Mary Ellis Gibson: On "Notes for CXVII"

Pound's final cantos do not relinquish the desire to make coherence in the very bone shop of history. Neither chaos nor the need for order can be projected into another world. The poet's situation—historical, personal, and poetic—is altogether more stark. In Canto 116, Pound says that the young are still burdened with the records of history, with a tangle of laws, with a literature that heals nothing. The poem's effort, like Mussolini's effort as Pound saw it, is still "To make Cosmos— / To achieve the possible."

The poignancy of The Cantos, for readers who find poignancy in a poem so violent, is in their never giving up on their desire to make the world better, a desire Pound understood as the effort to "make Cosmos." Yet the very terms of the dream, the dream of benevolent and natural hierarchy in a modern industrial world, contained its own undoing. The poet was left, in the words of the last fragments, with a question: "Where is what I loved?" This question surely answers the poem's earlier one, "And as to why they go wrong, / thinking of rightness" (116.811).

Where is what I loved? In great measure it is violently destroyed in the contradictions of its own dreaming; if anything is left, it is in the valediction to Olga Rudge now placed at the end of the Faber edition of The Cantos. But as to "why they go wrong," the fragments answer:

That I lost my center

                        fighting the world.

The dreams clash

                        and are shattered—

and that I tried to make a paradiso

                                                    terrestre.

Ironically, the clashing dreams, the oscillations and contradictions of The Cantos come back, in Canto 116, to late-nineteenth-century irony, the ironies The Cantos have gone so far to escape. Pound returned, in part and in fragments, to the mental landscape of Jules Laforgue, to the "deeps in him," and to the terrible ironies of a paradiso terrestre that could only be "a nice quiet paradise / over the shambles."

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Criticism Overview
Title Mary Ellis Gibson: On "Notes for CXVII" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Mary Ellis Gibson Criticism Target Ezra Pound
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 25 May 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Epic Reinvented: Ezra Pound and the Victorians
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