Ezra Pound: Poems

Ezra Pound: Poems Summary and Analysis of "The Cantos: LII - LXXIII" (1940-1945)


Pound based Cantos LII - LXI on the first eleven volumes of the twelve-volume Histoire general de la Chine by Joseph-Anna-Marie de Moyriac de Mailla, a French Jesuit who wrote about his many years in Beijing. Canto LII consists of a very antisemitic passage directed at the Rothschild family. In addition, this verse focuses on the classic Chinese text Li Ki or Classic of Rites, particularly the parts that deal with agriculture and natural cycles.

In Canto LIII, Pound covers Chinese history from the founding of the Hai dynasty through Confucius's life and 225 BCE. Canto LIV continues this story until 805 CE. Canto LV illustrates the rise of the Tatars and the Tartar Wars until 1200, and also includes the poet's musings on financial policy. Canto LVI contains details about Kublai, Genghis Khan, and the rise and fall of the Yuan dynasty, and closes with the establishment of the Ming dynasty.

Canto LVII begins with the flight of Emperor Kien Ouen Ti, and contains an account of Ming history until the sixteenth century. Canto LVIII contains a condensed history of Japan, and concludes with an account of the border pressure that the Tartar horse fairs caused, which eventually led to the rise of the Manchu dynasty. Pound begins Canto LIX with a translation of Confucian texts into Manchu, and then discusses the growing European presence in China. In Canto LX, Pound writes an account of the Jesuits and details their contributions to the west, like astronomy, music, and physics. The final "China Canto" continues through the reigns of Yong Tching and Kien Long. Yong Tching banned Christianity, deeming it immoral.

The next set of cantos, until LXXI, are also known as "The Adams Cantos." They are made up of fragments of John Adams's writings. Pound depicted Adams as a well-rounded, rational, and competent leader. Canto LXII starts with a history of the Adams family in America, then continues through the events leading up to the American Revolution, Adams's time in France, and the formation of the Washington administration. Pound portrays Alexander Hamilton as a villain. Canto LXIII details Adams's career as a lawyer, and in particular, the Writs of Assistance case.

In Canto LXIV, Pound examines the taxation acts that the British set in motion in America, such as the Stamp Act and the Boston Massacre, which Adams defended. Canto LXVI centers on Washington's nomination for president and Adams debating the practicality of war. Pound briefly touches on the Declaration of Independence and then returns to describing Adams's time in France. In Canto LXVI, Adams is in London, serving as minister to the Court of St. James.

In Canto LXVII, Pound examines the government and the limits of the British monarch's power. In Canto LXVIII, Pound compares John Adams to King Lycurgus of Sparta and reviews more of Adams's notes on financing war and borrowing money the Dutch. Canto LXIX continues this line of thinking and also reveals Adams's fear of a native aristocracy in America. Canto LXX includes Adams's terms as president and vice-president, focusing on his statement "I am for balance." Canto LXXI concludes the Adams Cantos and includes some information on Adams's relationship with Native Americans.

The next two Cantos, also known as "The Italian Cantos," were not published as part of The Cantos until 1987. Pound uses the model Dante developed in Divine Comedy and converses with ghosts from Italy's past. In Canto LXXII, Pound speaks to various Italian ghosts about World War II, the dangers of obsession with the past or the future, and Pope Pius XII. In Canto LXXIII, the ghost of Guido Cavalcanti appears on horseback and tells Pound about a heroic girl who led a troop of Canadian soldiers to a minefield and died with the enemy. Neither of these Cantos contain antisemitic content, ending on a relatively positive note.


Pound's knowledge of Chinese history was not as extensive as his knowledge of other historical and literary subjects. Therefore, the China Cantos are mostly Pound's translation and interpretation of Chinese history, based on renowned primary sources. Because of his lack of familiarity, he does not draw many new and interesting parallels or offer many of his own insights. He does, however, attempt to make links between Chinese history and European history. The Cantos offered western readers an introduction to Chinese history, which they would otherwise not read about - either in textbooks or in newspapers.

In the China Cantos, Pound chooses his own villains. He describes Confucius and his teachings frequently throughout his recount of Chinese history and appropriately displays a perspective that aligns with Confucian beliefs. He views Taoists, Buddhists, eunuchs (castrated men who were servants to a royal court), and corrupted women (such as consorts) as enemies. Though Pound expresses distaste for all of them, the eunuchs particularly attracted Pound's hatred. Pound was very inspired by fertility and sexuality, neither of which eunuchs can experience.

While Pound had a poor opinion of America and American leaders in general, he clearly respected John Adams and his work. Pound writes about Adams in the same glorified manner that he describes Mussolini and Malatesta in other parts of the poem, even though their politics were vastly different. Pound likely presented the Adams Cantos after the China Cantos in order to connect Adams to the Chinese emperors he discusses in the previous section.

Many scholars have found the Italian Cantos to be puzzling. It is likely that Pound wrote the Italian Cantos with the intent of promoting fascism. These two cantos are simplistic in theme, structure, and language, more so than the rest of The Cantos. They also represent the end of a hiatus in Pound's career, since these were his first poems to be published since 1940.