Ezra Pound: Poems

Ezra Pound: Poems Summary and Analysis of "The Cantos LXXIV - LXXXIV: Pisan Cantos" (1948)


This section of The Cantos is also known as the Pisan Cantos and is perhaps the most famous of all Pound's cantos. As World War II began, Pound was living in Italy and earning his income by making radio broadcasts. Pound spoke about his musings on politics, economics, and society, presenting opinions that were typically antisemitic and against the American involvement in the war. These radio broadcasts led to Italian Partisans arresting him in 1945. He was then detained at the American Disciplinary Training Center (DTC), north of Pisa. That is where he wrote the Pisan Cantos.

Canto LXXIV begins with Pound reflecting on the death of Mussolini while looking down from the DTC window at peasants working in the fields. Later, Pound writes about himself and Odysseus interchangeably, and then this character turns into Wuluwaid, who lost his freedom of speech when his father closed his mouth for "creating too many things." The protagonist then becomes the Chinese figure Ouan Jin, or the "man with education." Later, Pound quotes The Seafarer, writing, "Lordly men are to earth o'ergiven," and then applies this quote to his now-deceased friends from his years in London and Paris.

Further on in the canto, Pound imagines several goddesses visiting him in his tent at DTC. Pound also invokes the common theme of banking and money, along with another antisemitic passage directed at the banker Mayer Amschel Rothschild. In addition, Pound interweaves many of his memories from America and Venice into this long and complex canto.

Canto LXXV is a copy of German pianist's Gerhart Munch's violin setting of the ancient song Le chant des oiseaux. Canto LXXVI begins once again with visions of goddesses in Pound's room, then moves to his memories of Paris, Provence, and Venice. After that, he writes about the American Revolution, and Pound considers what has been destroyed because of the war. LXXVII centers on the moment when Pound learned that World War II was over, and the goddess appears again.

In Canto LXXVIII, Pound moves into familiar territory: del Cossa, the economic basis of war, Pound's London friends, "virtuous" rulers, and usury. Canto LXXIX focuses on music and the ideas of many famous composers, and ends with a fertility hymn addressed to Dionysus. Canto LXXX centers on the aftermath of war, and Canto LXXXI is about fertility and Pound's memories of Spain. Once again, the Goddess of Love appears. Canto LXXII returns to the camp and its inmates, and ends with Pound drowning in Earth.

In Canto LXXXIII, Pound departs from the previous cantos in which he writes about earth and air and refocuses on images of water and light. In one particular passage, Pound speaks out against the death sentence and cages for wild animals. Pound uses Chinese characters and Greek words, as he has in past cantos. Pound goes on to recount his time as secretary to poet W.B. Yeats, and at the end of the canto, he shifts from recalling his memories to describing the present. Canto LXXXIV begins with the delivery of a letter from Dorothy Pound, detailing the death of young English poet J.P. Angold while he was at war. After that comes a passage about Pound's visit to Washington, D.C. in 1939, when he attempted to stop American involvement in World War II. The goddess appears once again in this canto.


Though Pound has employed the technique of interweaving different themes in the other parts of The Cantos, it appears most prominently in the Pisan Cantos. It reads like a fugue - a method of composition where multiple voices introduce a certain theme that recurs frequently throughout the piece. Many of the themes in the Pisan Cantos are also prominent in Pound's other cantos: economics, antisemitism, mythology, history, and war.

Pound wrote the Pisan Cantos while he was imprisoned at the DTC, He had no essential amenities. In fact, Pound originally wrote the beginning of Canto LXXIV on a sheet of toilet paper, which suggests that he must have begun writing it during the first three weeks of his imprisonment, while he was trapped in a reinforced steel cage. In the Pisan Cantos, he appears to be at his most vulnerable. However, he does not seem to be consciously trying to incite sympathy or make the reader understand his anguish. Instead, he remains stylistically consistent: presenting concrete images and themes together in order to express larger, more abstract ideas.

Pound does, however, devote some of the Pisan Cantos to recalling his past. He weaves together anecdotes of his time in London, Paris, and Venice, and brings up friends from each city who are now deceased. In particular, Pound quotes The Seafarer, writing "Lordly men are to earth o'ergiven" in reference to his deceased companions, including W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, and Ford Maddox Ford. Pound played a major role in helping many poets and artists when he lived in Europe. While he was nearing the end of his career, sitting in prison, he understandably ruminates on his past and the successes of his peers with a hint of bitterness.

A number of these Cantos begin with goddesses visiting Pound in his prison cell. Canto LXXIV contains three different goddesses who visit Pound one by one. First comes Kuanon, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, then the moon spirit from Hagaromo, Sigismondo's lover Ixxota, a girl who Manet painted, and finally, Aprodite, the Greek Goddess of Love. Pound describes Aphrodite rescuing him.

In these Cantos, it is clear that Pound was yearning to be free. In addition, Pound has always seen mythological gods and goddesses as the purest form of classic beauty and art, symbols of everything he has always aspired to embody in his work. Pound surrounds the goddesses in the Pisan Cantos with images of light and brightness, which reinforces his perspective.