had betrayed the people by authorizing private banks to "create money out of nothing" and then grow rich merely by charging interest on it. . . .

Pound portrays and excoriates these economic disruptions, and their cultural effects, in his Usura Canto. . .

Its austere dirge poses Usura against the real human values that it blights, negates, and overrides: good houses, good bread, good art, natural fertility. These things are emblems, for Pound, of human civilization, as the celebration of human life and creativity in harmony with nature.

Whatever might be the limitations of his analysis, Pound's Usura Canto remains a powerful protest against a debased culture whose "painted paradise" is mostly commissioned from Madison Avenue.

From A Guide to Ezra Pound's Selected Poems. Copyright © 1982, 1983 by Christine Froula.

Christine Froula: On "Canto IX"

Canto IX is one of Pound's four "Malatesta Cantos" (VII-XI), a series based on the life and times of an Italian lord and condottiere, or professional soldier: Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta (1417-68). Pound's attraction to this obscure Renaissance hero arises from the fact that, while actively and riskily engaged in the political intrigues of the Italian city-states, which finally led to his excoriation by Pope Pius X, Sigismondo also managed to "gather the artists and savants about him" (Canto XIII) at his court and to leave behind him a work of art - the Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini, Italy - which registers the complex historical temper of his time. In the midst of political turmoil, Sigismondo created in Rimini a little "civilization," to which his Tempio (Temple) enduringly testifies.

. . . .

Sixty years later, we can hardly avoid seeing problematic complications in the value Pound placed on Sigismondo's high "cultural awareness" - hero worship being chief among them. In 1923, Pound could discount Sigismondo's violence and immense egotism for the sake of the great value he attached to the triumphant embodiment of his antimonotheistic sensibility in the Tempio, "against the current of power." Looking back from the second half of our century, however, it is no longer possible to overlook the ruthless acts of barbarism on which this "cultural high" was raised. While we may still be moved by the eloquent "record of struggle" Sigismondo left in the Tempio, we must judge this Renaissance record of struggle, as Pound himself could not, within the context of the record of struggle Pound's poem has left for our own time, which mirrors the still unresolved crisis of the heroic values on which Western civilization is founded.

From A Guide to Ezra Pound's Selected Poems. Copyright © 1982, 1983 by Christine Froula.

Christine Froula: On "The River-Merchant's Wife: A Letter"

This is one of the most delicate poems in Cathay, a verse "letter" in which the speaker communicates indirectly, by means of vivid images and shifting tones, the history of her feelings for the absent husband to whom she writes. First, she remembers their friendly play as children. In describing their feelings then as being "without dislike or suspicion," she implies that she did have those feelings at a later time, and they carry over into her description of her unhappiness in their first year of marriage. "At fifteen," she begins to love him, though her imagery and ceremonious language convey a certain reserve: to stop scowling is not to smile, and the image of their mingling dust looks past desire to death. Only in the last section, in which she remembers his departure and voices her present feelings, do we see how that timeless love has changed. In his absence, she has become conscious of time passing and of the preciousness of love in the natural world where nothing can last "forever." Now, his absence makes her miss him, and a language of natural imagery expresses, with eloquent reserve, her desire for his return.

From A Guide to Ezra Pound's Selected Poems. Copyright © 1982, 1983 by Christine Froula.

Christine Froula: On "Portrait d'une Femme"

The title recalls Henry James's Portrait of a Lady (1881), much admired by Pound. Pound later spoke of Mauberley (1920) as "an attempt to condense the James novel," and this poem is an early exercise in that vein, a character sketch recalling the descriptive vignettes of the Jamesian novel of manners. Pound first met "the Master" in a London drawing room in February 1912, and after James's death he composed a lengthy essay honoring him for "book after early book against oppression, against all the sordid petty personal crushing oppression, the domination of modern life."

Pound uses a prosaic and flexible blank verse and portrays the "lady" by means of the extended metaphor of the "Sargasso Sea," a relatively static area of the North Atlantic stretching between the West Indies and the Azores, where the currents deposit masses of seaweed (or "sargasso"). As the Sargasso collects seaweed, so this woman has, after twenty years of backwash from London's social currents, accumulated the flotsam and jetsam which makes her, paradoxically, both a "richly paying" institution in the eyes of the young and an impoverished self whose only interest is as repository of this "sea-hoard."

From A Guide to Ezra Pound's Selected Poems. Copyright © 1982, 1983 by Christine Froula.

Christine Froula: On "A Pact"

The ambivalence of Pound’s response to his poetic forefather Walt Whitman reflects his complex sense of his American literary heritage. As he was well aware, whatever he might say in explanation of Whitman would also in some measure define himself. While Pound recognized the authentic American eloquence of Whitman’s "barbaric yawp," the self-conscious craftsman in him winced at the "exceeding great stench" of Whitman’s "crudity," "an exceedingly nauseating pill" which he parodically exemplified as "Lo! Behold, I eat watermelons."

In his 1909 essay "What I Feel About Walt Whitman," his distaste for Whitman’s expansive self-singing struggles with an even more powerful conviction that Whitman "is America. . . . He does ‘chant the crucial stage’ and he is the ‘voice triumphant.’" In the end, Pound subordinates the superficial quarrel with Whitman’s poetic means to the profound bond of their common origin and message. Whitman is to America "what Dante is to Italy"; "the vital part of my message, taken from the sap and fibre of America, is the same as his"; "It is a great thing, reading a man to know, not ‘His Tricks are not as yet my Tricks, but I can easily make them mine’ but ‘His message is my message. We will see that men hear it.’"

From A Guide to Ezra Pound’s Selected Poems. Copyright © 1982, 1983 by Christine Froula.

Christine Froula: On "A Pact"

The ambivalence of Pound’s response to his poetic forefather Walt Whitman reflects his complex sense of his American literary heritage. As he was well aware, whatever he might say in explanation of Whitman would also in some measure define himself. While Pound recognized the authentic American eloquence of Whitman’s "barbaric yawp," the self-conscious craftsman in him winced at the "exceeding great stench" of Whitman’s "crudity," "an exceedingly nauseating pill" which he parodically exemplified as "Lo! Behold, I eat watermelons."

In his 1909 essay "What I Feel About Walt Whitman," his distaste for Whitman’s expansive self-singing struggles with an even more powerful conviction that Whitman "is America. . . . He does ‘chant the crucial stage’ and he is the ‘voice triumphant.’" In the end, Pound subordinates the superficial quarrel with Whitman’s poetic means to the profound bond of their common origin and message. Whitman is to America "what Dante is to Italy"; "the vital part of my message, taken from the sap and fibre of America, is the same as his"; "It is a great thing, reading a man to know, not ‘His Tricks are not as yet my Tricks, but I can easily make them mine’ but ‘His message is my message. We will see that men hear it.’"

from A Guide to Ezra Pound’s Selected Poems. Copyright © 1982, 1983 by Christine Froula.