James F. Knapp: On "Canto I"

Pound's journey through history begins with canto 1, which translates a passage in the Odyssey in which Odysseus travels to the underworld to speak with Tiresias. Like Odysseus, Pound seeks knowledge, and he seeks it in the minds of men long dead. He cannot speak to them directly, as Odysseus does, but their ghosts remain, nevertheless, if only in the words of old books. Pound begins The Cantos with a concrete representation of the way in which language contains the past. On one of his earliest trips to Paris he had picked up a Renaissance translation of the Odyssey, by Andreas Divus, published in 1538, and it is this version that he himself translated in canto 1. However, in translating it, he chose to use poetic conventions derived from Old English verse. Pound knew that the shape of Odysseus's quest has survived through millenia, but he also knew that the means for its survival has been a long series of metamorphoses into the particular words of new places, new times. If we would seek ancient visions, we must seek them wherever they have reappeared in the matter of successive cultures, and in canto I Pound reveals the complex filter of language and changing culture which is nevertheless his only way of viewing the past.

From Ezra Pound Copyright © 1979 by G.K. Hall and Co.

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Criticism Overview
Title James F. Knapp: On "Canto I" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author James F. Knapp Criticism Target Ezra Pound
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 06 Oct 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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