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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.