Canto II

Starting to dig into the Cantos by Ezra Pound… there is much here that is dense, incomprehensible, beautiful, unpleasant, inspired, complex, all a mixture of sensations and impossible-to-understand languages and literary references. Still, the whole project could be worth it for certain passages… the first one that really enthralled me is reproduced below. These exerpts are from Canto II, and describe what occurs when a ship happens upon a young boy who is really Dionysus in disguise. They take him on board intending to sell him as a slave, and for this treachery he metamorphoses the ship and crew into trees, vines, birds, animals, fish… see what you think:

And where there was gunwale, there now was vine-trunk,
And tenthril where cordage had been,
grape-leaves on the rowlocks,
Heavy vine on the oarshafts,
And, out of nothing, a breathing,
hot breath on my ankles,
Beasts like shadows in glass,
a furred tail upon nothingness,
Lynx-purr, and heathery smell of beasts,
where tar smell had been,
Sniff and pad-foot of beasts,
Eye-glitter out of black air.
The sky overshot, dry, with no tempest,
Sniff and pad-foot of beasts,
fur brushing my knee-skin,
Rustle of airy sheaths,
dry forms in the aether,
And the ship like a keel in ship-yard,
slung like an ox in smith’s sling,
Ribs stuck fast in the ways,
grape-cluster over pin-rack,
void air taking pelt.
Lifeless air become sinewed,
feline leisure of panthers,
Leopards sniffing the grape shoots by scupper-hole,
Crouched panthers by fore-hatch,
And the sea blue-deep about us,
green-ruddy in shadows,
And Lyaeus: “From now, Acoetes, my altars, [Lyaeus = Dionysus]
Fearing no bondage,
fearing no cat of the wood,
Safe with my lynxes,
feeding grapes to my leopards,
Olibanum is my incense,
the vines grow in my homage.”


And So-shu churned in the sea, So-shu also,
using the long moon for a churn-stick…
Lithe turning of water,
sinews of Poseidon,
Black azure and hyaline,
glass wave over Tyro,
Close cover, unstillness,
bright welter of wave-cords,
Then quiet water,
quiet in the buff sands,
Sea-fowl stretching wing-joints,
splashing in rock-hollows and sand-hollows
In the wave-runs by the half-dune;
Glass-glint of wave in the tide-rips against sunlight,
pallor of Hesperus,
Grey peak of the wave,
wave, color of grape’s pulp

Olive grey in the near,
far, smoke grey of the rock-slide,
Salmon-pink wings of the fish-hawk
cast grey shadows in water,
The tower like a one-eyed great goose
cranes up out of the olive-grove

And we have heard the fauns chiding Proteus
in the smell of hay under the olive-trees
And the frogs singing against the fauns
in the half-light.


4 thoughts on “Canto II

  1. dancingwind says:

    Dearest Teresa,

    What an undertaking! I would have chuckled, if my mood had not deteriorated… Reading your Cantos II I in tears and they were welcome ones.

    What is most inspiring to me, is that you even thought to take on this project at this time! I love you for this, T.

    And needless to say, I will hoping you will share this journey!

    That you have taken up this project also sets me to wishing for a writer’s/artists colony on a lovely piece of land with forests, lakes, rivers and/or a sea. A place where we could each have a space to create and a place to be in nature’s grace. A place where we could gather by a blazing fire inside or out, where we could warm ourselves and share the journey.

    Dancing Wind

  2. Nigel says:

    Yes that is lovely. You’ll find a lot of that in the cantos, and after a while you’ll see that iyt’s not so incomprehensible as people make out. Check out the ‘lynxes’ canto, the ‘pull down your vanity’ canto, the sadness of the later fragments, the ‘seven lakes’ canto. If you have any problems with it, e mail and I’ll help (I know the book pretty well). It’s a journey well worth taking – like crossing the Himalayas, but what beauty at the summits!

  3. You’ve done it once again. Great writing!

  4. August Platt says:

    If I had a greenback for every time I came here.. Amazing article!

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