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.


Title Christine Froula: On "Canto 45" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Christine Froula Criticism Target Ezra Pound
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 10 Oct 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication A Guide to Ezra Pound's Selected Poems
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