Mary Ellis Gibson: On "Canto 81"

. . . in Canto 81 the poet excoriates vanity, and invokes the "beaten dog." McGann has asserted that in the famous declaration "Pull down thy vanity," Pound addresses as a "beaten dog" not himself but the U.S. Army (Toward a Literature of Knowledge, 114). Certainly it would make sense that Pound might characterize the army by the very sort of bestiality and illegitimate mixtures he mocked in The Fifth Decade of Cantos. The army is after all the American partially integrated army:

         Pull down thy vanity 

Thou art a beaten dog beneath the hail, 

A swollen magpie in a fitful sun, 

Half black half white 

Nor knowst'ou wing from tail

Other commentators have seen this as Pound's address to himself, and the identification with dogs as victims gives a certain probability to this reading. Ultimately, I think Pound leaves any such identification between the poet and the beaten dog, the poet and the black-and-white army, at best ambivalent; the poem is left to the reader's charity.

In Canto 81, the poet claims to have acted without vanity in the service of his art: "to have done instead of not doing / this is not vanity" (535). An uncharitable reader—or one who identifies more solidly with the dogs than Pound does and who doubts Pound's self-identification with the soldiers—would not be comforted by the poet's claim to sins of omission: "Here error is all in the not done, / all in the diffidence that faltered" (81.536). If Pound is to be seen as the "beaten dog," it is in admitting errors of omission and m claiming to be himself a victim.

From Epic Reinvented: Ezra Pound and the Victorians. Copyright © 1995 by Cornell University Press.

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Criticism Overview
Title Mary Ellis Gibson: On "Canto 81" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Mary Ellis Gibson Criticism Target Ezra Pound
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 10 Oct 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Epic Reinvented: Ezra Pound and the Victorians
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