Ezra Pound – Background to Canto LXXXI

AG: …..And then I mentioned.. we had that little poem by Chaucer- “Your two bright eyes will slay me suddenly,/I may the beauty of them not sustain”  [Your eyen two wol slee me sodenly,/I may the beautè of hem not sustene”]– Remember?  “Merciles Beautie”  (it’s on page fifty-three).. and I mentioned that Ezra Pound had dug it, dug that particular poem, and I wondered why, or… He quotes it in the Cantos So I looked it up,. And I thought I’d read you a little description of this Canto and a piece of Pound’s Canto which quotes the Chaucer – Canto..This was part of the Pisan Cantos.. Has anybody ever read any of Ezra Pound here? ((I’m) presuming that you have. And if you have not, not,raise your hand? (okay, quite a few of you, not) –  Okay. He may be the greatest poet of the century in America, the most learned, the most researched, the most scholarly, the best ear, maybe. He was writing in a very special meter, which we’ll… Of course, he did a lot of (just as we were doing), listening to meters. He did..  (he) sort of broke ground in the twentieth-century in really hearing rhythms and putting them in effect in his own writing (or, actually, getting them physically into the body), so that William Carlos Williams said one day in his garden, “Pound has a mystical ear“- a mystical ear?  (because his ear was so refined). He was taken by the Allied troops in World War II and put in a prison camp near Pisa in a cage, where he wrote a series of Cantos, or sections of a long autobiographical life-long epic poem called The Cantos (or the Songs). And this is a description of Canto 81 In order to.. So.. I’ll read you the (opening), because it’s a mosaic or cut-up, or a weave or a tapestry, or a collage, the Cantos, therefore none of us are expected to understand it, particularly, first off, except to get little glints of real pretty phrasing, or nostalgic beautiful language, or snippets of information, or gossip, or pieces of reading, or phrases, or quotes from Chaucer.  So I’ll read you what the story is in The Cantos from a book by Clark Emery – Ideas into Action – A Study of Pound’s Cantos (University of Miami Press, Coral Gables, Florida, 1958)
If anybody ever wants to read Pounds’ Cantos. this is a great guide-book. It’s real short, about a hundred-and-fifty pages, and it will guide you canto-by-canto through the entire labyrinth of Pound’s Cantos and make it easy to read.  You can see it after, I’ve said it once, you can see it after, it’ll be on the desk – Ideas into Action – Clark Emory – University of Miami Press. And it’s also in.. it’ll be in the library at Naropa if you want it.

“Canto 81 in effect makes a distinction between the sabre-chop that kills and the scalpel-incision that cures. The lyrical evocation in Canto 80 of England’s past is carried on into 81 – (which we’ll be reading part of) –  to make his point.

“On a visit to Maurice Hewlett’s house, ((a) friend of his), Pound had been strongly affected by a vision of England’s long history. He expressed it in an early version of Canto 1 – “…procession on procession by Salisbury/Ancient in various days, long years between them/”Ply over ply of live still wraps the earth here”.  In Canto 80, the concept remains but darkened by the recollection of bloody divisions that have brought England into its present state of  “rust, ruin, death duties and mortgages”. (The War of the Roses, the long enmity between England and France, England’s increased insularity after Henry VIII’s break with the Church, Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and so forth) – So this Canto “shifts from political to literary history and draws a relation ..”In the time of Chaucer (I may the beautè of hem not sustene”) there had been a European unity of  culture, in which men of all nations could participate. There had been a unity of word and music to produce singable song, but as nation was divided from nation, and as church underwent schism, word parted from music  – “and for a hundred and eighty years almost nothing” – (for a hundred and eighty years almost nothing worth listening to in poetry, until the Renaissance) – Then again the temporary impact of the Continent upon England, the Renaissance scholarship and music bringing word and music back into cooperation, and then, after that, again division, economic wars. destruction of France, decline of England culturally.”

(So Pound is pointing to this one little song, of the beauty of the song of Chaucer as being, like, the last great throw-up of construction of words and music together, with some kind of harmony of mind, before a long period of cultural and political degeneration, and he points out that, when the body politic and the mind of genius or intelligence get separated, when the body and mind become separated, when the poem and the song become separated, when the words and the music become separated, there is… it is a sign of the degeneration of the state, or a schizophrenia in economics and politics, as well as in the personal, psychological, life of creators or listeners. (That’s why, for instance, in our own time, the bringing together of words and music by The Beatles and by (Bob) Dylan on a mass scale was hailed almost, like, as a sign of a political or cultural renaissance, or a new era, or Aquarian Age. It was some…) Pound has been working on this theory, Pound has been putting out this theory, working on it, and (proving) it and considering it for many decades. That was the basis of Pound’s thinking, and it is partly the basis of this class – the notion that when the words and the voice get separated, the art degenerates and the intelligence flees from the page, and all you have is a mental idea, or a shadow of an idea, rather than the actual idea, which is physical, accompanied by rhythm, accompanied by feeling, accompanied by imaginative reaction, accompanied by bodily direction – or inspiration – yes, inspiration, the breath, unobstructed, flowing into the body.
So he says – “Beyond this division..” – (this is Mr Emory talking)  – “Beyond this division, however humanely motivated is the prospect of uniting. In his Lawes & Jenkyns lyric (which I’ll read),Pound himself writes singable song of the sort that Lawes and Jenkynsset to music (that’s Elizabethan times) and that, in our century, Arnold Dolmetsch restored to a limited popular favor – (Dolmetsch, a friend of Pound, went back and found the original manuscripts for songs by Henry Lawes and (Edmund) Waller. In fact, Pound and his friend, I think, with Dolmetsch, began the revival of the singing of the music of (John) Dowland, (Henry) Lawes, (John) Jenkyns, (Edmund) Waller, and others, who were the great Renaissance pop poets, pop poet-musicians, lutenists.  So, I think probably next.. when I get to that period, I’ll bring in a phonograph and some recordings and we’ll listen to some of it).
[to Student] Do you have them? Have you heard any of it?

Student: Yes

AG: How does it sound? Some of it is pretty.. the (Thomas) Campion is pretty good.

So Henry Lawes and John Jenkyns were two musician-poets of Elizabethan times.

“….thus Pound “gathers from the air a live tradition” but he is able to do so because he approached that tradition with an active, positive love so that it has become his “true heritage”  Another uniting process is involved in this passage. One reason why words become divorced from music is that man becomes self-consciously and arrogantly man, sets himself qualitatively apart from other members of the created scale of beings to exist out of harmony with natural process . Pound, considering the ant, gets a new perspective, an enhanced humility and an increased accord with the process.”

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately seven minutes in, and concluding at approximately seventeen-and-a-quarter minutes in]

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