Online Edition: Summer 2003

Canti postumi

Ezra Pound

edited by Massimo Bacigalupo

Arnoldo Mondadori Editore

by Steven Moore

An unsympathetic critic might grumble that Pound threw everything but the kitchen sink into his 824-page Cantos, especially since the book ends with a section of "Drafts and Fragments." But in fact Pound did leave a lot out, the best of which has now been gathered by Italian Pound scholar Massimo Bacigalupo for this edition of "Posthumous Cantos." The introduction and notes are in Italian, but the poetry is of course in English, and since there are no plans for an American edition, Canti postumi deserves notice.

The book is divided into eight chronological sections: it begins with the 1917 version of "Three Cantos" published in Poetry, different enough from those eventually published in The Cantos to be preserved. Then we travel from Paris (1920-22) to Rapallo and Venice (1928-37), then sections called "Voices of War" (1940-45) and "Italian Drafts" (1944-45), then outtakes from the great Pisan Cantos (1948), followed by what Pound himself called "Prosaic Verses" (written during his confinement at St. Elizabeths in the 1950s), and finally "Lines for Olga" (1962-72).

Some drafts offer longer versions of incidents that were compressed for the final book version, like a discussion between Pound and Eliot at Verona in 1922 that is merely alluded to in the published version. The couplet "Her name was courage / & is written Olga" from the final page of The Cantos is taken from a lovely 13-line poem published here in tribute to his longtime companion Olga Rudge, the embodiment of Venus invoked at the beginning of his epic. Other verses occur in contexts quite different from those in the final book and will aid Pound scholars in seeing those historical "rhymes" Pound made by yoking various eras together.

And throughout there are beautiful, medallion-bright images that take one's breath away: "Brows cut smoothe as if with a jade-wheel / Cool water of hill-lakes, water calm as the eyes"; "her red head a flask of perfume"; "The air is solid sunlight, apricus, / Sun-fed we dwell there." For all his obfuscation and hare-brained theories, Pound commanded poetic powers that continue to astonish, even in these drafts and outtakes.

There are images in Canti postumi of ruined castles, of "Empires end[ing] in the marsh." The Cantos itself is like a cathedral falling into ruins, attended today only by specialists, ignored by most readers of poetry. Canti postumi may only be fragments shored against those ruins, but these drafts remind us of the greatness of Pound's achievement, and the book even works as a teaser for those uncertain whether they want to take the grand tour. It is well worth seeking out.

Summer 2003 Table of Contents